17 October 2012

Planning time

Most people who know me would probably get a good laugh out of the thought that I'd be planning much of anything more than 5 minutes in advance - I'm a hopeless procrastinator and frankly tend to work better under pressure anyway.  However, that really only works for mental projects - term papers, for example (let's not talk about the time my printer decided to stop talking to my laptop at 4:30 AM, okay?).  When it comes to anything physical, twenty-odd years of playing stringed instruments and about a decade of off-and-on distance running have taught me that cramming just doesn't work.  The body is much slower than the brain - while I can memorize 20 Latin vocab words in a minute or three, it takes me weeks to add a couple of miles to my running stamina.  Oh, and then there's the whole I'm-broke-and-so-I'm-making-everyone's-holiday-presents thing I've been doing for the past few years - I may be able to design a pair of socks on my lunch break, but it can take a month to actually knit the darn things.

So, against my own inner nature and kicking and screaming all the way, I'm actually considering planning something else right now (it must be because I've finally turned the heel on the socks).  That would be a novel, of course, since hey, it's almost November and that means NaNoWriMo is coming!  Despite the fact that I've done four WriMos (and "won" three of  'em), I've never actually done one in November when everyone else does - Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday, and then once I picked up the bookstore job, well, holiday shopping hell, anyone?  So it's a busy month, to put it mildly.  But see, I got this idea...

But in order to have even the teeniest chance of pounding out 50,000 words amidst feasting, recital planning, Black Friday and any number of other distractions, I'm going to need a plan.  A good solid plan that doesn't have too many holes (rabbit, black or otherwise) for me to fall into and get lost down for untold aeons, but not so strict that I feel stifled by it and don't feel like I can take a tangent to Terceira if someone feels like going over there all of a sudden (yeah, that was a hint on the topic).  At the moment, I just have a plan to make a plan.  And as far as I'm concerned, that's a good start.

05 October 2012


In addition to being the most annoying question toddlers ask (I've got a stack of nephews, so I'm pretty sure it's the worst one), it's also an interesting idea as pertains to this blog - namely, why I'm still posting on here when nobody else is and nobody's reading it, either.  I guess it has to do with the fact that I'm a terrible lazyarse, and if I don't have something scheduled and expected, it often doesn't happen.  So these silly posts that I'm hurling into the endless internet ether are my way of ensuring that I'm writing SOMETHING, on some kind of schedule.

They may not be terrible profound posts - in fact, I'm bordering on the banal here - but it's still me fulfilling what I see as an obligation, and stringing together a bunch of words in an intelligible (if not always intelligent) order.  I see how some of my students and even coworkers are incapable of producing properly formatted written content, and I gnash my teeth and fear for printed communication.  And I'm determined not to devolve into textspeak and abbreviations at inappropriate times - hell, I've been known to use semi-colons when texting, and not just in winking emoticons, either.

So there.  That's why I'm still churning out a few handfuls of words, every ten days or so, whether anyone is paying attention or not.  And here I am explaining it to that invisible audience.  Could be worse.

25 September 2012

Here it comes...

Okay, I admit it - in trying to choose a topic for today's post, I've stumbled across far too many of them and don't feel like picking one.  I could go with the three-ring circus that the US election season has spawned, but the whole thing just gets on my nerves.  Life sentence for Amy Bishop, the prof who opened fire at a faculty meeting and, y'know, possibly also murdered her brother when she was a teenager (that's local, even).  But that one disgusts me.  Nepali earthquake?  That's pretty scary, I've got Nepali friends, but they're all over here in the states, so no personal stake there.

But there is one thing happening this week that I can say with reasonable confidence will actually be of interest to my fellow Burrowers (as well as millions of other readers around the globe).  And that's the highly-anticipated release of J. K. Rowling's first adult publication coming up on Thursday.

I am massively looking forward to this, I will readily admit it.  I read like a maniac anyway, and, since my teaching day has been cancelled this Thursday due to a school open house using my room, the plan is to get my arse home from the bookstore after my shift and devour it in one enormous gulp.  I'm not expecting the Second Coming (of Harry Potter, I mean, not that whole religious mess) or anything, but I'm very curious to see how she follows up such a generation-defining series.  I've been a hardcore Potterhead for about 13 years now (hell, I'm listening to Stephen Fry's narration of Goblet of Fire right now); this was the door that got me back to the fantasy authors that I'd loved as a kid and led me to discover dozens of new ones.  So even if by some weird twist of fate it sucks, it'll still be money well spent as far as I'm concerned.  I don't care how much money she already has, the amount of enjoyment I've gotten from her work over the years is surely far more than I've paid for it.

Besides, she gives lots of money to MS research.  So she's awesome.

Now, nobody bug me on Thursday!

13 September 2012

My yearly delusion

It happens every September.  I think I can make a nice neat job of assembling my teaching schedule from the wild jigsaw pieces all my students submit, and then I sit down with it and realize that 5 people want the same time and nobody wants the middle of Thursday and how am I going to work around the orchestra, anyway?

There are upsides and downsides to being self-employed.  I thought one of the major ups would be getting to set my own schedule, but when I'm working around everything that my students get up to besides playing the viola (and most of them get up to quite a lot - sports, art, dance, babysitting and driver's ed for the older ones, and then all that annoying school-and-homework stuff) it turns out that I don't actually get a lot of say in the matter.

And then the new kids sign up, and I have to joggle them into place (please let there be new kids! {Not only could I use the money, all my returning kids are up to at least ASTA Level 2 [that's "American String Teachers Association"] and I kinda miss the littl'uns.}) without actually getting to meet or talk to them first.  They changed the registration process on us a few years ago, which at first looked like it'd be wonderful but has turned out to suck.  When you've got someone right in front of you, you can work out a compromise, but when all you've got is a piece of paper that says "Monday at 5" and that's it because they didn't understand that you're supposed to give a window, not just a start time, it's a little harder.

I suppose my greatest delusion is that I can actually make a living in the field I hold my degrees in.  And yet, I've been doing it for a decade (whoof, that makes me feel old).  Granted, with some help on the side from other jobs, but whatever.  Maybe I should go collect a few more degrees now that the first two are paid off.  A handful of doctorates that I could deal out like a deck of very big cards.  Of course, it would be utterly delusional to think I could PAY for that...  I wonder what the scholarship market is like for 30-something polymaths?

04 September 2012

A Giant of a Loss

Michael Clarke Duncan was a giant, in all senses of the word. At six feet, five inches, and weighing over 300 pounds, he was perfect for the role that would make him a household name. Indeed, the character of John Coffey, the typical 'gentle giant' wrongly condemned to die for a crime he did not commit, seemed tailor-made for him.

A bodyguard before he found fame - to the likes of Will Smith and the Notorious B.I.G. among others - he quit his day job when the latter was violently killed. That, to me, suggests that this gentle giant also had a gentle soul.

The world is a sadder place without him.

Michael Clarke Duncan, December 10th 1957- September 3rd 2012

Image from wikipedia.

03 September 2012

Last Escape-reads of Summer

Here in my neck of the woods, today is the last day of summer vacation - tomorrow, kids start back to school, parents breathe a sigh of relief, and teachers embark upon the next round of brain-filling.  May I suggest spending the day with one of these tales?  All published since May, all fantastic reads (with awesome cover art to boot), and all a chance for one final imaginary trip.

A Confusion of Princes - Garth Nix

I'm the first to admit that science fiction is generally not my thing; I can count on one hand the number of space operas I've read.  But I've really enjoyed Nix's previous books so I figured, eh, why not?  Glad I did, because this is one amazing ride.  Prince Khemri has been raised in luxury, knowing he is being groomed as a successor to the Emperor - of, you know, the whole damn universe.  What he doesn't realize is that he's only one of about ten million princes vying for that honour - oh, and most of them will try to kill each other at the drop of a hat.  The world building is excellent, the journey (both physical and emotional) that Khemri goes on is completely believable, and I for one am kind of annoyed that the ending left little to no room for a sequel.

Widdershins - Ari Marmell

Okay, technically the first one came out in February, but the second hit shelves in June, so I'm going with it.  If you like your fantasy with a side of smartarse, you'll love Widdershins, a thief with a complicated backstory (you get most of it by the end of the first book) who, erm, kind of has a pet god. Set in a quasi-French society (definitely pre-Revolution) where the gods are demonstrably real, but there are a set number of them in the Pact - and Olgun, Widdershin's god, is definitely not among them.  His only remaining worshipper after a horrific massacre two years before the opening of the first book, Widdershins calls on his powers to help her evade capture on her thieving expeditions after he essentially crawls into her head.  Since she's suspected of having committed that aforementioned massacre, she's on the run with a new name (she's got about four, so make sure you keep up).  The satire sometimes goes a LITTLE over the top, but once again the world-building is extremely thorough and believable.  Plus my roommate keeps borrowing them, so they must be good.

Throne of Glass - Sarah J. Maas

At the age of 17, Celaena Sardothien was the most feared assassin in the country - until she was captured and sentenced to the salt mines as punishment for her crimes.  When the crown prince rescues her a year later with the idea of making her his champion in a contest to appoint a new royal assassin, she gets out of the mines and into the palace, which is half glass and hiding some secrets of its own.  With her identity hidden behind a false name, she begins training hard again in secret while outwardly presenting as a noblewoman; befriends a prince, a princess, and a guardsman; and stirs up some long-buried secrets on her way to her ultimate goal.  This one does look like becoming a series, and I'll definitely be reading whatever comes next!

Shadow and Bone - Leigh Bardugo

If the acknowledgments are any indication, Maas and Bardugo are friends, which gives me a good feeling about all our multiple Burrow-y endeavours.  Anyway, this time we're in a quasi-Russian landscape, in a world where a giant swath of darkness spreads across the country from north to south, cutting off most of the country from its port cities.  The Shadow Fold (as it's known) can be crossed, but as it's pitch black and filled with murderous beasts, it's not always easy - and when Alina, panicking over the death of one friend and the threatening of another during the crossing, suddenly and spontaneously emits a strong light which drives off the dark-loving predators, she is immediately taken to the Darkling, who works out a plan to spirit her away for training. You can think of him like a very powerful wizard, but he's also a descendant of the Darkling who created the Fold in the first place.  Loving this so far (yeah, just started it, oh well, it's GOOD, so it goes on here).

Seraphina - Rachel Hartman

Okay, this one is seriously my new favourite book.  It's got music, it's got dragons, the dragons all seem to be Aspies, and it is BRILLIANT.  I devoured this one, have been recommending it right and left all summer, and will be super happy if everyone who reads this goes and buys a copy so the author is properly motivated to crank out the sequel.  Seraphina Dombegh is an excellent musician, which has already won her a job at the age of 16.  Her stepmother is pleased enough to get her out of the house; she studies with her uncle, her deceased mother's brother, and as that backstory comes out you just want to shout "Well played!" at the author.  Throw in the community of dragons, who can take human form; the forty-year peace between dragons and humans which is threatening to unravel; and a collection of odd people who live mainly in her own head, and what you have is an immensely satisfying read which is a hell of a fabulous escape.

Bitterblue - Kristin Cashore

This long-awaited sequel to Graceling finally arrived back in May, and what a pleasure it was to dive back into this world.  Katsa and Po reappear, but the focus this go-round is on 18-year-old Queen Bitterblue, an ordinary girl in a world of people with extraordinary talents (the Graced, marked by heterochromia) who is trying to rebuild her country after the ravages perpetrated by her mad and evil father.  When she sneaks out of the palace and walks the streets anonymously, she discovers that her advisors have been hiding the truth of how bad things are and is determined to do something about it, so with the help of old friends and new she embarks on a coming of age adventure for both herself and her country.  The ending ties to Fire, and leaves things open for more tales from this world, which I will await just as eagerly as I did this one.

I think that's enough to choose from for this one last summer day, so what are you waiting for?  Grab one and go for it!

06 August 2012


Okay, I admit it - I've gotten very into this particular subgenre in the past few years, and it's continuing to spawn new tales so I don't see myself getting out of the habit anytime soon.  For those unfamiliar with the term, steampunk is generally described as an amalgamation of old-fashioned (think Victorian) society with higher-tech elements - if you're imagining robots running around foggy London, you've got it about right, at least in the broader outlines.   (There seems to be a sub-subgenre known as "Weird West" where this stuff gets mixed up with cowboys and the American frontier, but that's not really my thing; I'll stick to the gears and gaslights.)  As with all such descriptions, it's vague enough to fit many things under its umbrella - and speaking of umbrellas, let me start with:

The Parasol Protectorate - Gail Carriger

So what if the main character is (also) half Italian, with a sizable schnozz, and arse to match?  I didn't write it, so it's not a Mary Sue, damnit.  These are fantastic - and do please impart both meanings to that word.  They make me laugh, snort, giggle, and emit all other manner of noises of amusement, despite the presence of vampires and werewolves (which normally turn me right off), but when the main werewolf is Scottish and the most prominent vampire a gay fashionista with a penchant for italics, well, somehow the whole mishmash works brilliantly (not to mention contains the most amazingly wacked-out names since Robertson Davies died - witness creations like Ivy Hisselpenny and the Colindrikal-Bumbcrunchers!). Toss in some homicidal mechanical ladybugs, zombie porcupines, a cross-dressing French inventress-cum-milliner, and a heap of mysterious brass octopodes, and you have the astonishing confection swirling around Alexia Tarabotti through this five-book series.

Leviathan - Scott Westerfeld

Not only steampunk but majorly alternate history too!  It's 1914 and the world is on the verge of war, but in this version of events the powers are aligned mainly along the Clanker vs. Darwinist divide - in other words, imagine not only advanced steam technology but also pre-Watson and Crick genetic tinkering and guided evolution.  Most countries have chosen one path or the other (the US being a notable exception), and over the course of this trilogy we see much of the world, from Turkey to Tunguska.  Our dual protagonists are Deryn Sharp, a Scottish girl masquerading as a boy to join the Air Corps, and Aleksandar, the son you never knew Archduke Ferdinand had.  Some real historical figures put in appearances (like everybody's favourite batshit insane genius, Nikola Tesla), and there are some pretty crazy engineered creatures (I really, really want a perspicacious loris), but as with all good tales it's the story itself that sucks you in and holds you.

Pastworld - Ian Beck

This one is a bit different in that it's only pretending to be the Victorian Era - it's actually set in the future, but with London set up as a kind of theme park showcasing Victorian life, and that includes its harsh punishments (like, you know, death by hanging for the crime of theft).  The concept and the story are great, but the copy editing really sucks - things like that frustrate the crap out of me.  It's possible that it was cleaned up for the paperback release, but I have a hardcover.  Anyway, the Buckland Corporation controls Pastworld, and when one of the architects visits with his son, Caleb, things immediately go badly wrong.  A Ripper-style murderer known as the Fantom is wreaking havoc, a girl named Eve can't recall anything before she turned 15, and a Dodger-esque pickpocket takes Caleb under his wing...

The Hunchback Assignments - Arthur Slade

I'm terribly fond of this Canadian series (last one is due out this autumn), which starts out with nods towards The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame and then goes straight down the steampunk path. A badly-deformed child is trained to be a highly-secret British agent - the ace up his sleeve is his peculiarly malleable features, which he can alter at will (though not keep it that way forever).  At the age of 14, he's turned loose and, teaming up with fellow teen agent Octavia Milkweed, they're off to bring down a plot against Britain's government, involving something quite high up the ladder indeed...  The usual bits of creepy clockwork play their role here, but Modo as a character carries the story on his malformed shoulders and it's quite impossible not to root for him.  I'm very much looking forward to seeing how this series ends!

Adventures of Newbury & Hobbes - George Mann

This series takes a darker, more serious line than any of the above, with the eponymous duo being secret agents for the artificially-sustained Queen Victoria (except she {Hobbes} doesn't know that he {Newbury} knows that she {Hobbes again} is, if you follow me). We start off with a zombie plague (which used to really get on my nerves, but I have to say, most steampunk integrates them quite well if they're used - this time, the disease comes from India), and the possibility of a supernaturally-glowing policeman/murderer, and we take it from there, with side trips down Opium Lane and Sister-in-Bedlam Street while we're at it.  Very well written, with great characters (I love Newbury's landlady) and seriously bizarre scenarios involving dirigibles, brain surgery (kinda), Egyptology, and of course, lots and lots of gears.

Steampunk Chronicles - Kady Cross

You know how I sometimes say that I am perfectly capable of distinguishing what's good from what I like?  This is certainly not the best-written of the bunch, but I like it anyway, mostly because of the main character but also because I'm getting seriously addicted to the fashions of the genre and this thing is full of 'em.  Also note that it was well worth waiting for the paperback on this one, as it contains a prequel novella that was previously only available as an ebook (no, I do not own an ereader and I have absolutely no plans to).  Finley Jayne has a slight problem - when she gets mad, she gets violent, and this brings with it a tremendous increase in speed and power while she's at it.  Jekyll and Hyde, you say?  Oh, just wait.  She (of course) discovers other teenagers with strangely augmented abilities (I love Emily-the-genius, by the way, she's awesome) and throws her lot in with them as they try to discover what the heck is going on, both within themselves and in the wider sphere of events.  The addition of an American cowboy allows the second in the series to transition neatly to New York (haven't read it yet, waiting to see if more goodies show up in the paperback again).

The Laws of Magic - Michael Pryor

Yet more proof that Australia is turning out some of the best fantastical fiction these days.  Another hybrid of magic and technology, the series focuses on young Aubrey Fitzwilliam: aspiring magician, diligent student, son of the (former, then reinstated) Prime Minister, and oh yeah, he's kind of falling apart at the seams due to a little bit of misguided death magic.  Whoops.  Set in an analogue of our own world (Albion = Great Britain, Holmland = Germany, Gallica = France, etc.) where magic is as common as science, this 6-book cycle is not only full of engaging characters (Aubrey's romantic failures are particularly amusing) and pseudo-WWI situations, but an extraordinarily complex system of magic, using multiple ancient languages and a rigorous criteria for reproducibility every bit as strict as what you would find in a scientific laboratory.  While each book has its own self-contained storyline, there's definitely an overarching plot that runs through the set, so be sure to read them in order!

Ministry of Peculiar Occurences - Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris

New Zealand pepperpot meets nerdy British librarian (oh, meet-cute, hello there!), and sparks fly - erm, except in this case the sparks are quite literal, as they blow up a castle, and, erm, it's in Antarctica, and - hey, the book starts in media res too, I'm just trying to keep the review parallel here. ;-)  Okay, so Eliza D. Braun is a bit overfond of dynamite, and Wellington Books is a tech geek a hundred years early, so their interactions are generally hilarious.  When she's exiled to his archives after failing to kill him on that mission to Antarctica, things really take a turn for the weird, especially when she discovers case notes left by her previous partner (who was found wandering and gibbering on the streets about 8 months ago and is currently confined for his own safety).  Add corpses turning up which are lacking rather essential items (like, you know, bones) and you have a pretty crazy adventure.  For all that it's highly entertaining, it was still a slower read than I expected; I'll be tackling the sequel shortly, so hopefully the writers have edited a bit more on that one.

The Clockwork Empire - Steven Harper

Now this one has all the ingredients I like - music and gears and nobles and - yeah, okay, it also has zombies.  I guess I don't mind them anymore after all.  Oh, and there's a clockwork cat called Click, whom I adore.  Anyway, we have one Alice Michaels, daughter of Baron Michaels (that seems off to me, I don't believe surnames and titles are supposed to match, but I could be wrong on that one), who has seen her mother and brother die from the Clockwork Plague which also crippled her father (oddly, they're the lucky ones, as most sufferers end up as the aforementioned zombies).  A rare few sufferers develop into raving geniuses known as clockworkers, who create insanely complicated inventions that have enabled the rise of, well, clockwork (duh), meaning that automatons are commonplace among the upper classes - in fact, Alice has quite a lot of little ones, sent by her estranged Aunt Edwina over the past 5 years.  Then we have Gavin Ennock, a fiddle-playing Bostonian whose airship is hijacked, leaving him stranded in London when his company declines to ransom him.  Obviously, they meet up too, and here we go on more adventures!  Tremendously fun, even if the character of Alice is quite inconsistent for most of the book, and there are one or two musical missteps along the way (for the record, D-sharp augmented is certainly not a note, and you'd never name a chord that either, as it would require both other notes to be double-sharped.)

All right, that's all we have time for today, at least until one of these gearheads invents a time machine.  Oh - you say H. G. Wells pulled that off ages ago?  Where do you think this genre started, anyway? ;-)

23 July 2012

Austen-inspired Books that Don't Suck

Jane would probably not approve of my language there, but oh well.  Her six completed novels and various unfinished works have spawned legions of adaptations, sequels, reimaginings, and, indirectly I suppose, positive reams of Regency romance novels (but that's not her fault).  Being a committed fan (perhaps that should be a fan who should be committed...) - I have a complete leatherbound edition, a Folio Society volume of her letters, and a Jane Austen action figure, if that tells you anything -  I poke rather cautiously at new works that purport to link to her canon (though I generally steer clear of those endless mash-ups and continuations, which seem to me to be glorified fan-fiction, with one notable exception {keep reading}) - and here are the ones that have passed my personal test.

Jane Austen Mysteries - Stephanie Barron

Two of my favourite things combine in this series, namely Jane herself and cozy mysteries.  For whatever reason, I like real characters put into fictional situations quite a lot better than continuations, and there are certainly enough twists and turns in these to keep most anyone entertained (plus a love interest for our heroine, which I like even though I know it's made up).  I believe there are fully eleven of these now, fitted into the gaps in her correspondence (caused both by being in close proximity to whomever she might have been writing to {namely, her mother and sister} and by the destruction of many of her letters after her death).  Do read them in order, they make much more sense that way; this first one is set at the home of the Count and Countess of Scargrave, and when the former dies and the latter is accused, well, what's a lady to do?

Cassandra and Jane - Jill Pitkeathly

In an interesting twist, this novel is told from the viewpoint of Cassandra Austen, in an attempt to illuminate some of the mystery surrounding Jane's life, specifically her love life.  Cassandra Austen's fiancĂ© died of a fever in the Caribbean; Jane ended her only known engagement the day after she accepted the proposal, and both women remained unmarried their whole lives, despite the brilliant matches of the heroines in the world of her novels.  If you've seen the movie Becoming Jane, some of the material will be familiar, but it's reasonably well done, if not earthshatteringly so.  Also, it's told from the viewpoint of the end of Cassandra's life, when Jane has already been dead for decades, so it's almost like a double-nostalgia - the character's for her youth, and the reader (and probably author) for the time period.

Austenland - Shannon Hale

Having read and greatly enjoyed Hale's YA fiction (the Books of Bayern series, as well as my favourite of her books, Book of a Thousand Days), I immediately pounced on this one when the ARC landed in our break room.  Using the BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice as a jumping-off point (see below), Hale envisions a kind of "Austen camp" for grown-ups, which I would certainly attend if I 1) had the money and 2) it actually existed.  Hell, if they make a movie I might kill someone to be an extra.  Anyway, 30-something New Yorker Jane Hayes is bequeathed a trip to Pembrook Park by a great-aunt who noticed that she was spending perhaps a bit too much time mooning over Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy.  So off she goes to England for a month of - come to think of it, it's really quite a long-term LARP; strange thought.  Her trials and tribulations (confiscated cell phone, corsets, etc.) and day-to-day life in a made-up Regency household are tremendous fun; so are her behind-the-scenes meetings with a basketball-obsessed gardener and her attempts to figure out how much is real and how much is simply the actors, well, acting.  Lots of fun to be had here (also, Hale is one of the nicest authors I've had the pleasure of meeting and so I make a special effort to point out her books.  You know, like now.), and there's a sequel of sorts, Midnight in Austenland, if you need more after this one.

Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding

If there are any 20+ females who haven't read these two books yet, for pete's sake go do it so you can be in on the joke. Bridget battles her weight, her singleness, her parents, you name it, in addition to coining some phrases that I know I still use ("smug marrieds" comes to mind here...).  The Austen tie-ins aren't subtle - there really is a fellow called Mr. Darcy (although he's Mark here, not Fitzwilliam {and in a fabulous bit of casting, he's played by, no surprise, Colin Firth in the film version}), she works at Pemberley Press, and there are numerous other references scattered throughout.  Again, not exactly a serious read, but definitely a cultural phenomenon (if perhaps slightly dated now) - it was one of the few works of popular fiction on that "How many have you read?" list of 100 books that circulated all over Facebook 2 or 3 years ago; hell, it was even one of the titles that got a snazzy new cover (that's it there on the right) when Penguin was rereleasing stuff like Cold Comfort Farm and Voltaire a few years back.

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen - Syrie James

Another imagined romance, but such a nice one that I was sucked right into this novel (which, by the way, seems to be a bit of an anomaly for this author; she did a Bronte as well, then fell into the paranormal swamp, apparently).  After the death of her father, Jane (as well as her mother and sister) are rather at loose ends; while they're being bounced about, a Mr. Ashford enters the picture, who encourages Jane in her writing and gets her to revise Sense & Sensibility (which really was her first published novel) in preparation for submitting it for publication.  Since this purports to be her own diary, recently discovered, an "editor" has been through it adding footnotes - the editor's name, Mary I. Jesse, should look strangely familiar (I LOVE footnotes, especially goofy ones). The tone is quite good in this one as well, a close match to Austen's own.  Plus the cover's pretty and it looks a lot like my volume of her actual letters. :-)

For Darkness Shows the Stars - Diana Peterfreund

I discovered this author first through her killer unicorn series (which I also recommend, by the way); in this post-apocalyptic reimagining of Persuasion, genetic experimentation went horribly wrong sometime in the past, leaving only the religious group known as the Luddites, who would take no part in it, mentally sound.  Those affected by the experimentation are known as the Reduced, who are intellectually subnormal (it has just occurred to me this minute that they may be based on George Austen, Jane's brother...); however, in the past generation or two, Reduced couples have sometimes produced perfectly normal children, the intellectual equals (or possibly superiors...) of the Luddite overclass.  Kai is one of these; born the same day as the younger daughter of the Luddite landowners, Elliot North (yep, Elliot's a girl... Anne Elliot in the original, if you'll recall), they grow up together despite the difference in their circumstances, and their childhood letters are scattered through the novel as flashbacks to their earlier friendship.  When Kai leaves to seek his fortune elsewhere, he asks Elliot to go with him, but she feels responsible for her family; though she's the youngest, her profligate father and silly sister are not suited for running the estate (sound familiar?).  When they are forced to rent out part of their property to a party of explorers, Elliot is amazed to discover that the Captain Malakai Wentforth (see how it ties in now?) she has heard so much about is none other than her old friend - but can they regain what they'd lost?  The world-building is fantastic, the writing is lovely, and even if you don't already know and love Persuasion, this stands easily on its own as one of the best post-apocalyptic novels I've read in years.

Death Comes to Pemberley - P. D. James

This is the only "sequel" I've read, and I admit it, the name on the cover helped a lot, as I've been a fan of P. D. James since I was a college kid buying discount mass-market paperbacks at the tiny bookstore near campus.  Since she's got 50 years of previous publications backing her up, I don't see her use of Austen's characters as a piggybacking glorified fan-fiction in hope of boosting sales, but rather as an homage to one great writer from another.  (If you think I'm indirectly slamming that OTHER dual-initialed James, well... you're right.)  It is, of course, great fun to spend some time with those two most amiable couples, the Darcys and the Bingleys, but the focus is mainly on Wickham, with most of the action being from the viewpoint of Mr. Darcy.  This unfortunately means that we don't see quite as much of Elizabeth, but James also manages to avoid the sickly-sweet "perfect marriage" that has kept me from ever reading any of the other so-called sequels.  There are a couple of sly nods to Emma and Persuasion, an engagingly twisty murder mystery (of course), and if it's not as deep as some of James's other work, well, sometimes that doesn't matter. 

I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend - Cora Harrison

Don't we all wish?  The fictional Jenny Cooper (based on a real person, though), a cousin to the large Austen clan, takes centre stage in this YA novel, which purports to be her diary this time.  (It occurs to me that, now that about 90% of all written communication is in digital format, future biographers are not going to have much fun with notable figures of this era...)  In contrast to the adult Jane depicted in the above-mentioned imaginings, here she's only 15, so direct references to her works are concerned with the body now known as her Juvenilia; there are plenty of hints toward the mature novels as well, with an unpleasant pair of schoolmates called Maria and Julia Bertram, a wealthy Miss King, and rather a lot of harping on "possessed of a good fortune" being some of the more obvious ones.  Not quite as good at sticking to period language as the adult offerings, it's still a fun read; scenes with Jane's disabled brother George are particularly sweet.

I think I'll stop there for now and continue my personal Austen binge on the film adaptations (I have rather a lot of knitting to get through, and it's awfully hard to knit and read at the same time).   I really should have been born two hundred years earlier...

29 June 2012

Bonkers Birdie

You know, sometimes there's nothing better than embracing your Inner Diva, blasting some Erasure, and belting out some cheesy songs with Andy Bell. *nods*

I'm an Odd Bird. I like all music - from opera to cheesy pop - and I like to shake my thang and sing along to them (both badly) as much as any other Odd Bird.

I'm an Odd Bird in other ways too. While I'm a little OCD with a lot of things, I'm can also be so scatterbrained that things get forgotten about all the time. I think it would be fair to say I'm also a One-Extreme-Or-The-Other Bird. There's no middle ground with me. Which can be very awkward when I am being a Stubborn Bird, because I refuse to back down or compromise.

Of course, I'm also a Procrastinating Bird - everyone knows that -but have I mentioned that I'm also  Buries-Head-In-The-Sand Bird too?

I'm also a Very Sorry Bird, because I haven't blogged here or on my own blog for a long time (well, I did post on mine on Monday, but that was after a two month break). The thing is, the longer I leave things, the more I put them off, and the more I put them off, the less inclined I feel to get on with them. *is a Blushing Birdie*

So, having established that I am a Dithering Bird,  after putting off securing a publisher for my chick-lit comedy, I did a totally un-Odd Bird-like thing and entered two competitions this year, and got nowhere fast in both cases. This came as no surprise, because really, when facing stiff competiton from all kinds of serious genres like drama, suspense, thriller, and other such adult-themed things, pitting a fluffy chick-lit, complete with swearing protagonist, innuendo, and talking cats, against them was only ever going to end in tears. (I think I have to many commas in that sentence, but then I am a Grammatically Incorrect Bird).

So now I am a Disheartened Bird - at least, I'm disheartened with my modern Cinderella tale. I mean, I still love it, because it was my first ever book-baby, but deep down I've always known that my silly side should really only be reserved for my blog. I can be a Funny Bird without trying - at least, I usually end up being funny even when I don't intend it - but my real strengths have always been writing emotional and dark tales. And my main love when it comes to reading has always been fantasy.

So I'm going back to my roots and getting back to my fantasy novel, which I shelved ages ago and never got back to. I've dusted it off, given it a read through, and realised that it's not half bad. And because I actually know where I am going with it, it may even turn out to be pretty good.

Best of all, it's dark and twisty, so I get to be an Evil Bird when I'm writing it.

Yup, even as a birdie, I have multiple personalities. It's just the way we roll.

Odd Bird with Odd Chick

Image self-taken.

A/N - There may be (take that as 'there are probably') typos in this post, because spellchecker isn't working for me, and the words are mingling a little owing to the fact that I am a Very Tired Birdie today).

28 June 2012


I'm sure everyone's heard it at some point - "Wow, you look just like so-and-so, are you related?"  It might be a famous person, it might be somebody's high school friend, but despite the staggering variety of sizes, shapes and colours that humans come in, let's face it, everybody looks like somebody.

Do you ever wonder if identical twins just tune that out?  Or - whoa - wouldn't it be weird if a set of twins met another set of twins and they ALL looked alike?  I saw a guy walking down the street today who looked so much like Kit Harington that I actually double-checked to make sure he didn't have a white wolf with him (for those not up on their HBO, he plays Jon Snow in Game of Thrones and looks like this:)

Found this one on somebody-or-other's Tumblr.
So of course I immediately texted my buddy who thinks he's the hottest thing ever and told him to go hunting, so if some poor random dude finds a lovelorn Stark fan on his porch, oops, sorry.

Wanna know something really funny?  At one point, Tara and I were near-doubles for each other.  Seriously, no joke!  I can't find the pics that show it best, but here are some munchkin pictures of us:

And here's one where we're all grown up (but not grown-ups, 'cause they're boring):

We look nothing alike anymore.  Strange, isn't it?

(Yup.  I swiped pics from Tara's and Tami's Facebook albums.  This is what happens when I forget it's my turn to post until 1 AM.  Oh well.)

19 June 2012

Summer vacation is less fun as an adult

I know, way to start out with a downer, right?  But as someone who teaches children for the main portion of my income, when the routines of school end and parents whisk their offspring away to camps and vacations and who knows what, my existence becomes slightly precarious.  On the plus side, this leaves me lots more time to do things that I only rarely get a chance to when I'm in full-swing two-job mode, like go running regularly, read two or three books in one day, and cook up a storm (you know the kind I mean - the one where by the end of it if there are any clean pots left in the kitchen it's because you couldn't find them).

But unlike when I was a kid and my parents paid the bills and my summer job was, if anything, busking (which, granted, pulls in wads of tax-free cash on a good day, plus it got me practicing), I have dependents now - furry four-legged ones, but still - who don't care if I only worked 25 hours this week, they both need food and one needs medicine (Rullie turned 14 on Saturday!  This is pretty damned fantastic, since I wasn't at all sure she'd make it when she started going downhill in February, but she's doing really well so far and that makes me happy).

I have responsibilities to my roommates, too - I have to hold up my end on the rent, and most of the bills are in my name, so I have to pay them first and then the girls pay me back, plus keeping the cleaning under a reasonable amount of control and making sure I pull my weight in that department.

Also, I don't get to go to camp anymore.  I was one of those weird nerdy kids who went to science camp (well, not "camp" exactly, it was more like voluntary summer school with a lot of field trips; lasted about an hour and a half every weekday for 6 weeks) when I was little; when my career aspirations changed irrevocably from paleontology to music, I started going to music camp instead.  And in case you were wondering, yeah, string quartet camp is way geekier than band camp, but if the shenanigans conjured up by that phrase were going on at any of the ones I went to, I missed them while I was practicing.

The beach isn't as much fun as it used to be, either.  Mostly because of body image issues (I know I'm in better shape than 90% of the country; that doesn't help), but also because I may be a brunette but I burn like a redhead and there is just not as much ozone out there as there used to be - and I get kinda spacey when I'm lying around reading a book and I don't always remember to reapply my 100+ every hour, and last summer I got COOKED.  I still have the lines.

So lest this whole post be a Debbie Downer wail, I'm trying to focus on the good parts - I still fit into my summer wardrobe, so yay, didn't get fat over the winter!  More time to read - excellent!  Cooking promises to be a lot more fun this summer, too, as I'm actually growing a few of my own ingredients - erm, as long as I don't kill them before they're ready to eat.  Getting a jumpstart on holiday gift knitting would be a good idea - I owe one of my pseudonephews an Aran sweater, and that'll take a while even if he's only 2 in August.  Oh, and I'm writing again - as of right now, I'm closing in on 40K in BuNoWriMo-land, and I'm hopeful that with the blockage cleared I may actually get some serious writing done this summer.

So, okay.  It's still not as fun as when I was a kid, but I'm going to have a good time anyway, damnit!

15 June 2012

Add spaces between paragraphs to make post more reader-friendly

Tami did such a fab (llama) job yesterday on turning a whine fest into a wine fest by sharing her hard-earned life lessons, that I thought I'd share some of my (well-not-exactly-life-lessons-but-possibly-first-world-problems-or-not-even-that-more-like) observations. From today. And other days. Fewer llamas, though:

Who'd have thunk it? Chocolate milk with brownie taste isn't all that yummy.

Caught myself checking the weather forecast today. Crossing my fingers that it's accurate, and thus that we'll actually have a hint of summer in Oslo next week.

Burma or Myanmar or whatever it's politically correct to say nowadays are getting their coke back, the papers told me today. Coca Cola is reestablishing there, leaving only two countries off their mass market list (Cuba and North Korea in case you were wondering).

Today we talked about Monty Python for a work meeting. No, really. We did. And it was useful. I have a weird job.

I really want to read Chris Cleave's new book, Gold, but am having a hard time finding it in Norway. I could order it online, obviously, but I've always been a fan of the old-fashioned "in store" purchase version when it comes to books. Might have something to do with the fact that I've worked in bookstores for eight years... Anyway, while looking for shops in Oslo that potentially might have the book (that so far is only out in hardcover version), I found that one of the local bookshops offered to ship the Norwegian version of the book within three days. Does this mean that they actually translated a book before it came out (June 7th, I think - not long ago, anyway) in the riginal version? That's weird. Really unusual.

Well, I'll be buying the original anyway, though, since I generally prefer that to translations. Still weird.

When I refreshed the tab with Facebook just now it went blank except for the word "success" written right at the top. Uhm. Not success I'd say!

I might get a hair cut today. (See why this list doesn't even qualify as first world problems? Yeah...)

Re: my job. We're moving this summer. From one building to another (gotta explore campus a little, y'know!). Meaning we'll have to pack everything. Now, the problem is that I have sort of just "acquired" an office. Occupied it. Squatted. Annexed, overran or garrisoned it if you like.

As a historian I feel compelled to tell you that none of the above expressions is used in an accurate context.
But almost.

The thing is - when I first started working at the university it was a very temporary gig, and thus they only placed me in the abandoned office of an old professor who ran away to Spain (seriously. He did).

He did not, however, clear his office before he left.

For the last few months, therefore, I've been sitting crammed in between his papers, books, and dead flies. (Really) Gradually, I've moved my own stuff in, so now his books, papers and dead flies are pushed to the margins of the room, but it's all still there.

The question, then, is whether I have to pack his stuff too (and whether I need to bring it with me to my new, shiny office in the new, shiny building), or whether someone else will (and still if it will be transported to my new, shiny office). I'm especially worried about the flies.

Such things worry me today.

Not a llama:  

14 June 2012

Lessons I Did Not WANT to be Involved In Yesterday

Yes yes. My turn. Blah blah blah.  Pardon me. I'm crabby.

Dignitary? Or Stripper? You decide.
Ever need a good old-fashioned whine fest? Ever wish you could REALLY make it a WINE-fest? Mostly my life is cruising along BEAUTIFULLY. My first book came out last week and is a 'bestseller' according to Barnes & Noble—something that is VERY VERY Cool... But I had a REALLY annoying evening, so I am just going to take a moment to complain.

Lesson 1: Never PASTE pictures into blogger.

This first is the REASON that this post really just couldn't be anything but a whinefest. I have a guest over on my regular blog (who wrote a FABULOUS post) but I tried and tried and tried and Blogger kept eating the bloody post.

Turns out the trouble was embedded pictures. GRRRRR. Each one took like forty thousand lines of HTML and kept crashing the bloody thing. And each time I'd write my little intro and format a few things... and then GONE.

So don't do that.

Do you suppose it is half llama half hydra?
Lesson 2: Turns Out if You are Unhealthy and Feel Poorly for Months, it makes you CRABBY

HWMNBMOTI has been a big grouch-puss for a couple weeks, testy, pissy, crabby... And I've (helpfully) been telling him his medications aren't working (they are supposed to mellow the mood swings) and he has been ANGRY with me for not letting him HAVE his moods. We finally talked it through and a lightbulb went on. He hasn't felt well for MONTHS... thing after thing in his physical health keeps happening and then it is layered with the mental health stuff (PTSD response, anxiety).

For pete's sake, I study PAIN for a living. I KNOW it is depressing to live with a miserable condition. But when it is too close to home (inside the home) it is easy not to apply what you know.

Llamasus! The elusive winged Llama!!!
Lesson 3: (the one I intend to apply ASAP): If you don't have an icemaker, then there is a SYSTEM to the ice trays and if you don't FOLLOW IT, then you are likely to be hit in the head with the tray you left in there with TWO cubes and started a NEW tray using more than half of it.

For the LOVE OF LLAMAS, EMPTY the bloody tray of ice and fill it with water before starting a new one or I will BEAT YOU!

And Now, to make myself feel better, I am going to sprinkle this post with llamas.

(By the time you read this, I won't be crabby anymore...)

12 June 2012

Topical Tuesday: BuNoWriMo, Books, Birthdays and Buffoonery


Well, for the first time, I joined BuNoWriMO and actually am writing.  For those who don't know what BuNoWriMo is, here is a short synopsis- Writers, 50,000 words (or 25, 000), 30 days in June.  Similar to the NaNoWriMo in November.

This is monumentous for me as I have not written anything of any significance in the last two years.  I want to thank all of the writers that are currently participating and all the support (cheerleaders) in Writing Sprints R Us!  You have all really helped me to be accountable and remain consistent.  :D

"He want that cake, cake, cake, cake, cake  . . . You want to put your name on it. . . " - Rihanna's "Birthday Cake"

I had a lovely pre-birthday date with my hubby this past weekend.  We ate a great restaurant in Brooklyn called Fette Sau.  Yes that means "Fat Pig."  It was a great BBQ meal of beef brisquet, pulled pork, with delicious sides like German potato salad, homemade pickles and sauerkraut.  Afterwards, we went to the movies and saw Snow White and The Huntsman.  Good film!  This may sound a bit boring to some people but was perfect for me.  I cannot remember the last time I went to the movies.  I think it was Smurfs 3D with the kiddies.  :D

However, this birthday is a bit difficult for me.  I have just turned 39 years old.  Next year, I will be 40.  I thought I would have accomplished so much by now but things just kept getting in the way.  I decided that I may want to do something different in the future.  I love teaching high school students but I need to move on.  It's been 13 years since I began this pedagogical journey and I want to do more educational administrative "stuff."  Maybe I'll teach at the university level rather than the secondary level.  Not sure but- I will figure it out by the summer's end.  :/


 I am currently reading Alyse Carlson's The Azalea Assault.  We at the Burrow know her as Hart Johnson.  My daughter is also reading the book and is loving it!  The book is suspenseful and well-written.  Cam Harris is charismatic, deeply thoughtful and a bit of a busybody.  I love the character development and the quick pace of the novel.  It's crazy but I still don't know who did it!  ;)

Hart put so much work into her first novel and is currently working on other projects.  Her dedication and perseverance are qualities that will guarantee her success!  I can't wait to read the others.  :D

For those who love cozy mysteries, definitely get your hands on The Azalea Assault.


It is the end of the year and it is crazy at the schoolhouse.  Things still to do: grades, paperwork, final grades, paperwork, proctor state exams, paperwork, report cards, paperwork, pack up office, and did I mention paperwork.  I tell you, it never really ends, does it?

It's time to say good bye to my seniors as they commence in their journeys of higher educational facilities, the world of work and/ or the armed forces.  I will miss them dearly.  Congratulations to the Class of 2012!

*That includes my son Justin, soon to be SUNY Delhi college student!*

Love you much and don't forget me!

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons:  Birthday Cake, The Three Stooges.
Image courtesy of BuNoWriMo: Writing ALot
Image courtesy of Amazon.com: The Azalea Assault

08 June 2012

One week report

So, are you WriMo-ing with us this month?  If you are, then you're one week in too - how's it going so far?  I'm pretty pleased with myself at the moment, I really must say - as I type this, it's just gone midnight and my end-of-day-7 word count stands at 14,613.  To put that in perspective, the "official" goal (if you're shooting for the same amount every day and landing neatly at 50,000 at the end) is 11,666, and my personal goal (attempting to hit 2,000 words a day) is 14,000, so I'm beating them both which makes me quite happy - I haven't done this well on a WriMo since, I dunno, 2005 or so.

As for the story itself, it's moving along reasonably well, actually.  I'm into Chapter 4, I've killed off the first (and possibly only - haven't decided yet) victim (it's a mystery, did I say that?), I've got an amazing soundtrack to listen to while I write (Brahms chamber music - sing it with me now, "These are a few of my favourite things!"), and characters I'm enjoying spending time with (to the point that I kind of want to trade places with one of them, but that would be REALLY weird...).

That doesn't mean my life outside the story is totally ghastly right now or anything, though.  It'd be nice if it would stop raining, but my kitty is doing reasonably well with her medications, it's almost the end of the school year which means I have a bit more free time, I met Richard Ford tonight (HUUUUUUUGE fan!), and one of my students gave me a $50 gift card which I promptly spent on books, so yaaaaaaaaay books!

Speaking of books, I have a big ol' task to complete for the Tart, so if you'll excuse me, I need to get on that.  Oh, and what are you waiting for?


05 June 2012

Burrow's First Baby: The Azalea Assault

Burrow Baby Born This Day!!!

Announcing the birth of our first official Burrow Baby:

The Azalea Assault by Alyse Carlson (that's me, but shhhh)
Published by Berkley Prime Crime (an imprint of Penguin)
June 5, 2012

See, the Burrow began with four score blondes and brunettes all between 16 and 19 ½... wait. Wrong version.

The Burrow was born out of Harry Potter love criss-crossed with serious writing aspirations. And there is no way I EVER could have finished my first book, let alone my 7th (which this one is—honestly, I am writing #13 this month). But the support and concrete assistance of my Burrow family has helped ALL THE WAY through.

So weighing in a 4.2 ounces, mass paperback, cozy mystery... is the first of what I hope will be MANY books for ALL of us. Available at pretty much all book stores...

If you want a little cozy mystery fun today, head on over to my blog for a blogfest that should be a hoot.

31 May 2012

BuNoWriMo Reminder

Okay everybody - only one more day till this year's mad word count race begins!  Yep, the Burrow is doing it again, holding our own WriMo in the month of June, and you're invited.  Yes, you.  Stop looking around for someone else.  The rules are simple - because there aren't any, really.  I mean, okay, so there's the standard 50,000 words in 30 days thing, but seriously, if you need to edit 500 pages, that's cool, or if you want to add to an existing work or write a drabble a day or just want to have some other writers to kvetch with for a while as you try to cudgel your muse into coughing up your next plotline, that's all just fine and dandy.

Like last year, we're hosting the group over on Facebook; we'll let anyone in as long as you ask nicely, so click here and go for it.  Our graphics whiz, Joris, made us lots and lots of avatars, and you can browse those in the photo album over there.

This one's mine (purple and green, y'see).  MINE.  Muahahahaha!
As for me, after last year's spectacular crash-and-burn (caused mainly, but not entirely, by a malfunctioning laptop) I'm just looking forward to doing some actual writing again.  Characters are yakking at me, I've got a soundtrack cued up and ready to go (it starts with Brahms Op. 115 if anyone cares), and miracle of miracles, I've got the first of June off!  No idea how THAT happened, but I'm planning on taking advantage of that, big time.  So what are you waiting for?  All the cool kids are doing it... well, okay, we're nerds, but nerds ARE the cool kids now, so there.

18 May 2012


And y'know what springtime means?  It means KITTENS!  And PUPPIES!  And they all want to play with me!  Really.

Yesterday one of my friends came over to use my sewing machine (I have a super-spiffy one now, it's kinda awesome).  When I went downstairs to let her in, she hadn't quite made it to my porch yet, but a lovely fluffy white husky saw me and came tearing up the steps to lick my hand and let me scratch her soft fuzzy ears.  She had heterochromia, as so many huskies do, but I've never seen a pure white one before and oh good grief I ADORE white fluffy dogs.  She didn't want to go back to her walker, either; nope, she wanted to stay with me on the porch.  Doggies love me.

More proof?  Okay.  I popped into the pet store to get some stuff for my own kittehs, and was puttering around browsing when a small brown furball with enormous ears came barreling at me.  Turned out to be a 4-month-old French bulldog (I LOVE Frenchies!  Smooshy faces and great big ears!), who promptly plopped down on my feet and let me scratch those exuberant oreilles.  Oh, and his chin.  And his belly.  And his back.  'Cause he was too damn cute not to pet all over.

Oh, and then I had to go pick up some meds for my Rullie-cat, so I popped over to the vet, only to find the receptionist cuddling a small white-footed tabby kitten.  She handed him over so she could go get Rullie's bag, and the little fluff (named Moose - very small moose, if you ask me) proceeded to lick my left arm from wrist to shoulder, nuzzling with his little wet nose all the while.
(Not Moose, but the Burrito {who looks pretty similar, and, let's face it, he's adorable})

So now I totally want more critters.  I can't afford them, and I certainly don't have room for them, but ohhhh... fuzzbabies are the best!

08 May 2012

Hooray, Hooray...

... the 8th of May!  Tami would kill me if I posted about anything else today, so here it is, your rundown of today's obscure holiday.  Hey, if we can have Star Wars Day ("May the Fourth {be with you}!) and of course Cinco de Mayo, what other day could possibly round off this week except - you ready for this one?

National Outdoor Intercourse Day!

I kid you not.

Those goofballs in Tami's town started it, apparently (I know, who'd have thought such a thing originated in a NORTHERN state?  I mean, it gets COLD up there, even in May!  But whatever...), though I hear there are some over in Jason's that say it was their idea.  But WHOEVER started it, it's definitely an amusing addition to those other early-May holidays, especially since we don't get a "real" (as in, government-sanctioned, which, come to think of it, generally does NOT mean it's a hell of a lot of fun {okay, okay, except for the 4th of July, but when you think about it, that was rebelling against a DIFFERENT government [and of course you get to blow stuff up, which is the best part ]}) one till Memorial Day, which is probably how all these extra ones got shoved in here anyway.

So this is the day where you grab your partner of choice and head outside to have a grand ol' time and try not to get arrested for indecent exposure or any of those annoying mood-killers.  At least, those of you who have partners (I don't think it counts if you're flying solo).

And since this is Topical Tuesday, I suppose I should mention some other bits (hah!) of news, like, I dunno, French or Russian elections, or the Avengers' massive first-weekend box office, or baby pills (!!!!!!), buuuuuuuuuuuut those are giant mood-killers too (except maybe the Avengers one {if you like that kind of thing [I'm doing it again with the parentheses, I really need to knock that off, sorry]}) so I'll leave those in the apophasis category and let y'all get on with having a good time, okay?


You all went outside already, didn't you?

30 April 2012

Reading Monday: Action and Erotica

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

I read The Hunger Games a long time ago, last year I believe, and didn't know that this is a trilogy.  My daughter begged me to buy them for the Kindle and as a teacher, I could not refuse.  I was pleasantly surprised at not only the action sequences and complexity of the characters; but also at the depth of thought from the heroine.  Katniss Everdeen is in a post apocolyptic world which televises and promotes the deadly game of "last teenager standing takes all.  Katniss is a victor, along with her fellow district partner Peeta Mellark, in The Hunger Games.  

Katniss and Peeta are now the faces of rebellion in the districts, making them enemies against the Capitol.  She realizes, very early in the novel, that victory in the Hunger Games was much bigger than just security for her family.  Katniss and Peeta traipse from district to district in the Victory Tour but are leery of the Capitol's intentions.  Catching Fire is not fast-paced like The Hunger Games but you get a better picture of Panem, The Districts and the characters.  I (and my daughter Ayanna) highly recommend it!

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

The final novel in the trilogy was a wonderful read.  It begins with Katniss and Peeta living in the Victory Village of District 12. Victors of the Hunger Games are safe from all future games.  However in a sadistic twist, the Capitol will require all victors to participate in the Quarter Quell, held every 25 years.  Will Katniss be the final victor of all victors or will she defy the Capitol?  

I was quite emotional with this book because it reminded of the quote, "Am I my brother's keeper?"  Are we responsible for our fellow man?  I (and Ayanna) highly recommend this novel.

50 Shades of Grey by E. L. James

This is a novel that is erotic, tantalizing and romantic.  The protagonist, Anastasia Steele, is a very young and naive young woman who is unprepared for the erotic and often sadistic pleasures of Christian Grey.  

This is strictly for those 21 and older.  I do not recommend this for anyone who has an aversion to bondage, dominants, sadism and masochism.  The first 60 pages are slow but that is understandable as we get to know the various characters and their relationships in the novel.  

I am currently on Chapter 7 and am enjoying the book, although this is not a genre I normally read.  Anastasia is a character who loves adventures in books.  She is shy and has low self-esteem.  Christian is an individual who is always in control and manipulates those around him to get what he wants.  I see him as cold and calculating man, while Anastasia is a googly-eyed innocent with no real idea as to what the world of BDSM encompasses.  

Happy reading!

26 April 2012

Voices in my head

I've been bitching rather a lot about my inability to write lately.  It's back.  And this is where the delusional part comes in.

What kind of weirdball nuts are we writer-types anyway when the RETURN of the voices in your head indicate that things are back on track?  There are at least 6 characters babbling at me in my daily showers now (yeah, I think in the shower, that's my excuse for staying in there so long if my roommates ask...), and while it's getting a wee bit cacophonous, I seriously don't mind one bit.  A few of them are old friends, making a visit to impart some new insight they had while they were away; at least one is new and I have NO CLUE what to do with her yet, but whatever, that'll come eventually I suppose; a couple are REALLY old and they seem to have moved on with their lives in the interim so I guess they'll need a new setting (I left off with them in grad school, but one of them seems to have a kid now - where'd THAT come from???).

I'm not schizo, I know I'm not... these are all perfectly normal, I've talked to enough other writers that I know full well that having characters take on lives of their own happens all the time and it means things are generally going well, though it's a little hard sometimes on a control freak like I can be to discover that they just won't BEHAVE.  Kind of like my cats, actually.

I wonder if THEY have voices in their heads too.  How else can you explain the midnight (okay, so last night it was at 2 AM) crazies?  Seriously, I give the cat a treat and the next thing I know he's a wide-eyed, ears-back ball of fluffy rampage rocketing around the room.  Really, Durwen?  Did you have to knock ALL the movies off the bed?  I was going to watch one.  Fenny would never do that.  (Who's Fenny?)  Oh, Fenny's Claire's cat.  (Who's Claire?)  Oh, she's one of the voices in my head...

24 April 2012

We will never forget, but I don't want to understand

Last Monday I changed the mode on my alarm clock from "radio" to "bird chitter".

During the course of the morning I unfollowed on Facebook every source that used to update me on breaking news.

When I walked to work, I deliberately looked away from the newspaper stands outside of the shops I passed.

All of these actions were grounded in the same basic motivation: enough is enough.

Though in reality, it isn't enough. It's just getting started.

It seems we've become a country of reluctant news junkies here in Norway. It's been nine months, but the memories of the horrors of the events on the 22nd of July last year are as strong as ever. We've been through stages of shock, sorrow and anger, and now it is - perhaps - the time for comprehension. At least I think that is the reason why even those of us who rather would close our eyes to the whole thing still feel obliged to pay some attention to the circus that started last week: the trial.

It's absurd, of course, to even try to comprehend the - in lack of a better word - evil that lies behind the killing of 77 people in two coordinated attacks. One bomb. Several hundred gun shots.

I'm not sure, though, that it is beneficial to comprehend too much. It lies in our nature, perhaps, to try to figure things out, to understand, to explain. But in reality, I don't want to have to spend my time or energy on this man. I don't even want to hate him - what purpose would that serve? Reading about what he says or has written makes me feel ill. His picture too. That face I don't even want to know, but which has been etched in so that I will never forget the pudgy, pale, wax-like skin; the narrow, close-set eyes; the much-talked-about post-surgery nose.  The other day I made the mistake of watching a video clip of him to hear his voice - and I found myself thinking it was feminine and cold and disgusting. Objectively speaking, I am sure he looks and sounds no worse than the next guy, but I cannot be objective. And it bothers me, immensely, that I don't want to be. I want to feel physically ill from looking at him or hearing his voice, and consequently, I am letting him affect me more than he deserves.

The focus on him - the terrorist whose name I don't even want to say or write - annoys me. Obviously it's difficult to avoid, the attack having been a one-man-job. I get how this character fascinates people. The combination of a delusional self-image and extremist political ideas, plus the will and ability to go through with his [insert ten minutes worth of thoughts to try to come up with an adjective that accurately describes this. "Gruesome", "cold-blooded" or "morbid" didn't quite do the trick] plan. As a mental case, he is doubtlessly interesting. But I'm not a psychiatrist. I'm a regular person wondering whether it's really necessary to spend so much time, ink and words on a man who already hurt us all so much.

Ironically, here I am spending both time, words and the electronic equivalent of ink on him.

In reality, though, what ought to be the focus isn't him, or his wacked ideology. Rather, his actions should be. He will be prosecuted for what he did, not what he believes in. It seems the media forgot this detail.

I have faith in the system. I trust that the court will pass a fair judgment, under the available laws. I trust that this will mean that he will never again set his foot outside a prison as a free man. And that will be that. Until then, I don't need the details. I don't want to spend more time than necessary on this. I don't want to give him that.

23 April 2012

ABNA Books Make Good!

So I have a one-track mind right now—tomorrow they announce this year's Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards semi-finalists. I made the list last year (different book) but am NERVOUS about tomorrow. BUT... I thought a good way to channel that was to share a list of published books that are former ABNA entrants. Some of these were written by good friends, some by people I don't actually know, but know someone I know, so all are at least 2nd degree friends. There are a TON more, but this list is pretty large already. I'm not going to make an attempt to order them by genre or anything, or this would take all day... just listing them in the order I either thought of them, or was reminded of them...

The Tree Soldier by Janet Oakley: This historical romance is set in a CCC camp in the Pacific Northwest and is an award winner for best self published book.
Hard Copy  Kindle  (Free today!) 

One mistake can ruin a life. One mistake can transform it. A government forestry camp set deep in the mountainous forests of the Pacific Northwest might not seem the likely place to find redemption, but in 1935, Park Hardesty hopes for just that. Blaming himself for the fiery accident that caused his brother's disfigurement and the death of the bootlegging woman he loved, planting trees, building bridges and mentoring tough, homesick New Jersey boys brings him both penitence and the renewal of his own self-worth. When he wins the love of Kate Alford, a local naturalist who envisions joining the Forest Service, which allows only men, he also captures the ire of a camp officer who refuses to let her go. Just when he is ready to seek his brother's forgiveness, he is falsely accused of rape. Every aspect of his life he has tried to rebuild is put in jeopardy. In the end, the only way he can defend himself is to tell the truth about his brother, but he risks being kicked out of the camp. Worse, he could lose Kate's love forever

Shattered Seeds: Sofia's Story by Clu Gallagher:
Hard cover  Kindle

If heirloom seeds are shattered before planting, they will never grow. In the 20th Century biographical fiction, SHATTERED SEEDS: “SOFIA’S STORY” CLU Gallagher draws a unique comparison to the seeds of humanity. Sofia is a German woman whose life had been destroyed by war. Now, she is eighty-nine years old and facing death, worried about how she should dispose of the one article in her vast estate she values most, a tattered old quilt, a legacy from her grandmother. She is haunted by a decision she’d made to her beloved Oma to make Germany proud of her, a task that proved difficult after she’d run away from the evils of her Nazi husband and had denounced all connection to Germany. Beginning anew in America and in a world that despised Germans, she overcame her tragic past by becoming a published author and utilized her wealth to establish a chain of adoption centers. The story opens with Janene McDeenon (An-Ly Tai) traveling to Pittsburgh for a meeting with Sofia. Janene is writing an article for a women’s magazine on “Adoption", but is hoping to find information about her own adoption in the process. The two women form a bond that transcends time and distance as they both explore the answers to the mysteries of their heritage. Before the meeting with Janene, Sofia had willed that the last remaining relic of her shattered German family (her Oma's quilt) be buried with her. After the meeting, Janene gains a new appreciation for the loss she’d suffered when war in South Vietnam had taken away her heritage. Clu Gallagher has given the readers a compelling account of war in the 20th Century and its lasting effects on those who had endured it. It is difficult to believe that the story is fiction.

The Silk Weaver's Daughter by Elizabeth Kales

The year is 1685 and when King Louis XIV of France, threatens death to all Huguenots, a silk weaver and his family flee the country only to discover that nowhere is life without danger. Pierre and Jacques Garneau are cousins, brought up together by their grandfather in a small Huguenot village. At a family reunion, Jacques warns the devout Pierre that he must soon make the decision to revoke his religion or risk death. Pierre decides that, with Jacques' help, he will try to get his family to England. But Pierre's beautiful daughter, Louise and Jacques' son, Marc are in love, and they have their own ideas of what their future will hold. Set in this turbulent time in French history, how will the choices each family member makes, weave the tapestry of their lives? "The Silk Weaver's Daughter" is partially based on the author's twenty years of Family History research, as well as her travels to France and England investigating her Huguenot Heritage.

The Night Watchman Express by Alison DeLuca
Each night, thirteen-year-old Miriam hears the eerie whistle of the Night Watchman Express. The sound of the train gives her visions of an underground factory and a terrifying laboratory... Miriam has only her guardians' son for company, and she and Simon dislike each other from the start. But they must find a way to trust each other, or they will end up on the sinister Night Watchman Express. Full of danger, suspense, betrayal, and a hint of romance, this steampunk adventure is for readers of all ages.

The Last Good Knight by Connie Jasperson

Swashbucklers, pirates, sword fighting courageous Knights and Fair maidens abound in The Last Good Knight. In the tradition of a Wilbur Smith and Michael Crichton's Medieval block buster Timeline. Action abounds, it this historical fiction account. From slaying dragons, to rescuing the King's Whore, to secret missions for good King Henri, no job is too big or too small for the Great Knight, Sir Julian Lackland. But what happens when the only one still willing to take on the bad jobs is too old to be doing them? How does a hero retire from the business of saving people? Here begins the tale of the life and adventures of the peoples Champion. Invincible on both the field of battle and the bedroom, Lackland is a man of intense passion, the highest honor, and deepest loyalties. A mercenary, a bold warrior and a brilliant tactician, he is at times reckless beyond comprehension, and often suicidal; throwing himself into both battle and love with his entire being. His heart is forever given to one woman, but she will never give up the sword, not even for him and her choices leave Lackland with no choices whatsoever. Despite the lack of resolution in his personal life, he somehow endures; his innate sense of the ridiculous, wry wit and humor concealing the fragile man that is Julian Lackland. From his days as a mercenary to his years as the arms-master of Waldeyn, obsession and honor rule his life; these two things both make him and break him. But for all that Julian is the invincible Great Knight, he eventually becomes the Lost Knight. An incident occurs that changes everything and begins his descent into madness. Two great loves form the framework of his life anchoring his sanity and making a love triangle unlike any other. Yet, even in the depths of madness Lackland remains the very soul of knightly courtesy and true nobility; seeking that which was lost, and as always, making the world a safer place.

The Prospect of my Arrival by Dwight Okita, 2008 Finalist

"Prospect's strong, innocent voice carries the novel as it ranges from touching to satirical in its exploration of the nature of humanity." -- Publishers Weekly, referring to the novel as it appeared in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards A human embryo is allowed to preview the world before deciding whether to be born. The embryo, named Prospect, is given a starter kit of human knowledge, and his consciousness is inserted into a synthetic twenty-year-old body. To help him make up his mind, he will meet a range of people. Among them, a greeting card writer who excels at sympathy cards, and Prospect's very own inscrutable parents. Trish Mesmer is the scientist charged with counseling Prospect, though she has more hidden agendas than a centipede has legs. At the same time, Trevor Grueling grows increasingly committed to derailing the bio-experiment all together. This cautionary tale is served up with equal helpings of whimsy and dread, with just a dash of hope. In the 2008 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards, the book was selected by Penguin editors as one of the top ten books out of five thousand. To learn more about the author's work, and to view the author's unique book trailer, please visit dwightland.homestead.com.

Losing Beauty by Johanna Copeland Garth
Paperback  Kindle
Persey is Alone
Experience has taught her that solitude is best. At any rate, it’s better than hearing everyone’s worst secrets. Daniel Hartnett is a lawyer who has it all. But no one really has it all. Daniel’s never experienced surprise, anticipation or what it feels like to fall in love. When Daniel meets Persey he discovers the first girl who is immune to his special talent. The only problem is someone else discovered Persey first and is hell-bent on claiming her as his own. Haden is the king of the Underworld with a plan to make Persey his immortal queen. What Haden doesn’t plan on is Persey’s ability to compel secrets and how far the people who love Persey will go to protect her from the darkness that threatens to destroy her soul.

Dead Eye: Pennies for the Ferryman by Jim Bernheimer

My name is Mike Ross. I'm a Ferryman. I help people with ghost problems, or ghosts with people problems. Funny thing, no one ever helps me with my problems. Civil War ghosts bent on killing me, Skinwalkers who just want my body, and a vindictive spirit linked both to my bloodline and my destiny... It turns out the dead still hold a good deal of influence over the world, and they don't want to give it up. I'm in way over my head. Fortunately, I'm too stubborn to quit.

The Lollipop Club by J Darroll Hall

In The Lollipop Club, the Halland family has been lucky, the family (AJ and Tess) are car dealers taking a break from that business. Now running a home based business and have become bored with it. AJ seeks a new challenge, a new business venture. His vivacious wife of twenty-five years is also bored even though they have a raucous sex life and seeks her own new adventures. A swinging lifestyle on her birthday soon opens their marriage to multiple sex partners. Both are soon seduced by the lifestyle as Tess befriends several exotic bi-sexual dancers pulling her into the dark world of sex for money and the strip club business. AJ Halland the husband has other ideas, now that his new car business has failed. Why be a stripper when you can own the club. AJ set's out on a course to do just that with an old acquaintance and former customer and quickly takes over his own strip club. Gus Lawson is a oddball who fits in no where, a mystery man who stalks the strip clubs of a small Midwest town. Wherever he goes stripper are found dead. Now a new guy is taking over his favorite stalking ground and Lawson finds his wife appealing and now Lawson wants both the club and the hot wife, and will do whatever it takes. He knows he can dispose of the wife later at any time her freshness fades. In Washington an old lover of AJ's from the late 70's, is now married to a powerful senator with three daughter. Victoria Markland's life will change forever, when one of her daughters die's while in the dark world of stripping. The FBI is called in to put a lid on the senator’s problem, at the expense of finding the daughter's killer if in fact she did not overdose by her own hand. Now the lives of all these characters will converge in a small Midwest town in this explosive erotic thriller. Can AJ find the real reason his girls are turning up dead as he and Tess delve deeper into this dark seedy world. It turns into a life and death race to find the killer and save his own wife. Will his years of addiction finally catch up before he can? Tess and AJ play right into Lawson's hand as more women die.The race in on!

Brother, Betrayed by Danielle Raver
"One brother will betray the others with such treachery that it will change the destiny of Miscia forever." The three princes hear this prophecy, and they will discover how far it will drive them to explore love, loyalty, and their own souls. The princes are bound by loyalty to each other and their kingdom. When conflict comes to their land, their ascension into power is darkened by betrayal. Oman, eldest and Anteria's promised king, leads his brothers on their journey through Arnith. Fasime, driven by passion, seeks a life of romance and adventure. Syah, born the ailing youngest brother of these two outgoing princes, endeavours to overcome his bleak destiny through pursuit of knowledge and magic... a quest that may reveal unknown power within his own soul. A tale woven with deception, war, sacrifice, and magic, BROTHER, BETRAYED takes readers to a troubled kingdom surrounded by barbarians, magical races, and forbidden boundaries.

Land of Nod, The Artifact by Gary Hoover
Hard cover  Kindle
Jeff Browning is a teenage boy who, following the mysterious disappearance of his father (a brilliant physicist), finds a portal in his father's office that transports him to another dimension. The dimension is populated by fantastic and dangerous creatures and also an advanced society of humans. That society, while very different from those on earth, is oddly similar, in some ways, to the society in which Jeff grew up. As Jeff looks for clues regarding what may have happened to his father, he is accused by some of being a spy while thought by others to be a prophesized figure . . . who may be the key to victory in a developing war.

Black Numbers by Dean Lappi
In a land where magic is based on advanced mathematics, Sid is something special, for his awakening sexuality and genius-level understanding of mathematics combines to create a power beyond anything ever seen in the world. Sid’s journey propels him into the center of a 1000-year-struggle with an outcome obscured by a darkness known as Black Numbers.

Ednor Scardens by Kathleen Barker
When the boob fairy makes an early visit in sixth grade, eleven-year-old Kate Fitzgerald is unprepared for the repercussions. Her puppy-love relationship with classmate Gabe Kelsey quickly blossoms. But her carefree days in Catholic school darken with the arrival of Father John O'Conner, a predatory priest with a hidden past. Life becomes even more tangled when Kate falls hard for Gabe's darkly handsome older brother, Michael. The Kelsey boys couldn't be more different: one is shy and self-effacing; the other is tall, athletic, and confident. As the brothers battle for Kate’s affections, how will she choose without tearing their family apart? When she silently witnesses a frightening scene between Gabe and Fr. O'Conner, Kate is unaware that she is O'Conner's intended next victim. With her mother distracted by the strain of providing for her daughter, and a grandmother uncannily tuned in to her feelings, Kate struggles to navigate the unwanted attention from older boys and men, while trying to sort through the questionable counsel of her too-worldly best friend, Anita. Comical adventures lend relief to Kate’s dark struggles, especially when friends share their refreshingly naive observations about growing up. The tragic death of a classmate brings the group face-to-face with mortality, shattering their facade of invincibility.

Children of the Elementi by Ceri Clark
The powerful Elementi Empire spanned over a thousand years, its kings and queens loved and revered by their people and their elemental powers feared by their enemies. One fateful night almost a century ago, the Empire was destroyed by treachery and Magi illusion. All five heirs were thought to be lost... until now. On present day Earth, Jake has an ordinary life, school, bullies, parties... until he stumbles on an ancient crystal and discovers his adoption and a royal past. As Jake touches the pendant, the Magi Emperor in Eleria is alerted that not all the Elementi were killed all those years ago. The Emperor summons an evil fire demon and sends him across the dimensional barrier to hunt and kill the last of the Elementi. Can Jake learn to control his growing elemental powers and reunite the other lost children in time?

A Beautiful Chill by Stephen Swartz
Born and raised in Iceland, taken to Toronto by her mother, Iris discovers a talent in art and an escape from a world she hates. At a college in Kansas, she meets Eric, the new professor. Their dalliance one snowy weekend sparks an obsession in him, while she returns to her modeling and painting - until an awkward reunion forces them to become a couple. Eric is different; he actually cares about her. He wants her to be the proper woman she was meant to be, but all she knows is how to be outrageous. As they struggle to compromise, the battle of wits escalates until the only solution is betrayal. Cleaning up the consequences will test their desire not just for happiness but even their will to survive.

Joe Peace by Kerry Dunn
Paperback  Kindle
Twenty years ago, Joe Peace was an ace homicide investigator for the Austin Police Department, until his penchant for cocaine and a disastrous affair with his partner Cassie buries him at the bottom of the APD's burnout brigade. In Austin, Texas, the psychotic founder of the most powerful drug cartel convinces Joe the cash is greener on the other side of the fence, and Joe becomes a player in the drug scene, buys a mansion, and collects beautiful coeds like butterflies, but the party ends when new details of Cassie's death surface, opening wounds long scarred over. Other crews muscle in on Joe's operation, and he's trapped in the twilight between the cops-who want to take him down-and the kingpins of the street-who want to take him out. JOE PEACE is a gallows-humored tale of revenge and redemption with noir-like dialogue and slippery morals, along with action, suspense, and soul.

Emaline and the Mutants by Rachel Tsoumbakos
At first, no one noticed the changes. A few more dead bodies, a rise in dog attacks. Then people started to mutate... Emeline Hart is left to survive in the world with only her brother by her side. The small community they have joined is their only shelter from a world that has morphed beyond recognition after an AIDS 'cure' goes horribly wrong. Together they help rid the world of vampires, werewolves and trolls, the shells of people left after the world mutated en masse. Then her brother goes missing, presumed dead. Emeline and the Mutants brings together all the elements of fantasy, science fiction and post-apocalyptic fear to create a novel that will have you perched on the edge of your seat!

Bring Me One of Everything by Leslie Hall Pinder
Paperback  Kindle
Everything is a novel which weaves real-life facts and fiction into an eloquent tale of suspense and intrigue. The title of the book is based on what the management of the Smithsonian is said to have demanded when sending ethnographers to native villages to gather artifacts for its collection: "Bring me one of everything." The novel is several layered stories centered around a troubled writer, Alicia Purcell, who has been commissioned to create the libretto for an opera about an anthropologist named Austin Hart. He earned fame in the 1950s for cutting down and bringing back to museums the largest remaining stand of totem poles in the world. They belonged to the Haida tribes who inhabit the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia. Hart's subsequent suicide creates the mystery Alicia attempts to solve as she consults present-day tribe members, Hart's friends and family, and his personal journals. Added to the complications of her search are Alicia's imperious though ailing mother, a cast-off lover, a narcissistic composer, and her own demons of disaffection. But an overarching question dogs her and the reader: why she is so obsessed with Austin Hart and this quest?

Greyhound by Steffan Piper
Paperback  Kindle
12-year-old Sebastien Ranes is taking a trip. He doesn't exactly understand why, but he accepts it. His mother often seems too emotionally detached to care for him. Her latest boyfriend Dick takes cruel pleasure in mimicking the boy’s stuttering, and wants to live his life without "somebody else's kid" getting in the way. So it's no surprise when they pack his bags to send him away. It is a surprise when they send him alone. Ushered from his Stockton, California home, Sebastien must fend for himself and travel two thousand miles across the country to live with his grandmother and sister in Pennsylvania. Along the way, he learns that sometimes caring, guidance and understanding can come from some unlikely people. Marcus is a man who has been neglected more by society than his family. As a young black ex-con, he is not the epitome of the person most would pick as a chaperone for their child's cross country trip. Yet rather than be held apart by their differences, Marcus and Sebastien are drawn together by the things that make us all alike. As both guide and protector, Marcus imparts his own style of wisdom while showing Sebastien that, despite the darker side of the human condition, people can and do care for one another. Greyhound is the story of the journey taken by a young boy into manhood, and by the reader into his world. Like every trip, there are many stops along the way. But this journey differs in the way young Sebastien arrives at his destination.

Russell Wiley is Out to Lunch by Richard Hine (only $1.99 this month!)
Paperback  Kindle
Russell Wiley is in deep trouble. A media executive for the failing Daily Business Chronicle, his career is teetering on the brink of collapse, and his sexless marriage is fast approaching its expiration date. With his professional and personal lives floundering, it’s no wonder Russell is distracted, unhappy, and losing faith in himself. Making matters worse are his scheming boss, a hot-shot new consultant determined to see Russell ousted, and the beguiling colleague whose mere presence has a disconcerting effect on Russell’s starved libido. Disaster seems imminent…and that’s before he makes a careless mistake that could cost the paper millions. Russell realizes he must take drastic action if he is going to salvage his career, his love life, and what little remains of his self-respect. Sardonic, edgy, and true to life, this gripping novel offers an insider’s view into a newspaper's inner sanctum and the people who oil the wheels of the "old media" machine.

The Bum Magnet by KL Brady
Paperback  Kindle
[note:  this is one Karla self-published, but reviews and awards earned her attention for a traditional publisher]
Sassy and successful real estate agent Charisse Tyson has it all—the stately, three-story colonial, a dream job, and a 7-Series BMW. After two decades of tumultuous relationships with cheating men, she’s ready to overhaul her life and make some lasting changes. Charisse swears off dating and sex until she feels ready for a healthy relationship—but unfortunately stunningly sexy, charming Dwayne, a client of Charisse’s, comes along and her plans change. But can she learn from her past mistakes and learn to trust men—and herself?

The Odds by Amy Kinzer
Odds of dying in a plane crash: 1 in 20,000.
Odds of dying in a motor vehicle accident: 1 in 256.
Odds of living a normal life for Ethan Sorenson: impossible.
Fifteen-year-old Ethan Sorenson lives life on the periphery… and it’s not intentional. A scholarship student at the prestigious Evergreen Preparatory Academy in Seattle, all Ethan wants is to fit in with his prep-school classmates. But Ethan’s divorced mother – a senior actuary at Northwest Life Insurance who calculates insurance risks – is convinced he is going to die. The most mundane moments pose a risk of death according to Ethan’s mother. Life is even worse for Ethan’s four-year-old brother who still wears clothes with snaps and rides in a stroller. When Ethan befriends the school’s star baseball player he gets a chance to break into Evergreen’s elite social circle. He sneaks out at night, he goes to parties attended by his love interest, and his new friend teaches him to drive. But then his crush starts dating someone else and his mom calls the cops when she finds his bed empty in the middle of the night. Desperate to escape his mother’s strange rules, Ethan kidnaps his brother and goes to Oregon on a search for his dad. But Ethan’s father’s not in Oregon. Instead he uncovers a family secret that explains his mother’s odd behavior, finds out the truth about the disappearance of a childhood neighbor, and gets a chance to repair his family before it’s too late.

Prince of Bryanae by Jeffrey Getzin
Paperback  Kindle
After over a century of valiant service, the elven soldier Willow has buried her past so deeply that even she has forgotten it. But it hasn't forgotten her. Now old enemies have found her and have kidnapped the Prince of Bryanae before her very eyes! Considered by most of Bryanae to be a traitor and coward, Willow must confront her fears and plunge headlong into the heart of the enemy empire to rescue the Prince and return him safely home. An army of fierce warriors stands in her way, led by the mad and seemingly immortal Warlord. Willow must use every resource at her disposal if she is to save the Prince, even if that means relying on the headstrong and lovesick Private Tamlevar, the inscrutable winged mage Suel, or the dashing but devious Captain Snyde. Willow has been honing her combat and weaponry skills for over 150 years. Now it is time to put that practice to good use. The fates of four races and two kingdoms hang in the balance.

Catcher Caught by Sarah Collins
Paperback  Kindle
From Publishers Weekly A few months after doctors tell him he has only a year to live, a precocious 15-year-old from a small town in Virginia has an intense reaction to “The Catcher in the Rye.” Deriving inspiration from Salinger’s narrative, Daniel Landon questions peoples’ intentions and authority (asking himself, “What would Holden do?”), all while experiencing moments of pure pleasure (especially with his new girlfriend). Daniel makes bold choices in what he believes to be his final year, but also sympathizes with how his hippie parents have struggled with the news of his illness. Not “rule followers themselves,” they decide, without consulting Daniel, that he should forgo chemo and use herbal remedies instead. He does as he’s told and, as a result, is confined to their small houseboat most of the time, reading, doing homework, and pondering teenage stuff (“Parents should never discount the social pull of being physically present at school”) and non-teenage stuff (“I know she’s going to fall apart when I die because our sleeping together was the first time”). Despite the countless references to Holden and Catcher, the narrator’s engaging voice and his quirky family make this a poignant story for young adults and for adults who have forgotten what it’s like to be a teenager. --This text refers to the manuscript reviewed as a part of the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest.

Last Kiss in Tiananmen Square by Lisa Zhang Wharton
Paperback  Kindle
"Last Kiss in Tiananmen Square" is a novel based on the 1989 Tiananmen Square Pro-democracy movement. The novel follows a young woman, Baiyun, a junior in college, trying to reconcile her upbringing while in the midst of the rising political movement in Beijing, China. Baiyun grew up in a strange and cold household: her mother, Meiling, brought her many young lovers to their home while Baiyun was a small child. Often, Baiyun could hear her sad father, drunk and listening by the door. In order to cope with her dysfunctional family, Baiyun worked as hard as she could, eventually getting herself in the prestigious Beijing University. But even away from her parent's madness, she was unable to escape her haunting memories. A distraction was right outside her dorm room window. Baiyun joined the Pro-democracy movement to vent her frustrations. While protesting, she met the man of her dreams, Dagong, a handsome and charismatic factory technician who was orphaned at birth and lost his only relative during the Cultural Revolution. But even Dagong couldn't fully take Baiyun away: his face reminded her of one of her mother's lovers, both attracting her and drawing her back. Eventually Baiyun and Dagong were bonded by their troubled pasts. Amidst the backdrop of the escalating unrest on the streets, they faced violence and were eventually made to question their true loyalties, especially after Baiyun had discovered that Dagong was married with a son. "Last Kiss in Tiananmen Square" is a coming-of age story set against the historic and devastating era in Chinese history.With the cultural significance and family bonds of "The Kite Runner", this book explores the way in which one's past is never forgotten.

Requiem for the Widowmaker by Blackie Noir
Nadine Kozok was a child of five when she killed her first man. The man? Her father.

Twenty-five years later, Long Beach PD patrol-officer Nadine Kozok has taken another life. Knife wielding carjacker Chuey Medina, cop-killer twice over, gave his all in a vicious attempt to make Nadine his third badge wearing victim. Bloodied but unbowed, Nadine survived the battle. Chuey didn’t.  The doctors hadn’t finished tying-off Nadine’s sutures before she had achieved celebrity status due to the TV news video of her violent encounter.  Fame had its rewards. A gold-shield. . . Detective Nadine Kozok. The title was almost enough to ward off her demons. Demons left by Medina. Older demons, relics of a more terrifying confrontation. Twenty-five years and still those phantasms drifted in, like fine sand, filling the cracks and crevices of Nadine’s nightmares.  The Widowmaker didn’t have nightmares. He was a nightmare. Long Beach’s primo vigilante-killer was out there, murdering with impunity. Once, he’d left notes with the bodies. He no longer left the notes . . . just the bodies. Five years, thirteen bodies.  Nadine’s traumatic and violent childhood, specifically the night that had left her orphaned, is taken as a morbid credential by her superiors, they assign her to the foundering Widowmaker task-force.  Following the Widowmaker’s bloody footprints over an ever widening gyre of homeless enclaves, industrial badlands, crank-fueled strip-joints, and dirtwater trailer-parks; Nadine finds her present path intertwining with her past. Her salvation, along with the possibility of her destruction, lies in her violent history. She is taking a jolting, uncompromising, noir trip to the darkside of devotion, where truth gives testimony to the strength of sacrifice, trust must serve as her sword, and victory constitutes a paean to the power of unconditional love.

Van Diemen at 17 by Jeania Kimbrough (Moonbeam Children's Book Award Winner)
On the edge of adulthood, idealistic Kara Jagger has high hopes for a year-long high school exchange in the land of "Aus," where she seeks personal growth and adventure on an island over eight thousand miles from home. Everything she wants comes easily to Kara until she arrives in Tasmania, where she feels stuck in a situation that draws her down. Her exchange program assigns a counselor, Ben, to help her get back on track, but her emotions and misadventures only become more tangled as their romantic attraction ignites. Set in mid-eighties Australia, Van Diemen at 17 is a novel about dealing with the unexpected, moving forward, and bittersweet love. "A true page turner! Few works of fiction portray realistic exchange students, and even fewer place these characters at the epicenter of a human drama. Kara is a compelling character facing a range of both ordinary and extraordinary issues as she attempts to live with a family of strangers and adjust to the demands of a new school in Tasmania. Although Kara's exchange story is atypical, her story is a realistic portrayal of the kinds of situations and personal reactions to them that do crop up every year for a few students. The sympathetic rendering of a conflicted young woman is heartfelt and will resonate with anyone who has struggled to make sense of life in another culture." -- Bettina Hansel, Ph.D., Author of Exchange Student Survival Kit, 2nd Edition

In addition to those listed here, I've previously reviewed ABNA entrants Megan Bostic's Never Eighteen, Gae Polisner's Pull of Gravity and Harry Dolan's Bad Things Happen.(Very Bad Men review here)