Friday, December 31, 2010

Ringing in the New Year

I don't do well with resolutions. It's been past experience that whenever I set the "plan" in writing, I freeze like a deer caught in headlights.

Not this year.

I've been giving a lot of thought to things I'd like to change, and ways to enhance my personal happiness. I'm married to an incredible and thoughtful man who loves me with everything he has. I have a beautiful stepdaughter and a house full of pets that give unconditional love. I'm blessed with amazing friends from around the world.

So what more could I want?

I'm going to be a bit greedy this time around and say: I want to love myself more - and criticize myself less.

So 2011 is going to be about balance...more or less :-)

  • I resolve to write more and procrastinate less.
  • I resolve to exercise more and eat less.
  • I resolve to read more and watch TV less.
  • I resolve to play more and work less.
  • I resolve to love myself more and criticize myself less.
Lofty statements, I suppose. But as I get ready to head out for a romantic New Year's Eve with handsome hubby, I've set some things in motion that will help me achieve this year's resolutions.
  • I accept that 56 books last year was a great accomplishment. When Karen and I issued the challenge for 100 Books in 2010, neither of us REALLY thought we'd meet the goal. But man did we try. And the side benefits rocked - new genres! new authors! new inspiration! This year, I'll be reading 75 books and watching 26 movies to keep that momentum flowing. Book one is already in my purse and there's a leaning TBR pile of books on my shelf.
  • Beside my bed is a jar filled with 365 paper hearts. On each paper, I have written a special task - one for each day of the year. It could be something as simple as taking a 30-minute guilt-free nap to something more involved, such as finally getting that second tattoo. Yep, a full year of stuff ALL ABOUT ME.
  • The XBox 360 is a good start towards playing - but a weekly "fun family night" is already written in my pretty new daytimer.
  • The sports games for the Kinect will get me moving, for sure. But a gym membership, access to the work fitness room, and heading back to J'Adore Dance will keep me moving. Add to that friends who will work out with me, dance with me, or kick my butt at racquetball and I'm ready to hit 2011 running.
2010 was an emotional roller coaster, and I'm ready for it to hit the road. So tonight, I'm going to raise a toast with my amazing husband, and welcome 2011 with wide open arms.

Wishing you all a very happy New Year - and may all of your dreams come true.

The Book In My Bag Today: Dead in Dallas, Charlaine Harris

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Book 56 - Afraid

Ever since Jack Kilborn / J.A. Konrath switched to e-publishing, it's been increasingly hard to find his titles in print (and sadly there was no e-reader under the tree for me this Christmas.)

I picked up Afraid at a used book sale, a major score since it's been on my TBR list for almost the entire year. Though I've read only one other book by this author - Whiskey Sour (J.A. Konrath) - the hype surrounding Afraid has kept my interest piqued.

It didn't disappoint.

As James Rollins' blurb on the cover suggests, Kilborn starts the action on page one and the horror never stops. A town is terrorized with unimaginable torture, by "men" of extraordinary strength. The premise is not supernatural - in fact, you can almost believe this type of "universal soldier" might already exist somewhere.

Not the kind of guy you want to meet in a dark alley.

After a string of paranormal romance and YA fiction, I was ready for something grittier. Kilborn certainly delivers. The pacing is spectacular. It wasn't until about the half-way point of the book I realized there were no chapter breaks. When time is tight - as it was this week - I tend to sneak in a chapter here and there when I can. The lack of chapter designation "tricked" me into reading more, until I simply ran out of steam.

I'm a huge fan of Kilborn's writing style. It's tight and clean, not a single word of extra fluff. The dialogue serves its purpose, voice is consistent, and the description is minimal but effective. I've bought a lot of horror books in my time but never read any author who could do "gore" so well. Afraid isn't for the weak at heart.

The story isn't predictable and the characters - even the bad guys - are sympathetic. But I've yet to find a book that actually scared me, and I truly wanted this one to be the one. While the gore factor was high, Afraid fell a little short on suspense.

I suspect this will be the last book of the year for me, which means I've fallen well short on my 100 books in 2010 challenge. I know 56 books is nothing to be ashamed of, and really, the challenge pushed me to read when other distractions might have played a role. Still...

For 2011, I'm issuing myself a new challenge - 75 books and 26 movies. I just need a catchy title. Got any ideas?

The Book in My Bag Today: Living Dead in Dallas, Charlaine Harris

Monday, December 27, 2010

The best of the best aMUSEment

Now that the rush of Christmas Day is over, the official "top 10" lists have begun - the countdown to the best of the best in 2010. Not surprisingly, I did very little writing over the last few days (okay, so I did NO writing). I also didn't blog, read blogs, or even - gasp - read.

But all that has to change this week. So in the sprit of the after-Christmas season, I offer a buffet of muses (because I'm greedy like that). 2010 brought 52 weeks of muse avatars - admittedly, with many repeats. Here's my take on the best of the best:
Reason #1 to watch True Blood...
Reason #2 to watch True Blood...

"Kyle Reese" said he'd travel across time to be my muse...
Kiefer whipped me, uh, my MS into shape a few times...

The original muse... Jensen Ackles always inspires

Brad took time away from the kids to help me out

Sammy Winchester fuels my....writing, of course
Chris added his angelic touch once or twice

Beck taught me how to bend it

Jon reminded me of why I miss the 80s

Ironically, no writing happened while staring back at Cam

Vin kicked the crap out of self doubt

Wow - I love muse avatar Mondays! Go forth, my darlings. Inspire!

The Book In My Bag Today: Afraid, Jack Kilborn

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

An unorthodox gift

Handsome hubby and I had made a pact not to buy each other Christmas gifts this year. With my stepdaughter at her mom's for the holidays, and our families geographically out of reach, we've been a little light on traditional cheer. Even our beautiful tree has been off more than on - and aside from a smattering of nick knacks around the kitchen, I've held back on decking the halls.

Hubby and I figured we'd take a few days over the holidays to snuggle up and watch movies, read, hang out with the dogs... Spend some alone time that's been lacking since "the teen" moved in - and believe me, that's not a complaint. The house feels empty without her laughter, and yes, even her typical teenage snark.

But something happened a few days ago. Hubby and I discovered the XBox 360 Kinect.

I confess, I am not a gamer. At all. I can count on one hand the number of times I've been caught up in a video game, aside from Zombie Farm on my iPhone. The very thought of purchasing a game console seemed absolutely frivolous.

Until we watched a demonstration of the bowling game on the Kinect. For the less  gamer-savvy (like me less than a week ago), the Kinect is like the Wii Fit, except there are no controls to hold on to - the system detects your movement. So for instance, when you "bowl" you're actually making the movements as though you are in a bowling alley. Not to mention the sound effects and SNAZZY outfits.

I threw one "ball" at Future Shop. And haven't stopped thinking about the system since, especially after watching a little girl dance her heart out to some of the moves I've learned in Fit Hop.

As excited as we were, spending money on a game console didn't fit in the budget, even at Christmas.

Fate suggested otherwise. Or maybe some of our family members were just in sync this holiday. Several Future Shop GC's were tucked in Christmas cards, and everyone knows you can't exchange them for money.

So we bit the bullet.

And wow, am I sore. Hubby and I boxed, bowled, snowboarded, and played table tennis until I could barely move. We laughed, we egged each other on, and we woke up this morning issuing new challenges.

No, I'm not naive enough to think that Kinect can help me lose those unwanted pounds or replace the dance lessons I get through J'Adore (though there are NO mirrors!), and yes, I do recognize a writing procrastination tool when I see one. But. It's just me and hubby this Christmas and I'm totally excited about a morning of coffee and Bailey's, followed with kicking hubby's butt on the bowling my jammies.

P.S. - Donna! You need to come check it out. There is KENDO. I bet you'd win!

The Book In My Bag Today: Afraid, Jack Kilborn

Monday, December 20, 2010

Santa baby, put a little inspiration under the tree..for me

Er, is it me, or is Santa getting hotter every year?

The countdown to Christmas is in full swing (five days!) and I'm excited about hanging out with good friends, some quality time with handsome hubby, and a few solid days of writing.

To make the most of that free time I admit, I'm going to need a little inspiration. I'm not even close to completing my 100 books in 2010 challenge, and reading, along with the lure of Baileys / coffee and movies with hubby is already tempting holiday productivity. I need an intervention, stat!

So, who better then to cast as this week's muse but good old (uh..young?) Saint Nick?

I've got lots on the writing docket - revisions, the start of a new project, finishing up the YA, and... The list goes on (and on).

What do you say, Santa? You up for the task? I've been really, really, really good.

Happy holidays my blogger friends. May the spirit of the holidays warm your hearts.

The Book In My Bag Today: Afraid, Jack Kilborn

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Book 55 - Going Bovine

Just the other day a good friend said: Don't you hate it when you *want* to love a book but it just doesn't happen?

Yes, yes I do. And such is the case with Going Bovine.

Libba Bray may be one of the most talented writers I have ever read. From a craft perspective, she's tight, witty and brilliant with dialogue. The characters grabbed me right from the first chapter, especially Cameron, a high-school kid whose biggest worry is whether his sister's friend will ever sleep with him, or if his teachers will catch him smoking a joint in the boy's room.

Until he learns he has the human form of Mad Cow Disease and is dying.

Having worked communications in the agriculture industry for quite a few years, I worried a little about how the "mad cow" messaging would be delivered. Food safety is everyone's concern and once a myth is perpetuated, it's tough to dispel.

Not to worry - Bray glosses over the issue and gets to the heart of Cameron's struggle - figuring out what's real and what's just a symptom of him going...mad. (Clever, clever title.) Bray had me riveted right up until the diagnosis. I was so caught up in the brilliance of her style, I actually lost track of the story and couldn't figure out myself what was real or part of Cameron's mind playing tricks on him.

I do remember Dulcie, a punk angel who urges Cameron to take a journey to find Dr. X and ultimately a cure. And so the road trip begins...

And my interest faded... Cameron is joined by a couple of sidekicks - a short guy and a talking garden gnome - and I *know* there's some deeper messages I missed, but I kind of became bored with the whole "extraordinary adventure"thing. Maybe it's because I never read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (which is often referenced when people talk about Going Bovine) or maybe I simply had too much else on my mind these past few weeks.

Since Karen and I started the 100 Books in 2010 challenge, I've almost always carried a novel in my purse. I kept forgetting Going Bovine at work, at home, somewhere out of reach...And I struggled through to the end. Unlike me.

It's sad, because as mentioned above, Bray is a brilliant writer and I desperately wanted to love this book. Maybe I'll give it another try in the New Year when life feels a little less hectic.

The Book in My Bag Today: Afraid, Jack Kilborne

Monday, December 13, 2010

An unlikely muse

I feel like I need to preface this post with a declaration. I actually don't find Leonardo DiCaprio attractive. Anymore.

Of course there was a time I had a front row seat on the Leo bandwagon, but posting a picture of when I *did* think he was hot seemed a little...awkward. That said, I recognize many women still find him sexy, so I'm not breaking the "hot guy muse avatar" self-imposed rule. To each their own, right?

But this weekend, I watched Inception.

Oh. My. Gosh.

How did I miss seeing this on the big screen? Perhaps because it starred Leo, who I haven't been impressed with in a while. Get out your daggers, but even Titanic didn't wow me like it did for most people. I admit to liking Blood Diamond, and a few others, but as a general rule, I avoid most movies with Russel Crowe or Leonardo DiCaprio. (I am ducking the double blast of arrows as I type...)

Leo impressed me in Inception.

Actually, everything about the movie impressed me. The concept was brilliant, the acting superb, and the lingering effect...staggering. I can't get it out of my head!

Which is why I find myself leaning on Leo for some writerly inspiration this week. In a few days, the Christmas holidays will officially begin, and although I plan on writing for most of the break, I know better than to bank on it. This will be the week I stare past the blank page. An opportunity to get the ball rolling...

Between Leo, and some heart-warming and absolutely amazing feedback from a dear friend on my current MS, I should be primed for creativity.

The Book in My Bag Today: Going Bovine, Libba Bray

Hey writerly pals! Is your MS ready for a copy edit? Check out the services provided by the amazing Alliterative Allomorph. She'll get you publish-ready in a jiffy.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Open letter to Santa

Dear Handsome Husband Santa,

There are but a few precious weeks before Christmas day, and though I said I didn't really *need* any presents, there's a few items that have recently caught my attention. 

Of all people (and maybe a few others), you know I've been in a bit of a writing rut. My creative juices seem to be sucked dry by the day job, I've traded reading for online poker (not real money, Santa, I'm just a newbie), and despite selecting the hottest muses, I find myself staring more and more at that blank page. Or worse, not at the page at all.

Could it be that I'm lacking the *right* tools? 

I love my beautiful dungeon office with its fish tanks and its candles, and I appreciate the well stocked supply of Coke Zero (and occasional whiskey). But I seem to be missing my traditional munchies. Oh, I know all about the Big Turk pieces in the kitchen pantry, and the roll of Sweethearts left beside the bed, but to produce (I mean, REALLY, produce) I need gummy bears.

I know it doesn't appear like much of a gift, but with respect, Santa, maybe you aren't looking at it from the right creative angle. about this? Now that's a present worth writing about!

Ok, so maybe you're concerned about those 12,000 calories - how sweet of you to care about my expanding waistline (jerk). This amazing morsel of goodness is a THIRD of the calories. Not to mention the bonding opportunities over, uh, fishing.

While I'm at it, forgive me for going all Susie Homemaker but I think I could get excited about THIS. And this gem would be sure to spike my "naughtiness" status. (Mind out of the gutter, Santa.)

So how about it, big guy? Do I make the list? I'll sit on your knee (again!)...

PS - For realz, what I REALLY want is anything from here. But then, you already knew that.

The Book In My Bag Today: Going Bovine, Libba Bray

Monday, December 6, 2010

Falling for my muse again

I first fell in lust with Cam Gigandet in Twilight. I'm not one for sparkly vampires, so as the bad boy James, Cam was - in my humble opinion - perfect.

No one told me Cam is also in Burlesque. Now I'm head over heels in love.

Burlesque is a little like Coyote Ugly - in fact, the story lines are quite similar. Small town girl leaves behind dead-end job in search of fame and fortune in the big city, meets older mentor who dishes out a healthy dose of tough love, girl becomes a huge star and ends up with the witty, hot (er, damn hot) guy at the end. There's singing, and dancing, and fun dialogue.

Yeah, I loved it.

But then, I knew I would.

In addition to falling in love with Cam all over again, Burlesque made me miss dance. Not just the Naughty Hotties class, where some of Jessica's awesome moves were on the big screen, but everything about the way dancing makes me feel. Work has been busy, life is hectic and I can't remember the last class I attended at J'Adore Dance. I'm trying not to beat myself up over that.

Burlesque has that inspirational quality about it - muchly needed since I've been a little lax on the writing the past few weeks. Needless to say, Cam is a perfect muse avatar to kick me into gear. In case you doubt the selection, here's a couple more photos to sway you:

Um, yum.

The Book In My Bag Today: Going Bovine, Libba Bray

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Book 54 - Populazzi

I'm mildly embarrassed to admit how much I loved this young adult novel. Not only is it not like anything I've been reading this year, it was also endorsed by Hilary Duff.

There is nothing paranormal about Populazzi. 

But here's the thing. Elise Allen can write, and Populazzi  is a smoking example of her obvious talent. After downloading the advance reader copy off the NetGalley website, I was gushing after the first chapter.

If you once read Sweet Valley High, the style of Populazzi will be quite familiar to you. Except, this book is a more modern demonstration of the ups and downs of being a teenager in today's world.

Cara and Claudia have been best friends since Kindergarden, when  their relationship began - and was sealed - with a unique peeing-in-their-pants bonding ritual. The event secured their spot in Loser-ville, a position neither of them wishes to covet.

So when Cara and her family move to a new community and Cara is forced to switch high schools, Claudia devises a plan to help her best friend out - the Ladder. According to Claudia, the only way to become the Supreme Populazzi is to follow a binder full of rules for climbing the popularity ladder. A reluctant Cara accepts the challenge.

Along the way, Cara learns, of course, that becoming the most popular girl in the school isn't all it's cracked up to be.

The storyline is somewhat predictable, and I struggled a bit through the last chapters (not to mention the fact that NetGalley chopped off the last few pages so I'm not totally sure if Cara's life completely straightened out) but for most of the book, I flipped each virtual page with a giant grin.

Allen is a master of dialogue, and I found the exchanges between Cara and almost every other character either made me laugh out loud or ache. Even though I know most of the drama is brought on by her own actions, Cara is a sympathetic character and when she hurt, so did I.

Despite the comparison to Sweet Valley High, I'd recommend giving it a scan before passing it off on a young teen. Cara makes some decisions in her quest to become Supreme Populazzi that may be considered a bit old for younger readers. That said, I doubt there's anything in the book today's teenager hasn't seen - even from a distance. I like that Allen doesn't mince words.

Without a Kindle, I could only view this book on my computer screen, which isn't the best reading platform. Still, I enjoyed most of this novel enough to keep hitting the return button. Populazzi won't hit the top 10 list of books I've devoured this year, but I admit, I'm still smiling over some of the conversation, and writers of YA would do well to study Allen's tight, clever writing style.

The Book in My Bag Today: Going Bovine, Libba Bray

Monday, November 29, 2010

Muse causes me Glee

I'm out of the closet now.

Officially, a GLEEk.

I tried to avoid Glee, holding out for an entire season, even when commercials taunted me with special Lady Gaga episodes. I held out when my own dance journey almost pushed me towards shows with a cast of dancing, singing stars. And knowing my husband wouldn't watch it, I didn't hover over the channel in hopes of a sneak peek one day.

But I can't deny it for even one second longer. I'm hooked. Big time.

I'm sure it hurt Karen a little to download the entire first season of Glee for me - it really isn't her kind of show. And I KNOW it hurts my handsome hubby a little when I squirm after not watching an episode after, oh, a few hours.

It's just that the show is so...catchy.

And there's considerable eye candy. Like Matthew Morrison, who is not only one of the main stars of the show, but has also landed the role of muse avatar this week.

My stepdaughter thinks he looks a little like a grown-up Stefan Salvatore, which I might concede if the "other" Vampire Diaries hottie didn't make a regular occurrence as my muse avatar (yes, I CAN find a way to bring Damon into every post if I try...) Although Matthew looks pretty smoking in the above photo, it isn't his abs that make him muse-worthy.

It's the way he performs.

No question the guy can sing, but when I watch him on Glee, I get completely caught up in his stage presence. There are quirks in his character that kind of annoy me - and truthfully, there are a few people on the show that make me want to pull my hair out at times - but the minute he opens his mouth to sing, I'm mesmerized.

After a few weeks of break from writing anything of real substance, I'm on the hook to really perform this week. At work. At home. On the page. *sigh*

Luckily, I spent a good portion of the weekend studying Matthew's technique. I figure if anyone can help me out in the performance area, it's Matthew's abs, er, talent.

The Book In My Bag Today: Going Bovine, Libba Bray

Monday, November 22, 2010

Muse inspired by Book 54 - The Cellar

I went to bed last night thinking about zombies.

No shocker, then, that I also dreamed about them. And just when an astonishingly good looking zombie named Adrien was figuring out the best way to eat my brains, Damon Salvatore, er Ian Somerhalder swooped in and turned me into a vampire. Hey, it's my dream.

Ian's been my muse a few times before, but in light of the fact that he essentially saved my life last night, that deserves another shot at inspiration. Ian, you're hired! (And since Vampire Diaries is on seasonal hiatus, I doubt you're that busy...)

I don't often think - dream - of zombies.

But Adrien is special. He's the antagonist in A.J. Whitten's not-yet-released YA novel The Cellar, book 54 in my 100 Books of 2010 challenge.

A fellow blogger pointed me to Galley Net, a cool place where book reviewers / readers can download digital advance reader copies. It's no surprise Karen and I picked out the same title - for her, I suspect "zombies" caught her attention. I was drawn to the "Romeo and Juliet" (and zombies) part.

The Cellar is like no other book I have ever read. I don't have an e-reader, and thus was forced to read this galley on my computer. If ever I needed inspiration to buy a Kindle, this is it. Mesmerized by the first page, I wanted to take The Cellar everywhere - into the bath, my bed, my purse. And when a power outage in my neighbourhood meant I couldn't charge my laptop, I bit back a string of curses.

Adrien is a zombie - a good looking, sweet talking, brain eating zombie. He has his designs on Heather, a lost teen who is guilt ridden over the death of her father. But standing between them are  undead, and human obstacles, like Heather's sister Meredith.

Meridith has an interesting problem with her eyes, so when she sees worms swimming behind Adrien's normally sunglassed gaze, she isn't sure whether to trust her instincts or head back to the psychiatrist.

The plot is fast-paced, and the description is beautiful - and freaking gory. Like, way too gory for what I might expect from a YA book. That's not a bad thing, because, if it's possible, the brain-eating, bug-crawling narrative is so well done it's actually tasteful. The Cellar is tightly written, and to my shock, has fast tracked it's way into my top 10 books I've read this year.

The Cellar launches January, 2011, and though I've read it, I'll be waiting outside the book store to be one of the first to buy a hard copy. An excellent book about zombies - and a tragic love story.

The Book in My Bag Today: Going Bovine, Libba Bray

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Book 53 - Happily Ever After

In the past few years, my reading tastes have largely veered from traditional romance to suspense and thriller, but every so often I can be gobsmacked by a particularly well-done novel.

Happily Ever After, the final book in Nora Roberts' bride quartet, certainly qualifies. 

I read the last fifty pages of Happily Ever After through a waterfall of salty tears, in part reminiscing about my own wedding. But mostly just awestruck by Nora's seemingly effortless ability to draw out this kind of emotion.

I've ploughed through just about every one of Nora's series, and while many stand out as just damned good books, there's something special about the bride quartet.

Four women - best friends - merging their skills to build a successful wedding business, Vows, all living in pieces of a mansion style retreat home. Who wouldn't want that? 

The photographer in me loved Mac's story in the first book,Vision in White, and since I've always loved flowers, Emma's story was of particular interest. And last year, I had a brief love-in with shows like Cake Boss, so Laurel's story came at just the perfect time. But with Parker - the detail-oriented dynamo of the group - I wasn't sure what I'd connect with.

Should have known it would be the man.

Malcolm is a bad boy, though with Nora, they kind of come out of the shoot a little tamer than I'm typically drawn to. He's a mechanic with a past (shocking, I know) and I fell in love with him the minute I understood he and I could have a great conversation about (fast) cars over an ice cold Bud. He drives a motorcycle AND a vette (swoon) and by the way I pictured him nicely fills out a pair of jeans or a tux. 

The chemistry between Parker and Malcolm is swift, and hot - and not too over the top. Nora always 
seems to know what fine line to walk. My only regret is that there wasn't enough page real estate to truly flush out their relationship. Being the final book in the series (sniff) meant there was a number of loose ends to tie up, and while I enjoyed every page, I could have happily spent another few chapters with Malcolm.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The nature of things

I've been a bad blogger buddy this past week.

My own posts have been sporadic, at best, and I've only managed to make it to a handful of the blogs I normally visit at least once a day. I can't even begin to imagine what I've missed - the learning, the celebrating, the laughs...

Believe me, I could have used a few of those for sure.

Truthfully, I've been shifted - temporarily for now - into a new position at the day job and the learning curve is steep. I've been trying to wrap my head around budgeting and program development and these days admit my "a-ha!" moments are more likely to come after figuring out the intricacies of Quickbooks rather than successfully unravelling a plot snag.

I allowed crappy weather to keep me from dance. I've not written a single NaNo word this week and have accepted defeat on that particular challenge. And, though I've plugged away on the WIP, my efforts have been lackluster at best.

A myriad of stressors, and some particularly sad news about a dear friend, have made sleep difficult. There's been little time to stop, let alone smell the proverbial roses.

My family and I did take some time last night, though, to observe one of nature's wonders. Last week I watched my female Angel fish lay more than 500 eggs, and witnessed with awe the sheer energy that took for her. This wasn't the breeding pair's first attempt - four times Eden has eaten her young before they've had an opportunity to hatch.

I think she got it right this time.

I wish I had the right camera to capture Eden-the-nurturer in all her golden splendor. While Gabriel (papa fish) stands guard, Eden herds her fry into small balls of wiggling tails and black eyes. She breathes them into her mouth, where they stay warm and protected, as she moves them to a new area of the tank. Exhaling, the tiny tadpoles latch themselves to the surface of a plant, an ornament, or the breeding slate. If one threatens to fall, Eden scoops it into her mouth and places the fry gently with its siblings.

The process brought tears to my eyes.

And was a stark reminder that even in the midst of chaos, it is important to take time for life's beautiful moments.

I'm looking forward to next week when I hope to get back to YOUR blogs, shake it on the dance floor, and - gulp - catch up on the NaNo word count.

The Book In My Bag Today: Happily Ever After, Nora Roberts

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Book 52 - Crescendo

At some point over the last year, I began loitering in the Young Adult section at bookstores.

I can't pinpoint, precisely, what was the catalyst event for this shift in reading, though certainly welcoming a teenager into my life could account for some of it.

More likely, though, it has more to do with quality. There are some incredibly talented authors writing amazing teen fiction. Of course I remember all of the classics from my youth, but I don't recall - with few exceptions - them being this raw, this gritty. This compelling.

Since Karen and I started this 100 Books in 2010 challenge, I've discovered many new authors. Some of my favourites are those who write for teens - like Melissa Marr (Wicked Lovely series), Judith Graves (Under my Skin), and Kelley Armstrong, who writes for both youth and adults.

Perhaps my most favourite, though, is Becca Fitzpatrick.

From the nano-second I fell in lust with Patch in Hush, Hush, I've been dying for the sequel, Crescendo. Thank goodness Karen picked it up first (launch day) - and was willing to part with it so I could DROP EVERYTHING and fall in love with Patch all over again.

I. Adore. This. Series.

Patch is a fallen angel, assigned to Nora as her guardian angel - and of course, there's love between them. Swoon-worthy love...

Like many of the romances in this genre, Patch and Nora have an unorthodox relationship, and predictably, Patch is a rebel, exactly the kind of bad boy I'm drawn to.

There's an aura of darkness that sets the tone in the very first chapter, and hovers over the whole book with an intensity that almost forces you to turn the page. Fitzpatrick is a talented writer with a firm grip on characterization and suspense. She even managed to make me like Vee, Nora's best friend, who I had a luke-warm reaction to in Hush, Hush.

Despite my enthusiasm, I admit, Crescendo isn't as strong as Fitzpatrick's debut - and though I think I understand why I felt that way, I can't really explain without spoiling the plot. That said, the "adventure" kept me flipping pages until I found - almost near the end - the sigh-inspiring satisfaction I sought. Cryptic? Sorry - I really don't want to ruin the book for you.

There was a time in my life I stuck pretty close to the authors that have been by my side for most of my adult life - Nora Roberts, Sandra Brown, Iris Johanson, Tami Hoag... While I'm still loyal to them, my tastes have expanded in the last few years and I've experienced not only new writers, but also whole new genres.

I am so thankful.

If you haven't read Becca Fitzgerald, I dare you to take a chance on Hush, Hush. And then go back and get Crescendo. Of the 52 books I've read so far this year, they'd rank in the top 10 for sure.

The Book In My Bag Today: Happily Ever After, Nora Roberts

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Simple Pleasures...

A new Nora Roberts book, spine waiting to be cracked

Homemade peanut butter cookies, fresh out of the oven

Sweet puppy kisses

Watching my beautiful angel fish lay eggs

The safety of feeling wrapped in handsome husband's loving embrace

A glass of Dad's wine, chilled to perfection

Listening to One Republic's "Secrets" on repeat - my song obsession of the month

Planning for next week, next month, next year

Reconnecting with myself

Muse avatar Mondays.

I'm posting early because I have an early Monday meeting and didn't want to miss assigning this week's muse. Fine by me. Turns out, I needed the peace of a rainy Sunday to reflect on the simple pleasures in life - and Johnny Depp is definitely among them. While I admire his, er, physique, I bow also to his diversity and skill. Few actors have embraced their career with such determination and integrity.

As I prepare for significant career changes on the horizon, I can only hope I employ the same work ethic as this week's muse. 

The Book In My Bag Today: Happily Ever After, Nora Roberts

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Book 51 - Fantasy in Death

I did everything wrong when I started Book #37 in the In Death series by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts).

A copy of Crescendo, the follow-up to Becca Fitzpatrick's NY Times Bestselling YA novel, Hush, Hush was sitting at the top of my TBR pile - and I'm dying to read more about (heart) Patch. I joined NetGalley and received a couple of ARCs that quickly wiggled their way to the middle of the TBR stack. I signed up for NaNo and reconnected with the protagonist in my WIP - two separate projects. And I stocked up on used books at the Edmonton Public Library  sale last weekend.

Not very conducive to immersing myself in a world I've loved since the first book in this series, Naked in Death.

Nora Roberts hit pay dirt when she created tough cop Eve Dallas and her hunky husband, Roarke. I'm in awe of her ability to continue each character's growth while working through an often complex plot. To say I idolize Nora would be an understatement on many levels.

Yet, something about the story of Fantasy in Death didn't quite work for me. The concept is wonderful -- advanced technology, high stakes, and four friends with just as much motive for success as for the kind of competitiveness that can destroy even the strongest relationship bonds. The opening scene, with its "tasteful decapitation," is textbook.

But things kind of drag on from there. Not in a pacing sense, because it's very rare with a Nora Roberts book that I'm not compelled to turn the page. It's just that the reader can almost guess the who, what, where and why in the first few pages of the novel, and it takes Eve - whom I respect and admire tremednously - another 300-ish pages to figure it out.

And, if I'm being honest, I couldn't quite wrap my head around the resolution. Throughout the novel, I kept hoping my instinct was wrong and there would be a less "fantastical" solution to the murders. I'm not afraid to suspend my disbelief, but I didn't quite get it. I admit, this could be a result of my overly-distracted mind, coupled with the fact that I'm not really a "gamer."

As well, there were a couple of instances where Roarke just felt...wrong. I've sustained a mostly healthy obsession with him for 37 books, so I feel quite qualified to note that I think Nora took him off the familiar path a bit in this book, and I'm not sure how I feel about it.

That said, I'll read the next In Death book, and the one after that, and sometimes, when I'm needing a kick in the writing-craft-pants, I'll re-read my favourites. Because at the end of the day, very few authors can match Nora's seemingly effortless skill and awe-inspiring productivity.

The Book In My Bag Today: Crescendo, Becca Fitzpatrick

Monday, November 8, 2010

The "It's all Greek to me" Muse

There is a celebration of gigantic proportions going on at the Alliterative Allomorph blog site. The talented and beautiful Jessica has just learned that her debut novel, Dead in the Corner of my Bedroom (new title pending) will be published by Lucky Press, LLC.

Fellow writers should check out today's post - her journey is a shiny example of never giving up.

So why the random Greek hot guy on Muse Avatar Monday?

Well, Jessica is not only celebrating her impending pub date, but also the fact that she's reached 400 blog followers. Although a native Australian, Jessica lives in Greece (I know, tough life) where she writes beautiful poetry and debut novels obviously worth publishing.

To acknowledge her growing legion of fans, Jessica is giving away Amazon gift cards - and a surprise gift of something from Greece.

I, uh, vote for the guy pictured above.

If I win, I'll immediately put him in the role of Muse Avatar.

Congratulations Jessica! You absolutely deserve this.

The Book In My Bag Today - Crescendo, Becca Fitzpatrick

Friday, November 5, 2010

Breaking up is hard to do

Before I married handsome husband, some people thought I *might* be addicted to the adrenaline rush of falling in lust. You know, that whole butterfly-in-stomach sensation you get when you're faced with something fresh and exciting - like new "love."

But at some point - in most cases - those butterflies morph into moths, and that fluttering isn't desire, but more like an illness that festers until you realize you and your beloved have nothing in common, his kisses make you go "eww" instead of "aww," the thought of intimacy makes you throw up a little in your mouth...

The rose colored glasses are not just off, but rather smashed on the concrete and ground into the sidewalk.

In the interest of honesty, I admit, I often hit that stage quickly.

While some (*cough - insert ex-boyfriend name here - cough*) blamed the "break-up" on my love of obsession with romance novels back then (I mean, who really can compete with the likes of Jamie from Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, or Roarke from J.D. Robb's In Death series...), I believe now that "some people" may have been right. (Celebrate that admission with a GG & DC, hon.)

After two near-alter experiences, even my husband was a little worried as he waited for me at the end of the aisle last year. But he didn't need to stress - the minute I met him, I knew my addiction was cured.

At least in my personal life.

I haven't quite figured out how to draw the boundary lines when it comes to other affairs of the heart.

You see, I'm an ideas person, and sometimes they spew out of me with utter abandonment. If I've shared it with you, it's because I trust you, and expect you'll share in my joy...even if the lust lasts only a few hours. Because frankly, my excitement begins to wane when the romance gets limp.

I've spent a lot of time these past few months looking at ways to spark the creative fire that when lit, typically blazes out of control. Muse avatar Mondays (you're welcome), Dance Desire, becoming the proud owner of a new-to-me beautiful Mac... And though these tactics were meant to strictly fuel my writerly drive, my idea factory isn't a one-product-shop. Apparently.

Instead, the factory spits out prototypes that stretch my comfort zone and encourage collaboration, commitment...the ability to curb the addiction of falling in lust with a new idea and see it through to the happily ever after.

As I plug through NaNo (6,400 words!), I'm reminded of the many 3-chapter books that lay dormant in my bottom desk drawer. Like many of the prototypes from the idea factory, something turned the butterflies at the start of those stories, into moths. The thought of commitment got scary. Or the idea - story - concept - was somehow diminished by someone, or even myself.

It took a surprising wake-up call today for me to realize that I've invested too much time in relationships, ideas, projects, that are starting to make me throw up a little in my mouth.

I understand now that it's time to break up with them (yes, that means you 3-chapter manuscript, too!) and commit fully to the people, projects and WIPs who will not only work to keep the butterflies active, but who have also vowed to stick it out for richer and poorer, and through sickness and health.

The Book In My Bag Today: Fantasy in Death, J.D. Robb

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hey, it's okay!

Super blogger/writer/Internet pal Whispering Writer got this idea from Glamour magazine, where they have a section called Hey, It’s Okay. 

Essentially, it lists a bunch of things to be okay about. You're welcome to join in and do something like this on your blog - it's a wonderful way to get a few things off like your chest. 

Like, it's okay...

To not quite have met yesterday's NaNo goal. Last year I didn't even make it past the first two days - #nanofail. But I'm only 300 words behind so far. Progress!

To have missed dance (again) last night. Best laid plans, and all that jazz (ha!). As important as the J'Adore Dance team is to me (and how great I feel after), life happens. 

To feel a bit out of sorts after yesterday. A shake-up at the day job means big changes ahead for me. Does anyone really like to be in limbo?

To slightly obsess over artist Rose Cooper. Uh, handsome hubby, if you have not ordered the items I asked for from Rose's Etsy shop, please hurry. And best ever, a portion of the proceeds from Rose's online store will be donated to Candyland's inspiring cause. Do eet!

To miss your Mom.

To chart the week by your favorite TV shows and be uber excited that Vampire Diaries is on tonight. Translation: Damon is on tonight.

To know darned well you ain't going to read 100 books this year, but feel proud of surpassing the 50 mark and keeping pace with the queen of reading. Wahoo! 

To seek revenge on your adult bully - in fiction, of course. Heck, it's even ok to seek revenge on your childhood bullies. I'm loving this new WIP

So - what are you ok about today?

The Book In My Bag Today: Fantasy in Death, J.D. Robb

Monday, November 1, 2010

Post Halloween blues muse

Yes, I know, Halloween is over (sniff), and this picture does not at all reflect my typical "hot guy" Monday muse avatar.

But under that scary mask is my handsome husband, who fully embodies the role of muse this week. Truthfully, every week - but he deserves an extra special nod the day after Halloween.

My house is covered in fake blood, there's remnants of a graveyard scene in my front yard, and a full sized coffin takes up a portion of my garage. And yet, I'm sporting a giant grin this morning after what just might be the best Halloween ever.

It's the start of NaNo (yeah, I'm doing it) and I've got a To-Do list a mile long, so instead of writing a long post, I'll let these pictures do the talking.

A Halloween feast my stepdaughter and I prepared.

My stepdaughter (Red Queen) kisses her Dad before heading out for candy.

My fave skeleton bride hanging out with my hubby.

Random kid who wanted his pic taken with hubby.

A classic moment of fear...short-lived since then ALL of the neighborhood kids wanted pics. One man even video-taped our house for about an hour.

Handsome hubby's pumpkin carving. Yeah, he's talented like that. Sigh.

Handsome hubby not at Halloween, but still being a kid <3

I hope each of you had an awesome Halloween. And if you're gearing up for NaNo, good luck!

The Book In My Bag Today: Fantasy in Death, J.D. Robb

Friday, October 29, 2010

Spooktacular, spooktacular!

To say that my husband and I love Halloween would be a gross understatement.

I come by it naturally. When I was young, pumpkin carving was the biggest event of the year (well, except maybe egg hunting at Easter), and my Mom took particular joy in greeting the kids at the door. I could always tell which little monsters she thought ranked highest in the costume department - they received handfuls of candy.

We rarely decorated our yard, though.

Big difference now that handsome hubby is in my life.

Two years ago, we began a collection of spooky outdoor decor. Last Halloween, a giant blow-up skull took center stage amidst talking skeletons, glowing ghosts, and a jar of dancing eyeballs. My husband even donned his creepy mask, and for the kids that were old enough, treated them first to a scare before dolling out the candy.

This year, we've gone all out.

Hubby and his daughter built an incredible (and realistic) seven-foot coffin out of wood, which we then painted in browns and greens. It's absolutely perfect for the yard, because we've added to our skeleton collection yet again. Several will be "hanging out" in our makeshift graveyard, partially hidden by the fog machine, or highlighted by the strobe light. A giant spider will drop from the doorframe. A ghost will fly across the sidewalk from two trees. The doormat will offer a spooky greeting, and the door itself will be splattered with fake blood.

It's the kind of thing the neighborhood kids have come to expect from us - and already, they've been peeking into the yard to see if we've set anything up.

Sadly, we live in a neighbourhood that doesn't allow us to leave our decor out overnight, and our spooktacular graveyard scene must wait until Sunday morning for its creation. But we've got plenty planned to round out the weekend - a visit to the Farm of Fear, a tour of the haunted houses at Screamfest, a pumpkin carving extravaganza, and at least one night curling up on the couch with a few horror flicks.

My spine is already tingling with excitement.

What are your plans for Halloween? Is it a big deal holiday for you and your family? We love ideas!

Oh. It takes a lot to scare me, but I confess, my biggest fear right now is that you haven't clicked here to donate to the amazing Candyland's fundraiser.

You can also donate by buying something from this mindblowing artist (who I am currently obsessed with). A portion of the sales from Rose Cooper's Etsy shop will be donated to Candy's cause. This artwork would make great gifts for the holidays...

(Like for ME, dear family...just saying!)

Ok, off to start my spooktacular weekend. Happy Halloween everyone. Hope it's perfect!

The Book In My Bag Today: Fantasy in Death, J.D. Robb

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Book 50 - Juliet

I fell in love with Juliet before I turned the first page.

The back cover blurb spoke of a modern tale of Romeo and Juliet, somehow merging with Shakespeare's classic tale of tragedy and passion. Anne Fortier had me at Shakespeare.

I fell further in love with Juliet after the one-page prologue. A few hundred words that set the tone of the book. I settled in to be swept away.

For the most part, I was.

Described as The Davinci Code for the modern woman, Juliet is part adventure, part romance. But unlike Dan Brown's runaway hit, Juliet is beautifully written. The pages come alive with descriptions that breathe with authenticity - I felt as though I was in Siena, Italy searching for my Romeo. My mouth watered as I imagined myself indulging in gelato, warm bread, salted prosciuttio ham. I recognized the architecture, the the way the locals spoke, Italy's mysterious hold. And I ached to go back to Italy and see all that I missed on my short tour.

The pacing of Juliet isn't meant to compete with Dan Brown-style thrillers, though the mystery is every bit as compelling, and perhaps from a literary standpoint, just as controversial as a book like The Davinci Code. Juliet challenges the notion that Romeo and Juliet is a work of fiction, but rather fictionalized accounts of a true story based on real people.

The novel begins with Julie Jacobs, a Shakespearean expert who has always been fascinated with Romeo and Juliet. Indeed, she can recite parts of it at will. But when her aunt Rose dies, Julie learns that most of her life has been a charade. For her real name is Guilettia Tolomei (Juliet) and her birth mother has left her a treasure she must find in Siena.

There, Juliet finds a chest of journals and old letters, mystery, and of course, her Romeo.

It's somewhat ironic that I began this book as I completed edits to ABSOLUTION and began working again on HEARTLESS. Juliet is told with parallel story lines (as I have done in ABSOLUTION), and the descriptions of Italy gave me hope that my own Italian exposition will bring the country to life for those who have not been there. In HEARTLESS, my protagonist finds clues to modern "cases" by studying the past...and Romeo and Juliet certainly comes into play at one point.

All that said, I'd be remiss if I didn't flag a bit of a saggy-taffy middle, a point somewhere in both story lines that dragged for a little too long. I'm accustomed to thriller and sometimes question whether my expectations for all literature hinge on pacing, but at the end of the day I need to feel compelled to keep turning pages. There were parts of Juliet I could have simply skipped through.

As well, pieces of the mystery were obvious, and while I don't mind figuring out some things ahead of time, there's a fine line between being predictable and making the reader feel smart. For me, Juliet tipped slightly towards predicability.

Without question, Fortier is a stunning writer. Sentences flowed beautifully, and the dialogue in some places was staggering - strong and with purpose. Considering dialogue is still one of my weak points, Juliet provides a solid case study in "what works."

I admit, given my quick fall, I wanted my love affair to last throughout Juliet. Close...but not quite. The passion I felt at the start dwindled to a slow burn by the end.

Still, a book worth getting lost in.

Hey! Did you click the link yesterday? Please help Candy make a difference. Just $1 can change a life.

The Book In My Bag Today: Fantasy in Death, J.D. Robb

Monday, October 25, 2010

Brady bunch aMUSEment

Yeah, I know, Eric Martsolf isn't the most well-known actor. Drawing a blank? His most recent gig is Brady on Days of Our Lives.

I've got a long list of guilty TV pleasures I'm not afraid to talk about. Dexter. Supernatural. Vampire Diaries. True Blood. 24. So You Think You Can Dance. And the list goes on...

But all of those shows serve another purpose - like sucking up the cleverness of characters like Dexter, swooning over Damon in Vampire Diaries or Jack Bauer in 24 (sniff), wishing I could dance like the youth popping it on SYTYCD, or simply seething with jealousy over the brilliance of Supernatural and True Blood.

But I've also reacquainted myself with Days of our Lives (thanks, PVR) much to my husband's shock (and misery), and honestly, other than satisfying some undefined need and providing a bit of eye candy, Days is truly just a guilty pleasure.

I've been an on-and-off Days fan since before I started school. Nona (grandma) and I used to watch it every day together. That and Another World. As my Nona used to say, Days had the "cuter" boys. Apparently that hasn't changed over the years.

I once had a front row seat on the Bo Brady bandwagon. But while Peter Reckless is looking a little worn, Eric, here, definitely is not.

Having stayed home sick for most of last week, I've got much to catch up on this week - which means less time with my guilty pleasures, and more time with my Mac. But I admit, I got used to my daily dose of Brady, so instead of giving him up entirely, I've made him this week's muse avatar.

Don't worry, Eric, there's no lines to memorize, no brooding character to portray. Just...stand there, k? Thanks.

Hey! YOU can make a difference in the world today. Blogger pal Candy can show you how. (Plus, there's prizes...)

Click here to enter this amazing contest.

The Book In My Bag Today: Fantasy in Death, J.D. Robb