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Hello, my name is Valorie. I have a Master's Degree in History and a license to teach-- I have been both university professor and public school teacher. Currently, I am a middle school social studies teacher. I love horror movies and spooky things. Every day is Halloween. I am also a passionate book blogger.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Book Review: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Title: Speak 
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson 
Genre: Fiction - Young Adult 
Finished: May 28, 2009 

Melinda Sordino has just started high school, but she is alone, friendless, and an outcast. A party that she attended was busted by the cops after she called them. Since then, her peers have ostracized her and her friends have abandoned her. Only and unfortunately for Melinda, no one asked her why she called the cops. After a few beers, she was led into the woods alone by a popular, well liked older boy and raped. Since then, her confidence has bottomed out, depression has hit, and she has told no one about it. It is near impossible for her to make new friends and she loathes to be close to people. Melinda's assault is a secret that she carries within herself, the only outside signs her anti-social behavior and the bloody lips she continuously chews at. Melinda cannot speak and she cannot tell anyone what happened to her. She has no friends to tell, after all, and no teachers who make her feel comfortable enough to confide in. To make matters worse, she doesn't feel that she can talk to her parents about what happens. Left to deal with the rape and following traumas alone, she withdraws. 

This book was unbelievably emotional. Rape and sexual assault are very serious and devastating crimes, and ones that a lot of people keep inside and never tell a soul about. It is hard to know what someone who has been through rape and sexual assault thinks and feels if not experienced personally. Being able to peek into Melinda's head, to see and live the processes of depression and isolation she feels throughout, is very emotional. Speak is not a book one should read if they want light reading. Melinda's reactions to the boy who raped her when she meets him in school are particularly hard to read--- you can almost feel the sickness and fear coming off of her in waves. 

Speak is about more than just rape and sexual assault. It is also about how difficult it is to be a teenager. In a lot of ways, Melinda is like any other girl her age who suffers from low self-esteem, wants to fit in and be liked, but has no idea how. I recall moments when she considered how much she wanted friends, Valentine's, and the spirit to enjoy simple things. What else is Speak about? Depression. I saw a lot of myself in Melinda, which made this book even more painful to read. The part where she went into the closet, stuffed her mouth full of cloth, and screamed until she couldn't scream anymore almost brought me to tears. I cannot count the number of times I have wanted to do just that. I think in some way, most of use can relate to some aspect of Melinda's personality and struggle. It's hard to know why Melinda chose to stay silent for so long. Was it shame? The feeling that no one would understand? Fear? A desire to hide from the reality of what happened, that if it is never spoken out loud it would never full form into a real moment? Whatever her reason, over the course of the school year, Melinda slowly transforms. At first, she sinks and bottoms out. Eventually, summoning up her strength through a series of painful and altering experiences, she rises out of the hole she has been slipping into since the night of the party. It can hardly be said that the book is inspirational because it is hard to find inspiration in someone's pain, but I am happy that Melinda found her voice to speak up. It shows others that they can, too, and that to admit to such things is not to admit weakness.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Blog Tour, Book Review, & Author Interview: Mating Rituals of the North American WASP by Lauren Lipton

About Lauren Lipton

Lauren Lipton is the author of two novels, It's About Your Husband (2006) and Mating Rituals of the North American WASP (2009). She is also a freelance journalist who specializes in style, business and trend stories. She is currently fashion, beauty and lifestyle editor at ForbesWoman magazine. She has also contributed features on society and media to the New York Times Sunday Styles section. A former Wall Street Journal staff writer, she reported on copycat brides who steal their friends' wedding ideas, pajama parties for grown women, and luxury homes with his-and-hers garages.
Her work also has appeared in Conde Nast Portfolio, In Style Weddings, Martha Stewart Weddings, Best Life, Glamour, Marie Claire, Fit Pregnancy and Working Mother, and on National Public Radio's All Things Considered. She began her career at the Los Angeles Times. Born in Providence, R.I., Lauren grew up in the North County of San Diego and in Los Gatos, Calif., before moving to Los Angeles. She holds a bachelor's degree in English and anthropology from Occidental College and a master's degree in print journalism from the University of Southern California. She lives with her family in New York City and in Litchfield County, Conn.

About Mating Rituals of the North American WASP

New Yorker Peggy Adams is upset when she wakes up next to a strange man after a night in Las Vegas she can't remember...but she's horrified when she discovers she has married him! Luke Sedgwick is WASP royalty, the last of the New Nineveh, Connecticut, Sedgwicks. He might also have been perfect, if Peggy weren't already "pre-engaged" to her live-in boyfriend (with a promise ring to prove it). Peggy and Luke agree to get an annulment ASAP, and then receive an offer they can't refuse. Luke's eccentric Great-aunt Abigail offers the two the chance to make millions on the family estate: All they have to do is stay married for a year. Peggy is soon pretending to be one-half of the perfect couple among New England's WASPy set on the weekends, while keeping her marriage a secret in New York during the week. But she isn't prepared for what might be her worst mistake of all: Falling in love with her soon-to-be ex-husband.

My Review of Mating Rituals of the North American WASP

Peggy Adams wakes up one Vegas morning in bed with a strange man. It seems during a whirlwind casino and alcohol romance, they were married. Her new husband and veritable stranger, Luke Sedgwick, is a Connecticut WASP from a family with a name and history almost as old as the Mayflower. His house, which is rapidly crumbling like his family fortune, stands as an icon of his heritage and prestige. A deal is struck up between Peggy, Luke, and Luke's great-aunt Abigail: the two of them have to stay married for a year, after which they will inherit her house. With the money gained from selling the house, Luke would be able to afford full time care for Abigail. Peggy would be able to save her business from closing. The two of them decide to go through with it. At first, the two of them are barely friends and tolerate each other with cool regard. Peggy has a pre-engagement engagement ring by a man who she has been waiting seven years to get engaged to and Luke is afflicted by a terrible disease known as New England Yuppie Lack of Expressed Emotion with a side effect of Dating A Wild and Exciting Redhead. The early relationship between Luke and Peggy is at first hindered by outside responsibility and guilt. But for the sake of appearances, the two of them play the game and fake being a happily in love WASP couple on the weekends. However, soon the two of them are experiencing real feelings, which brings in a whole new set of complications and guilt. The two of them can never seem to express the right emotion at the right time, or admit to each other what is in their hearts and minds. These two are so frustrating, but with each page they come closer to each other emotionally. I ended up staying up all night to finish this book because I wanted so badly for the two of them to work through their misunderstandings and misinterpretations and just admit to having real feelings for each other. For a while there, for every step forward they make, they take another two back and it drove me crazy in a good way. It is interesting the way that the author allows us to see some events from both perspectives, so that after a while we learn to gauge how the other person is feeling even though it isn't obvious. Like, I knew after a while why Luke would make certain comments or faces. I understood the way Peggy saw his actions. None of it had to be explained anymore. Need I say that I absolutely LOVED the romantic and sexual tension between the Luke and Peggy? I did. Sometimes it was almost palpable, I kid you not. I mean, no it's not very realistic that your average struggling business owner female in an unhappy relationship meets rich and sexy man in Vegas, but I found the progression of their relationship to be complex and realistic. They didn't just fall in to each other's arms as romance novels tend to have their characters do. Mating Rituals is a romance novel for people who don't like the conventions of typical romance novels.

Interview with Lauren Lipton

Q: What do you do to prepare to write? What is the process that gets you ready to sit down a lay out a story?
A: How I prepare depends on where I am in the process. While in the middle of a book, I spend time before my writing day officially begins--while lying in bed, doing dishes, at the gym, and so on--chewing on whatever challenge is on the agenda, such as, "How do I get Peggy down the stairs?" (Truly, getting a character from the third floor to the first is usually as much as I can accomplish in a day.) If I'm starting a new book--as I am now--I spend weeks, sometimes months, thinking about it and outlining it. It sounds like procrastination, but the thinking part is as necessary as the writing part.

Q: How much of yourself do you put in your characters? Are they extensions of you, or are they independent creations that take on a life of their own after coming from your imagination? How much are you like Peggy?
A: This is an interesting question, because I would have given the opposite answer two years ago. The heroine of my first novel, It's About Your Husband, was a fictionalized version of me. But while writing Mating Rituals of the North American WASP, I was surprised to find the characters taking on personality traits I do not believe I possess. Peggy, for example, is too indulgent of her commitment-phobic boyfriend. Seriously, Peggy; he'll never make you happy.

Q: What is the most valuable piece of knowledge that you've picked up after becoming a published author that you wish you knew from the start?
A: Oh, where to begin? I wish I'd known how lovely publishing people are. Maybe there are meanies in the industry, but everybody I've met, from agents to editors to designers, proofreaders, publicists and other authors, has been smart and personable and kind. I'd had this notion that they'd be snobby or mocking. That was a lot of wasted worry.

Q: What's the best part of writing a book? What is the worst?
A: The best part is the physical act of sitting at the computer and spinning ideas into a tangible object: a big, thick, satisfying chunk of paper. The worst part--and it's hardly terrible; I'm not complaining--is that I don't love being the center of attention. I get a little embarrassed doing the readings and interviews and talking about me, me, me. At the moment, I am thoroughly sick of myself.

Q: Finally, could you share with all of us a quote that you love?
A: "Omit needless words." --William Strunk, Jr., in The Elements of Style

Some Participating Sites


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Blog Tour & Author Interview: Making Light of Being Heavy by Kandy Siahaya

About Kandy Siahaya 
Kandy Siahaya was raised in a small town in Maine where she graduated from high school in 1984. She worked her way up from her first job as CSW to Manager of Kentucky Fried Chicken and ended up in Brunswick, Maine. When she decided to leave the fried chicken business at age 22, she packed up her little Chevy Chevette and moved to Fort Myers, Florida where she worked as a waitress and had a great time as a single girl in her 20's. Reality hit when she was 25 years old and went back to Maine and received her Associates Degree at Beal College and promptly moved back to Florida and started a career in medical transcription. In 1995 at age 29, she met her future husband and moved to North Miami Beach, Florida, and continued with transcription starting her own business.

In 2002, Kandy left North Miami Beach and moved back to Maine with her five year old son and eventually divorced in 2005. Kandy still does medical transcription but had an unexpected decline in work which left her with a lot of time on her hands. This is when she decided to write a book. this is something she had been thinking about for a few years but never had the time because she was always so busy with her business. It was meant to be a quick and funny read, something to brighten the outlook of many that really do not see the light through their own tunnel vision. It was also intended to be insightful for those that could never possibly relate to this specific subject. Kandy has succeeded in doing just that with Light of Being Heavy.

About Making Light of Being Heavy

These days everyone has a society-driven mindset and totally forget to laugh, especially at themselves. This may be cliche but I truly believe that laughter is the best medicine and I think everybody should laugh every day. Period. Over the years as a person blessed with the fat gene, I have been in many situations where if I could not find humor I probably would end up on the couch in the psychiatrist's office. This book is about as politically incorrect as it gets for such a subject but it is also based on reality. This is a reality that many women have just like me, but do not think they can (or should) at times just laugh about it. 

My intention when I started writing this book was to hopefully give insight to many who could never relate but at the same time perhaps provide a different perspective to women just like me. It is a point of view that has given me the strength to live my life happily and project these feelings onto everyone I come in contact with. I have a great sense of humor and a quick with and guarantee you will be laughing (and thinking) with each chapter of Making Light of Being Heavy.

Interview with Kandy Siahaya

Q: Your book takes a humorous look at weight issues. Have you always been so comfortable with yourself or did it take time? What was it that brought you to this point of being comfortable with yourself enough to put humor to it?
A: I do not think I was this comfortable when I was in grade school but through the years it has just kind of evolved into my way of thinking and I have a great sense of humor so it just kind of happened I think.

Q: Do you feel that the overall perceptions of weight would change if women (indeed all people) could learn to be more comfortable with their bodies and less influenced by the pressure of media?
A: Of course. We all watch the T.V. and read the magazines, etc. and it seems like people will automatically give validation to something just because they heard it or read it somewhere. But I think also for a lot of people it is hard to overcome something that has become so systematic because of the media and society's huge role in our lives in general.

Q: A significant portion of the population is overweight, so why do you think people still view it with such negativity?
A: I think people still view it that way because it has always been perceived that way and to convert a way of thinking has to start with each person, one at a time, and that is not something that is a quick process unfortunately. I do not know if this is a good example but another serious issue such as racism still goes on today and it is a way of thinking, it has gotten better comparatively speaking from years ago but look how long that took just to get where we are today. I think there will always be negativity about weight issues but hopefully we as a society will become more understanding and perceptions will start to change.
To look at something with humor is one of the best abilities to have. Unfortunately, a lot of men and women have had their self-esteem harmed due to weight problems. What would you say to them?
This is such a personal issue. I think a person has to make the decision to change the way they think. People may say that it is hard to do. Yes it is, but we are in control of what we think and ultimately can decide whether something will bother us or not. Just start making the decision that it is not going to bother you.

Q: If you had only a few seconds to explain to someone in brief the plight of an overweight person to help them understand what it is like, what would you say?
A: That is really a hard question because I do not look at my situation as a plight and it truly has no bearing on my daily activities. We all have something that we wish other people could understand but will they really ever understand? Probably not. A person who is short may wish that others could understand the plight of being a short person but I could never understand it because in order to really understand you must have the experience.

Q: What do you think is the key to true happiness?
A: Being happy with yourself.

Q: What would your perfect day be like?
A: My perfect day would be finishing my work early enough so that my son and I would be able to make it to mom's for dinner, come home and help him with his homework etc,, touch base with a couple of my good friends by phone before it is past their bedtime, and then relaxing to my shows after my son has gone to bed.

Q: What is your number one, end all and be all indulgence?
A: Macaroni Grill's loaf of bread they serve with olive oil and cracked pepper and we always get extra fresh-grated parmesan cheese mixed in with the oil....yum. And I just love to go to new restaurants!

Q: What is one thing, one piece of wisdom, that you know now and wish you had known all along?
A: You cannot change the actions of other people but you can change your reaction.

Q: Finally, would you share with me and my readers a personal favorite quote?
A: What my mother used to say, "Pretty is as pretty does." I actually Googled that for the heck of it and I guess it is an old fashioned saying that basically means a person may be pretty on the outside but their behavior ultimately is the deciding factor whether or not they are really pretty. When I was younger and my mother would say it to me I knew it was related to my actions and so responding in kind to people who were mean or spiteful was not the answer and I think that is when I started to learn to just let it go.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Book Review: All Together Dead (Southern Vampire Mysteries, #7) by Charlaine Harris

Title: All Together Dead
Series: Southern Vampire Mysteries
Book Number: 7
Author: Charlaine Harris
Genre: Fiction - Paranormal
Finished: May 22, 2009

Time for the Rhodes vampire conference, which Sookie must attend as part of the Queen of Louisiana's entourage.

In All Together Dead, Sookie is a valuable asset what with Louisiana being weakened by Katrina and the Queen, Sophie-Anne, under suspicion for killing her husband, the King of Arkansas. For money, Sookie has agreed to attend the conference and read the minds of any humans present in case someone is thinking something that might be important for Sophie-Anne to know. Her new boyfriend, were tiger Quinn, is also in attendance setting up events. However, unfortunately for them and their budding romance, they don't get to spend much time together. But at least Sookie has one friend. Barry the Telepathic bellboy is there with another group, and the two of them find few moments of peace to work out their gifts together. As two of the only humans there, they find themselves at the call of the stronger and more powerful vampires who send them out on missions such as assassin investigation. It's not easy to be at the bottom of the food chain. After the last book, this one was a big improvement. Relations will Bill are still rocky, but at least Sookie will acknowledge his name. Sookie isn't too fond of being a lackey for the Queen and her personal bodyguard Andre, but she realizes her limitations and goes with it as best she can. Her relationship with Eric deepens in All Together Dead. The two of them find that the bond they had formed when they first exchanged blood is now multifaceted and far more complicated than before. I am very happy about that since I think that Sookie and Eric make a far better and complex couple than Sookie and Bill. I also think that Eric appreciates Sookie in a different and more meaningful way. Sookie brings something out in Eric that no one else does and I think that says a lot about the nature of their relationship. It was just good to get back to some of the older characters. Granted, they were a long way from Bon Temps and Merlotte's. I don't feel like the Southern Vampire Mysteries needs any more characters since every new inclusion comes at the expense of interaction with other older, favorite characters. 

All Together Dead does not fall short on action and mystery, either. There is sinister intent all around and Sookie can feel it. Between can bombs and dead assassins and shifty waiters/hotel workers, you never know who the enemy is. It is also pretty hard to be one of the only humans in a building full of blood drinkers, as well. Toward the end of the story, when the action picks up full force, it's well written and done just right to level the suspense and intensity off without overdoing it and making it too dramatic.

Book Review: Definitely Dead (Southern Vampire Mysteries, #6) by Charlaine Harris

Title: Definitely Dead
Series: Southern Vampire Mysteries
Book Number: 6
Author(s): Charlaine Harris 
Genre: Fiction - Paranormal 
Finished: May 21, 2009

Definitely Dead is book 6 in the Southern Vampire Mysteries. Sookie, weary and battle scarred, once again has high hopes that her life can return to normal. She has enough stress as it is between her brother's personal life, rebuilding her kitchen, Debbie Pelt's family's meddling, her broken heart, the dead demon left on her lawn, and the murder of her cousin Hadley. As it turns out, Hadley was a vampire and a favorite of the Queen of Louisiana. Sookie must go to New Orleans to clean out her cousin's old apartment, which means entering the paranormal world of the vampires once more. On the bright side, she has a new boyfriend. Her new boyfriend is a were-tiger named Quinn. Quinn is tall, bald, patient, and seemingly without drama. Unfortunately for them, they are attacked by crazed bitten weres on their first date. It is all downhill for Sookie from there. Weres and vampires attacking from all angles, oh my. Additionally, not only does Sookie want to clean out Hadley's apartment, but she wants to find out what truly happened to her cousin. That opens up its own can of worms to add to the already smoldering pot of problems simmering.

I'll be honest with you guys. If this had been the first or second book that I read in the series, I wouldn't have continued. Though it was good, I gave it a lot more credit because I already know and love the characters. If Definitely Dead were my introduction to the Sookie Stackhouse world, I wouldn't have thought twice about not picking up the next book. Don't get me wrong, Definitely Dead is a good book, it just isn't the type of book that would capture my attention and make want to read again. A lot of the book just seemed to be out of character. Sookie is slowly exiting the world of being your average every day telepathic waitress who is cutely modest to being a supervixen special something who has all the guys stare when she flips her hair. And Bill did a total 180. Only Eric was the same, which was a relief because I would take it too hard if he changed at all. It is disappointing that there is such an influx of new characters because the old characters, the ones I enjoy, are being pushed to the wayside. I don't need a whole new league of witches and boyfriends and vampire buddies to enjoy The Southern Vampire Mysteries. I just want to read about the world of Sookie and her close companions. Adding too many characters makes things overly complex and complicated. Of course, fresh blood is necessary to keep a book active, and new people are always coming and going in life, but within the limited confines of a book they only end up pushing out other characters since only so many can be in focus at a time. Also, a word of warning. If you've ONLY read the books, you will be confused

If this book is to make sense to you from the start, I suggest you read the short story One Word Answer from Bite. The events of that story come to fruition in Definitely Dead and are unfortunately never mentioned anywhere else. So, if you haven't read One Word Answer, you are going to be very confused about Hadley and the Queen and the Queen's request. It doesn't make sense that the story wasn't included as a prelude or a first chapter, but I suppose it makes more money selling in parts. I have high hopes for the next one and can only cross my fingers that Sookie and her world will return to how it was when I fell in love with it. I want Sookie to go back to being a normal girl with a special gift, not some half-supernatural creature like everyone else. How can I relate to her that way? And I want more of the old characters, more Eric and Bill and Sam.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Blog Tour & Interview: Outcast (The Cat Star Chronicles, #1) by Cheryl Brooks

I'd like to thank Cheryl Brooks, author of the Cat Star Chronicles to Epeolatry. She was generous enough to let me read and review book 4, Outcast, and was also kind enough to stop in answer answer a few questions for me and you, the reader! For more information about Cheryl Brooks and her books, check out her official home page.

Interview with Cheryl Brooks
Q: What do you think draws readers to the paranormal/supernatural? What draws you to the paranormal/supernatural?
A: I think most readers who enjoy paranormals are interested in pure, escapist entertainment and have a strong liking for the "what if...." questions. I like it because it puts the fewest possible restrictions on my imagination.

Q: What made you choose to write your characters as inhabitants of outside planets? Why not Earth?
A: We already know what Earth is like, and though the Earth of the future is fascinating to consider, as Star Trek illustrates so well, the greatest adventure is “to boldly go where no man has gone before.  So far, my heroines have all been from Earth, or at least human, and I think any woman who enjoys science fiction has wondered what it would be like to have an alien lover. Alien men represent the vast unknown, which is intriguing, though sometimes dangerous! Setting the books on other planets also gives my imagination the freedom to create new worlds, and those planets determine what kind of novel it will be. For Outcast, I created the newly colonized world of Terra Minor, which gave me the opportunity to write about a pioneer woman and her hired hand, giving it a slightly historical feel, as was the case in Warrior. There was more "planet hopping" in Slave, which is more like Star Trek, and Rogue is about a woman traveling to a distant and very different world to take a post as a piano teacher.

Q: What do you do to prepare to write? What is the process that gets you ready to sit down a lay out a story?
A: When I begin a story, I usually have at least one scene in mind. It could be when our lovers first meet, their first romantic encounter, or the world they find themselves on. Either way, that one scene creates the characters and makes them real for me, and the rest of the story develops from there. In Slave, I had the vision of a male slave on the auction block in chains who was bought by a woman who only needs him for one task, but they turn out to be perfectly matched. In Warrior, I envisioned a young witch living alone in a forest cottage to whom an alien slave is brought for healing. In Rogue, already having developed the Zetithians as a species, I tried to imagine just how hard it would be for one woman to choose between two brothers. With Outcast, I took a man who had been so used up by women that he wanted nothing more to do with them, but then meets the one who can redeem him.
How much of yourself do you put in your characters? Are they extensions of you, or are they independent creations that take on a life of their own after coming from your imagination?
Jacinth, in Slave, is the same kind of no-holds-barred independent space trader that Han Solo was, but she is saddled with some of my own insecurities, as are all of my heroines. They share some of my strengths as well, but though there is a little of me in all of my heroines, they become different people as I develop them. Bonnie, the heroine in Outcast, has elements of my own personality along with the kind of dogged, independent spirit that I see in my sister.

Q: Okay, so they are making a movie of The Cat Star Chronicles. Who would you choose to play the main characters? What actors or actresses could you see playing your characters?
A: I usually reply to this question by saying that I think it would have to be some unknown actors because I don't know of anyone I would choose, but, in reality, my books are much too erotic to be made into mainstream movies. For that reason, I've never given any thought to who might play any of the characters, but some of my heroes were inspired by specific actors. For example, Tycharian in Rogue is based on Jack Davenport (Pirates of the Caribbean) and I had a young Jeff Goldblum in mind when I created the character of Manx in the upcoming Fugitive.

Q: Which of your characters would you like to spend a day in the shoes of?
A: I can probably relate more to Tisana, the witch in Warrior, than any of the others because she is a healer, and in my other career, I'm a critical care nurse, but the one whose shoes I'd most like to be in would be Kyra in Rogue. I've always admired anyone who can play the piano well, and I'd like to know what that feels like, not to mention her experiences with two sexy Zetithian brothers!

Q: What is the most valuable piece of knowledge that you've picked up after becoming a published author that you wish you knew from the start?
A: I had no idea just how much extra work being published would entail. At first, you imagine that you write the book and then someone else handles everything else, from editing, to cover art, to promoting. But in reality, while you're in the midst of writing a new novel, you must also promote the one on the shelf by doing interviews, guest blogs, book signings and other promotional activities. Then there is the work to the one that is already finished, but not yet published, which includes revisions—which can sometimes be fairly extensive-- proofreading, and reviews of the copy-edited and page-formatted versions. In addition to that, there are websites to maintain, blogs to write, and emails to be answered, and all of this on top of another full-time job!

Q: What is one thing you've never done but would love to do?
A: Now, don't laugh, but I would dearly love to be the lead guitarist in a rock band. This isn't something that will ever happen-- and it's not because of the resultant fame or anything like that, either; it's the being able to do it and do it well that interests me.

Q: What would your "theme" song be on the soundtrack of your life?
A: I have absolutely no idea, unless there's a song about a woman who is constantly doing something and finds it very difficult to relax.

Q: Finally, could you share with all of us a quote that you love?
A: This is from Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy-- specifically from The Crystal Cave.
"The gods only go with you if you put yourself in their path. And that takes courage." 
This is so true for an author. If you don't take the plunge and submit that manuscript to someone, you'll never know if being published is a possibility or not.

My review of Outcast

Title: Outcast
Series: The Cat Star Chronicles
Book Number: 1
Genre: Romance - Sci-Fi 
Finished: May 17, 2009
Outcast by Cheryl Brooks is book four in the Cat Star Chronicles series. In this installment, Zetithian Lynx has been stolen from his planet at its destruction and sold into slavery. A slave of slave women, Lynx is made to share his special intimate talents with 50 harem women. At first, he enjoys the constant lovemaking, but after a while it begins to wear on him and he loses the ability to feel arousal. Kicked out of the harem, he travels on his own to find work, to earn enough money to buy land and live quietly. After his bad experience with the harem women, Lynx wants nothing to do with a woman ever again. Imagine his upset when he comes to work for Bonnie, who is with child by her ex-boyfriend, a man who stole her money and ran off. As an honest and hard worker, Lynx decides to stay, though he has no interest in even being Bonnie's friend. Despite the unfriendliness that Lynx displays, Bonnie tries her hardest to live with him peacefully even though the two of them can barely get along. Lynx is nothing short of rude and dismissive, even a bit mean at times. After a while though, Bonnie begins to love Lynx. Despite his attitude and her knowing he wants nothing to do with women, she can't help but fall prey to his good qualities. However, Lynx has no interest in loving her back. Yet. 
In Outcast, Cheryl Brooks creates a very realistic world. I have to praise her creativity for not only thinking up good characters, but also in the creation of unique planets and alien species. I am not usually one for science fiction-y type things, but I loved the setting for Outcast. The entire "here we are on an alien planet" thing was so casual that you slipped right into the reality of it as if it were quite simply so. Brooks really drew out the tension on this one, too. Outcast didn't have the lead female and sexy male hero fall instantly into each other arms. The conflict between the two was great, even if main character Bonnie DID fall in love with Lynx awfully quick. I can't blame her, though, because a cute guy is a cute guy. It was truly sweet the way that the two of them fought, and how different Bonnie's perception of Lynx was to how he really felt. Yeah, he had a chip on his shoulder and it showed. But, in any good romance/erotica book, the steadfast female soon enough melts the ice of the cold, distant man's heart in no time. Outcast is creative, humorous, emotional, and sexy. It was my introduction to sci-fi erotica and romance, and I have to say that I enjoyed this one very much. I haven't read any of the other Cat Star Chronicles, but I plan to go out and get a copy of 1, 2, and 3 as soon as possible. It was unbelievable fun to involve myself in the personal world of Bonnie and Lynx.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Book Review & Author Interview: Dark Worlds- Project 31 by Zack Daggy

About Zack Daggy

Zack "The Mothman" Daggy is is an Internet DJ and new media entrepreneur of wide acclaim and a cult fan base. A self-professed workaholic, Zack is the host and creator of a number of original programs including The Mothpod, The Shameless Plugcast, To The Flame, and producer of The Pod 5. Born in 1985 with a rare genetic disorder, Zack's boundless energy and irrepressible imagination lead him to create fantastic worlds of suspense and horror, always shot through with humor. He wrote his first story at age seven, and has been nominated for The People's Choice Podcast Awards. Zack lives in Indianapolis and can be visited at www.zackdaggy.com. Links: Mothpod Productions Dark World's Trilogy Website Zack Daggy's Myspace Follow Zack Daggy on Twitter

Review of Dark Worlds: Project 31

Title: Dark Worlds- Project 31 
Author: Zack Daggy 
Genre: Fiction - Horror 
Finished: May 13, 2009

Zack Daggy's Dark Worlds: Project 31 is book one in what is to be a three part horror series. In Project 31, nightmares become real in the city of Careview as demons use the earth as a personal battleground and take over humans to act as fleshly vessels to give them and their shades physical forms. Because of a drug, a form of heroin called Shadow, humans are more susceptible to possession by a shade. And because demon lords are too strong to step into earth as they are, they must seek out a body to use to enter earth. In 1977, an attempt to give a demon bodily form to destroy it ended in disaster and began a chain of events that culminate in 2008 when ancestors are faced with stopping the rising of a powerful demon named Cervenoko, who has unleashed her shades to aid in her rise to power. Involved in this is Jimmy, the product of a family secret and an ex-alcoholic medical worker who watched his mother get killed by shades as a child. Then there is Lilly, who works in a diner and has special powers. Also important is Casey, an older man who has psychic powers that he tries to use for good-- in his own way. Of course, we can't forget Allison, the serial killer of serial killers who sells Shadow on the side. Each one of them has a connection to the events of 1977 and must "return" to the moment to try to stop the rise of Cervenoko. At least, that's what some of them think is going to happen.

The thing that sticks out the most about this book is how much it reads like a movie script. The dialogue, the descriptions, and the actions sequences all have the style of a script. There were times when reading that I would stop and think how that scene would play out if I were watching it on a screen. Someone needs to alert Fangoria or Rue Morgue now. Project 31 doesn't have a lot of in-depth and overly completely internal dialogue and reflection, at least none done in such a way that it couldn't be portrayed visually. I really do think that this book would be perfect for film adaptation, and without a lot of reworking and editing of the plot to get the film elements right. In fact, I think some of it would be better were it a visual and not words. Some of the descriptions about bodies splitting open and becoming strange creatures would work better on the screen, definitely. Project 31 is a fast paced and nightmarish book, playing with themes of humanity, the human soul and conscience, and the lengths people will go to get what they want. It's about human weakness and our natural fallibility, as well as the evil that is in some people. Project 31 full of action and suspense, with a few twist and turns along the way. The details of the past are revealed slowly, so the tension builds behind a wall of unfurling mystery, only to explode into a climactic ending rather than a steady uncoil.
Watch the trailer for Dark Worlds: Project 31

Interview with Zack Daggy

Q: What's your favorite iPod track this week?
A: Pony by Far. It's a great indie track with awesome hooks, and just the right amount of dirtyness to the lyrics.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure band?
A: Nickelback. A LOT of my friends think that bands like Nickelback are what's wrong with the music industry, but I can't help but dig their tracks.

Q: What is your favorite movie?
A: The Usual Suspects is the best movie ever made. Nuff said.

Q: What's the last meal you would eat if you were on death row?
A: A bowl of my mom's homemade beef and barley soup. I could eat it for lunch and dinner every day and still not get sick of it.

Q: Have you read any great books lately?
A: The last great book I read was Wicked Game by Jeri Smith-Ready. It's about a radio station run by vampires. Think Buffy The Vampire Slayer but with con artists, a passion for music, and a lot more vampire sex.

Q: What gets you up in the morning?
A: Mostly caffeine and a constant craving to create something new. Honestly I don't know which addiction is worse.

Q: What's the weirdest thing that's ever happened to you?
A: As a child (like 4 or 5 years old) I used to see and talk to my Great Grandfather who I had never met since he had died before I was born. I used to tell my parents of the things that he'd say, and they were always shocked by the accuracy and detail of the information that I shouldn't have had any means of knowing... And people wonder why I write the genre that I do.

Q: What's the most expensive thing you've ever bought?
A: That would have to be my computer. It's a Mac Pro, but since I do a lot of audio/video work it's pretty pimped out. It's got three 750GB Harddrives, 8GB of ram, two Quad Processors, a 30 inch screen, etc.

Q: What's the most indulgent thing you've ever done?
A: Had a theme song made about me. Now let me explain. See, I host an independent music program called the Mothpod and I needed something special for it's one year anniversary episode, and it just so happens that one of the artists I had featured (now a friend of mine) makes custom jingles/songs. It was a perfectly logistical PR move, so that's why I had it made... Has nothing to do with the fact that I'm a shameless bastard.

Q: Can you share with me a favorite quote?
A: I forget who exactly said it and the exact phrasing, but... "The world becomes much more sane if one is to assume that everyone is at least a little bit crazy."

Friday, May 8, 2009

Author Interview: George Rabasa (The Wonder Singer)

As part of the May blog tour for George Rabasa's new book The Wonder Singer, I have been fortunate enough to interview him. I wanted to gain some insight into Rabasa as a writer, as well as understand his thoughts on writing and his own writing process. Enjoy the interview! If you'd like to read my review of The Wonder Singer, please go here.

Q: What do you do to prepare to write?
A: I try to be at my desk around nine most mornings. At that time, all my good ideas and fine intentions of the night before have vanished and I wonder what's the point of writing. I wish I had real job. Still, the screen opens up a world of possibilities. Start a sentence. Change a word. Move some phrases around. Daydream. Wake up.

Q: What is the process that gets you ready to sit down a lay out a story?
A: I wish I had a process. A short story starts with an image, a feeling, a character, and I find out what the story is about by writing the first draft. Novels tend to live in the mind for a while, months maybe, before I get so restless with the energy that bubbles up within me that I start writing with a mix of fear and courage. After about eighty pages or so, I'm committed to finishing the thing, even it takes a couple of years to get a first draft. A novel is a marathon.

Q: What is the best part of writing a book?
A: A moment in the telling of the story that surprises me with a beautiful phrase, a surprising turn of plot, the life force in a previously static character.

Q: What is the most difficult part of writing a book?
A: Keeping the faith.

Q: What was your inspiration for The Wonder Singer?
A: My intention was to write a sort of picaresque novel about a ghostwriter. In my checkered professional life I've written in practically every medium, besides fiction, with varying degrees of success: commercials, direct mail, restaurant menus, reviews, speeches, obituaries and jokes. But I was never a ghostwriter. The idea of a journeyman writer serving as the voice for a famous personality has a kind of elegance to it. I needed a bigger- than-life foil for the humble scribbler.  There are no bigger personalities than old-school opera divas. And the irony of serving as the conduit for a voice that cannot sing her own song captivated me.

As I began to imagine Merce Casals, I reached for the bigger-than-life women in my own family. I also read a particularly lurid biography of Maria Callas, as well as reams of lore on the bad old days of opera. They don't make divas like MerceCasals anymore. The challenge was to endow her with the full grace and dignity of a real human being – not a caricature or comic character. After a while, as I wrote, I took her eccentricities for granted, and concentrated on giving her a rich and deep inner life, touched by love, disappointment and the world's inevitable cruelties. As a result, I hope my Diva will engage the reader's heart and mind at a basic human level.

Q: Where do you look to find inspiration any time you write?
A: I don't look anywhere in particular. I write about what interests me. I like to think I am fully alive to every moment of my life’s experience. My ideas are the stuff of life, somewhat tossed and blended and simmered to make the stew that is a good story.

Q: What kind of research did you have to do to write The Wonder Singer?
A: When I started The Wonder Singer over ten years ago, I did not particularly like what little opera I had listened to. Rock and roll, roots, symphonic, choral, chamber-- all of these I loved. Then, when I decided to write about an opera diva, I though I'd better figure out what these people did. So thanks to the Minneapolis Public Library, I checked out Tosca. I played it over and over one weekend, and by Monday morning, I was hooked.

After that I listened to opera, read about opera, talked about opera. I attended master classes for young singers to see how they were trained. I interviewed singers, voice teachers, producers, wannabe divas and the occasional opera queen.

I loved every moment of the learning experience.

Q: What have you wanted to write about but haven't had a chance to yet?
A: Submarines, rock bands, prisons, ashrams, pilgrimages, mathematicians, muslims, millionaires and whores. Also, on a larger scale, the Jewish diaspora after expulsion from Spain in the early 16th century.

Q: How much of yourself do you put in your characters? Are they extensions of you, or are they independent creations that take on a life of their own after coming from your imagination?
A: While I'm not an autobiographical writer, there is something of me in every character I imagine. And I have always been fascinated by the idea of ghost writing. Ghost writers are like actors taking on a role. They are the voices of people who are mute, who cannot speak for themselves. In a sense I'm a ghost writer for the characters I imagine. When Flaubert was asked where Emma Bovary came from, he said, "Madame Bovary, c'est moi."  Merce Casals? She is me. As are Nolan Keefe, Hollywood Hank, Alonzo Baylor, Mark Lockwood and the rest of the cast.

Q: What is the most valuable piece of knowledge that you've picked up after becoming a published author that you wish you knew from the start?
A: Finish what you start.

Q: What is one thing you've never done but would love to do?
A: Write good poetry.

Q: What would your :theme" song be on the soundtrack of your life?
A: "I'm Your Man" by Leonard Cohen.

Q: Finally, could you share with all of us a quote that you love?
A: "Characters in a story should be alive, except in the case of corpses, and always the reader should be able to tell the corpses from the others." (Paraphrased from Mark Twain.)

Book Review: The Wonder Singer by George Rabasa

Title: The Wonder Singer

Author(s): Georage Rabasa
Genre: Fiction - Memoir
Finished: May 8, 2009

Mark Lockwood, an author popularly known for his writings on how to talk to teens about a number of real life issues, has been assigned the task of acting as ghostwriter to pen and publish the biography of opera diva Merce Casals. Hours are spent listening to her talk of her life, which is daunting in and of itself, until one day Senorita Casals dies in the bathtub with the project unfinished. With a high profile book in the works, Mark's agent Hollywood Hank now wants to assign the book to a more well-known author. Only Mark is committed to the project and not willing to give up his hours of tapes despite their harassment and snooping. As Mark sees it, the book is his to write, the words entrusted to him by Senorita Casals and no one else. At the risk of his health, his sanity, and his marriage, Mark must write this book. It is a race against time to finish his book before Hollywood Hank and his new star author finish theirs. With the help of Senorita Casals' former nurse Perla, drag Queen and Casals' number one fan Orson, and Senorita Casals' husband Nolan, Mark protects his tapes and writes his book, becoming increasingly invested in not only the book but the life of the diva herself. The connection he has with Senorita Casals and her words is an intimate one. It almost seemed to me as if he were falling in a sort of platonic love with Merce, or becoming obsessed with her life and her words. Maybe the obsession was in the book and his love for her made him love her story, but he definitely connected with the book on a very personal level. The book weaves two stories in one: Mark's journey through his book writing and Senorita Casals personal story. Injected here and there are "snippets" from the autobiographical work by Mark. We learn of Merce's childhood, her abandonment by her father, her life as a rising star, her marriage, her marriage troubles, and all of her career difficulties. Through these snippets, we are better able to understand Merce and her complicated life. She becomes less a diva and more a real person who experiences pain and conflict. It is often times hard to see "privileged" people as anything but glitz and glamour, but such is far from the truth in the case of Merce. The strength that Merce displays throughout her life is truly impressive and inspiring.

Of course, I wish that Mark had developed more as a character-- rather, grew in his own maturity, not developed in a writing sense. He never really seems to take responsibility for what he is doing wrong to other people, namely his wife. It was sad to me to see that though he wishes to resolve this, he never really expresses regret until the end.

Throughout the book, as he apologizes to his wife and says he loves her, he is still lusting after the nurse without the slightest hint of shame. I have to say, I quite disliked him for this, but his character was human enough in every regard that I found myself also sympathizing with him. I think this is a testament to Rabasa's writing style and talent that he can make a character that anyone can sympathize with and understand even when he does things that are upsetting. My favorite parts were the parts of Merce Casals life. I wish that there really was a biography about her out! She told a lot of very interesting and emotional stories. Mr. Rabasa created a fascinating character when he created her. I found myself enamored with her and excusing everything she did wrong, which I guess makes me a lot like Mark. The entire story is told in a smooth, sophisticated tone. Rabasa is an impeccable writer with a talent for making characters that are believable and complicated. The all too human experiences endured by the characters give the story a sublime and impossible to escape from charm. Arias rise and fall, suffused with a catalog of emotions, which capture the heart. This is, of course, the life of Merce Casals-- a grand aria told in spoken language. For more information about the blog tour, go here. If you'd like to read my interview with George Rabasa, go here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Blog Tour: The Wonder Singer by George Rabasa

Author George Rabasa is touring the blog world with his new title The Wonder Singer. The blog tour runs from May 5th to May 15th. Thanks so much to Unbridled Books for giving me the chance to host this tour!

About George Rabasa
George Rabasa's collection of short stories, Glass Houses, received The Writer's Voice Capricorn Award for Excellence in Fiction and the Minnesota Book Award for Short Stories. His novel, Floating Kingdom received the Minnesota Book Award for Fiction. And his most recent novel, The Cleansing, was named a Book Sense Notable. His short fiction has appeared in various literary magazines, such as Story Quarterly, Glimmer Train, The MacGuffin, South Carolina Quarterly, Hayden's Ferry, American Literary Review, and in several anthologies. Rabasa was born in Maine, raised in Mexico, and now lives in Minnesota. Home Page The Wonder Singer @ Unbridled Books

About The Wonder Singer

Let's face it - who couldn't use a break? As any freelance writer knows, plum jobs can be hard to come by, and for Mark Lockwood, who has labored for years with the mind-numbing series "How to Talk to Your Teen about" landing the job as ghost writer for the esteemed diva Merca Casals is a dream. Plus, the job comes with an unexpected perk for this middle-aged and newly restless married man: each day he gets to spend some time with Casals appealing young nurse, Perla. What could be better? Finishing the job to great success. Having a romance. But hopes for both fade when the Diva dies in her bath. Now, her agent, Hollywood Hank, is demanding Lockwood's interview tapes, which Hank plans to pass over to a renowned celebrity biographer, someone with a big name. And Perla, too, seems happy to move on. So begins the chase (or chases!) in this charmer from award-winning novelist and short story writer George Rabasa. In a page-turning tale of passion, great art, dramatic failures, and nice guys (hopefully) winning first, we follow Mark Lockwood as he hides from Hollywood Hank, with the interview tapes often secured to his person. With the aid of Perla and the Diva's greatest fan (a cross dressing mimic), Lockwood writes feverishly to beat his new competitor (who is writing without any interviews on file, just great imagination) to New York with the final manuscript. Rabasa takes us through the humble world of the self-employed, the glamorous and glittering world of real stars, the grubby side of Hollywood, and the honest, straight forward place where real love can still triumph if one is not too late. And has some sense.

If you'd like to read my review, please go here. If you'd like to read my interview with George Rabasa, please go here.

Participating Sites 

http://epicrat.blogspot.com h