Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Book Review: GREAT AMERICAN ROAD TRIPS - SCENIC DRIVES by Reader's Digest

 This is beautiful book - both in pictures and prose. Scroll down for my complete review.


GREAT AMERICAN ROAD TRIPS - SCENIC DRIVES

Compiled & Published by: Reader's Digest
Publication Date: 2/2/21
ISBN: 978-1621455240

Description from Publisher: 
Let the natural beauty of America’s most scenic drives inspire the travel bug within you and get you exploring the wide-open spaces and breathtaking vistas in our country. Absorb the best America has to offer from the slow lane! This collection of scenic drives, broken out by region, features breathtaking road trips, both long and short. Highlighted by over 140 gorgeous photos, each trip also includes helpful info to help you plan your trip. Inspirational  photos showcase why these well known drives are worth the drive. Many of the drives are described in the first person by people who have made the trip, taken the photos and visited the cool places along the way.


My Review:

If you're looking to plot your next trip or if you're needing a gift for the adventure seekers in your life - this is the book for you!

GREAT AMERICAN ROAD TRIPS - SCENIC DRIVES offers up amazing photos and fascinating narratives from a variety of photographers and travel writers.

At first, I enjoyed scanning through the entire book, looking for destinations and scenic drives I was familiar with. Then, I started back at the beginning of the book and enjoyed reading the descriptions for each of the trips in the book. Much of the writing is colorful and engaging, but there are a few passages that are dryer and a bit boring to read. One of my favorite passages, written by Cathy and Gordon Illg, describes part of  Mount Evans Scenic Byway in Colorado: "At the edge of the timberline, the road passes through a grove of bristlecone pines. They are the oldest living things in the state. One of the patriarchs of the grove sprouted as the Roman Empire was falling into decline, and their gnarled branches seem to wave goodbye as you leave the trees behind" (page 24).

In addition to the first-hand accounts of the drives, the editors have also included interesting nuggets of information about the various drives, and they've sprinkled terrific quotes throughout the book, such as, "Another glorious day, the air as delicious to the lungs as nectar to the tongue -- John Muir" (page 55).

Whether you enjoy taking road trips or not, I highly recommend this book. It makes a great guide for adventurers, a great coffee table book, and a great book for waiting rooms at doctor's offices.



[I received an early copy from FSB Associates in exchange for an honest review. This in no way influenced my opinion.]

Monday, September 6, 2021

Book Review: NEVER SAW ME COMING by Vera Kurian

 

Never Saw Me ComingNever Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oh, the premise! What a great plot for a murder mystery/thriller! Vera Kurian's storytelling in NEVER SAW ME COMING had me intrigued from page one.

I've noticed many reviewers on Goodreads have commented that this book reads like it was intended for young adults (YA). To be clear, this book is not for the young adult audience. There are certain rules that apply to books written for a young adult audience, and this book steps outside those rules. This is definitely an adult book. Just because a narrative voice sounds similar to those you may find in young adult books does not make it one.

A few of the things I loved about this book:
1. The first chapter sucked me right into the story.
2. The internal exploration of psychopaths was fascinating.
3. The reunion (no spoilers) of a character and his family at the end actually choked me up with tears! Nice surprise there.


While I loved the premise of this book, there were multiple elements that kept me from giving it a five-star review:

1. I was overwhelmed by the large cast of characters. At first I thought this was a storytelling device to keep the reader guessing about the serial killer, and who knows, maybe it was, but when the killer was revealed, no spoilers here, I was disappointed. Instead of having such a large cast of characters, I wish Kurian would have developed the three main characters more.
2. Personal pet peeves: lots of crude language and unnecessary sex scenes
3. The changes in points-of-view were constant and confusing.
4. The referrals to pop-culture, including social-media hashtags and brand names, were tiring.

My favorite passage from the story:

"Charles was too curious about meeting another psychopath to be annoyed. But Emma didn't fit the bill of what he thought they were supposed to be. He thought psychopaths were supposed to be ... well, like him. Charming and charismatic and able to get what they wanted from people. She seemed more like someone had taken a mouse and dipped it into warm water to make tea."


NEVER SAW ME COMING by Vera Kurian was a fascinating page-turner with an insightful exploration of psychopathy.





[I received an advance copy of this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley. This in no way influenced my opinion.]

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

IWSG: Defining Success

 The first Wednesday of the month is Insecure Writer’s Support Group day!



This Month's Question: How do you define success as a writer? Is it holding your book in your hand? Having a short story published? Making a certain amount of income from your writing?


My Answer: I have different definitions of success for different things in my life. For the publication of WHO R U REALLY?, I had defined success as helping at least one teenager stay safer online. I’m thrilled to say I’ve received multiple emails from teenagers telling me that after reading the book they cleaned out their “friends” lists online. That’s a huge success. For other aspects of my writing life, I set different goals or "success" identifiers such as meeting a deadline, hitting a word count, and/or reading a certain number of books. Since there are so many aspects of publishing that are beyond my control, I have found that utilizing the tools from THE ARTIST'S WAY, I am able to strive for a satisfying sense of success within my control. If you haven't read THE ARTIST'S WAY, I highly recommend it.


What about you? How do you define success as a writer?


Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Book Review: WHERE I LEFT HER by Amber Garza

 As a fan of Amber Garza, I jumped at the opportunity to read her newest book, WHERE I LEFT HER. Scroll down for my complete review.


Where I Left Her

by Amber Garza

Published by MIRA

Publication Date: August 24, 2021

ISBN: 9780778332060


Description from the Publisher: 

From the author of When I Was You comes a spine-tingling new thriller about a mother’s worst nightmare come true, when her teenage daughter goes to a sleepover and doesn’t come back.

Whitney had some misgivings when she dropped her increasingly moody teenage daughter, Amelia, off at Lauren’s house. She’d never met the parents, and usually she’d go in, but Amelia clearly wasn’t going to let something so humiliating happen, so instead Whitney waved to her daughter before pulling away from the little house with the roses in front.

But when she goes back the next day, an elderly couple answers the door—Amelia and Lauren aren’t there, and this couple swears they never were, that she’s at the wrong house. As Whitney searches for Amelia, she uncovers a trail of lies her daughter has told her—from the Finsta account to rumors of a secret relationship. Does she really even know this girl she’s raised? And Amelia’s not the only one with secrets. Could Whitney’s own demons have something to do with her daughter’s disappearance, and can Whitney find her before it’s too late?


About the Author: 

Amber Garza has had a passion for the written word since she was a child making books out of notebook paper and staples. Her hobbies include reading and singing. Coffee and wine are her drinks of choice (not necessarily in that order). She writes while blaring music, and talks about her characters like they're real people. 


My Review:

Without even reading the description, I knew I wanted to read this book, because I LOVED Garza’s previous book, When I Was You.

Filled with twists and turns, creepy subtext, and multiple points-of-view, Where I Left Her by Amber Garza does the thriller genre proud. Garza’s writing and storytelling certainly exceeded my expectations.

Admittedly, I was concerned when I discovered the story would be told in a non-linear timeline, because that is always a challenge for me personally, but I trusted the author would guide me through it all. There are a lot of flashbacks told in italics, which can be hard to read in excess, but the story is worth the effort.

I wanted to read the entire book in one sitting, but had to pause halfway through because of life responsibilities, but I eagerly finished the second half without stopping once, because I needed to find out how the story was going to end. 

Where I Left Her was a terrific mystery with plenty of clues to help solve the mystery and uncover the true villain along with the characters in the story.

I look forward to reading more from Garza -- a great storyteller.


[I received an early copy of this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This in no way influenced my opinion.]


Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Book Review: STEEL FEAR by Webb & Mann

 

Steel FearSteel Fear by Brandon Webb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars



I loved this book!



BUT there were several things that confused me:

1. The story opened with a female character, when I'd thought the book was about a male Navy SEAL. So I did a quick switch in my brain, thinking: Okay, cool, multiple main characters. But no. Finn, the SEAL, was the main character, and the majority of the chapters were told from his point-of-view.

2. And there was a lot of head hopping with the story constantly switching to different characters and their perspectives. It was a challenge to keep track of all the characters.

3. The reason a lone SEAL would be sent home on an aircraft carrier instead of flown directly to the states was never justified. A reader needs to buy into that concept, otherwise, it's a story problem that is hard to overlook.

Those were the only reasons I gave the story 4 stars instead of 5. Otherwise, I loved it.


I loved the writing, the character development, the setting, and the mystery. Usually, I'm pretty good at solving the mystery before it's revealed, but not this time. The story was well told and well executed.

This was the first time I've read a novel by these authors, and I look forward to reading more.


Some of my favorite lines from the story:

"But Papa Doc frowned on too much chatter. On his watch, flights tended to be less like sitting around a campfire and more like going to church."

"A carrier flight deck was one gigantic blot-action sniper rifle, three and a half football fields long, only instead of firing steel-tipped 10-gram rounds it shot 25-ton fighter jets, firing and reloading at the rate of one every twenty-five seconds. Finn thought about the jet pilots strapped into their multimillion-dollar machines, being shot off the deck into the dark like bullets."

"When he roamed the Abe's passageways Jackson moved like an Abrams tank that had taken a few semesters of ballet."



[I received an early copy for free from the publisher via NetGalley, which in no way influenced my opinion.]

View all my reviews

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

IWSG: Quit Writing?!

The purpose of the Insecure Writer's Support Group is to "share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!"

For more information visit: https://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/


This Month's Question: What would make you quit writing?


My Answer: I've thought about this topic often during my time as a published author. Interestingly, the question never occurred to me before I was published. Before then, I was determined and confident and tenacious. Once published, my perspective changed. I saw behind the curtain of the publishing world and was surprised by how it all works . . . and doesn't work. Now, I'm more of a realist, and I know the publishing world won't always work in my favor, won't always greet me with open arms, won't always pave the road before me. And yet, I still want to create stories, imagine worlds, and develop characters. I've decided I will never quit writing, because I am a writer. 


How about you? Is there anything that would make you quit writing?



Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Book Review: Did I Say You Could Go by Melanie Gideon

Oh, boy. When I first saw this cover and read the title, I KNEW I needed to read this one! Scroll down for my complete review.


Did I Say You Could Go

by Melanie Gideon

Published by Simon & Schuster

Publication Date: August 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-1982142124


Description from the Publisher: 

A suspenseful, gripping novel about families and friendships torn apart at the seams by obsession, secrets, and betrayal with relentless twists and turns that hurtle forward to a shocking confrontation.

When Ruth, a wealthy divorcĂ©​e, offers to host the Hillside Academy kindergarten meet-and-greet, she hopes this will be a fresh start for her and her introverted daughter, Marley. Finally, they’ll be accepted into a tribe. Marley will make friends and Ruth will be welcomed by the mothers. Instead, the parents are turned off by Ruth’s ostentatious wealth and before kindergarten even begins, Ruth and Marley are outcasts.

The last guest to arrive at the meet-and-greet is Gemma, a widow and a single mother to her daughter, Bee. Ruth sets her sights on the mother-daughter duo, and soon the two families are inseparable. Ruth takes Gemma and Bee on Aspen vacations, offers VIP passes to Cirque du Soleil, and pays for dinners at Michelin-starred restaurants. For Gemma, who lives paycheck to paycheck, Ruth’s largesse is seductive, but as the years go by, she can’t shake the feeling that she’s accruing an increasingly unpayable debt. When Ruth’s affair with a married Hillside dad is exposed, and she’s publicly shunned, Gemma uses it to sever ties with Ruth.

Six years later, when Gemma finds herself embroiled in a scandal of her own—Ruth comes to her defense. Their renewed friendship rehabilitates their reputations, but once again, Gemma starts to feel trapped as Ruth grows more and more obsessed with their relationship.

A relentless page-turner, Did I Say You Could Go is the story of friendships steeped in lies and duplicity. It’s about two families who, when pushed to extremes, cross the line with devastating results.


About the Author: 

Melanie Gideon is the NYT bestselling author of the memoir, The Slippery Year: A Meditation on Happily Ever After, as well as the novels Wife 22, Valley of the Moon, and Did I Say You Could Go. Her books have been translated into thirty languages. She lives in the Bay Area.


My Review:

Without even reading the description, I knew this was a book for me. That cover. That title. SO CREEPY! This was the first book by Melanie Gideon that I’ve read, and she exceeded my expectations. 

Did I Say You Could Go by Melanie Gideon grabbed my attention on page one and kept me reading faster and faster to find out what was going to happen next.

As an avid thriller reader, many of the twists and turns did not surprise me, but I never felt disappointed with any of the reveals. Gideon masterfully weaved the web, trapped my attention, and slowly unwound the various plot elements. Before I knew it, the story was over, and I was satisfied with all of the revelations and conclusions of the mysteries and character arcs.

I expected the story to be told from the two adult women’s points-of-view, but I was taken by surprise when the narrative switched to the teenage daughters’ points-of-view also. As a frequent reader of young adult literature, the teenage POVs felt forced with lines like, “All of them have pubes, one of them has been fingered, and most of them have their periods.” Yikes. So, needless to say, it was weird, but the teenage POVs settled into their own grooves and felt less forced as the story progressed. 

Additionally, there were several elements that pulled me from the world of the story. First, while it was told in a linear fashion, there were a lot of awkward flashbacks that felt forced. Second, I found it extremely hard to believe that Gemma would just let Ruth buy her a new car. Third, there were so many trendy pop culture references, such as: "'I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in Lulu,' says Madison. Actually, Ruth’s in Stella McCartney, but she isn’t about to reveal that to Madison. Labels are nothing to brag about – that’s what her mother always said."

Nonetheless, Did I Say You Could Go was loaded with excellent twists and jaw-dropping moments.

I won't spoil any of them for you, but trust me, there are some good ones.


Some favorite lines from the story:

“Gemma’s face looks melted, like candle wax just before it hardens.”

“She is so endlessly interesting to him – it makes her heart hurt. She is endlessly interesting to her mother, too, but in a completely different way. Her father’s love is a hummingbird. Her mother’s is a hawk.”



[I received an early copy of this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This in no way influenced my opinion.]

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Off to My Happy Place

Well, if you need me . . . feel free to knock on my tent door:


I'm off in the boonies for a while, loving life and loving the peace only found in nature.





Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Book Review: WHERE DO YOU HANG YOUR HAMMOCK? by Bella Mahaya Carter

It's been a while since I read a nonfiction book, so when I was offered this new one, I jumped at the opportunity. Scroll down for my complete review.



Where Do You Hang Your Hammock?

by Bella Mahaya Carter

Publication Date: June 1, 2021

Publisher: She Writes Press 

ISBN: 9781647420659



Description from the Publisher: 

In Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? seasoned coach and author Bella Mahaya Carter shows writers how to use their present circumstances as stepping-stones to a successful and meaningful writing life, navigated from the inside out. It encourages writers and authors to rethink their ambitions (which may be fueled by the tyrannical demands of the ego) and trust in their heartfelt purpose and values in the journey to becoming, or continuing on, as authors.

Many writers believe their self-sabotaging thoughts are trustworthy and true. They take rejection personally. They surmise that if they don’t achieve their goals they have failed, and lose sight of who they are and what matters most.

This book is for writers looking for inspiration and for authors daunted by the publishing process, who might lack the requisite author platform to get published the way they dreamed, or whose careers may not be unfolding as expected. It aims to be the friend and trusted expert writers turn to when hijacked by their own thinking. Ultimately, it reminds authors that they are infinite creators. 


About the Author: 

Bella Mahaya Carter is a creative writing teacher, empowerment coach, speaker, and author of an award-winning memoir, Raw: My Journey from Anxiety to Joy, and a collection of narrative poems. She has worked with hundreds of writers since 2008 and has degrees in literature, film, and spiritual psychology. Her poetry, essays, fiction, and interviews have appeared in Mind, Body, Green; The Sun; Lilith; Fearless Soul; Writer’s Bone; Women Writers, Women’s Books; Chic Vegan; Bad Yogi Magazine; Jane Friedman’s blog; Pick The Brain; the Spiritual Medial Blog; Literary Mama, several anthologies' and elsewhere.


My Review:

Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? by Bella Mahaya Carter is an excellent resource for writers.

At first, I was confused by the title. What does a hammock have to do with writing? At the very beginning of the book, Carter explains the concept with a personal story, which serves as a perfect analogy for the publishing industry. Not only did she have me hooked with that single story, but I also bought myself a hammock swing as a result. Now I just have to decide where to hang it.

Whenever I read a nonfiction book, the first thing I do is read the author's bio. What qualifies this person as an "expert" in the field, and why should I trust what she has to say? Well, Carter's bio is impressive (shown above), and it made me curious what I exciting things I'd be able to learn from her writing.

The next thing I do is flip to the table of contents, which should be easy to navigate and give an overview of the book. Carter's table of contents is clear and concise, giving a detailed roadmap of the book. This enables the reader to pick and choose topics to read in short spurts or to read the whole from beginning to end. 

Then, before actually reading anything, I flip through the book and scan the pages. Sometimes a nonfiction book can feel overwhelming to me, and if there are charts, quotes boxes, divided sections--these elements help break up the narrative, making the book easier for me to digest. Carter's book is mostly narrative, but the chapters are short and the sections are divided, which helps break up the prose. Also, at the end of each chapter is a journal prompt that allows the reader to ponder the concepts presented.

The journal prompts would blend well with the "Morning Pages" concept from Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. I intend to use the two books together to help me explore my creative confidence.

As I read the book, I was surprised more primary sources were not cited for stated facts. For example, in the chapter on traditional publishing Carter states, "...royalties--generally a small percentage (about, 7.5%)..." No sources cited. In the same chapter, she quotes Brooke Warner, writing, "...sobering fact: Only 2 percent of authors make their living from their writing alone." This is not a primary source.  A primary source would be the study or research paper that gathered these statistics. Giving information in this manner can be misleading or worse yet, offer misinformation. I'm a big believer in seeking out primary sources rather than taking second-hand information as gospel truth. I wish Carter had cited actual primary sources so readers could read additional information for themselves, if wanted. This is my only criticism of the book. 

This book makes a great companion book for Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way and Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic. If you haven't yet read either of those - I highly recommend them.

Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? by Bella Mahaya Carter is thought-provoking and insightful, helping readers explore their dreams about writing with interesting concepts to nourish their creativity.


[I was offered an early copy from FSB Associates in exchange for an honest review. This in no way influenced my opinion.]

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

IWSG: Surprising Reactions from Readers

"The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling." For complete details, visit the website: https://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com



This Month's Question: "Has a reader ever responded to your writing in a way that you didn't expect? If so, did it surprise you?"

My Answer: Yes! One of my all-time favorite responses was from a teacher who'd been reading Who R U Really? aloud to her class. She had previously read the book herself, and she knew the big reveal of the bad guy was coming up for her class. So, she recorded the class as she read the scene aloud, and then she sent the video to me. It was so awesome to watch the students' varied reactions as the bad guy made himself known to the main character. (I love teachers so much!)



How about you? If you're a writer, has a reader ever surprised you with a response? If you're a reader, have you ever contacted an author about their writing?