Category Archives: Book Reviews

What I Did Today

The important word in the title is today. You see, I have always had a problem with that word. I like tomorrow, next week, next year, but not today. Over the past six years I have been trying to learn how to live in the moment. I’ve tried any number of tricks, made innumerable plans, and listened to the advice of almost every expert on the web, so much so that I even converted into one of thosevexperts for a while.

And yet, I still focused on the future too much.

Let’s take my writing as an example. I’d take a novel, cut it into bits then plan how much I’d need to write to accomplish completely arbitrary goals. And then I’d not accomplish them, get depressed because tomorrow wouldn’t arrive the way I’d planned it.

In my latest break from writing, I finally got it. The only way to live in th moment is to live in the moment. Tomorrow doesn’t matter, next week, next month or next year don’t matter.

Only today matters. As long as I do something today, the future will take care of itself.

So on that note, here’s what I did today: added just over 800 words (that told me a lot more than I ever knew about the protagonist) to chapter three of the novel.

Today’s Lunch: Leftover pad thai that I made last night as a few-days-late anniversary dinner.


Posted by on June 26, 2012 in Book Reviews


New Releases Reviews: Not Much Luck

Here are the rest of my recent Kindle samples. Not as much luck this time with adding books to my to-be-read pile, but I found one worth reading, which is enough for now…

Remember, these are just my first impression opinions. I’m not saying any one book is bad – just that it doesn’t grab me enough to want to continue reading. If you like a book I’ve rejected I’d love to hear why – maybe I’ll give it another chance.

Embrace by Jessica Shirvington: Nothing wrong with this book, but the voice of the main character turned me off. It’s a gut thing. Too cocky, too much part of the world-weary overly-self aware culture that’s so popular these days.

The Savage Grace by Bree Despain: A werewolf novel and unless it comes highly recommended by someone whose taste I trust, I avoid vampire, werewolf, angel and zombie novels, especially if the main characters are teens.

Eye of the Sword by Karyn Henley: Adventure fantasy, as you could probably guess by the title. For me too many tropes on the first few pages: responsible older brother/drunk younger brother, unreqited love for a priestess who is stunningly beautiful if you can convince her to put on a dress, self-poisoning land tied to an addictive substance that people can’t help themselves from taking, despite knowing that it will kill them. Might be a decent book, but too much got crammed into the first few pages for me.

Katana by Cole Gibsen: Starts out with talking heads, two teens to be exact,one uber-cool, the other (the main character) whining. I don’t like whiners, not in real life and not in fiction.

Fairest of All by Serena Valentino: The first two pages left me very confused and that’s instant death. The confusion wasn’t in the plot. That I like. It was a confusion of voice which very well may have settled out, but I don’t feel the story is strong or unique enough for me to give it a chance.

Thief’s Covenant by Ari Marmell: I should like this book. It’s other-world fantasy. It seems to have a rich history. The main character has just the right amount of attitude. And the author uses the writing itself to give us insight into different characters’ personalities. And yet, reading it produced nothing more than a m’eh. If anyone has read it and thinks it’s worth a shot, please let me know!

Illuminate by Aimee Agresti: Okay, I know that a lot of us authors were bookish nerds when younger and stories about socially outcast teens have a pretty much guaranteed market, but I am seriously getting tired of the overly self-aware cynical sub-genre. I loved it when Buffy did it 15 years ago but I am ready to move on now, thanks.

The Repossession by Sam Hawksmoor: Missing child reports, a girl with a religion obssessed mother and an immediate flashback to a time before the main character is locked up by the crazy mom. Too many different things happening here to capture my interest.

Turnabout by Margaret Peterson Haddix: Having enjoyed Just Ella so much, I had high hopes going into this one and I wasn’t disappointed. Curious premise and a wondefully strong voice. I whipped through the sample and hit “Buy Now” without hesitation.

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Posted by on April 19, 2012 in Book Reviews


My Early Influences #2: Patrica A. McKillip

Although there are many authors from the 80s who I would love to be compared to, (like Charles de Lint, Patricia C. Wrede, Sherri S. Tepper, or anyone from the Fourthe Street Fantasy group), there is one author whose early books stand out as the pinnacle of “I wish I could have written that.”

Patricia A. McKillip’s Riddlemaster of Hed series, The Changeling Sea, and The Forgotten Beasts of Eld have the perfect combination of plot, angst, mystery, love and humor. They are books I can read over and over again. In fact, the characters in these books feel more like friends I go visit than mere words on a page.

While McKillip later drifted into the realm of too lyrical for me, these books (written in the late 70s to late 80s), made me dream of being a writer. I have studied these books in detail, counting words, plotting out the actions, tracing the emotional arcs, hunting down foreshadows and generally marveling in the completeness of the worldbuilding.

When I left Canada to move to Spain, I allowed myslf one shelf of books, and these five books had to come with me.

In future psts I will talk about the other books that crossed the Atlantic with me, but in the meantime, go check out these books which unfortunately are not still in print, nor available in ebook format, but most online stores do have secondhand copies for sale.

Also, go check out the Merry-Go-Round blog tour to find out who has influenced other authors/members of Forward Motion Writers, starting with Erin M. Hartshorn tomorrow.


Posted by on April 1, 2012 in Book Reviews, General Babblery


New Releases Reviews: Looking for My Next Read

Shortly after getting my Kindle, I would download samples of a bunch of new releases and do a quick read of the first few pages to decide if I wanted to buy the book or not. Although I wanted to like every book I sample, the reality is that I have limited time and money to invest in books, so it became a matter of first impressions and giving the book a pass until it did something that turned me off. I’d then post my impressions here on the blog.

After prompting by a friend who missed this section of the blog, I’ve decided to get back to it.

Remember, these are just my first impression opinions. I’m not saying any one book is bad – just that it doesn’t grab me enough to want to continue reading. If you liked a book I’ve rejected I’d love to hear why – maybe I’ll give it another chance.

I don’t read the blurb or look at the cover, so have no idea what the book is about or the image it’s trying to portray. I go by the title and the actual words.

The Chosen by Sheenah Freitas: This book lost me right off because it starts with a distance, not giving the character a name until other people call out to her. It felt too much like a script of a movie rather than a book and by the time she was named, I couldn’t care enough about her to keep going. Plus the title kind of scares me.

Bewitching by Alex Flinn: Ooh, I like this one! My inner-Buffy fan is already predisposed to liking it due to the main character’s name (Kendra), plus the premise is unique and the writing is crisp and intriguing. It’s already been downloaded and is in my to-read list.

Arcadia Awakens by Kai Meyer: This one opens with an artsy half-page chapter then moved into a story about a girl who doesn’t want to remember last year and who looks in the window of an airport to describe herself. The impression I get is angst and drama. No thank you.

Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix: Okay, so normally when I go through these samples, I consider myself lucky if I find one maybe in the lot of them, but here we are four books into the list, and I’ve found a second one I can’t wait to read. I’ve always loved what happens after “Happily Ever After” and this one promises me a good culture-clash. Woo hoo!

The Deserter by Peader O Guilin: The prologue kicks off with people hunting someone who is also hunting something and then I got confused by the mention of digitizing stuff… So I skipped the prologue and moved onto the first chapter where I was met with the protagonist dripping blood. I’m not a big fan of dripping blood on the first page, especially not right before lunch…

Starters by Lissa Price: Interesting concept, but the writing didn’t capture me. I found myself skimming the first few pages to figure out what the story was about. Skimming = pass. As I said, though, pretty cool concept.

That’s it for today. More later…


Posted by on March 27, 2012 in Book Reviews


My Early Influences #1: The Tredana series by Joyce Ballou Gregorian

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been procrastinating a lot recently and one of my favorite time-wasters has been the discovery of the website, which has over 78,000 science fiction and fantasy books listed in a database. Unlike other book sites, SciFan offers a by-year-published browsing feature. I’ve had a lot of fun going through the late 70s and early 80s to find the Young Adult books that really influenced me then add them to my GoodReads list (feel free to friend me over there, eh?).

And that prompted the idea of telling you about them.

Today’s series of books (The Broken Citadel, Castledown and The Great Wheel) most certainly wasn’t one of the biggest influences in my life, but the trilogy entertained me greatly and sometimes still haunts my thoughts. The Broken Citadel was one of the first “portal fantasies” that I ever read. I think it sticks in my mind so much because while I was reading it, I played Canadian new wave band Strange Advance’s Worlds Away over and over, imprinting on my a romantic love of the series.

I know that portal fantasies are out of style these days, but the Tredana series is one of the better ones.

The series is of course out of print, and being the only books the (late) author wrote, it’s highly unlikely they’ll ever get re-issued in print or electronically, but if you can get your hand on a used copy, I’d highly recommend them.

I’ll leave you with the video…

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Posted by on February 2, 2012 in Book Reviews


Alice’s Adventures Through the Looking Glass – What About Lily?

Despite nearly ruining the books by studying them in high school with all the various interpretations, I managed to hold onto my child’s love of Lewis Carroll’s two most enduring books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice’s Adventures Through the Looking Glass.

Although I enjoy the former, the latter is by far one of my favorite books. I’ve read it so many times I can almost quote from it. I even tattooed a phrase of Humpty Dumpty’s on my forearm as a reminder of what I aim to achieve with each story I write.

However much I love the book though, something never quite felt right for me. I mean, here comes Alice all curious about the game, she plays along at the invitation of the Red Queen, then leaves before she even finishes. What about the consequences of such flippery? Specifically, there’s one character most affected, one who gets only two or three mentions at the beginning of the book then nothing else.

I’m talking about the pawn Alice replaces – the Princess Lily, daughter of the White King and Queen. Imagine growing up under the pressure of Alice’s achievements and unable to do anything about it. I don’t know about you, but I for one would be a bundle of resentment.

That’s when my current novel came to life. A sixteen-year-old Lily grumbled about how unfair life was and I decided to give her a chance to do something about it. And oh boy, does she (if you want to see how, take a look at the sneak peek that I posted a while back).

Most of my work comes to me this way. I don’t have problems with plot bunnies populating my brain with idea after idea. Instead, when I want to start a new project, I pick a situation, a setting or a person and start asking questions until something cool comes up and my muse grabs onto it, waving it in my face saying “This one! This one!”

I makes for a very calm writing life. I know that I will never run out of ideas and because I don’t let the ideas rule me, I don’t stress about where the next one will come from. I just look at my tattooed arm and remember: When I use a word [or story], it means exactly what I choose.


Today’s semi-Book Review was inspired by the topic Where I got my latest idea, this month’s topic on the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour, an ongoing tour where you, the reader, travel around the world from author’s blog to author’s blog. We have all sorts of writers at all stages in their writing career, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

If you want to get to know nearly twenty other writers and find out what books are on their nightstand, check out the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour.


Posted by on August 2, 2011 in Book Reviews, General Babblery


Book Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

I’ve been meaning to write this review for months and yet every time I start to think about what to say I get blocked and nothing comes out. And I have no idea why.

I loved Alan Bradley’s Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. It’s a fun romp of a mystery with sufficiently eccentric English gentry in that seemingly innocent period between the First and Second World Wars. The plot twists and turns towards the big reveal, which itself is wonderfully eccentric and twisted. I’d even rate it a 4 out of 5.

So why the problem reviewing it?

Personally I think it’s the main character’s fault. She’s a contrary little thing and is therefore most certainly doing her best not to be pinned down by my review. “She” in this case is Flavia de Luce, one of those offbeat adults in a child’s body that only seem to appear in fiction. And given that the book’s a mystery, Flavia discovers a dead body and while still taking time to torment her older sisters, she does what no adult can do – solve the crime.

But I’ve figured out how to talk about her. You see, she’s a science freak, specifically chemistry. Although this review has nothing to do with chemistry, if I apply a scientific framework to my review, she just might let me talk about her.

So this is my experiment.

It is my hypothesis that while The Sweetness At the Bottom of the Pie is an excellent book worth a 5-star rating, I’m not sure I’ll read more in the series.

While there is no straightforward scientific measurement of literary merit, I’ve decided to adopt the parameters of a good book as proposed by Gav from GavReads. The parameters are broken into three categories: Basics, Ideally, and Bonus. It is my belief that the failure of this book occurs in the Basics section, thus limiting the posibility of the rest of the series getting downloaded onto my Kindle.

Data – Basics:
Caring about the characters: While I most certainly would hate Flavia, her sisters, the servants and her father in real life, I adore them as fictional characters. They’re pretentious, precocious, obnoxious and as many other ious-es that you may wish to add. While this doesn’t make for good like-able people, it does create wonderfully rich and complex characters.

Getting to the end: As soon as Flavia introduced herself on the first page, she had me hooked. The strength of her personality dragged me through to the end of the book. Interruptions in my reading time irritated me and when I saw the murder wrapping itself up, I wanted to put on the brakes and slow it down. I didn’t want to leave Flavia’s world.

Wanting to read the next book in the series: Given what I’d written above, the logical response to this category would be “Yes! Give me more!” and it wasn’t. Again, I blame Flavia herself. The force of her personality is so overwhelming, I’m not sure how long it could be sustained in a series. In one book it was delightful, but at some point I might tire of it and find her annoying, which is something I never want to do. Hence my desire to keep her as I found her in the first book.

Data – Ideally:
Remembering what you’ve read weeks or months after you’ve read it: You bet! Flavia’s chemical revenge on her vain older sister is a delight and I wish I had thought of something like that to avenge myself on my brother years ago.

To choose to read the book over doing other things: Most definitely. As I said, Flavia took over my life for a while and I hated to be parted from her.

Data – Bonus:
What you’ve read changes your world view in some dramatic or subtle way: The book even provided me with this bonus, but not in an expected way. Flavia, with her too-strong personality, has warned me that some characters can be too larger-than-life. They can cause too strong of an impression that anything following after runs the risk of being a disappointment. An excellent lesson as I create my own fictional characters.

By applying the above parameters to my reading experience, I believe that I have clearly demonstrated that while The Sweetness At the Bottom of the Pie is an excellent book worth a 5-star rating, I’m not sure I’ll read more in the series.


Posted by on July 4, 2011 in Book Reviews