Friday, November 30, 2012

Beyond the Grave Book Review


Beyond the Grave by Jude Watson is the fourth installment in The 39 Clues book series. In this installment, Amy and Dan Cahill are in Cairo trying to find the next clue. They are being pursued by Irina Spinsky, their Russian cousin and a number of other Cahill cousins. The children are constantly on the move, taking flights to various places in Egypt. They are also getting messages left for them by their deceased grandmother Grace.

This book, as like every other in the series, is written by a different author. I could really tell the difference in the writing. There is more emotional development in the characters, and not just the Cahill children. Irina Spinsky also seems to be fighting that "weakness" called emotion.

Amy and Dan are fighting each other while trying to hold on to the loving image of their grandmother in the face of the "evil" they find out about the Ekat branch of the Cahills. It is especially hard since they still don't know their branch. They begin to question why Grace never told them about the hunt for the 39 clues or prepared them for the race. Or did she?

This installment was just ok for me. Amy and Dan did some really dumb things that get them either caught or giveaway their leads on the clues. But that is to be expected because they're always being watched whether they know it or not. I'm just waiting for them to get a bit more savvy about it. There are too many convenient "saves" for Amy and Dan. I would've liked them to get themselves out of trouble. Also, I could not follow the clues as well in this book as I did the others. I had no idea what the clue could have been or where to find it.

Overall, it was an ok read. I did learn about Nefertari and some other Egyptian queens I had never heard of. I learned many Egyptian words for food and boats and things like that. I also learned that there is a Rosetta Stone. It made me feel really dumb not knowing about it, but more educated after I searched Wikipedia for it. That's why I like reading books like these. I get to learn history in a fun way.

Rating 3/5

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

JF Jenkins Guest Post

This guest post was brought to you by JF Jenkins and Astraea Press.


Just Keep Writing

Writer's block is one of the hardest things to get through. Everyone has their different tricks and techniques, and it's probably the most common question I get asked. Other writers and non-writers are desperate to know. Here's a small list of things I do every time I hit that block.

1)      I ask myself why I am hitting the block. Is it because I don't know what's happening next in the story, or simply because I'm bored with what I'm writing? Because sometimes a writer does get bored of a scene, particularly when it's an uninteresting piece of explanation rather than action or drama.

2)      Once I figure out why I'm blocked, I lay down and take a nap. Okay, half the time I don't actually sleep. Sometimes I use the nap as an excuse to have a quiet place where I can think and visualize my story.

3)      If that doesn't do the trick, then I'll go for a walk. This is where I get my writing music. I don't listen to anything when I'm actually working, but when I'm plotting I tend to break out all sorts of different songs to get the mood going.

4)      Sometimes I play a game just to give my brain a break because it will get tired when I'm working too hard.

5)      I'll ask myself if I'm pushing my goals too much. Unreasonable deadlines are a great cause of writer's block.

6)      I have to keep writing. That's my motto: Just keep writing. Kind of like Dori from “Finding Nemo”. Just keep writing. Just keep writing. Just keep writing, writing. Because that's the best way out of the block, breaking through.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Man in the Box Book Review


The Man in the Box by Andrew Toy is about Robbie Lake, a middle-aged man who finds a box that sends him to a fantasy world that he created as a child. When Robbie is fired from his job of 11 years, he is at a loss of what to do next. This comes on the heels of yet another blowout with his teenaged daughter and another cold shoulder encounter with his distant young son. Robbie doesn't know his family and they're not quick to welcome him either after he's fired due to layoffs. Only his wife Rosalynn keeps everything together for him and the family.

When Robbie discovers this "magical" box, he enters a world called Reveloin where he is the long lost "god" that everyone has been waiting for. He is strong and fast and cunning--opposite to how he feels in the real world. Robbie only needs to sit on his throne in Reveloin to take power and reign supreme; if only he didn't have to come back to reality do mundane tasks like apply for jobs and pick the kids up from school.

This was a heart-stopping suspense adventure like I haven't read in a long time. The author does a great job of interfusing light humor with the intense action moments--and there are a lot of them. From battling dinosaurs to ghost-demons, I was always anxious for Robbie and wondered how he would make it out of the danger. Now that is building suspense when you're wondering how a character could ever get out of his predicament even though you know he has to.

Robbie is a likeable character. When I first started the book, I thought that Steve Carell could play this part. However, as the story progressed into more action, I began to wonder. But Robbie's sense of humor at the irony of some of his adventures could still work for Carell as evidenced by the action in the movie Get Smart. However, I'm not saying this book is anything like Get Smart. It is a really original book with relatable characters.

Robbie created this fantasy world as a child. He was the hero in all his whimsical and "safe" adventures, but in his absence the world has become a dark and horrifying place for the characters he created. The more Robbie is drawn into Reveloin, the less he participates in his own reality. His family and responsibilities seem more like a burden to him. But when circumstances make him realize his real life is more important, his characters don't seem to like that idea too much.

As an author, I have found myself lost in the worlds I've created, sacrificing bathroom breaks or even eating to get that much farther into my story. When I have to stop, it does seem like my characters continue to talk to me and call me back. This is the feeling of The Man in the Box.

This is certainly a well-done adventure, suspense with a little fantasy. There are some really interesting concepts in the book that work really well like Robbie's amnesia while in Reveloin. I also appreciate that Robbie asks the questions that the reader wonders about as well.
Be advised that there are some gruesome parts in it, but nothing that lingered enough to stop me from reading. I gave it 4.9 stars out of 5 because there is a comment that offended me toward the beginning of the book. However, I kept reading because the story was so engaging and this was just a passing comment by Larry the security guard that I didn't understand the significance of and thought could have been stricken from the book entirely. With that said, I highly recommend this book.

I was given this ebook as an ARC for an honest and unbiased opinion.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Book Review: PRINCESS KANDAKE: Warrior By Choice...Appointed to Rule


Princess Kandake: Warrior By Choice...Appointed to Rule by Stephanie Jefferson follows the story of Princess Kandake, one of four of King Amani's children. In a kingdom rich with culture, wealth and peace, girls can grow up to be artisans, warriors and even queen. Kandake desires to be a warrior and worries that Great Mother will not choose her to be Prime Warrior to the kingdom of Nubia. What she fears most comes to fruition when Great Mother not only doesn't name her Prime Warrior, but she instead names her the next Queen of Nubia. How can she be what she's been called to be while being who she was meant to be?

Princess Kandake is full of rich sights, aromas and sounds. It skillfully captures the feel of the Nile and the kingdom of Nubia and her people. It is a very peaceful and loving kingdom. Everything and everyone acts with respect and discipline above everything else even in the face of adversity and death. Princess Kandake's family is loving and supportive. The royal children rarely do anything to shame themselves, their family or the kingdom. Nubian warriors are the epitome of warrior without match.

Rumors of war surface, and then Kandake's elder brother Alara goes missing from a hunting trip. Tough decisions must be made to avoid war, maintain alliances and locate her brother. Kandake and her remaining siblings get a crash course in being leaders of Nubia. She in turn has to struggle with her warrior instincts and her role as Nubia's next queen. Her character is tested several times and she grows in reconciling her desires with what is expected of her.

The different characters, from Kandake's brothers to Great Mother to best friend Ezena are simplistic. They serve their purpose, but really stayed somewhat vague. I didn't see a difference between Alara and the other brother Natasen in speech. We were told that they were different instead of shown. Although Princess Kandake's sister Tabiry becomes a source of conflict, she is nothing more than annoying rather than an actual adversary.

The descriptions of Kandake's home and way of life are vivid, including sounds and scents. One thing that I was impressed with was the description of how an animal was deemed "healthy" by scent. I thought that kept well with the time and place of the novel. Nowadays most people couldn't tell much about nature except what we see on PBS.

Also, even though the story is set in the past, the speech is not so archaic that it is hard to follow. This is an easy read with quick chapters. Princess Kandake is well put together with some great description, and enough action and adventure to make it an interesting story.

On the downside, the "perfect" life of Nubia depicted, and the resolution of problems and conflicts are a bit too utopian. It lacks the drama and feeling of urgency and danger to make it truly great reading. For me, the conflicts did not elicit enough emotional response. However, with an open-ended conclusion, Princess Kandake may face greater dangers in the future that will draw me closer to the characters and their plights.

I would recommend this book for a quick read. Ages: 11+

Rating 3.7/5

I was provided with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Grow Your Marriage Blog Tour


Guest Post::
Dr. Jerry Cook’s New Book to be released: Grow Your Marriage by Leaps and Boundaries



11/8/2012– Sacramento, CA – Dr. Jerry Cook announces the release of his book, Grow Your Marriage by Leaps and Boundaries, officially to be released December 2012. Grow Your Marriage is available now for pre-sale at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

Is your marriage out of bounds?
The art of creating life-long marriages is disappearing at an alarming pace, largely because couples do not fully understand where (or how) to “draw the line” in a way that strengthens the relationship. These lines drawn are the boundaries that, when created the right way, show each spouse they are more important to the other than anything or anyone else. Grow Your Marriage by Leaps and Boundaries provides the tools for you to effectively create boundaries with technology, words, and body language.”

Cook’s new book will inspire readers to evaluate how they prioritize their marriage, and to make changes when needed. A common theme is that the boundaries are most useful when decided upon by the couple themselves; dialogs are provided to help readers create, maintain, and negotiate boundaries with their spouse and others.

“None of us are perfect, but our marriages can be perfect for us,” says Cook. “Sometimes we underestimate the power of a positive marriage, and outsource our best selves to those things that are least important.”



###
About Jerry Cook:

Jerry graduated with his doctorate in family and human development from Utah State University, and now serves as an associate professor of family and consumer sciences at California State University-Sacramento. Growing up on a farm in southeastern Washington state, and losing his mother to cancer at a young age, his passion is to help others recognize the basic skills that help families thrive. Jerry and his wife, Sarah, have been married for 19 years, are parents of three children, and co-authored The Parent’s Guide to Raising CEO Kids. Jerry has been interviewed by Fox 40 (TV, Sacramento), the Sacramento Bee (newspaper), and Sacramento Smiles (radio program).




Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Review: Inverrary Country Club Wedding





My husband's cousin was married at the Inverrary County Club in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in October.  In the hallway was a table with place cards for the guests with their name and designated reception table number. The Country Club had a room provided for the wedding ceremony. It was simple, yet elegantly decorated. The room was large with folding chairs draped in white covers from the top to the floor and tied with a bow of lavender gauze. The runner was white with flower petals. There was an arch of silk flowers and podium for the pastor to speak from. It was a lovely ceremony and when the bride sang to her new husband, it brought tears to my eyes.

After the ceremony, the guests were ushered to an adjoining room where they could wait while the bridal party took pictures. There was a bartender offering drinks and also a small buffet of bread and sautéed smoked sausage and peppers and onions. In addition, servers walked around offering shrimp and teriyaki chicken on skewers. The food was lightly seasoned and appetizing. The room was small, but there were bar-high tables in the hallway where guest could stand and eat and socialize.

The reception room was huge with a large area for dancing. Tables were dressed in white with huge clear glass vases that had floating lights and flowers. The glass chandeliers were bright and clean. The round tables included chairs covered in the same white cloth and lavender ties. Every table was set for at least ten people, and glasses of champagne were already poured. There were water glasses and small plates for bread.

After the introduction of the bride and groom and the wedding party, the best man made his toast and then servers provided small plates of salad. The lettuce could have been a little fresher, but the vinaigrette and ranch dressing were tasty.
Dinner was provided through a buffet. Each table was called in order. The food was good as well. I am not sure if the Country Club provided the food as it consisted of some traditional dishes. However, the servers were very nice and professional. They provided cake later as the reception began to wind down. Dishes were whisked away immediately and the tables were kept clean and organized.
 
The grounds were well maintained and the bathrooms were clean. Since we were in Florida, the air-conditioning was on. It was a little cool for me, but seemed comfortable to other guests, especially with the amount of dancing going on.
Aside from a few small holes I noticed in some of the cloth covering the chairs, everything looked clean even though it was a little old.

It was an enjoyable evening and Inverrary Country Club staff provided a great experience. As only a guest, I was impressed and would use and recommend this facility.

Monday, November 19, 2012

John Barlow Guest Post


Guest post: John Barlow

Is writing YA different from writing adult fiction?

My first YA novel, ISLANDERS, is out today. My previous book was a crime mystery for adults, published last year, and more recently I’ve been finishing a thriller, also for adults. So, how does writing for a YA audience stack up?

Writing in a new genre is always a process of discovery. You’re trying to learn the ropes as you go, and also to work out where your own take on things fits into the genre as a whole. You don’t want to copy anyone’s style or themes, and you don’t want to stay so close to the norms of the genre as to be predictable and humdrum. What you really need is to find a space for yourself and your writing.

That space needs to be comfortable for you, because otherwise you’ll feel awkward when you write. Writing is difficult enough as it is, without the constant thought that you need to be conforming to rules and conventions that are not natural to you. This, I guess, is why writers cannot always choose exactly what they write; you naturally find yourself moving in certain directions, and you don’t have much alternative but to go in that direction.

I gradually came to feel more and more comfortable with ISLANDERS. One reason for this was that the more I wrote, revised and edited, the more I realized that the process of writing YA fiction is not really very different from that of adult fiction. If I had set out to write a dystopian adventure for adults, it would have turned out pretty much like ISLANDERS. The main differences, at least for me, have been the following:

1. You main characters are young. This has certain obvious consequences. A 13 year-old isn’t going be weighed down by a messy divorce, or have a family to support. She or he might have parents, though, and if you want your main characters to go on a dangerous adventure, as is the case with ISLANDERS, you need to ditch the parents pretty damn quick.

2. Adults, both in fiction and in life, are full of frustrations and self-doubt. They know their limitations, and they are often quite cynical about life and its challenges. A 13 year-old doesn’t necessarily know his or her own limits, especially in an unusual situation, and is probably less inclined to be cynical. They might get scared, but disillusionment is something they will probably avoid for longer than an adult in the same circumstances. This allows for a more positive momentum to build through the plot, even though the dangers might be very real and unnerving for the protagonists.

3. Cussing and ‘strong’ content. The issue here is not that YA books cannot have ‘bad’ language or any ‘challenging’ themes, but that you really need to have a consistent policy throughout the book. I found that this helped in some ways, especially with dialogue. You can’t day **** or ***? OK, say it another way. Once you have established your own rules, it’s easy to stick to them. Adult books don’t typically require consistency in this respect, so you never quite know whether you might be offending someone (if, indeed, you care about offending them). With YA books you need to take a position.

Other than those things, I found that writing ISLANDERS was not particularly different from writing adult fiction. It’s true that to begin with I tended to use a slightly less extensive vocabulary. However, over the years I have revised and rewritten the novel a lot, and in that time I have gradually dropped all linguistic distinctions; I find that the story tells itself best when you don’t second guess the capabilities of the reader. I also found, to my delight, that adults really enjoyed the book.

The moral here? Just write a good story. That’s what I tried to do. I hope you agree.

John Barlow


ISLANDERS is available at all major ebook retailers, and is on special introductory offer (99cts) through November 2012 at Amazon (US, UK) and Kobo.

John can be found at:

Website: http://www.johnbarlow.net
Mailing list: mailinglist@johnbarlow.net
Blog: http://www.johnbarlow.net/blog/#home
Facebook page: facebook.com/john.barlow.319
Goodreads author page: http://www.goodreads.com/JohnBarlow
Twitter: @John_Barlow_LS9


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Review: All-Inclusive Inverrary Vacation Resort


My husband and I headed to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida for a wedding. We actually didn't know if we were going until the last minute and so didn't book a hotel. The All-Inclusive Inverrary Vacation Resort came up on our Kayak search. It was listed as an all-inclusive resort and had a reasonable rate.

We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale at 9pm and found out that the wedding reception was actually at the Inverrary Country Club across the street from the hotel, so we headed to the "resort" to see if we could get a room. Apparently, there was a boat show in town that weekend and almost every hotel in the area was booked. However, the woman at the front desk told us that someone had not shown up or called about a reserved room. She told us to call in an hour to see if it was available.

We went to get something to eat and called around to several other hotels looking for rooms. But none were available or offered at a price we wanted to pay. When we called Inverrary back, the front desk told us to come in to claim the room. We checked in after 11pm.

The room was adequate. It had nice furnishings and a "fancy" bowl-on-the-counter-style bathroom sink. However, it just seemed that there was an underlining feel of being run-down. My husband, who is from Florida, said it was just old and that everything in that area would be old.

It seemed the hotel was basically clean with a somewhat stylish atmosphere, but I found everything about the hotel just "adequate." I called in the morning about the breakfast buffet and found that it had a charge and was not included in the room fee. I talked to another person about it as well later that day and was told there was a fee for lunch. I thought it was an all-inclusive resort. It was not until we checked out that I asked if the hotel used to be all-inclusive. The front desk receptionist informed me that it still was all-inclusive. Food was an additional $27.50. I was never offered to add the all-inclusive option the entire two days and several conversations I had with the staff.

So would I stay here again? No. I felt that the service, the room and the amenities were just average, especially for the $99 a night price. Also, I felt the building needed some renovations. There was extensive rust around the air conditioner and the hallway carpets were in need of deep cleaning. The area was nice-looking, but it was very open to the public and major road so it didn't seem very secure. Security consisted of surveillance cameras.

I would recommend this "resort" in a pinch.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Well Witched Book Review


Well Witched by Frances Hardinge is about Ryan, Josh and Chelle, three friends who find themselves indebted to a powerful centuries' old water goddess. When the three face possible punishment for being someplace they shouldn't be, their last recourse to obtain the money to get home is Josh's plan: steal coins from the wishing well. The plan by the group's notorious troublemaker unwittingly causes the well goddess, now a twisted and confused being, to require the friends to fulfill the wishes of the coins they took. Endowing them with "powers," the well "witch" compels them to do her will if they ever hope to be released from her service.
Ryan, the "smart" one, figures out what they need to do, but soon the wishes that seemed simplistic on the surface begin to go very wrong. People's lives soon hang in the balance.
This was a very creepy book. It was marked for ages 10 and up, but it seemed a bit scary to me. I guessed the characters to be around 11 or 12 years old. It reminded me of suspense, horror, and mystery stories all rolled together. I listened to it as an audio book in the car and I felt like I was in a gray cloudy cocoon even when the sun was out. It gave me chills.
The writing is descriptive and   transports you to that gray world of Well Witched. The theme of water is carried superbly throughout and was probably one of the reasons it felt like a rainy day everytime I listened to it.
The characters were three-dimensional and incredibly average which is what makes what is happening to them so extraordinary. Ryan is the character we follow and he has been bullied in the past as well as Chelle. He practices not causing strife even when it is justified. Chelle is a nervous girl who looks to others to validate her. So when Josh, a slightly older boy who-if not popular but given a certain amount of cautious respect from other children-befriends them, he seems like a savior of sorts. Ryan and Chelle follow his lead. But when Josh becomes obsessed and out of control in his pursuit to please the well witch, both Ryan and Chelle must come into their own to save their loved ones, Josh and  the wishers.
The book was long. There were 8 CDs and at times I wasn't even sure it would end. The plot was structured and flowed but had many unexpected turns. I had no idea which way the story would go at any given part.  It was different for a children's book because of the frequently adult situations the children faced. It shows that they are keenly aware and are effected by what adults say and do.
I had to finish it to see the outcome, but it took me a month and a half because I didn't want to give my 6 year old nightmares from listening to it.
It is an intriguing book that envelopes you in its world. I didn't give it 5 stars because: 1) the target age group did not seem appropriate. The characters were off by themselves traveling by bus to different towns without much comment from the adults.  2) Ryan figures everything out and explains plot points. There is very little that happens that the reader has a chance to figure out on their own. There are very few clues to the mystery part of the story.
I recommend this book for readers who like being creeped out by the supernatural.
Rating 4/5

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Ill-fated: Book Review


By Evelyn Ink

Quests, adventure, scandals, danger, magic, romance, strong heroes, expertly interwoven storylines, mystery, and monsters. This book has it all.

Ill-fated follows Leila as she begins a perilous quest to prove her worth and right to rule as the heir to the Bainland throne. At only fourteen, this would seem like a daunting task, but every ruler before her has done the same at fourteen. Leila has been training for this for most of her life. It should be routine, if a bit dangerous, except the falling star that is to determine her course falls dead South. Southland is rumored to be full of dark magic and unsavory characters. So Leila sets off with only her awesomely fast horse, an unlucky number and a chip on her shoulder.

 In Southland a boy about Leila's age has been wandering around with no recollection of his name or orgins. Each day he awakes without a memory of the day before or anything about himself, but strangely has general knowledge of Southland, figures, and writing. The captain of the ship he's on calls him Sam. But "Sam" is sure that's not his name nor does he belong with the crew that seem a lot like pirates. After jumping ship, Sam meets an old woman who helps him realize that he has a mind-lock. Until he can find someone to remove it, he will never remember much.

 So Sam sets off to find help after a "sapping" that only temporarily clears his head to remember more than one day. His quest crosses Leila's quest and adventures abound in this dangerous frontier-like land of Southland where towns are a day's ride on horseback from each other, and it's legal to kidnap unescorted children and sell them into drudgery.

I really liked this book. In the beginning, the reader only gets vague directions on what her quest is, and like Leila we have to learn as we go. I absolutely loved Leila and Sam's characters. Leila is a strong female hero without being inaccessible or overly tough. She has some vulnerablilities that make her believable. Sam is optimistic but realistic in the face of his limitations. He comes up with plans and is very smart and perceptive. He also has a cute sense of humor especially with Leila. They have great chemistry. I am looking forward to their next adventures. I wasn't ready for the story to end. I was actually surprised when it did end. I thought the ending kind of jipped me. Not to give away too much, but the heroes didn't get their due in the climax like I thought they should have.

The plot is exciting and moves well. All goals are accomplished in interesting ways. I've been paying attention to world building and the author has built a well thought out world. It is filled with things we know but with uniquely different names and twists. The "magic" in Southland is inventive.

There are some plot details I wondered about with characters introduced early on and their roles later in the book. The old woman whom Sam meets, Captain Oren and Ash don't seem to have their stories complete or their actions clarified. However, these and other characters are entertaining and have distinctive personalities.

Descriptions were colorful and there are just enough of them. As the landscape changes, I was able to keep up because it is gradual and presented well.

I gave Ill-fated 4.8 out of 5. It is a colorful, a bit dangerous but not too scary, and a good read for ages 12 and up.

I would love to read more adventures with Leila and "Sam". Waiting for "adventure and romance on the high seas!"


Ill-Fated by Evelyn Ink
See guest post here.


Author Bio: The plaque on my lawn reads the Edgington Mansion, it was once thought to be lovely I suppose, though now rather decrepit and quite full of secrets. I live here with my husband. He is a philosopher, and quite mad. Our house is full of books. Stacked, piled, and always advancing out and away from the shelves that ought to keep them in. I paint and draw, write and read, and occasionally go down into the dark, dismal, cobwebcreepy dungeon, to do laundry. If interested, you may choose to follow me on my blog or check in with me on facebook. However, due to my absolute terror of electronics and a crippling phobia of the social media (technical term: Socmephobia), my blog posts tend to be infrequent and erratic. Also, due to several post exile investigations I am generally prevented from giving any specific information regarding my whereabouts ...