Reviews

Things To Come and Getting In The Groove

Posted on February 26, 2011. Filed under: Authors, Publishing, Reviews | Tags: , , , |

After flying back to China and going through my first week of classes, I’m officially tired and enjoying a hard-earned weekend of relaxation. It’s going to take another week or so before I’m really back in the groove around here; though it feels a bit like I never left because it’s that comfortable feeling of being back home.

I will admit my mother would hate to read that I’m back to calling China home, but that’s what happens when you live somewhere for a few months, right? So this little apartment with the hideous furniture is home.

And since I’m back home, I have some news for you all!

Get ready, cause this blog will be having a few new posts coming up that might be of interest to you. Of course, it might bore you at the same time, but I hope it’ll be interesting. At the very least, I’m excited.

I’m going to be doing a series of posts on eBooks in the next week or so that will include a guest post by an author whose book is now available for the Amazon Kindle. He’s graciously offered to answer some interview questions for me as well, so I’ll be writing a post about him and his career as well that will follow up the eBooks posts.

Now, I’ll add my disclaimer that this person came to me and requested to do a guest post on my blog. Ah, I should say that it wasn’t even the author but a marketing agent who asked on his behalf. I agreed because I was curious about the man and what he would say. So be looking for those posts.

In addition, I’m pleased to say I’ll be doing another series on publishers, including Tate Publishing. My original post on Tate has by far been the most popular one ever on this blog and has gotten more comments and readers than any of the others. Because of one of my commenters, I will be doing a follow-up series on Tate, looking at it from the viewpoint of those authors who have gone with Tate.

I will be writing a series on Tate, reviewing what I initially posted. Then I’ve got a lovely surprise to spring on you. I’m hoping to finagle a few extra posts on Tate that will include some insider information and facts, and maybe we can finally make a decision on whether Tate is worth going to for publishing or not.

Other than that, I’ve been reading the same (long) book as before and enjoying the slower lifestyle of being in China. It makes it harder for me to get motivated to finish reading my books, but I also have a number of books that I still need to read here with me, so hopefully I’ll be able to do that as well.

Be looking forward to my new posts, and I will definitely be back soon! Leave a comment and let me know what you think… and I hope you’re all doing well!

Rae

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Musing on God Knows What

Posted on January 10, 2011. Filed under: Books, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , |

I finished reading a second book on my list of 50 books yesterday and thought I would share a short review of it with you all.

Donald Miller is a well-known (at least in my circles) Christian author. His books are all in the realm of Christian non-fiction from my understanding, and before he authored books, Miller went on crazy adventures, joined various churches, experienced God at Reed College, and wrote for other, smaller publications.

I picked up Blue Like Jazz because a friend recommended it to me. To be fair, I’ll admit I didn’t want to read it. Not because it didn’t sound like a good book but because it was like so many Christian books. As soon as someone liked it, it became an instant sensation with people buying it up left and right. I always liked being able to find the more obscure or older books that seemed more personally meaningful to me, so I avoided it when it joined the Christian craze.

But my friend told me I would like it, so I grabbed a copy before going to China, left it in the house, and have subsequently picked it up again. It’s an easy, short read and took me about a day to read the whole thing.

Blue Like Jazz carries the subtitle “Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality,” which is a fairly good description of the book. Instead of spewing the same Christian terminology and teaching why we should do this or do that, Miller looks at his own life and faith and describes those using metaphors the church, as a whole, might find a bit odd.

I enjoyed reading the book as it was quick and easy to grasp. I didn’t enjoy some of the stream of consciousness moments that seemed at random and unmoored with the theme of the chapter. Each chapter is broken into themes that are basically the idea for the whole chapter, and no chapter is completely sequential. I tend to think you could take the chapters apart and read them separately, out of order, and be just as happy as you would reading the book through from beginning to end.

What I liked about it was Miller’s blunt honesty. He never sugarcoats things, and the whole book is laced with his derision towards organized religion, particularly churches as a whole. At the same time, you come to recognize Miller’s faith for what it is: the faith that an individual person has developed through his own myriad of experiences.

It’s a journey I’d like to take sometime.

So while this isn’t the best Christian non-fiction I’ve read, it’s good, and I enjoyed it. I would even recommend it to some of my non-Christian friends as a means of understanding more of the Christianity I strive to move towards. It’s no Mere Christianity, but then again, few authors compare to C.S. Lewis. In his own way, Miller chronicles his journey of faith and reminds me that I, too, have a story to tell if I can just muster the courage to explore my own life and faith. And that is encouraging.

So what’s next? I decided to read something different and am now in the middle of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game in my second attempt to like sci-fi. We’ll see how it goes, but so far it has been a fascinating read. I like Card’s writing style, but I’ll talk more about that in a subsequent blog, I’m sure.

Oh, and I started reading Chinese for Dummies and practicing all the lovely Chinese I can find in the book. Let’s just say this is going to be a lot tougher than it looks!

I’ll update with more later!

Rae

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New Year, New Goals?

Posted on January 8, 2011. Filed under: Books, Musings, Reviews, Suspense | Tags: , , , , |

Wow… it’s been such a long time since I’ve posted here, and there have been way too many things that have happened to really begin to tell you all the craziness in my life. Since you might be wondering (if you’re keeping up with this blog at all, which I wouldn’t blame you if you aren’t), I am back in the good ole’ US of A.

That’s right, folks. Rae has returned from the Far East and is currently residing peacefully at her granny’s kitchen counter where she is typing away. However, that won’t be the case for long. Tomorrow we hopefully return to Tennessee and then become cozy there for a few more weeks. But eventually I’ll be heading back to China to complete my contract.

Why am I home again? It’s a long story. I haven’t even shared it on my China blog for those of you who read that, but the basic gist is that my grandfather had a heart attack and was subsequently diagnosed with lung cancer and given a rather grim prognosis. So I’m here to visit family in between semesters and then heading back to China to finish my contract.

This is my first chance to really update this blog, and I’m actually relieved it’s still breathing, despite not having added to it in the months I’ve been gone. I have a few new goals I’m going to be working towards this year, and some of them will affect the blog. So I’ll go ahead and outline them and then give you a short review of the “first book of the New Year” that I completed earlier this morning.

My Goals In Reading and Writing

First, I have a goal to read around 50 books in a year. That might be tough given that it’s hard to come by books in China that aren’t horribly translated (from English to Chinese and back to English), but I imagine my parents will be happy to send me books with packages they send my way. I’m trying to get a head start on it while I’m home.

Second, I have a goal to read books outside my norm. I’m wanting to try some new, popular authors that I’ve never read before as well as genres I typically don’t read. This means I’m going to be reading some Patterson, Gaimon, King, or whatever else suits my fancy and doesn’t look like it’ll take me a year to actually finish reading. Anyone who has suggestions can feel free to offer them!

Third, I have to complete my NaNovel 2010. That’s right, I did participate in and complete another NaNoWriMo. My novel, In Search of Guanxi, isn’t even close to being finished, but I ideally would like to finish it by the beginning of February. My goal is to complete it by February 14th as I think Valentine’s Day would be the perfect day to finish a novel (more importantly, I fly backΒ to China February 15th!).

And last, but not least, I need to edit my NaNovel 2009 for the CreateSpace proof copy. I never received my proof copy last year because I was too lazy to edit the novel. This year, however, I had a fellow WriMo writer and graphic designer create a beautiful cover for my novel that I want to use in the proof. She’s graciously given me her permission to use said cover for my proof copy, and I am wanting to get the novel edited and revised to match the amazingness that is the cover. For those of you not on NaNo, this woman is amazing, and she definitely deserves praise for her work. So I can only hope my novel will come close to matching the cover she made me.

In theory, I have a date of finishing revisions by April in order to get the dimensions and personalizations onto the cover and putting the whole thing together to be submitted to CreateSpace by mid-May. We’ll see how it goes. Either way, I have a goal, and now the idea is to get motivated to complete it.

I should add here that in revising I’ll probably be reading a few of the writing books I collected last year to give me ideas and tips on the process. I’ll most likely try to review said books and their processes on this blog as I come to them, but that might take me a bit of time. Either way, they’ll fall into my 50 books goal, which will be good.

Someday I’ll go back and tally up all the books I read last year. That won’t be for a while, though. Oh well.

And speaking of goals, I’ve already worked towards fulfilling two of them. I’ve finished reading my first book of the new year, and it was a great book.

I’ve never been a big suspense and thriller reader because I tend to shy away from the blood and guts. It’s not that it really bothers me, but I prefer happy, comedic moments in my fiction as opposed to shoot-em-up deaths and near-deaths. But I will read it on occasion; my preference usually is to stick with the authors I already know I can handle, though.

So reading Lisa Unger’s Beautiful Lies was going a bit out of my comfort zone. I got the book when I was working at The Book Gallery one day. The boss brought in a box of Advanced Reader Copies that he didn’t want anymore, and this book, published in 2006, was among them. I snagged it when no one else wanted it and forgot about it in the bustle of getting ready to head to China.

Now that I’m back, I noticed it on my bedroom floor and picked it up to add to my pile of trip books to take with me to Indiana. I started reading it and was immediately immersed in the story of Ridley Jones, whose identity is questioned throughout the story. In Ridley’s world, her life has been easy and comfortable, the daughter of a wealthy New Jersey pediatrician and adopted niece of a well-known charity endorsing man, both of whom have spent their lives protecting her identity.

Ridley’s journey begins as a series of choices, which she tells readers is what brings all people on their journeys. She says that one choice, one small change in her daily routine, is all it takes to bring her world to a crashing halt and create questions she’s not sure she’s ready to answer. With help from her new friend Jake, who Ridley spends her time questioning as much as she questions her family and childhood friends.

On her search for the truth, Ridley discovers the truth doesn’t always set you free, and sometimes it lands you in a heap of trouble. The fast-paced, first-person narrative was gripping at times, but at others, I found myself drifting a bit. That could always be because I’ve lost some of my ability to really focus on a book, though. Whatever the case, the story was fascinating and held my attention to the last page, and I really enjoyed it.

I will admit, however, that I’m not sure I’m cut out to be reading ARCs. I realize they are uncorrected proofs, and that’s why I noticed so many glaring errors that any publishing house would have eradicated before printing, but still… perhaps that kind of book is not for me. I have at least one other ARC in my collection to read, a Patterson book that I snagged from my boss as well. We’ll see if that one has as many glaring errors, and then I’ll know not to read them unless I’m not worried about perfection.

Hopefully I’ll be adding new posts more frequently now that I’m home. And when I go back to China, I should be able to continue adding posts as I have a proxy (thank heavens for people who create ways around the Great Firewall of China!) that has enabled me to visit such contraband sites as Facebook (gasp!) even in my Chinese apartment. I look forward to writing more on this blog so that it won’t be lost in the mass of the blogosphere, and even if no one keeps up with it, I think keeping it going will be my joy.

I hope you’ll bear with me as I regroup on this side of the world and get my bearings. And if you have any thoughts, feel free to share them! I’m always interested in hearing from people.

Until next time –

Rae

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Enter Manhattan 1899

Posted on May 8, 2010. Filed under: Books, Historical Fiction, Reviews, Romance, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

Let’s talk books, let’s talk stories, let’s talk what works and what doesn’t! Because I’m lazy and not in the mood to write the official review I’ll put on my PC, I’m going to write a second review of two books I’ve read for my research.

Anna Godbersen’s The Luxe series has four novels in it total. They are: The Luxe, Rumors, Envy, and Splendor. I’ve read the first two books of the series and finished reading the second one today. Because I’m enjoying it, I picked up the third at Borders after I got off work at Book Gallery (don’t tell my boss!) and started reading it over dinner.

The Luxe

The Luxe introduces readers to Manhattan’s top society members in rollicking good style. Swathed in multiple, juicy tidbits straight from the columns of only the best newspapers that harken the beginning of each new chapter, the book tells the story of the Holland sisters.

Elizabeth Holland is the oldest daughter of the Holland family and has just returned from an extended trip abroad. The trip was one of the means she used to forget the horrible details of her father’s recent death. Now that she’s back, though, things are beginning to fall apart. Her family is in financial trouble, and all her mother’s hopes are resting on Elizabeth… and a wedding that could change everything.

In the meantime, the youngest of the Holland’s, Diana, is enjoying finding her kicks where she will, in the dark coatrooms where clandestine meetings for kisses are not so easily noticed and in servant hallways that are infrequently traveled. The more risque of the sisters, Diana sees no need to appear with decorum when her older and more accomplished sister can do so for her, but in a strange twist of fate, the younger sister finds that love can come from unexpected places and at horribly wrong times. Now she has only one problem: telling her family.

With an intriguing cast of characters, I have to give Godbersen credit. I fell in love with the Holland sisters and felt nothing but disgust for some of the more important side characters, such as the indomitable Penelope Hayes, the sneaky Lina Broud, and the irritating Isabella Schoonmaker. Godbersen’s characterization is fabulous, and I am enjoying getting to know her characters and hoping I’ll find something good and worthwhile in some of the more cruel of the women.

Her plots are elaborate and twisted. I’ve been impressed by the intrigue behind the movements of the Holland sisters and the plots of Penelope Hayes. And even little Lina Broud strikes me as much more intense and devious than I would have expected given her characterization in the first book. And with the winding, often snakelike paths the story takes, I expect I’ll be just as surprised in the third and fourth novels as I was in the first two, a definite plus in my book.

So what makes this series so intriguing, especially to the teen readers? Well, let’s start by examining the cover. Most women I know have a fascination for the fashions from the past, especially those ball gowns that are featured so heavily on Godbersen’s covers. Second the titles are ripe with intrigue. They offer visions of brightly lit ballrooms, women wearing precious gems and delicate outfits, men in smoking rooms, and any number of rich debaucheries. It’s the stuff of legend and the stuff we simply can’t get enough of.

Now I’ll admit, I was angry at the end of the first book. I was also furious at the end of the second book because, quite frankly, I didn’t want it to end the way it did. I hate it when authors don’t offer me a happy ending. However I have two more books to read, and unfortunately the fourth book hasn’t been released in paperback yet. Once I finish the third one, I’m afraid I’m a bit up a creek until the paperback fourth book gets released.

The big problem for me is that I’m a sucker for fairy tale, happily ever after endings. And as such, I’m determined to read to the end of the series and hopefully find that Godbersen has offered both happy endings to the characters I like and trials to the ones I don’t like. If she doesn’t do that, I might be a little miffed.

So far, the series has been solidly developed, excellently written, and hard to put down. I think that makes it a good series to use in my YA research, don’t you?

If you’re looking for a new read and don’t mind something that’s technically written for a younger audience, check it out. Godbersen’s style is subtle and well-played in the scenes she writes. The characters are deliciously entertaining. The settings are the perfect foils for the antics of her main characters. It’s simply a fascinating series of (somewhat) unfortunate events.

Let me know if you pick it up. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. And while we’re at it, feel free to let me know what books you’re reading now. I love hearing about new books, you know. πŸ˜‰

-Rae-

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Movie Reviews – Three for the Price of One

Posted on April 1, 2010. Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , , , |

I think I needed this week as my break time. I’ve been super busy getting things ready for bridal showers, job interviews, beginning new jobs, and other randomness. Thanks for bearing with me and my unusual blog posts!

As a treat and a thank you for hanging with me, I thought I’d post some mini movie reviews. No major spoilers, just my commentary. I’ve seen three movies in the last two-ish weeks, and I’m going to comment on all three, starting with the first one I saw.

What could be better than discovering you're a demi-god?

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

I saw this movie with my best friend, and my first big moment? Seeing Sean Bean. For me, Sean Bean will forever endear himself in my memory as Boromir from Lord of the Rings, so seeing him in this movie was an interesting treat. Though I can see the logic in going from Boromir to Zeus; it’s a kind of irony I enjoy.

The other actor I didn’t expect to see was the one, the only, Pierce Brosnan. From 007 and Mamma Mia darling to Centaur? Yes, that’s right. Pierce Brosnan plays a centaur in this movie based off a children’s book. I was mildly disturbed by that imagery, honestly, but I rolled with it as Brosnan’s not a major player in this story.

To me, the movie lacked oomph. It was a rather contrived plot, and the end result was as I expected it to be. It was a movie where I could tell from the beginning who the bad guy really was, and while I enjoyed the interactions between the three main characters, I was a little disappointed in the end result.

That and the fact that the depictions of the Greek gods were off. I’m not up on all my Greek mythology anymore, but I don’t recall the gods actually caring for and loving their demi-god children. But that’s a main theme in Percy Jackson, one that was a little hard to swallow.

I give it a 3 out of 5 possible stars, personally.

How many Mad Hatters can compete with Johnny Depp?

Alice In Wonderland

I saw this movie with my friend Victor the other night. I’m rather glad we went on Tuesday because one of the less popular theaters in town does a Tuesday deal where all movies–with the obvious exception of 3D ones–are only $5.00 for a ticket. So I saw this movie for half the price I would have paid to see it in the more popular Regal Cinemas theaters in town.

To be fair, my main beef with this movie was over the fictional Alice’s history. Instead of Alice Liddell, the screenwriters turned her into Alice Kingsley, daughter of a tradesman instead of a college dean. This immediately soured my experience of the movie, especially after having read Alice I Have Been.

However I found the movie interesting enough. I’d have liked a little more surprise personally, but what can you do in Wonderland, or Underland as it’s more commonly known in the film? The entire movie was an exercise in discovering identity. It follows some of the same themes of Lewis Carroll’s classic in that Alice is constantly deciding who she is, but it twists it a bit.

Instead of a lovably insane Hatter, Alice is confronted by a surprisingly lucid and deceptively flirtatious Hatter. It was one of the odder elements of the film: questions of a romance between Alice and the Mad Hatter. (Okay, so that was a little spoiler, I suppose – sorry!) But it was also an interesting development that I didn’t see coming.

And in the same way that Carroll left you charmed but confused in the books, the movie left you confused as well. There was plot, and woven into the movie were elements of both of the Alice books, but then there were moments where I wondered what on earth was going on.

From Depp’s accent changing during the entire movie to Helena Bonham Carter’s disturbing portrayal of the bigheaded Red Queen, the movie was just slightly to the left of creative genius. It managed to land somewhere between artistic disaster and breaking creative license.

All in all, I’d say this movie, too, merited a 3 out of 5 stars in my book, but I’m glad I saw it.

Who wouldn't want a pet dragon?

How To Train Your Dragon

Last but certainly not least, I went to see this with my parents tonight. And let me say I’ve been wanting to see this ever since I first started seeing previews for it. I am so glad I saw it tonight!

So I give this movie points for creativity, and I’ll go ahead and warn of a few minor spoilers here since I simply can’t keep it to myself. First of all, who wouldn’t enjoy a movie where the main character is named Hiccup? I laughed so hard when he told his name. Not only that, but who wouldn’t love a pet dragon named Toothless?

The basic plot, as you might have gathered from previews, is that this village of vikings has been fighting off dragons for years, and now Hiccup the disaster has come along and managed to befriend one of the beasts. No one else knows, but Hiccup is slowly learning how to tame dragons, and through this, he becomes a celebrity in the viking village while learning how to be Toothless’s friend.

If that isn’t enough to endear you to the movie, consider this: Hiccup is the son of the village leader, Stoick, voiced by Gerard Butler. In a village where everyone is expected to kill dragons, Hiccup is the black sheep son that Stoick can never be proud of.

This is an adorable coming-of-age tale that ties in cultural lessons as well. Discovering the differences in dragons is what wins Hiccup the town’s respect. Helping Toothless and being open to what dragons need is what endears him to the dragon population. But his biggest triumph isn’t till the end of the movie. But I’ll leave that for you to see. πŸ˜‰

I definitely give this movie a 5 out of 5 stars. Dreamworks did a fantastic job, and I would see it again in theaters without batting an eye.

Really, what more can you ask for? Go see the movie! You won’t regret it, and if you do, tell me, and I’ll buy you a book and send it to you. Honest! But you have to have a valid reason you don’t like the movie. Just saying – otherwise everyone’ll say they hate the movie just to get a free book.

With that said, I think that’s all I have to say about movies for tonight. We’ll be back to your regularly scheduled programming next week, I think. I’ll try to get in the swing of things now that I have a new job. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.

So tell me, have you seen the movies I listed? What did you think of them? Are you going to go see any of them? Tell me, tell me!

-Rae-

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Blog About It – Ed Wilson

Posted on March 4, 2010. Filed under: Blogs, Reviews | Tags: , , |

I don’t really have a theme for Thursdays. That’s okay. I’m going to do a blog review today because I’m enjoying reading some blogs, and perhaps I can find new blogs to read by searching out some of them. Before I do, though, I’m going to review some of my favorites that I’ve found through the month of February.

With no further ado, let me introduce, for your viewing pleasure, Ed Wilson. Find her in my blogroll or here, and you’ll be thrust into the wit, insight, and information she peppers in her posts. She is the author of the website “Her Name Is Ed Wilson.” In the interest of full disclosure, Ed also has a Twitter that she’s begun. If you find her posts interesting, you can follow her there. On Twitter, Ed goes by @SheisEdWilson, unless of course, I made some mistake in that name. (Sorry if I did, Ed!)

E.D. Wilson (but you can call her Ed) blogs about all things writing, reading, video gaming, opining, and other various topics. I’ve been reading her posts from early February on, and I’m really intrigued. Her voice is refreshing, full of humor, and worth listening to, in my humble opinion.

Living in the Southeast, she’s currently working in a family business and among the masses who are trying to grasp some form of employment. Though she’s making money, so she’s doing better than I am currently! A college grad, Ed has visions of one day becoming a published author and wowing her family and friends with her writerly credentials.

The author of There Are No Gods For Arthropods, Ed recently submitted her manuscript to Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Awards contest and made it through the first round of cuts. It’s all very exciting, and I’m rooting her on.

To give you an idea of what she writes, recent posts have featured the TV show Chuck, Dr. Seuss’s 106th birthday, and Craigslist. It’s a fairly eclectic mix that’s light-hearted and fun to read. And, unlike me, Ed’s posts don’t go on for days and days. πŸ˜€ (I admit; she has some longer posts, but they’re definitely worth the read!)

She announced today that she’ll be moving to a three-day-a-week posting schedule and plans to post on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule. So if you’re looking for a new blog, I’d suggest trying out Ed’s posts. They’re fresh and intriguing, and she always asks great questions.

With that said, I’m not sure I did an adequate job on my first blog review, but it was fun, and I’ve been wanting to review some of my friends’ blogs since I think they’re awesome. Be looking forward to more reviews in the future! And, while I’m thinking about it, does anyone have any blogs they follow that are just amazing? Let me know; I’m on the lookout for new material, especially if the blog focuses more on writing about books, writing, editing, publishing, or things of that nature!

-Rae-

P.S. If I feature your blog in a review, don’t think I’m looking for a similar favor. I just want to get some good names out there for people to read. πŸ˜€

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