One Hot Mess

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My Rating: 4/5 Stars

One hot mess. That’s the first thought that comes to mind. The story was told out of sequence; the characters proved unlikeable and sometimes odious; the entire family managed to engage in conversations without ever really talking about anything meaningful; relationships died faster than a daisy in the middle of a blizzard; the voice was quirky, at times eccentric, and it filled me up with about as much hope as a five car pile-up. But I enjoyed the hell out of it anyway. I can’t adequately explain it, but it spoke to me like a ghost with two heads, or a blue lizard with his mouth open and eyes wide, telling me meaningful and profound thoughts with a slight upturn of his head.

I went into WE ONLY KNOW SO MUCH without any predispositions or inclinations, and I was glad I had my eyes open wide, and just went along for the ride. Because this story took me to some dark places, down some lonely roads, and I didn’t particularly like myself at all parts of this journey, but it was an exploratory endeavor that was as discombobulated and confusing and complicated as life itself. Had I not been a bit eccentric, I might have been less than thrilled with this ride, but I often look at myself (and I say this with complete sincerity) as one hot mess. So I connected with the material on a deep, meaningful level, even though it took me a while to reach the level of full emersion.

This novel breaks the major rule of writing: Show, don’t tell. Told from the perspective of an omniscient narrator, it single-handedly proves that with good writing there are no rules. Because I loved the fact that the narrator talks directly to the audience with a bit of dialogue, exposition, and backstory thrown in to move the story along. Even when it moves a bit tangentially (again, I’m often prone to making random connections in the universe), I was giddy with Elizabeth Crane’s storytelling ability. It was like snuggling up in a warm blanket, even if that blanket may turn around and occasionally bite you on the ass.

Before And After

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My Rating: 4/5 Stars

When I finished LIE STILL, I realized how absolutely ignorant I was about rape and women and the lingering effects of the horrific ordeal that no amount of washing or scrubbing or therapy or counseling or friends and familial support can ever hope to take away. And that for the rest of Emily Page’s life she will remember vivid details of the assault and Pierce Martin like he was the grim reaper sent down just for her: the empty Domino’s pizza box, the cloying odor of his shampoo, her final thought before he entered her—that he’s not going to marry her—the fingernail that raked her leg and the scar it left behind, and the sting of the alcohol, as she attempted to clean up the last remnants of him. And that when he entered her a part of her soul tore away, and that now her life is divided into two periods: before and after.

Even though Pierce is an asshole, a controlling, abusive, manipulative, done-this-sort-of-thing-before asshole, who had planned the violation for weeks and probably fantasized about it for even longer than that, Emily still thinks the rape, in this case date rape, was her fault. Her humiliation and guilt clings to her like a virus. Even though it wasn’t her fault, she feels culpable in the horrific ordeal, flashing her virginity around like it somehow made her better. This novel refers to date rape as “the last frontier of crime,” because the victims look and feel guilty, while the rapist feels pleased because he painted the whole picture himself. I had no idea rape victims were viewed this way, and it saddens me deeply to realize this is the case. I only hope our society can somehow figure out a way to right this horrible wrong.

This novel shows Texas like it was truly meant to be shown with fake mansions the size of convention centers, where fake women and fake breasts and fake tans loom larger than the Georgia sun. Where a middle-aged former beauty queen packs pistols and assault rifles in the back of her Lexus and shoots out the zero of interstate signs at 65 MPH. Where the twists and turns prove more complicated than Texas’s geographical landscape and interstate highways and where high school never seems to end. And where Caroline Warwick has more secrets and more enemies than one would like to admit.

I’d like to end with the “legitimate rape” legacy left behind by a US representative that Julia Heaberlin brings up in her Author’s Note. She takes the higher ground by not mentioning this particular bastard by name, but I believe he should be called out once again for his comment. Representative Todd Akin said, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” That shows ignorance on so many levels, and it scares the shit out of me that he was actually running our country for six terms. Akin didn’t get reelected in 2012, and rightfully so.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

What Do You Mean You Used To Write Children’s Stories

Guest post provided by Elene Sallinger.

When people find out that I started my writing career in children’s literature, the reactions are varied but always funny. It’s a classic “what the f@#$” moment. Somehow, this transition just doesn’t seem to compute for most people. Granted, children’s lit and erotica are much further apart on the spectrum than say mysteries and romance, but they are both still part of the fiction genre. And, the theme of my erotica – people overcoming their baggage – is only marginally different from the theme of my children’s stories – overcoming fear and doubt.

I began writing children’s stories after my then four-year-old daughter repeatedly asked for the same bedtime story which I’d improvised one night. She didn’t want more or less the same story, she wanted the details to match. With my memory being as full of holes as Swiss cheese, I began to write them down and illustrate them for her.

When he discovered this, her father encouraged me to take some classes. After much stalling, I finally did and a writer was born. Because my daughter was so young, children’s lit was natural for me. I found myself writing the stories I wished I’d had as a child. Stories that promoted facing fear, self-acceptance and overcoming doubt. All concepts I’ve struggled with throughout my life.

As my daughter grew and Dora gave way to Xbox and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom was put away in favor of Artemis Fowl, I found I had no taste for writing for the young adult market. There were too many prolific authors already doing it better than I could.

Around this same time, I stumbled across my first tale of erotic fiction, Seducing Jane Porter by Dominique Adair. One taste and I was hooked. I devoured everything I could find. Sadly, I also found myself disappointed again and again by stories that lurched from one sex scene to another with no plot, no character development and laughable, unrealistic sex scenes.

I’d already picked clean the catalogs of my favorite authors and was frustrated with a lack of quality content. I wanted more and I didn’t want to sacrifice my reading standards. One night, after deleting a particularly bad story off my iPad, I decided to try and write a story that I would want to read. The rest, as they say, is history.

After getting some practice in with a few short stories, I submitted Awakening to Xcite Books’ contest for new writers at the 2011 Festival of Romance and won! I haven’t looked back since.

I love the erotic genre and nothing pleases me more than a good story where people explore their sexuality while overcoming the baggage we all carry at some level.

While, I may write other children’s stories – I’ve got one or two percolating – I’m officially hooked on erotica and plan to continue writing erotic romance for as long as I’ve got a story to tell.

17683820Hailing from Washington, DC, Elene Sallinger first caught the writing bug in 2004 after writing and illustrating several stories for her then four-year-old daughter. Her writing career has encompassed two award-winning children’s stories, a stint as a consumer-education advocate, as well as writing her debut novel, Awakening—a novel of erotic fiction that won the New Writing Competition at the Festival of Romance 2011. Visit Elene online here.

Click here to read my Awakening review.

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Political Scandals Pale In Comparison

16158196Really Dead by J.E. Forman
My Rating: 2/5 Stars

The movie industry is filled with sons-a-bitches. Whenever you mix a sense of entitlement, trunks filled with money, nubile young women willing to show their breasts on a whim, kinky old men, and drugs, you’re bound to experience plenty of problems. Political scandals pale in comparison to the seedy atmosphere underlying the entertainment industry where the grime and slime covered me faster than a coal mine.

While Ria Butler did hold a certain appeal, most of it was lost on me. REALLY DEAD managed to cut scenes too soon, the jumps proved more jarring than a wave smacking me in the face, and the story lacked the flow that would have kept me really engaged. The voice hurt my ears worse than nails on a chalkboard. The dialogue proved a bit cheesy, and a few of the characters a bit too dimwitted for me to truly sing their praises. Others proved to be royal asshats.

The mystery lacked a certain sophistication and complication that I would have otherwise preferred, with the subplots receiving more screen time than the main show. The ending wrapped a bit too quickly, and the villain needed to insert hand in mouth and bite down, instead of utilizing a megaphone.

However, I did enjoy the behind-the-scenes look at reality TV show production. I just wish the price of admission wouldn’t have been so steep, as the story and writing weighed me down and kept me submerged beneath the surface of the water. My boycott of all reality television shall continue unabated, so the book did have that going for it, even if I had trouble finding much else to enjoy.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

NaNoWriMo Saved Me

Vomiting up a novel in a month sounds like a terrible idea. But I’d have to say it might have singlehandedly saved me. I’d been struggling with writing, dancing around the subject, and editing my heart out, but it hadn’t led me anywhere. Instead of guiding me and giving me a purpose, I’d been stuck in neutral, spinning my tires, and peeling off the rubber at a rather rapid pace. I’d edited a couple of manuscripts before setting them aside, incomplete. It had been a battle, a constant struggle, and writing felt more like a chore than a pleasure.

To promote my debut novel, I’d been on blog tours, book signings, conducted giveaways, sought out top reviewers, had a book trailer produced on my behalf, built up a Facebook following, placed ads with AdWords, attended mystery conferences, and had a website built. But it all seemed for naught. For nearly a year, I went through one of the unhappiest periods of my life, not even knowing if I would have my second manuscript published, or my third, let alone have a career in writing. Editing fueled my disdain and frustration, and the battle waged on.

But rather than throw in the towel, walk away, and move on with my life, I decided to peel back the layers and rediscover why I truly loved writing. Rather than let the ashes suffocate me and bury me six feet under, I made a conscious effort to rise above all the heartache and pain and to break through the surface. And I found that purpose through NaNoWriMo.

Having what amounted to a complete and utter failure gave me the power to truly let go and not worry about what happened, and I rediscovered that no one had power over me unless I gave it to them. Instead of writing for an audience filled with expectations, I realized I didn’t need to worry about readers (since those were few and far between), and I didn’t have to worry about failure at all, because I’d already reached a failure of epic proportions. Anonymity gave me power.

And so I wrote and wrote, pounding away on the keyboard, as the pages filled out before my eyes. Emotion poured out of me, along with hopes and dreams. Instead of keeping all those pent-up emotions on the inside, I let them guide the pages in front of me, and the experience proved rather cathartic. Forcing myself to write 50,000 words in a month when I already had a serious amount of stress on my plate was probably one of the best decisions I’d ever made. Because now I had purpose and meaning in my writing life, both of which had been missing for some time. And getting up at 4:40 in the morning probably sounds insane, but days that begin with writing are better than days that do not. So now that it’s November, I couldn’t be happier, because once again I’ll test my creative limits and heave up another novel. Those 4:40 mornings sound nearly blissful, and the challenge of 50,000 words will guide me once again.


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My Rating: 2/5 Stars

This ain’t Harry Potter. For those of you who may have such expectations looming in the back of your mind, even as you recognize that J.K. Rowling wrote it under a pseudonym, and that it’s a mystery, and that it involves a war veteran PI, and that there are no wizards or classrooms or dragons or Quidditch matches or He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named…yeah, you have to set those expectations aside. Otherwise, your disappointment level will spike off the charts, and you’ll toss your Kindle or hardcover edition through an open window, never to be seen or heard from again.

Robert Galbraith certainly has chops in the mystery writing universe, even if his first effort falls a bit short. The stuttering formality turned me off from the beginning, and carried through all the way to the end, even if the stick might have been removed from the buttocks for brief periods of time, the majority of which revolved around enthusiastic sidekick Robin. Formal dialogue splattered with dashes filled the pages, and an overemphasis with the ellipsis further helped separate me from the tale, and was closely followed by characters who liked to overstate and expound upon points a little too forcefully, pounding the corpse repeatedly after the last breath had already expired from the body.

Other than Robin, formal, stilted characters seemed to plaster the pages, many of whom felt dry cleaned, instead of going through the normal rinse cycle. The plot plodded along at a slow, steady pace, and proved slow to develop despite the dashing dead body early on. The ending of THE CUCKOO’S CALLING would have been aided by the liberal use of the delete key, and like the rest of the tale, was a bit long on atmosphere and extraneous information. While the premise proved strong and inviting, the story didn’t quite live up to its enticing origins.

On a related note, it’s probably good my NetGalley request wasn’t approved for this novel, even though I could have blown the whistle on her pseudonym a full two months before the official slip. Mulholland Books is probably patting itself on the back, as they dodged that bullet and my less than favorable review, even if it was only a temporary respite.

Enthralled By The Eccentricities

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My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Seeing Douglas Preston in person (twice) and Lincoln Child via Skype (once), I can’t help but be enthralled by the eccentricities of these two individuals, and the odd dynamic that must ensue from this powerful writing duo. So it’s hard not to see how Aloysius Pendergast might have developed from these two brilliant minds fully formed and ready for action. He’s odd and eccentric and intriguing and his dark suits never manage to get wrinkle, even when he’s bounding through snow drifts up to his chin or playing Russian roulette with a loaded revolver.

More than just Pendergast, though, WHITE FIRE filled its pages with entertaining characters and a few individuals from the days of yore. With Corrie Swanson leading the charge and immersing herself in skeletal remains and mining caves and mountain passes, this novel piles on roadblocks and adventures in equal measure, and then douses the remains in cans of kerosene. With stoic individuals stepping to the forefront and the interweaving of a story within a story, this novel moves forward as much as it lingers in antiquity. Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde and Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson weave through the pages, leaving footprints in white blankets and half-eaten meals behind.

The rush of adrenaline helped me maneuver from the first page to the last, the throttle easing just enough to keep me from overexertion, the pages pounding with the precision of a jackhammer. The vibrations echoed through my hands and all the way up my forearms, as I drove my snowmobile through the ensuing avalanche. The tight plot fit about as well as a snug pair of gloves, and I leaned my back from the resultant wind current, my teeth chattering and my feet stamping in protest.

If you don’t mind Pendergast avoiding the spotlight as opposed to standing in the limelight, acting more as a mentor than the lead investigator, and you enjoy your plots more tightly woven than a pair of mittens, you’ll probably find yourself enjoying this Colorado tale.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

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Fondling The Merchandise

17165966Palace Of Spies by Sarah Zettel
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

Margaret “Peggy” Fitzroy led a reasonably charmed life until she was kicked out on her keister and forced to delve in the palace of intrigue, suspicion, and ne’er-do-wells, many of whom have buckets of money, or like to pretend that the dowry extends forever in one direction, even if it dried up about fifty years ago. Sebastian Sandford, relegated to a minor role, showed his hands and his petulant attitude and his preponderance for fondling the merchandise before the appointed hour, with nary a care in the world. And Uncle Pierpont showed fangs and horns and bastard tendencies with relative ease, tossing out his niece faster than a banana peel and slamming the door hard enough to rock the foundation. But had he shown more normal tendencies and familial congeniality, PALACE OF SPIES never would have reached the atmosphere, so we can thank him for his complete and utter ridiculousness.

Peggy had a slight aftertaste, not growing on me until a bit later in the tale, but when she did, I appreciated her and her firecracker ways. She had spunk and charm and held on to certain folks a bit too long and offered up some youthful naiveté in this historical tale. While some mysterious elements lingered, and a dead body or two appeared on scene, I’d say this was more historical with a bit of romance and some rather cryptic moments. The plot had a few dangling points and outliers that wrapped up a bit too nicely and maybe a bit too forcefully, and while research was conducted and historical accuracies appeared to be inflicted upon the story, this wasn’t a heavy read by any means. And it was easily consumable, like popcorn or Pez or candy corn.

What really popped my balloon faster than a safety pin, though, was the murderer spouting off for no other reason than pure ego. Really? While it was a bit briefer this go round than the previous iteration, it still left me with a dry mouth and a slight headache. Can we move past the egomaniacs and psychotic miscreants and move toward more common ground? I promise we’ll all be happier, and we don’t even have to hold hands.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Needed A Better Offense

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My Rating: 2/5 Stars

The voice appealed to me about as much as liverwurst and onions. The style wasn’t much better on the overall appellate scale. That’s not to say the writing was bad, though, because it wasn’t. The prose was adequate; the story proved somewhat interesting and did its best to hold my attention; the dialogue was handled without the aid of a particularly heavy hand; and the story demonstrated logic from beginning to end.

But I had a hard time supporting characters that proved about as likeable as tarantulas or pythons, especially when I could have been the mouse tossed in the cage. The list of odious characters stood higher and weighed more than the ones that practiced a bit of congeniality and common sense. Beth Bowman dangled at the top of my least favorite people list, with Maddy Hammonds and Dick Bannon and Major Sargent and Chief Elston not far behind. John Hammonds and his daughter Ashley, in a cameo role, demonstrated high likeability as the dynamic father and daughter duo. The homeless posse provided a bit of comedic relief, but it wasn’t enough to save this tale for me.

BEST DEFENSE probably needed a better offense and an expert placekicker. The goalposts loomed large at the opposite end of the field, and the crowd stood with mouths open and faces leaned precariously forward as two bodies were taken off the field. Even after play resumed, the shock remained, and the coach didn’t offer up the most appropriate pep talk.

What really knocked this novel down another notch for me, though, was the climactic killer confrontation. What I certainly don’t need, and feel like I see a bit too frequently in mysteries, is the murderer spouting off at the chest why he or she committed the crime. Please, for the love of Krispy Kreme, just shut up. I don’t care if you plan to kill our beloved, or not so beloved, hero or heroine three pages later; I don’t care if you want to therapeutically justify why you did what you did (therapists and pills can solve this particular problem); and it doesn’t matter to me if your ego can’t handle potential misconceptions. Just shove a doughnut in your mouth and shut up. You’ll thank me later.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Debilitating Disease

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My Rating: 4/5 Stars

I’d have to say I wasn’t a big fan of cancer before I started this novel (I lost my grandfather to pancreatic cancer), and I’m even less of a fan of this debilitating disease after finishing this depressing read. But I have to give John Green his due. He could have taken the concept for THE FAULT IN OUR STARS and spun it in an entirely different direction, leaving me in a constant state of despair and depression and during which time I would have needed to be slightly medicated in order to push through the pain. Instead, though, there’s a lingering sense of sadness, but it’s coupled with a sense of hope and a slightly eccentric voice that at times might sound like it has been recycled through a respirator.

Hazel Grace Lancaster was fun and exciting and more than a bit eccentric and even now, it’s hard not to picture her wheeling around an oxygen tank. But she doesn’t want your sympathy. Instead, the tank manages to put another quirk in her step and offer up a bit of wind drag. Her idiosyncratic voice and her rather humorous take on a dire situation had me cheering for her every step of the way.

Even her best friends Augustus and Isaac offered up flashlights in the impending darkness. Despite life dealing all three of them a bum hand, and then piling on the cockroaches inside the mayonnaise sandwiches, the three handed their time-stamped lives with a wisdom and strength well beyond their years.

Relationships ended and others began, as the wheels of time continued to spin; books needed to be read and video games attracted attention; new classes were discovered; and families coped with the impending loss that might hover around the next corner, or then again, it might not. And I couldn’t help my sense of enjoyment, even as I knew it might come with an expiration date.