What Format of Book Do You Prefer To Read?

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Author Interview With Mark Minson

My Interview With Author Mark Minson

   So way back in high school I had a creative writing class with my friend Mark Minson. I thought he was talented way back then (we won't say how long ago that was)! Then awhile back he told me he had written a novel, and I couldn't wait to read it. Kyle By Fire was a great book, and I enjoyed it a lot. I have to say though, the second book in the series, Will From Ashes (I will review it later this week), is even better! I'll get to more of that later, but for now I thought I'd share the interview I had with my good friend Mark.  

1.  What inspired you to write the Kyle By Fire series? 
- I hadn’t written more than a handful of poems in the five years previous to starting KBF. And based on the carnage of prose I wrote in high school, I never thought I would be a novelist. But I had a friend and neighbor who loved to write. He enlisted another friend of ours and we started a writing club back in 2009. One of our first activities as a group was a round-robin writing exercise. We put a ton of random words in a bowl and pulled out three each. Then before our next meeting, we were supposed to write 1-2 pages using all three words. My words: Oak, Wand, Sandals. Those who have read KBF know the significance of those first two words. The original scene I wrote didn’t end up in the book, but it started the whole thing off. When I had written about half of the first book, I started thinking about titles and if this would be a series. I decided it would be a series and I liked the name "The Phoenix Cycle Series". It sounds cool and rolls off the tongue so nicely. That has really influenced the direction of the story.
2.  Where do you get your ideas for the different spells and talents that the characters in the books have?
- When I started I had an inkling of an idea for a magic system. My magic system needed to be unique. I didn’t want something like Harry Potter where everyone could cast everything. I decided on a list of talents based on the typical elemental talents and then branched nuances. I picked Kyle’s talent from the branches because it creates challenges for both him and me.
The spells are born out of logical evolution. What spells would have been discovered in a combined world of magic and non-magic? The words for the spells actually are anti-HP. Every word is gibberish. No Latin roots. No “sounds kinda like what it does”. Some spells take a long time to cast and have a lot of words. The more difficult the result of the magic, the more effort should be required to cast it.
I also didn’t want to have “super cool” spells that give incredible power. While everyone has magic, magic plays a big role in mundane day-to-day activities. The characters have to use creative problem solving in applying what they know to what they need.
3.  Where do you write? In an office or on the living room couch? 
- I write mostly on the couch. Some days I write on my lunch break at my desk.
4.  What is your all-time favorite book to read?
- Hard question. The expected answer is: Mine! I do love my stories, but after spending so much time with these characters in my head, I'm looking forward to a break. Someday I will include my books on this list. I do love Harry Potter 7. However, I’ve read the Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov at least 4 times. I love the depth and expansiveness of the Foundation world. Which I admit is kinda odd since I write fantasy and not sci-fi. I have a ton of fantasy favorites though: Far World by J Scott Savage, Fablehaven by Brandon Mull, Percy Jackson and the Heroes of Olympus series’ by Rick Riordan.
5.  When is the next book coming out? (This ? is because I'm selfish and really want the next book.... :)
- I have no idea. Life has been crazy this summer so very little writing has taken place. Based on the outline alone, this is also shaping up to be the longest of the books. Because of the expanding cast of characters, this book will be written from the perspective of four different people instead of just one. I would love to get it done sometime next year so fans don’t have to wait so long between releases.
6.  Do you write better in the morning, afternoon, or late at night? 
- I write better when I feel like I have time to dedicate to it. Mornings are too busy and I’m still working on getting my brain moving. Most of my writing takes place in the evening after the kids go to bed so I’d have to say that is when the best writing happens.
7.  How do you find time to write with a full-time job and a family?
- I don’t. Four years for Kyle By Fire (and 6 versions since), three years for Will from Ashes. Time is too finite. I have to make the time to write and because of that, sometimes, I make different choices. Write or play a game with your daughter who is asking you for the third time? As a writer with a family and non-writing job, it is about priorities and sacrifices. I’m hoping that now that summer is winding down, I will be able to make more time for writing.
8.  Do you hand write your stories then transfer them to the computer, or do you type them on the computer as you go?
- My brain works too fast when it gets into a story. I couldn’t hand write nearly fast enough or neat enough to know what the pen marks on the paper are supposed to mean. Even typing doesn’t always keep up with the conversations playing out in my head. Once I get into the flow of writing, I’m amazed at freight train coming at me.

9.  Have you ever experienced writers' block, and if so, what did you do to overcome it?
- All of the time. My strategy for overcoming it? Avoidance. It never works. The tactic that generally pulls me back to the page is thinking about the story. Even though I outline all of my books, the outline is at a high level. Once I’m down in the weeds, I realize that a particular detail of my beautifully crafted plan isn’t going to work. Blocked. When I finally stop avoiding it, I focus on it. I start running scenarios and talking through ideas. I’ve found that one or two days spent thinking about the problem will allow me to break through and find the answer.
J Scott Savage gave a great class for the League of Utah Writers where he said that if he gets stuck, sometimes he just writes “Something cool happens” and then skips the problem and moves on with his outline. I’ve considered trying this as well.
10. Do you have any advice for someone who would like to try and publish a book?
- Read. Read some more. Then write. Attend writing conferences. Join writing groups. Write, write, write. When you finally have a finished story, get some trusted friends to beta-read for you. I thought KBF was done and ready. I’d spent almost a year editing and revising before I finally published. But I didn’t have beta readers. The feedback I got from a few friends about the book helped me fix things that should have been fixed before publishing. Submitting to small publishers also helped as one of them gave me some great feedback.
There is a very good chance you will never feel like your story is good enough to see the light of day. Take those feelings, give them a swirly, stuff a sock in their mouth and throw them in the trunk. Listen to your beta readers. Listen to your writing group. It may not be the book you love, but it will still be a good book that others will want to read.



**Thank you Mark!!! Stay tuned this week for my review of Mark's second book Will From Ashes.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Beauty and the Clockwork Beast


Beauty and the Clockwork Beast by Nancy Campbell Allen

Blurb: 

When Lucy Pickett arrives at Blackwell Manor to tend to her ailing cousin, Kate, she finds more than she bargained for. A restless ghost roams the hallways, werewolves have been reported in the area, and vampires lurk across the Scottish border. Lord Miles himself is clearly hiding a secret. He is brash and inhospitable, and does not take kindly to visitors--even one as smart and attractive as Miss Pickett. He is unsettled by the mysterious deaths of his new wife, Clara, and his sister, Marie. Could Miles himself be to blame for the deaths? Working together, Miles and Lucy attempt to restore peace to Blackwell Manor. But can Lucy solve the mystery of Miles? Can she love the man--beast and all?

My Review:

I thought I was done with vampires and werewolves: apparently not! I actually really liked this book! Part of it is that Lucy is such a great character. She is smart, witty, and usually quite tough. Like any girl, she has her moments, but she is determined and capable. Miles is a hard character. He is very unlikable for most of the book, but at the same time, you see little snippets here and there of a different side of him. The supporting characters of Kate and Jonathan are good characters, and they help add to the story line. You have to just go with the apparitions and such that appear in this book; it seems a little corny, but you know what? It worked for me in this book. It's a little predictable; you know from the beginning who the key players will be, but there are many twists and turns along the way that kept me turning pages. I liked the writing style. It drew me in and kept me engaged. It's strange because one half of your brain is laughing at the absurdity of it all, but the other half of your brain can't put it down and just glosses right over all that stuff. That's what fiction is for, right? I thought it all came together well, and I liked this book a lot.

I like that it's clean! There is little to no profanity, and no "intimacy" scenes, although there is some kissing, and some more intimate moments. There is some violence, though. There are a few old murders discussed, and some evil vamps out there that have to be fought and dealt with. At least two characters die. 

Rating: PG-13+ (No profanity or "intimacy," but there are some more intimate moments, a few innuendos, and there is some graphic violence.)

Recommendation: 16 and up 

Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.



Reading Roundup

Today I wanted to be a little different in my book reviews; I'm going to sit back, relax, and let others do all the work for me! I'm going to do my first "Reading Roundup." I have links to five book reviews on other sites. It will be a little different because they don't rate the books for content like I do, but they are all good reviews. What I also like is that the topics have a broad range, and they are  all books I have never heard about. I wish I could review every book out there, but since it's just me and my hobby, there is no way! 
I hope you enjoy today's Reading Roundup! Let me know what you think in the comments below! 

The Worst Journey in the World 

by Apsley Cherry-Garrard


I like this one because I have just barely started running. At the beginning of the summer I had been walking every day, but I got embarrassed because a bunch of my friends would run right past me as I was walking. So, I gave in to peer pressure and started running. I only run about three miles a day, but I'm proud of myself. This book isn't about running, but it's an inspirational tale about an expedition to Antarctica that had an impact in his life. 

2.  Do Good Work: 
The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide To Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz

She reviews this book saying that it would be great as a business book as well as a self-help book. 

The Importance of Music to Girls by Lavinia Greenlaw

If you like music, it sounds like this book is for you, especially if you are a woman. 

She reviews many "Inspiring Self-Help Books For Women"

She has put together an amazing list of inspirational self-help books for women. This is part one, so she said she will be adding more as well! 

The Code of the Extraordinary Mind by Vishen Lakhiani

This sounds like a very deep, yet inspirational, story that teaches you how to live your own life and not be tied to habits or rules. 

So there you have it! If you read any of these let me know in the comments what you think!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Paper or Ebook?

I have a question for all of you today! 

What format of book is your favorite? 

Do you like paper copies? Do you like reading on your Kindle or your Nook? Do you like reading on your phone or a tablet


I'm curious to know how many people are old school like me and definitely prefer a physical copy of the book, or if I'm just a dying breed. Am I alone in my preference? Why do I like to read paper copies instead of ebooks? Well, I know they're heavier and they take up more space, but I love holding the book. I love turning pages. (Am I weird? Please tell me someone else loves turning pages...) I like that I can flip back and reread sections or find my favorite quotes. I have yet to figure out a good way to do that on my Kindle. I have a Kindle because many of the books I review are only published as ebooks. However, if I have a choice, I always ask for the paper copy. Another reason I like paper copies is because I can share them. If I enjoy a book then I like to recommend it and loan it out to friends and family. I also like to read books and then hand them over to my kids to read. You can't do that with ebooks, and it's frustrating to me.

So, what do you think? What's your preference and why? Please vote in the poll and tell us why you like that choice in the comments! I can't wait to hear from all of you!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

How To Make Time For Reading

One of the questions I get asked the most is, "How do you find time to read?"
Well, here is my answer. I hope it helps!


Why Book Reviews?



Why Book Reviews? My Blog Story

When I was way too young to read chapter books, I would beg my mom to let me read them. She did; because she's awesome like that. When we'd go fishing as kids, all my siblings would get out their poles and fish, and I'd read; because I'm a nerd like that. I've loved books as long as I can remember. I cannot recall a time in my life where reading wasn't a huge part of it. Well, I guess I can, but I'll get there in a minute. During the summer I'd sit under the tree in my front yard and read for hours on end (hence my logo at the top of the page...). I love being taken away to another time or place, I love getting caught up in a story, I love seeing the world through different lenses, and I love learning new things. When I was in school and we had to read a book as a class I would get so frustrated because I just wanted to read the whole book. I didn't want to read one chapter a week or whatever the assignment would be. So, I'd usually read the whole book and then go back with the class and read it again. I'd read whenever I had a spare second. High school and college were a bit more difficult because of the heavy coursework, but I still managed to find the time to read. The one time in my life that I really didn't read was when I had two little boys running around at home. Every time I'd pick up a book, they'd get into trouble.  I always read to them, of course, but reading for me was almost non-existent. So, I stopped reading for awhile. Then one day I realized that they were just going to have to deal with it. It was good for them to see me read, and it was good for me to read. So I'd keep a book out and read a few pages at a time. Little by little they got better at allowing me to read. Now we have a great system going! They read way more than I do, and it's so great to see! 
Sometimes it's me telling them to put the books down! 

I'm very conservative with what I allow my children to watch and read, so my goal has always been to read books before they do so I know what's in them. I did well for awhile, but there is no way I can keep up with the amount of time they spend reading now. However, that is why I started my blog. I wanted a place where I could go to look at the content of the books my kids wanted to read--before they read them. I wanted to know if there was profanity or violence or "intimacy" in the book before I handed it to them, and I couldn't find that place. That is why I started my blog! I figured there were probably other moms just like me who didn't have time to preview all the books their kids read, and there needed to be a place where they could go to preview a book without reading it. It wasn't just for my kids, though. I'd want to know for me too. I hate getting into a book and then finding that it is riddled with profanity or that it has "intimacy" scenes that are way too detailed and graphic. So that is why I review all sorts of books for all ages. I want my blog to be a place where every reader (or her parents) may come and find content info. on the books she would like to read. If you'd like me to preview a specific book just let me know! If you have any comments or suggestions, I'm always open to improving! Happy Reading!

~Monica :)

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Fifth Avenue Artists Society



The Fifth Avenue Artists Society by Joy Callaway

Blurb:

"The Bronx, 1891, Virginia Loftin, the boldest of four artistic sisters in a family living in genteel poverty, knows what she wants most: to become a celebrated novelist despite her gender, and to marry Charlie, the boy next door and her first love. When Charlie proposes instead to a woman from a wealthy family, Ginny is devastated; shutting out her family, she holes up and turns their story into fiction, obsessively rewriting a better ending. Though she works with newfound intensity, literary success eludes her--until she attends a salon hosted in her brother's writer friend John Hopper's Fifth Avenue mansion. Among painters, musicians, actors, and writers, Ginny returns to herself, even blooming under the handsome, enigmatic John's increasingly romantic attentions. Just as she and her siblings have become swept up in the society, though, Charlie throws himself back into her path, and Ginny learns that the salon's bright lights may be obscuring some dark shadows. Torn between two worlds that aren't quite as she'd imagined them, Ginny will realize how high the stakes are for her family, her writing, and her chance at love."

My Review:

This book is a SheReads.org book of Summer! When I first started this book it reminded me so much of one of my all-time favorites: Little Women. It was very reminiscent with the setting, the sisters, and the feelings. I really like Ms. Callaway's writing style because it is a style that is very close to the style of classic literature. Not quite, but very close considering today's literature styles. It reminded me of all those classic books I read growing up. The characters are well developed, realistic, and they feel like your next door neighbors. At least at the beginning of the book. I liked that the characters had trial in their lives; life wasn't perfect. They struggled, but they always found a way to make it through. I especially liked Ginny's voice in the book. I liked her determination to improve her skills. However, about three quarters of the way through the book, the story took a turn that I did not like. Maybe it was realistic for the time period (?), but I was not a fan. The last quarter of the book had a different feeling, it got a lot darker, and it seemed way too out there for me. I was so disappointed. It wasn't awful, and maybe it was because of the sentimental feelings I had experienced at the beginning, but I just didn't love the last quarter of the book.

There was some profanity in this book, but not a ton. There wasn't any "intimacy," but there were a few instances where it almost went that far. There is some violence with a suicide attempt and the death of a couple of characters. There is also some drug use.

Rating: R (This book is not appropriate for younger readers. There is some profanity, some almost-"intimacy" scenes, a suicide attempt, a couple of character deaths, and some drug use. The end theme is very dark.)

Recommendation: Adult

Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

            

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

What Is My Biggest Piece of Advice For New Authors?



First-time authors quite regularly ask me for my advice. What do they ask? They want to know what they can do to make their books better. They want to know what they can do to improve their writing. They want to know what I recommend. I have two standard answers I give all first-time authors, and I wish more of them would listen! It makes a huge difference, and I can almost immediately tell if they have taken my advice or not. If I can tell then I promise them readers can tell too. 
What is my advice?

1. Hire An Editor

Please, please, please hire an editor!! I know it costs a lot, but I promise it is worth it! Spelling and grammatical errors are an immediate turn-off to readers (and reviewers). I knock my ratings way down for spelling and grammatical errors; they are VERY annoying! Editors can also help with other aspects of your book. Please! I promise it is worth it!


2. Hire A Good Artist Or Graphic Designer

Once again, I know it costs a lot. And I know that "You Should Not Judge A Book By Its Cover," but people (and reviewers) DO judge books by their covers. I have received books from first-time authors that I didn't even want to open because they looked so cheesy, cheap, and unprofessional. Unfortunately, that knocks my ratings down as well, and it gives me a bad taste in my mouth before I even open the book. Please don't let your uncle's neighbor's best friend's cousin design your book cover! Please hire a professional; it's so worth it!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

15 Ways To Get Kids Excited About Reading



   With all of the distractions in today's world (You know, all the things kids want to do all summer: video games, Pokemon Go, movies, tv, electronic devices, etc.) it can be difficult to get them excited about reading. Reading every day is so important, especially during the summer! Here are 15 things you can try to help them pick up a book without all the whining and moaning. 

1. Go to the library and have them sign up for their own library card. 

2.  While you're at the library, help children choose a wide variety of books. (Picture books, chapter books, nonfiction books, or comics.)

2. Take a family trip to the book store and allow children to pick out one book.

3.  Find books that interest your child. (Does he play baseball? Find books on famous baseball players. Does she like princesses? Find all the books on princesses that you can.)

4. Make sure you have books that are your child's correct reading level. (If books are too hard or too easy to read, children will get overwhelmed or bored. Have you heard of the High Five Rule? Have your child read a random page in the book. Every time he comes to a word he doesn't know he holds up a finger. If there are more words on the page that he doesn't know than fingers on his hand, the book is too difficult.)

5. Read to Your Children. (This is one of the most important!)

6.  Allow your children to see you read, and to see your love of reading. (This is one of my favorites! When children see that your to-do list goes out the window because you're lost in a book, they see the joy found in reading a book! Haha...."Sorry Honey, nothing got done today because I was being a good example for our kids." :) What is great, too, is to then recommend that book to your child after you have read it-if it is appropriate for them, of course!)

7.  Have a set time each day to read.

8.  Do not use reading time as a negative consequence for poor behavior.

9.  Have a family read-a-thon! (Remember the snacks and treats!)

10. Have children participate in a neighborhood or school Book Club. 

11. Make sure to have books in your home, a lot of them. Make sure they're easily accessible. 

12. As a family, read the book then watch the movie. (Growing up my dad read "The Princess Bride" to us, and then we all went and watched the movie together. The book and the movie are still some of my all-time favorites!)

13. Have children try all the different genres. (My boys love fiction/fantasy books. My daughter likes those too, but she REALLY likes history books. I never would have found that out if I hadn't made her try one.)

14. Ask children about the books they're reading. (Be interested in what they're reading. Ask about characters, plot, setting, and their favorite part. Get excited about it! This helps them know you care, and it also helps you make sure the book is a good fit!)

15. If your child doesn't like a book after the first few chapters, do not make him finish it! (There is not a rule that says you have to finish a book if you start it. If he doesn't like it, have him put it down and pick a different one. Continuing to read a book he doesn't enjoy will only make him frustrated, and that's one of the reasons kids decided they don't like reading.)

   Do you have any other suggestions or ideas? Please share them below!! What works for your family?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Last Ride to Graceland



Last Ride to Graceland by Kim Wright

Blurb:

"In Kim Wright's delightful novel, blues musician Cory Ainsworth is barely scraping by after her mother's death when she discovers a priceless piece of rock 'n' roll memorabilia hidden away in a shed out back of the family's South Carolina home: Elvis Presley's Stutz Blackhawk, its interior a time capsule of the singer's last day on earth. A backup singer for the King, Cory's mother, Honey, was at Graceland the day Elvis died. She returned home pregnant to South Carolina and married her high school sweetheart. Yearning to uncover the secrets of her mother's past-and possibly her own identity-Cory decides to drive the car back to Memphis and turn it over to Elvis's estate, retracing the exact route her mother took thirty-seven years earlier. As she winds her way through the sprawling Deep South, the burning question in Cory's mind-who is my father?-takes a backseat to the truth she learns about her mother's past."

My Review:

This is a fun summer SheReads.org read. I liked Cory's character and voice a lot. She is spunky, witty, and very well developed. Cory has just enough information to get her into trouble, but not enough to answer her questions. She gets herself into a few precarious situations, but has a good heart. This is a great story of a girl (well, ok, woman) who sets out to find her biological father, but ends up learning a whole lot about herself along the way. Some of her questions are answered, some are not, but she is able to more fully see herself. Elvis was a little before my time, and my parents didn't listen to him, so I really don't know much about him or his music (gasp!), but it was fun to read more about him and his last days. There are a few snippets in this book that are based on real events, but it is fiction. It is well written, and I enjoyed the writing style. The book flows well too. I like that it is a people story. I get tired of just action or fantasy sometimes, and it's fun to read a book that delves into people's lives. I loved this line: "But the road has taught me that sometimes the smartest thing you can do is just shut up and listen. People want to tell you their truth and they'll do it, if you give them half a chance." There are a few slow parts here and there, but overall I enjoyed the book.

There is profanity in this book, and more specifically, there are a lot of "f" words. It's very disappointing, annoying, and distracting. Ugh. If you'd just leave those words out the book would be a whole lot better! Anyway, I'll jump off my soapbox now. :) There are also a couple of "intimacy" scenes, and quite a bit of discussion about it, with some innuendos. There is also talk of paternity. There isn't any violence, but there are a couple of characters that do drugs. I enjoyed the book, but would have a hard time recommending it to friends because of the language. If language doesn't bother you then I definitely recommend it.

Rating: R (Profanity, including many "f" words, "intimacy" scenes, talk of, and innuendos, along with a couple of characters that do drugs)

Recommendation: Adult

Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.