Books You Need to Read

I finished reading my 17th book of 2017 last night. I’ve committed to reading 70 books on the Goodreads challenge this year, and I am a little ahead of schedule – woo hoo! But I noticed something about my reading habits this year that is different than most years. My genres were all over the place. So I went through my favorites and figured the titles were varied enough that I had recommendations for everyone. So here goes (in no particular order):

MAKE ME LOVE YOU By Johanna Lindsey

To this day, the Mallory family has been one of my favorite “wish-I-could-be-one” families in literature. Just to be clear, this book covers the same time frame but does not mention the Mallorys. It just happens to be by the same author. A regency romance, this one has the brooding hero, the plucky heroine and lots of adventure romping all over England. Horses, wolves and a cat that loves sausage complete the picture. I brought this book to the table during meals, to my desk when I was supposed to be writing and sent the kids to bed early last night so I could finish it. If you love historical romances, you must read this one.

11/22/63 By Stephen King

So we all agree that Stephen King is a master storyteller. But some of his books I won’t even touch — because I know I’ll be so freaked out that I’ll probably need a prescription for anti-anxiety meds. Cell? OMG! I still shudder when I think of that one. The length of 11/22/63 might intimidate some people (at 850+ pages), but make the time. It’s SO worth it. Time travel (one of my absolute favs!), alternate reality…it was so unlike King and yet still wonderfully awesome. There are a ton of conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of JFK and I’d never really been interested enough to read about it until now. I finished this book in January and I still find myself thinking about the main character, Jake. Like he was a real person and you just wonder what he’s up to now. This one will take you a while, but keep at it. Well worth the read.

THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE By Janet Fox

I stole this one from my daughter’s bookshelf. As you can probably tell from the title, it’s intended for middle-grade and YA. But I challenge any adult Harry Potter fan not to love this one. Set in WWII, a group of children is sent to a run-down castle in Scotland to escape the London Blitz. Creepy castle…check. Mistress of the castle who isn’t exactly human…check. Nazi spy…check. Magically imbued objects…check. Lots of fun for the whole family. My daughter was dancing around, waiting until we could discuss this book without her giving anything away.

A FAMILY UNDER THE STARS By Christy Jeffries

While I am no stranger to Harlequin’s Special Edition line, Jeffries is a new-to-me author. And this review is especially for those of you who have asked me for more Scallop Shores books because you enjoy small town contemporaries, with repeat visits from characters popping back and forth between books. All her books are set in the fictional town of Sugar Falls, ID. This one involves a rugged outdoorsman and a by-the-book lifestyles expert. Doesn’t get much different than that, right? I absolutely fell in love with the grumpy grandfather, and her kids were adorably unique. Jeffries is wonderful at dropping in backstory and adding layer upon layer to her characters in just a sentence or two scattered here and there. I finished her book and thought, “Can I be her when I grow up?” Not only is this going in my keeper stack, but it’s on my reference shelf when I need help with my own plot structure.

THE LADIES ROOM By Carolyn Brown

I’d categorize this one as women’s fiction. There is romance in this book, but the main focus of the story is on Trudy and how her life gets turned upside down when she overhears some shocking news in the ladies room during her great-aunt’s funeral. Are you a big DIY fan? Trudy tackles some major renovations. Awkward/hurtful family interactions? By the boatload! I felt bad for Trudy. I felt hopeful. I cheered her on when things looked bleak. And I hollered out loud when she stood up for herself. She’s a gutsy gal and I think every woman out there will find a piece of themselves in this complex character. Read this one. Seriously.

Okay, your turn. You’ve seen a little bit about the kind of books I’m drawn to. What recommendations do you have for me? Time travel? Spooky castles and magic? Sexy, brooding heroes? I’ve got over 50 books left to read this year if I’m going to win the challenge. Help a girl out.

 

I Should Be…

 

I should be writing but…

I’m doing an emergency load of wash for Big Sis, who HAS to wear her green pair of pants today. I’m researching ideas for Little Guy, because he wants to ENTERTAIN everyone at the science fair this year. I’m helping hubby go door-to-door passing out flyers for the cub scout food drive because it was pouring too hard when he took the scouts out on Saturday.

I should be exercising but…

It’s raining…again. The treadmill sounds like it’s dying. I’m bored with my playlist. My workout clothes are now too small. My sneakers pinch my pinky toes.

I should be cooking better dinners but…

That huge bag of fish sticks is going to get freezer burned if I don’t use it up. The more effort I put in, the less everyone eats. My knives are dull, I can’t chop anything. I’ve gotten used to putting dinner on the table in less than fifteen minutes, thanks to Uncle Bens microwaveable rice. I hate cooking — I hate spending any amount of time in my kitchen. I hate my kitchen.

I should be doing laundry (the dishes, picking up) but…

There are only two more episodes of the latest Netflix addiction to watch. I’m drowning in my stack of TBR books – paperbacks and Kindle. It’s my turn on Words By Post (I play 12 games concurrently.) No one is home, it’s quiet and I don’t want to ruin the silence by running all sorts of chugging machines.

I should be promoting my books/brand but…

Does anyone really see it anyway? I feel like I’m pimping myself out – it’s way too uncomfortable. I’ve spent my life avoiding attention, so “Hey, look at me!” is not a concept I’m familiar with. I start helping other authors promote their books instead. I start one-clicking MORE books for my TBR pile while I’m on Amazon. I spend time talking to Disney and Tolkien fans, instead of potential readers, on Twitter.

I should be enjoying a glass of wine at the end of a long day but…

I’m herding Big Sis out of the steamy bathroom–where she’s spent the last 45 minutes using up my hot water. I’m listening to Little Guy’s latest “what if” story that involves dogs that can talk and walk on two legs, when he’s supposed to be sleeping. The dog waited until I sat down to tell me she really has to pee. When I got up to let the dog out, the cat stole my spot on the couch.

 

Book Reviews 101

reviewmeme3I made myself a New Years’ resolution this year that has been much easier to keep than dieting. It’s fun, it’s easy and it feels good. For every book I read, I leave a review on Amazon and Goodreads. It’s that simple. There have been one or two that I chose not to review, not because the author didn’t deserve a review, but because the author didn’t deserve a poor review. Some books just aren’t for us, and that’s okay. Some books probably could have used a lot more professional help getting them ready for publication. But as a fellow author, I don’t think it’s my place to chastise them in a public forum.

quoteIn talking to readers, I have found that the biggest reason they site for not leaving a review is fear of getting it wrong. They think there is a format. They must first summarize the book. Yes, several professional reviewers do this. No, it is not necessary. After all, that is what the book blurb is for, right? The gist of the review is to tell other readers what YOU thought of the book. Why did you like it? What didn’t work for you? Don’t give the ending away. That just spoils it for everyone. And don’t trash the author. They wrote that book out of love and passion for writing. So it wasn’t your thing. It still came from their heart. If you must express your misgivings, do it in as kind a way as possible. We’re all adults here.

A lot of readers don’t realize this, but the more reviews a book has, the more chances it has for marketing opportunities. Which is really unfair, but an established way of life. So the bestsellers, which don’t need any help, get all the promo spots, while the struggling mid-listers and those of us still in obscurity beg for reviews on the street corner. Authors can list their books with Ebook Soda and the Fussy Librarian if they have at least 10 reviews for their book. Know what? Out of five books I have on the market, ONE has enough reviews to actually list it with these email subscription sites. And those were mostly begged off friends and acquaintances. Heck, I’m not even qualified enough to tell you what an author with enough reviews can do for their books. The more reviews, the more possibilities to get your books before more readers.

wordofmouthI just finished a book last night. PARIS TIME CAPSULE, by Ella Carey. It was fabulous. And I want the world to know about it. So I wrote a review. http://www.amazon.com/review/R30M8U22S0TTUZ I posted it on Goodreads and Amazon. I pinned her book cover to my Pinterest page “Books I Recommend”. I tweeted the review link. Am I doing this for myself? No. But I felt passionately enough about how awesome that book was that I wanted others to discover it. I learned about it on Facebook when another author mentioned how she couldn’t put it down. Word of mouth, people. It’s the biggest marketing tool out there, and it starts with reviews.

reviewmeme1It’s simple, really. When you finish a book (preferably if you know you can give the author at least 4 stars), click “write your own review” on Amazon. Imagine you’re talking to a friend, telling them about this great book you just read. Why did you like it? What was a really unforgettable scene? Was it a character you absolutely fell in love with? Was it the author’s writing style? Did you want to keep turning the pages? Did you want to forgo sleep, hide from your family, ignore the household chores? Say that! It doesn’t have to be long and thought out. It just has to be honest. And no one cares if there are typos in your review. You are the reader, not the author. Something made you buy that book (or borrow it) and you’d be helping countless others if you shared your experience with them. There are SO many choices out there now. We need all the help we can get, as authors – to be discovered, as readers – to find the next great book escape.

Authors: Share your thoughts on what it means to receive a review for one of your books and help others to understand the importance of even the briefest review on Amazon.

Readers: If this doesn’t convince you to write at least one “test” review for a book you’ve read, tell us why. If I can’t help you craft a review you feel comfortable posting, I am sure there are countless others out there who can.

And to those of you who have ever taken the time to leave an author a review, thank you from the bottom of my heart.readingmeme

 

Giving Myself Permission To Be A Kid

300003aLast summer I was under deadline to finish a book. This past fall I signed a new contract that kept me busy through April. Then in May I got the bright idea to submit a story for a collection whose deadline was ridiculously too close for comfort. Deadlines = stress. They also create a crazy writer mom – just ask my kids. Sure, they love when I order pizza for dinner. But they prefer to eat that pizza with a loving, snuggling mother, not a distracted animal who may or may not bite.

I had planned to write a Christmas anthology over the summer. A self-imposed deadline this time. I also have three different series at various stages of plotting, inside my head. It can wait. It can all wait. My ideas aren’t going anywhere. In fact, the longer I wait, the more insistent they will become to jump out of my head and onto the screen. Anticipation can be a good thing.3000038

Instead of writing this summer, I am giving myself permission to take these precious few weeks off. I’m going to spend time with my kiddos. I’m going to look at life through their eyes. Yeah, I’ll still do laundry and cook dinner. Can’t get away from some adult responsibilities. And I’ll take advantage of other adult perks–like being able to drive us to our next adventure.WP_20150621_003

I think we’ve gotten off to a great start. We’ve created fairy gardens for the front yard. We built a sand castle and discovered a hermit crab and some freaky gelatinous substance that may or may not have been alive. We’ve charted new trails at the park that must be explored. We rode the Ferris Wheel on the Seattle waterfront. And we went out for ice cream.icecream

The kids are signed up for some summer camps. Last year I would have used this time to hole up in a coffee shop and write my heart out. This year I’m recharging my creative batteries. I have no idea WHAT I’ll do with my free time. But it will be relaxing and fun and something that I can look back on once I’m in my writing groove with fond memories, knowing I made great use of my time. A blanket, my Kindle and a quiet trail in the woods – perfect! Watching the dog stick her head out the car window in absolute bliss while we go for a summer drive – even better!

When the kids go back to school and I go back to work, the creative juices will be flowing. I’ll have all kinds of new memories to be able to use in one of my books someday. And maybe I won’t take on quite so many writing projects for the following school year. Because, like my children, I’m not a big fan of Crazy Writer Mom either.

How about you? What are your big plans for this summer? Anything that is making your inner child jump up and down with glee?

Taking Back My House

NOT a photo of our toy situation - just one I found online. ;)

             NOT a photo of our toy situation – just one I found online. 😉

Anyone want a HUGE toy kitchen? Or the boxful of plastic food and utensils that goes with it? Because I’ve got one to give away. That and a whole lot more. Duplos and Matchbox cars. Little People and Lincoln Logs. Race tracks and dinosaurs. My kiddos are growing up, and while part of me is sad to see this stuff go, a bigger part of me is doing the happy dance.

Why, you ask? Because for the last eight years, the entire downstairs of this new-to-us house belonged to the kids. It was great knowing they had a dedicated play space. But now that Big Sis is more interested in computers, music and taking quizzes in girly magazines and Little Guy has to be dragged off the Xbox in order to go to school in the morning, I’m starting to get ideas. Big ideas. Not just purging the playroom of unused toys, but repurposing the room into a place hubby and I might actually get to use.

He wants a dedicated desk where he can set up multiple computers. Done. I want a corner for a piece of exercise equipment. I even have the exact one in mind: A Bowflex Treadclimber.bowflex-treadclimber-tc20-2

A reading nook would be amazing. While there isn’t any money in the budget for a window seat (because how cool would THAT be?), I’m thinking we can spring for an extra-wide comfy chair with ottoman. I’d suggest a recliner, but then how much reading would get done and how much napping? Let’s be realistic.readingchair

And once the room is set up the way we (the adults of the household) like it, the last touch? Finally hanging the Lord of the Rings movie posters on the wall. Can you believe these have sat on the floor in a corner for almost nine years? They need some decent new frames, but the posters are still in great shape.lord of the rings trilogy

Thanks, kiddos, for sharing your space with us old fogies. And I insist we dedicate the very center of the room to Family Game Night. We’ll turn off the gadgets we normally can’t live without and spend some quality time together, laughing and goofing off. Just because we outgrow toys, doesn’t mean we’re ever too old to play. family-board-game-celebrate-parents-day

Jumping On The 50 Shades Bandwagon

Yeah, I’m not too proud to capitalize on a market trend. Writers have to do what they can to be seen in an industry as oversaturated as the romance genre. Right? Cool. If you’re looking for my opinion on FSoG (the book), that’s not what I intended to post about. Nor will I be reviewing the film (I have no interest in seeing it – no strong opinions, just no interest.)50shades

What I wanted to discuss is the spectrum – the wide scope of choices in romance that range from inspirational to erotica and beyond, and where I fit into things. Yes, I say beyond. There is 50 shades… and then there are the stories being published about dinosaur sex and unicorn sex. Seriously. It’s out there. And I think “beyond” is exactly how to describe that particular subgenre. *shudder*

Trying not to judge... but seriously - who reads this stuff???

Trying not to judge… but seriously – who reads this stuff???

Ever since I learned I was to be published, back in the summer of 2013, my RWA chapter mates referred to my books as “sweet”. “Jenn writes sweet romance.” “Oh, Jenn’s books are so sweet.” And while I never told them that, I found the term offensive. I write sex scenes. They’re detailed. There might be only one or two in a book, but they’re there. Legally, my publisher has to classify them as “sensual” to warn readers of graphic content. So how could my friends call them sweet?

Me... apparently.

Me… apparently.

I was recently asked to join a few other chapter members in a magazine interview that explored the romance genre from the writers’ perspective. http://www.theeastsidescene.com/news_features/290581411.html When I read the final interview, I realized the journalist did a great job choosing authors from a wide variety of subgenres – and that really gave the article an authentic representation.

This made me stop and think about what I write. Does it matter if I’m labeled sweet? If I am writing what I want to write, what I feel comfortable writing, then no. I read some erotica. I read m/m. I read menage. There are certain levels of heat or content that I shy away from. I feel like I should be up front about this because I made a vow (a New Year’s resolution to myself) to try to review every book I read this year.) So while it might look bizarre for a “sweet” small town contemporary author to review something out of her writing range, the author that was brave enough to write it still deserves a review that helps them reach their own unique group of readers.

Channing Tatum. Yummy, much?

Channing Tatum. Yummy, much?

Everyone has preferences. And everyone knows what they are willing to read and what is just too much for them. The great thing about the romance market is that there is something for everyone. And instead of feeling offended that I’ve been labeled “sweet”, I ought to feel confident that I have found my niche in this market. I need to embrace it and spend my time looking for readers who enjoy a quick sex scene or two, instead of a book that wouldn’t be complete without the hero and heroine hooking up in every chapter. To each his own. Let’s just enjoy the heck out of reading, in general.

What is your favorite go to in the romance genre? I *love* time travel romance and have to give major props to authors that can pull it off. That’s my guilty pleasure because I KNOW I could never write a time travel. I leave it to the professionals. 😉 Way to go, ladies (and men). Thank you for the countless hours of reading enjoyment.

Writer Mom – Crochet Addict

When does a hobby become an obsession? I have a walk in closet in my bedroom, and an ever increasing portion of it is full of yarn. I think I’m on a first name basis with all the cashiers at Michaels. I can quit any time…really… I just don’t want to. 🙂

yarn

When I was pregnant with my oldest, I tried to start my own crochet business. Creations in Crochet. Had a spiffy business license in a frame and everything. I belonged to a crafters co-op and did pretty well selling slippers, scrunchies and all manner of baby items in our little store on the grounds of a winery in San Diego.

I was so excited to finally be making an afghan for a girl after several years' worth of boy blankies.

I was so excited to finally be making an afghan for a girl after several years’ worth of boy blankies.

Then we moved to the Seattle area and I checked out a few craft fairs. I found that a LOT of people crocheted out here and it probably wasn’t worth my trouble to compete with the rest of them. But I still had that itch to scratch. Thank God for kids, mine, friends, preschool classes… I stayed busy making baby afghans for those of us adding to our families. Then I moved on to making Christmas stocking ornaments for my kids’ preschool classmates. Once they got into elementary school, I made scarves for the bus drivers and their teachers. And I am always up for handmaking booties or a precious little dress for a baby shower.

Can you tell I love crocheting for baby girls???

The baby-making seems to have slowed down lately. This past year my crocheting efforts went toward the non-profit group Hopelink. A group of friends decided to make felt stockings and bought goodies to fill them with. I know my strengths, and I should not be allowed near a sewing machine. So I crocheted as many scarves for the stockings as I could finish in about six weeks — which was exactly nine. This year I plan to do a lot more. I love to crochet while watching TV after the kids have gone to bed.

I know I have so many more pictures I could post on here of crochet-projects-past. I guess those will have to go in a future post. I even have an old business card floating around… Sigh. Another time.

What is your hobby/obsession? Leave me a pic in the comments of something cool you’ve made. I’d love to see it.

 

 

Just A Regular Morning (This Is Normal, Right?)

You ever get the feeling you are living in a sitcom? You start to wonder where the cameras are hidden because, seriously, this is too crazy to be real life, right? Yeah, that was me this morning.

It started with me swiping a frosted brownie bite for breakfast and stuffing the whole thing in my mouth before the kids could see and demand their fair share. What they don’t know won’t kill ’em. Then coffee…blessed coffee and catching up on email. Holy crap! Little Guy’s teacher sent an email reminding us about early dismissal on Thu. and Fri. When was that decided? Did anyone else know? Thank God I actually read the dang thing. My kids would be the only ones hanging out waiting for the ‘no show’ parent. Good grief!overwhelmed

Let the dog out 15 minutes after she came in the last time. Does she need to pee? No, there are just some insanely awesome smells to investigate on the porch. Kids think if they don’t announce their presence, they can sneak out to the living room and get in a few minutes of video games. Busted! Could Little Guy please go wake up Daddy. Sure. Next thing I know, he’s flipped on the overhead light and screamed at the top of his lungs. What? You asked me to wake him up. Oy!th (1)

Big Sis heads to the bathroom at 7:15 to shower and get ready. 8 AM Little Guy is banging on the door, waiting to brush his teeth. 45 minutes? Really? And she’s only ten years old! What is life going to be like when she’s a teenager? OMG!

Putting lunches together for the kids. I notice the yogurt I just bought yesterday for Little Guy’s lunch expired on Jan. 31st. I throw an extra ice pack in the lunch box and tell myself he’s got a strong stomach. Mother of the year, folks! There is no room on the kitchen counter to maneuver because the dirty dishes still haven’t been loaded into the dishwasher. Big Sis, where are you? I’ll do it. I’ll do it. Sure you will.funny-mom-pic3

I have five minutes before everyone goes out the door for the day. Socks, shoes, coats. What am I doing? Forging a reading list for the month of January for Little Guy’s teacher. Total BS. Do I bother switching out pens to make it look like I was writing everything down the whole month? No time. Make stuff up. I call myself a writer and yet I can barely find time to read to my kindergartner. His sister read to him out of a couple of manga books. That counts, right? Write it down.

They’ve left for school/work. The house is quiet. The dog needs to go out and sniff again. I need another cup of coffee — and maybe another brownie bite. Is it Friday yet?mom1