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Friday, May 18, 2012

On the reading front...

Getting ready for our vacation in Costa Rica so I'm trying to finish reading all the books I'm in the middle of so I can start fresh on vacation. This time, I'll have books loaded on my tablet, so won't have to worry about picking, choosing, and making sure I have enough to last 10 days.

First, the books I'm finishing up:

The Sly Company of People Who Care by Rahul Bhattacharya. Two thumbs up (out of two - I'm going with the Siskel and Ebert approach). The author beautifully captures the enchantment and befuddlement of someone exploring a strange land. Although claiming to be a novel, I suspect the events he writes about are true, with perhaps some embellishment for the sake of plot. I most loved how perfectly he captures the dialect. While his lack of explanations for some of the slang terms might leave some readers confused, most can be deciphered from the context. For the more obscure phrases that can't be figured out phonetically, not defining them reflected a travelers reality--you might not understand everything, but you don't stop the moment to have it explained, you just take it in. Bhattachayra's prose is elegant and filled with the nostalgia of someone who's fallen in love with a place and knows the glow of early romance will wear off if he examines it too closely or remains for too long. His year in Guyana was the right amount of time for the country's stark, often grim truth beneath the infatuating surface to start to seep in, but not enough to kill it entirely. Highly recommend it.

Love Dreams by January Valentine. Before I tell you my rating, let me give you some background. My very first short fiction was published in The Skyline Review in 2008. After my novel Marina Melee was published, Victoria Valentine, the publisher of Skyline, interviewed me on her blog, Away with Words. In that interview, I told Victoria--a romance novelist as well as publisher--all about why I don't read romances. In a nutshell, I burned out on them at a far-too-tender-age, when I'd sneak them from my mother. Aside from those serving as my sex education (mom's version of "the talk" was "good girls don't"). As I got older, it became apparent that I don't have a romantic bone in my body. I find any and all romances to be melodramatic. Those Nicholas Sparks books everyone raves about? Ick. Bridges of Madison County? Puh-lease. I don't like those books and I don't like those movies (I am a sucker for romantic comedies, though.) But this book steps over the Harlequin romance bounds and dances on the edge of soft-core erotica--like many of the Favio-on-the-cover books I borrowed from mom.  So, when Victoria announced she had some early, pre-editing copies to give away, my first reaction was "ick." Then I thought about what a fun, vivacious person Victoria is, and how much I enjoyed our online exchanges. Maybe, if her personality came through in the writing, it would be okay. And who knows? Maybe I'm mellowing in my old age, maybe I'll appreciate a good romance.

Well, let me tell you...not so much. I was suppressing smirks and snarky comments through the entire book. It lived up to my expectations of cringe-inducing dialogue ("Are you thirsty?" "Only for you." Ack!!), predictability (happily-ever-after, of course), and overall schmaltziness. That said, I'm pretty sure it's everything fans of the genre expect: a Mary Sue heroine, a Gary Stu hero, star-crossed lovers, dark secrets in the past, incredible coincidences, frustrating misunderstandings, and a happy ending. It's also, so far as romances can be (no offense romance writers, just my preference) well-written with a coherent, pretty good for a romance storyline  (because all romance stories, at their heart, have the same plot and story arc). With all the hoopla surrounding Fifty Shades of Grey, I decided to do a quick comparison, just skimming the "Look Inside" preview offered by Amazon. Within two pages it was clear that the quality of January Valentine's Love Dreams is far superior. I can't say if the erotica is any better, and if you're looking for the BDSM, Love Dreams isn't the book for  you. But, if you're a romance reader looking for a romantic, happily-ever-after, after some ups and downs story, you'll enjoy this: two thumbs up. For fellow curmudgeons who don't like the genre, Love Dreams won't change your mind about it, no thumbs up for an average of one-thumb...and take that as a pretty high mark coming from me!

Sams Teach Yourself HTML and CSS in 24 Hours by Dick Oliver and Michael Morrison. Yes, you read that right. A technical book. I'm learning web design. I need an author's website--not just a blog--or so I've been told by "them" - all the author/book/writing marketing experts. I could pay someone to do this for me, but given all of the handy-dandy template tools and WYSIWYG software for webdesign, I could do it myself. I chose the latter, then decided I should have a better grasp of what's going on underneath all those easy-to-use tools. I signed up for the "Intro to Web Design" continuing ed class at the community college: 4 classes over 2 weeks, getting through 8 chapters of the book.

I can't tell you how excited I was when, within the first hour, I had a web page! Okay, not really, but I'd managed to get "Hello! Welcome to My Website" to pop up in Windows Explorer. The class--with a great instructor--obviously was helpful. But the book is a breeze to follow and very hands-on. I jumped ahead and did a lot of playing on my own time. Yes, I created a very rudimentary, amatuerish website. Definitely not ready for prime-time, but the progress I made, from knowing nothing to creating a multi-page website using HTML and CSS is pretty thrilling! I learned far more than I expected and enjoyed it more than I expected, so now I'm going to take the advanced class. I'm sure I'll end up using Artisteer and WordPress to create my "real site" when I'm ready, but in the meantime, it's nice to know more about how all this works. Two thumbs up for the book, and two thumbs up for the TTC continuing ed class and instructor Shawn Rosado.

Now for the books on the vacation reading list:

Outlaws, by fellow Internet Writing Workshop member Bill Weldy is being released today. That link takes you to an interview with Bill (the book isn't available just yet). Here's the blurb:
Ex-cop Josh Grant chooses to live as a recluse in the mountains of Idaho as penance for failing to protect his murdered wife and child in Detroit. His new serenity is shattered when he stumbles onto the murder of his only friend and an assault of his friend’s daughter, Jolene. By saving Jolene, Josh angers the Outlaws, a gang of vicious bikers. When they seek revenge, Josh must draw on old skills to keep he and Jolene alive.

Josh thought he'd left danger behind, but the Outlaws have other plans for his peaceful life.

The Good, the Bad, and the Crazy, by Mary Ann Duke, MD. The author went to my high school, graduating three years ahead of me. She was the valedictorian of her class, a great athlete--the girl who you knew was going to succeed. The book chronicles her rise to success as a surgeon and her death-spiral into drug and alcohol addiction.

America, You Sexy Bitch, by Michael Ian Black and Meghan McCain. Not scheduled for release until July 4 (according to the publisher) or June 12 (according to amazon), I have a pre-release copy I'm reviewing for the Internet Review of Books. From the description (click on the link), it promises to be great fun.

That's my list. How about yours? Have you read any good books lately? What's on your "to-read" list? Show More


  1. Have a great time! And happy reading!!

  2. Thanks, Holly!

    Love the picture of Jake, BTW!!