So much to say and so little space to say it! I just realized how much I had going on at the original "From the Cheap Seats" and decided to start a little cousin blog. This blog will focus on book reviews and writings of a more creative nature.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Book Review and Giveaway: Perfect on Paper by Maria Murnane

Publisher: Wink's Ink
314 pages
Available at Amazon

Can you even imagine going through the exciting, yet often tedious, wedding preparations only to have it called off by the person with whom you were to walk down the aisle?

Why does said person call off the most important day of your life?

Because, he's just not that into you.

Can you imagine?

Maria Murnane sets the tone of her story within the first few pages where we find the protagonist eagerly preparing for her upcoming nuptials in one scene and having her heart crushed by her seemingly coldhearted fiance in the next. Murnane weaves a tale that is not unlike those penned by other writers of a similar genre (think: Jane Green and Emily Giffin).

Waverly, the novel's protagonist, is a smart, albeit awkward yet endearing character with whom you can't help but to empathize. Her career life seems ideal, filled with superstars and lively parties (where Waverly often finds herself in somewhat socially inconvenient situations). After recovering from her near-nuptial letdown, she hesitantly enters the dating world only to discover that while there are dates to be had, there is no one really worth dating.

Murnane spends a relatively short time on Waverly's dating life. Instead she focuses on the development of Waverly herself. Through her adventures and misadventures, a tentative and self-conscious young lady emerges as a confident and independent woman, without even seeming to notice it herself.

With deft use of conversational prose, Murnane pulls the reader in just as a friend would engage her girlfriends over drinks, discussing her latest romantic interlude. A reader can't help but lean in and ask for more, hanging on each word and signaling the bartender to get her another margarita at the same time.

Just as I would begin to feel that the situations and outcomes were rather formulaic "chick lit", Murnane's welcoming wit and Waverly's utter charm enrich the story with unique, yet relatable moments. Even Waverly's hard-to-fathom turn of fortune in the last third of the novel is easier to digest once it is realized that even with sudden fame and promising love, nothing is ever perfect.

From Waverly's humiliating encounters with potential suitors (such as blurting out to a crush, "I've never kissed so many boys in my life.") and her "Everygirl" appeal to the winsome Honey Notes, peppered throughout the novel, and the excremental anecdote (you'll know what I'm referring to when you read it), Murnane weaves the single girl's tale about love, life and trying to figure it all out.

The Winner of the Giveaway: Allison from Allison Says! Congrats!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"The Writing Life" by guest author Cyndia Depre

One of the neatest things about writing is that ideas are everywhere. Someone famous, I can’t remember who, said, to paraphrase, “A writer is always writing. Even when they’re looking out the window.” That’s so true. When an idea for a story comes, I think of what I could do with it. What could make it interesting enough for me to spend the next six months or year on it? Would it be interesting to readers? If I think so, then I set my imagination loose. There is only one boundary for me. It must be believable.

I write what’s in my heart. An Oprah show made me ache inside for women who had been victimized. That empathy spurred me to write Amanda’s Rib. Intolerance really makes me angry, and attacking it was the inspiration for Oblivious. Amanda’s Rib is dark. Oblivious is cheerful. But both have a message. We don’t read just one type of book, so why write only one style?

There is no set schedule for my writing. Who needs the stress of trying to force words they don’t feel like writing? I work with a lot of new writers, and many of them are young women. They usually have a job, a husband or significant other, and kids. How they find the time and energy to write astounds me. I’m in awe of them. What dedication! I usually wake up with ideas in the night and sit on the bathroom floor making notes. In the morning I organize my midnight scribbles. If I feel like writing, I do. I don’t do character charts or outlines. I tried, but kept straying, which made me feel guilty. The characters come to me with names, histories, faces, voices, etc. I make a note of their ages and birthdays and that’s it. My first draft is the outline. I write the ending first, then work toward it. If a scene comes to me out of order, I write it and save it for where it fits. In short, I probably do everything wrong. But it works for me, and that’s all that matters.

I had an agent for a while, but we parted on genial terms. She wanted changes, and I made most of them. There were two I refused to budge on, even if it meant I never found a publisher. She understood. I did send out more queries to agents, and got many requests for full manuscripts. But they all wanted one change, one the original agent wanted, and I wouldn’t make it. After that I represented myself. Doing that limits the publishers who will look at your work, but Mundania Press did. They wanted Amanda’s Rib, with no changes! They are a small house, which can be difficult. But they do their best in a competitive business and a bad economy. They’ve treated me in a fair, honest, kind manner. Gads, I’ve heard horror stories about some publishers. I feel very lucky.

I’m currently working on my third novel. It brings in a few characters from Amanda’s Rib and Oblivious, but focuses on two new protagonists.

PS About that change I wouldn’t make….that’s probably the best decision I made. Readers say they like it as I wrote it. So trust your instincts!

By Cyndia Depre, the author of Oblivious and Amanda's Rib.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Book Review: The River, by Moonlight by Camille Marchetta

Publisher: Virtual Bookworm
359 pages
Available at Amazon

Loss is something that each and every one of us will feel during some point in our lives. Some, more than others. Often, after a loss, we are left with questions that rage around inside a flurry of emotions. Why?

When someone we love takes his or her own life, those questions are like fists pounding against a brick wall. Each question brings on the agonizing "what ifs" and "if onlys." The damage to the spirit is only compounded by the searing pain over never really knowing the why.

Camille Marchetta explores the tragedy of loss through the revealing journey into the lives, emotions, and thoughts of those who are most impacted by loss--those who are left behind. It is a painful and agonizing journey at times, but with Marchetta's talent for exploring grief and loss while maintaining a essence of hope, the story becomes a testament to not only the frailties of human nature, but also to the strength of the human spirit.

The story opens with a simple phone call. A call that no parent should ever have to endure. There has been an accident. A valiant attempt by a vagrant to save a young woman fails as she falls into New York City's Hudson River. Mystery shrouds the beautiful young artists death. Was it an accident or did Lily Canning take her own life? Those left behind, including her mother, her best friend, her ex-husband, and a family friend, are left to wrestle with not only the loss of Lily, but also with the reasons why a young woman with immense talent, beauty and so much promise would quite possibly take her own life.

Marchetta is exceptionally gifted at delving into the lives of her characters and exploring not only who they are as individuals, but also who they are within the context of the story and the central character, Lily. Each chapter is told by a different character. Although she tells each of their stories in third person, there is no doubt that each character possesses his or her own voice. I found this to be a powerful and effective aspect to Marchetta's story telling. One of my biggest frustrations as a reader is to lose out on learning more about the characters within a work. Who are they? Where did they come from? What are their experiences? I don't need the minutiae, but I do appreciate the details that help enrich the story and thus my experience as a reader.

"This time, with the name, images of her daughter came flooding into Henrietta's mind, not recent images, but ones of Lily as a baby, beautiful from the moment of her birth, with a long slender body, elegant fingers and toes, silky dark hair, and perfect features [ . . . ]She was an eager, curious toddler, a rambunctious youngster, not really frail at all[ . . . ] There was such a look of impermanence about her; so pale, so ethereal did she seem, it was hard to believe that she had come to stay."

As a mother, I found this rather prescient passage to be emotionally powerful. Parents often journey into the past with their memories. And loss only makes this journey more compelling. Marchetta tugs at a reader's curiosity and natural empathy with her her words. And her characters work to bring those words to life.

I was moved by this novel in ways I had not expected. Once again, The River, by Moonlight, a tragic story set in the early 20th century is not one I would typically choose. although Marchetta cleverly interweaves the complexities of the time period with the lives of the characters, it is the emotional journey that draws in the reader. I read this one in one night. One night. Although I am rather exhausted this early Wednesday morning, I have absolutely no regrets.

Marchetta's style is easy and not bogged down with superfluous language and details, for which I am grateful. There are questions left to be answered even after you read Lily's chapter, which takes place only hours before her death. Marchetta provides some level of closure as the novel comes to close by taking readers five years into the future. However, Marchetta clearly knows that life is simply not that easy and still as you turn the last page you are left pondering not only the true impact of Lily's death on those who knew her best, but also on the questions that remain long after we are gone.

This book review has been brought to you by Blog Stop Book Tours.

Book Giveaway Winner
Kristen from Loving Our Simple Life!
Thanks to all those who entered.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Book Giveaway WINNER: Midwife of the Blue Ridge by Christine Blevins

And the winner is . . .
Angie @ KEEP BELIEVING! Congratulations. E-mail me with your mailing information!

Stay tuned . . . another review and giveaway is coming soon!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Book Review and Giveaway: The Midwife of the Blue Ridge by Christine Blevins

417 Pages
Available at Amazon

After her mentor dies, a beautiful young woman known as Dark Maggie finds herself without a home and yearning for a new beginning. She signs away her life for four years as an indentured servant and leaves her home in Scotland for colonial America. After surviving the ship's treacherous conditions as well as a near-rape by an evil nobleman, she makes her way to America and finds her contract sold to the kindhearted Seth Martin.

Maggie is a godsend to Seth's family as she cares for his ailing wife. Not only does the once Dark Maggie find acceptance, she also finds love. Unfortunately, her peaceful existence is short-lived as tragedy strikes and Maggie must use everything she has in order to survive.

Did I get your attention yet?

Well, this story sure got mine. And kept it until I turned the last page. That is rarity and even more so because this was yet another departure from my typical reading fare.

I am sometimes leery of historical fiction out of fear that I will be bogged down with historical facts and details. I want a well-crafted story where the historical setting works to enhance the story. And this is exactly what I got. The details Blevins does provide are riveting, such as the hardships faced by not only the frontiersmen, but by the women of early America where their value was always under question. Blevins does not spare any details and it is those types of details, the ones that pull you into the raw human experience, that keep you reading.

Blevins deftly crafts her characters with a unique understanding of the time period. More importantly, she creates characters that you can't help but feel for as their story unfolds. I found Maggie's character to not only be intriguing, but also very real. She exemplified courage and strength while at the same time showing a vulnerability that made you root for her and her happiness until the very end.

If there are any criticisms of this book, it is that I simply wanted more. Right from the first page Blevins draws in the reader with a obvious tragic situation. Maggie's soon-to-be foster mother and her rescuer are made into powerful characters in only a few pages. I found myself wanting more of their story. Not much of a criticism, but maybe an idea for a future novel . . .

Blevins is a skillful writer and a knowledgeable historian. From historic details to the unique vernacular, she clearly knows her time period, but more importantly she knows how to build a powerful story. I was mesmerized and that is not something that happens very often to this former English teacher . . . not at all .

Blevins is definitively an author to keep on your must read list.

This book review has been brought to you by Blog Stop Book Tours.

* * *
Midwife of the Blue Ridge can be yours! Just leave a me a comment in the comments section and I'll randomly draw ONE winner on Saturday, September 13. And let me just say, I am reluctantly giving this one away. I love sharing books, but sometimes you come across one you'd just like to keep for yourself. But, dear readers, this is such a good one, I must share.

Oh, and let's make this a little interesting. Tell me in your comments the time period that you like to read about the most. For me, I'm a sucker for the medieval period. Something about knights, mysticism, castles and lore . . . and did I mention, knights?

Good luck!

EXCITING NEWS UPDATE!!! From the author Christine Blevins: "Keep your copy and email me the me the name and address of the winner. I will ship them out a brand spankin' new signed copy, along with some other midwifey goodies." WOW!!! THANK YOU!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Book Giveaway WINNER: The Bunko Babesby Leah Starr Baker

You are all fantastic! What a honest bunch you all are. If I could, I'd award you all with a little something. But, isn't knowing me reward enough? Don't answer that . . .

And, on to the winner . . . The RANDOM winner of the giveaway is WENDI from Because Wendi Says So! Congrats, Wendi!

Hey, head on over to Wendi's and check out her smashing new blog look. And while you're there . . . get to know her. She's one of those bloggers you can't help but like. I swear. Now go.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Book Review and Giveaway: The Bunko Babes by Leah Starr Baker

Emerald Pointe
364 Pages
Available at Amazon

You might be inclined to dismiss this read as yet another foray into the multitude of stories that has collectively become known as Chick Lit, a term that that I feel dismisses stories told by women about women as being shallow and hackneyed.

Some "Chick Lit" stories may be considered light, fun and easily digestible while lying on a beach or sipping tea in the backyard. There are also stories that challenge the intellect and the soul (my Ben and Jerry stories--yes, you must read them while clutching a pint of Cherry Garcia). Other stories reach deep inside and pull at your heart and make you reconnect with long-lost emotions (tissue, please). Some stories have a little bit of everything. Trite. I think not.

I believe Becca Thorton, wife, mother, Bunko player and the not-so-likable protagonist (don't worry, she has a few redeeming qualities) in Leah Starr Baker's first novel, would agree.

Becca is a wife, mother, Bunko player, and a woman of faith. She has traits that many of can relate to even though we may not wholeheartedly like. The story unfolds on a game table with a few dice where Becca's friends gather and share laughs, tell stories and sometimes, long after the last die has been thrown, open up and share the raw and sometimes gut-wrenching details of their lives. From chronic illness and infertility to loss and infidelity, the challenges each of the Bunko Babes face are ones with which readers will connect.

Becca is flawed, which can be hard for readers to digest being that she is the central character in the novel. She comes off as selfish and self-centered at times, which is why many readers may find they connect with Becca's colorful cast of friends more than Becca. Although Becca's attitude may irritate some readers, there is a payoff (albeit rather late in the read). Readers learn first-hand of her stuggles with a chronic illness as Becca ultimately travels a road of personal redemption.

The easy banter, peppered with snappy comebacks, between the women, the engaging conversations with friends, Becca's accounts of her illness, truthful revelations, highly emotional and intense scenes between friends, and the ever present Christian influences make the novel a little more than a light beach read.

Leah Starr Baker is a first-time author and although the story is awkward and predicatble at times, there is little doubt that the author will grow into her writing as well into her characters. I'm eager to see what's next. Hmmm...maybe The Domino Dolls? Just sayin'!

GIVEAWAY---On a personal note, although this contemporary Christian meets chick lit novel is not my usual fare, there were a few characters with whom I truly connected. Some of their stories resonated with me long after I finished the novel. Which is why I would like to share this book with you. As an English teacher I am quick to give books away to family and friends. I love sharing stories and watching as other connect with them as I do. By the way, has anyone seen my copy of Arranged Marriage?

To win a SIGNED copy of Leah Starr Baker's novel The Bunko Babes, simply leave me a comment. Oh, but wait! There's more. In the spirit of the novel (and my review) you must share with us your most annoying trait. Please, not "I pick my nose" or "snap my gum." Dig a little deeper. Are you OCD to a fault? Do you have a tendency to talk over your friends? Do you tell stupid jokes, ALL THE TIME? Whatever it is . . . spill.

The winner will be announced on August 1st. Good luck!!!

This book review has been brought to you by Blog Stop Book Tours.