Thursday, February 28, 2013

Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch By Constance Hale

Writers know it instinctively: Verbs make a sentence zing. Grammar gurus agree: Drama in writing emerges from the interplay of a subject (noun) and a predicate (verb). Constance Hale, the best-selling author of Sin and Syntax zooms in on the colorful world of verbs. Synthesizing the pedagogical and the popular, the scholarly and the scandalous, Hale combines the wit of Bill Bryson with the practical wisdom of William Zinsser. She marches through linguistic history to paint a layered picture of our language—from before it really existed to the quirky usages we see online today. She warns about habits to avoid and inspires with samples of brilliant writing. A veteran teacher, Hale gives writing prompts along the way, helping readers “try, do, write, play.” Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch  guides us to more powerful writing by demonstrating how to use great verbs with style.

I truly enjoyed reading this book. A lot of books on writing that I do read at this point often re-hash the same information as other books: new information is rare. This book focuses not necessarily on writing, but on words.  We learn the history of English, how some words are stronger than others, proper grammar usage. If you follow me on Facebook  you'll have noticed I quoted this book several times.  What you may not know is that I have a long list, from this book alone, of books I should do my best to eliminate from my story and everything discussed is well explained.

I found this book invaluable and I will probably purchase it for my own shelves.  I borrowed it from the library.  I also plan on checking into Constance Hale's Sin and Syntax.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Promises To Keep By Amelia Atwater-Rhodes

I must admit something before I say anything else about this book. Amelia Atwater-Rhodes is the author that got me to take my writing seriously.  I was twelve when I read her book, In the Forests of The Night.  She'd written it at 13, published it at 14.  She was the first teenage author I was aware of and us being so close in age had me swearing I'd try getting published by the time I was 15.  Getting published didn't happen, at least not that early and not in novel-writing, but I started writing daily, studying the craft and basically internet stalking her. I've read every book she's published, including the short story she published in the anthology 666.

I grew up, and my stalker habits  faded. I still read Amelia's books and keep an eye on her sporadic posts on her website.  Mainly for book updates, I swear. I also follow her on Facebook, which is how I managed to get an ARC (Advanced Readers Copy) of Promises to Keep. Thanks again Amelia!

With that admission out of the way, we can begin with the review.

I wasn't sure what to expect of Promises to Keep after the release of her last book Poison Tree, which felt dated and stretched to the point of being unrealistic, even in terms of the world she created.  The last few books she's published didn't feel as ready for publication as others. This one...felt much more put together than Poison Tree, but their were still things...

I saw no real point to the prologue in this book.  It introduces Daryl, and Brina and the fall of Midnight. We met Daryl and learned about Midnight in Midnight Predator. There was a brief mention of  Jeshickah, who we also met in Midnight Predator. And hints of a pact by a Sara Vida, not the Sarah Vida in Shattered Mirror or All Just Glass, another one.  Jeshickah and Sara Vida are not mentioned again in the book, nor is the pact, which bothered me. How did it connect to the rest of the story? Sarah Vida from previous books is frequently mentioned but does not make a physical appearance.

The prologue would have been better if it related to the book,  perhaps introducing elementals instead. From what I've gleamed on the subject, Elementals are the incarnations of the elements, fire, water, wind, blood...  I kept imagining them in human form, but I'm not sure that's what Amelia meant to convey. And I can't tell you how much of my impressions of Elementals are because of Promises to Keep and how much are from previous books where they were mentioned, if not made a very short appearance.

Chapter 1 starts in the middle of a fight scene. The scene is later revealed to have no real importance in the story other than to cause the main character, Jay, to be late to a party. Being late is how he obtains information he didn't know he'd need until much later.  Why he couldn't receive the same information from his invitee, I don't know.   But once Jay walks into the party, the story takes place.

I believe one character from each of Atwater-Rhodes' previous books, with the exception to the Kiesha'ra series, make a cameo appearance in Promises to Keep. And they're true Cameo appearances, some of them only a paragraph long.  It was nice to see the characters on stage again, but I  wanted them to do a lot more on screen than showing up for a role someone else could easily have been assigned. Some of the reappearing characters have supporting roles in the book, like Caryn Smoke.

Other issues I had: Brina seemed to have a complete personality change half-way through the book.  There is a slight transition for the change, but it didn't seem enough.  When we first meet her she's in deep mourning for her brother, the change happens and she's still a demanding brat, but a few pages later she's a light-hearted girl who seems to have forgotten all about her brother Daryl.

After finding an unconscious girl, later revealed to be named Pet, Jay goes in search of answers about her. He  receives the only important information before he goes into the woods, where he finds the new  Midnight. Midnight is basically the headquarters of the slave trade and the major setting for Midnight Predator. Afterwards, pages are spent with him deciding how to figure his way out of the woods.  Then Midnight is never mentioned again.

Jace goes back to Haven number 2, awakens the girl, who disappears, supposedly seeking revenge on Midnight (the ones who did her wrong). We see Pet once more before the book ends.  But we never know what happens to her.  Did she survive?  Was she killed?

 Other questions are left unanswered: Does Jay end up with Zeke or Brina? What does Brina do with her life after she became human? Did anything happen to the new Midnight after Jay found it? If, so, how did this affect the characters in Midnight Predator?  Their are more questions I wanted answers to but I believe those were the biggest ones. As of this writing, I do not believe Amelia has a follow-up book planned for this story. So I may not receive answers. Other than those issues, I found the book enjoyable. Jay is an interesting character, with a new perspective.

For those of you who see me referencing so many characters from previous books and haven't read any of Amelia Atwater-Rhodes' work, don't worry.  Although the reappearance of several characters is nice for a long-time follower to see, I do not believe their appearance would keep new readers from completely enjoying or understanding this book.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

How to Write a Great Beginning

For those of you who follow me, you know I participate in a lot of workshops available at SavvyAuthors. I'm currently taking a class on how to write a great beginning and one of the assignments was to find two great first sentences, two great first paragraphs, two great first pages. Afterwards, comment on why we think they're great. I thought this was a great exercise and should share the results with you. Later, when we discuss what makes a bad beginning, I may share those results with you as well.

  1st Sentence:
The box was a mystery, and for that reason it was the most exciting gift Mary had ever received.
New Orleans Legacy by Alexandra Ripley, Historical, Adult
Comments: This is the very first sentence in the book. I know for a fact that the box that Mary is excited about is going to have a huge impact on her life. What, though, could a box do to change a person's life?

2nd first Sentence:
Family Secrets are like terrible birthday gifts.
After Midnight by Lynn Viehl, YA
Comments:I really wanted to actually use this as a page, but decided the first sentence worked well enough without the full page. I find the comparison unusual. Secrets = terrible birthday gifts? And I'm curious about what secrets she has. And why they are so terrible.

1st Paragraph:
I close my eyes, hoping he won't come tonight. It's later than usual. I hope he's given up, or just gone, and I can finally sleep. Cool air blows through the window, and I marvel at my bravery. Or stupidity. It's opened just a crack, no more than an inch. But until tonight I've kept it closed, so I know he'll be wondering what it means.
Uninvited by Amanda Marrone, YA
Comments: This is actually one of the few books I bought solely on the first paragraph. I found myself reading through the entire page than the chapter and was like....I need to buy this thing. The first paragraph intrigued me. I feel a connection with the girl's apprehension right away and I'm curious as to who he is and why she doesn't want to see him. Also, why does he persist in whatever he wants?

  Second 1st Paragraph:
Darius looked around the club, taking in the teeming, half-naked bodies on the dance floor. Screamers was packed tonight, full of women wearing leather and men who looked like they had advanced degrees in violent crime. Darius and his companion fit right in. Except they actually were killers.
Dark Lover, by JR Ward, Urban Fantasy, adults
Comments: This one I wasn't so sure about using. I bought the book because of the one page excerpt at the beginning of the book and not for the actual beginning. We get a good description right off. However so many Urban Fantasy novels start in a similar way. A dance club, half-naked people, etc. What really intrigued me though was the last line. They were actually killers. What kind of killers were they? Did they kill humans? Vampires? Some other boogey? It made me curious enough to read the next paragraph and then the next....

Full Page:
Have you ever had such a horrible day that you wondered why your mother didn't just eat you at birth like a gerbil does and spare you the hassle?
We've all had days like that. I've had a lot of them--way more than my fair share if I want to be whiny about it (which I don't because I try really hard not to be a whiner), but none can compare to the day I accidentally opened a demon portal with my zit cream.
Oh, yeah. I did. Would this happen to anyone else? Probably not. But for me, Kenzie Sutcliffe, it is totally typical. If there is mud to step in, ketchup to squirt on my shirt, or a volleyball to be hit on the head with, I will manage it. What can I say? It's a gift.
Demon Envy by Erin Lynn, YA
Comments: I was stalking this author before this book comes out. She usually goes by Erin McCarthy but since this was a YA book she decided to use Erin Lynn. Since I trusted her as a writer, I bought the book without really looking at it. But I absolutely love Mackenzie's voice in this story. She sounds very teenagery and we immediately know what the major plot will revolve around.

Second full page:
Roman Draganesti knew someone had quietly entered his home office. Either a foe or close friend. A friend, he decided. A foe could never make it past the guards at each entrance of his Upper East Side Manhattan townhouse. Or past the guards stationed on each of the five floors.
With his excellent night vision, Roman suspected he could see much better than his uninvited guest. His suspicions were confirmed when the dark silhouette stumbled into a Louis XVI bombe chest and cursed softly.
Gregory Holstein. A friend, but an annoying one. The vice president of marketing for Romatech Industries tackled every problem with tireless enthusiasm. It was enough to make Roman feel old. Really old. "What do you want Gregori?"
His guest whipped around and squinted in Roman's direction. "Why are you sitting here, all alone in the dark?"
"Hmm. Tough question. I suppose I wanted to be alone. And in the dark. You should try it more often. Your night vision is not what it should be."
How to Marry A Millionaire Vampire by Kerrelyn Sparks, Urban Fantasy, Adult
  Comments: This one I think originally caught my eye because of the title. Was she like a gold digger who wanted a millionaire and ended up with a vampire who happened to be a millionaire? No. Not at all. But that's what caught my attention first. The excerpt at the front of the book intrigued me but the first page sealed my fate. It shows Roman's personality at the beginning of the book, the humor Kerrelyn Sparks frequently uses in her books and made me curious: why would he need so much security? What's described in the first paragraph sounds excessive, even for a foreign diplomat.

What do you think of my choices?  And what books would you use as examples in this exercise?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Warm Bodies Podcast

Ollie, Cyna and I got together again and talked about a movie we all saw, Warm Bodies. During a previous podcast we discussed our opinions on the various book-to-movie trailers that are or have come out this year. This time we added a great-gal to our podcast, Kayla, Cyna's co-blogger. Check out our podcast site if you're interested in seeing what we've done previously.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Boise Run/Walk III--Killing myself with Exercise

I'm getting used to this walking thing.  I really am.  At least when the ground is flat.  Today I walked three miles, which probably wouldn't have been hard at all if we hadn't been trekking up Shaw Mountain Road. I can't tell you how deep the incline is, but I felt every step as we walked up the hill. I stopped several times to try stretching out my calves so I could continue going.

Everything ran a little differently today at Boise Run/Walk. One of the coaches, asked me where I had disappeared to during last weeks Run/Walk because he'd been looking for me.  I told him where I'd ended up and it sounds like I definitely went in the wrong direction.  So he spoke to a few people he knew to be walkers and arranged for them to accompany me.

Instead of a lesson before our long walk, we had a review, in which the person who answered correctly--or gave the best answer--got a bag full of goodies as a prize.  I'm pleased to say that I did win such a bag and plan to put the goodies to good use.  In the package was a pair of socks--the kind actually meant to run or walk in, a RaceCenter magazine, an artistic rendering of someone running and a $20 gift card to Shu's Idaho Running Co.  I've never even heard of RaceCenter Magazine, and despite having heard of Shu's since joining Run/Walk I have yet to be there.  The socks I've never had before.  I hate socks as a general rule, but I've found they are really necessary for extended walking/running.  So I'll be experimenting with all the materials.

After the review, we did our warm up, which meant lunges--God how I hate lunges--jumping jacks, butt kickers, high knees and other general warm ups.

Shaw Mountain Road: Picture Taken From ADV Rider
Then we walked.  For 10kers like me, the goal was three miles.  Most of the members did the Robie training though, which meant 8 miles for them.  Some chose to go even further than that.   I must bow down to the stamina most of the members have. I probably wouldn't have had much trouble going three miles today if we were on flat ground the entire or even most of the time.  But no.  Today, we climbed hills. Specifically, Shaw Mountain Road.

 Even when I was in shape, I wasn't very good at climbing hills.  My legs protest over even the smallest incline.  I'm no longer in shape.  I've attended 4 walking sessions with Boise Walk/Run since January 5. So I am doing better than I was, but I'm no where near what you would call in-shape.  But, gah!  I don't know how steep of an incline Shaw Mountain Road is. I'm not sure if it matters, because the paved road was hard on me. I stopped several times on the way up to the half-way point to try stretching out my muscles and I thank those who walked with me for indulging me and understanding the need. I wouldn't have made it the entire distance without those stretching breaks.  But I did make it to the 1/2 way point.  I celebrated getting that far, drank a lot of the water offered their--I really should take something with me to these walks. But I keep forgetting.  Powerade is not something I normally like, but I was told to put two scoops in the water I accepted and that tasted pretty good.  I may have to pick up the Powerade Powder the next time I go to the store.  Once I re-hydrated, we walked back.   Going down hill was so much easier and faster. That part took no time at all.

Once back in the building, I cooled down with some stretches then talked with a, I believe her title was a Athletic Trainer.  I learned some new stretches as a result and have some new goals for myself when it comes to exercise.  I stopped at a store for chocolate milk on the way home--one of the best things you can have after a work out.  I tried keeping it at home, but it had a tendency to disappear, fast.

Next week, 10kers will be walking 4 miles, without hills.  I'm looking forward to next weeks meeting.  I'm getting more energy after the walks, less tired after them and I have a lot of fun. The walk up Shaw Mountain is pretty if you manage to look around while you're huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf.  I imagine those who went further than three miles, saw even more spectacular views as Table Rock is close to Shaw Mountain Road. Table Rock, for those who don't know, allows people to see the entire city of Boise from a distance.  The walks are inspiring me, making me more aware of my body and experiences some people will never describe in their books.  The crunch of gravel, the chill of wind on sweat soaked flesh, the click, click, click of working pedometers.  Perhaps I'm simply reading the wrong books however.

If you're interested in Joining Boise Run/Walk, now would be the time to sign up, as discounts are being offered.  Join by yourself or with friends/family. No matter what kind of person you are, you'll have a wonderful time. I'm one of those who has a hard time approaching people and talking to them.  I feel like I come across as an idiot a lot of the time I talk to someone new, but the group is friendly, understanding and many will approach you first. Also, feel free to share any of my posts on my experiences, but please give me credit. Also, I always enjoy getting comments and questions.  If I don't know the answer, I'll see if I can find one.

For those who follow me more for writing topics, don't worry.  There will be a podcast posted soon, and a few writing related blogs will be making their rounds. I've been busy with life and other events so don't give up on me yet. They'll be up soon, probably in the next few days.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Boise Run/Walk II

I am getting used to walking now.  The main evidence I have of this is that my back didn't stiffen up during my cool down today.  My lower back has a tendency to tighten up to the point of not being able to move when I do any kind of exercise.  At this point I'd be tempted to start increasing my pace, switch between walk and a jog and a run.  However with the roads and sidewalks being slick with ice, I didn't think it safe.  I'm not going the Robie training distances everyone else seems to be doing, otherwise I would have needed to walk seven miles today.  I'm fine with going the shorter distance.  I'm not in-shape well enough to try keeping up with those with more experience than me, but I would like to figure out how everyone seems to move so quickly on the slick roads.

Because of my slower pace I am quickly left behind.  This has, unfortunately  resulted in me sometimes being unsure where to go. We don't go to the same places every week.  Last weekend we climbed Shaw Mountain, today we headed toward a park.  This week and last week I didn't find the cone marking the half-way mark for the 10k trainers. I'm not sure if I just turned back before the cone was supposed to appear or if I took a wrong turn at some point.  I'd like someone who knows how to get to the cone to escort me down, but I also understand my pace doesn't make that comfortable for a lot of people.  Their are people who will escort you, but they tend to escort a large group and they stay at the groups pace instead of at the slowest persons pace.  So they leave me behind early in the walking journey.

None of this really bothers me.  My main goal in joining Run/Walk was to get me to exercise regularly and in that respect the program has been successful for me.  I've also had some nice conversations with some of the other members.  The free advice I get from physical therapists and the massage occasionally offered the walks has been a big help as well. For this season my goal is to get used to moving my body, enjoying it like I once I did and looking forward to long walks, anywhere.  My weight is an issue. I believe that's the main reason my knees and feet will mainly protest, though being flat-footed doesn't help. But I've already lost some weight since joining this program. I'm feeling stronger as well.

Right now I am wanting to sign up for the Spring Season. With me hopefully having gained a good walking/jogging/running foundation during my current season (winter), I would like to work on speed and distance during my second season. We'll see how the rest of this season goes and if I can afford a spring season membership closer to when that date runs around.

As of now, I do recommend anyone interested in joining a Run/Walk group to join Boise Run/Walk.  Those who are more social than me would probably be better at making friends than I.  The group is friendly, helpful and easily to talk to. Everyone seems to make an effort at learning people's names, though the group is large enough that it can be hard to imagine someone being able to know everyone's names.