A Very Glittery Book Review

*Note: after you read the review, please scroll down to the end of this post and answer the question I've asked.  Thank you, beloved readers.

Waking Up in the Land of GlitterGlitterCover

by Kathy Cano-Murillo

I've followed Kathy Cano-Murillo for quite some time on her crafting blog and lately her writing blog.

Why?  Because she is a person who knows herself through and through and puts that self on the page (and the canvas) over and over again, without fear of what others think.

Man, do I ever admire that.  It takes real courage just to be yourself, so much so that I believe it is our most important emotional and spiritual quest in this life.  (And, by the way, this topic seems to be the subject of nearly every piece of fiction I write, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior included.)

I've read about Cano-Murillo's craft product launch (glitter and paints and other cool stuff) and her excitement over the release of her upcoming novel.  So, of course I jumped at the chance to review said novel.  (Note to the FTC: yes, I accepted a free book to write this review.)

Here's my test of a good book: whether or not it passes the Lunchtime Reading test. Since I work alone, and at home, I eat lunch in my kitchen, and there's always a stack of magazines in there that I'm trying to catch up on–O, The Food Network magazine (love that thing, even though I hate cooking), People, Outside, Poets and Writers, Shambala Sun. I love buying magazines and lunchtime is when I read them.  If I have a really great book, I shun the magazines and read my book instead.  But it takes a lot to drag me away from my magazines.

Waking Up in the Land of Glitter is a sweet, fun book that I gobbled up in a couple lunch-time readings.  And a few nights lying in bed.  It takes place in Phoenix, and is the story of Star Esteban, a young woman who is a bit, how shall we say this, ditzy.  She works at her family's restaurant, which sounds like the most fabulous place on earth, a cafe that sells amazing Mexican food and Margaritas, plus an art and event space, but she really longs to be an artist.  Because she is, um, scatter-brained and undisciplined, she never fully commits to her art.  Up until now. 

Along the same lines, she never fully commits to the man who loves her, Theo Duarte, until early on he gets sick of her shenanigans and ditches her.  Then things get worse. Because of an act of vandalism Star commits on a drunken evening (it sounds worse than it is) her family tells her she can no longer work at the restaurant and has to make her way on her own.  So now she is job-less and boyfriend-less.  And then the glitter shows up.  Over three hundred pounds of it, ordered by mistake (she thought she was ordering 3 pounds).  And somehow she has to find a way to use it and pay for it before her family finds out.

Enter Crafty Chloe, the local TV crafts expert, and Star's best friend, Ofie, an obsessive crafty of hideously ugly knicknacks.  Together they hatch a plan to make centerpieces for the Crafty Olympics.  But first they have to learn how to get along…

Like I said, its a fun read.  And honestly, who would have thought you could create a plot for a novel around glitter?  Only Kathy Cano-Murillo.  I had a few quibbles with the writing here and there (I'm a writer, I'm highly critical), particularly the author's habit of dropping in huge chunks of narrative backstory.  But the charm and verve of the story more than made up for that.

So if you are looking for a novel to pass your own version of the Lunchtime Reading test, give Glitter a try.

*And now for the above mentioned question: a couple weeks ago I wrote a blog post asking readers for reccomendations on books.  Would you like me to compile this list in a post before I leave for Nashville this week?

Bonus question (I just thought of this one): What is your version of the Lunchtime Reading test? 

What’s Your Favorite Book?

Book_books_pages_265007_l I have a reason for asking the question in the title.

I've been going on and on about how I'm re-organizing my office, down to sorting through the oldest papers. And the work continued this weekend.  I'm down to a box of old CDs to sort, which I'm not entirely sure what to do with, and a pile of papers and notebooks and files which constitutes all the info I've collected to write my Ebook.  Pretty cool, huh?

But here's the coolest thing.  I sorted through my books and came up with three boxes of them to sell.  I used to have a really hard time getting rid of books, whether by giving them away or selling them.  I wanted to hang onto every book I've ever laid hands on.  And if you could see the overflowing book shelves in practically every room in my house, you would think I had.  But it finally occurred to me that by letting go of books, I was actually allowing more to flow into my life.  And also that letting go of them allowed someone else to read them. 

So I've come to peace with periodically sorting through books.  And luckily for me, here in Portland, we have Powell's books, the biggest bookstore in the country, which also buys books.   When you sell them your books, they give you the option of either taking what you've earned in cash or in a book credit.  If you choose the book credit, you get more. 

Now, let me tell you, many's the time we've taken books to Powell's when we were so broke we didn't have any choice but to take the cash.  But this weekend, when we took books in to the warehouse to sell, I was able to choose the book credit.  So…wait for it….I now have a book voucher worth $144 in books to spend at Powell's.

I about passed out with joy when they told me.

I've been collecting some titles that I really want to read–a couple new novels, one called Angelology and another called The Irresistible Henry House, and there's a new book on writing a novel in six months by John DuFresne.  Okay, so that's a pretty good list.  But I may get to Powell's and decide none of those look good.  And I'd like to bring home some juicy non-fiction, too.

I want more titles to peruse, a long, long list to ponder and think about and take with me so that I can pull books off the shelf and think hmmm, yes, or ick, no.  So help me out here, will you?  Tell me your favorite books.  They can be classic or contemporary, fiction or non-fiction, written by male or female authors.  I love books in the self-help and spiritual genres, but really, I'm game for anything.   Send me one title or a dozen, I'm not picky, just lay 'em on me.

I can't wait to read what your favorites are.

Transparency, or a Book Review

Book Review:  Write Right Online

by Andy Hayes

Transparency is a big buzz word around the internet these days.Everyone is supposed to be transparent and tell their audience every single little thing about them.  I like this trend.  At least I like it in others.  But when it is time for me to be transparent, I don't like it so well.

Heavy sigh.  Oh, alright, I'll be transparent today.

I'm way overdue in reviewing a book I agreed to review.  I just went back and checked the original email I got from the author, and it was exactly a month ago.  When Andy Hayes first asked me to review his latest Ebook, I agreed, and gaily told him not to expect the review for a week or so.  Ha!  Here it is, a month later, and I've not done it.

Because I think that this trend toward transparency is linked to integrity, I will admit that my failure to review the book rankles.  It makes me feel bad every time I think about it, and that is an energy drain that I don't need. 

But here's the deal: the reason I haven't reviewed the book is that sometimes book reviewing is hard.  Here this nice, handsome, Scotsman asks me to review his book and what if it is bad and I have to be honest and say so?  Those thoughts alone contributed to a delay in reading the book.

So finally I read the book and another problem rears its wee head: the book is good, very good, but it is difficult to review because it is, well, simple.  And that is a compliment because it is meant to be simple.  Write Right Online is intended as a collection of tips and ideas that will help the small business owner write better and more easily online.

Basically, the book lays out how to "express yourself online," and this includes not only writing tips but some talk about various Internet platforms and some ways you can tweak what you've already written.  Most "chapters" are one to two pages long, easily digestible and full of good information.  The book is divided into four sections, and introduction, wrap-up, and then the two meaty sections in the middle: "Putting Your Virtual Pen to Work," and "Tech Nuts and Bolts." 

In the chapter called "The Perfect Piece of Content," Hayes lays out a simple formula that can be followed by anybody, anywhere, on the web: write a great headline, then pull together killer content, and end with a call to action.  Another chapter's headline is "Write for Somebody, not Everybody."  This is one of the things I tell students and clients over and over again, in a slightly different guise: the specific is universal.

I think this book has a lot to recommend it and if you're in the need for some beginner tips on writing for the internet, or you need a bit of a refresher, its for you.

In case you are interested in buying the book:


Click here to visit Travel Online Partners.

And, full disclosure, the above is an affiliate link.

Okay, phew, being transparent isn't that hard after all.

Review: The Future That Brought Her Here

The Future That Brought Her HereBook_cover

by Deborah Denicola

Before we get started, I want to make one thing perfectly clear, just in case the FTC happens to be reading my blog (stranger things have happened, but not many).  I have an ulterior motive in writing this review: I got a free book to do so.  Gasp!  I know, I know, shocking but true, review copies of books are given out so that writers can read them.

Okay, that taken care of, let's get started.  This memoir by Deborah DeNicola is about a spiritual quest.  The author found herself plagued by strange visions (a room she was in completely changed itself to a previous incarnation) and intense spirits, for lack of a better word, who made her life somewhat of a living hell with their antics.  But, ultimately, this turned out to be a good thing, as it set in motion a journey through many mystic and mystery traditions, including goddess worshiping and the gnostic gospels, and consultations with psychics and channelers.  Denicola, a poet, also set off on journeys to sacred sites in Israel and Europe.

DeNicola's background in poetry clearly shines through in her lyrical descriptions and beautiful flights of fancy.  Her accounting of her quest for spiritual answers in incredible in its detail.  Since I can't generally remember what I ate for lunch the day before, I'm amazed at the recall DeNicola has about things that happened years ago.  I don't mean this as a criticism–rather; I'm envious.  I presume she kept a meticulous diary.  And even with that, the level of detail is impressive.  I keep what I consider a somewhat obsessive diary and I still wouldn't be able to recount my every thought from years ago.

Impressive as the detail is, I also consider it the main drawback of the book.  At times I longed for a glance at the bigger picture because being inside DeNicola's head for the constant play by play of her quest was sometimes exhausting.  Upon occasion, I longed for a step back to ponder what all of this might mean. 

That being said, the book is well worth reading, particularly for those with an interest in New Age and spiritual topics.  There's a lot of interesting history and information here, on a wide variety of topics, sometimes all on one page!  Deborah DeNicola has written quite a fascinating memoir.  Here's a bit more information on her, in a blurb provided by her publisher:

Deborah DeNicola is the author of five poetry collections and she edited the anthology Orpheus & Company; Contemporary Poems on Greek Mythology. Among other awards she won a Poetry Fellowship in 1997 from the National Endowment for the Arts. Deborah has been a recipient of many writing colony residencies. She also teaches dream image work and mentors writers online at her web site www.intuitivegateways.com. To purchase a copy of The Future That Brought Her Here and receive up to 20 bonus gifts, please visit: http://www.thefuturethatbroughtherhere.com/bonusoffers/

Bookcases, Bookcases, the Joys of Bookcases

The thing about bookcases is that you always need more of them.  At least I do, because the stream of books in my life is never ending.  Books are like rabbits and ideas, they reproduce themselves automatically.  One minute you have plenty of room in your bookcases for more books and then suddenly there are books piled all over the house and it is time to buy a new bookcase, or several. 

I have so many full bookcases in my house that sometimes I think it will sink into the basement from the sheer weight of all of them.  Perhaps, you might suggest, it would be prudent to shed some of the books.  And in truth, I have gotten better about doing that.  Used to be, I would never, ever, let go of a book once it came into my possession.  But once the problem of storing them reached crisis levels I had to rethink that obsession.

One thing that helped, in a sink-or-swim kind of way, was the fact that many years ago half my house burned down.  The half that didn't burn down, the bottom floor, sustained serious smoke and water damage, and since that is where many of the books were, we had to go through them and throw a lot of them out.  Yes, I know, it is painful to contemplate, but it is true–some of the books were so badly damaged that they couldn't even be given away.  In the process, I lost some of my favorite books, that I mourn to this day–my omnibus edition of the Caroline books, for instance.

But I gained the knowledge that physical books are just that–things that are far less important than human connections.  Because, you know how everyone asks you what you would grab if your house is on fire?  When the real thing happens the only thing going through your mind is getting the living, breathing creatures out–in our case, the kids, the cats and the dog (who refused to leave and cowered under the kitchen counter as firemen tromped through the house).  You don't spare a thought for the family photos, or your carefully designed scrapbooks, or even the computer with your novel on it.  All you think about is getting your loved ones out safely.

Since then I've managed to convince myself that letting go of books is good.  And I have the great good fortune to live in Portand, where Powells is located, which means any time the bookcases get a bit too bulgy, I can sort through them and go sell a few boxes there.  The problem is they give you more money if you take a store credit, so one must be disciplined in this endeavor as well.

Oh, who am I kidding?  I still have way too many books to fit in my bookcases and they spill into every room in the house.  (Which is just as well, because I distrust houses that do not have bookcases and stacks of magazines in them.)  So when the nice people, or the one nice person, at CSN Stores offered to send me a bookcase to review, I leapt at the chance.  Actually, they offered me a choice–review the bookcase myself, or offer it as a prize in a contest.  Um, I thought about offering you guys a chance to win it, really I did.  But my need for bookcases won out.

So just as soon as they send me my bookcase, I'll be reviewing it. You will read it here first!

Guest Review: A Sudden Country

And now, while I am on vacation, I have a guest post for you.  It is from my dear friend Paula, one of the most voracious readers and excellent writers I know.  I trust her opinion and you should, too.  Be sure to check out her bio at the end of the review. 

A Sudden Country                0812973437

Karen Fisher

Random House

13.95 Trade Paperback

I really love good historical fiction, “good” being the operative word. It’s not so easy to find. There are many historical novels that are, as far as I can tell, historically accurate but dull, dull, dull, totally predictable, written in such a plodding style that it takes a reader with far more patience than I to get through them. Then there are historical novels that are real pager turners but so lacking in historical accuracy that even a casual historian like me is put off by glaring errors. So when I run across a book like A Sudden Country, I savor every page, can’t wait to see what happens next but hate it when I see I’ve almost reached the end. Where the heck was I when the book was published in 2005?

In the opening paragraphs James MacLaren, sick with smallpox himself, treks through the snow carrying his one surviving, very ill child, trying to reach medical help. The bitter cold, his desperation and exhaustion leap off the page. Then we meet Lucy Mitchell. She’s just given birth to a daughter and is greeted with the news that her husband is thinking of taking the family over the Oregon Trail. Her pain at leaving the home she’s made and cherished, her foreboding that she will loose one of her five beloved children along the trail and her lack of choice in the matter is a knife twist to the gut.

This beautifully written book tells the parallel stories of Lucy Mitchell, reluctantly traveling the Oregon Trail with her family and James MacLaren, once a successful “gentleman” of Hudson’s Bay Company, trader, and mountain man. Lucy is grieving the loss of her home and the life she’s always known. James mired in sorrow for the beloved wife who has deserted him and the death by small pox of his children. Tracing the man he believes has stolen his wife, James finds that man driving a wagon for the Mitchell family. At this point, James and Lucy’s stories merge.

The beauty of the land she is traveling through is not lost on Lucy but neither is the hardship. She dutifully and capably tackles every chore set before her, carefully monitoring and instructing her three older daughters and little son while nursing her baby. But her sadness at leaving the old life behind and her disappointment in her husband’s subtle ineptitude creates a growing distance between husband and wife.

James, realizing he has, however unintentionally, deprived the Mitchell’s of a driver, reluctantly helps them along the way. But his search for Lise, his lost wife, never ends nor does his mourning lighten. How James and Lucy find the courage and strength to go on to a new reality makes wonderful reading. This book is lyrical, almost dream-like in places; yet it makes so very real the difficulty, the brutal reality, the beauty and wonder of the grueling journey westward.

Reviewed by Paula Harris

Contest Winner!

I've been running a little contest this week to give away a free copy of The Midnight Disease.  Today I chose the winner in a most scientific fashion–I wrote the names of the people who commented on pieces of paper, and had my daughter choose.

So, drumroll please….

The winner is….

Heather Justesen!

Heather's new book, The Ball's In Her Court, has just been released and it looks like a good one, so you should hop on over to her blog and check it out.

Heather, email me your address and I'll get the book in the mail to you just as soon as I return from vacation.  

Thanks to everyone who participated!

It is done, it is done, it is done

A ritual from an energy-healing technique that shall remain nameless ends thusly: it is done, it is done, it is done.

This is meant to be the signal that the healing has taken place.  But today I am co-opting it to announce that the novel is done.  Finished, finito, fini, DONE. 

I can hardly believe it.

I can also hardly believe how carefree and energized I feel–ready to tackle new projects, and return to some old ones as well–like organizing my office.  It is bad, I tell you.  If I took a picture of it you would be shocked.

But first it is off to New Mexico for a week.

No matter how painful, and I know it will be, I promise to share the ups and downs of the novel submission process.  Current status: query sent to agent I have personal recommendation for.  Please think good thoughts.

DON'T FORGET THE CONTEST to win a copy of The Midnight Disease.  You have until the end of today to comment on that post and then I will choose a winner, randomly.  And let me just say, as of now, your odds are very good.  So get on over there and make them bad. 

It Is All For the Book

When my kids were little, it seemed like every other week there was a social event I didn't want to attend.  I'm a pretty social person (all these hours I spend alone writing need some balance) but sometimes there were things I just didn't want to do–school parties where all the mothers seemed far more together, knowledgeable and hip than I come to mind immediately.  I was shyer then than I am now, and far less confident.

But I always went to these events.  Always, once even after I'd had gum surgery and was in so much pain I could barely talk.

When I was moaning and groaning about having to go, I would tell myself one thing–it is for the kids.

It didn't matter what I thought, or what anyone thought of me.  The most important thing was that I was going for the benefit of my child and I needed to be there for her/him.  This bit of perspective has actually served me well through the years when I've used it to remind myself what is important in other arenas.

And I've thought about it a lot lately as I wind down the final revisions of my novel (ha! you knew I'd get it in here). 

I'm reworking a crucial bit in one of the last chapters.  By all accounts, I had a problem with this scene.  My critique group recommended solving in one manner.  Other readers had different ideas.  And when I started working on the changes, I knew that neither were right.  However, dumbly, I kept going.  I tore apart that chapter. I kept telling myself that my instincts were wrong and that I needed to listen to others because they knew best.  I was too close to the work, I told myself.  I couldn't see the forest for the trees.  (Those thoughts, of course, alternate with panicked ones like, Who is going to want to read this damn thing anyway?)

Finally, after much heavy sighing, staring out the window, and pacing (all crucial aspects of the rewriting process that honestly don't get their due) it hit me.

It is all for the book.

It doesn't matter what I think, doesn't matter what my critique group thinks, it doesn't matter what my readers think.  What maters is what works for the book.  Period. 

It is all for the book.

That brilliant epiphany cleared the path for magic to happen–a third direction appeared.  A different way in which to solve the problem occurred to me, and it is a stronger, better way.  It is the way that is best for the book.

I had a nutritionist who dabbled in Jungian psychology once, and she would have called this grace.

I am grateful for it.  (And honestly, I really am close to finishing this protracted rewrite.  Truly.  I'd probably have been done with it ages ago if I'd just quit writing about it.)

PS.  Don't forget to enter the contest to win a free copy of the book, The Midnight Disease: The Drive To Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain by Alice W. Flaherty.  You can find out how if you go here.

Put it All On the Page, Put It All on the Page Now

I'm a junkie for writing books.

The good ones get me so excited about writing that I have a hard time finishing them because I put them down to go write (sort of like what I hope this blog does for people).  And even the bad ones generally offer some tidbit or another.

So when I saw a new book on writing by Annie Dillard, called Give it All Up, Give It All Up Now: One of The Few Things I Know About WritingI eagerly snatched it off the shelf.  The book had a colorful, bright cover done in gorgeous watercolors and that was enough to drive me to the bookstore cash register, even though the entire thing was shrink-wrapped.  No matter.  I anticipated serious and weighty thoughts on writing, precious secrets, and glorious inspiration.  I was excited and couldn't wait to get home to read it.

Imagine my dismay when I slit open the plastic that surrounded it and found that it is essentially a gift book, a coffee-table type volume that opens up in accordion folds.  The watercolors are awesome, but the words on the page are few, and to save you the trouble, basically they are variations on the theme of the title:  Give it all up, put it all on the page, don't hold back, don't hoard words…and so on.

I was angry at myself for succumbing to the lure of yet another book (something I've been doing since I was a tiny child so I don't know why I ever expect to change) and mad at Annie Dillard for enticing me to buy this worthless piece of @#$%^.

But here's the funny thing:  I've found those words ringing in my head ever since.  Give it all up, I hear as I open the computer.  Put it all on the page, the voice whispers as I begin to right.  Don't hold back, gets told to me as I pick up my pen to write in my journal.  It is not a new sentiment.  One of my most favorite self-help books ever has a chapter titled with similar words.  (I can't remember the exact book, but check out the amazing Alan Cohen's site and read anything by him.)

And so now I have come to believe that these are the most profound words on writing you'll likely ever hear.  So deep and yet so simple.  Give it all up, give it all up now.  Put it all on the page, put it all on the page now.  Don't hold back, splash it all out there.  Collapse, exhausted, from the effort, rest awhile and then rise to do it all over again.

STAY TUNED for an announcement about an exciting contest with an awesome prize to be held right here on this very blog.