Friday, February 27, 2015

Networking: The Most Important Thing I Learned at a Writing Conference

Networking is a new category of posts on this blog. These will feature my take (whether opinion, additional resources, further perspective, or questions) on a recently published post at another writing-related blog.

Join me as we kick off the new category today!

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On Monday this week, The Bent Agency featured, on its blog, Bent on Books, a post that showcased answers to the question: "What's the most important thing you've learned at a conference?" (See the post and answers here.)

It's an excellent question to ask yourself ... first, to determine whether conferences (in this case, I'm focused on writing conferences) are worth your time, and second, to become mindful of the words, phrases, statements, workshops, clinics, critiques, keynotes, and feedback that most affect you on a personal, visceral, intimate level.

Here's my answer ...

At the March 2014 Northern Colorado Writers Conference, Chuck Sambuchino of Writer's Digest was the keynote speaker. His presentation was so breathtakingly applicable that I (chagrined to have neglected the necessary supplies) spent the entire evening scribbling notes on a paper napkin, which I still have in my possession.

The entire gist of his talk had to do with the fact that nearly everything in the writing and publishing industry is out of the author's immediate control.

Think about it. You write an amazing book, but on the day you send it to a prospective agent, she's already spilled coffee down the front of her shirt, smeared her makeup, and fired her assistant. It won't be your fault that she rejects your manuscript, sight unseen ... but it's out of your control, either way.

The same holds true for editors, proofreaders, beta readers, critique groups, publishing houses, publicity opportunities, bookstores, and even readers themselves.

As someone who is a self-proclaimed (and proud of it ... usually) control freak to the nth power, I have to admit that I felt deflated (okay, perhaps despairing would be a better word) with Sambuchino's introduction.

On the other hand, however, acknowledging and even embracing that you have no control over so many aspects of the industry actually frees you (really, I promise) to focus on what you can control ... namely, yourself and your writing.

I was shocked at how enlightened I felt by his perspective. Oh my gosh, he's right. It sounds so simple, but if it's that simple, why do I keep trying to exert control over these phantom forces over which I really have no control at all? What could I be doing to act on what I CAN control, instead?

There's the question with which I'll leave you.

What could you do to act on what you CAN control in your writing life?

Think about it.

(And check out the upcoming 2015 Northern Colorado Writers Conference, to be held next month in Fort Collins, Colorado, hosted by Kerrie Flanagan, the director of Northern Colorado Writers. Registration remains open only until 130 attendees are signed up!)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Book Review: "His Last Redemption" (Clarissa Yip)

How deeply can you really trust those in your life? The one you married ... the one you're dating ... the ones with whom you work, or for whom you work ... 

It's a frightening question to ponder, and the premise for Clarissa Yip's romantic suspense His Last Redemption, published this month by Entangled Publishing's Ignite imprint.

Lauren Burke, owner of a shop that caters mainly to wedding gowns, has been furious with her philandering ex-husband for more than a year. They separated fifteen months ago, and he's been dragging his heels to get the divorce papers finalized so she can finally go her own way.

Which is why, when two detectives show up at her shop and tell her that her ex-husband is dead, she isn't exactly heartbroken.

One of the detectives is a less-than-welcome sight, though. Kane Hollister walked out of her life three years earlier, with no advance notice or explanation, and now he's back in town, still distancing himself from his family and unsure how to handle the cold woman Lauren has become.

Then evidence reveals that Lauren's ex-husband was murdered, and she suddenly becomes the target of increasingly horrific and personal attacks. The only person she trusts to keep her safe is the same one she hasn't trusted in three years, but it's either that or have her life taken, too.

Author Clarissa Yip writes a tight, intense work, almost a thriller, so full of unexpected twists that you won't believe the final revelation. The sexual tension between Kane and Lauren makes them personable and approachable, and the culmination of their physical relationship (several times) is spicy and evocative.

If I had two wishes for the work's improvement, they would be, first, for a close proofread to catch the typos and errors that kept distracting me out of the story, and second, for fewer cliches and what an editor friend of mine calls "floating body parts" (which appear to take action apart from their owner).

However, the work is entertaining, to say the least, and deserves more than a glance.

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Author: Clarissa Yip
Title: His Last Redemption
Publisher: Ignite (Entangled Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-62266-077-3
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Book Review: "A Woman's Pleasure" (J. F. Kelly)

Looking for something … different to read?

Let me introduce (though not without a great deal of reticence) A Woman’s Pleasure by J. F. Kelly.

The front matter indicates that the book is a work of fiction—surprising, since each chapter is essentially an interview with someone (all men).

Those interviewed provide answers (presumably presented verbatim in the book) about their background, upbringing, body type and appearance, first sexual encounter, sexual fantasies, preferences, best sexual experiences, and favorite positions, among other intimate and unexpected subjects.

The work, as a whole, appears designed to celebrate a woman’s sexuality (believe it or not) … or, at the least, to highlight a sampling of those whose stated foremost desire is to ensure that, in a sexual encounter, the woman feels the most cherished, like the highest priority and the center of greatest attention and focus. While the mission is laudable in theory, the work, in practice, leaves somewhat to be desired.

For instance, there are a distracting number of typos throughout the work, which tended to yank my focus out of the immediate story (no matter how steamy the scene being recounted).

As well, the format of the copy I read is disorganized—sentences end in mid-air, without actually ending at all, and then pick up again four or eight pages later in the middle of a different paragraph; the answer to one of the interviewer’s questions is partial, and then interrupted by the answer to another question that has yet to be asked.

Finally, I was less than impressed by the interviewer’s apparent fascination (even if fictitious) with the physical traits of each man that he believed women found attractive. In each answer were included unbelievable (not in a good way) references to “my wide chest” and “my well-developed pecs” and “my naked chest and big arms” and my fit body.” I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the clichés and clear evidence of “trying too hard.”

I was also unimpressed with the answers to the interviewer’s question about what sexy things the man says to ignite a woman’s interest. The respondents routinely gave answers like “Go ahead, and put your mouth on my manhood—taste me” and “You like my body? Go ahead and feel it all over.” If these are what a man says to interest a woman … I found the comments off-putting in a book that (I thought) focused on women and their pleasure, not on men and their self-centeredness.

I could not, in good conscience, recommend this work for interested readers.

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Author: J. F. Kelly
Title: A Woman’s Pleasure
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Book Review: "The Venus Trap" (Louise Voss)

Every woman’s nightmare—you wake to find someone in your house when no one else should be there.

That’s the terrifying reality for Jo Atkins, hand-cuffed to her own bed in her own bedroom, in her own home, with a throbbing headache, a roiling stomach, and no memory of how she got there.

Enter her unexpected captor: Claudio, a man she’s met off and on lately but whom she barely knows. He expects her to fall in love with him and convince him of her feelings. She has seven days, or she dies. And no one will know to look for her until it’s too late.

A psychological thriller, The Venus Trap by Louise Voss, taps into some of the darkest fears that plague contemporary women, from powerlessness and the total loss of control to regrets and whether second (or third, or tenth) chances are even possible. She explores themes like relationships, obsession, love, loneliness, intensity, passion, lust, betrayal, and justification throughout the work.

The book is a quick read, fast-paced as befits the requirements of the genre. Voss skips back and forth from the present time, with Jo imprisoned in her bedroom, to various points in the past, as Claudio forces Jo to remember and relive her previous relationships, her failed marriage, her adulterous affair, and the sudden loss of her father when she was young. Each flashback, narrated in real time, gives another insight into Jo’s character: her strength, her temerity, her determination, her fear, her uncertainty, her desires.

Part of what makes the story so creepy—in addition to the aforementioned fears addressed—is the distinct possibility of the scenario. None of us can control the choices and actions of other people, not even those with whom our lives intersect. How do you know what the sales clerk is thinking when he greets you for the fourth day in a row at the grocery (because you keep forgetting to buy that one ingredient you need for dinner)? What about the owner of the dry cleaner’s you use? Or your lawyer?

It’s horrifying to imagine what average-looking and –seeming people could be thinking about, planning … plotting.

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Author: Louise Voss
Title: The Venus Trap
ISBN: 978-1-1477822159
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the publisher through Net Galley in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Book Review: "Pregnancy Plan" (Tina Gayle)

Desperation causes people to make wild, outlandish, unexpected decisions—to say and do things they might have never imagined saying or doing.

Jillian Wilson, owner of a hardware store, is not an exception.

She desperately wants a baby, someone to call family, someone to lavish with love. She’s spent her entire life watching her steps, careful not to do anything that would tarnish her father’s standards, but with his sudden, recent death, she’s more alone than ever, and now, he’s not around to protest if she wants to take matters into her own hands.

A chance meeting with Derrick Harris, a high-risk security specialist and someone with whom an attempted relationship a long time ago didn’t work out, brings her more than she bargained for. She turns up pregnant, just as she wanted; Derrick (unexpectedly) offers to marry her; and they make a go of it.

Then, Derrick is in a terrible accident and loses his memory. Now, Jillian’s dream life—perfect husband, child, home—may be a permanent loss, if she can’t help Derrick remember.

Pregnancy Plan, by Tina Gayle, is a sexy romance between two entirely unlikely people whose life goals naturally place them at odds with one another … and yet, somehow, love takes root and blossoms.

Jillian represents every woman who has ever felt stymied by the pressures of a career, a family name, or social mores in her reticence to marry someone just to have children, and in her reluctance to wait any longer to get pregnant (and possibly, by waiting, to risk not having children at all). She is both sweet and determined, impulsive and thoughtful, and the dichotomies make her a rich, likable character.

The sexual chemistry between the main characters lands somewhere between medium-high and high in a heat index; the intimate scenes are beautifully rendered, lacking any too-graphic terms (call it PG-13, if you like, instead of X-rated) and fully satisfactory, given the characters’ emotional and psychological development and deepened relationship through their closeness.

Unexpected, intriguing, and at times both light-hearted and intense, Pregnancy Plan would be a lovely read for a rainy afternoon.

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Author: Tina Gayle
Title: Pregnancy Plan
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the publisher through Net Galley in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from February 16-20

5. "Essential Home Office Hardware for Freelancers" on Tech Cocktail (Boris Dzhingarov)

Need a second opinion about what your home office should look like to best facilitate your freelancing business? This post makes a number of thought-provoking points (ever considered two monitors before?).

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4. "Ask What Other Freelancers Do Wrong to Become a Client's Go-To Worker" on Lifehacker (Kristin Wong)

Clients want to know that you're dedicated to getting their project right the first time, efficiently. Therefore, according to this post, the best way to ensure that you have a steady stream of clients (or just a number of clients you can count on to be repeat customers) is to ask about their negative experiences with other freelancers, and work to correct them.

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3. "The Ultimate Content Marketing Checklist: 40 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Publishing Your Next Blog Post" on Kishorm Haskar

How can you be sure that every blog post you write and publish will be as effective as possible in garnering or maintaining your intended audience? Glance through this quick list of things to remember before you hit that PUBLISH button!

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2. "4 Steps to Successful Product Creation Every Blogger Should Know (But Most Don't!)" on ProBlogger (Danny Iny)

There's nothing like an expert article from a ProBlogger writer. Not only are there four steps in this post, but also each one is broken down even further into applicable steps you can actually take to ensure excellence.

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1. "9 Ways to Promote Your Blog and Get More Readers" on Make Use Of (Dave LeClair)

This post is really a spectacular, thorough infographic packed with guidance and tips to guarantee that your blog posts will net you satisfied followers.

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And there's the lineup for last week. Let me know what worked and what didn't in the comments!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Book Review: "Know When to Hold Him" (Lindsay Emory)

Never underestimated the age-old, little-girl fantasy of being rescued by a knight in shining armor. You never know when it might come true.

Spencer Hightower, the daughter of a ruthless and cunning United States senator, does not lose.


She doesn’t lose at trivia games, or when she places a good-natured bet, or in relationships, or when she’s working to tidy up the legal messes other people make of their lives. Her workaholic drive—or, perhaps, obsession—keeps her single until one of her dates takes a nasty turn and a stranger with impeccable timing shows up to rescue her. After that, she can’t get the mystery man out of her head.

And then she meets him in person. Liam Connelly is not only a friend of a close friend but also the man on the other side of the current scandal on which Spencer is working. Their respective clients are at odds, which (in Spencer’s mind) means that she and Liam are automatically at war. Liam insists that they can keep their growing attraction separate from their work, but when they finally fall into bed together, things are complicated beyond even their collective control.

Know When to Hold Him, a Love & War in Dallas novel by Lindsay Emory, is newly published this month by Select Contemporary, an imprint of Entangled Publishing. The characters are intriguing; the premise is unexpected; and the outcome is one you won’t see coming.

Spencer Hightower, from a wealthy and influential family, is the focal point of the work, and one of the most complex characters present. Her relationship with her emotionally absent father is strained at best, and yet Spencer herself is just as ruthless and unforgiving as her father is in his political endeavors. She, too, keeps strategic secrets and racks up business relationships in which others owe her favors so that the next time a job lands on her desk, she has every resource at her fingertips to expend on behalf of her client. She doesn’t do vulnerability, weakness, patience, or trust … all of which, naturally enough, Liam Connelly demands from her.

The sexual tension between the two is positively steamy, and their eventual rendezvous are impassioned and underscored with the kind of tension that only an expert author can interweave, as the characters’ agendas, desires, and approaches to life clash time and again, even in the bedroom (vulnerability meets bullheadedness, for instance).

For a fascinating, thoroughly entertaining read, look no further.

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Author: Lindsay Emory
Title: Know When to Hold Him
Publisher: Select Contemporary (Entangled Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-63375-209-2
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the publisher through Net Galley in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Book Review: "Blushing" (Katie Delahanty)

You’ve heard of Young Adult (or YA) fiction for some time, no doubt, but have you heard of one of the latest trends in publishing?

It’s called New Adult (or NA) fiction, and it’s becoming more and more popular, not only with its intended target audience (protagonists tend to range from ages eighteen through twenty-five) but also with mature younger teens and adults, too.

Meet Olivia Bloom, secretly engaged to marry rock star Berkeley Dalton. She’s floored that someone so well-known, popular, and talented would even notice her, let alone date her and ask to marry her.

But she’s caught in a difficult position—she does have to keep their engagement … and even their relationship … a total secret. Otherwise, Berkeley’s opportunity to play the male lead in a huge new film project will be lost, especially because the leading lady is Berkeley’s jealous, manipulative ex-girlfriend, Chris, who wants Berkeley back very badly.

Meanwhile, Olivia, a fashion design major, is hired to help with the costumes for the production (thanks to Berkeley’s influence) but the work behind the scenes isn’t nearly as forthright, nor the people as possessed of integrity, as she expected. Before long, it’s clear that everyone is keeping secrets, and even Berkeley may have a hidden agenda.

Blushing, a Brightside novel by KatieDelahanty, debuts from Entangled Publishing’s Embrace imprint, their New Adult line of books. The work—essentially a romance, but with enough unexpectedness to keep readers from feeling like the whole thing is a “same old, same old” cliché—is innovative and entertaining, in equal measures.

The innovation is evident in the story’s format. Each chapter begins with one or more Twitter messages (“tweets”) between or among the characters. The quick snapshot-style messages are designed to ground the reader in the immediate scene of each chapter and, simultaneously, to open up different facets of each character.

The entertainment factor is present in a number of gratifying ways. The story is written in Olivia’s point of view, in a breathless, breakneck, first-person present-tense voice that perfectly encapsulates the typical New Adult female perspective. A wild cast of characters, both primary and secondary, maintain reader engagement from one encounter and page to the next. And the very newness of the New Adult genre itself— with its standard preferences for its characters to strike out on their own, assert their independence, and develop their own paradigms for life—is excellently portrayed.

Blushing is a fantastic example of the rising New Adult genre, and worth your time whether you’re a New Adult yourself or not.

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Author: Katie Delahanty
Title: Blushing
Publisher: Embrace (Entangled Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-62266-309-5
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the publisher through Net Galley in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Book Review: "Sleeping With Her Enemy" (Jenny Holiday)

Sometimes, the worst moment of your entire life leads you to make a decision (however hasty) that makes that “worst moment” turn out to be a blessing you never saw coming.

Kind of like the way Amy Morrison never imagined that her broken engagement could possibly result in anything positive.

Impulsively, after being abandoned on her wedding day, she goes back to the office, where she’s most comfortable among the accouterments of her chosen career, to hide. There, she runs into one of her least favorite people in the world—Dax Harris, a known womanizer and one of her colleagues, who happens to get on every single one of her nerves every time they meet.

On his side, the feelings of hatred are mutual, except that Dax can’t just let a heartbroken woman suffer by herself. Before either of them realize it, they’re at a bar, drinking and sharing their personal lives, and something sparks that night between them (besides sexual attraction) that billows into the kind of earth-shaking force that could either keep them connected … or tear them apart.

Entangled Publishing’s Indulgence imprint presents Sleeping With Her Enemy, a 29th Floor novel by Jenny Holiday, published just this month. The work, a contemporary sexy romance, features the kind of drawn-out sexual tension and unique characters that only a masterful writer can create.

Amy and Dax’s attraction to one another is heightened all the more by the obvious factors that should keep them apart—their different outlooks, perspectives, and priorities are never more obvious than when they are together—and by the fact that every time they get close to fulfilling their mutual sexual desires, Amy (having recently been betrayed by her long-time fiancé) panics. Dax isn’t known for his patience, but something about Amy makes him want to wait and be tender with her.

The bigger-picture story line also increases tension between the characters, as Holiday forces them into more and more intimate and unexpected situations with each other that begin to reveal character facets neither imagined existed in the other. Amy delivers Dax’s sister Kat’s baby in Dax’s bedroom. Dax includes Amy in several of his family get-togethers. Even the reader likely never thought that they had lives outside their workplace feud.

If I had a wish for the work, it would be for less telling and more showing, especially in the first several chapters. Too much back story and information, and too many helping verbs rather than strong, present ones, bog down the first pages of the story and made me reluctant to keep reading until things finally picked up again.

All in all, however, an appreciably good work.

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Author: Jenny Holiday
Title: Sleeping With Her Enemy
Series: 49th Floor (#2)
Publisher: Indulgence (Entangled Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-63375-199-6
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the publisher through Net Galley in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Book Review: Broken Honor (Tonya Burrows)

Think of someone in your life who is the quintessential loner, who prefers solitude and would rather be totally self-sufficient than ask for help or admit a weakness.

Then you've met someone like Travis Quinn, former Navy SEAL. He has no family, keeps no close friendships, and relies on nobody but himself. He can't afford to. Since the terrible accident that left him with a lingering head injury and propensity to blackouts and debilitating migraines, he doesn't even trust his memory.

And that's a problem, because he's self-sufficient, doesn't need help, or support, friends, or backup. And furthermore, there's something skittering around in the back of his mind, buried too deep to reach, that he knows he needs to remember. Something really important, that could have fatal consequences.

But because he doesn't expect to be stabbed in the back (how many of us do?) by his own brethren, he isn't watching his back the way he should be. He leads his enemies straight to the doorstep of the only weakness he's ever had. Her name is Mara Escareno.

Mara is fighting her own battles. She's just been disowned by her wealthy and influential family because of some of her choices, and she finds herself alone and in trouble. When Travis shows back up on her doorstep, unexpectedly, after having walked out on her weeks ago, she doesn't know how to trust him. And that'll be a problem ... because no his enemies are going to involve her.

Broken Honor, a HORNET novel, is a riveting work of romantic suspense by Tonya Burrows, to be released on Tuesday, February 24, from Entangled Publishing. If you don't mind some steamy sexual content, and you like your romance spiced with a bite of suspense and the uncertainty of a thriller, Broken Honor would be an excellent choice.

Travis, especially, is a consistently fascinating character. Far from static, his senses of honor and duty are impassioned enough to rival his determination to stay self-sufficient, which further rivals what he feels for Mara, whether he likes it or not. His past colors his present and threatens to affect his future in ways that most of us can relate to, making him approachable and easily sympathetic.

Written with snappy dialogue, real-life enemies and threats (as opposed to cardboard villains), and an unbelievable cast of secondary characters, Burrows' romantic suspense is easily worth your time.

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Author: Tonya Burrows
Title: Broken Honor
Publisher: Entangled Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-62266-655-3
Pre-order here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the publisher through Net Galley in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Book Review: Asking (Shawna Lemay)

"Listen. If I have known beauty / let's say I came to it / asking."

This lovely line, penned by Phyllis Webb, was the inspiration and foundation of a stellar collection of poems and essays titled Asking.

Author Shawna Lemay explores questions of beauty, inspiration, perspective, poetry, writing, and painting, as well as the different ways in which each of these subjects has an impact upon and is impacted by all the others.

Some of her works, such as the first in the collection, "Gestures," read as breathless whirlwinds, as a kind of stream-of-consciousness amalgamation of thoughts, colors, scenes, and ideas that keep the reader shifting focus among the interconnected connotations she suggests.

Others of her works, like "What I Love," are almost like list poems, with similarly related impressions brought together under one overarching perspective, and written with more directness and deliberate clarity than works like "Gestures."

Each of the writings begs to be read aloud, for the mouthfeel of the words, the superior diction, the beauty of the individual lines and the wonderment of the way the lines are placed and tailored.

I would venture to suggest that each of the writings is a work of art by itself, perhaps not as "visual" as a painting or a sculpture but nonetheless visual in terms of the emotional and psychological images Lemay's words evoke.

Don't think you'll breeze through each of these entries in a few minutes and move to the next. These poems and essays need to be pondered, contemplated, and meditated upon. Consider the connotations and denotations of each word, carefully chosen, and in relation to the other words.

Linger over these ideas --- aesthetics, beauty, wonder, focus, painting, creativity, imagination, light --- perhaps for days. It may take that long, or longer, to fully comprehend Lemay's viewpoint, and to formulate your own.

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Author: Shawna Lemay
Title: Asking
ISBN: 978-1-927079-27-0
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the author in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Book Review: The Wedding A to Z (Linda Hampshire and Karima El-Hakkaoui)

Planning a wedding? Know someone who is doing so?

Have I got a recommendation for you.

The Wedding A to Z: Everything You Need to Know (and Stuff You Never Thought to Ask) is a comprehensive, all-in-one guide to everything you’ll need to think of and take into consideration when planning your wedding (or even just participating in one).

Authors LindaHampshire and Karima El-Hakkaoui write their way thoroughly, concisely, and with humor through an encyclopedia of all things wedding, from accessories and acne breakouts to yurts and whether your Zodiac sign is compatible with that of your spouse-to-be.

Wondering about how to involve your mother-in-law in your big day without letting her take over or making her feel pressured? Check the “Mother-in-Law” entry.

Need to know about what you can carry down the aisle? Flip to the “Bouquet” entry.

And the tasks list for your best man … what’s he supposed to do again? Find out in the “Best Man” entry.

There are entries for every wedding category, from flowers to attire to photographers and videographers to music to makeup to personal style and much, much more.

Best of all, the authors liberally quote, cite, and reference noted experts in the wedding industry: floral designers, photographers, wedding planners, caterers, and all the rest weigh in with their own personal insights, experiences, and stories about how to make your day the best day possible.

The book is, as aforementioned, an all-in-one guide to everything you’ll need to think of in planning your wedding. Its downside is that you’ll have to supplement with other, more thorough resources on a number of topics (such as wedding dress styles and silhouettes, gemstone cuts for the engagement ring, and sample budget breakdowns).

The point of the work is to give you a comprehensive list, if you like, as a place to start in planning your wedding (and remembering all those nit-picky little details) rather than to give you all the information and guidance you’ll need.

But there are innumerable experts and resources listed in the back index for your further exploration, and the book is worth the tips, trivia, fun facts, and easy, conversational style. Check it out!

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Author: Linda Hampshire and Karima El-Hakkaoui
Title: The Wedding A to Z: Everything You Need to Know (and Stuff You Never Thought to Ask)
ISBN: 978-0-7704-3508-0
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the publisher through the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Book Review: "Predictably Irrational" (Dan Ariely)

Many of the decisions we make in life are not, in fact, based on rational thought. Ever heard of the placebo effect, whereby a more expensive aspirin solves a headache seemingly more quickly than store-brand aspirin?

How many more of our choices are based on qualities or criteria that we assume to be accurate or true when, in fact, the opposite may be the case?

Enter Dan Ariely, the James B. Duke Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University, and his groundbreaking book, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.

After suffering a horrific, debilitating injury as a young man, Ariely found himself with a lot of questions about the psychology of pain and choices, and a great deal of time (as he recovered) to think through his suppositions. The results of that time, plus extensive research, resulted in Predictably Irrational.

He discusses the placebo effect, aforementioned, and goes into in-depth analysis of other, lesser-known choices people make based on irrational assumptions.

For instance, people are very likely to buy an extra box of cereal if they have a coupon for a "buy one, get one" deal ... even if they only go through one box of cereal a month, and by the time they open the second box of cereal that's been in the pantry for a month or more, it could be full of moths or chewy instead of crunchy. But something about the availability of that coupon, and the allure of "saving money!" entices shoppers time and again to make those kinds of purchases.

That's the premise of the chapter on "The Cost of Zero Cost: Why We Often Pay Too Much When We Pay Nothing."

Or what about self-control and procrastination? Agree with yourself that you will start your diet today, no more excuses ... and then forego your resolve when the server hands you a dessert menu that evening. Maybe you'll start tomorrow instead.

That's the premise of the chapter "The Problem of Procrastination and Self-Control: Why We Can't Make Ourselves Do What We Want to Do."

Did you know that people who are asked to write down as many of the Ten Commandments as they can remember right before they take a test are far more likely to be honest and far less likely to cheat than people who are not asked to do the Ten Commandments exercise? Why on earth is that?

Find out in the book.

Well-written, engaging, and packed with fascinating accounts of experiments and real-life examples, Predictably Irrational is an intriguing look into the field of behavioral psychology, and why we are not as rational as we'd like to think we are when we make decisions.

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Author: Dan Ariely
Title: Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions
ISBN: 978-0-06-135323-9
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Book Review: "The Surgeon" (Tess Gerritsen)

Surgeon Dr. Catherine Cordell lives cautiously, ever since what happened to her two years ago, when she was attacked and nearly died at the hands of a serial killer. In that incident, she managed to free herself and fatally wound the killer. After that, she moved away to rebuild her life and start over, and it works for a while.

Until a copycat killer stalks her to Boston and starts murdering young women in the same gruesome way the original killer did: by cutting out their wombs while they are conscious, and then slitting their throats. 

Detectives Jane Rizzoli, an embittered and relentless woman out to prove herself in a male-dominated world, and Thomas Moore, her quiet-mannered partner, are assigned the current cases and notice the pattern between the two different killers. That Catherine is the intended target becomes increasingly apparent, as she finds even her home and career under siege.

What none of them suspects is that the killer could be someone who works right alongside any one of them, day after day, planning his next move with intimate foreknowledge and deadly intent.

A New York Times bestseller, The Surgeon is the first book in thriller author Tess Gerritsen's Rizzoli and Isles series (prior to Isles's joining the team). Gerritsen is renowned for her expertise in creating the most hair-raising, suspense-packed scenarios and throwing her characters (conflicted, believable, empathetic) into the mix.

There is never any question that the book will be well-written; literary agent and author Donald Maass cites The Surgeon in his fantastic work, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, as an example of a book that goes above and beyond average expectations and commands vast attention because of its excellence.

Rizzoli, in particular, may appeal most to readers because of her struggle to define herself and her worth in the male-dominated world of law enforcement. Her bitterness, resentment, and callous exterior conceal a courageous heart absolutely committed to enacting justice on behalf of the oppressed ... which is why, when she finds herself embroiled in a scandal and demoted to desk duty, her actions are even more sympathetic.

What is most horrific about the work in terms of the terror factor is the chillingly realistic possibility that what happens to the characters --- to the murder victims --- could very easily happen to anyone. Does any one of us ever really know enough about the others with whom we come into contact in our daily lives? Enough to be entirely assured that another person is not driven by an insane obsession for our demise?

It's a question worth pondering.

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Author: Tess Gerritsen
Title: The Surgeon
Series: Rizzoli and Isles (Book #1)
ISBN: 978-0-345-44784-5
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Book Review: "The Happiness Advantage" (Shawn Achor)

If you believe that you'll finally achieve happiness in this life when you've ... (fill in the blank: found the right career, gone to the right college, married the right person, worked enough hours) ... you aren't alone. In fact, the vast majority of us believe that happiness follows ideal and idyllic circumstances.

Welcome psychologist Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, to the stage. His book completely upends the aforementioned assumption. Instead, he posits that happiness, the focus of the relatively new field of positive psychology, precedes our achieving all the other goals and desires we have in life.

Just the premise of the work fascinated me when I picked it up to read. Indeed, Achor knows whereof he speaks, as a man with authority and expert knowledge on the topic. He moves swiftly through the seven principles he contends contribute to the attainment of our ideal life circumstances.

Each of those principles is well-researched and presented in everyday language in a conversational style that makes the information given seem that much more possible to understand and implement, regardless of your chosen career or interests.

Such principles include "The Tetris Effect," whereby the brain can be trained to look at situations from various angles and "capitalize on possibility" (87). Another is the "The 20-Second Rule," which has to do with the process of transforming bad habits into better, more productive or healthier habits by reducing and even eliminating the typical obstacles that stand in the way of making changes.

What is so intriguing about the premise of the book is that the field of positive psychology is still young and growing. The content of the book is revolutionary enough, and easily applicable enough, to warrant personal study and widespread use. I've found innumerable points to implement in my own life as means with which to tackle my work routines and processes, to get where I most want to go.

I can only recommend that you pick up the work and see its potential applicability in your life for yourself.

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Author: Shawn Achor
Title: The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work
ISBN: 978-0-307-59154-8
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Top Five: Writing-Related Articles from February 9-13

5. "How to Create a Realistic Budget for Freelancers" on (Kristi Hines)


Amazing how so much in life keeps coming back down to money. Even if you freelance for the love of doing so, you'll need a budget to keep your financials in order. Here's a post that walks you through the process of establishing one.

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4. "8 Timeless Tips for Freelancers Struggling with Productivity" on (Trevor Dobrygoski)


Have a hard time focusing on the task at hand? (Heck, even non-freelancers can often say the same thing.) Looking for practical ways to get with the program and get something done? This post is chock full of excellent ideas, from doing one thing at a time (instead of multitasking) to setting an actual schedule (because if you underestimate the value of a schedule, you'll find yourself adrift).

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3. "'Yes, But ...' or 'No, and ...': End Writer's Block" on A Writer's Journey (Nat Russo)


You left your character hanging at the end of your last writing session, and now you have no idea where to go from here. Try asking this question: will the character achieve his/her goal for this scene, or not? If he will, use a "Yes, but." If he won't, use a "No, and." Each of these heightens tension and keeps the reader reading. Check out the post to find out more!

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2. "How to Start a Profitable Freelance Business" on Startup Camp (Dale Partridge)


A lot of posts have been written about starting a freelance business and how to succeed doing so. Still, new perspectives on the same thing can be beneficial, and if we have to hear things several times before we absorb the material, it's doubly helpful. This post is one of the most thorough and professional I've seen in a long time on the subject.

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1. "The Ultimate List of Freelancer Tax Deductions" on Freelancers Union (Kendra Murphy)


April is on its way. Nobody enjoys doing their taxes, and we often enjoy even less trying to figure out what deductions apply to us and which don't, and how we have to qualify. Finally, here's an all-inclusive one-stop post to find the answers you've been looking for.

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And there's the lineup for last week. What did you enjoy? What didn't do much for you? What did you do for Valentine's Day? Let me know!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Book Review: "Crank" (Ellen Hopkins)

Ever found yourself beholden to a monster?

Maybe it was a person. Someone who did everything to reach inside your mind and mess with you, make you feel like you were less than everyone else, make you question your sanity, make you wonder who you were and why you even mattered.

Maybe it was a situation. Something you didn't create (or maybe you did) but had to deal with anyone. Something whose consequences landed on you even though you didn't want to have anything to do with it. Something you suffered through because someone else made a stupid decision and didn't think to ask whether you wanted your life ruined.

Or maybe it was something man-made. Maybe it was a substance. A drug.

Say, methamphetamine, also called crank.

In her unique, groundbreaking work, Crank, author Ellen Hopkins traces the series of choices made by high school junior Kristina that lead her to take her first taste of methamphetamine.

After that, nothing is ever the same --- not the relationships she tries and fails to forge, not the classes at school she fails, not her role in her family, and not the innocence she once had, before her choices led her down a path she now can't escape by herself.

Hopkins uses a fascinating method to tell Kristina's story, relying on what I'd call contemporary poetry and even word painting as a means to convey the chaos, panic, and desperation that drives Kristina's decisions. Furthermore, the story is a well-researched survey into a problem that is deeply frightening and all-too-common in today's society: how easy it is for someone to say "yes" to something that promises to help him/her escape from whatever challenges he/she is facing in life, and that then betrays the promise completely.

Kristina could be any average teenage girl --- divorced parents, her drug-abuser dad estranged from the family, her mom remarried, her stepfather not quite "with it," her older sister recently out of the closet as a lesbian, her younger brother a typical annoyance. She represents the whole of those in the world who are desperate to belong and to find a way to make hurt feelings and disappointments go away, even if that means diving headlong into something from which there is no comeback easily attained.

Brutally honest, darkly humorous, and frighteningly possible in both its scope and focus, Crank is a read that will stay with you long after you've turned the last page.

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Author: Ellen Hopkins
Title: Crank
ISBN: 978-0-689-86519-0
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Book Review: "Gods at War" (Kyle Idleman)

Human beings were designed to worship something.

Could be you worship part of whatever religion you espouse.

Could also be things that aren't quite so religious. What if you realized you worship money? success? relationships? accomplishments? entertainment? food?

And if you knew the consequences of what you've chosen to worship ... would you choose differently?

That's the premise of Kyle Idleman's book, Gods at War: Defeating the Idols That Battle for Your Heart. He writes from a Judeo-Christian worldview with Scripture references and uses seamless exegesis in his stance.

His style is genuine, credible, and unapologetic. You know exactly where he lands from the very first words of his book, and you don't doubt his heart for his readers, as his concern and compassion show through very clearly.

Idols come in so many shapes and sizes. We often don't even recognize them for what they are and how much they mean to us.

You eat food to fill a void inside ... 

You take a shopping spree to soothe a disappointment ...

You lose one relationship and dive immediately into another because you can't stand to be alone...

You sacrifice time with friends or family, or both, in your haste to climb the corporate ladder to success ...

What if you're pursuing the wrong things? What if your heart isn't designed to honor things like that? What if you don't find lasting fulfillment on this earth, even though you sacrifice everything else that was once important to you?

Idleman shares personal stories and anecdotes from his own life and experiences as a counselor and pastor, and, quite simply, as another human being designed to worship something. With poignant, piercing questions designed to inventory the state of your heart, he reveals truth according to the Bible: it's too easy to become what you worship, especially if you worship the wrong thing.

You were designed to worship something. What will you choose?

Pick up the book and read it. You won't think the same way about your life afterward.

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Author: Kyle Idleman
Title: Gods at War: Defeating the Idols That Battle for Your Heart
ISBN: 978-0-310-31884-2
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: The opinions I have expressed are my own.