Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Hungry Ocean Will Consume You

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

If you've read The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger or seen the movie based on it, you should recognize the name Linda Greenlaw. As captain of the Andrea Gail's sister ship, Hannah Boden, she was one of the last people to communicate with the doomed boat's crew. She's also the woman Junger labeled "the best captain, period, on the East Coast." Junger's praise stirred up interest in Greenlaw and her career as the only female swordboat captain in the world. When a publisher approached her for her story, Greenlaw responded by writing The Hungry Ocean.

Since people seem most interested in the day-to-day details of life aboard the Hannah Boden, Greenlaw's book describes "a real, and typical, swordfishing trip, from leaving the dock to returning" (xii). The story begins early in the morning on August 30 (not sure what year) in Gloucester, Massachusetts. When it opens, Greenlaw is breakfasting with her boss, mentally reviewing her checklist for her upcoming fishing trip. Having just brought in the most fish in her career - 56, 000 lbs. - she is eager for a repeat performance, but nervous that something has been forgotten. Will 12, 000 lbs. of bait, $3, 500 worth of groceries, and 20, 000 gallons of diesel fuel be enough to sustain her and her 5-man crew for a voyage that could last upwards of 30 days? What happens if she reaches the Grand Banks, 1, 000 miles from shore, only to discover she's forgotten something critical?

Despite her nerves, Greenlaw and her crew depart as planned, plowing northeast toward the fertile water beyond Grand Banks. As they steam, she describes the men she will be living with for the next month, the intense preparations they all make, and her own relationship with the ocean. Just when tensions are mounting on the boat, the Hannah Boden reaches her destination and the 6 fishermen spring into action. Working day and night, they jockey for choice fishing positions, battle sharks, fight personal battles, and toil to fill the ship's hold with enough fish to ensure a paycheck, however slim.

Greenlaw's writing is as matter-of-fact as I assume her to be. She describes every step of the fishing trip in detail, sometimes too much detail. I admit my eyes glazed over during some of her more technical explanations. Occasionally, she drifts into more poetic territory (especially when describing scenery), but The Hungry Ocean is mostly a frank look at an ordinary swordfishing trip with all its innate drama.

Now, I admit, that doesn't sound too exciting to those of us whose closest interactions with marine life consist of shaking frozen fish sticks out of a Gorton's box. Luckily for us, the real beauty of this book lies not with the animals, but with the humans who hunt them. Greenlaw offers vignettes about fishing life, from superstitions to pranks pulled on newbies to her own tale of "the one that got away." She also shows her crew in all their guts and glory - hardworking, hard-living men with their own faults and prejudices. Although she offers less details about her own life, Greenlaw touches on what it means to be a woman in a male-dominated industry. She insists:

Being a woman hasn't been a big deal. I never anticipated problems stemming from being female, and never encountered any. I have been surprised, even embarrassed, by the number of people who are genuinely amazed that a woman might be capable of running a fishing boat. Frankly, I'm amazed that they're amazed. People, women in particular, are generally disappointed when they learn that I have not suffered unduly from being the only woman in what they perceive to be a man's world. I might be thick-skinned - or just too damn busy working to worry about what others might think of me. (58)

While there are many fascinating aspects to The Hungry Ocean, the thing that really stands out is Linda Greenlaw's obvious passion for her work. Her love for the sea and its inhabitants imbue her story with authenticity and heart. She has known the ocean intimately and speaks of its duality with authority:

I have taken life and living from the sea, and have given the same back, I suppose. The complex and all-consuming ocean feeds man, but also feeds upon men. The flat calm that gently digests my troubles is capable of violent turbulence of enough gluttony to chew up and spit out vessels of the strongest steel, often swallowing men and ships whole. The ocean which gives so much takes back what it needs, commanding respect and getting it from those who have seen and understand the hunger. (253)

Greenlaw is at her best when contemplating her greatest enemy and fondest love - The Hungry Ocean. Her account will consume you as well.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Author Chat: An Interview With Kamilla Reid (and a Giveaway!)

Recently, I "sat down" (virtually, anyway) and had a fascinating conversation with Kamilla Reid, author of The Questory of Root Karbunkulus. She had some great things to say. Be sure to read the whole thing, because I put all the really important stuff at the bottom!

Me: I know you have been writing since you were a kid, even publishing at a young age. How do you think your writing has evolved over the years?

KR: I would have to say that the biggest thing that has evolved over the years, the thing that, I think makes all the difference in the world is confidence. I have grown more confident in my abilities and so I feel like I can just be me now (only took me 40 years! :). When that happens, it allows that curious and wonderful thing called Voice to come out, which is everything to a writer.

Me: You have a background in theater. What have you learned from acting/directing/writing plays that has helped you in crafting fiction?

KR: The theatre definitely helped me develop a solid grasp on natural dialogue, which I think is very important. Also, as a playwright/director I gained the confidence to admit when something really sucked; I learned the essential craft of re-writing. I get so many comments about how visual my writing is and how the book has movie written all over it. I wonder if it’s because of my theatre background, where it was all about the visual. I must have taken that with me into my books. Or maybe that’s why I was drawn to theatre in the first place…Hmmmmm…

Me: I ask this question of every writer I interview, because I'm so fascinated by how authors work. What is your writing routine? Where and when do you write? Do you plan your stories down to the last detail or just let the ideas flow freely?

KR: I know, I remember I had this book called WOW (Writers on Writing) and I was always scouring the routines and rituals of other authors ! I write early in the morning…really early…some, like my 8-year-old daughter, Tylar would say ‘stupid early’ but it’s nice and quiet and one of my dogs, Stogie (yes, I’ve immortalized him ) sleeps at my feet. I drink lots of Chai green tea and I go like that until I can’t anymore…sometimes a whole day (if Tylar’s not home) and sometimes a whole fifteen minutes (if she is!).

I absolutely have to work out the plot, all the plots ahead of time. So, before I even started book one I had to work out every major plot point and every main character’s arc for all six books first. Sometimes I have no idea what the event specifically will be, only that something has to occur that will plunge so-and-so into emotional turmoil or great joy or even death…that sort of thing. Once that's done, I let it fall out organically as I go along. I love it. Even now, writing about it gets me all giddy and excited :)

Me: I know a t.v. show (The Amazing Race) inspired The Questory of Root Karbunkulus - from what other sources do you find inspiration and ideas for your stories?

KR: I get my ideas from so many different things around me, sometimes a conversation will spark an idea or a picture or a song. Actually a lot of my inspiration comes from the natural world, whether that be the particular behavior of unique animals or trees or insects or sea creatures. There's a wealth of 'what if' there :)

Me: Ever since J.K. Rowling came on the scene, sci fi/fantasy novels for young adults have been all the rage. Did the popularity of this genre convince you to write this type of story or have you always been a sci fi/fantasy nerd? In other words, what made you choose this genre? And how do you make yourself stand out in such a saturated market?

KR: Y'know it's funny because I never liked fantasy, or what I thought was fantasy before I learned it had sub-genres. I'd see book covers and cringe at the half naked women with their ginormous swords. So, I'd had this limited, ignorant perception, thinking that was Fantasy. All I knew was that I loved magical stories, like the Camelot tales of old and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Princess Bride. I still don't even know if those are classified as fantasy. But I did know that they were the kind of stories I loved and wanted to write. And so I did :)

As to standing out, gosh...I've done a few things, like a really cool website and book trailer and a fun tour, but in the end you just have to trust and hope the story speaks for itself.

Me: Who are your favorite authors? Which writers influence you most? Are there any genres you simply can't stand?

KR: Right now I am soooo loving Terry Pratchett. He's just so funny! And there's an example of how I've grown as a reader. I had categorized him in that original fantasy genre that I'm not really partial to (I guess you could call it adult fantasy?). But, as time goes by I'm opening up to all sorts of genres that I'd never have read before, romance for instance, though it's not high on my list. I've been inspired by a lot of great writing but I'd have to say JK Rowling's personal story is what inspired me to get off my butt and write! When I saw that she wrote as a single mum I realized, being in the same circumstance that I could do it, too.

Me: If you were asked to participate in a competition like "The Amazing Race" or a DreAmm treasure hunt, would you do it? What would be your strengths? Your weaknesses?

KR: Oh yeah! That would be so cool! I think one of my strengths would be that I am very calm under extreme circumstances. Oh, and I think I'd be pretty good at keeping morale up. I'm kinda cheerleaderish that way. My weakness would probably be something social. If there was a dinner party I'd be there with bells on :)

Me: If you could choose your teammates for such a competition, who would they be (they can be real or fictional) and why?

KR: Man, that's a great question! Hmmm...does George Clooney count? Okay, let's see. Gandolf because he's sorta been there, done that and brought back the winning t-shirt. Um....Jack Sparrow 'cause he's Jack! And...Ellen 'cause she's brilliantly funny and nice and then we could all be on her show!

Me: Great answers, Kamilla. Thanks again!

KR: You're very welcome and thank you so much for letting me share with you and your readers. I have truly enjoyed your unique questions! All the very best to you, Susan!

Kamilla was kind enough to send me an extra signed copy of her book, plus 2 fun dogtags featuring her characters. To enter, answer the same question I asked Kamilla - If you could choose your teammates for a magical Amazing Race-type competition, who would you choose and why? I will randomly choose a winner on August 9. Good luck!

Root Karbunkulus Lacks Potter's Magic, But Who Doesn't?


Root Karbunkulus knows she's different. After all, she's an orphan living in a "filthy halfhouse," where even the yard "was a perfectly divided lot of plant life, though of what species no one could quite describe other than 'Insolent' and 'Savage'" (13-14). She spends her days slaving away for her two cantankerous aunts and defending herself in the schoolyard. Different? You bet, but until the day she answers the cry of a telephone no one else can hear, she doesn't realize that being different isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can be quite exciting, even excellent.

The Questory of Root Karbunkulus by Kamilla Reid begins with Root's life-changing phone call, a summons to join a magical treasure hunt. Although she is more than willing to do anything that gets her away from her cruel guardians, Root is still shocked when she is suddenly transported to the stunning world of Dre'Amm. Soon she is trudging her way toward a castle along with a line of other boys and girls, all of whom are buzzing about the competition they have been invited to join. In Dre'Amm, where magic exists in profusion, Root finds herself at a disadvantage. She is a Dearth - a non-magicial being.

Still, she's expected to join a team and begin the first of 6 quests to find treasures of the Dre'Amm world. It's a game, a contest, the winners of which will receive certain fame. Root's team, the Valadors, consists of herself and two boys - Lian, the bullied son of a nobleman, and Dwyn, an orphaned chick magnet from Root's world. Together, they head to a secret library, hoping to gain information that will put them ahead of the other teams. To their disappointment, another group has arrived first - the competition will remain neck-and-neck from this point on, as the teams scour the land for clues to Kalliope's treasure. Along the way, Root will learn about the strange world of Dre'Amm - her birthplace - with its wide variety of animals (including two-headed snakes, albino gorillas, talking cats and vicious rodents), beings (Nods, ghosts, Sea Wraiths, Bulks, Bredins, etc.), and other strange inhabitants (interactive maps, animate alarm clocks, mischevious shadows, and snoopy wisteria vines). She will also learn about her own strengths, fears and abilities. As she battles blood-thirsty monsters, greedy Savages and a terrifying madwoman, Root will discover how different - how wonderfully different - she really is.

Action is king in Reid's first novel, which suffers from lack of character development and a weak purpose/theme. Its quick tempo and death-defying stunts will keep readers turning pages, eager to find out what happens next. It drags a bit in the middle, but accelerates in the last third, which had me flipping pages at breakneck (finger?) speed (and marveling at the brilliance of Reid's most original creation - the Simp). I definitely would have liked more depth from the main characters, but the treasure hunt kept me distracted enough that I didn't get too disappointed. I liked the idea of a magical version of The Amazing Race (from where Reid got her inspiration), where kids with untapped abilities compete in a dangerous, thrilling sprint to the finish line.

In general, I really liked this book. It's a fun adventure story that will entertain adults and kids alike. My biggest beef is that the novel (1) didn't answer fundamental questions and (2) lacked unification and purpose. As I was reading, I kept wondering, Why was Root suddenly plucked out of her normal life to join a treasure hunt in an alternative world? Why would a bunch of kids be competing in a dangerous, life and death-type competition anyway? If the contest's only reward is fame, why does a simple girl like Root care? And, what happened to her parents? None of these questions are answered sufficiently for me. My second complaint is harder to define, but I kept wondering, What's the point? The kids are competing in a game, the outcome of which has little significance. They're not battling to change the world, defeat enemies or triumph over evil, they are only trying to win a game. Main characters are supposed to have something they will give anything to achieve; Root seems goal-less, not really caring whether she wins the game or not. In my mind, this shaky purpose lacks the urgency and importance of those in other books of this genre (i.e. Harry Potter, The Bartimaeus Trilogy, the Mister Monday series, etc.). I don't know if that makes any sense, but basically the plot seemed to meander without a definitive purpose - I kept telling myself, "So what? Maybe they win, maybe they don't. What does it matter?" Maybe I'm being too harsh, but those were my thoughts as I was reading.

Despite some issues, The Questory of Root Karbunkulus is an entertaining read that is getting rave reviews (and I'm not dissenting, I'm just saying I wanted more from the author). I would have liked a tighter plot, more structural unity, and better developed characters, but overall, it's an engrossing adventure with some interesting new tricks. It lacks the magic of Harry Potter, but what doesn't? I'm not as enthusiastic about Root as I wanted to be, but I'm still willing to hang on and see where her next quest will take me ...


Grade: B



Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I'm Baaaack (With A Giveaway)

Whew - my big trip is over, and I'm back home. We spent A LOT of time in the car, but we had a great time. Even the whole "go where the wind takes us" thing didn't turn out too badly. Now, it's on to our next adventure - moving. We're only going across town, but packing up a house is serious work.

Anyway, one of my favorite things to come home to after vacation (besides my super-comfy bed) is a nice, big stack of mail. Of course, I'm always excited when it includes books. Imagine my glee when I found not 1, but 6 books! One of them came in this fun package from Heather over at The Library Ladder:

Thanks so much, Heather!

I love getting fun stuff for myself, but I also love it when I receive goodies I can pass on to you. When Tipti Monga, publicist for Traci L. Slatton, asked if I wanted copies of Immortal to give away on my blog, I jumped at the chance. Obviously, I haven't had an opportunity to read it yet, but it looks really good. Here's the blurb from the back cover:

In the majestic heart of Florence, a beautiful golden-haired boy is abandoned and subjected to cruelty beyond words. But Luca Bastardo is anything but an ordinary boy. Across two centuries of passion and intrigue, Luca will discover an astonishing gift - one that will lead him to embrace the ancient mysteries of alchemy and healing and to become a trusted confidant to the powerful Medicis ... even as he faces persecution from a sadistic cabal determined to wrest his secrets for themselves.

But as the Black Death and the Inquisition wreak havoc on his beloved city, Luca's survival lies in the quest to solve two riddles. One is the enigma of his parents and his ageless beauty. The other is a choice between immortality and the only chance to find his one true love. As Luca journeys through the heights of the Renaissance, befriends Giotto and Leonardo da Vinci - 140 years apart - and pursues the most closely guarded secrets of religious faith and science for the answers to his own burning questions, his remarkable search will not only change him ... but will change the course of history.

So, I have 2 copies of the book to give away. I'll make it really simple - all you have to do is comment on this post to be entered. I will draw the names of the 2 winners on August 9. Coincidentally, I will be announcing another giveaway tomorrow. The giveaways will run concurrently, and you may enter both. Good luck!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

In the Meantime ... A Meme


I'm heading off on vacation tomorrow. My husband's normally dormant gypsy genes have apparently taken him over because he's decided to "meander" our way to Oregon. Normally our trips are planned out well ahead of time, but this trip he's suggesting we flip coins to determine the routes we take there and back. Spontaneity scares me, so we'll see how it goes :) As long as we get there, I guess it doesn't matter. Anyway, we're heading to The Columbia River Gorge, one of the most beautiful places on Earth (in my humble, totally unbiased opinion) for a reunion with my parents, siblings and their families. Since we are spread all over the globe (my husband jokes that this is how we all get along so well - 1 is in Saudi Arabia, 1 in Guam, 2 in California, 1 in Maine, me in Arizona and my parents live in Washington State), we don't get to see each other very often. It will be fun, not to mention a nice diversion from packing. My (long and belabored) point is that I won't be around for a week or so. I hope you can survive not hearing from me for that long :)

Of course, the most important items to consider while packing for a trip are books. Even though I never read in the car (I'm notorious for getting carsick even on straightaways), and I may not have much time for reading while actually on vacation, I'm still bringing along a couple of books. You just never know when you might have the opportunity to sneak in a few chapters, ya know? I'm nothing if not optimistic. So, I'm taking The Eye, The Ear, and The Arm by Nancy Farmer and The Hungry Ocean by Linda Greenlaw. I'm enjoying both books, and hope to have time to finish and review them both before I have to unplug my computer and move. We'll see how it goes ...

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In the meantime, I saw this meme over at Dani's blog and thought it looked fun:

Do you remember how you developed a love of reading? Not really, no. My mom says I taught myself to read before I entered kindergarten, and I haven't stopped reading since. I simply don't remember a time when I did not love books. It helps that I came from a bookish household. Both my parents are big readers, so my childhood home has always featured heavily-laden bookshelves. I'm sure, also, that my parents read to us, although I don't remember any specifics (except for our daily scripture study at 5 a.m. - yes, Mormons ARE crazy).

What are some books you loved as a child? I adored The Berenstain Bears as a young child. As I got older, I remember loving all books involving Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, The Ingalls Family and The Boxcar Children. I also loved Choose Your Own Adventure novels and (as much as I hate to admit it) Sweet Valley High books.

What is your favorite genre? I guess I would have to say women's fiction, although I love historical fiction, mystery, suspense, cultural fiction, biographies and self-help/inspirational books. In recent years, I've also become a big fan of sci-fi/fantasy, especially that written for young adults.

Do you have a favorite novel? Just one? Gasp! No way, although I love Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Peace Like A River by Leif Enger, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

Where do you usually read? I read everywhere I can - in bed, on my living room couch, while on vacation, whenever I'm in a waiting room, on airplanes, etc. I probably read most often at my kitchen table while eating lunch. This is because I purposely feed my kids first, then send them off for naps/quiet times, so that I can enjoy a leisurely lunch. Because my husband doesn't generally come home from work at lunchtime, I have this nice, quiet time to eat and read - two of my favorite things to do :)

When do you usually read? That's easy - anytime I can!
Do you usually have more than one book you are reading at a time? Yes and no. I always have a main read, which is what I mostly concentrate on, and I usually have a book stashed in my master bathroom. My secondary read gets pretty neglected, though, eventually ending up under a pile of Popular Science and Men's Health magazines (my husband's, obviously). I guess this means that (1) I'm not getting enough fiber in my diet, or (2) My 3-year-old potty buddy monopolizes all my bathroom reading time!

Do you read non-fiction in a different way or place than you read fiction? Not in a different place, no, but I definitely read NF more slowly than I do fiction.

Do you buy most of the books you read, or borrow them, or check them out from the library? I don't borrow many books; I'm usually the one people borrow from! I actually buy most of my books, although I check tons out from the library, too. These days, I get mounds of free books from authors, publishers, publicists and blog giveaways. Gotta love those freebies!

Do you keep most of the books you buy? Actually, no. I only keep the ones I really like and am not embarrassed to have on my shelves. Remembering how often I grabbed books off my parents' shelves, I try not to keep any that I wouldn't want my kids reading. If I have books I don't want to keep, I either donate them to the library or put them up on Bookmooch.

If you have children, what are some of the favorite books you have shared with them? My kids love The Berenstain Bears books just like I did when I was little. We also enjoyed reading Charlotte's Web together - twice. Other than that, it's mostly them sharing their favorites with me!

What are you reading now? I finished an ARC of The Questory of Root Karbunkulus by Kamilla Reid this morning. Now, I'm reading The Hungry Ocean by Linda Greenlaw; The Eye, The Ear, and The Arm by Nancy Farmer is my bathroom read.

Do you keep a TBR list? Absolutely. It's an alphabetized, color-coded thing of beauty!

What's next? Linda Greenlaw's fiction books, Slipknot and Fisherman's Bend, plus a whole lotta review and challenge books.

What books would you like to re-read? You know, I'm not a big re-reader. There are just too many books out there I want to read for the first time. If I had to choose one, it would probably be Gone With the Wind.

Who are your favorite authors? I have tons, but these are a few whose books I consistently enjoy: Kathy Reichs, Adriana Trigiani, Joanne Harris, Jodi Picoult, Leif Enger, Maeve Binchy, J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, etc., etc.

I'm always fascinated by other bloggers' reading habits, so let me know if you do this one on your blog.

Okay, I have to quit stalling and start packing. See ya next week ...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Get Ye a Parenting Guide, Me Hearties

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

The best thing about Cap'n Billy "The Butcher" McDougall's Guide to Pirate Parenting by Tim Bete is that it offers no practical advice whatsoever. I thought the whole pirate thing might by a clever attention-grabber to lure unsuspecting landlubbers into reading yet another book of stale parenting tips, but I was wrong. Bete leaves the psychology to Dr. Spock, and focuses on what's really important - the proper training of the next generation of Jack (or Jill) Sparrows.


Bete's pirating - um, parenting - expert is the infamous Cap'n Billy, "a rum-swilling, ship-sailing, treasure-plundering, skull-and-crossbones-wearing, self-professed parenting guru" (11). He offers numerous tips on the hows and whys of raising pirates. In case you are curious, here's his Top 10 Reasons to Raise Your Kids As Pirates:


10. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to be a pirate, and he'll steal other people's fish for a lifetime.


9. Divvying up booty is good quality time with the kids.


8. When other parents hear you're raising your children as pirates, they'll stop asking you to volunteer at school.


7. It's fun to watch the emergency room doctor's reaction when you say your son was injured during "a little mishap boarding a merchant vessel that refused to surrender."


6. You've always preferred the title "Captain" to "Mommy" or "Daddy."


5. You can spend your kids' college savings on more important things, like a trip to Las Vegas.


4. Your children already smell like pirates, so the transition will be easy.


3. The family that plunders together, stays together!


2. Replacing "family movie night" with "family terrorizing the neighbors with cannons night" is a wonderful change of pace.


1. Cap'n Billy wants you to do it - and the last person who didn't do what Cap'n Billy asked was set adrift in a rowboat with only a day's supply of water.


If you're convinced, you can read on for helpful tips on important subjects like "Quelling Mutinies," treating "Scurvy and Hook Injuries," and "Convert[ing] Your Minivan Into a Pirate Schooner." Cap'n Billy's guide also features handy checklists to track your little powder monkey's progress. As your child grows into young adulthood, you'll find the section "As Your Pirate Gets Older" especially helpful. I laughed out loud at his tips on creating an online dating profile. He encourages teens to "control the first impression others have of [you]" (107) by being creative, like so:


Occupation


The truth: Pirate captain


Online dating profile: Freelance naval consultant and philanthropist


If you're looking for serious parenting help, you'd best look elsewhere, scurvy dog. If you're after a quick, funny read, look no farther, matey. Fans of Dave Barry and Melinda Long will appreciate Bete's quirky humor and passion for pirating. Everyone else will just have to walk the plank. Arrrrhhhh.


You can catch more laughs with Cap'n Billy on his website.


Grade: B


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Author Chat: An Interview with Robyn Carr

If you read my last post, you know how much I enjoyed Robyn Carr's Grace Valley series. I'm excited to have her "stop by" BBB today to chat about her books and writing in general.

Me: Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? How did your career come about?

RC: It never occurred to me that I’d be a writer. I studied nursing after high school, got married to an Air Force pilot, and started on our family. It was a few years into the marriage and after reading hundreds of book – mostly those for women – that I thought I’d give it a try. The children were still in diapers and it was a crazy thing to do. It was such a long time ago, pre-computers, that I wrote my first novel in longhand on lined paper.

But it was the writing that snagged me. I loved making up stories. That was even more fun than being kept up half the night reading them. There was no turning back – it was too pleasurable. Even when it was hard and frustrating and discouraging, I still liked it.

My third completed novel sold to Little, Brown & Co and was published in hardcover in 1980. They published my first seven novels, and there have been several publishers and almost 30 novels since. I started in historical romances and moved on to contemporary women’s fiction.

Me: You write 2 interconnected series about women working in small-town medical communities. What inspired you to write about small-town doctoring?

RC: This is so calculated and un-romantic – women practitioners are focused on all women’s issues. They’re not just looking for pregnancy or breast tumors, they’re looking for signs of abuse, depression, difficult adjustments to life changes – you name it. The nurse midwife consultant who works on the books to be sure they’re clinically correct is also an expert in teenage sexual abuse – how handy was THAT? It seems to be the juxtaposition between romance and women’s issues that makes my stories work for readers. And it definitely works for me.

Me: I know you have a background in nursing. Did your own experience influence your characters' actions or personalities? What do you have in common with June Hudson and Melinda Monroe, heroines of the Grace Valley and Virgin River books?

RC: I suppose I feel I understand women’s health, probably because of my background. I have two best friends – one a women’s health nurse practitioner and one a PhD in clinical psychology. Some of the things I hear from them influences me. As to what I have in common with the characters, very little. My job is to make them interesting, admirable, role models for the reader – so if they come off better once changed, I change them. I’m a ruthless re-writer.

Me: Speaking of the Virgin River books, where do you see the series going?

RC: Right now I’m working on my 8th Virgin River novel, due out in 2010. The first three in the series did so nicely that there will be A Virgin River Christmas in November 2008 and the next 3 in the continuing series in Feb/Mar/April 2009. And I committed to 3 more for 2010. This little town is producing a lot of wonderful stories and I’ve never had such fun.

Me: Tell me about your new book, A Virgin River Christmas.

RC: A Virgin River Christmas is a stand-alone special holiday story. It actually takes place during the Christmas period of the 3rd book in the series, Whispering Rock, and even though all the favorite characters are present, it isn’t part of the continuing series. It’s a touching and sentimental story about a troubled marine who became a recluse after exiting the Corps and his best friend’s widow who has come to find him. It’s pure Christmas – all about forgiving, healing, beginning anew. You can read more at www.robyncarr.com/upcoming.html

Me: Your stories have a little bit of everything - humor, adventure, romance, mystery, etc. What kinds of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?

RC: Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Debbie Macomber are both favorite authors and old friends. I love women’s fiction, and have enjoyed discovering Susan Andersen and Toni Blake recently. I also like a good vampire story – JR Ward and Stephenie Meyer. And Nelson DeMille is my favorite ‘boy’ author – love his adventures.

Me: Your characters are so quirky and fun. Do you have a favorite? (C'mon, you know you do!) Which one would you most like to meet in real life?

RC: Are you kidding me? Jack Sheridan! He’s the leading man in the first Virgin River novel and anchors the series, remaining present through all the books. You can’t imagine the number of emails I get that say, simply, "Send Jack." I write them back and tell them to get in line!
Me: I'm always interested in how different authors write. How do you do it? Do you follow a specific schedule? Do you have a special place where you write? Do you outline your books or just write whatever comes into your head?

RC: I host a visiting author program for my public library and this is one of the most interesting questions – everyone’s process is so different. People write at four in the morning, some write after midnight, one writer I met can’t write at home – he goes to coffee shops. If he’s stuck at home, he feels like he’s in detention.

I get up in the morning and go straight to the computer in my office at home. I stay there all day, alternately answering mail, doing the busy work that goes with the job, (like answering interview questions:)) and writing. I start early – between 5:30 and 7:00 a.m. Sometime between 2-4, I hit a slump. That’s a good time to get a shower, fluff and buff so I don’t look like a vagrant when my husband comes home. But I go back to the computer. I’ve found that my best work comes between 4 and 7 pm, but only if I’ve had all day to get to that point. And I do this 7 days a week, unless I have other commitments. My best week is when there are no conflicting appointments on the calendar and I can focus just on storytelling, everyday, for long hours at a time.

No, I don’t like to outline. Once I have an idea, I like to start writing. More interesting things happen in the story while I’m actually creating it than when I’m just pondering it. I’m fast, I’m never reluctant to go back to the beginning and change things, and the ideas come slowly, over time. Some of my best stuff emerges in the second or third or fourth drafts – I just keep writing. I like to fly by the seat of my pants. Just like reading a fun book, writing one brings so many unexpected twists and turns as you go. If I stopped writing to think it through, it still wouldn’t go as planned, and I’d be wasting my time.

Me: Thanks so much, Robyn!

Welcome to Grace Valley, California - Chances Are, You'll Never Want to Leave

Welcome to Grace Valley, California, Population 1, 564. With its lush landscape and friendly residents, the community offers small-town living at its best. Anyone looking to escape the bustle of the city can find peace in this place of "apple butter, heirloom quilts, unlocked doors, front porches and pies cooling in kitchen windows" (8).

For all its pastoral charms, Grace Valley isn't exactly Mayberry. Just ask the town doctor, June Hudson. She'll tell you about "the underside here, not visible to the casual eye ... battered women living in isolation on rundown farms; a roadhouse called Dandies that was not quaint and did not welcome tourists" (45). Add the nearby marijuana farms ("An uncomfortable reality, and it was just up the road" [8]), and you've got a truer picture of gentle Grace Valley. Still, it's a good town where "blood runs thicker ... ties bind stronger ... and love is all the more sweet" (back cover).

Author Robyn Carr takes us to the picturesque town in her trilogy starring 37-year-old Dr. June Hudson. If you enjoyed stays in Mitford or Big Stone Gap, consider a visit to Grace Valley, California. Chances are excellent that you'll never want to leave.

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The series begins with Deep in the Valley, a charming introduction to June and her lively community. When we first meet the doctor, she's dashing through her house, dripping wet and wrapped only in a towel. It's 6:15 a.m., her phone's ringing, and she's the town's only full-time doctor. As she makes her way to the kitchen, she's startled to see a tattered mountain family sitting in her living room. Welcome to life as a country doctor, where surprises wait around every corner. After seeing to the patient - a teenager with a gangrenous foot - June heads for town, where the locals are already chortling about her half-naked doctoring. Welcome to life in a small town, where no one (especially her dad, semi-retired Doc Hudson) can keep their traps shut.

June has little time to dwell on the incident. Her hands are soon full with a drunk who beats his family; a baby who's coming too soon; a paranoid Vietnam vet; and a new doctor who may not be quite as perfect as he seems. As if that isn't enough, she also has to deal with a womanizing preacher, a distraught pregnant woman, and drug dealers who demand treatment at gunpoint. June, who hasn't had a date in a decade (in Grace Valley, you have to choose your spouse in 9th grade if you don't want to avoid old maidenhood), also finds herself falling for a mysterious DEA agent. Her life is so frenzied that she's even seeing angels. Could she be delusional, or is it all just another year in the life of crazy, wonderful Grace Valley?

This is an exciting opener that introduces readers to a fascinating cast of characters, including June's eccentric Aunt Myrna; her father and his irreverent cronies; the reclusive Mulls; June's crochety nurse Charlotte; and handsome newcomer Jim Post. It also highlights the hard-working doctor and her absolute devotion to her town. Funny and warm, it's a delicious appetizer to this pleasing series.

Just Over the Mountain, the second book in the Grace Valley trilogy, picks up where its predecessor left off. June's still worrying about the same ol' folks - Clarence Mull, a Vietnam vet with PTSD refuses to take his meds; Justine Cussler insists on having a baby instead of undergoing chemo for her ovarian cancer; and her nurse, Charlotte, wears the grey pall of death. Of course, June has plenty of new worries to keep her busy - there's the strange love triangle between Daniel, Blythe and Sarah; the reappearance of June's high school sweetheart and his troublesome twins; and the discovery of bones at her beloved Aunt Myrna's house. To top it all off, June's got the worst bug she's ever had - between the nausea, crying jags and exhaustion, she's barely able to take care of herself, let alone the town. In this state, is it any wonder she's having trouble resisting the advances of her sexy ex?

Deep in the Valley left me hungering for a second helping of Grace Valley in all its colorful charm, and Just Over the Mountain definitely satisfies. It introduces a different, more vulnerable, side of June that makes her even more likeable. Although the doc is a bit more melancholy than usual, the quirky townfolks keep things lively. A weary June would love to crawl under her quilts and hide, but one thing is obvious from the get-go: There will be no rest for the big-hearted June Hudson.

Although this one is pretty predictable (A doctor doesn't recognize what nausea, crying jags and an increased appetite mean for a sexually active woman??), it's so fun and warm that I really don't care. If Grace Valley existed, I'd be packing up the moving van. I love this series.

Down By the River delivers the exciting conclusion to this enchanting trilogy. When the story
opens, Grace Valley is buzzing with excitement - not only is the town's doctor, June Hudson, glowing with a decidedly maternal light, but she's been seen canoodling in public with a mystery man. June can hardly believe it herself. Her secret boyfriend, Jim, is newly retired from undercover work and here to stay. Although they have been seeing each other for some time now, June has been forced to keep the town in the dark for Jim's safety. Now that he's come out of obscurity, tongues are wagging all over town. Jim (whose only flaw seems to be his roof-raising snore) soon charms the townsfolk. The only question now is, "When's the wedding?"

June, who can calmly stitch up wounds, deliver babies, and treat patients at gunpoint, finds the idea of marriage terrifying. After all, she's approaching 40 and set in her ways. Besides, it's not like she's known Jim since kindergarten - she simply needs to get to know him better before she can commit. (Caution: This may make you want to whack the good doctor upside the head.)

Besides, June doesn't have time to pick out colors and shop for bridal gowns. She's got her usual patients - Clarence, the paranoid vet; the Forrest twins, who are still in traction after the infamous stunt with their grandma's Cadillac; and Birdie, whose stress levels have skyrocketed since her son returned to town. As if that isn't enough, June runs into a family in crisis right on the side of the highway. She finds young Erline Davis groaning with labor pains, while two children look on, and her husband Conrad bumbles about in a drug-soaked haze. When Grace Valley's residents get wind of the troubled family, they rally to help, but Conrad seems determined to abuse their kindness. It's not as if the town doesn't have enough to worry about - the preacher's acting strange, the river's rising faster than it should, and someone's robbing local businesses. June's exhausted by her pregnancy and the town's problems, not to mention her instant nausea at any mention of the M word. As if life isn't quite interesting enough, Aunt Myrna announces she has her own mystery man, and he's coming for Thanksgiving!

Obviously, Grace Valley teems with "eccentric people who minded everyone's business but their own" (119) - the folks don't miss much, including an opportunity to help those in need. With characteristic warmth, the residents band together to care for their own, proving once again that the most important things in life, are not things at all. In fact, artist Sarah Kelleher sums it up perfectly when she says, "People around here seem to take more stock in making a difference than making a dollar" (304). Down By the River showcases Robyn Carr's wonderful characters doing what they do best - making a difference in each other's lives.

You can always count on Robyn Carr for a happy ending, which makes her books both predictable and sentimental. I can spot her plot "shockers" a mile away. And, guess what? I don't care. My (uncharacteristic) ambivalence to predictability and sentimentality is a testament to Carr's magnificent ability to create endearing characters and magical places. I don't care if I can predict each character's every movement, I just want to pull up a chair at the cafe and glory in the charming little town that is Grace Valley, California.

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The Grace Valley novels are being re-issued with gorgeous new cover art (shown in the images above) on August 1. You can pre-order these titles at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Images in this post are from Barnes & Noble.

Grades: A

Adventures in Dumpster Diving


After my adventures in scavenging Dumpsters for moving boxes, I hit the mother lode. The nice folks at Linens and Things in Gilbert hooked me up. My SIL mentioned that she got all her boxes from LNT, so I headed down there. Luckily, a big truck had come in that morning, and I was able to get tons of boxes. I'm hoping this means the end of my Dumpster diving, although the thought of all those free books just might tempt me into having another go :)

Monday, July 14, 2008

There's Nothing Like the Smell of a Dumpster in the Morning

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Since our big move is coming up, I have been scouring the city for moving boxes. U-Haul charges big bucks for theirs, craigslist posters demand $1 per box, and Wal-Mart insists the only way to get your hands on their boxes is to come between midnight and 1 a.m. So, I have taken to Dumpster diving. I've fished piles of boxes out of a Dumpster behind Old Country Buffet - I've found some good ones, but they're usually a bit dirty and smelly (kind of like the restaurant - ha ha). So, in hopes of some cleaner boxes, I drove around a strip mall that's down the street from my house. Guess what I found in the Dumpster behind Half-Price Books? Well, I did discover a couple of good boxes, but I also found a pile of books! Not old, dingy paperbacks either, but like-new trade paperbacks. Being the book lover I am, I really wanted to scoop them all up and drop them off at places where they would get some love (like the library, which is begging for book donations). It felt criminal to rescue only one book - Wally Lamb's I Know This Much Is True - but I was too scared to grab more (because you know stores always have security cameras watching over their precious garbage). As it was, I hid my stolen novel underneath some boxes just in case.

I know Half-Price Books isn't unique in throwing away "old" books - Sam Houston posted this article not too long ago about Barnes & Noble. These books weren't deliberately destroyed like the ones at B& N; still, when there is a library a couple miles down the road with posters in every window asking for books, you just have to wonder.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Miscellany & More Link Love

So, I'm still plugging away at my "homework." I really shouldn't call it that, because I always love finding great new authors. Robyn Carr's Grace Valley series is fun and heartwarming - my reviews should be up in the next few days. I've also got a stack of Linda Greenlaw's books on my desk that I can't wait to dive into. I'm also really excited about the other interviews and giveaways I'm getting ready to present to you. So, although not much is happening here at the moment, stay with me ... lots of fun stuff is coming up.

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In the meantime, here are a few things I wanted to share:

Thanks for all your responses on the two questions from my last post. I will pass all of your recommendations on autism books to my sister, who I'm sure will be very grateful. She lives in Guam (her husband's in the Navy) and I don't know what kind of libraries they have there, but hopefully she can find what she's looking for. My other question about "bookwormism" being a product of nature or nurture brought in some excellent comments. If you haven't checked it out, do, and be sure to weigh in on the subject. Personally, I think readers can be nurtured, but true bookworms are born. I grew up in a home where books were plentiful. My parents both read a lot and encouraged me and my siblings to do likewise. All but one of my brothers and sisters enjoy reading, at least on occasion, but nobody else is as book-crazed as I am. I think, too, that would have found books to read whether or not I grew up in a book-friendly household. Books are that ingrained into my being. Anyway, it's been fascinating to hear everyone's thoughts on the subject. Keep 'em coming.

Also, if you just can't get enough of my book reviews, you can see more of them at Rebecca's Reads. I've only done one so far, but I will be reviewing for them regularly, so keep an eye out. I also FINALLY received an email from Elle about their "Readers' Jury" Program (I can't find a link for this, but you can email eagerreader[at]elle[dot]com for more info). Megan provided the head's up on this one, and I'm really excited about it.

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Okay, I promised "Giveaways Galore," so here are some fun ones that are going on around the Web:

Harmony is giving away a copy of The Elite by Jennifer Banash plus a CD of music that inspired the author while writing the book. Contest deadline is July 31.

Monnibo is giving away several prize packages in celebration of her 1000th post. Click here for details. Contest deadline is July 24.
KT is giving away a copy of J. Scott Savage's book Far World: Water Keep. Contest deadline is July 17.

This has nothing to do with books, but my sister is giving away a stamp set from Close to My Heart (I think). She didn't state a deadline, but I think it's still running. At any rate, check out her cute scrapbooking blog here.

Again, nothing to do with books, but my friend Tara is giving away a bottle of her favorite nail polish on her newly-remodeled blog, The Well-Rounded Woman. All the details are here. Again, I can't find a contest deadline, so it could be over, but check out her blog anyway. It's fun.


Wow - is that it? Did I miss anybody? Anyone else running fun contests/giveaways right now?



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There's one more thing I should mention: I'm moving in less than a month. My husband and I put money down on a lot a few months ago, thinking we would build a new house that would be ready sometime between November and March. Well, we kept looking around and wouldn't you know it? We found the perfect house. We close on July 31st, which means we'll be moving much, much, much sooner than planned. Since the kids start school on August 11, we want to be at least semi-moved in by then. So, if posts on BBB start getting sparse, you'll know I haven't fallen off the face of the Earth, I'm just buried under a mountain of moving boxes!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Back to School

Homework


I wish the title of this post referred to my kids, but they still have more than a month left of summer vacation! I'm actually referring to myself. I'm preparing to interview two wonderful authors, Robyn Carr and Linda Greenlaw. Because I hate to chat with authors without really knowing their work, I've been doing my homework by reading their books and getting to know their writing styles. So, if you wonder why I haven't been posting, this is why. I'll be publishing my reviews and interviews soon, so stay tuned!



Vacation

I've already skimped a little on reviews in July, and it's only going to get worse! Not only am I busy doing my "homework," but I'm going to be heading out on vacation soon. My family and I will be making our annual trek to the Columbia River Gorge to visit my parents, grandma, etc. It's a beautiful area. Of course, I'll be reading while there, but I probably won't be posting. Be patient with me - reviews will be forthcoming!

Giveaways

We all love free books, and I've been so fortunate to win a bunch lately on blog contests. Stay tuned, because I'll be offering several giveaways in the next month or so. I can't wait!

A Couple of Questions

My nephew was just diagnosed with mild autism, and my sister has been really worried about it. She wants to learn how to help him, and hoped y'all would have some suggestions for good books on autism. I think she's interested in non-fiction more than fiction, but any recommendations would be fabulous. Thanks!

Since I don't have any scintillating reviews for you, I'll leave you with a question I've been thinking about lately. I took my daughter to Target the other day, and she was so engrossed in her American Girl book that I had to threaten to take it away from her if she didn't pay attention. She had her nose stuck so far into the book that she didn't seem to notice we were strolling through a busy parking lot! Both of my older kids are readers, but my daughter is a true bookworm. She reminds me so much of myself at that age. Anyway ... here's my question - do you think some people are just born bookworms? Is it nature, nurture or both? Are you a "born" bookworm? If not, how did you acquire a love for reading? And, how do you encourage kids to love books? Talk amongst yourselves now ... I've got to get back to my homework ...

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Heavenly Love Story As Airy As A Cloud

(Image from Karen Neches' official website)

If you think Heaven is all about angels reclining on clouds plucking harps, you might want to think again. In Earthly Pleasures, novelist Karen Neches (who also writes under the name Karin Gillespie) introduces her less-conventional version of what lies beyond the Pearly Gates. Step into her Heaven and you'll find a glowing metropolis ruled by a female Deity who cracks corny jokes in the voice of Bette Midler. Here, souls teleport between work (as greeters, guardian angels, newscasters, etc.), school (where they can enroll in self [soul?]-improvement courses), and play (including cloud art and night clubs, where alcohol exists, but hangovers don't). It's a place where news reports are always positive, zits are nonexistent, and even rebellious angels can't get into too much trouble.

Skye Sebring loves her celestial life. She's got an exciting job as a greeter, a drop-dead gorgeous boyfriend, and an endless supply of Hershey's Kisses. Unlike many of Heaven's other residents, she has no interest in Earthly goings-on. That is, until Ryan Blaine steps into her cubicle. Ryan, the handsome son of a former U.S. president, sets hearts atwitter on both Heaven and Earth. Skye's determined not to be impressed, but he captures her attention when he exclaims, "I thought I'd never see you again" (58). Before he has time to explain, Ryan is zapped back to Earth. Skye shakes off the experience - she's never stepped on the planet, so obviously she and Ryan have never met - but she can't quite erase him from her thoughts. Suddenly, her interest in Earthly matters skyrocket.

A series of odd dreams unsettles Skye almost as much as her confusing encounter with Ryan. Then, to her shock, she receives an assignment to "return" to Earth. With no memories of a previous life, Skye begins questioning everything she thought she knew about herself. Who is she, really? And why does a mega-celebrity like Ryan Blaine recognize her?

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Ryan grieves for his wife, Susan. A recent brain injury has left her scarred and altered. In fact, Ryan feels as if he's living with a complete stranger - one who acts nothing like her old self. Their once vibrant relationship has become "like a gorgeous Oriental rug spread over a layer of dust and crud" (149). He wants to mend it, but the more he lives with Susan, the more he's convinced that something is seriously wrong. Ryan's not the only one who suspects things are not exactly as they seem. Miles away, Caroline Brodie can't believe her comatose roomie is a former prostitute and drug addict with no hope of recovery. She sets out to prove the doctors wrong, vowing to wake the young woman whose innocent face just can't be that of a lowlife druggie. Up above, guardian angels work overtime to help the Earthlings figure out the puzzle that will piece together Ryan Blaine's broken heart. With a little Divine Intervention, a whole lot of lonely hearts just might be able to find hope and love.

I enjoy the idea of a Heaven/Earth love connection; unfortunately, Earthly Pleasures doesn't quite deliver on its charming premise. I think Neches' idea of Heaven is fun, if simplistic and underdeveloped. It's when the action moves down to Earth that it becomes predictable, even cliche. I wouldn't have minded this, really, because the book is meant to be light and playful, but it gets so contrived I can hardly stand it. Plus, the plot meanders all over the place, introducing all kinds of subplots that are never quite wrapped up. Even the ending only concludes things on one plane, and ambiguously at that. I really wanted a final chapter explaining what happens to Heaven's residents, especially Chelsea, Rhianna, and Brock. Without this, the story ends too abruptly, never quite coming full circle.

If you can overlook these flaws, you'll find that Earthly Pleasures provides a sweet, hopeful story about the power of love. Just don't expect anything too heavy - this one is as light and airy as a cloud.

P.S. Did I mention how much I love the cover of Earthly Pleasures? It really is divine.

Grade: B-


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