Sunday, December 28, 2014

Heather's Best Reads of 2014

My reading lists each year are generally nothing to brag about to because I don’t read the kind of books that the intellectual cool kats are reading. Let's just say that few of the books I like ever make it onto the New York Times Book Review section.

I read trashy romance. There! I said it.

I love it. It’s my bread and butter. After a long day of writing and hanging out with the kiddo and husband, I just want… Well, what I want in a book kind of changes all the time. Because what I really want is for my socks to be blown off. I don’t want cheap escapism. I don’t want a cookie cutout of a hero and heroine. I really want psychological complexity and depth and to be put through the ringer and an ending that feels earned. Basically, I wish I could have Outlander or The Bronze Horsemen or… hmm, what are my other gold standards for amazing? Haha, I’m too knee-deep in historical fiction to have any other reference points of books that ripped out my guts like those two (both of which I read last year, funnily enough).  

In the meantime, I read everything else, and I try to be pretty unabashed and unashamed about it, because f*** that s*** about shaming smart chicks even when we like to read books that don’t *seem* intellectual enough or whatever crap people like to label ‘romance’ book readers with (to all of those people, I want to say, hey a-hole, I read Derrida and I understood him!... okay, well, I *mostly* understood him...!). The books I will list below may have their problems and I’m sure my fellow feminists and I could get into some heated arguments about them, but it can’t be denied that the authors want to f*** with your emotions, in some cases exploring the dark and taboo, which I think secretly fascinates us all. And they sure took me on one hell of a ride.

Also note, books on the first 3/4ths of this list are pretty much exclusively self-published books, which I went on a tear with this year. It wasn't me trying to say FU to the publishing industry or anything. These books were just telling some crazy a** interesting stories. They aren't the self-pub of even 5 years ago. These are well edited and stories the mainstream publishers aren't touching, probably why I was like, wow, this isn't anything I've ever read before (often very dark reads).

Pepper Winters: Tears of Tess; Quintessentially Q; Destroyed


Pam Godwin: Deliver; Beneath the Burn

Tabitha McGowan: The Tied Man

Tillie Cole: It Ain't Me Babe; Sweet Home; Sweet Rome; Sweet Fall

 Laurelin Paige: Fixed On You Trilogy
Mia Sheridan: Archer's Voice; Leo; Stinger (especially Archer's Voice)

A. E. Muphy: Broken; Connected

Shay Savage: Surviving Raine; Transcendence

Also, I barely read anything in YA, and mostly just friends' or acquaintances' books, but of what I did, there were a few stand outs, this amazing series:

Juliann Rich: Caught in the Crossfire; Searching for Grace

and this book was great too, I feel like I want to suck out the author's brains to figure out and understand how she wrote a dude's voice so naturally since I'm trying to write from a guy's POV in my newest book. Men are an alien race of unfathomable shallows and crannies. Her book illustrates this perfectly.

Carrie Mesrobian: Sex & Violence

Then the later part of the year, I got into the genre I swore would never interest me, literary fiction. Stop the presses, I'm as shocked as you. Because GUYS, I found some that was readable and had PLOT! And characters I could dig into! And that hit me in the guts, which is all I really want from a book. Please, just please, books, cut me up inside but then put me back together a little bit at the end!!! I'm not sure how long this will last or if I just stumbled onto a few really good ones.

So here are some of the more literary finds,  probably more of the upmarket variety and not deep into the heavy folds of literary fiction, but I dig what I dig.

Carson McCullers: The Member of the Wedding
Anthony Marra: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
Chris Bohjalian: The Light in the Ruins

Then there were these two installments, where I met Karl Ove in deep and intimate detail and couldn't look away for about a thousand pages. Like anyone who reads them, I can't imagine them leaving my thoughts any time soon.

Karl Ove Knausgård: My Struggle Book 1 & 2

And to end with, the book that blew me to pieces, and not just because of the 'choice' which I kinda knew about from pop culture, and not even because of the language usage in the writing, but because of the VOICE Styron masterfully captures-- through which there are all the things the reader can see in the immensely complex Sophie and Nathan that the 22-year-old Stingo is too young and naive to comprehend (yet with overtones of his older self seeing as he retells the story). To show your reader something your protagonist isn't seeing, when your protagonist is sort of the narrator (though occasionally his much older self jumps in with foreshadowy things) - are you getting how difficult that is to do as a writer? Wicked hard, but Styron navigates it so naturally.

God, there's just a mastery to the writing in that way. It's not about beautiful language, but it's the epitome of what they're talking about when the say voice. It was like a master class. So I'm watching all of that happen with a writer's eye and then being drawn into the tragedy of the narrative, which is almost Shakespearean as it unfolds. I felt like any keen reader can see where it's heading long before it arrives and like Romeo and Juliet, you are on the ride for the headlong rush toward disaster and you Cannot. Look. Away.

William Styron: Sophie's Choice

So, 2014, another year down, nice knowing you. 288 books read.  It's strange as hell where the rabbit trails of reading interests lead. Lets see where 2015 takes us.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Review: Bad Romeo

Bad Romeo by Leisa Rayven
St. Martin's Press
Now Available

Plot Summary from Goodreads:
When Cassie Taylor met Ethan Holt at acting school, sparks flew. She was the good girl actress. He was the bad boy about campus. But one fated casting choice for Romeo and Juliet changed it all. Like the characters they were playing, Cassie and Ethan's romance seemed destined. Until he broke her heart and betrayed her trust. Now the A-list heartthrob is back in her life and turning her world around. One touch at a time. 

Cast as romantic leads once again, they're forced to confront raw memories of the heartbreaking lows and pulse-pounding highs of their secret college affair. But they'll also discover that people who rub each other the wrong way often make the best sparks.

My Review:
This story unfolds, both present and past, in a way that won't let you stop flipping pages. The characters are so well drawn, you are just IN the story from the first page. Ethan is so screwed up, but not in your typical asshole alpha guy way. I think that's what felt so fresh about this book. The drama and difficulties in the relationship between Ethan and Cassie felt new and different from all the other NA books we're reading out there. And seeing the change from past Cassie to present Cassie is so dramatic, gah, there just a ton of mysteries wrapped up in the past that are desperate to know WHAT HAPPENED and HOW it happened and also wanting in your guts for things to work out between these two! Amazing writing, amazing book, can't wait for the next installment!

Thanks to NetGalley for a free review copy. Available now, everywhere books are sold.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Great Experiment: Parenting

After coming back from holiday vacation, I find it’s difficult to transition my headspace back into real life. My mind is still lost in the place I visited. We drove eight hours to Chicago and stayed with college friends and their four children, all under eleven, for three days over Thanksgiving weekend. Today was my first full day at home trying to work and write again, but all I could think about was being back there, all the thoughts and revelations and conversations and observations of their family and family life.

I was very impressed by our friends' parenting style (also it’s been so interesting to see friends you met in college develop over a decade into responsible parent types). Naturally, my friend L has to be at the top of her game all the time with so many kids running around. She homeschools them too, and I don’t know, has this bearing of order even though it understandably gets chaotic at times. Anyway, ha ha, it’s a different parenting style from at our house with my own son which ends up being very laissez faire out of necessity because of my health conditions and my husband being in a PhD program. L has to have a military lineup in order to feed them all, whereas we’re like, kid, go find yourself some dinner in the fridge! Um, yeah. Her kids eat better.

But more than that, it’s just the different cultures of families. We think a lot about multiculturalism and the differences in cultures and the difficulty this creates in communications between ethnicities (I’m not just talking language wise), but this weekend made me think about the vast differences in the home lives of families, which affects how the kids will see the world their whole lives (whether they retain the views or rebel against them). Her children are growing up copying out Bible verses and with a religious lens to everything in their world. Because L homeschools them, she’s able to discuss world events and history and science and economics influenced by their family's sense of morality. My son is a lot more influenced by forces outside the home since he spends the majority of his time at school and an afterschool program. He’s in fourth grade, out in the world of social strata and bullies and the drama and trauma of all that and then he comes home to our little haven, an only child, where we all spend two hours a night together, eating and maybe watching a show.

I’m not saying one way is better or the other, but it was startling to me for some reason to witness such a different way of doing things. Which is an obvious thing, I know. But how often do you get to get a close-up view of another family, sleeping in their living room and observing them morning to night for half a week? And while parents might be on best behavior, children under ten don’t quite get the concept, so it all tends to hang out. You see it as it is. I felt like there were a lot of things I could learn from L. Other things I felt I was contented about at home. Other things that make me feel intensely curious about the true home lives of other people, which you rarely get an honest picture of even in a memoir because few people are willing to be so honest (unless your name is Karl Ove Knausgård).

So my overall thoughts were ultimately about the quandary of marriage, when you get two people together who come from these opposite little orbits, these mini-cultures of their families growing up who then meld into their own new orbit trying to come up with their own new customs and laws and language and how strange and awkward and rocky it is at first trying to navigate together. Just ask anyone in their first year of marriage! Especially if they haven’t lived together beforehand. I think about my son’s future partner and wonder about all these strange little habits we are forming in him both good and bad and then I just laugh and hope I’m just not screwing him up too badly. The rest I leave to his future therapist.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Picture Post: What It Feels Like To Finish Writing a 700 Page Novel

I did it!!!! I just typed the last word of the Epic World War II Saga I have been toiling on for about a year now!!! It's 700 pages! 230,000 words! Oh my God, I can't believe it! 

This is the most insane, amazing feeling! I want to quote Titanic. 
Screw it, I'm GOING to quote Titanic! 
I'm the King of the Woooooooooooooorld!

Okay, Heather, time for some long giddy breaths in and out. Whew. Wow. That was intense. *looks at calender* Dang, I wrote that last 50,000 words in two and a half weeks! If this was YA, that'd be like a first draft a book! 

Sheesh, this historical fiction stuff is crazy! I'm not sure I ever want to do that again. It's so many pages!


Wait a second...

That's really a LOT of pages...

Quite a lot of pages, actually.

That I now have to edit and do rewrites on.

Umm... why did I think this whole epic war saga 
historical fiction thing was a good idea again? 

Oh right. The art. The emotion. The characters. Blood and chaos and kingdoms rising and falling within the span of just a couple of years and a love story and my two main characters just trying to survive and it's all so deep and meaningful. And all that.

Yeah. I think I'm going to go take a nap now.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Recent Reads I've Loved!

May Fredericks hates New York. Which is fair enough, since New York seems to hate her back. Just weeks after moving from Wisconsin to Manhattan, she receives the world's worst marriage proposal, stabs her boyfriend with a shrimp fork in a very public venue, and accidentally becomes notorious. And that’s before she gets mugged.

At her wit's end, May washes up at a Packers bar in Greenwich Village, where she meets a surly, unhelpful guy who hates her shoes and calls her ex a douche.

His name is Ben. He used to be a chef. Now he's a rooftop beekeeper with anger management issues. She wouldn't even like him, but he reminds her of home … and he knows where to find all the best food in the Village.

She makes him laugh. He buys her tacos and cowboy boots. The longer they’re stuck together, the better May and Ben get along … and the harder they fall. TRULY is a quirky, modern New York love story unlike any you've read before.

My Review:
Ruthie Knox does it again! I’ve loved her ever since I read About Last Night and she’s won her place again in my heart as one of my top favorite contemporary writers with her new novel, Truly.

There’s something about Knox’ writing. I mean, there’s a lot of contemporary romance writers out there right now. But Knox takes it several shades deeper—both emotionally and at a simple craft level. She just an incredibly gifted writer. The way she works metaphor. The way she makes an art out of sentences. With other contemporary writers, you might get an occasional burst of beauty at the artistic level once or twice in an entire book, but with Knox’s writing, it’s the entire way through. But she’s sneaky about it also. She does it in such a way that it doesn’t detract from the voice of the characters or the story.

Speaking of characters! They are so deep and nuanced that you as the reader are just immediately in it with them. I was sucked into this story from page one and spit out on the other end totally dazed and emotionally sated by May and Ben’s journey. That’s another thing. This story was unique! Which yeah. I read a ton. The stories run together. This one sticks out in my head. Because Ruthie Knox is just awesome like that. Five gazillion stars.

Um, we’re on the gazillion star rating system, right? Yep, when it comes to Ruthie Knox we are ;)

Comes out August 5th
Price: $3.99 e-book, worth it folks, IMO!

Lauren Layne’s New Adult novel tells the story of a girl with secrets, a guy with scars, and a love that could save them both... or destroy them.

When Olivia Middleton abandons the glamour of Park Avenue for a remote, coastal town in Maine, everyone assumes she’s being the kind do-gooder she’s always been. But Olivia has a secret: helping an injured war veteran reenter society isn’t about charity—it’s about penance. Only, Olivia’s client isn’t the grateful elderly man she’s expecting. Instead, he’s a brooding twenty-four-year-old who has no intention of being Olivia’s path to redemption . . . and whose smoldering gaze and forbidden touch might be her undoing.

Paul Langdon doesn’t need a mirror to show him he’s no longer the hotshot quarterback he was before the war. He knows he’s ugly—inside and out. He’ll do anything to stay in self-imposed exile, even accept his father’s ultimatum that Paul tolerate the newest caretaker for three months or lose his inheritance. But Paul doesn’t count on the beautiful twenty-two-year-old who makes him long for things that he can never have. And the more she slips past his defenses, the more keeping his distance is impossible.

Now Paul and Olivia have to decide: Will they help each other heal? Or are they forever broken?

My Review:
Guys. GUYS! The synopsis doesn’t let you in on the secret, but I will: this is a modern day beauty and the beast story!

Which is only Heather’s secret Achilles’ heel of favorite story tropes of all time. FAVORITE. Yeah. I was about halfway through before I realized. That should’ve been obvious to me from the beginning. And then I was like, oh my gosh, Lauren Layne, you have won my heart forever if you don’t screw this up.

And guess what? She didn’t screw it up!

In fact, the book was freaking awesome. I loved it. Girl moves to mysterious hidden away mansion with disfigured beast-like veteran. They’ve both got their damage, and maybe, just maybe, each is just what the other needs to heal. That this wasn’t any, awww, you poor wounded soldier, let me Florence Nightingale you kind of thing. Ha ha, no, this was more, he shouts and is an ass hole and she gives it right back with a whole ton of sass and then it gets hot as hell with sexual tension and you have to start fanning yourself with your e-reader!

Oh yeah. My kind of updated Beauty and the Beast story ;)

Anyway, this was an amazing read! Yes, it had its super sexy moments, but not at the expense of the deeper emotional themes too. At the same time, you didn’t feel like the author was using PTSD as just a surface plot device. It felt real and complex and humanized in the person of Paul Langdon. Olivia was a super strong heroine too—none of that wimpy, whiny heroine nonsense here—and their love story, obstacles, and growth felt both very real and very natural. These are characters, that in spite of their many flaws, you are rooting for.

An excellent read. This is not an author that I’ve heard a lot about before--haha, maybe everyone else has and I'm just behind the bandwagon!--but now I want to go and read her backlist of books because this one really stands above a lot of the usual fare that I read!

Comes out: September 2nd
Price: $2.99

*I got these books as advanced readers copies. I get to read a bunch of advanced readers copies, perks of being an author :) I usually only pimp the ones on my blog that I really loved :)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Which Cover? YOU CHOOSE!!!

So my amazing new writing BFF, A.E. Murphy, is redesigning the covers for her first series and it came down to two covers that she couldn't make up her mind about. And I was like, Alex, why don't we let the fans decide? Her response: Super cool idea! So here we are, for your voting pleasure!

And for your trouble A.E. Murphy is also giving away TEN copies of ALL OF HER BOOKS (that's SIX BOOKS, including her Amazon Top 100 Ranked BROKEN series).

Have you read the Broken series, because oh my gosh, these books are amazing. So amazing, that's how I met Alex in the first place, I just contacted her on Twitter out of the blue and was like, I'm in love with your books, I'd love to blurb you!!!!! The first one in her Broken serious, BROKEN, is FREE on Amazon, iTunes, Smashwords, Kobo, so even if you don't win the giveaway, go grab it now!

So here are the options of cover for the first book of her previous series, A Little Bit of Crazy. And make sure to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below the poll!

Here's the summary of the book:

An arranged marriage. Unconventional? Hell yeah. A little medieval? Sure. 

But when it's my dying father's last wish for me to marry his right hand man, someone he knows will treat me well, what's a girl to do? Well... I'll say yes obviously. I've always had a little bit of crazy in me. Everyone who knows me knows this fact.

Sure I don't love James, but love was never part of the bargain and we both knew that going into this. I think. He's a little bit charming and completely gorgeous, and I'm a little bit selfish, self-centered and definitely shallow. It's doomed to fail, but that's never stopped me before.

This is our story, it has: a Channing Tatum poster, a long lost brother, a bony blonde and a promiscuous female friend, plus a hot shot star and the one and only sinus blocker Sylvia. Now throw in a crazy lady and a man who would do anything for her (meaning myself and James) and you have our story. Or the first part of it. 

Part one of two. Part two is now released. A Little Bit of Us. 

Little Bits is a character series. After book two you will be introduced to a new character and story.

So, without further ado, 
which cover do you think best fits this story? 
Help Alex choose!

Which Is Your Favorite Cover? free polls 

Here are the SIX E-Books of A.E. Murphy's we're giving away today!

(Amazon Top 100 Ranked Series!)


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, May 5, 2014

Fly A Little Higher Blog Tour

This post is part of the Fly a Little Higher Blog Tour which I am delighted to be a part of along with hundreds of bloggers raising awareness and giving hope to those with cancer.

To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE!

Hi all, I’m reposting a blog I wrote last March, because I think it says the most about how I connected personally to Zach and his story and the light that was shining through him and just the difficulty of finding meaning in suffering. I’ll post a review of Laura’s amazing book soon, because I was immeasurably moved by reading it, but for the blog tour I thought this was appropriate.

--- Post from March 6, 2013 ----

It’s hard to read about sad things. I’ve been sick for twelve years, and lately, life has ground to a halt as the illness hits a new all-time low. Yet while I lie here struggling so much with being too sick to even be on the computer or watch TV, spending weeks doing nothing else except lying quietly in bed listening to audiobooks in the dark or simply lying still without anything to distract me for hours, I think often of my friend’s daughter’s best friend, Zach Sobiech, who is dying of cancer with only a few months left to live (his amazing song Clouds has gone viral in recent months).

I’ve never met Zach personally, so maybe it’s not my place to talk about him, but I’ll say a little anyway. When I’m this sick, it’s all a little groggy and the days pass in a kind of fog, which feels like a blessing. Then I think, these months which I want to pass quickly so I can start feeling better again, Zach must want so badly to pass slowly.

Through this protracted downturn in my own illness, I’ve come back to God after half a decade away. It’s a fairly quiet affair, coming back to faith. I’m tender-stepped and unsure. I’m not sure if I can believe that there is purpose in this, in my being bedbound or Zach dying. I’m sure there will be lots of people trying to come up with suggestions of how there is God’s purpose in it all. I have no clue if there is purpose in suffering or if that it is simply the way life works—some prospering and others sick and dying, apparently with no direction or design. I get mad at least when people talk confidently about God’s purpose in situations of suffering not their own.

So being with God in these long months of enforced quietness and solitude is less about finding any purpose in it all, and more about feeling the blanket of peace that comes occasionally in spite of all the hurt and anger and pain. Over and over in the Bible, God promises that, “I am with you.” I also like that Jesus’ path on earth was one of great suffering. It makes him more relatable. It makes me think that even down here in the shadows and depths, there is hope. For me at least, being with God is that joy that comes sometimes in the silence. Seemingly out of nowhere, when by all accounts I should be miserable, comes peace and even more strange, a strong sense of thanksgiving. No clear voice or sense of divine interaction or direction, just peace and joy where, according to circumstances, there should be none.

In Buddhism, there is a practice where, instead of breathing in peace and breathing out all the negative feelings to cleanse yourself, you do the opposite. You breathe in all the pain and suffering, both your own and that of others, holding it in for a moment, and then breathing out peace and loving-kindness to all who are connected by suffering. Sometimes when you hold it all inside, it’s such an overwhelming flood of hurt you think you can’t bear it. But then breathing out grace and peace and loving-kindness to the afflicted, to others and myself, feels like it changes something. Even if it’s only me that’s transformed. It’s where compassion is born.

I think this is the same principle when praying for others. I don’t know if prayers for others do anything other than help us grow in compassion and connect to God. I don’t know if they change anything externally, or actually affect the person we are praying for. Still, I think of Zach and everyone who loves him and I pray for them. I pray they have long moments of peace amid everything else in the upcoming months, and afterwards.

I think of the angels supposedly in heaven who do nothing but pray and praise God all day long without ceasing. I think of the centuries of monks and nuns from many faiths spending their lives in silence and prayer, and then I think, maybe that is the purpose of my own sickness— so that I can live a life of prayer and meditation. I remember I used to think that sounded terribly BORING, but now it begins to make more sense to me. Because as much as I might get angry of other people trying to deduce God’s purpose in suffering, I guess deep inside, I still want there to be one.

Anyway, listen to this amazing song by Zach and my friend’s daughter, Sammy. Every time I watch it, compassion wells up and spills over into tears.

Sometimes the video doesn't show up, so here's the link directly to YouTube:

Fly a Little Higher is written by Laura Sobiech, the mother of Zach Sobiech. Laura spent the last three years walking the road of cancer with her teenage son, Zach, and blogging about their battle with the disease. Zach wrote the song “Clouds” which hit #1 on iTunes the same week he passed away in May 2013.
Grab your copy HERE.          

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Heather's Got Her Mother Effing ZING Back

Babes, I've got the ZING back.
ZING, I tell you. Mother EFFING ZING.

Ahem. Let me tell you where the zing went. The zing went down the rabbit hole of crazy ass migraine associated vertigo-ville of foggy fogs-land where I lived for a couple years until, like Alice, I took some magic effing pills (in my case, migraine medicine), and suddenly, like mother EFFING MAGIC---

------MAGIC, I'm telling you my babies, MAGIC, I feel like my old self again.

See the thing I hadn't realized down in rabbit hole fogsville was that in addition to the crazy ass vertigo and then oh yeah the crazy ass migraines that were a new addition this year was that there was some side effects of cognitive funk going on that was fogging up me old brain space so that I was this foggy narrow ass shell of the cool punk chick I used to be.

I mean, sure, I was still occasionally hella cool, but the ZING, the sparky creative kick, the up all night dreamin' of wicked, wicked things I wanted to do to my characters, all the happy sparkly dreaming in the shower and THINKING about stuff and nothing in particular, the letting my mind day-dream and niggle over thoughts and catty-wompus over this and that and all the things in between and back and forth to my characters and their situations and then back again to the wicked, heart-breaking things I wanted to put them through---that had been gone. And it's back. Oh my God, it's back. I didn't even realize it was gone and now it's back! And it's not just the writing, kids. It's life I feel the ZING for again. Oh God, it's like a rush of fresh air breathing back into my lungs again. It's like I'm back in my own skin again.

Um, moral of this story? Praise the heavens for a good neurologist.

And look forward, my babies, because I've got one freaking good mother effin' book in the burners for ya'll!