Category Archives: books

5 questions with Amber Benson, author of The Witches of Echo Park

Book Cover - Witches of Echo ParkAmber Benson is an actress (you probably know her as Tara from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) a director, and an author. Her most recent book, The Witches of Echo Park, comes out today. Here’s a quick summary of the book, courtesy of Amazon.com:

Unbeknownst to most of humankind, a powerful network of witches thrives within the shadows of society, using their magic to keep the world in balance. But they are being eliminated—and we will all pay if their power falls…

When Elyse MacAllister’s great-aunt Eleanora, the woman who raised her, becomes deathly ill, Lyse puts her comfortable life in Georgia on hold to rush back to Los Angeles. And once she returns to Echo Park, Lyse discovers her great-aunt has been keeping secrets—extraordinary secrets—from her.

Not only is Lyse heir to Eleanora’s Victorian estate; she is also expected to take her great-aunt’s place in the Echo Park coven of witches. But to accept her destiny means to place herself in deadly peril—for the world of magic is under siege, and the battle the witches now fight may be their last…

Luckily, I was able to catch Amber (via email) before she started her book tour, and ask her these five questions:Photo - Amber Benson

1) What inspired you to write The Witches of Echo Park?

It’s a bit of a mash note to Echo Park – which is my favorite neighborhood in Los Angeles. It was also a way to write about lady friendships – how women relate to each other, support each other, have each other’s backs. My women friends are what keep my going – my ladies are my rock and I wanted to explore what that means – and what better way to do that then to delve into the world of witchcraft – a coven of ladies who are forced to deal with each other.

2) Is it tough to switch between acting (where you become someone else and are directed on how to be that person) to writing and directing, where you are clearly yourself?

I get bored so easily that I need to be spinning lots of plates in order to stay fulfilled and happy. So it’s less about switching back and forth between all the different things I do creatively, and more about living in a state where I stay fluid and open to anything at any time. I want to live in a way where I can jump into any situation and not be overwhelmed.

3) Where do the characters names come from? For example, Hessika, Devandra and Lyse are very unique, but seem to fit the characters perfectly.

Aw, thank you! I love interesting names – I kind of collect them. There was this kind of timeless quality to The Witches Of Echo Park, so I thought it would be neat to throw in some old timey names to add to that ‘out of time’ feeling.

4) Your other books also deal with supernatural topics. What draws you to that subject material?

You can talk about all kinds of interesting, possibly volatile things in fantasy/sciFi books and keep the ideas just veiled enough that people can take them or leave them when they read the story. I like that you can talk about things without getting up on the soap box and preaching – that you can layer big ideas over genre tropes and the reader can peel back the layers if they want, or not.

5) What is the one thing that you want readers to take away from the book?

I want them to get lost in a magical world. I want them googling all the places in the book, trying to figure out which ones are real and which ones I’ve made up.

 

The Witches of Echo Park (Ace Trade books) is available in paperback form and in e-reader form today. I recommend that you go check it out.

Leave a comment

Filed under books

Book review: Too Cute Puppies and Too Cute Kittens

If you’re like me, you try to resist watching the Too Cute! series on Animal Planet because well, you might end up getting more cats. (And that is something that I do not need.) However, those adorable kittens and puppies draw me in every time. It also doesn’t help that my mom texts me to remind me when it’s on.

Now you can enjoy viewing a bunch of cute little furry creatures with these Too Cute books, both published by Harlequin Nonfiction in conjunction with Animal Planet.

P1030839Like the show, Too Cute Kittens has pictures of various breeds of kittens, from British Shorthairs to Tabby cats. Some of the kittens are shown with others from their litters, or with their mothers, or even on their own, posing in adorable ways. (Have you noticed a distinct overuse of the word “adorable” in this post thus far?)

It was hard to not to “aw” at every single page, because I have a weakness for kittens, cats, and pictures of the both of them. This should be evident by the number of furry creatures that I’ve adopted/rescued/couldn’t resist feeding over the years.

 

Too Cute Puppies is equally, well, cute, for lack of a better word. It’s hard to resist a picture that zooms on the nose of a cute little P1030840Dachshund puppy, especially when the next page is a shot of the whole litter of them laying in one big (cute!) pile of fur. Other breeds of puppies featured in the book include Pitt Bulls, Labrador Retrievers and Rottweilers, to name a few.

The books are available now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the Animal Planet website, among other places. They make a great Christmas gift for the animal lovers on your list, although there’s nothing wrong with buying copies for yourself :-).

 

 

(Disclaimer: I received copies of these books from a press representative in exchange for my honest review. My opinions are my own. For more information, please see my disclosure policy.)

 

Leave a comment

Filed under books

Book Review: Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell

Empty MansionsWhen most people think of prominent names of  the Gilded Age, a few common ones come up: Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, and so on. However, not many people come up with W.A. Clark, who made his money in the copper mines. What happens when a formerly prominent family line dies out, when the only remaining heir is a 104-year-old shut-in who owns expensive homes in three different states, yet prefers to live in a hospital? That’s the mystery that Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell take on in Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune.

Huguette and her older sister Louise Amelia Andree’ Clark were the progeny of W.A. Clark and his second wife, the much-younger, Anna. W.A. served in the U.S. Senate and made his money through railroads and copper mining. When Huguette was young, the family owned a mansion on Fifth Avenue. Her older sister died at the age of 17 in 1919, and her father passed on a mere 6 years after that, leaving Huguette and Anna (as well as the family from W.A.’s first marriage) a substantial fortune.

Although Huguette finished high school and married briefly, she spent the rest of her life essentially in solitude. She communicated with others via letters and phone calls, but spent a good deal of her time painting and arranging (and commissioning) her lavish dollhouses while her actual inherited property – a house in New Canaan, Connecticut and another in Santa Barbara, California, went largely ignored, except for the attention of the caretakers who were paid handsomely to take care of them.

Dedman discovered the mystery surrounding Huguette Clark after stumbling upon the empty New Canaan house, and set about piecing together her history. Although he never really comes to the reason as to why she behaved as she did (childhood trauma? overt shyness? mental illness?) he and Paul Clark Newell, a distant relative of Huguette’s, do manage to paint a very detailed picture of her life.

Empty Mansions is available now through booksellers everywhere and on Amazon.com. If you love a good, real-life mystery (like I do) you’ll enjoy this book.

(Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book to review through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. My opinions are my own. For more information, please see my disclosure policy above.) 

Leave a comment

Filed under books

Book review: Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 486 easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown

Adulting BookThere are manuals for everything: vehicles, electronics, appliances, so why not one for adulthood? Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 486 Easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown fills that niche.

Part self-help manual, part manual, Adulting gets its point across with the help of plenty of graphics, including cute drawings (complete with a message) and flowcharts on various things. If you’ve ever wondered how to properly set up your own utilities or how to choose just the right apartment, then this book is for you. Other topics involve how to properly stock your kitchen and how to find a good, reliable auto mechanic.

Basically, it’s aimed at 20-somethings who haven’t quite successfully flown out of their parents’ nests yet. If you’re a 30-something, like me, odds are you pretty much know all of this or have experienced it already.

The book itself is cute, thanks to the doodles and flowcharts, and it’s set up in a logical manner. If you’re in your teens or 20s and have no clue how to become an adult – or are overwhelmed at the very thought of it – then I recommend this book. However, if you’ve been on your own for a while, then you probably don’t need it.

If you’d like more information or find that you need more than 486 steps to become an adult, check out Kelly Williams Brown’s blog by the same name.

 

(Disclosure: I received a galley of this book through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. For more information, please check out my disclosure policy.)

 

1 Comment

Filed under books

Book review: The Power Trip by Jackie Collins

P1020064 Are you ready for a beach read in February? For those of you who are (like me) suffering through  the remainder of winter, Jackie Collins’ latest book, The Power Trip, may be just enough to warm you up.

The plot has all of the intrigue, glamour and glitz that you’d expect from a Jackie Collins novel. Here’s a quick summary, courtesy of Amazon.com, who can sum it up better than me, since I so badly want to give away the ending – but won’t!

“A luxurious yacht in the Sea of Cortez, a birthday cruise for one of the world’s most beautiful women and an invitation no one can refuse.  In The Power Trip you will meet Aleksandr Kasianenko, a billionaire Russian oligarch, as he sets sail on The Bianca. You’ll meet his sexy supermodel girlfriend, whom The Bianca is named after, and five dynamic, powerful, and famous couples invited on the yacht’s maiden voyage: Hammond Patterson, a driven Senator, and his lovely but unhappy wife, Sierra; Cliff Baxter, a charming, never-married movie star, and his ex-waitress girlfriend, Lori; Taye Sherwin, a famous black UK footballer and his interior designer wife, Ashley; Luca Perez, a male Latin singing sensation with his older decadent English boyfriend, Jeromy; and Flynn, a maverick journalist with his Asian renegade female friend, Xuan. You will also meet Russian mobster, Sergei Zukov, a man with a grudge against Aleksandr. And Sergei’s Mexican beauty queen girlfriend, Ina, whose brother, Cruz, is a master pirate with orders to hold The Bianca and its illustrious rota of guests for ransom.”

The characters are fabulous, the setting is droolworthy, and the plot is nothing short of fast-paced excitement. I couldn’t put it down, and I doubt that you will either.

The Power Trip by Jackie Collins went on sale earlier today at booksellers everywhere, including Amazon.com. Whether you want to read it now or wait for warmer weather is up to you. 🙂

 

(Disclaimer: I received a copy of The Power Trip by Jackie Collins from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. My opinions are my own, and for more information, please check out my disclosure policy.)

Leave a comment

Filed under books

5 Questions with David Carthage, Author of The Jericho River

Making history facts entertaining can be tough – trust me on that one. 🙂 However, in The Jericho River, David Carthage manages to do just that. Here’s his take on things:

JR-cover.frontHow did you decide which historical places to include?

I looked at the history of Western Civilization and of its Middle Eastern parents, and I asked, “Where’s the action?” “Where are the events that do the most to shape our society today?” Then I threw in another choice factor. “Which societies do readers already know and enjoy but want to explore?” You couldn’t offer a fantasy about our civilization’s history, for instance, without a stop in
ancient Egypt. Without mummies and priestesses and pyramids, the story’s only half-told.

The result is a blend of societies meant to capture both our imagination and our history. The hero’s quest takes him through seventeen
different realms, including Sumer, Babylon, Hebrew Judea, Classical Greece, the Roman Empire, Medieval France, and Enlightenment England. He meets rulers and slaves and warriors and mythical creatures from each. And by following his
adventures, we get a feel for the flavor and magic of each.

Of course, there are important societies left out. I’d love to have included a chapter about the Hittites, for instance, who dominated Turkey for much of the Bronze Age. And I’d have loved a stop at Carthage (my namesake), Celtic Northern Europe, and Assyria. But I had to make some sacrifices, or the book would’ve been too long.

Why teach history through fiction — what are you hoping to accomplish?

I’m hoping to show readers that history is an adventure, as good as any story on the fantasy shelf. In fact, history is better because it’s real. “You can’t make this stuff up,” as they say. History truly offers tales of kings and warriors, noble ladies and cheeky slaves, and magic (or at least belief in magic). I’m trying to break the association between history and boring memorization–between “academic work” and exciting stories of the past.

I’m trying to teach history, by tapping into the part of the brain that retains plots from Harry Potter and Star Wars. I think that if you
bring out the fun and magic, readers will remember history, and read it for fun.

DavidCarthage2.croppedHow much time did you spend researching everything before putting it into the book?

Tons! I wrote and revised the book over the course of almost ten years. If I had a dollar for every hour, I suspect I’d be quite wealthy.

The basic outline actually didn’t require much research. Before I set pen to paper, I had a sense of the flow of Western Civilization’s
history–and of its parent societies in the ancient Middle East. That came from years of reading for pleasure. But that sort of outline left out a lot of information I needed for a book like The Jericho River. What kind of mythical creatures wandered through the Babylonians’ imaginations? How were cats domesticated? What’s the origin of coffee? What did an ancient Sumerian city smell like? Was there a King Arthur? What did Roman noblewoman wear? Why did European men of the 1700’s wear wigs, of all things? That stuff required a lot of time in libraries and online.

What first inspired you to write The Jericho River?

My girlfriend (now wife) was studying to become a teacher, and she was having trouble with her history exam. So one afternoon, I gave her a multi-hour explanation of the history she had to learn. I did most of this teaching off the top of my head, with little preparation. And it worked. She felt better about the exam right away and had no trouble passing. Afterward, I wondered how all this random knowledge got embedded in my brain–and what else I might do with it.

The knowledge got there, I ultimately realized, because history is so magical to me. What to do with that knowledge resulting from that magic? Find a way to share it–not simply by telling history, but by revealing its magic, so that my audience retains it in the same way I have.

The answer crystallized one day while I was driving. Why not turn a timeline into a river–and write a fantasy novel that flows down that river, through a chronological, history-based adventure? Instead of telling people that history is magical, why not blend history and fantasy so thoroughly that readers will feel the magic themselves?

Do you plan on writing a sequel?

I plan to write several more books that use fantasy to teach history, as well as science. Please stay tuned!

 

The Jericho River can be purchased on Amazon.com, and at  Barnes & Noble. For more information on both the book and David Carthage, check out The Jericho River website and Facebook page.

Leave a comment

Filed under books

Book review: Return to the Big Fancy by Freeman Hall

Full disclosure: I used to work retail. In fact, I spent two years as a “seasonal” employee at Kohl’s while I was in college working on my first college degree. Of course, I was stationed at the cash registers and wasn’t a salesperson paid on commission like Freeman Hall was at The Big Fancy.

For those of who haven’t read his first book, Retail Hell, here’s a quick background: Freeman Hall moved to Los Angeles to become a screenwriter, but in order to pay the bills while working on his screenplay, wound up working in the handbag (don’t call it a purse!) section at a department store referred to as The Big Fancy. There he encountered numerous customers (dubbed “custys”), a shoposaurus (who pretty much bought out most of the store on a regular basis), piggy shoppers (who made a mess and were generally disgusting) and NATS (“nasty ass thieves” who stole merchandise and returned for a tidy profit.)

In the sequel, Return to the Big Fancy: A Riotous Descent into the Depths of Customer, Corporate and Coworker Hell, Hall goes into more depth on the many ways that a large corporation can suck the will to live out their employees. Many of the customer encounters, coworker disasters (never work with a “shark”) and awful examples of the trio of head honchos dubbed the “Gestapo” at work were both hilarious and wincingly painful at the same time.

What brought this on? Well, it turns out that writing a successful screenplay and having it actually go into development are two different things. So, once again, Hall goes to work for The Big Fancy. This time his manager is nice, but most of his co-workers are painful to deal with. Between corporate forcing stupid policies on its workers, buyers who purchase the wrong merchandise for the store, and, of course, those ever-present customers, his life is made into a walking, never-ending hell of insipid phone calls, annoying training sessions and hard to reach sales goals.

Anyone who has ever worked retail will simultaneously understand where Hall is coming from and laugh hysterically at the tales within Return to the Big Fancy. And if you haven’t worked retail, hopefully it will help you put yourself in the shoes of those people ringing up your purchases the next time you go shopping.

In order to help you sympathize with retail workers everywhere, Hall has declared that Saturday, November 24th is Be Kind to Service Workers Day. Next week, November 18th through the 24th, all of The Big Fancy e-shorts will be on sale for 99 cents each (I haven’t read them yet, but I’m sure they’re just as awesome as Retail Hell and Return to the Big Fancy) and his first book, Retail Hell, will be on sale for $2.99.

Return to the Big Fancy is available now at retailers everywhere, and for more information on Freeman Hall or to air your retail drone grievances in public, please check out his blog, Retail Hell Underground.

 

(Disclaimer: I received a copy of Return to the Big Fancy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. And honest I am; I loved the book! For more information, please see my disclosure policy.)

Leave a comment

Filed under books

Book review: I Am Lucky Bird by Fleur Philips

 Unfortunately for Lucky Bird, her name doesn’t match up with her life. She grows up without her mother – AnnMarie, who vanishes mysteriously and suddenly. Lucky is then raised by her grandmother, Marian, and forced to endure the abuses heaped on her by Tom, Marian’s boyfriend.

It’s very hard to go into the rest of plot without giving up key points, so I’ll leave things kind of general: Marian and Tom do despicable things, Lucky is “rescued” by a kind young man and his family, and after a tragic string of events, a horrible family secret is unveiled.

I Am Lucky Bird by Fleur Philips unfolds quickly, and the plot moves along at a rapid pace. There are a ton of small details that put you right into each scene and, since the story is told from the point of view of Lucky herself, you get a first-hand look at how she’s feeling. However, the only downfall of this point of view is the fact that you truly don’t find out what really happens to AnnMarie and Marian until the end — which is bad if you’re impatient like I am — although the ending is completely worth waiting for.

A ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year award finalist, I Am Lucky Bird is author Fleur Philips debut novel. For more information, or to order the book, go to her website here.

 

(Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. For more information, please read my disclosure policy.)

Leave a comment

Filed under books

So You’re Writing a Novel?

Guest Post by Fleur Philips, author of I Am Lucky Bird

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved to write! When I was young, I’d write poems and short stories—nothing more than a few pages. My first attempt at writing an actual book came in third grade with a children’s book called Misty’s Adventure. I even illustrated it. I wrote the book for an all-school writing contest at Spring Creek Elementary School in Rockford, Illinois. And I won first place! After that, the stories continued to flow. In high school, I started a number of different projects, but I never finished them. I’d get 40 or 50 pages in, and suddenly, I wouldn’t know where to go next. So, I’d start something different, and the same thing would happen. Over and over and over again.

 

Although writing has always come easily to me, actually finishing a novel is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. In 1999, I finished my very first full-length manuscript. I went through the entire query letter writing and sending process (and back then, everything was sent via snail mail with a SASE…thank goodness we now have email), but I came up empty-handed. Looking back on that manuscript now, I completely understand. My second full-length novel was finished in 2002. Once again, I went through the “seeking an agent” debacle, and this time, I got my first agent! Unfortunately, she ended up being a fraud. So, I was back to square one. In 2005, I started writing I Am Lucky Bird, but—much like my many other projects over the years—I powered through the first 50 pages and stopped. But it wasn’t writer’s block this time. Rather, an unexpected life change (not entirely uncommon in adulthood) caused me to put the book aside. Work and being a single mom made writing a challenge, and so I focused my attention on other things, all the while thinking about Lucky and her story and hoping I’d find time to eventually finish it. And I did. Another unexpected life change redirected me back to my writing, and in 2010, I applied to graduate school at Antioch University in Los Angeles for my MFA in Creative Writing. I needed a swift kick in the butt to get me back to writing, and within a few months of being in the program, I finished I Am Lucky Bird.

 

For anyone thinking of writing a book, I highly suggest developing an outline with chapter summaries and character sheets. I have hundreds of ideas floating around inside my head, but most of them are incomplete. If I try and sit down and start typing out my ideas, they fall short because I haven’t fully developed the characters or plot or structure. Start with the outline, and then tackle the novel! I’m also a firm believer in writing what’s in your heart. The only downside to this is the realization that what’s in your heart might not necessarily be what other people want to read. If you just want to write a book to write a book, great. But if your #1 goal is to find a publisher, you have to consider whether your story is marketable. If an agent and/or publisher can’t sell your book (no matter how much they might like it), they won’t take you on as a client. The best advice I can give, though, is to just keep writing!

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under books

Book review: Timeless Desire by Gwyn Cready

Raise your hand if you’ve seen the movie Outlander. You know, the one with Jim Caveziel where he plays a humanoid alien from another planet who lands on Earth in 709 A.D. and ends up becoming the king of a tribe of Norsemen? That’s the first thing that came to mind when I read the description of Timeless Desire as an “Outlander love story.”

But, I digress. While Outlander the movie was pure sci-fi with a teeny bit of romance thrown in, Timeless Desire consists of a lot of romance with a little time sci-fi-ish time traveling, just for good measure.

The main character, Panna Kennedy is librarian who has lost her husband. She’s sad and lonely until curiosity gets the better of her and she explores the library and finds an odd door that has been padlocked shut. If this has been a horror movie, a demon would have been behind it, but since this is a love story, that’s not the case at all. After walking through the doorway, Panna is magically transported to the 18th century. There, she meets and falls in love with the man whose statue was in her real-time office – the very British Colonel John Bridgewater.

Colonel Bridgewater is on house arrest and accused of betraying the crown, and he first thinks that Panna is a spy, sent to betray him further. The plot unfolds with both quietly falling for each other as their 18th century lives become more and more complicated. I won’t say any more than that – you’ll have to read it for yourself in order to see it ends!

If you’re a fan of both time travel based sci-fi and romance (or just romance) then you will love Timeless Desire. The unique plot and fast-paced storyline make it hard to put down!

To purchase a copy of Timeless Desire, please follow this link, or you can check out Gwyn Cready’s website.

(Disclaimer: A copy of the book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. For more information, please check out my disclosure policy above.)

1 Comment

Filed under books