Thursday, April 30, 2020

Celebrate the Small Things 1-5-20

This post is part of Lexa Cain's blog hop, Celebrate the Small Things. Head on over there to sign up!

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the beginning of May and the weather is still extraordinarily good.  I've been able to eat lunch outside on the deck almost every day and I still haven't missed a day's exercise walking or cycling outdoors.  It sounds like today might be pretty windy, but that shouldn't stop me from walking.

We moved into Alert Level 3 on Tuesday, which means a bunch of people got to go back to work.  Schools re-opened for kids whose parents had to work and couldn't leave them alone.  I think 10 kids went back to my sons' school.  I read in the paper about one high school up the coast that has one pupil...

I haven't gone anywhere.  It occurred to me last night that the furthest I've been from home since around the 18th of March is the supermarket.  Which is kind of nuts!  My partner has been further afield since he drives my son to and from work in the city.

Everyone seems to have gone nuts with being allowed to buy takeaways and there have been queues down the street to get to McDonalds and KFC.  Personally, I'd rather support my local businesses, so when (and if) I buy take-out it will be from a local cafe or takeaway outlet.  Luckily there are a few around and I just discovered my favorite vegetarian restaurant is doing online orders and pick up, so we may have to get something from there next week.  Or just pop down to the Indian place on the corner that does the best curry and naan bread in town.

Or we can just keep cooking at home.  I've been experimenting with some new dishes and going back to some old favorites I haven't made in years.  This weekend I'm going to make pasta -  cannelloni stuffed with ricotta, spinach and artichoke hearts.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Books I've Loved: Tiny Pretty Things

I love books set in the ballet world. I guess I never got over my ballet teacher saying those four little words when I was twelve: You have no talent….

So I live vicariously through books about dancers who do have talent.

Told in three points of view, Tiny Pretty Things is about dancers who may be tiny and pretty on the outside, but appearances can be deceptive. June is Korean and fatherless, her mother close-mouthed about who he even was. She won't speak to June about him or about her time at the same ballet school June now attends. June's insecurities and neuroses manifest themselves in her eating disorder, the one part of her life she can control after she's cast as an understudy in production after production.

Gigi is the new girl, a glamorous black dancer from California who fits in at the school about as well as a square peg in a round hole. When she is cast in the best parts in the school's productions, and all the most eligible boys start swarming around her, Gigi has trouble written all over her, not to mention a heart condition she doesn't want anyone to find out about in case it makes her look weak.

Finally, there's Bette. Long considered the school's best dancer, she's unused to competition in the studio or anywhere else. Half of the school's golden couple, she seems untouchable. Yet Bette has a secret festering inside her. And when Gigi shows up and takes the roles she considers rightfully hers, Bette can't help but retaliate.

All three characters are deliciously flawed. They are fiercely motivated and ambitious, willing to do just about anything to get to the top as dancers. And I mean anything! These girls are mean. Vicious. Savage.

I couldn't put it down, and as soon as I finished it, I went and bought the sequel, needing more of their malevolent behavior.

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars in this soapy, drama-packed novel featuring diverse characters who will do anything to be the prima at their elite ballet school.

From the New York Times-bestselling author of The Belles, Dhonielle Clayton, and the author of the highly anticipated Symptoms of a Heartbreak, Sona Charaipotra.

Gigi, Bette, and June, three top students at an exclusive Manhattan ballet school, have seen their fair share of drama. Free-spirited new girl Gigi just wants to dance—but the very act might kill her. Privileged New Yorker Bette's desire to escape the shadow of her ballet-star sister brings out a dangerous edge in her. And perfectionist June needs to land a lead role this year or her controlling mother will put an end to her dancing dreams forever.

When every dancer is both friend and foe, the girls will sacrifice, manipulate, and backstab to be the best of the best.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Weekly Goals 27-4-20

Can you believe this week marks the end of April?  It's only a couple of weeks until my birthday!  Fingers crossed we can move into Level 2 before then so I can go out to dinner somewhere nice to celebrate!

Goals this week are pretty simple.  I got notes back from a reader who kindly agreed to take a look at the book I've been working on off and on for the last year.  Her notes tell me exactly what I suspected so at least now I know for sure the areas I need to work on.

Then today, while out for my daily stroll around the neighborhood, I figured out how to fix one of the problems I'd been mulling over.  I'd already mentioned snowy weather as part of the story.  I need to make it a blizzard or some other kind of severe weather that makes it impossible for the occupants of this house to leave.  At least for a few days.  And that will allow the things that need to happen to happen to move the story to the next place more naturally.

And I've already worked out a few changes to some other scenes too, that will help make things more believable.  Not to mention I've already written a whole lot more about a relationship that is just beginning at the start of the book.  I cut it out because the early part of the story felt like it was going on too long, but I think I can slot at least some of it back in.  It doesn't matter if these guys leave home a few days later.  It will give me some more time to develop the other characters a little more too.

But that's going to be next weekend's challenge.  This week my goal is to finish off something else I've been working on.  An older book I think I may have finally figured out how to get right.  I had three POVs in this one, but the three have changed a few times in the drafting process, and I think I need to add back a few sections from one of the POVs I cut out earlier to make the story work.  So now I'm up to four POVs....  Let's see if it all makes sense once I've finished balancing out these four parts of the story and making sure every scene is in the right place.

What are your goals this week?

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Celebrate the Small Things 24-4-20

This post is part of Lexa Cain's blog hop, Celebrate the Small Things. Head on over there to sign up!

What am I celebrating this week?

Well, we've made it through four weeks of lockdown.  Cases of COVID-19 are dropping daily and most of the new cases seem to be related to known clusters which means, as far as we know, community transmission is not happening.  Random testing in supermarket queues around the country is happening to test this theory further.

On Tuesday we move from Alert Level 4 to Alert Level 3.  This means a few more businesses will be able to get back to work.  Construction, for instance, and forestry.  Some restaurants will open for delivery and contactless pick-up.  I'm just hoping this includes the Indian place down the road.  The best curry in town!

For me, nothing much is going to change.  I'm still going to be working from home and even though schools are opening to kids up to Year Nine (which is my youngest son's year), if kids don't have to go, they're encouraged to stay home.  Since both my partner and I will be at home, the kids are also staying put.

It's not a lot of fun, but I'm grateful to be where I am.  When I look at what is happening across the rest of the world, we're very lucky to be here.  We have a smart, compassionate government who appears to be doing all the right things, and as a result, I think our country will get through this without the massive number of deaths other countries seem to be suffering.

And I live in a nice house, in a beautiful city where I can walk to a beach in 15 minutes in any direction.  The weather has been very kind to us during this quarantine too, and there has been only one day in four weeks where I haven't been able to get out for a walk or a bike ride.

So that's what I'm celebrating this week.  How are you doing?

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Books I've Loved: The Smallest Color

With the library closed, I haven't been able to get anything new to read for a couple of weeks, so I have been trawling my shelves at home and re-reading things I haven't looked at for a while. And yes, before you say anything, I know I can get e-books. I just don't have a tablet or e-reader, so can only read e-books on my phone, which is fine while commuting or eating lunch at work or any of the other places I quite happily read on my phone. It's just not great for reading in the bath or outside on my deck which are the two places I like to read at home.

Hence the return to old favorites...

This one is among my all-time favorite books. Set in two eras, it follows Coop through the summer in the 1960s when his brother disappeared and again when he's in his forties and the trauma of that summer begins to haunt him all over again.

The two stories weave together seamlessly and the author skillfully manages to capture the voice of sixteen-year-old Coop as well as the older, more world-weary one without making the two seem like completely different people. The older Coop isn't the nicest guy and some of his choices are seriously fucked up, but when viewed in the context of what happened years before, they are completely true to his character.

The depiction of the sixties and the counterculture movements that swelled in strength during this time is vivid and feels wholly realistic. As does Coop's devotion to his brother, the older figure he's wanted to be like throughout their childhood. Together they have survived and defied their overbearing father and it is this that bonds them as they travel through that last summer together. The summer that lead to the disappearance that continues to haunt Coop's life.

When his mother threatens to hire a detective to try once and for all to find out what happened that summer, Coop must face up to what happened before the secrets he's been holding for 30 years tear him and the life he's built apart.

Beautifully written and with an intriguing mystery at the center, this book will keep you turning pages long into the night.

But don't just listen to me. Here's the blurb:

Coop Henry's secret needs attention. His missing brother haunts his life and he isn't holding up well under the strain. When his mother threatens to hire a detective in one last desperate attempt to discover what happened to his brother 30 years before, Coop's life begins to come unglued.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Weekly Goals 20-4-20

Another week in lockdown...

Over the weekend I sent the new book off to some readers, so I'm going to leave that alone for a few weeks now and get back to revising some of the older manuscripts I have sitting around, waiting for their turn to come.

I started on one the other day, so will continue with that until I feel relatively happy with it.  Then I will move on to the next one.

An anthology with one of my stories in it, Just Me, was released over the weekend.  It's four YA stories about queer romance.  If that's your thing, you can buy it now at one of the places listed below.    Or you could wait a few weeks until it's available in print as well as e-book.

And that's me for this week.  What are your goals?

Friday, April 17, 2020

Celebrate the Small Things 17-4-20

This post is part of Lexa Cain's blog hop, Celebrate the Small Things. Head on over there to sign up!

What am I celebrating this week?

We've made it through three weeks of lockdown now.  On Monday our Prime Minister is going to make a decision about whether to continue at this level, or if we might be able to move to a slightly less restrictive level.  Not that the next level down will make any huge changes to my life.  We will still work at home and the kids won't be going back to school.  The only change is that some restaurants and take-away places might be able to re-open for delivery or pick up.  Which will be nice.  I love to cook, but after having prepared every meal for however many weeks myself, I'd really like to eat something made by someone else.

But if the decision is to keep at the current level for another week or two, I would support that.  Better to be sure the virus is well and truly under control before we start trying to re-start life as we used to know it.  I don't imagine it would be easy to go back into lockdown a second time, and the impact of that happening would be worse than just keeping hunkered down as we are now.

How is everything in your world?  Are you managing to stay sane?

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Books I've Loved: Perfect Escape

I've been a fan of Jennifer Brown since Hate List, but this is definitely my favorite of her books.

Kendra is a perfectionist, something she has cultivated as a way to keep herself from disappearing in a household that revolves almost entirely around her older brother, Grayson, and his OCD.  But perfection isn't something that's easy to attain and when Kendra gets caught up in a cheating scandal, she doesn't have the resources to handle it.

So she runs.  With Grayson in the car next to her.

As the pair drive around the country, Grayson's regular routines - the only thing that keeps his life in balance - are thrown out of whack and Kendra is forced to deal with the realities of what Grayson has to cope with every day.  She must also face up to her own problems and recognize that perfection isn't actually attainable or even desirable some of the time.

With their parents growing increasingly frantic at the other end of the phone, Kendra needs to cut herself a break, stop running and bring her brother home.  Regardless what she might have to face when she gets there.

I really enjoyed this book.  Grayson's OCD is painfully evoked, but he is not just an illness.  Underneath all the quirks and behaviors is a person who suffers and loves as much as Kendra does.  And when the shit really hits the fan, he's the one with the strength and presence of mind to get them out of it.

One I'd definitely recommend.

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

Kendra has always felt overshadowed by her older brother, Grayson, whose OCD forces him to live a life of carefully coordinated routines. The only way Kendra can stand out next to Grayson is to be perfect, and she has perfection down to an art -- until a cheating scandal threatens her flawless reputation.

Behind the wheel of her car, with Grayson asleep beside her, Kendra decides to drive away from it all -- with enough distance, maybe she'll be able to figure everything out. But eventually, Kendra must stop running and come to terms with herself, her brother, and her past.

With undeniable grace and humor, acclaimed author Jennifer Brown explores OCD, the pressure for perfection, and the emotional highs and lows of a complex sibling relationship.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Weekly Goals 13-4-20

It's been a very pleasant long Easter weekend in lockdown and I've achieved more than I thought I was going to.  I've actually been writing and reviewing and blogging and doing more writing.  I even think I may have nailed the ending of Standing Too Close.  We'll see if I actually have when I go back to it in a few days to see if I still like what I wrote.

So that's my goal this week: to make sure the ending works, and then to send it to a couple of people to read for me.  I've read through the whole thing, and overall I like it.  I just feel like there are a couple of places where the pacing is off, but I can't quite figure out how to fix it.  Hence needing some fresh eyes...

Back to work tomorrow in my kitchen, so I think I'll probably be leaving the writing work until the weekend.  It's just too hard to do the day job and my own writing work in the same place.  Too much time spent in the same spot.  Even if I do stand to do the day job and sit to write.

So those of you who offered to read for me, expect something after next weekend...

What are your goals this week?

Friday, April 10, 2020

Celebrate the Small Things 10-4-20

This post is part of Lexa Cain's blog hop, Celebrate the Small Things. Head on over there to sign up!

What am I celebrating this week?

Well, I've made it through two weeks of lockdown and counting.  The number of COVID-19 cases seems to be dropping even though testing is ramping up.  The death count doubled yesterday to two, which is still very low compared with other places.  So I'm feeling very grateful to live in New Zealand where we have a smart, compassionate leader who listens to her advisors.

It's a long weekend this weekend, but it doesn't feel that different to any other day except that I don't have to work.  Which means, of course, I have time to work on my writing.  Had a small scare the other day when I went to open my MS and discovered Scrivener wouldn't open and when I tried again, it didn't recognize my license number.  All my unfinished books are in Scrivener, so I had a few panicked moments when I realized the software wasn't going to let me in.  Thankfully the lovely Oliver in the tech support team told me what to do, and I'm now happily back in Scrivener, trying once again to write an ending for Standing Too Close.

And that's about it for this week.   What are you celebrating this Easter weekend?

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Books I've Read: Aftermath

Taking place three years after a school shooting, this book is part mystery, part romance and part social commentary.

After three years away, Skye returns to her hometown.  She expects things to be bad because she left in the aftermath of a horrific school shooting in which her brother, Luka, died.  Not that Skye expects sympathy.  Luka was one of the shooters after all.

Almost as soon as she gets to school, the harassment starts.  Not just hurtful words and hateful glances, but dangerous stuff that put Skye's life at risk.  And somehow, Jesse is always there at the time.

Jesse, Skye's best friend from before she left, the boy she thinks she was falling in love with as a thirteen-year-old, the boy whose brother was killed in the shooting.

As Jesse and Skye begin exploring what their relationship could be now, things become darker and more dangerous, the attacks on Skye more vicious.  Soon Jesse and Skye find themselves in the midst of a mystery they will have to solve if Skye is going to survive.  They have to dig deep into the trauma that tore them apart to find the truth.

I enjoyed this one, even though I did figure out what was going on in the mystery a while before the big reveal.  I liked the characters, especially Jesse's mother who is is the perfect mix of nurturing and kick-ass.  We should all have moms like her.

If you enjoy mysteries with a touch of romance thrown in, and complex sibling relationships, this might be the one for you...

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

Three years after losing her brother Luka in a school shooting, Skye Gilchrist is moving home. But there's no sympathy for Skye and her family because Luka wasn't a victim; he was a shooter.

Jesse Mandal knows all too well that the scars of the past don't heal easily. The shooting cost Jesse his brother and his best friend--Skye.

Ripped apart by tragedy, Jesse and Skye can't resist reopening the mysteries of their past. But old wounds hide darker secrets. And the closer Skye and Jesse get to the truth of what happened that day, the closer they get to a new killer.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Weekly Goals 6-4-20

With everything still so crazy out there, I feel like making goals is a little like digging holes in sand.  But life has to go on, so I'll keep trying to set myself goals each week.

I put together a submission package for an older book of mine that I re-worked last year and sent it off to a publisher yesterday.  Fingers crossed...

Now that it's out the door and I've completed all the edits needed for my novella in the anthology, it's time to get back to re-working the ending that's been giving me so much gyp.  So that's my goal this week. It's a long weekend with Easter, so I'm going to try and use the hours I would have been working on those two days to write.

I managed 7 days of exercise last week, so my goal is to do the same this week, even if said exercise is just a little 4 km walk each morning.  Anything to keep the blood flowing.

And I plan to sort out my linen cupboard.  I went to put some towels away the other day and realized it's all a mess in there and the door barely closes as a result.  It needs some serious sorting and probably some culling of old, ripped up sheets and towels.

What are your goals this week?

Friday, April 3, 2020

Celebrate the Small Things 3-4-20

This post is part of Lexa Cain's blog hop, Celebrate the Small Things. Head on over there to sign up!

What am I celebrating this week?

We made it through the first week of lockdown and I've survived two full weeks of working from home.  Still don't like it much, but since another colleague of mine has now tested positive for COVID-19, I'm grateful that we can work from home.  Just how transmittable this virus is frightening...  Thankfully my colleague has had pretty mild symptoms.

I braved the supermarket earlier in the week, and found that to be a rather unpleasant experience.  Hoping not to have to go again until next Wednesday or Thursday....

The anthology my story is in, Just Me, has a release date: 17 April.  So if you're a fan of queer love stories, you might want to pick yourself up a copy!

And that's about it for me this week.  What's going on in your world that you can celebrate?

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

IWSG - April

It's April, so it's time for the Insecure Writers' Support Group. In this weird old world we find ourselves living in, this month's question is a goodie!

The IWSG’s focus is on our writers. Each month, from all over the globe, we are a united group sharing our insecurities, our troubles, and our pain. So, in this time when our world is in crisis with the covid-19 pandemic, our optional question this month is: how are things in your world?

How are things in my world?

Well, they're different.  A week ago our Prime Minister put the entire country into lockdown for 4 weeks.  Suddenly my 15-year-old son was the only member of our household still considered "essential", so he is the only one who can leave the house and go to work (he works at a supermarket).

Both kids were doing school online last week, but the Ministry of Education moved the school holidays up a couple of weeks so now they're on vacation.  I think my younger son is going to spend the entire time on his device, gaming or watching stupid videos on You-Tube...  My older one bought himself a guitar the day before the lockdown and has been teaching himself to play.  He's quite surprisingly good, considering he's never had a lesson.

I'm working at home, something I've done before only when I've had major projects that needed focus and no interruptions.  And it's hard.  And much more tiring than I would have expected.  I don't think I ever realized quite how much we feed off the energy of other people in the workplace, but working alone at home is far more tiring than being in the office.

This is our new normal.  For four weeks.   But I suspect it will be longer than that.  The number of cases of Covid-19 are still rising, and yesterday the first person died from it in our country.  Things are going to get worse before they get better.

But to look on the bright side, I'm not sick, I'm still employed, unlike many other people and our house is big enough to accommodate four people working at home.  There are plenty of beautiful places to walk when going out for exercise and even beaches within easy walking distance.  We have technology to keep in close contact with friends and family so being locked down doesn't mean being isolated.

Who knows?  I may even manage to do some writing...