Monday, March 20, 2023

Books I've Read: Tracy Flick Can't Win


I saw this one at the library and just couldn't say no.  I loved Election, both the book and the film, so this one was a must-read for me.

Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I wanted to.  Part of what made Election so much fun was how desperately ambitious Tracy was, and how relentlessly she went after what she wanted.  I know it's probably realistic that she's mellowed a bit over time, but this Tracy seemed to have very little in common with the Tracy in the first book.

This Tracy is still living in the hometown she grew up in, and is still, in fact, at the same same high school, now as the assistant principal.  She's divorced and has a daughter she's not that close to and few friends.  Her mother, who she considered her best friend, has died after a long illness that Tracy nursed her through rather than finishing her law degree.

When the principal announces he's retiring, Tracy knows she wants the job.  She thinks she's a shoo in, but just to be sure, supports one of the bigwigs on the school board with his grand plan to create a hall of fame for past students.  

The book follows Tracy and the various members of the committee pulling together the hall of fame, plus some potential honourees as the plan to build this edifice is pulled together.  As you can imagine, nothing goes quite as planned.

I found this book a quick and easy read, but it was depressing, not comical.  Tracy is a shell of the person she used to be, ground down by disappointment and routine.  All that spark and ambition and relentless cheer is gone.  She has no regrets about the past and what happened, just a kind of wistfulness that her life didn't turn out the way she wanted it to.  I suspect underneath her good cheer and acceptance is a raging beast full of fury, but it doesn't ever really come out...  There's a single glimpse of it at one point, but it's kind of a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment.

I suppose it's realistic.  Life does grind you down and few people are as bright eyed and confident in their dreams and ambitions at 50 as they were at 15. But that's not that fun to read about, really...

So, if you were a fan of Election, I'd suggest you give this one a miss...  It's not a whole lot of fun.

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

An “engrossing and mordantly funny” ( People ) novel about ambition, coming-of-age in adulthood, and never really leaving high school politics behind—featuring New York Times bestselling author Tom Perrotta’s most iconic character of all time.

Tracy Flick is a hardworking assistant principal at a public high school in suburban New Jersey. Still ambitious but feeling a little stuck and underappreciated in midlife, Tracy gets a jolt of good news when the longtime principal, Jack Weede, abruptly announces his retirement, creating a rare opportunity for Tracy to ascend to the top job.

Energized by the prospect of her long-overdue promotion, Tracy throws herself into her work with renewed zeal, determined to prove her worth to the students, faculty, and School Board, while also managing her personal life—a ten-year-old daughter, a needy doctor boyfriend, and a burgeoning meditation practice.

But nothing ever comes easily to Tracy Flick, no matter how diligent or qualified she happens to be. Her male colleagues’ determination to honor Vito Falcone—a star quarterback of dubious character who had a brief, undistinguished career in the NFL—triggers memories for Tracy and leads her to reflect on the trajectory of her own life. As she considers the past, Tracy becomes aware of storm clouds brewing in the present. Is she really a shoo-in for the principal job? Is the Superintendent plotting against her? Why is the School Board President’s wife trying so hard to be her friend? And why can’t she ever get what she deserves?

A sharp, darkly comic, and pitch-perfect chronicle of the second act of one of the most memorable characters of our time, Tracy Flick Can’t Win “delivers acerbic insight about frustrated ambition.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Weekly Goals 20-3-22

 I don't actually have much in the way of goals this week because I finished all my query package material last week.  I guess I should do another read-through of my MS to make sure I'm happy with all the changes I've made and that it all makes sense.  Plus, I need to start putting together a list of agents to query this time around.

I really don't feel that excited about it, even though I really like this book.  But I really like Standing Too Close too, and I never even got a full request for that one.  Querying is so soul destroying, but unfortunately necessary.  

What are your goals this week?

Friday, March 17, 2023

Celebrate the Small Things 17-3-22


It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small things...

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!

Unfortunately I have another busy weekend ahead of me, but I'm feeling good because I got my query materials whipped into shape (although I think my longline is a bit funky) and sent them off for review.  April will be query month for Guide Us, I hope.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Books I've Read: Babysitter


This one is a tough one to write about.  While I would generally call myself a huge fan of Joyce Carol Oates' writing, I really couldn't get into this particular book.

Set in 1977 Detroit, Hannah is an upper-middle-class wife and mother whose husband is largely inattentive, and whose children are largely taken care of by their live-in Fillippino housekeeper.  She is on various boards and committees and it is at a fundraiser for one of these that she comes into contact with YK, a man who brushes her wrist and makes her feel both seen and desired in a way she hasn't been before.

It isn't long before Hannah is heading to YK's hotel, knowing what it is she's going for, but unable to reconcile the fact she is walking toward an affair.  This person is not who she sees herself as, but as the book progresses, it is increasingly difficult to see exactly how Hannah sees herself - or even if she sees herself at all.

When Hannah's timid assignations with YK turn violent, she hides her bruises, washes away the evidence and gets on with her life.  She tells herself she'll refuse YK's next invitation, but she doesn't and this rendez-vous is more brutal than the last - so much so that she can't hide the results from her husband.  He's convinced it has to have been a Black man who did it, and Hannah allows him to believe this rather than admitting to her affair.

In the background of this tawdry little affair is the story on the news; a serial killer is picking off young boys in the city, leaving their freshly washed naked bodies in public places with their laundered clothes folded neatly beside them.  Called "Babysitter" by the press, the story has little affect on Hannah until a boy from her own neighborhood goes missing.

There are three threads that weave through this book - Hannah's story, the Babysitter story and the story of a young man whose time in a Catholic boys home exposed him to a well-organised pedophile ring.  That all three stories eventually converge is both inevitable and horrifying.

I found this book a frustrating read.  I never got a handle on Hannah as a character.  She is clearly damaged - she thinks often of her "Joker Daddy" whose abusive behaviour toward her and her mother has apparently warped her sense of self (and possibly her idea of what intimacy and desire should look like).  She sees herself only as an object of desire and her self-worth seems so firmly tied to this notion that she's willing to risk everything to remain that.  

The story is told in fragments, often out of sequence, so I often found myself trying to piece together a narrative that seemed to be missing too many pieces to ever be whole.  But maybe I was just too frustrated with Hannah's lack of agency in her own decisions to see the things I was missing.  I know women at this time were often lacking in choices because they had no money or skills for earning it without their husbands, but Hannah seemed even more pathetic than most.  

So I don't think I'd recommend this one.  I didn't hate it, but here are other, better books by this author that should be read.

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

From one of America's most renowned storytellers comes a novel about love and deceit, and lust and redemption, against a background of child abductions in the affluent suburbs of Detroit.

In the waning days of the turbulent 1970s, in the wake of unsolved killings that have shocked Detroit, the lives of several residents are drawn together, with tragic consequences. There is Hannah, wife of a prominent local businessman, who has begun an affair with a darkly charismatic stranger whose identity remains elusive; Mikey, a canny street hustler who finds himself on an unexpected mission to rectify injustice; and the serial killer known as Babysitter, an enigmatic and terrifying figure at the periphery of elite Detroit. As Babysitter continues his rampage of killings, these individuals intersect with one another in startling and unexpected ways.

Suspenseful, brilliantly orchestrated and engrossing, Babysitter is a starkly narrated exploration of the riskiness of pursuing alternate lives, calling into question how far we are willing to go to protect those whom we cherish most. In its scathing indictment of corrupt politics, unexamined racism, and the enabling of sexual predation in America, Babysitter is a thrilling work of contemporary fiction.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Weekly Goals 13-3-23

 I managed to finish my query and synopsis over the weekend, so now I'm busy researching agents to approach.  I find it difficult to believe I'm almost at this point again, but here we are...  I think I should probably do one more pass through the book before I start sending out queries, but I'm just about there.

So that's my main goal this week.

What are you hoping to get done?

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Celebrate the Small Things 10-3-23

It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small things...

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!

It has been a pretty busy week so I'm looking forward to doing some relaxing.  Although I do have quite a busy weekend planned...  I'm going to the orchestra tomorrow night - the first concert of this year's season - which will be lovely.  It's baroque music and being performed in the cathedral. Should be lovely!

I'm also going to try and catch a movie as well as do a double class at the gym tomorrow morning (to make up for not riding my bike to work today because it's raining - not sure if exercise works that way, but...)

I finished writing my dreaded synopsis of Guide Us, and now need to try and write a compelling query.  Damn I hate those things.  Especially since this book is dual POV and it's so hard to get that across in a query.  Plus I have a bunch of blogging tasks to get through this weekend.  Suddenly I feel like maybe I'm not going to get so much rest this weekend...

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Books I've read: Joash & Hazel's Guide to Not Dating


Some weeks I hit the weekend and I just don't have the energy or brain capacity to read anything too heavy.  This last weekend was one of those, so I picked up a frothy romance from the library so I had something fun to read.  

This was a fun one because the two central characters were, at least on the surface, so unmatched in terms of personalities.  Although despite Hazel constantly telling us how unconventional she is, I didn't think she was actually that OTT.  She was kind of flighty and chaotic, but I know people who are much worse than Hazel is, and they still manage to function in the world.

I have to say, I'm really not a huge fan of main characters telling the reader that kind of thing about themselves.  If they are really that kind of character, their actions and the reactions of those around them should show you.

But I digress... 

Josh has known Hazel since college, but they've never really been friends.  So much so that it's a total surprise to Hazel when she discovers her new best friend from work is Josh's sister.  And after meeting again at her house, The pair seem to keep crossing one another's path.

When Josh breaks up with his girlfriend, he needs a shoulder to cry on and Hazel just happens to be there to take the role of new best friend.  Together they support one another to get back out there and start dating again, each setting the other up with someone for a string of increasingly awful double dates.

And why should they keep putting themselves through that torture when the best thing about them is debriefing with each other afterward?

This was fun and predictable and followed all the tropes of a satisfying romance novel.  If it hadn't been for Hazel's annoying habit of telling us how nuts she is, I would have had a thoroughly good time with this one.  Interesting supporting characters, some good sex scenes that never veered to close to erotica and a couple that seemed like they should be together.

So I'd recommend this one if you're looking for something really un-challenging for an easy weekend read.

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

Hazel Camille Bradford knows she’s a lot to take—and frankly, most men aren’t up to the challenge. If her army of pets and thrill for the absurd don’t send them running, her lack of filter means she’ll say exactly the wrong thing in a delicate moment. Their loss. She’s a good soul in search of honest fun.

Josh Im has known Hazel since college, where her zany playfulness proved completely incompatible with his mellow restraint. From the first night they met—when she gracelessly threw up on his shoes—to when she sent him an unintelligible email while in a post-surgical haze, Josh has always thought of Hazel more as a spectacle than a peer. But now, ten years later, after a cheating girlfriend has turned his life upside down, going out with Hazel is a breath of fresh air.

Not that Josh and Hazel date. At least, not each other. Because setting each other up on progressively terrible double blind dates means there’s nothing between them...right?

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Weekly Goals 6-3-23

 This week I'm working on the dreaded synopsis for Guide Us and a query letter.  I feel like I'm very close to being ready to query this one, so need to make sure I have everything an agent might request as part of a query package.  I hate synopses.  Especially when you need ones of all different lengths.  I always feel like really important stuff falls by the wayside in the interest of brevity.  

For instance, in the book I'm currently working on, Juliet is really close to her twin brother and they look after one another.  But somehow that isn't coming through in the synopsis and Jason sounds like a real prick because of some of his actions (which aren't great, I admit, but are not done to hurt Juliet even if they eventually do).  But adding details about their relationship adds words to the synopsis without driving the plot forward, so those moments are missed. 

But I guess I'll get there in the end.  I usually do.  Eventually.

So, that's my goal for this week.  To get those boring jobs done so I can get this book out into the world in the next month or so..

What are your goals this week?

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Celebrate the Small Things 3-3-22


It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small things...

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!

And it has been a busy week, so I'm looking forward to some downtime.  I don't have much planned other than having lunch with my parents tomorrow and a bit of blogging work I need to do for Operation Awesome.

I may even find some time to write...  Or at least read a bit.  I'm already getting behind on my reading goal for the year and it's only March!

I went to see a friend's stand-up show last night which was hilarious!  She's very talented.  We used to work together, and she was always funny, but I don't think I would have picked stand-up as being the thing that she'd shine at.  But she sure does!

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Insecure Writers Support Group


It's the beginning of March so it's time fore the Insecure Writer's Support Group.

Thanks to the awesome co-hosts for the March 1 posting of the IWSG are Diedre Knight, Tonya Drecker, Bish Denham, Olga Godim, and JQ Rose!

This month's question is a good one:

Have you ever read a line in novel or a clever plot twist that caused you to have author envy?

You have no idea how often this happens to me.  I'll be reading along, and something will just jump out at me as being one of the most perfect descriptions or beautiful turn of phrase.  And yet, somehow I can't think of a single example to tell you about here.  I know it happens quite often, and I always think, "I must remember that", yet here I am...

I'm also in awe of clever plotting when I come across it.  Especially mysteries.  I love unpicking them after I've finished reading and figuring out where the clues were seeded earlier in the book.  I don't think I could ever write a mystery because I'm just not clever enough with plotting (read, I don't plot at all) to make all the pieces work.

That said, there is an element of mystery in the book I have coming out later this year.  But it wasn't plotted as a mystery at all.  The mystery element was something I added later after feedback from my then agent.  I think maybe it's easier to add those clues in after you've written the ending, but I don't actually know any mystery writers so it's all...ahem... a mystery to me.

The worst kind of author envy I get is when I read a book about something and the book just doesn't do the subject justice in my mind.  I find that so frustrating because there probably isn't a market for another book on the same topic, but I know I could write that story so much better than the author did.  So I'm envious that they got to that idea before me.

What gives you author envy?

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Weekly Goals 27-2-23

 I don't have much in the way of goals this week.  I'm still chipping away at edits on Guide Us.  I had hoped to be finished by the end of February, but I'm not going to be.  I've done the big stuff, but I'm going back through and tightening up a few things and adding a few bits and pieces where I feel they're needed.

So I may be finished in a couple of weeks.

I have a busy week this week with work stuff and various other events I've committed to, so I won't have a lot of spare time.  But I'll squeeze in some writing somewhere...

What are your goals tis week?

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Celebrate the Small Things 24-2-23


It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small things...

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!

I've had a stupidly busy week at work this week so I need a break.  Not that I think I'll get much of one.  I have a ton of things I need to do over the weekend, the most pressing to put my book cases back together after having to take everything down to get the new carpet laid (which is super nice to walk on and looks amazing).  So that's most of my Sunday gone...

I'm celebrating the new carpet and new furniture to go on it.  We finally bought a new couch and chairs for the first time since the year 2000.  I love that old couch and especially the squooshy chairs that are the perfect size for curling up and reading in, but they are worn out.  So looking forward to being comfortable on the new furniture.

My bike got stolen from outside my work this week, so I'm grumpy about that - not celebrating.  But on the plus side, there's only about six more riding weeks left before daylight saving finishes, so I will ride my son's bike to work for that time, and look at buying a new bike toward the end of the year when summer starts again.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Books I've Read: How Maya Got Fierce


This was a fun one.  Kind of a fantasy, but a fun kind of fantasy based in the contemporary world.

Maya Gera is the daughter of California garlic famers and knows her future is to run the family farm once her parents retire.  To ensure she's skilled up to do that, this summer she's heading to an agricultural college in New Jersey to begin her journey.  And maybe to meet a nice Indian boy.

Unfortunately garlic, cow camp and a Sikh boyfriend are not what Maya really wants.  Since her older cousin bought her a subscription to Fierce magazine, Maya has wanted nothing but to work there.  She has hundreds of ideas about how to improve representation and to get more diverse voices heard.

So it's a dream come true when she discovers her cousin's live-in girlfriend is working at Fierce. The same cousin she's staying with while at cow camp.  At first Maya just spends weekends at Fierce, helping out in the massive fashion wardrobes.  She adores it - far more than cow camp where the only good thing is the handsome young dude from a winery.  A guy she realises she's beginning to crush on despite promising herself she wouldn't go ga ga over any boys.

When an intern position comes up at Fierce, Maya decides to do something for herself for once and applies.  She's thrilled to get the role and ditches cow camp in favour of the magazine.  She'll explain it all to her parents later, once she's rocked the position hard enough that they can't get mad about it.  

When she starts at the magazine, she discovers she might be in a little over her head.  All the paperwork says she's an assistant editor.  And the cute intern is now working for her?

As she juggles more lies than she can count, Maya somehow manages to make an impression at Fierce.  All she needs now is to get the guy too.  And make sure her family never hears about any of this.

There's nothing very realistic about this book, but who hasn't dreamed about landing a dream job out of the blue?  And as a seventeen year old?  It was a quick, fun read and I found myself rooting for Maya even as she got more and more over her head.

So I'd recommend this one.  Especially if you're looking for something fun to get away from the world's usual gloom and doom.  I could picture this as a movie, kind of in the same vein as something like 13 Going on 30. 

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb (which doesn't quite match the book I read, but whatever...):

The Bold Type meets Younger in How Maya Got Fierce by Sona Charaipotra, a YA fish-out-of-water contemporary novel!

Ever since she was little, farmer's daughter Maya Gera has known what her future holds.

The heiress to a mini garlic empire in the heart of Gilroy, California, she's meant to be a good Indian girl -- which means agriculture school, an MBA, and settling down with a suitable Sikh boy.

So spending her 17th summer at cow camp in New Jersey is a really big deal. Farm kids nationwide convene to learn to milk cows, shuck corn, and, uh, form 'strategic alliances.' But when Maya gets kicked out of camp after an expensive accident -- yes, it involves a boy -- she scrambles to save face and keep her parents from finding out. Hard to do when she owes the school thousands of dollars.

Desperate to earn enough to pay off her mistake, Maya interviews for an internship at Fierce, a fashion magazine she's been obsessed with forever. When she lands a gig as assistant features editor, it's a New York City dream come true. Especially because she rocks at it.

But it might soon become her worst nightmare -- because the Fierce folks think she's 26.

And just wait until her parents find out.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Weekly Goals 20-2-23

 I don't have much in the way of goals this week, I'm afraid.  I've been too busy with the day job to think much about anything else, and I'm having a day off mid-week this week because we're getting new carpet laid, so I need to focus on all the work I have to get done.

I'm slowly working through another round of edits on Guide Us and hope to get those done by the end of the month (although I'm realizing the end of the month is next week, so maybe not...)  I'd like to get that out to a couple of new readers once I've completed the edits, while I work on the query and synopsis etc.

Because yes, I'm going to dive into the query trenches again with this one.  Just call me a masochist.

Hoping the weather might be better this week so I can ride to work most days.  Last week was a complete wash-out in that regard, but then, there was a cyclone that destroyed a large chunk of the country so I'm  grateful we didn't get hit so hard here. It just rained a lot and me not being able to ride my bike is not a big deal in comparison to people losing their homes and family members like they have in other parts of the country.

What are your goals this week?

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Celebrate the Small Things 17-2-23


It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small things...

What am I celebrating this week?

I signed a publishing contract this week.  My Murder Year will be coming out later on this year.  

I'm actually doing what I said I was going to do in my yearly goals and getting those books off my hard drive and out into the world.

And it's the weekend!  It's been a busy week at work and I'm looking forward to not working for a couple of days.

And next week we're getting new carpet in our lounge which I'm very excited about too.  And hopefully a new couch too!

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Books I've Read: This Train is Being Held


This was a fun, cute read.  I enjoyed the fact the relationship was based almost entirely on random encounters on the subway and that was enough to spark a romance.  Although, I did question whether it was possible given the sheer number of trains running on New York's subway lines, but I guess if people have a routine, you can pretty much guarantee they'll be on a certain train at a certain time.

Isabelle is a dancer and a private school kid; Alex is not.  But he is a baseball star and his father has him pegged to be drafted into the minor leagues right out of high school.  Alex enjoys baseball, but he's a secret poet and longs to go to college to see if he can be more than just a ball player.

Over the course of several years, Alex and Isa meet on the subway and form a bond.  Isa's life is not as shiny as it seems on the surface but she doesn't let Alex in on that and it's her secrets that end up pushing them apart at the point they have just become the closest.

Both of them are guilty of believing things that aren't entirely true.  Alex is certain Isa's family will never accept him because he's Latino so when he meets them, he expects to be rejected.  Isa thinks she has to be happy and positive all the time or people won't like her so she doesn't talk about her problems or share her pain.

I won't say more about the plot because it will ruin it for you.  But it is cute, even when things do get heavier with both Alex and Isa holding secrets that are too big for them to handle.

I enjoyed this one until the end.  I felt like the resolution to the story was rushed and didn't feel like it fit with the rest of the book.  It was almost like the author decided they needed more action and decided to go all out with the ending.  It was jarring and didn't really fit with the rest of the book.

But otherwise, it was an enjoyable read.  

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

When private school student Isabelle Warren first meets Dominican-American Alex Rosario on the downtown 1 train, she remembers his green eyes and his gentlemanly behavior. He remembers her untroubled happiness, something he feels all rich kids must possess. That, and her long dancer legs. Over the course of multiple subway encounters spanning the next three years, Isabelle learns of Alex’s struggle with his father, who is hell-bent on Alex being a contender for the major leagues, despite Alex’s desire to go to college and become a poet. Alex learns about Isabelle’s unstable mother, a woman with a prejudice against Latino men. But fate—and the 1 train—throw them together when Isabelle needs Alex most. Heartfelt and evocative, this romantic drama will appeal to readers of Jenny Han and Sarah Dessen.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Weekly Goals 13-2-23

 I don't actually have a whole lot of goals this week.  I think I may have burned myself out a bit last week with getting so much out the door and into the world.

So this week I'm giving myself a bit of a break and will focus on reading books instead of writing them.

Then next week I can get back to writing.

And of course, there's also the threat of a cyclone over the next couple of days, which puts a bit of a wrinkle on things.  Fingers crossed it doesn't hit Wellington as hard as it's hit further North.

What are your goals this week?

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Celebrate the Small Things 10-2-23


It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small things...

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!

I know it's been a short week because of the holiday on Monday, but it has been a very busy week which included an all-day workshop.  So I'm looking forward to a restful weekend.

I got three manuscripts out on the holiday Monday - two to contests and one to a publisher.  Fingers crossed one or more might get picked up.

I've done a read through of another MS I abandoned at some point, and I think it may have potential if I do a bit of polishing on it.  And write the last couple of chapters that seem to be missing.  So that might be another project for me once I finish up my last few tweaks on Guide Us.

And finally, just a wee request from one of my other projects, if anyone knows any authors with an X or a Q in their name (or book title - and they must have at least one published book) I'd be interested in being put in touch.  It's for the April A -Z challenge and something we're looking at doing on the group blog I write for.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Books I've loved: Betty


Several years ago an author emailed me out of the blue offering me the opportunity to read her book via NetGalley.  At that point I'd never used NetGalley, but the book sounded interesting and I am pre-disposed to helping out any author who reaches out to me.  The author was Tiffany McDaniel and her book was called The Summer that Melted Everything.  At the time I struggled a bit with NetGalley and I don't think I managed to get my review in on time which was a shame because it was beautifully written and I enjoyed the language very much.

So when I found this new book by McDaniel, I pounced on it right away.  And boy am I glad I did!

Based on her own family's history, Betty is a gritty, often dark, but also very funny book about an eccentric family.  Betty is one of eight children and her coming of age story is entwined with those of her siblings even when she doesn't fully understand what is happening with them.

Their father is Cherokee, and his culture's myths and legends coupled with his own eccentric brand of storytelling winds through Betty's understanding of the world.  These stories are like the myths ancient civilizations used to explain the parts of life that could not otherwise be explained, but here, they are specific to the life Betty and her family struggle to carve out on the outskirts of a small Appalachian town.

The book starts before Betty's birth and shows how her parents got together - an unlikely pairing, yet one that seems to have worked - then follows them as they start a family, lose several children to accidents and misfortune, and have more.

The characters are so beautifully drawn in this book, each with their own unique personality, characteristics and mannerisms.  And each with their own distinct way of coping with the darkness that seems to constantly lurk on the edges of their existence.

This is not in any way a joyful book.  The lives these people live are difficult and tragedy strikes quickly and often.  Yet somehow Betty manages to survive the trauma and find new ways to live with it.  That she's a writer from a young age probably helps.  She often writes about the difficult things happening around her, the things she knows but can't talk about, and buries the pages in the earth.  

I loved this book and despite its darkness.  Betty's headstrong nature and her resilience in the face of so much tragedy was inspiring and I feel like a lot of people could learn from her attitude to life.

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

A stunning, lyrical novel set in the rolling foothills of the Appalachians in which a young girl discovers stark truths that will haunt her for the rest of her life.

"A girl comes of age against the knife."

So begins the story of Betty Carpenter. Born in a bathtub in 1954 to a Cherokee father and white mother, Betty is the sixth of eight siblings. The world they inhabit is one of poverty and violence--both from outside the family, and also, devastatingly, from within. The lush landscape, rich with birdsong, wild fruit, and blazing stars, becomes a kind of refuge for Betty, but when her family's darkest secrets are brought to light, she has no choice but to reckon with the brutal history hiding in the hills, as well as the heart-wrenching cruelties and incredible characters she encounters in her rural town of Breathed, Ohio.

But despite the hardship she faces, Betty is resilient. Her curiosity about the natural world, her fierce love for her sisters, and her father's brilliant stories are kindling for the fire of her own imagination, and in the face of all she bears witness to, Betty discovers an escape: she begins to write. She recounts the horrors of her family's past and present with pen and paper and buries them deep in the dirt--moments that has stung her so deeply, she could not tell them, until now.

Inspired by the life of her own mother, Tiffany McDaniel sets out to free the past by telling this heartbreaking yet magical story--a remarkable novel that establishes her as one of the freshest and most important voices in American fiction.

Monday, February 6, 2023

Weekly Goals 6-2-23

 It's a holiday today, so I'm taking advantage of the extra day off to get some writing work done.  I'm going to finish the revisions and tweaks I was doing on Friday and get those books sent off to the contest.  And then I'm going to do a bit more work on Guide Us.  I'm determined to get that one out to new readers by the end of the month.  So, if you would like to be one of those readers, sing out!

As for the rest of the week, I think I'm going to be pretty busy at work because of the short week.  So I am not counting on getting any more writing stuff done until the weekend.  And even then, it might be pushing it, depending on what else I have on.

What are your goals for the week?

Friday, February 3, 2023

Celebrate the Small Things 3-2-23


It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small things...

What am I celebrating this week?

Long weekend!  And I made it extra long by taking the Friday off as well.  So four days of weekend to enjoy!

I used the extra Friday to write and made some excellent progress on edits to Guide Us.  I think it still needs a little more work, particularly at the beginning of the book.  Just small things.  A line here or there that will highlight some elements a little more.  I hope to use Monday to do this work and a few other little writing-related jobs I've set for myself.

I also did a little work on Shook because I want to enter that one into a contest that's coming up.  Again, it still needs a little more work, so hopefully I can get that done on Monday too.  I have a goal to get all my completed, unpublished novels out into the world over the next couple of months in some way shape or form.  Some will go to contests, others will go to publishers and I plan to query Guide Us when it is ready.  Hopefully something will get picked up somewhere.  I'm sitting on far too many completed manuscripts at the moment and I'm determined to find them all homes.

As for the rest of the long weekend, I'm heading up the coast on Saturday to spend a day with my friend who lives up there.  It was her birthday this week, and another mutual friend's birthday, so we are all getting together to celebrate.  And on Sunday I'm going to the movies to see The Whale.  It will be the first time in a while, I think, that I will have seen all, or almost all the Oscar contenders.

And I think that's about all for celebrations this week.  What are your wins?

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

IWSG - February 2023

It's the first Wednesday of the month so it's time for the Insecure Writers Support Group!

Thant to the awesome co-hosts for the February 1 posting of the IWSG,  Jacqui Murray, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, Pat Garcia, and Gwen Gardner!

And here's this month's question:

If you are an Indie author, do you make your own covers or purchase them? If you publish trad, how much input do you have about what goes on your cover?

I've been really lucky with my covers.  I'm with a small press and they have a really wonderful cover designer who is very collaborative and somehow manages to create the perfect covers for my books.  She doesn't always get it right the first time, but is so open to suggestions and feedback that I have never been disappointed by a final cover yet.

The process (in case anyone is interested) is that I get sent a proof of the design, and can then give feedback.  The first two covers I was sent (for An Unstill Life and Stumped) I was pretty happy with as they were.  I think I asked to remove a tagline from Stumped, and maybe to amplify the colors a bit on An Unstill Life to better showcase the MC's synesthesia.  

I wasn't initially thrilled with the covers I was sent for The Sidewalk's Regrets or Chasing the Taillights - one looked like it should be on an historical novel, maybe a ghost story, and the other looked like a rom com.  But I made my concerns known, and sent a selection of covers for books like mine for the designer to reference so she got an idea of the look and feel I thought was right for my book.  And the second attempts at both these covers were perfect.

I know some authors who have been really unhappy with their covers, so I feel very lucky that I have had such a positive experience with all of mine.  Even with my first publisher who closed their business and reverted the rights to my book back to me.  In fact, the gorgeous covers I get are part of the reason I keep publishing with this small press.  I know I'd never manage to do anything as good by myself!

What have your cover experiences been like?  Positive or not?

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Weekly Goals 30-1-23

 Can you believe January is almost over?  How fast did that happen?  Crazy!

It's a public holiday next Monday, so I'm taking Friday off to get a 4-day weekend.  It seems a little crazy to do it now, when the year has hardly begun, but I figure I should take any opportunity for time off I can get before July or so because that's when my job is going to get insane for about seven months.

So I'm going to use that Friday as a writing day and I'm finally going to nail those revisions on Guide Us that I need to tackle.  I figure I just need to add a few little bits and pieces here and there through the MS, and possibly an extra chapter toward the end.  Then I think I'll be done.

Weather is looking a little iffy this week (but at least we're not having floods like they've had in Auckland over the weekend) so I'm not sure if I'll be able to ride to work every day or not.  I'll give it a go though!  Fingers crossed I don't get another puncture while riding in the rain the way I did on Friday.  That was annoying.

And that's about it for goals this week.  Do you have any you'd like to share?

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Celebrate the Small Things 27-1-23


It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small things...

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!

I know, I know... It was a short week this week so I shouldn't be excited about the weekend, but yet... I am.

It's been a busy week with a lot of math in it for me, which is not my favourite thing by a longshot.  Spending whole days working with numbers and percentages makes me tired.  So I am looking forward to a weekend in which I don't need to do any math and can spend time with words instead.

I've had a strange stomachache for the last 3 days which I thought might be related to something I ate, but am beginning to think it's something else because it isn't going away as quickly as that usually does.  It's not super painful anymore (it was for two days), but just irritating and annoying.

The weather has been lovely all week so I have biked to work every day.  Even today.  But now it's pouring with rain so I am going to get wet going home.  Luckily it's still warm.

Meeting up with a friend to go to the art gallery and to a movie tomorrow, which will be nice.  Then I have nothing planned on Sunday, which will also be nice.  Although I do have some chores to do.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Books I've Read: The Furies

This was a strange and quite disturbing read. Even now I'm not 100% sure I actually liked it or not, but it certainly left an impression.

Set in the outback in Queensland, Cynthia has not had an easy life up until now. Living so remotely she has little company other than her parents and sister and her father is often gone for work. The isolation and the hardship the family endures after years of drought have to take a toll.

The book starts just after that toll has left Cynthia alone. Her mother is gone after an horrific act of madness and her father flees the scene just months later. Left with no one and nothing, Cynthia has to take job at the only nearby place where work is available - the meat works.

As a lone woman in this very male environment, Cynthia is subjected to any number of indignities. Initially she rolls with it, feeling that this is a woman's role. But after a while, her sister seems to whisper to her from beyond the grave and with her, the voices of other women who are no longer with us.

Cynthia grapples with her past while she tries to forge a future for herself that will be better than the one she saw her mother suffer through and so what actually happened to bring Cynthia to this place is revealed slowly throughout the book.

Everything about this book was a little off, from the language to the extreme weather to the casual brutishness of almost all the men in the town. I wanted to feel sorry for Cynthia for everything she suffered through, but it was difficult to care for her when every choice she made seemed wrong. There is a hint of madness surrounding all the characters in this story, which made reading the book a little like trying to walk on sand - slippery and uncertain.

The language didn't help. Sentences stopped and started in random places which annoyed me and made me conscious of the writing. I know it was intentional, but it drew me out of the story every time. Perhaps that was intentional too. To give you time to reflect on the book's themes.

I'm not sure I liked this book, to be honest. But it was certainly memorable and had a lot to say about a woman's place in society and her value (or lack of it)

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

Defiant, ferocious and unyielding - The Furies is a unique and breathtakingly powerful debut novel from Mandy Beaumont. For those who love Charlotte Wood, Margaret Atwood and Carmen Maria Machado.Cynthia was just about to turn sixteen when the unthinkable happened. Her mother was taken away by the police, and her father left without a word three months later. After that night, Cynthia began to walk in slow circles outside the family home looking for traces of her sister Mallory - she's sure that she must be somewhere else now, wherever that is.

Cynthia knows that she doesn't belong here. Her mother never belonged here either. This is the place of violence. Despair. The long dry. Blood caked under the nails. Desperate men. Long silences. The place where mothers go mad in locked bedrooms, where women like Cynthia imagine better futures.

As a threatening wind begins to dry-whirl around her, seldom seen black clouds form above, roll over the golden-brown land - is that Mallory she can hear in the growling mass? In the harsh drought-stricken landscape of outback Queensland a woman can be lost in so many ways. The question is, will Cynthia be one of them?

Defiant, ferocious and unyielding - The Furies is a debut novel by Mandy Beaumont that explores the isolation felt by so many women, and how powerful we can be when we join together. It puts her firmly on the literary map, blazing forth from the terrain of Charlotte Wood, Margaret Atwood and Carmen Maria Machado, with a unique and breathtaking power.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Weekly Goals 23-1-23

 There are a few things I want to try and do this week, especially since it's a public holiday today and I have an extra day of weekend to use.  I haven't been waiting that much this summer and I want to experiment with using a blow drier as a brush more.  I've not been successful with this technique yet, so plan to spend some time playing with it and with paints of different thicknesses to try and figure out why my paintings using this technique never look the way other fluid artists' do.

I plan to write at least one piece of flash fiction, if not more.  I've been enjoying the challenge of working with a prompt on the writing website I use.  I give myself a half hour to write a story of 1,000 words or less and see where it takes me.  They're obviously not works of art, but if they're any good, I can work more on them to make them into something else.

The weather was kind last week and let me ride into work every day I wanted to.  I plan to ride in every day this week too, so long as the weather continues to co-operate.

What are your goals this week?

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Celebrate the Small Things 20-1-23


It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small things...

What am I celebrating this week?

It's a long weekend!

At this time of year we're kind of spoiled when it comes to public holidays.  We just get back from the summer break and then there's Anniversary Day, followed closely by Waitangi Day.  And then, if Easter is early, that happens pretty soon afterward.

Unfortunately I didn't remember that Monday was Anniversary Day until yesterday, so I haven't made any real plans for the long weekend, other than going to see the epic, and apparently very flawed film, Babylon.  I shall let you know my thoughts about it on Monday.

I got my first rejection of 2023 today, so good to know nothing has changed dramatically in the new year.  I sent a bunch of stuff out in November and December, so I guess this is just the start of the latest batch of rejections.  I hate to think how many I have in total now.  It's probably over 500 between novels and short stories.

The weather has been glorious this week, so I've managed to ride my bike to work almost every day.  I didn't yesterday because I went to an outdoor concert after work, but every other day I have.  Which has been good because the bus service is so short of drivers at the moment that they're running the Saturday timetable all week which means every bus is jammed.  There must have been 50 or so people waiting for a bus by the hospital when I rode past this morning.  And every bus I saw was packed to the gunnels.

And that's it for me.  What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Books I've Read: Well, That Was Unexpected

I love that there are so many more books out there now that deal with people from non-white, non-American, non-British cultures!  Like this one that is set in Indonesia and features two narrators, one who is an American-born half-Indonesian, and one who has been brought up in Indonesia.

After getting caught by her mother in an uncompromising position with her boyfriend, Sharlot's mother whisks her off to Indonesia to spend time with the extended family she's never met.  Despite Sharlot asking about Indonesia, her mother has always been loathe to discuss it, so Sharlot's perception of what the country might be like, and her attitude toward it are seriously skewed.

George is the son of one of Indonesia's wealthiest and most successful businessmen and has been primed since birth to take over at least some part of the family business.  When he's caught in an embarrassing position by his father and younger sister, George is told in no uncertain terms that he needs to get a girlfriend to improve his public image.

Sharlot's mother and George's father each take their kids' phones and strike up a conversation via a social media app.  When Sharlot and George find out, they are furious and mortified, but grudgingly agree to meet.  Both are certain the "date" will be a disaster and organise rapid exit strategies.

But neither expect the media to show up, or their large, extended families.

Before they know it, George and Sharlot are basking in the lap of luxury in a Bali resort with cameras following their every move.  Despite it all being for show, and despite both their reticence to get to know each other better, the pair soon find themselves enjoying each others' company.

But can a relationship based on lies ever become true love?

I enjoyed the examination of Chinese-Indonesian culture in this book, particularly the peculiarities both kids point out.  I feel like the view of the country was rather sanitised, viewed as it was through very privileged people whose lives are clearly very different to those of ordinary people.  While Indonesia's attitudes to LGBTQ+ people are touched on, it's a pretty light touch and the fact that homosexuality is actually illegal in Indonesia is never mentioned.

It would be interesting to read another book set in the same country but from the POV of an indigenous Indonesian (not of Chinese ancestry) and whose circumstances are less rarified to compare them.

Overall, this was a fun, quick read that definitely plays into the fantasy of suddenly being swept into the lap of luxury and treated like a princess.  Not really realistic, but not the worst way to spend an afternoon!

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

An outrageous, laugh-out-loud YA rom-com about a girl who's whisked from LA to her mother's native Indonesia to get back to her roots and finds herself fake-dating the son of one of the wealthiest families there, from the author of Dial A for Aunties.

After Sharlot Citra's mother catches her in a compromising position, she finds herself whisked away from LA to her mother's native Indonesia. It'll be exactly what they both need. Or so her mother thinks.

When George Clooney Tanuwijaya's father (who is obsessed with American celebrities) fears he no longer understands how to get through to his son, he decides to take matters into his own hands.

To ensure that their children find the right kind of romantic partner, Sharlot's mother and George's father do what any good parent would do: they strike up a conversation online, pretending to be their children.

When the kids find out about their parents' actions, they're horrified. Not even a trip to one of the most romantic places on earth could possibly make Sharlot and George fall for each other. But as the layers peel back and the person they thought they knew from online is revealed, the truth becomes more complicated. As unlikely as it may seem, did their parents manage to find their true match after all?

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Dear Me 2023

Dear Me,


Once again I’m writing this a couple of weeks into the new year rather than having it written and ready to implement on 1 January.  But better late than never, right?  I feel like I need a bit of time in the new year to reflect on what I achieved (or didn’t achieve) in the previous year in order to actually formulate realistic goals for the new one.  At least, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!


So here goes for 2023.


Despite plans to address my readers’ notes on Guide Us over the break, I didn’t ever get to this.  The weather was too good before I went to the beach to want to coop up indoors working, and when it was shite while we were away, I didn’t have my computer with me so couldn’t work on it.  I know… excuses, excuses.  But I do plan to do this work before the middle of February so I can send the book to a couple more readers while I work on a query and synopsis.  I would like to start querying this one by March.


I’ve become somewhat inspired again to work on A Stranger to Kindness, the book I started with the mute protagonist.  It’s a tough one to write, given how dialogue-driven my books tend to be, but I plan to put some time into this one over the next few months.  I’d love to finish a draft before July.


I’ve been reading through old stuff abandoned on my hard drive and am startled to discover that several things I thought I’d only written a couple of chapters on have 20 or more chapters already written.  And some of it is actually not too bad….  I want to try and finish and polish at least two of these stories this year and get them out into the world.  I haven’t published anything since the beginning of 2021 and I know how quickly publishing moves on if you don’t keep pushing those books out there.  I currently have a couple of things on submission, but I’m not getting my hopes up…


I have a short story in an anthology from a major publisher that will be out in the Northern Hemisphere spring.  I’m hoping this will be an opportunity to reach more readers and get my work more widely known and available.  So my goal is to leverage the hell out of this and to make the anthology as big a success as I possibly can.


With less writing time available to me nowadays, I feel like short fiction should be a focus for me again.  I may not have the time or energy for a novel, but short stories or flash fiction can be written relatively quickly and offer me a chance to explore new styles, genres and themes.  I would like to be able to submit at least one piece of short fiction to a publication each month.  But that of course means writing them first.


Outside my writing life, I plan to keep up my exercise regime and possibly even add to it.  I am trying to lose weight (again), but even if I can’t get thinner, I can get fitter.  I feel like I’m in a pretty good place with my fitness at the moment and would like to build on that, especially when it comes to weights.  I’m ready to focus on getting stronger.


After not reaching my Goodreads reading target again in 2022, I have reduced it to 132 books for 2023.  I’ve been reading more adult books recently, largely because I’ve read most of the YA books in the library and am waiting for some new ones to be added to the collection, and they tend to take me longer to read.  I’m off to a good start though – by the time I went back to work on 12 Jan I’d already read 10 books in 2023.


I am still painting and want to experiment with using the techniques I’ve learned to create more than just canvasses.  I work upstairs from a second-hand store, so plan to find things there that I can paint on (trays, vases etc) and created useful objects that are also beautiful.


I plan to continue my ambition of going to the movies at least once a week too.  It looks like it’s going to be easy for the next month or so with something interesting coming out almost every week.  Long may that continue!  I kicked off 2023’s movie-going by seeing The Fablemans and I really enjoyed it.  Such a love-letter to the movies and making movies – something I’m beginning to see as a trend for films post-pandemic.  There are several other movies coming out in the next couple of months that also appear to be about the movies and their magic.


As well as films which I always go to, this year I want to embrace all the arts and go to things I don’t go to nearly often enough.  I want to see theatre and dance and go to gigs.  My son and I got a shared subscription to the symphony orchestra’s season for Christmas, so that’s a good place to start.  And with my new job being in arts events, I hope I will get the opportunity to explore this space more. 


I think that’s probably enough goals for 2023.  We’ll check in mid-year to see how I’m progressing.


What are your goals for 2023?


Friday, January 13, 2023

Celebrate the Small Things 13-1-22


It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small things...

What am I celebrating this week?

It seems a little on the nose to be celebrating the weekend when I've only been back at work for two days, but they've been a LOOONG two days...

What is it about those first days back after a break?  Do we just forget how long a work day is?  

Whatever the case, I'm celebrating the weekend because it's been a pretty wet and yucky week and the weekend forecast looks good.  So I plan to do some stuff in the garden, and maybe do a little painting too.  I don't have any major plans or social events, so I might even do some writing work. But with the nice weather, that might be unlikely.

But at least I don't need to spend half the weekend cleaning my house!  I had a housesitter while I was away who is a cleaner and I paid her to do a couple of hours cleaning each day which meant I came home to a lovely clean house!

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Books I've Read: After the Lights Go Out

I' back from my holiday and have done a lot of reading since the weather was not exactly kind to us for a summer beach vacation...  So expect plenty of book reviews to come!

This was a really interesting story about a subject I know very little about: doomsday preppers.  Set in a small town in rural Australia, the book fascinated me from the very beginning.  The psychology of these people fascinates me almost as much as that of people who join cults!

Pru is 17 and lives in this small community with just her father and her twin sisters.  Their father moved them to this community after their mother left them in Melbourne, probably because of their father's increasingly paranoid thinking.  Out in the country, her has the space to act on this paranoia and the family is now prepared for any disaster - nuclear war, earthquake, pandemic, or even a zombie apocalypse.

To keep them on their toes, regular drills are staged to ensure each family member knows exactly where and what they need to do to get to their bunker with everything they need to survive.

One day while their father is away working at the mine, the lights go out.  Everywhere. All communications cease and no one knows why.  In town, things quickly descend into chaos as supplies run out and there is no way to contact anyone for medical help.  Pru's family have everything they need in their bunker and decide to keep this a secret from the rest of the town.  Their father has always drilled into them that family comes first.

But when their father fails to reappear and survival becomes paramount, Pru begins to question whether his rules should still apply.

I really enjoyed this story.  I'm not sure the science behind the actual doomsday event is realistic, but it worked in terms of the story, so I'm not going to dig too deep.  I was far more interested in the various ways people reacted to it and to the three sisters who mysteriously had the most knowledge of how to survive an event like this.

I feel like this story only worked because of its remote location.  In a city, things would have been very different and the way people reacted to the doomsday event and to everything that happened afterward would have been far more dangerous and chaotic.  Keeping the cast of characters small and the likelihood of any strangers showing up to disrupt them low was beneficial to the story being told and allowed us to really get to know them and their motivations.

So if, like me, you're interested in finding out ore about what motivates people to be doomsday preppers and how people really might react in this type of scenario, this book might be for you.

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

Seventeen-year-old Pru Palmer lives with her twin sisters, Grace and Blythe, and their father, Rick, on the outskirts of an isolated mining community. The Palmers are doomsday preppers. They have a bunker filled with non-perishable food and a year's worth of water. Each of the girls has a 'bug out bag', packed with water purification tablets, protein bars, paracord bracelets and epipens for Pru's anaphylaxis.

One day while Rick is at the mine, the power goes out. At the Palmers' house, and in the town. No one knows why. All communication is cut. It doesn't take long for everything to unravel. In town, supplies run out and people get desperate. The sisters decide to keep their bunker a secret. The world is different; the rules are different. Survival is everything, and family comes first.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

IWSG January 2023

 It's the first Wednesday in January so it's time for the Insecure Writers Support Group!

The awesome co-hosts for the January 4 posting of the IWSG are Jemima Pett, Debs Carey, Kim Lajevardi, Sarah Foster, Natalie Aguirre, and T. Powell Coltrin!

This month's question is an interesting one:

Do you have a word of the year? Is there one word that sums up what you need to work on or change in the coming year? For instance, in 2021 my word of the year was Finish. I was determined to finish my first draft by the end of the year. In 2022, my word of the year was Ease. I want to get my process, systems, finances, and routines where life flows with ease and less chaos. What is your word for 2023? 

I've never had a word of the year before, but I think it's a nice idea.  I like the concept of trying to find a single word to guide everything you do for a period of time.

I think for 2023 my word is going to be explore.  I want to try new things with my writing as well as in my day job.  I want to try out new ways of publishing my work, new ways to get it to readers.  I want to explore new ways of writing because this year I didn't do as much as I wanted to because I felt like I didn't have the time to focus on writing a novel.  Yet I managed a lot of short fiction, some of which was actually quite good.

I want to drag some of those old stories and almost-completed novels out of my hard-drive and try to finish them.  Again, some of them are actually good and were only abandoned because some new shiny idea came along and took over my brain.  So I want to explore possibilities with them too.

And in my day job, I'm new, so there are lots of things to learn and explore as we get through what is going to be a really big and busy year.

What is your word of the year going to be for 2023?