Monday, June 30, 2014

Project Management Update: Who's Going To Clean Up This Mess?

Reports from the Project Manager
Project Manager (n.) The person responsible for accomplishing the stated project objectives
(definition via Wikipedia)

I guess the answer to the title question is "Me". Hi, I am the Project Manager. After plodding along for a while with ever changing objectives and due dates, the Idea Salesman finally got frustrated and convinced Renee to hire a project manager. As a result, it now falls to me to try to get this train back on the tracks.

Therein lies our first challenge. At the beginning of a project, the project manager's job is to understand the goal, resources, and deadlines and help get everyone organized. Generally, if you change project managers mid-stream, something is very wrong. Also, as you have probably noticed reading the weekly features on this blog, getting Renee and her imaginary friends to work together is a bit like herding cats--wait, that was a different project!

My first task is to take stock of the situation. It's unfortunately clear that we're at this point off track. I doubt I will have the luxury of blaming prior management for long. It's my job to get to help Renee put things back together. During our first update meeting, we assembled this dashboard.


So what do we have here?


  • Guardian is in the "Writing" phase and is currently due for completion on August 22nd.
  • 82% of the time allotted to this phase of the process has passed and only 55.6% of the work is completed. Yikes!


So what does this mean?


  • Guardian will most likely not be finished on time, we'll soon work on setting a new due date.
  • As I take on ownership of the project, I'll try to help Renee add some discipline to the planning and implementation so we can get this thing in the hands of the Inner Editor.


That's enough for this update; I'll be back on a monthly basis to check in and provide updates. Next time we meet, I'll hope to show you a green light in the status box!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Flash Fiction: Bad Parents

PROMPT/CHALLENGE SUMMARY: I haven't had time to write much flash fiction lately, and I do really miss it when I get away from it. As I've said before, the little pieces here, because I can start one and be done with it that day (usually), give me a nice sense of accomplishment in the middle of the long slog of novel writing. Anyway, I've got a quick bit for you today. This piece comes from another of Chuck Wendig's Friday challenges. He asked us for 1000 words on the topic of bad parents. Well, that likely won't end up. . . revealing anything. Would you believe me if I promised my mother has never had liposuction? Her ringtone isn't The Imperial March either. At least, not anymore. ;-)
(Source: Chuck Wendig's blog)

Lainey dropped her phone on the desk and groaned. Then she put her head down next to the electronic harbinger of doom. The situation called for literal headdesking.

"What's wrong?" Daniel asked.

"My mother is reading my blog," she replied, her voice was muffled by the cheap wood.

"And that's a bad thing?"

Lainey rolled her head to the side so she could look at him. He was lounging across the couch sideways with one knee up, in what she called his "sprawling Adonis pose", thoroughly unconcerned about the impending shit storm.

How did he not understand this? "Have you read my blog?"

"Of course I've read your blog." He perked up in mock anticipation. "Is not reading it an option?"

"No." She straightened, wiggling her mouse to wake up the screen that had fallen asleep while she'd taken the warning phone call from her brother. "You're a nice guy. Nice guys are supportive boyfriends."

Daniel heaved a wistful sigh. "Damn, I knew I should have been an asshole instead."

"Assholes don't get laid regularly," she responded, though she wasn't really listening to him anymore.

The blog wasn't that bad, was it? Sure, there were a bunch of references to "Mommy Dearest", especially in the early stuff, but it wasn't like her mother was going to go back in the archives and read every post, right?

Shit. She totally would. Because though she was far too busy to help out on classroom cleaning days or pitch in at a book fair, but she'd spend weeks combing through her daughter's online space if she suspected there might be even one uncomplimentary reference buried in there somewhere.

She was going to find more than one. Shit, shit, shit.

"Bullshit," Daniel said, breaking into her panic. "Assholes get laid all the time."

"What?" She blinked at him, unable to remember the thread of the conversation through the haze of fear. She waved him off before he could explain and turned back to the computer.

There was nothing she could do about the early stuff. Maybe she'd get lucky and her mother wouldn't start at the beginning. She clicked through a couple of the more recent posts instead.

"Dammit," she muttered. "There's a whole scree from two weeks ago about how she gave me all my body image issues. That's going to be like six years of guilt right there."

Maybe she could just take down the worst posts? She could save the files and slot them back into the site in a few months, once her mother lost interest.

Daniel crossed the room and put his hands on her shoulders. "So you bitch about your mother online. What's the big deal? I thought you said you wrote so you could get it all out there."

"I do." It was important to have a space where she could virtually scream. Otherwise she might start doing the screaming out loud.

"So maybe this is a good thing." He squeezed, trying to rub away the tension gathering at the back of her neck. "Now she'll know how you feel and maybe you guys can start working out your issues."

She shrugged his hands away. "My family doesn't work out issues. We smile and pretend nothing has ever bothered anyone ever."

"That's just the public face of things. You're allowed to be unhappy in private."

"You don't understand. You had a happy childhood." She shook her head and checked off more posts to copy and delete. She'd been writing online for six years. This was going to take forever. "Besides, the internet is public."

"It's not that public. You blog under a pseudonym. It's not like anyone will know who she is."

"Like that will mean anything? Danny, I regularly call her a lunatic and an attention whore. And I blogged about the last two rounds of liposuction she had."

Maybe she should just delete the whole blog? That would be easier than seeking out individual posts. She'd lose all her ad revenue, but they could deal with that. The blog only helped pay bills in the really tight months.

Though if the site went completely blank, then her mother would know something was up.

"So? It's not like that's a big secret. Everyone knew she was recovering from those surgeries."

"Yeah, but we're not supposed to acknowledge it. Not even to her. She claims she lost all that weight at some freaking organic vegan yoga spa in the Catskills. She's going to go freaking nuclear. This is a disaster."

He grabbed her hand, pulling it away from the mouse before she could click the Delete This Blog button. "Lainey, you're twenty-eight years old. You don't have to hide your diary from your mother anymore."

She struggled against his hold for a minute before giving up and sagging against him instead. "Do you remember that Sandra Bullock movie I made you watch?"

"The one where her husband kept dying?"

"No. The one where her mom was a crazy alcoholic."

"Um. . . vaguely." He looked up at the ceiling, trying to remember. "Didn't they do a lot of stupid pranks back and forth until the sarcastic old lady kidnapped her and they had a scrapbooking party or something?"

Men. How could he remember every detail of a college football game that happened ten years ago, but take in basically nothing about one of her favorite movies of all time?

Whatever. It didn't matter. "Well, this is going to be like that. Only worse, and without Maggie Smith or the scrapbooking or the happy reconciliation at the end."

He grinned, still not seeming to take this seriously enough. "Okay, well, don't hit your phone on the counter like they did. You didn't get the insurance on it."

Right on cue, the Darth Vader death march blared from Lainey's phone, warning her of an incoming call from her mother.

She tried to swallow down her fear, hoping anger might take its place to get her through this. "No promises."

Friday, June 27, 2014

Renee's Reading: 2014-05-24 through 2014-06-20, Part Two

And now for part two of the random selection of books from the last month of reading. I had a lot of fun with these books. (And that's an extra good thing, because it made it easier to resist just reading Skin Game over and over again.)

Before We Kiss, by Susan Mallery
Former pro-football kicker Sam Ridge has notoriously bad luck with women--from cheaters to fame chasers. Still, the gorgeous brunette at a bar in Fool's Gold looks harmless--until she takes him home and he discovers a room devoted to securing a man, for life.

Dellina Hopkins never guessed that storing gowns from a friend's bridal boutique would chase away her first and only fling. After her parents died, she skipped "wild youth" to raise her sisters. She doesn't want forever from Sam, but all night would've been nice.

His clean getaway gets messy when his firm hires her to plan an event. As long hours lead to late nights, the two succumb to temptation again. Has Sam's luck finally changed? Or this time, will Dellina be the one to run?

I think I loved pretty much everything about this book. These two characters were fleurking fantastic.

Dellina is so. . . comfortable with herself. I don't mean that in the sense that she's brash or overconfident. She's just very aware of who she is and where she is in her life and the world. For example, another woman might have taken Sam running out in the middle of the night as a huge blow, or maybe feel the need to go out of her way to clear up the misunderstanding once she finds out what his deal was, but she just writes it off as more his problem than hers and moves on with her life.

Sam, oh you dear man, I adore you tremendously. His wonky history with women had potential enough for amusement, but then you get to his parents and the whole thing just. . . I don't think I've ever laughed so hard in my entire life. Of course, if they were my parents, well, let's just say I understand why Sam doesn't find their antics all that amusing. As a result he's got himself so very locked away and it was such a joy to watch him open himself up under Dellina's influence.

This was a really hot one too. Let's just say there's a scene or two in this book that made me wish I could have a chat of my own with Sam's mother. She might be a really strange mother, but she must be one hell of a therapist, because holy jeeze.

Overall this was a great read. Fun, funny, and sexy, with really great characters. :-)


Something About You, by Julie James
FATE HAS THROWN TWO SWORN ENEMIES. . .

Of all the hotel rooms rented by all the adulterous politicians in Chicago, female Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron Lynde had to choose the one next to 1308, where some hot-and-heavy lovemaking ends in bloodshed. And of all the FBI agents in Illinois, it had to be Special Agent Jack Pallas who gets assigned to this high-profile homicide. The same Jack Pallas who still blames Cameron for a botched crackdown three years ago--and nearly ruining his career. . .

. . . INTO EACH OTHER'S ARMS

Work with Cameron Lynde? Are they kidding? Maybe, Jack thinks, this is some kind of welcome-back prank after his stint away from Chicago. But it's no joke: the pair is going to have to put their rocky past behind them and focus on the case at hand. That is, if they can cut back on the razor-sharp jibes--and smother the flame of their sizzling-hot sexual tension. . . 

After reading three other books in this series, I had to go back to read the one from the beginning that I'd missed. And it wasn't just that I have a thing about reading series in order. I kept getting little glimpses of Cameron and Jack in the other books, those cameos that every series like this has, and I eventually got to the point where I needed to know more about these two.

Cameron and Jack are absolutely fantastic. They're both strong, smart characters and they have incredible chemistry together. The case was also interesting. Like A Lot Like Love this story was driven by the case the two are working together and the suspense element worked quite well. There isn't much mystery for the reader, since you find out who the killer is pretty early on, but James did a good job building the tension of it for the characters. (Though, of course, by reading the later books first I ended up having some spoilers on my hands there.)

I did find the random wedding weekend getaway bit a little farfetched. I mean, they're in the middle of a murder investigation. Maybe if it had been earlier in the book, perhaps, but once they've identified that Cameron is at risk, it just seems like too much of a stretch to me.

That one nitpicky bit aside, I really enjoyed this read.


The Immortal Crown, by Richelle Mead
Gameboard of the Gods introduced religious investigator Justin March and Mae Koskinen, the beautiful supersoldier assigned to protect him. Together they have been charged with investigating reports of the supernatural and the return of the gods, both inside the Republic of United North America and out. With this highly classified knowledge comes a shocking revelation: Not only are the gods vying for human control, but the elect--special humans marked by the divine--are turning against one another in bloody fashion.

Their mission takes a new twist when they are assigned to a diplomatic delegation headed by Lucian Darling, Justin's old friend and rival, going into Arcadia, the RUNA's dangerous neighboring country. Here, in a society where women are commodities and religion is intertwined with government, Justin discovers powerful forces at work, even as he struggles to come to terms with his own reluctantly acquired deity.

Meanwhile, Mae--grudgingly posing as Justin's concubine--has a secret mission of her own: finding the illegitimate niece her family smuggled away years ago. But with Justin and Mae resisting the resurgence of the gods in Arcadia, a reporter's connection with someone close to Justin back home threatens to expose their mission--and with it the divine forces the government is determined to keep secret.

Richelle Mead released another bo--OH GOOD GRIEF JUST TAKE MY MONEY ALREADY AND GIMME GIMME GIMME!!!!!

Seriously, I have never read anything by this woman that I haven't absolutely loved and The Immortal Crown is no exception. I am really enjoying this Age of X series so far. I like the way she's taken the mythologies and twisted them together this way. I've never really studied Norse mythology much, having been more interested in the Greek and Roman varieties when I was younger and actually spent a good deal of time studying such things, but reading this series makes me want to dust off my old mythology texts and do some research.

This was a killer story, with brilliant intrigue, interesting magic, and a rich world. Justin and Mae are great, both individually and especially together, and I really enjoyed watching them grow and develop within their partnership. I absolutely cannot wait for book 3 so I can find out what happens to them next.

The parts of the story following Tessa--which the part of me that is so enamored with Justin and Mae just wants to go away so I can get back to them--were also quite good. She could have been nothing more than a random distraction, but I couldn't help but be drawn into her story and I'm starting to think maybe this girl is going to be the one the breaks the whole world right open.

I did think the society Mead builds for the Arcadia was a little cliché at times, but it was certainly far from implausible within the circumstances Mead has set up. Which is a pretty scary thought. (Man, I wish I was still naïve and innocent enough that I could look at the idea of a society built entirely on misogyny to an epic scale and say "Puh-lease! Like that could ever happen!")

Still, it's a very good installment of a very good series. It's a fun read as well as an interesting one. I know who I'm rooting for, but I'm not exactly sure what it is I want for them. There always seems to be a surprise waiting just around the corner and Mead is doing a great job keeping me guessing. Very well done!


It Happened One Wedding, by Julie James
SHE KNOWS BETTER THAN TO SAY "I DO"

After a humiliating end to her engagement, investment banker Sidney Sinclair is done with commitment-phobic men. But when her sister winds up engaged after a whirlwind courtship, she's thrown in to close contact with exactly the kind of sexy playboy she wants to avoid--the gorgeous best man. She's stuck with him, for better or worse, until her sister walks down the aisle, but that doesn't mean she has to give in to his smooth advances, no matter how tempting they are. . .

BUT HE MAKES IT HARD TO SAY "I DON'T"

Special Agent Vaughn Roberts always gets his man on the job and his woman in bed. So Sidney's refusal to fall for his charms only makes him more determined to win over the cool and confident redhead. Only what starts out as a battle of wills ends up as a serious play for her heart. Because the one woman who refuses to be caught may be the only one Vaughn can't live without. . . 

I'm all caught up on this series now after reading this latest book and I'm so glad I stumbled upon it. This book was so much fun. Vaughn and Sidney were both fantastic characters and there was so much about their story that I just adored. Their initial meeting was hilarious and the whole relationship just got better and better from there.

Vaughn, oh what do I say about Vaughn? He's smart, he's sexy, he's funny. And he's so completely clueless. Sidney knocks him off his game right from the start and he just never recovers. It was fantastic to watch him fumbling around with his emotions. And I got to have the greatest evil grins every time Sidney texted him. (And especially that one time when she didn't text him.)

And Sidney had me absolutely charmed from the start. I loved that she's so confident and so sure of herself and also so completely lost. I really enjoyed the way she handled herself after the previous relationship. She didn't wallow and think of herself as a failure or anything. She just learned her lesson and made a new plan. I love a woman with a plan.

Of course, I also really love watching that plan completely fall apart. (See above glee regarding evil grins)

These were great characters to read and their romance was fun and hot and really well-written. So delightful.


I've read so many books that I really enjoyed lately, I'm almost jealous of myself. ;-) What about you guys? Anything interesting pop up in your recent reading?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

CP vs Beta

A while back I saw a couple of writers debating the merits of critique partners versus beta readers on Twitter. I didn't get involved in the conversation at the time, but it kind of snagged in the back of my brain and I thought it might make a decent topic for the blog.

The reason it caught my eye is that a lot of the discussion was confused because some people use those two phrases interchangeably and others have very distinct opinions about the two roles. I found it interesting that not only was there a debate going on about whether one should prefer one type of reader feedback over the other, but also just what those types of feedback really were.

So, for what it's worth (and the self-deprecating little voice in my head assures me I can expect to get change back in this case) here are my two cents:

The answer is critique partners and beta readers are two different things and you actually need both.

As I define it, a critique partner is another writer* with whom you exchange work and offer constrictive criticism. The ideal is to have critique partner who is better than you are so you can learn and improve that much more. Though the very nature of such an arrangement means that can only work out about half of the time.

(Which is one of the reasons why I think you need multiple critique partners, or possibly a whole critique group if you can find one that isn't toxic. Having a couple of trusted writerly folks to exchange work with keeps the whole thing balanced.)

Writers understand story building better than just about anyone else. We live in these trenches. We know the landscape and we know how to see what's going on behind the words on the page. Another writer can diagnose things about your work that you miss and explain it in such a way that you can actually fix it.

Critique partners know how to write stories and they get the nitty gritty details of it. You can get into the minutia of story structure and character development. Critique partners can give you high level overall feedback sometimes, or they can get all the way down to "this verb isn't strong enough" or "you need more description here; your hero turned into a disembodied chest with a penis in this sex scene".

A beta reader, the bookish version of the software industry's beta tester, on the other hand, should be someone who is well read in your genre, but they don't necessarily need to be another writer/agent/editor. In fact, I believe you should have at least one who isn't attached to publishing in any way besides being a consumer.

A beta reader is there to test the story once you've got it all put together the way you want it but before you call it finalized. The role of a beta reader is to look at the I-think-it's-finished-but-I-need-someone-to-try-to-break-it-first-so-I-can-be-sure-it's-really-finished product and make sure it works.

A good beta reader can tell you if the story's interesting. Where they laughed. Where they almost peed their pants because they couldn't bring themselves to put the book down long enough to go to the bathroom. Where they skimmed or put the book down to go fold a load of laundry. Whether or not it made them cry. A beta reader is your first reviewer and they're there to let you know about the end-user experience.

You can use the same people as critique partners and beta readers, but I try not to. The people I trust to read and give me useful feedback is a small group and I don't like asking them to read my work more than once or twice if I can help it. People can only read the same thing so many times before they start glazing over.

The meet-cute is only cute the first time, and after a few passes, the humor becomes annoying and the action looks stale. Unless the person has an extremely poor memory (which doesn't really do much to recommend them for the job) or is extremely disciplined (which isn't something you find as often as you'd think) the feedback you get from them is going to get progressively less useful.

There is a third category of reader I like to call the cheerleader. This is a person who reads along while you're writing and is basically just there to keep you motivated when the work gets hard and the shiny new ideas threaten to get too distracting. I see these most often during events like NaNoWriMo, when everyone is writing together and soaking up the collective creative energy, though I've been known to call in the squad on other occasions too.

You might or might not need a cheerleader and, to be totally honest, while they sometimes provide feedback, that's not really the point. When I ask someone to read my zero draft and tell me if it's any good or not, that's usually just a sign that I'm feeling insecure and needy and I want someone to validate my life choices.

I don't phrase the request quite like that, of course. I usually make up some BS that sounds sufficiently professional at the time. ;-)

When you bring these people into your process is, of course, a matter of personal taste. I try, with varying degrees of success, to avoid calling in a cheerleader squad. Barring a complete and total floundering mess, my preference is to hold off on involving CPs and betas until I've given a book a good rest period and then been through it at least once or twice. No sense in other people getting bogged down in problems I can diagnose myself.

What is your take on beta readers and critique partners? Is this how you define them? Which do you prefer? Neither? Both? Have your thoughts on the matter changed as your career has gone on?


*An agent and/or editor can also fill this role if you have one. Or anyone, really, who has professional expertise in story development really.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Abstract Thoughts: New Hire Orientation

Brilliance from the Idea Salesman

Ladies and Gentlemen. May I have your attention please? I have something very important to share with you.

I have won. Victory is mine!


Hmmm. . . That's kind of funny. IE just muttered the exact same thing as Donna there. She must be a West Wing fan too.

Anyway, I have been fighting an uphill battle with Renee for some time now and I have finally worn her down won her over. Let me draw your attention to a couple of items here on the blog. First up, last week's blog post by our very own charming and super red hot librarian chick, the Inner Editor.


The Inner Editor has finally recognized my brilliance for what it is and has publically declared me a genius. I knew she'd come around eventually.

And with her, so also goes Renee. Hey, I'd love to say it was all me, but I gotta give credit where credit is due. IE's the senior abstract around here and her opinion carries a lot of weight with the writer. So once she was on board, I knew I was golden. And just look at this:


That's right folks. We're getting a new blogger around here. I tried to get another abstract to do it, but all the good ones told me there was no way they'd consider living inside a writer's head. Something about professional detachment.

I think all the clutter scared them off, personally. Management types are almost always neat freaks and the Muse tends to leave little fragments of ideas all over the place. And let's not even talk about the shit the Critic flings around.

Anyway, I couldn't get an abstract in here, so I had to venture out into the real world. That's right, folks! Rather than cram another voice inside Renee's head, another human being will be doing the job. (And the blogging!)

Renee has hired Long-Suffering Husband to take on the role of The Project Manger. I'm using the word hired there very loosely, because I think he agreed to do the work for free. Or at least for freedom from nagging.

Nepotism FTW!

I wish I could tell you a little bit about his project management plans, but he's being really cagey about it. So far all he's done is confiscate the tracking spreadsheets and calendars and told Renee he needed time to "think some ideas through".

I assume that means he's thinking something along the lines of "how the hell did I get myself dragged into this mess?" and I just sort of want to point to the wedding anniversary he's got coming up on the calendar and say "dude, you knew she was a nutcase writer when you married her."

Thought I doubt he'll put it to Renee in quite that way. (See aforementioned impending wedding anniversary) But I don't really know, since I live in her head and not his. I guess we'll all just have to wait to see what he comes up with when he introduces himself here next Monday.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Renee's Reading: 2014-05-24 through 2014-06-20, Part One

Books, books, and more books! Even though I've been reading a lot, I've been busy and stressed with the start of summer and such and so I haven't had time to write them up. I sat down to catch up a month's worth of reading and it ended up being way too much for one blog post. So I split it into two. You get part one this week and part two next week. And then hopefully I'll be a good girl and not slack on writing my book reviews in the future.

So, to get us started, I took a quick look at a geeky erotica novella, I started devouring another romance series, and I got a shiny new book that I think I'm going to have to read again right away because I just liked it that much and it's making all the other books on my TBR look bad.

The Lumberfox, by Ava Lovelace
Caught in Atlanta's Snowjam 2014, self-confessed geek Tara is rear-ended by the hottest guy she's ever met. Ryon is a beer brewer and restauranteur who fits the bill of what Tara and her friends call a "lumberfox": sartorial lumberjack style, cultivated facial hair, tattoos, and specialized tastes. When he invites Tara to spend the snowstorm in his nearby condo, she takes a gamble and slogs through the Hothlike blizzard, where she learns that a man who takes that much time with his mustache knows exactly what to do with his mouth.

I've had this novella hanging out on my TBR for a while. It was free and I downloaded it, but then I never really felt interested enough in the idea to actually read it. But I noticed it sitting there in the queue the other day and, since I had a few hours to kill, I decided to give it a whirl.

I was. . .  underwhelmed. The story was sexy enough, I suppose, and the jokes were funny. I like that the idea of geeks being sexy is getting more popular. I'm a geek myself, after all. But overall, I just wasn't drawn into this story. The premise was a little thin, in my opinion, and the characters didn't seem very real to me. I could sort of identify with Tara, though I didn't buy the fact that she would hop out of her car and follow a stranger home for a bunch of random sex, no matter how good looking, and Ryon didn't seem to have much development at all beyond being attractive.

This story was an okay way to kill a little time and provided a few chuckles, but in general, I found it sort of meh.


A Lot Like Love, by Julie James
THE FBI WANTS HER COOPERATION.

As the daughter of a billionaire and the owner of the city's top wine store, Jordan Rhodes is invited to the most exclusive parties in Chicago. But there's only one party the FBI wants to crash: the charity fundraiser of a famous restaurateur, who also happens to launder money for the mob. In exchange for her brother's release from prison, Jordan is going to be there--with a date supplied by the Bureau.

AGENT MCCALL JUST WANTS HER.

As the top undercover agent in Chicago, Nick McCall has one rule: never get personal. This "date" with Jordan Rhodes is merely an assignment--one they're both determined to pull off even if they can't be together for five minutes before the sarcasm and sparks begin to fly. But when Nick's investigation is compromised, he and Jordan have no choice but to pretend they're a couple, and what starts out as a simple assignment begins to feel a lot like something more. . . 

"Hey, look," Twitter whispered one afternoon. "There's this sexy little romance novel that people really seemed to love and it's on sale for 99 cents. You can totally spend 99 cents right? It's set in Chicago and you live there now. That's like a bonus! Plus it's one of those fake-boyfriend stories, and you know how much you enjoy those. . . "

I have got to stop following people who tweet about ebook sales. It's just dangerous. Because then I do things like download this book and love it so much I end up buying the entire series. Marketing, functioning as designed. Who knew?

As you may have surmised, I was impulsed into downloading this one because it came highly recommended and was on sale and sounded entertaining. And I loved it.

I don't normally read a lot of romantic suspense, because I really just don't enjoy the whole run for your life, the bad guy is coming to kill me, oh, hey, wait, you're hot, let's pause to have sex, oops, I got so caught up in all the wondrous orgasming that I forgot about the bad guy, the bad guy is coming to kill me again, back to the running for your life thing, with occasional pauses for more sex dynamic so many of them seem to have built in.

This story, happily, doesn't do that. The characters certainly know they're in danger at times, but most of the suspense element comes from the reader knowing more than they do. Nick and Jordan aren't pretending to be involved in some crazy desperate attempt to hide from a terrorist or serial killer or something; they're maintaining a cover for the sake of a comparatively benign money laundering investigation. They don't know the bad guy is an obsessive ass passing for a normal white-collar criminal. As such, it makes more sense to me that they would take time to do things like relax over a dinner together and flirt, and that gives the romance a more realistic feel.

I did find the ex-girlfriend angle to be a little too convenient. The voicemail sounded really forced and unnatural to me, and I didn't believe that she was just too stupid to realize what was going on. (Though if she is meant to be that dumb, I have a hard time believing she manages to string together coherent sentences at all. Or, more to the point, that Nick would have told her all about is undercover job.)

But even without all that, I didn't like it. Without getting too spoilery, I just didn't believe the coincidence that she happened to make that phone call, saying all the necessary names and job descriptions and such, at exactly that moment, in front of that open window. I understand that people sleep with stupid people sometimes and that coincidences happen sometimes, but I dislike it when something so constructed has such major repercussions for a plot.

But other than that, I found this story to be a really enjoyable read. I loved the relationship that built between Nick and Jordan and I also enjoyed their relationships with their families, particularly Jordan's with her brother. I'm so glad his is the next book in the series!


About that Night, by Julie James
HE'S PLAYING GAMES.

Though Rylann Pierce tried to fight the sparks she felt for billionaire heir Kyle Rhodes the night they met, their sizzling chemistry was undeniable. But after being stood up on their first date, Rylann never expected to see him again. So when she finds herself face-to-face with Kyle in a courthouse nine years later, she's stunned. More troubling to the beautiful assistant U.S. attorney is that she's still wildly attracted to him.

BUT SHE'S MAKING THE RULES.

Just released from prison, Kyle Rhodes isn't thrilled to be the star witness in a high-profile criminal case--but when Rylann comes knocking at his door, he finds she may be the one lawyer he can't say no to. Still as gorgeous and sharp-tongued as ever, she lays down the law: she doesn't mix business with pleasure. But Kyle won't give up on something he wants--and what he wants is the one woman he's never forgotten. . . 

After finishing A Lot Like Love and liking it so much, I was disconcerted to realize it was book 2 in a series. This left me with a dilemma. Did I go back and read book 1 before continuing, or did I just move forward to book 3 and come back around to book 1 at a later date? Normally going back to book 1 would be a no-brainer for me, but Kyle was such a compelling character in the little glimpses I got in A Lot Like Love, that I was too eager to read his story. So I went against my usual habits and picked up About that Night.

I'm so glad I did. I was right about Kyle. He's a great character and so was Rylann. I really enjoyed how James wrote Kyle's reactions to life after prison. He's brilliant and rich and confident and that could have combined to make him seem spoiled and whiney, but instead he just felt very real to me. He owned his mistakes and recognized that his experiences had changed him, but he also refused to let those mistakes ruin the rest of his life. He took his situation and completely turned it around and I loved watching that.

Rylann was fantastic too. So intense and so driven, but not cold. And I liked that there were real consequences for Rylann that she had to think through and accept if she wanted to pursue the relationship with Kyle. An assistant US attorney dating a high profile ex-con is not something that would just get overlooked, and I absolutely believed an ambitious woman like Rylann would have trouble accepting that situation. I'm glad that, while she didn't dwell unnecessarily on that conflict, James didn't just gloss it over either.

I was a little surprised by the structure of this novel though. A Lot Like Love was very clearly a story about one case and a romance that develops during that case. The investigation, as with most romantic suspense, is what drove the momentum of the story. Being part of a series, I expected this book to follow a similar pattern.

But the case that brings Rylann and Kyle together gets resolved fairly quickly. I looked up at Long-Suffering Husband at one point and said, "Huh. That's odd. This book just lost its McGuffin." That's not a bad thing, necessarily. I'm not saying every story about law enforcement/lawyers has to double as some kind of procedural drama. James did a good job of turning the focus to the relationship and letting it pull the story along instead, but the transition did throw me for a moment.


Love Irresistibly, by Julie James
HE'S USED TO GETTING WHAT HE WANTS

A former football star and one of Chicago's top prosecutors, Assistant U.S. Attorney Cade Morgan will do anything to nail a corrupt state senator, which means he needs Brooke Parker's help. As general counsel for a restaurant company, she can get a bug to the senator's table at one of her five-star restaurants so the FBI can eavesdrop on him. All Cade has to do is convince Brooke to cooperate--and he’s not afraid to use a little charm, or the power of his office, to do just that.

AND WHAT HE WANTS IS HER.

A savvy businesswoman, Brooke knows she needs to play ball with the U.S. Attorney's office--even if it means working with Cade. No doubt there's a sizzling attraction beneath all their sarcastic quips, but Brooke is determined to keep things casual. Cade agrees--until a surprising turn of events throws his life into turmoil, and he realizes that he wants more than just a good time from the one woman with whom he could fall terrifyingly, irresistibly in love. . . 

This book confused me. It was good, but the blurb was misleading. I thought there was going to be more going on with the case and some resistance between the characters. Maybe that's just the way I read it, but it sounded to me like Cade would have to work for Brooke's cooperation and that they wouldn't necessarily work well together. Instead, she agrees to help him right away and the whole bugging operation is over and done with by the 25% mark.

As I said in my review of About that Night, I don't necessarily expect all novels about lawyers to be legal dramas, but this was really, really not. The characters happen to be lawyers, but that's got pretty much nothing to do with the story beyond the meet-cute.

(On a related note, I adore the fact that that term gets thrown into the series here and there. It makes me think of the little old man in The Holiday every time.)

That aside, I liked these characters. Brooke is a total workaholic who can't maintain a relationship and doesn't seem to know why. Cade is ambitious too, but his emotional world has just gotten knocked out of whack by the surprise appearance of a teenage half-brother he didn't even know he had. They're both looking for some kind of stable connection without realizing it and they manage to find each other. It was an interesting dynamic to watch develop.

Overall, it was a good book. I liked how Cade took care of her without pushing her too much. I liked how Brooke clearly isn't cut out for a casual fling but she tries so hard anyway because she thinks she needs, and I liked how she really takes control over the course of the story of what she wants out of her life and how she's going to get it. I thought the characters were good for each other, which always makes for an enjoyable read.


Skin Game, by Jim Butcher
Harry Dresden, Chicago's only professional wizard, is about to have a very bad day. . .

Because as Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it's something awful.

He doesn't know the half of it. . .

Mab has just traded Harry's skills to pay off one of her debts. And now he must help a group of supernatural villains--led by one of Harry's most dreaded and despised enemies, Nicodemus Archleone--to break into the highest-security vault in town so that they can then access the highest-security vault in the Nevernever.

It's a smash-and-grab job to recover the literal Holy Grail from the vaults of the greatest treasure hoard in the supernatural world--which belongs to the one and only Hades, Lord of the freaking Underworld and generally unpleasant character. Worse, Dresden suspects that there is another game afoot that no one is talking about. And he's dead certain that Nicodemus has no intention of allowing any of his crew to survive the experience. Especially Harry.

Dresden's always been tricky, but he's going to have to up his backstabbing game to survive this mess--assuming his own allies don't end up killing him before his enemies get the chance. . . 

Holy buckets of awesome, I loved this fleurking book!

I'm going to have to read it again. It's making all the rest of the books still in my TBR look bad. "Well, I've been waiting to read that book for a while, so I should give it a whirl. . . Or I could read Skin Game again!"

I had kind of put off the notion of reading it again, because I have some library books to finish up before the due dates come along and I really need to stay "on task", but now that I'm writing up this review, I'm back to desperately wanting to read it again.

I love Jim Butcher and the Harry Dresden books are an auto-buy for me, so I wasn't exactly surprised to like this book. But it's worth noting that I didn't expect to enjoy quite so much about it. This book was pretty much just made up of all the good things. Action, adventure, humor, romance, sex, geekiness, regrets, badass crazy magic, badass not-so-crazy magic, not-really-badass-but-still-pretty-crazy crazy magicm, sarcasm, angst, revenge, crossing, double crossing, triple crossing, far off places, daring swordfights, a prince in disguise. . .

Oops, sorry, I think I might have just been almost about to burst into a Disney musical number.

So, no, sorry, there is not a prince in disguise. But there is ALL THE REST OF THAT STUFF.

And it all worked. It's not like Butcher just dumped out a junk drawer full of tropes and clichés all over the pages. This was a really well-written and engaging story and nothing in it struck me as there just to be there for the heck of it. It's just made of that much awesome.

As an addition to the whole Dresden Files series, Skin Game is just about perfect. I have talked before about how impressed I've been with the way Butcher has managed to create a continuously interesting character arc for Dresden without losing sight of the smaller story getting told within each installment. Skin Game is another perfect example of that. (I started to get into a deeper explanation of that, but then I deleted it, because I'm trying to keep this book review at a somewhat manageable length.)

Butcher brings so much to this story it just blew me away. There were times when I was just broken for Dresden, watching him try so hard to deal with everything he's been through. And times (chapter 14, I'm looking at you here) that I totally cracked up. And times when I was just breathless with excitement, unable to read fast enough because I needed to know what was going to happen next right now. I flew through this book and now I wish I hadn't because I'm bummed that it's over.

Tl;dr version: Read this book. It's amazing.


Have you read any of these? What did you think? Got anything else to recommend? I'm sure I'll get to it eventually, once I've read Skin Game six or seven more times.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Everyone Thinks They Have Good Taste and a Sense of Humor

Last week Long-Suffering Husband came home from work and found me in a generally foul mood. I wasn't seething with rage or screaming at the shadows for jumping or anything, but I was a bit more irate than usual. And he made the mistake, as long-suffering husbands have done since the earliest instances of marriage and will likely continue to do for so long as the institution survives, of asking me what was bothering me.

"It's nothing specific. Publishing is just full of a bunch of entitled assholes."

I then proceeded to tell him about several articles I'd run across that day wherein the author took an absurd amount of pleasure in announcing that what everyone else seems to like reading completely sucked and civilization as we knew it was about to collapse under the weight of its own stupidity. Literature is doomed. The sky is falling. The inmates have taken over the asylum and if we keep publishing books like this, that, or the other bestseller, the future will be nothing but a wet grey slum populated by mindless drones.

I'm reminded of that scene in the middle of When Harry Met Sally where Jess and Marie are moving in together and they're arguing over the wagon wheel coffee table and Harry just completely loses his shit.


Everybody hates somebody. Self-published authors don't respect the traditional publishers and the traditionally published don't understand self-pubbers. Science fiction enthusiasts think fantasy lovers are silly and the magic users think the scifi geeks are stuck up. All of them can band together though, to call the romance readers mindless idiots just looking for porn. People into YA are so grateful as all get out that glitter-coated trampires are no longer poisoning the minds of our youth, while others complain that we should stop with all the darkness and heavy topics and keep our youngsters pure and fresh and innocent. It doesn't matter which side of the debate you choose though, because adults who read books for teenagers ought to be ashamed of themselves anyway. The womens are apparently destroying everything! (Though at least they're being very up front about their efforts when it comes to science fiction.) And the literary fiction folks hate everyone equally, including each other.

"I'm just trying to help you have good taste."

That's the standard defense when confronted with the notion that it's all just bitterness and envy, a boiling glob of vitriol masquerading as cultural critique. That offer of help implying, of course, that their taste is the only real good taste and the rest of us are just standing around thinking the stupid, wagon wheel, Roy Rogers, garage sale coffee table is great.

Which is when I started waving my arms and ranting, preparing for my dramatic exit from the scene.

A few weeks ago, after a long and winding click trail across the internet, the kind that leads you so far off your original path you can't even remember what you opened your search engine to look up in the first place anymore, I found myself reading the Wikipedia article on Jewish humor. And as I sat down to write this blog post, I was reminded of this joke:

A Jewish man in a hospital tells the doctor he wants to be transferred to a different hospital.
The doctor says "What's wrong? Is it the food?"
"No, the food is fine. I can't kvetch."
"Is it the room?"
"No, the room is fine. I can't kvetch."
"Is it the staff?"
"No, everyone on the staff is fine. I can't kvetch."
"Then why do you want to be transferred?"
"I can't kvetch!"

People--all people, not just Jewish people, by the way--are never so happy as when they're complaining. It's not a new phenomenon, by any means, and it certainly isn't something I haven't heard before. It just all piled up on me at once and I had to shut down my computer and my phone and completely disengage from the world for a few hours, or risk vomiting all over my shoes. Or maybe punching a hole in something.

(Okay, fine, I'll be more realistic there. Attempting to punch a hole in something. And then probably just hurting my hand. Unless the something in question was a piece of tissue paper, which, while effective, probably wouldn't be all that satisfying as violent outbursts go.)

The point is, I was mad and sad and I had started to wonder what the hell I was thinking with this plan to dedicate my life to the whole publishing merry-go-round. There's value in constructive criticism, sure, and everyone has a right to their opinion, particularly where it comes to art. But does it all have to be so. . . bitchy? Why do we do this to each other? To ourselves? What is the point of dedicating so much time and energy and emotion to ripping each other to shreds?

I don't really expect an answer and I'm not even sure what I'm doing with this blog post. But it's been building up and bugging me and I just felt like getting it out there. Do you feel the same? Is it really as awful as it seems sometimes? And if so, does anyone have any idea what we can do about it?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Abstract Thoughts: Opportunity for Improvement

Wisdom of an Inner Editor

Part of my job as Renee's Inner Editor is identifying those habits and behaviors the business world often refers to as "opportunities for improvement". Because it's important in the business world not to admit weakness or look like you're saying anything negative, and so they have to find a way of saying "you suck at this" without using those particular words.

Inner Editors also have to be careful about negativity, lest we be confused for a Critic and tossed in a broom closet.

I've spent years studying Renee's writing and have identified a number of these opportunities for improvement. Left to her own devices, Renee overwrites. She's never met an unnecessary word she didn't want to pick up and take home. Passive constructions have the disturbing habit of popping up all over the place and then multiplying like bunnies with something to prove. Introspections tend to puddle on the pages, particularly in the early scenes.

It isn't pretty.

All those things are fine with me though. They give me big swathes of text to slash through with my favorite highlighters. I do adore a good highlighter slashing. It almost makes me wonder sometimes if she writes that way on purpose, just to placate me.

But I've recently discovered a different kind of opportunity for Renee. And I cannot kill this one with a highlighter.

Vacations, birthday parties, holiday dinners, and the like are all bad for Renee. She's too busy preparing beforehand, entertaining during, and recovering afterward. Renee is simply no good at discipline in the days surrounding a family event. Push comes to shove and something has to give, and that thing is always writing.

(For example, you may have noticed a period of radio silence from Renee over the last few weeks. Guess who's youngest daughter just had a birthday, and subsequently had a birthday party?)

We never would have discovered this problem if Renee hadn't spent this last year and a half getting disciplined about scheduling her writing time and tracking her productivity. With everything right on the calendar, the lapses and their cause became painfully clear.

So that is a plus, I suppose. Yay effective tracking data!

But, unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, this is a problem that falls well outside an Inner Editor's skill set. As much as it pains me to suggest it, I think I have to. . . agree with the Idea Salesman. We need a Project Manager.

And quickly. It's summertime and there's another family vacation on the schedule at the end of July. If we find ourselves losing track of things for several weeks again, we may never finish this book.