American Family, A Review and a Giveaway

Sometimes it’s hard to put a finger on why one likes or dislikes a book. Other times, it’s easy. For me, as a professional book editor, frequent book beta reader and reviewer,  and writer, it’s easier than it might be for some. That doesn’t mean, however, that if I dislike a book, it’s for reasons that I think other people will share. Even if I think a book is technically deficient, with too much “telling” versus “showing,” for example, someone else might still think that book is great.  Obviously, not every book is every person’s “cup of tea.” Such is the case with Jackson Baer’s An American Family.

This is a contemporary suspense thriller about a family whose wife and mother disappears suddenly. She just vanishes while out running one evening, and Isaac, her husband, and Ramie and Carter, their two adult children, are left to figure out how hard they should look for her when there are absolutely no leads, or whether they should move on with their lives. It wasn’t my cup of tea, for various technical reasons and because I didn’t connect at all with the characters, but fans of mystery and contemporary books might appreciate what An American Family tries to accomplish.

What is An American Family About?

From GoodReads:

Isaac Childs has the perfect life—until that life comes crashing down when his wife Ramie vanishes. Isaac learns that his wife’s disappearance is the ninth in a string of similar cases. In the wake of this news, he struggles to cope, to be a good father to his daughter and college-bound son, and to reclaim something of an ordinary life even as he conceals his troubled past. After the FBI makes an arrest, and his wife is presumed dead, Isaac begins to move on. Yet will his secrets catch up with him? Has he conquered his vices for good? And what of the FBI’s theory that the case isn’t completely resolved, after all?

It takes place over the course of two years, starting with the day after Ramie’s disappearance. This scope, in my mind, was the first of this book’s challenges. While it allowed Isaac, Olivia, and Carter, lots of time to examine their lives closely and work to fix a lot of the personal issues that came to the forefront in the emotional aftermath of Ramie’s absence, it also cast perhaps too large of a net. In trying to show how each of them coped over those two years, it wasn’t as strong as it could have been if it had focused on just Isaac’s struggles or just Olivia’s, I think.

More About American Family

Isaac’s come to the forefront almost immediately as he remembers a past one-night stand that he had. He paid the girl (a minor at the time) to keep quiet and never told anyone about it, not even his son when he started dating the same girl. These facts alone make him hard to relate to and support, even though he was the main character and I wanted to root for him. I wanted him to get his wife back, and for them to be happy. If he had been more tormented by his indiscretion, more honest, more forthcoming, I could have been. It wasn’t that he wasn’t haunted or emotionless, but it felt like those emotions were only given a little bit of lip service. Baer does in fact state that “many nights, Isaac woke to frightening dreams where he would see Ramie. Sometimes she was happy, other times she wasn’t breathing.” But that was such a small part of the narrative, as was the fact that we, as readers, are told this, rather than allowed to experience it with Isaac, say, in a particularly haunting dream from which he wakes up shaking or crying.

Jackson Baer

Which brings me to another technical detail that got in the way of my enjoyment of the book, but which might not bother other people. There are several instances of “telling versus showing,” meaning that we’re told about certain details or character emotions rather than given the opportunity to live through the discovery of those details or the feelings of those emotions with the characters. The third-person narrator, for instance, tells of a pill addiction that Ramie used to have that caused her to crash the family car into a tree a few years before her disappearance. The detectives tasked with solving her disappearance, in combing through every detail of Isaac’s and Ramie’s past lives, discover this and question him about it, but he doesn’t tell them anywhere near the truth of what caused the accident. The narrator tells us, however, that “this actual accident is the near accident Isaac alluded to when he spoke with the FBI agents earlier.” This relating of facts directly from the narrator to the reader took me out of the story completely for a moment, when I was already struggling to stay in it.

Likewise, when Isaac meets a new woman some months after Ramie’s disappearance, we’re told that he “took notice of this woman’s natural beauty.” I don’t know many men–even my husband–who would see a beautiful woman and think to themselves: “I’m taking notice of this woman’s natural beauty.” They would think: “Wow, she’s got great _____,” or be struck by the color of her eyes or think “I really like her smile.” When a narrator provides those kinds of details about a character’s appearance and how another character perceives that appearance (i.e., what details he/she notices and doesn’t notice), I’m able to get a better picture of how the one character looks and what the perceiving character is really like.

But Isaac isn’t the only character with whom I had a hard time connecting. Olivia, their 17-year-old-ish daughter, is more or less a foil kind of character, one whose reactions to the main character’s actions help us understand those actions a little more deeply. That is, until, she starts dating her therapist, who is 12 years older than her. One of them is white, the other is black, and they’re both women. I was taken aback by the the fact that the therapist was willing to date someone she initially met as a client. And the relationship that develops between Olivia and the therapist doesn’t seem to relate to Olivia’s grief over her mother’s disappearance, even though she began that therapy in order to understand her feelings regarding it. So, Olivia, in her own way, also seemed a little emotionless and hard to relate to.

Again, though, I realize that most people won’t read a book and like it or dislike it because there are too many instances of telling or too little to relate to in the characters. They connect, or don’t, with the feeling the book gives them. If you like books–especially mysteries or thrillers–that are primarily dark, but move toward a happier resolution, then you’ll probably like An American Family. Along those lines then…

Who Would Like An American Family, And Why?

As mentioned, those who like mysteries, thrillers, dark books, books that move toward happier resolutions, or just books that are contemporary and somewhat broad in scope, will like this book.

What’s the Deal?

As you know, I like to share deals I find on books so that you can find ones you like at low cost. Since An American Family  was just released at the beginning of October, there aren’t any deals on it, but the author is willing to give away two copies, one book each to two lucky winners. One is an e-book and the other is a hard copy. Fill out the Rafflecopter form below to enter.

Also, subscribe to my newsletter for exclusive details on his life and writing!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Nutrition Facts, Anyone? (Warning: possible spoilers)

Swear words (d*, f*, h*, g*d*, sh*): 60

sex scenes: 0, although there is allusion to some

LGBTQ+ relationship(s): 1

violence/gore: yes, in the descriptions of the criminal behind Ramie’s disappearance, and the circumstances surrounding it

positive themes (hard work, family, love): 4+

negative themes (dishonesty, infidelity, pedophilia, addiction): 10+

 

Book Review: The Atopia Chronicles by Matthew Mather

It’s been a busy week getting ready for Halloween, but also one in which I also received a lot of encouragement from my writer friends and reworked my synopsis for Forced. I’m excited to embark on the 7th draft of that manuscript, with a plot that is now more intricate and truer to my character’s natures. Such a process! I finished reading The Atopia Chronicles by Matthew Mather a while ago, but haven’t had a chance to review it until now. It was an intriguing but ultimately disappointing read. Let me tell you about it.

What Is Atopia Chronicles About?

From GoodReads:

Dr. Patricia Killiam is rushing to help save the world from itself by giving everyone everything they’ve always wanted. The question is: is she unwittingly saving the world only to cast it towards an even worse fate as humanity hurtles across the brink of forever. What could be worse than letting billions die? In the future, be careful what you wish for.  The Atopia Chronicles are an exploration of the meaning love, life and the pursuit of happiness in a world teetering on the brink of post-humanism and eco-Armageddon.

Who Might Like Atopia Chronicles, and Why?

I was intrigued by the premise of this book, and the fact that it was epic sci-fi. But ultimately this book was a disappointment. I only read 68% of the way through, and decided I couldn’t push on any longer. In the form that I read, which was an anthology-like compilation, I think, of several short stories all set in the same world, it was WAY longer than it needed to be.

It was based on a fascinating concept and had a very detailed exploration of a society taken over by technology. It could have been told well in half as many pages and with fewer characters. Also, I almost didn’t read past the first chapter because the first main character is so not likable. If I were Matthew Mather, I would have picked any one but her to start the story.

But, if you’re an epic sci-fi fan, and are into thorough world-building, I would definitely recommend this book.

What’s the Deal?

The Kindle version is $4.99.

 

Top Ten Books to Get Your Reluctant Reader for Christmas

When my kids—who are now 15 and 9—were younger, I read to them every night at bedtime. And they both used to be good readers. As they’ve gotten older, it’s become harder and harder to muster the energy to fight them to get off their screens for the time it takes to read to them, or to read to themselves as homework. So, I’ve become more purposeful, strategic, and creative in my approach to getting them to read. I do this because I believe strongly that there are books out there for everyone to enjoy, and reviving my kids’ love of reading will help them be happier in the long run.

But being more purposeful, strategic, and creative doesn’t mean that I’m forcing them to sit down and read Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations in one sitting. It means that I try to parent in a way that is firm but also ties in with their interests and builds on their strengths. I encourage them to explore what, if anything, might make them happy about reading. I emphasize balance and moderation in all that we do. I’ve still got a lot to do; we all know that parenting is a process, not a destination. But here are 10 books that I and my kids have enjoyed or greatly benefited from. They’ve helped us in our journey of improving my kids’ reading experiences, and, with the deals I’ve provided, might help you too!

Top 10 Books for Reluctant Readers

10. Fly Guy by Ted Arnold

Evan, my 9-year-old reluctant reader, and I discovered these about three years ago at the library. They’re not text-heavy, and they’ve got big illustrations. When I give Evan “buck-a-book” challenges—where he gets $1 for each book he reads (more for chapter books, etc.) to earn money for toys he wants, etc.—these are his go-to books. They’re easy and dynamic (i.e., you often have to twist the book upside-down to write text in all different directions). And I think there’s something about the “gross factor” that appeals to him (i.e., it’s about a kid’s pet fly and their adventures in garbage and imagination).

Fly Guy and the Frankenfly is $4.99 on Amazon.


In big green letters: "Fly Guy and the Frankenfly", with an illustrated green fly with bulging eyes and screws protruding from the sides of its head, walking with hands outstretched like a zombie,

9. Amazing World of Gumball by Megan Brennan (Author), Ben Bocquelet (Creator), Katy Farina (Illustrator)

Sometimes, the best way to get your kids to read is to get them books that tie in with what they’re watching on other channels. My kids used to love the Amazing World of Gumball when it was on Netflix, so they gobbled down the Gumball books I got for them.

The Amazing World of Gumball Original Graphic Novel: Cheat Code is on sale on Amazon for $9.30. That’s more than $4 off it’s original price.

"Amazing World of Gumball: Cheat Code" above a picture of a villainous, armored wolf scowling down at Gumball and his siblings, who are all dressed and looking like fighters...on top of some kind of game controller.

8. My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss

This book doesn’t have a lot of text either, but it’s so cool in its message and the way it’s portrayed. It’s not your typical Dr. Seuss book at all. It’s about how our emotions relate to colors. It’s a great way to help young  readers (and even older ones) articulate their feelings. Of the book, GoodReads says that it was based off a manuscript that he wrote in 1973, but didn’t publish during his lifetime. He couldn’t find the right visual artist to effectively convey the message he wanted. Somehow, the right artists found the book, or vice versa, in the early 90’s, and “using a spectrum of vibrant colors and a menagerie of animals, this unique book does for the range of human moods and emotions what Oh, the Places You’ll Go! does for the human life cycle.”

And I found it for only $3.95 on BetterWorldBooks.com, with free shipping.

"My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss" in black in front of a large red circle surrounded by squares of various sizes and colors, on a black background.

7. Go Away, Big Green Monster by Ed Emberley

Some may scoff at my inclusion of this book on this list, but I think it’s a very useful book, thank you very much. In the same way that My Many Colored Days artistically connects emotions and color, Go Away Big Green Monster connects nightmares with pictures. Its premise is that it’s best to disassemble whatever’s scaring the reader, in the same way that the narrator’s disassemble the face of the Big Green Monster, page by page, until there’s nothing left. You could say that this could be a young kid’s first “self-help” book.

And a new, hardback copy is $2 off on Amazon.

"Go Away, Big Green Monster!" by Ed Emberley in a large yellow square, partially hiding the face of a "monster with a large blue-ish greenish nose, yellow eyes, and squiggly purpose hair, in front of a black background

6. Fortnite Season 6 Guide

Some may scoff too at the inclusion of a book about a popular video game on a list of books to get reluctant readers reading, but if they’re as interested in the game as my kids continue to be, this is a good book to get. There may be a million YouTube videos about other people playing the game (which I don’t get, by the way. Why would you want to watch someone else play the game when you could be playing yourself?), but very few of them are actually designed to help other players (i.e., your kids). Likewise, one can find game chat boards and walkthroughs online, but those aren’t always the most helpful either. This puts more power at your kids’ fingertips, and it gets them reading. It’s a win-win.

And this particular book is recently-published, with a ton of tips and strategies. Of all the books on Fortnite in GoodReads, this was the highest-rated. It’s $18.12 for three books, down from $18.95.

"Fortnite Season 6 Guide 3 Books in 1: Advanced tips & strategies for jumping into season 6"

 

5. Top Gear: Top 500 Coolest Cars Ever Made by Matt Master

Again, fiction might not be your child’s “thing,” and cars might, so a book like this, especially because it ties in with another one of my kids’ favorite Netflix shows, is Top Gear’s Top 500 Coolest Cars Ever Made. It’s too bad we can’t go back to the good ol’ days when Jeremy and the producers of Top Gear got along so we could watch them make “bumper cars” for old ladies and race/get stuck/race through the wilds of Africa, right? But I digress. This book is $5.25 on Amazon.

"Top Gear: The Cool 500 The coolest cars ever made" in caution-tape yellow and black, over a grayscale compilation of various new and old luxury cars.

4. Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce

People debate about the effectiveness of the graphic novel in getting kids to progress in their reading abilities, but I say, get them to really enjoy reading first, and their desire to read harder and harder books will develop as a side effect of their growing interest in whatever they’re reading about. My oldest read all of the Big Nate books, and has now passed them down to my youngest.

And Big Nate on a Roll is $3.49 through NewEgg.

"Big Nate on a Roll" above a cartoon Nate on a skateboard.

3. Geronimo Stilton 

Forget the kids, I loved these books. They’re kind of like Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH meets Get Smart, the TV series. Geronimo, the main character, is a newspaper reporter/unwitting adventure seeker, and he tells his tales with lots of color and excitement, like this:

They’re chapter books, but with flair. And the first one, Geronimo Stilton and the Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye, is $4 off it’s original $7 price on Amazon, making it $3.99.

"Geronimo Stilton: Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye" above an illustrated mouse with a terrified expression on his face holds on to someone who's controlling the motorcycle he's riding.

2.  Destiny 2 Collector’s Edition Guide by Prima Publishing

Along the lines of connecting what your kids read with what they’re really interested in, if they’re anything like me, they will probably have played, or at least heard of the Destiny video game, especially a new expansion pack has just been released. If they haven’t played all the way through Destiny 2 yet in preparation for getting the Forsaken expansion pack, they should, and they should read this too. Yes, they might be able to figure out what they need to get unstuck, if they’re stuck, from watching various YouTube videos (I think IGN Walkthroughs and Happy Thumbs Gaming are the most helpful), but this book has everything they’ll need not only to complete the game, but immerse themselves in it. It is a TOME. It’s huge. It was $40 when we bought it, but now it’s only $23.64.

"Destiny 2 Collector's Edition Guide" showing three versions of the large, hardbound book: one with a slipcover showing a large metal planet hovering over 3 armed people, and two without showing characters from the game, one with white and red armor, and the other with gray and yellow.

 

Now, are you ready for my number one recommendation? Drum roll please…. It’s…

1. Guinness Book of World Records 2018

What?, you say. “That’s not even a ‘real’ book,” you say? I say, for purposes of getting your reluctant reader to read, probably for hours on end…with nary a screen in sight…this is one of the best. This year’s edition, like all the ones before it, was full of odd and amazing pictures and descriptions creatively laid out. It matches, I think, the shorter attention span of today’s readers, but because of it’s thickness, encourages them to read a ton, just in sizable chunks.

And it’s almost $10 off. You’re welcome.

"Guinness World Records 2018"

There you go!

Let me know what your kids think of these books

or

If you’ve found other books that your reluctant reader(s) has/have enjoyed, what were those books?

 

 

 

 

Gaming Wish List: What to Get and What Not to Get

Do you have a teen or tween gamer? Are you already starting to panic when you think that Christmas is less than 100 days away and you haven’t figured out what to get him or her? Or are you a mom gamer, like me, who is putting together your own wish list of items to level up your gaming mojo? Here are a few products I and my teenage gamer do and do NOT recommend, and deals that will save you SO MUCH MONEY!

Gaming Wish List For PC Gamers:

The Razer DeathAdder mouse is sleek and super-super-sensitive. On Amazon, it’s on sale for $49.94, which is 20% off it’s normal price and a good deal no matter which way you look at it! My son loves his Razer.

Razer gaming mouse, with the three-headed neon-green snake Razer logo.

 

With mouse pads, you want one that has a wide surface area, and is flat and smooth, for optimal gameplay. We like the Corsair MM200 because it is all of those things, AND it’s only $9.63 on Amazon, which is 43% off it’s normal price. It’s not fancy, but it’s durable.

 

 

For gaming monitors, you want wide-screen, high refresh rate, and excellent color. Usually, in our opinion, that means Acer, and for our wish list purposes, you want the Acer 34″ Predator Gaming X34  Curved UltraWide QHD Monitor. It’s curved, people. It’s $899 on Amazon, which is $100 off the original price of $999. It’s a lot, but hopefully, when you use the computer—either for your gaming purposes or to balance the checkbook—you’ll appreciate the fact that you can see more. I don’t know about you, but since I use two large screens and one small one at work, I find it hard to limit myself to the small screen of my laptop!

Acer Predator 34-inch curved monitor

 

Gaming Wish List for Console Gamers (PS4):

Say you or your teen/tween plays Overwatch on your PS4. What products make for the best experience? Can you game on console without any special equipment? Sure…easily, in fact. But a few minor adjustments can make a big difference in how much you enjoy your game time. A good controller, for instance, is vital when you’re in the thick of any game and don’t want to stop to wipe your sweaty hands. We recommend something like this, with a few modifications:

It’s $46.50, which is almost $20 off its normal price. I wouldn’t normally recommend a gold anything, but once you put these on, the color doesn’t matter:

 

I wouldn’t have thought the silicon controller cover would be necessary, but it’s a huge help when I’m in  furiously gaming and my hands are sweaty! They’re not on sale, but they’re only $9.99, which is a good price. I don’t use the joystick covers, but my son loves them.

Believe it or not, that’s all I’d recommend. You could spend a lot of money on fancy gaming chairs, but they take up a lot of space and are expensive. You could also spend oodles on good headsets, but they’re usefulness is debatable, I think. What I would advise instead is this:

This pillow serves two purposes:

  1. It warns people that you’re in your “gaming mode.”
  2. It provides comfort and support to the neck while gaming.

Maybe I’m one of the few that likes to be comfortable while I’m gaming.  And this pillow’s less than $10 on Amazon. I want that so bad, I’m tempted to get it right now.

Xbox One

If you do racing games at all, a good steering wheel and gas pedal system makes them so much easier and immersive. But we can’t recommend one! Consider this: we recommend NOT getting one. We got the Thrustmaster Ferrari 458 Spider Racing Wheel last Christmas, but it broke within two days of its first use. We’ve bought a handful of them since last Christmas, and none of them have worked with all games and with anywhere the kind of sensitivity needed.

 

Want a Book to Curl Up With on a Stormy Night? Read Twice Dead.

Life continues to be interesting. At times like these, I’m so grateful for the listening ears of family and friends, for my life, my kids, my health, the fact that I’m sleeping much better than I have in years, even the fact that I can’t keep a pair of sunglasses to save my life. It all means I’m alive and blessed! And I’ve got so many books! What more could a woman ask for? Speaking of books, I read Caitlin Seal’s Twice Dead recently, and thought I’d tell you a little bit about this dynamic read.

What’s Twice Dead About?

From Amazon:

Naya, the daughter of a sea merchant captain, nervously undertakes her first solo trading mission in the necromancer-friendly country bordering her homeland of Talmir. Unfortunately, she never even makes it to the meeting. She’s struck down in the streets of Ceramor. Murdered. But death is not the end for Naya. She awakens to realize she’s become an abomination–a wraith, a ghostly creature bound by runes to the bones of her former corpse. She’s been resurrected in order to become a spy for her country. Reluctantly, she assumes the face and persona of a servant girl named Blue.  She never intended to become embroiled in political plots, kidnapping, and murder. Or to fall in love with the young man and former necromancer she is destined to betray.

The premise of it reminded me vaguely of Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, another YA book that deals in the slightly morbid. I understood Naya pretty quickly, which I enjoyed. Too often, amateur writers seek to grab readers from the get-go with dramatic scenes and decisions that range from the hard-to-understand all the way to bizarre. It’s a good writer who can start a book off with a bit of quick characterization, revealed by how Naya interacts with her father, then plunge into the “inciting accident” (her murder), and follow that through with reactions that make sense AND keep the plot advancing smoothly and quickly. Seal does that with this book.

Who Would Like Twice Dead, and Why?

This is the type of book you read on a stormy afternoon, snuggled up with a cup of hot chocolate and a blanket. It’s a little moody, and there’s romance.

What’s the Deal?

On Amazon, it was $17.99 (whew!). It’s now $12.32.

 

At Least It’s Not as Bad As…: 10 Books That Can Inspire Gratitude in Hard Times

Life has been tough for me lately! I can’t go into detail because my struggles involve someone I love whose struggles run deeper than mine and I don’t have his permission to share, but it’s made it a little hard to keep on schedule with posting. When times are tough, it helps—nay, is necessary—to be thankful for the good things in my life, and I encourage you to do the same. Here are 10 books that can help you with that, all of which I’ve read, recommend, and found deals on…and suggestions for what they might make you grateful for.

Ten Perspective-Giving Books, and Their Deals

Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortensen

Three Muslim girls, with heads wrapped, read a book under the words: Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time"Can make you grateful for: access to a good education

Summary, from Amazon:

Anyone who despairs of the individual’s power to change lives has to read the story of Greg Mortenson, a homeless mountaineer who, following a 1993 climb of Pakistan’s treacherous K2, was inspired by a chance encounter with impoverished mountain villagers and promised to build them a school. Over the next decade he built fifty-five schools—especially for girls—that offer a balanced education in one of the most isolated and dangerous regions on earth. As it chronicles Mortenson’s quest, which has brought him into conflict with both enraged Islamists and uncomprehending Americans, Three Cups of Teacombines adventure with a celebration of the humanitarian spirit.

Deal: $3.46 on BetterWorld.com.

 

The Fault in our Stars, by John Green

Can make you grateful for: good health

Summary, from Amazon:

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten. Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars brilliantly explores the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.

Deal:

The movie is $2.99 on Amazon. You can get the book for $3.79 from Thriftbooks.com.

Austenland, by Shannon Hale

Can make you grateful for: not having the drama of being single

Summary, from Goodreads:

Jane Hayes is a seemingly normal young New Yorker, but she has a secret. Her obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, is ruining her love life: no real man can compare. But when a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-crazed women, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become realer than she ever could have imagined.

Decked out in empire-waist gowns, Jane struggles to master Regency etiquette and flirts with gardeners and gentlemen; or maybe even, she suspects, with the actors who are playing them. It’s all a game, Jane knows. And yet the longer she stays, the more her insecurities seem to fall away, and the more she wonders: Is she about to kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?

Deal:

You can get a paperback copy for $3.87 on Thriftworld.com.

 

Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, by John Gottman

Can make you grateful for: not having the difficulties of marriage

Summary, from Amazon:

Psychologist John Gottman has spent twenty years studying what makes a marriage last. Now you can use his tested methods to evaluate, strengthen, and maintain your own long-term relationship. This breakthrough book guides you through a series of self-tests designed to help you determine what kind of marriage you have, where your strengths and weaknesses are, and what specific actions you can take to help your marriage.

You’ll also learn that more sex doesn’t necessarily improve a marriage, frequent arguing will not lead to divorce, financial problems do not always spell trouble in a relationship, wives who make sour facial expressions when their husbands talk are likely to be separated within four years and there is a reason husbands withdraw from arguments—and there’s a way around it.

Dr. Gottman teaches you how to recognize attitudes that doom a marriage—contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling—and provides practical exercises, quizzes, tips, and techniques that will help you understand and make the most of your relationship. You can avoid patterns that lead to divorce, and—Why Marriages Succeed or Fail will show you how.

Deal: It’s $3.79 on ThriftBooks.com.

Sybil, by Flora Rheta Schreiber

Can make you grateful for: sanity

Summary, from Barnes & Noble: More amazing than any work of fiction, yet true in every word, it swept to the top of the bestseller lists and riveted the consciousness of the world. As an Emmy Award-winning film starring Sally Field, it captured the home screens of an entire nation and has endured as the most electrifying TV movie ever made. It’s the story of a survivor of terrifying childhood abuse, victim of sudden and mystifying blackouts, and the first case of multiple personality ever to be psychoanalyzed.

You’re about to meet Sybil-and the sixteen selves to whom she played host, both women and men, each with a different personality, speech pattern, and even personal appearance. You’ll experience the strangeness and fascination of one woman’s rare affliction-and travel with her on her long, ultimately triumphant journey back to wholeness.

Deal: $5.56 at Barnes & Noble.

 

 

 

Sky Jumpers, by Peggy Eddleman

Can make you grateful that: the nations of the world haven’t fumigated the earth with nuclear bombs and left behind only pockets of civilization surviving in craters forever lidded with dense, radioactive clouds.

Summary, from Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Hope lives in White Rock, a town struggling to recover from the green bombs of World War III. The bombs destroyed almost everything that came before, so the skill that matters most in White Rock—sometimes it feels like the only thing that matters—is the ability to invent so that the world can regain some of what it’s lost.
But Hope is terrible at inventing and would much rather sneak off to cliff dive into the Bomb’s Breath—the deadly band of air that covers the crater the town lives in—than fail at yet another invention.

When bandits discover that White Rock has invented priceless antibiotics, they invade. The town must choose whether to hand over the medicine and die from disease in the coming months or die fighting the bandits now. Hope and her friends, Aaren and Brock, might be the only ones who can escape through the Bomb’s Breath and make the dangerous trek over the snow-covered mountain to get help. For once, inventing isn’t the answer, but the daring and risk-taking that usually gets Hope into trouble might just save them all. 

Deal: It’s $3.46 on Betterworld.com.

 

The Fifth Wave, by Rick Yancey

Can make you grateful that: aliens haven’t besieged Planet Earth with four waves of pandemics on a scale the globe has never seen before, and are now inflicting the fifth wave, which makes you lose everyone in your family except your little brother, who gets kidnapped by the aliens.

Summary, from Goodreads:

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one. Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother-or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

Deal: It’s $1.99 on Amazon.

 

 

Obernewtyn Chronicles, by Isobelle Carmody

Can make you grateful that: you don’t have a powerful mental ability that makes you an outcast

Summary, from Goodreads:

For Elspeth Gordie freedom is-like so much else after the Great White-a memory. It was a time known as the Age of Chaos. In a final explosive flash everything was destroyed. The few who survived banded together and formed a Council for protection. But people like Elspeth-mysteriously born with powerful mental abilities-are feared by the Council and hunted down like animals…to be destroyed. Her only hope for survival to is keep her power hidden. But is secrecy enough against the terrible power of the Council?

Deal: The paperback is $2.67 on Amazon.

 

 

 

The Maze Runner, by James Dashner

Can make you grateful that: you’re not a teenage boy who wakes up amnesic in a maze from which there appears to be no escape.

Summary, from Amazon:

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone. Outside the towering stone walls that surround them is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out—and no one’s ever made it through alive. Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying. Remember. Survive. Run.

Deal: This book and book 2 in the trilogy, The Scorch Trials, are $10.44. That’s about $5.20 per book.

 

 

 

 

See…so many things to be thankful for! You’re welcome! Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Young Elites by Marie Lu is a Gripping Read With a Disappointing Ending

I am such a begrudging fan of Marie Lu’s Young Elites. This book was so wonderful in so many ways, but the ending was SUCH a disappointment for me. Nevertheless, I’m in the minority, judging by the 4.1/5 average rating from 554 reviewers on Amazon, and the 3.92/5 average rating from almost 100,000 reviewers on Goodreads. Those are very good numbers. Let me tell you a little bit about Young Elites, so you can buy a cheap copy and decide for yourself!

What is Young Elites About?

From GoodReads:

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites. He is to destroy them before they destroy the nation. But he may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways. Of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

It’s amazing how the power-struggle theme of this book parallels the theme of the two other books I’m reading right now: War Storm by Victoria Aveyard and Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi.

Quote from Young Elites: "It is pointless to believe what you see, if you only see what you believe."

Who Would Want to Read Young Elites, And Why?

If you like gripping reads that pull you hand-over-fist into another world, you’ll like Young Elites.  The theme of Adelina’s struggle to embrace either her good or bad side was gripping. Lu did such a good job of developing the plot quickly. She built suspense and intensity from almost the very first page. The different dynamics between the Adelina and her sister, her and Enzo, her and the other Young Elites, her and her father, were quite unique. The premise and world-building were thorough yet efficient, enough to satisfy even the most hard-core fan of fantasy or speculative fiction..

However, (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT, I was so saddened by the fact that the finale was so horribly unsuccessful and that, ultimately, Adelina chose to embrace the bad side of her power. That Enzo died, that the Young Elites expelled Adelina, etc. was the opposite of how things should’ve gone. (END MAJOR SPOILER ALERT).

But, like I say, I’m in the minority, so definitely consider checking it out from your local library or buying it because…

What’s the Deal?

You can get Young Elites from ThriftBooks.com for $3.79!

 

 

 

Woman talking on a cell phone in a cafe

Overcoming Writer’s Block with Automatic Transcription

If you’re a writer — of books, essays, scripts, blog posts, whatever — you’re familiar with the phenomenon: the blank screen, a looming deadline, and a sinking feeling in your stomach. If you know that rumble all too well, this post is for you. Maybe it’ll help you get out of a rut; at the very least, it’s good for a few minutes of procrastination.

Have you ever thought of transcribing your writing thoughts, which means talking into an app on your phone while you’re out and about (i.e., NOT in front of a demanding larger screen), then running it through voice-recognition software that transcribes it into an actual document that you can edit, add to, take away from, etc., as you wish. The core idea behind it is that thinking out loud is often less arduous than writing. And it’s now easier than ever to combine the two, thanks to recent advances in speech recognition technology.

Woman talking on a cell phone in a cafe

What is Transcription, and How Could it Help You?

Of course, dictation is nothing new — and plenty of writers have taken advantage of it. Carl Sagan’s voluminous output was facilitated by his process of speaking into an audio recorder, to be transcribed later by an assistant (you can listen to some of his dictations in the Library of Congress!) And software like Dragon’s Naturally Speaking has offered automated transcription for people with the patience and budget to pursue it.

But it’s only in the last couple of years that automated transcription has reached a sweet spot  of convenience, affordability and accuracy that makes it practical to use  more casually. I discovered a software program called Descript recently, and am so excited about how this might make my book writing easier.

Here’s how my process worked as I started “writing” my sixth book, and how yours would go if you wanted to try it. Borrow what works for you and forget the rest — and let me know how it goes in the comments below!

Part I: Idea Extraction or Brain Burping

  • Pick a voice recorder. I’ve got an android phone, and I downloaded AudioRecorder, which was very easy to navigate.
  • Start talking. Try it with a topic you’ve been chewing on for weeks — or when an idea flits your head. Don’t overthink it. Just start blabbing.
  • Tug. The goal is to tug on as many threads as you come across, and to follow them as far as they go. These threads may lead to meandering tangents— and you may discover new ideas along the way. A lot of those new ideas will probably be embarrassingly bad. That’s fine. You’re already talking about the next thing! And unlike with text, your bad ideas aren’t staring you in the face.
  • Consider leaving comments to yourself as you go  ( e.g. “Maybe that’d work for the intro”). These will come in handy later.
  • Just talk. Press the big red record button.

 

When you’re done, hit the stop button. Swipe right to find the file of your audio recording under “Recordings.” Click on the three dots next to it, then “Share.” I emailed my file to myself, then downloaded the file to a folder where I’d be able to find it easily.

Part II: Transcription

Once you’ve finished recording, it’s time to harness ⚡️The Power of Technology⚡️

via GIPHY

  • Go to Descript.com. Click on the “Transcribe 30 minutes for free” button or, if you’re feeling adventurous, go ahead and sign up. Their prices start at 7 cents a minute or $10 a month. Sign in.
  • Click on “Add New” in the upper right-hand corner.
  • Click on “Upload,” find your file, and “Transcribe.”

 

The white words "Descript" on a navy blue backgroundDescript uses state-of-the-art machine learning to spit back a text transcript a few minutes later. That transcript won’t be perfect; the robots are currently in the ‘Write drunk’ phase of their careers. But for our purposes that’s fine: you just need it to be accurate enough that you can recognize your ideas.

Once you have your text transcript, your next step is up to you: maybe you’re exporting your transcript as a Word doc and revising from there. Maybe you’re firing up your voice recorder again to dictate a more polished take. Maybe only a few words in your audio journey are worth keeping — but that’s fine too. It probably didn’t cost you much (and good news: the price for this tech will continue to fall in the years ahead).

A Few More Tips

  • Use a recorder/app that you trust. Losing a recording is painful — and the anxiety of losing another can derail your most exciting creative moments (“I hope this recorder is working. Good, it is. Where was I?”)
  • Audio quality matters when it comes to automatic transcription. If your recording has a lot of background noise or you’re speaking far away from the mic, the accuracy is going to drop. Consider using earbuds so you can worry less about where you’re holding the recorder.
  • meadowy forest
    This is one of my happy places.

    Find a comfortable space. Eventually you may get used to having people overhear your musings, but it’s a lot easier to let your mind “go for a walk” when you’re comfortable in your environment.

  • Speaking of walking: why not go for a stroll? The pains of writing can have just as much to do with being stationary and hunched over. Walking gets your blood flowing — and your ideas too.

 

For getting those first crucial paragraphs down (and maybe a few keystone ideas to build towards), consider talking to yourself. 

Journal Writing Too?

I’ve kept journals since I was eight years old, and they’re really coming in handy now that I’m writing a semi-autobiographical fiction novel. I typically write in my journals at night after the kids have gone to bed, but find that I tend to keep my entries short because I’m so tired. Thus, I’m not creating very rich journal entries. Using Descript would make it easier for me to record my experiences and thoughts about my life. Have any of you ever done that?

Disclaimer: This post was based on an article article was originally published by Descript, and is a partnered but unpaid post.  All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

 

 

A man underwater, with hands in a prayer-like gesture, above the words "Stranger in a Strange Land"

Want Some Philosophical Sci-Fi? Read Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land

Starting a new senior editor job while still very actively reading, writing my books, critiquing and editing others’, networking with other readers, writers, and book bloggers on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, AND feeding my family, taking care of our house, and helping others is a lot of work, but I’m enjoying it! I like being busy, and recognize that every opportunity to associate with other awesome people, every day with decent health and good sleep, every moment with my kids (who I wasn’t sure I’d be able to have, as I recounted here), every opportunity to work and earn money is a BLESSING. And you people who read my reviews, chat with me on social media, or follow me: you’re all wonderful.

Some true reviewers of science fiction books would say I’m not a real science fiction fan until I’ve read and reviewed at least one Robert Heinlein book. Heinlein was known as the “dean of science fiction writers.” He was named the first Science Fiction Grand Master ever. Four of his books won Hugo awards, which are the pinnacle of recognition for the sci-fi genre. Because I admire him as a writer, have a goal to read the rest of his works, and want you to be well-informed, let me tell you about Stranger In a Strange Land.

What is Stranger in a Strange Land About?

The premise is interesting: a man raised by Martians comes to Earth and learns its customs, but because he has learned other powers, eventually starts his own church.

Who Would Like Stranger in a Strange Land, And Why?

If you’re a fan of literary fiction—the kind that revels in long narrative and beautiful speech, you’ll like this book. If you like esoteric characters or philosophical examinations of religion, you’ll like this book.  I liked the first half of the book, although it was a bit slow and cumbersome for me. The second half started getting too strange, so I didn’t finish. But that’s just me.

What’s the Deal?

You can get Stranger in a Strange Land from Thriftbooks.com for $3.79.

Visual, Anyone?

via GIPHY

Do you have a favorite science fiction author? If so, tell me in the comments!

Five Movies That Teach Empathy…And Deals on Each of Them

There are a lot of things people say we need these days: fewer guns, better schools, less rain on the eastern U.S. coast, more rain in the West, a certain person out of political office, etc., etc. I would argue that, above and beyond any and all of those things, what we need is more empathy. It’s a personality trait that’s hard to define, especially to younger minds, and harder, perhaps, to develop and express. In a recent council my husband and I had with our kids on the subject of empathy, the best we could do was: “walking in other people’s shoes.” That is, indeed, a part of it: using one’s imagination to picture what it must be like for someone to experience something. But the actual act of using one’s imagination to do that can be difficult, especially if one thinks quite literally, like children do, or if one has limited experience. And let’s be honest: none of us has experienced everything so we’re all limited in some respects. And the expression of empathy is another important “ball of wax” too. So, I’ve put together a list of a few movies that demonstrate, in practice, what the exercise of empathy can look like.

 

 

Some of them are “family” movies, but not all, because it’s as important for adults to expand their ability to empathize as it is for kids to develop it. Oh, and I found deals on all of them for you! You’re welcome!

Ender’s Game

One might ask how a movie (and book) about a boy who ends up at an exclusive space school for kids training to defeat a once-ubiquitous alien race that almost wiped out the human species has anything to do with empathy. Bear with me, because I think this movie demonstrates empathy beautifully.

Ender’s too young to remember the almost-extinction of his race, but not too young to’ve learned about Mazer Rackham, a former fighter in that battle who saved humanity. At the school, he meets Rackham and, through him and letters from his sister back on Earth, becomes more acquainted with Earth’s past. Even as his understanding awakens, his battle skills sharpen, until he leads squadrons of soldiers in what they think are simulation attacks on the “bugger” race that originally attacked them. When he and his squadrons finally, through a “preemptiveness” mentality and great skill, annihilate that entire race, he’s told that the simulations were in fact real. Because of he’s learned about what Earth went through, he realizes the horror of what he’s done. At the very end of the movie, he’s given an opportunity to atone for what he did. In the sequels to the book upon which this movie is based, he spends the rest of his life doing so.

Deal?

You can get an Ender’s Game DVD on Amazon for $2.99.

 

Passengers

Similarly, one might wonder how a movie about a man woken prematurely from a cryostatic sleep on a space ship bound for a colony planet millions of light years away could demonstrate empathy. One might, in fact, really wonder that when one discovers that the man, after years of complete solitude on this ship, wakes up a woman and tells her that she was accidentally woken up early too but that he’s there to help her. He’d found that his premature awakening meant that he would age and die before the ship ever reached the planet. Waking the woman meant condemning her to the same fate. He was the opposite of empathetic, right? Yes.

Through a series of twists, though, Aurora, the women he woke up, is faced with the possibility that Jim, the man, might be killed and she would be completely alone for the rest of her life, aboard that ship. She realizes the desperate straits into which he was plunged. She doesn’t forgive him for lying to her, as well she shouldn’t, but he strives to atone for what he comes to realize as the worst of mistakes by discovering a way to put her back into cryostatic sleep. She refuses.

It’s not for kids because there is nudity and some scary moments. But it’s great for some adult empathy developing, and…

Deal?

The blu-ray version is $9.38 on Amazon.

Inside Out

Straight from CommonSenseMedia.org:

Parents need to know that Inside Out is an outstandingly original, heartfelt story from Pixar about growing up and learning to handle your biggest emotions. Told primarily from the perspective of the feelings inside 11-year-old Riley’s mind (brought to life by the voices of Amy PoehlerMindy KalingBill Hader, and more), the plot has many moments of peril/tension — including bridges/islands crumbling, a train tumbling over a precipice, and characters falling into a deep, dark pit. (Spoiler alert: One key character also permanently fades from existence; that and scenes in which it seems Riley is “borrowing” her mom’s credit card and running away are definitely upsetting.) Some of Riley’s fears are also on display, including a giant, scary clown. Parents are likely to get hit hardest by the film’s heart-tugging moments (bring tissues!), but anyone with empathy will feel for Riley as she experiences life’s ups and downs. Ultimately, Inside Out has important messages about needing to feel — and express — all of your emotions, whether happy or sad. Although most of the content is appropriate for elementary schoolers and up, younger kids may need a bit more explanation about what’s going on, since there are references to abstract thought and the subconscious, and it can be a little confusing when other characters’ emotions are shown.

Deal?

A new copy is available on eBay for $6.

Inception

Remember how I said empathy is all about getting into other peoples’ heads? That’s literally what 90% of this movie is about.  The main character, Dom, has the technology to get into their dreams to learn their deepest secrets and even plant ideas in their subconsciousnesses, but to do so he and his team of dream operatives have to dive deeper into his own secrets than he’s comfortable with. Indeed, such a dive puts more than just their minds on the line.

Deal?

You can watch Inception on your Kindle for $8.99.

Beauty and the Beast

One might say that true love is a form of the purest empathy possible, one in which the person who truly loves is most easily able to understand the person he or she loves. It’s also the form in which that empathy is most easily expressed, and ideally, the most often returned. The tale of how empathetic love develops between Beauty and the Beast, especially the original version, is a sweet depiction.

Deal?

The theatrical 2017 version of the tale is available on Amazon for $3.99.

What movies have you seen that demonstrate empathy or its expression? Comment below!