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Books Read in 2014: BETTER HOMES AND HAUNTINGS by Molly Harper

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Better Homes and Hauntings by Molly Harper
Audiobook read by Amanda Ronconi
Better Homes and Hauntings by Molly Harper | Review on KayeDacus.com

Book Blurb:
When Nina Linden is hired to landscape a private island off the New England coast, she sees it as her chance to rebuild her failing business after being cheated by her unscrupulous ex. She never expects that her new client, software mogul Deacon Whitney, would see more in her than just a talented gardener. Deacon has paid top dollar to the crews he’s hired to renovate the desolate Whitney estate—he had to, because the bumps, thumps, and unexplained sightings of ghostly figures in 19th-century dress are driving workers away faster than he can say “Boo.”

Nina shows no signs of being scared away, even as she experiences some unnerving apparitions herself. And as the two of them work closely together to restore the mansion’s faded glory, Deacon realizes that he’s found someone who doesn’t seem to like his fortune more than himself—while Nina may have finally found the one man she can trust with her bruised and battered heart.

But something on the island doesn’t believe in true love . . . and if Nina and Deacon can’t figure out how to put these angry spirits to rest, their own love doesn’t stand a ghost of a chance.

My Review:
Ratings:

    Story: 4.25 stars
    Narrator: 4.5 stars
      Goodreads bookshelves: books-read-in-2014, contemporary-romance, paranormal, audiobook

      Read from July 06 to 15, 2014

What a fun story! I’d love to see someone like Joss Whedon or Eric Kripke make this into a movie. It was both snarky and (slightly) creepy at the same time, just like what those two create.

I’m not the world’s greatest at solving mysteries (which is why I rarely read them), but even I’d figured out the “twist” at the end of this romantic ghost story. But that’s okay, because it was fun watching the characters figure it out.

Harper did a great job developing the characters, too. It seems like she started with the typical two-dimensional stereotype characters (the rich frat boy; the nerdy tech billionaire; the emotionally abused shrinking violet; the hates-all-rich-people, up-by-her-bootstraps sassy girl; and the hippy-dippy bohemian) and then built from there–and then made all of them sympathetic, relatable, and three-dimensional.

I really enjoyed the author’s humor, evident throughout the prose—and even the chapter titles had me grinning or outright laughing.

I look forward to reading more books by this new-to-me author!

______________________________________________

My rating matrix:
5 STARS = one of the best I’ve ever read
4 STARS = a great read, highly recommended
3 STARS = it was okay/not a favorite
2 STARS = I didn’t enjoy it all that much, not recommended
1 STAR/DNF = I hated it and/or Did Not Finish it

Books Read in 2014: THE CAPTAIN AND THE WALLFLOWER by Lyn Stone

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Captain and the Wallflower by Lyn Stone
The Captain and the Wallflower | Review on KayeDacus.com

Book Blurb:
Badly scarred captain Caine Morleigh must marry to inherit. Who better than the homeliest young woman left over at the end of the London season? After all, she will require little attention to keep her happy.

Lady Grace Renfair leaps at the only chance to escape her emotionally abusive uncle and accepts Caine’s proposal. Soon she blooms with confidence and beauty, causing her husband’s forbidding exterior to crumble.

If she could only reach beyond his scars to the gentleman beneath…

My Review:

Rating: 3.5 stars

      Goodreads bookshelves: books-read-in-2014, hist-19th-c-georgian-regency-napoleonic, historical-romance

      Read from May 19 to 21, 2014

**Slight Spoiler**
This is the first marriage-of-convenience (MoC) story I’ve ever read in which the h/hn don’t actually get married until the end of the book.

There was so much potential in this story, aside from the MoC trope: a wounded, scarred war hero; an unattractive wallflower; an ultimatum to marry from the hero’s uncle. It’s a standard setup for what has the potential to be both a humorous and emotionally engaging story.

Unfortunately, this story didn’t quite live up to that potential.

Caine Morleigh, a captain in the Royal Army, was injured in battle right at the end of the war. It scarred his eyes and possibly blinded him. The prologue opens on the day he’s to have his bandages removed for the first time. He doesn’t know if he’ll be able to see, but it’s the moment of truth. A moment that is made all the more important by the arrival of his intended. When the bandages are removed, Caine is relieved to be able to see—but the twit of a girl he’s supposed to be marrying screams and faints . . . and then goes about town telling everyone how he’s a deformed, horrendous beast.

A month later (chapter one), Caine has received an ultimatum from his uncle, to whom he is heir, that Caine must marry or he’ll only receive the title while all the unentailed lands and wealth will go to his wastrel cousin (who has recently married). With his best friend, Trent, as his accomplice, Caine goes to the last ball at the end of the season and tells Trent to find him the ugliest, stupidest, most desperate spinster there to arrange an introduction so Caine can marry her. He wants a marriage in name with someone who will leave him alone and because she’s just so content at the change in her status/name. (At this point, he’s wearing an eye patch over one eye, while there is still visible scarring around the other.)

This, of course, is where our heroine comes in. Homely, dressed in a shapeless, ugly yellow gown, and looking as if she’s not long for the world, Lady Grace is only at the ball because her guardian/uncle has trotted her out to ensure the world that he hasn’t done away with her. (Do you sense where this is going?)

Long story short, Caine makes a public proposal in front of everyone at the assembly so that her uncle cannot gainsay them.

It’s at this point that the story starts failing in its potential. While Grace is set up to be an ugly duckling who must learn to become a swan, it’s quickly (almost immediately) apparent that she’s actually just a swan who stepped in a mud puddle and simply needed a quick rinse to be back to her majestic, beautiful (Mary Sue) self. She can do absolutely no wrong.

Carriage with her and two other women attacked on the highway by an armed assailant? No problem. She’ll kick him in the family jewels and save the day.

Country house in disarray when she arrives? No problem. She’ll whip everyone into shape (and set guards about the estate at the same time for protection)—and they will all love her for it.

Major General of a housekeeper? No problem! Grace will win her over and have her eating out of her hand in no time.

Fiance with an eye patch and horrible scarring? No problem! Grace will remove the eye patch to discover he still has his eye (and sight) and that he’s just being vain and covering up the worst of the scarring, which, of course, isn’t nearly as bad as he thought once she doesn’t react negatively to it.

Uncle with a failing heart and not much more time to live? No problem. Grace knows how to use foxglove to treat him and bring about what seems a miraculous recovery.

Suffice it to say . . . Grace not only meets every challenge she faces in this book head-on, she easily overcomes it.

Oh, and once she’s away from her evil guardian/uncle and can start eating again without fear of being poisoned and, thus, regains her health, it turns out she’s physically beautiful, too.

As far as Caine and his scars/injuries go—it’s a convenient plot device in the beginning to set him up as a “beast,” yet it doesn’t actually seem to affect his life at all. There’s no lingering social stigma from it, nor is there any lingering physical effects or emotional trauma from it. A good example of a hero with PTSD this is not.

Then, there were all of the attempts by the villain of the piece to kill Grace and/or Caine. Shootings, stabbings, and explosions, oh my! And how this mystery was solved and the perpetrator brought to “justice” in the end . . . ridiculous. I’ve read multiple stories with almost the exact same trope—the villain has done something evil and is either blackmailing the heroine into marrying someone of his choosing, keeping her from marrying someone she loves (the hero), or is trying to kill her in a way that won’t throw suspicion onto the villain. As a matter of fact, Julia Quinn used this same type of situation (pretty much down to what the villain had done) in On the Way to the Wedding.

Toward the end of the book, I found myself skimming (after the villain had been revealed and he’d pontificated about his motivations/other crimes) just waiting for the wedding to actually happen and the book to end (which it did at 92% on the Kindle—there was a sample chapter for another book that, along with the backmatter, took up the remaining 8%).

I never really liked or connected with either of the main characters—nor did they really seem to have true chemistry between them. The story takes place over the course of about three or four weeks (hard to tell since they kept postponing the wedding, which was supposed to take place three weeks after the opening, but then after postponing it, they then sped it up at the end). For at least half of that time, Grace was out at the country house and Caine was in London. Not a great setup for relationship building. But, oh, it was instalove, once Grace was no longer the ugly duckling wallflower and had put her Mary Sue powers to work in making everyone else around her adore her.

Caine has the personality of a wet paper towel, and is about as useful. If he’s not confined to bed recovering from a bullet wound, he’s just sitting around thinking about how hard his life is going to be as an earl and how he needs a wife who isn’t going to put any additional expectations on him and who isn’t going to want any kind of a social life whatsoever and who will be content living in the country while he stays in London and how Grace is so exquisite now and so vivacious that she’s not the right woman for him even though he wants her and how someone is trying to kill either her or him or both of them. If it weren’t for his best friend and cousin, he’d never have figured anything out or been able to make any decisions on his own.

All of that said, it was an entertaining read—for the sheer quackery of it if nothing else.

______________________________________________

My rating matrix:
5 STARS = one of the best I’ve ever read
4 STARS = a great read, highly recommended
3 STARS = it was okay/not a favorite
2 STARS = I didn’t enjoy it all that much, not recommended
1 STAR/DNF = I hated it and/or Did Not Finish it

Books Read in 2014: THE SECRET DIARY OF LIZZIE BENNET by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick (a.k.a., Kate Noble)
Audiobook performed by Ashley Clements
The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet | KayeDacus.com

Book Blurb:
A modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice based on the Emmy Award-winning and hugely popular YouTube series and transmedia project The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

There is a great deal that goes into making a video blog. Lizzie Bennet should know, having become a YouTube sensation over the course of her year-long video diary project. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries may have started as her grad student thesis, but it grew into so much more, as the videos came to inform and reflect her life and that of her sisters: beautiful Jane and reckless Lydia. When rich, handsome Bing Lee comes to town, along with his stuck-up friend William Darcy, things really start to get interesting for the Bennets—and for Lizzie’s viewers. People watched, debated, Tweeted, Tumblr’d, and suddenly Lizzie—who always considered herself a fairly normal young woman—was a public figure. But not everything happened on-screen. Luckily for us, Lizzie kept a secret diary.

Following the structure of the Jane Austen classic, with each chapter also complementing the addictive videos, this standalone novel has plenty of fresh twists to delight fans and hook new readers. The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet expands on the phenomenon that captivated a generation and reimagines the Pride and Prejudice story like it’s never been done before.

My Review:

Rating:
Story: 5 stars
Narrator: 5 stars

      Goodreads bookshelves: books-read-in-2014, audiobook, contemporary-romance, lifetime-favorites

      Read from July 01 to 06, 2014

Loved this novelization of the webseries as much as I hoped and then some! I love getting the “behind the scenes” scenes—Lizzie with her parents, more of Dizzie and Jing, and more of Lizzie’s thoughts, reactions, and insights on everything that happened, but, most especially, her relationship with Lydia.

And, of course, it was wonderful to hear it all in the voice of Ashley Clements, Lizzie Bennet herself. She did a pretty good job of imitating all of her costars from the series in the major roles. And, of course, her reprisal of the voices of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet.

It was also fascinating to get more information about Lizzie’s “independent study” projects that she mentions from time to time in the webseries and to “see” more of Dr. Gardiner (and to read/listen between the lines to know that Dr. G was probably also playing matchmaker right along with Gigi).

Excellent, excellent way to round out this modern retelling of Pride & Prejudice.

IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THE WEBSERIES—do that first! You’ll enjoy the book even more afterward.

______________________________________________

My rating matrix:
5 STARS = one of the best I’ve ever read
4 STARS = a great read, highly recommended
3 STARS = it was okay/not a favorite
2 STARS = I didn’t enjoy it all that much, not recommended
1 STAR/DNF = I hated it and/or Did Not Finish it

Fun Friday – The “Meet Cute”

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fun Friday 2013

These videos are the very definition of what we call the “meet cute” in romance-writing circles. Enjoy—and have a great weekend!

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Dreams vs. Goals: What if my Writing Goals Change? What if I Fail?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Yesterday, one of the things I mentioned is that you must write down your goals. Writing your goals—handwritten in a journal, typed on the computer, emailed to yourself as a list, however you want to do it—makes them real. By having them written down, it gives you the opportunity not only to go back and check things off that you’ve accomplished or completed, but also to remind yourself of the other steps you promised yourself you’d be taking.

Yes, by setting goals, you’re making yourself promises. You promise yourself that you are going to take this journey and that you’re going to help yourself succeed.

The Risk of Failure
Dreams vs. Goals: Risk, Failure, and Re-evaluating Your Writing Goals | KayeDacus.com

One of the reasons why I believe most dreamers are hesitant to actually sit down and go through the process I’ve described over the last few days—setting goals, writing them down, and setting a timeline—is not only because doing that makes it more concrete, more real, but also because by defining exactly what it is that we want to accomplish, we are defining exactly the ways in which we can fail.

For anyone who’s set a self-imposed deadline and missed it. For anyone who’s stated a certain number of words to be written every day and not done it. For anyone who’s submitted manuscripts to editors and/or agents and been rejected. For anyone who’s joyously told family and friends that we’ve decided to write novels and get them published, only to have those same people lose faith in—or even mock—you when you can’t show tangible results. We know what failure feels like, and we don’t want to be there again.

HOWEVER, by breaking the dream down into a personally achievable goal with short-term and long-term actionable steps, you have more opportunity to show how you’ve succeeded when you—or others around you—deride you and call you a failure because you still aren’t published. Remember, it may be your dream to be a published author; it’s your goal to do all of the work that gives you the ability to chase that dream. And if you do the work, if you write the manuscripts, work with critique partners, go to conferences and workshops, rewrite and revise, edit and re-edit, do your market research, enter contests, network, and get those appointments to pitch your work, then you’re successful. Because you’ve met all of your goals, and you’ve done everything you can to chase your dream.

What if my writing goals change?
Dreams vs. Goals: Risk, Failure, and Re-evaluating Your Writing Goals | KayeDacus.com

Just because you’ve written your goals down (even if you used pen!), doesn’t mean that they’re written in stone—as your circumstances change, as issues arise, as it becomes apparent that the timelines you set don’t work, then, by all means, re-evaluate and, if necessary, change your goals. But when you change them, make sure to write the new/revised goals down, too—after all, how will you measure your success if you don’t have it written down so you can check/cross it off?

Should I share my goals with others?

Some goals should be kept private. Sometimes, though, we need accountability to help us meet our goals. This is when we need to carefully analyze who the people are that will support and encourage us—who will rejoice with our successes and support us when we feel like we’ve failed. Just as you’ll have many smaller or short-term goals/steps you want to take and many larger or long-term ones, there are multiple levels at which to consider the ramifications of sharing:

  • Family members
  • Friends
  • Critique partners
  • Writing group
  • Blog/social media

It is a very personal decision, whether or not to make a goal, a set of goals, or even a dream public. While many self-help books and inspirational speakers will encourage you to share your dreams and goals with others so that you have support and accountability, I think when it comes to writing and the dream of being published, you must weigh very carefully, first, with whom you share it; and, second, if you are strong enough to handle the risks that come with sharing this particular part of our lives with others.

When we share our dreams and goals about writing with others, we make ourselves vulnerable to criticism (for the goals themselves or for our thinking we could achieve them) or to ridicule if we don’t reach the goals—or if we have to change them when circumstances change. So be sure that if you go public, whether to one person or hundreds through a blog or social media, you know you will be able to handle any negative comments that may come your way. Don’t go public and then let the naysayers keep you from working on achieving your goals so that, one day, you can attain whatever dream it is you have for your writing.

Dreams vs. Goals: Risk, Failure, and Re-evaluating Your Writing Goals | KayeDacus.com

Dreams vs. Goals: Setting Goals to Achieve Our Writing Dreams

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Yesterday, we looked at the idea that to achieve our dreams, we must give them marching orders—we must set goals. So let’s look at how to go about setting those goals to give us the best chances of success.

Don’t Be Vague
Dreams vs. Goals: Setting Goals to Achieve Our Writing Dreams | KayeDacus.com

The first, very vague, statement was my “goal” that I set for myself at the age of 30, shortly after I’d returned to finish my undergrad degree and right after attending my first writing conference in 2001. Then, after I’d been a member of a national writing organization for a few months, I sat down and wrote down the second set of goals—the specific, actionable ones—so that I knew what I needed to do in order to achieve that vague goal (dream).

In 2002, I attended my first national writers’ conference and I entered a writing contest. In 2003, I not only finished my bachelor’s degree, I found and started working with my first critique partners—and entered two more manuscripts into contests. In 2004, I started grad school. I became an officer with the national writing organization, serving in two successive positions in which I got to know many publishing industry professionals who would, years later, become vital cobblestones in my path to publication. I went to at least one national conference every year. I started my own local writers’ group here in Nashville.

I turned 35 in May 2006. About a month after my birthday, I walked across the stage, got “hooded,” and received my master’s degree. A few weeks after that, I learned Stand-In Groom (my master’s thesis novel) was a finalist in a national writers’ group contest. In September, I went to the conference and, while there, asked two agents if I could submit my book proposal to them. I’d already pitched the book a few years before (when it wasn’t ready); and, over the next year, I’d pitch Stand-In Groom and the Ransome Trilogy to editors from two different publishing houses.

Actionable items. Personally achievable. And completed.

In January 2007 (while I was still 35), I signed with MacGregor Literary. Then, in early December 2007, a little more than six months after I turned 36, I signed my first book contract.

The result of my setting/achieving specific goals was attaining my dream of becoming a published author.

What does “Actionable Items” mean?
Dreams vs. Goals: Setting Goals to Achieve Our Writing Dreams | KayeDacus.com

While starting out with a vague goal (still something achievable, but without “legs” to walk through all the way to the end result) is a good starting place, setting specific goals with actionable items is going to be how you measure your success.

When you set specific goals with actionable items, it gives you a built-in method to measure whether or not you’re successful and meeting/achieving your goals. And this is where being a list-maker can really come in handy. There’s nothing like starting out with a long to-do list and having the enormous pleasure of crossing out completed items. That, in a way, is almost as satisfying as actually having attained/completed the item being scratched off.

One of the best ways to break your goal down into actionable items is to set both short-term and long-term steps.

Dreams vs. Goals: Setting Goals to Achieve Our Writing Dreams | KayeDacus.com

One of the reasons I label these “short-term” and “long-term” instead of “little” and “big” or something else like that is because creating actionable items to reach your overall goal requires setting a timeline and sticking to it.

Writing down your goals makes them more real—and gives you the opportunity to review them from time to time and remember their specifics. If you don’t write your goals down, how will you know if you’ve achieved them?

As you come up with your list of actionable items, create a timeline:

  • I will write 1,000 words a day until I reach a completed manuscript length of 90,000 words, and I will have a completed first-draft of Novel A by January 31
  • I will find at least two critique partners and start working with them by March.
  • I will join Mystery Writers of America in January.
  • I will attend the Killer Nashville conference next August.
  • I will have the second draft of Novel A completed and to my critique partners in May.
  • I will begin Novel B in June.
  • I will write my proposal, create my one-sheet, and develop my pitch for Novel A in July.
  • I will have my polished draft of Novel A completed by August 15.
  • I will pitch Novel A to Editor A, Agent B, and Editor C at Killer Nashville in August.

And so on.

Then, even if it seems silly, cross each item off the list as you complete it. It may seem daunting at first all of the small steps that go into working to achieve the dream of becoming a published writer. But once you start seeing more items crossed off than remain, you’ll realize just how much you’ve accomplished and how successful you already are.

Dreams vs. Goals: Setting Goals to Achieve Our Writing Dreams | KayeDacus.com

Tomorrow: Risk, Failure, and Re-evaluation of Set Goals

Dreams vs. Goals: Give Your Writing Dreams Marching Orders

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

If you don’t know where you are going,
you will probably end up somewhere else.

~Lawrence J. Peter

Yesterday, we looked at what it means to be a dreamer—to dream about being a writer. As a reminder, here’s how dictionaries define dream:

  • a visionary creation of the imagination
  • a state of mind marked by abstraction or release from reality
  • a cherished hope; ambition; aspiration
  • a vain hope

And I know we all agree that dreams can be good things. But if we want to accomplish something, we’re going to have to do something more than dream about it. That’s where goals come into play.

What Is a Goal?
If we once again turn toward the dictionary for a technical definition, a goal is:

  • the result or achievement toward which effort is directed; aim; end
  • target; purpose, object, objective, intent, intention
  • the aim or object toward which an endeavor is directed
  • the terminal point of a journey or race

Do you notice a difference in the words that define these two terms? The definitions for “dream” are largely passive while the definitions for “goal” are active. You have dreams; you set goals.

In other words . . .
Dreams vs. Goals: Give Your Writing Dreams Marching Orders | KayeDacus.com

Dreams are hopes. Dreams are wishes. Dreams are visions of an outcome . . . without a visualization of the steps needed to reach that outcome.

Goals are what we need in order to figure out how to reach the end we’re dreaming of.

I dream of being a traditionally published author.

Great. Now, what part of that dream can you actually control or influence? What can you realistically do in order to move toward the fulfillment of that dream? In other words, what part of your dream is personally achievable?

Dreams vs. Goals: Give Your Writing Dreams Marching Orders | KayeDacus.com

It’s fine—wonderful—to dream of becoming a traditionally published author (i.e., being paid an advance/royalty by a traditional publishing house so they can have the privilege of making money by selling your book). It gives you an end toward which to set goals. However, aside from setting goals for daily/weekly/monthly word counts, learning everything you can about craft, finding and working with critique partners, attending conferences, pitching your work to agents and editors, and polishing your manuscript to a fine sheen, there is one major part of the equation you cannot control. You cannot control the decisions made by publishers to reject or accept you. You have now taken away your own ability to control whether or not you achieve your goal. This is what I mean by realistic and personally achievable—you must be able to affect and control the outcome in order for it to be a viable goal, not just a dream.

You dream of being a traditionally published author.
Your goal is to do everything within your ability to create a publish-ready manuscript and pitch it to editors.

So, dream away! But then step back into reality and look at your dream to see what parts of it you, personally, can achieve.

Tomorrow: Let’s Start Setting Some Goals!

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