August 4, 2015

#bookselfie: going off script

A sometimes follower of E! News and a fan of Giuliana and Bill, I was pretty excited when my friend recently lent me a copy of Giuliana Rancic's new memoir Going Off Script: How I Survived a Crazy Childhood, Cancer, and Clooney's 32 On-Screen Rejections. Written in a casual, very Giuliana-like tone, it tells the story of growing up in Italy, moving to America, making her mark in the entertainment news biz, finding the love of her life, and fighting cancer to save it.
A witty, warm, and inspiring memoir from the E News! host, Fashion Police panelist, red-carpet correspondent, author, and reality show star Giuliana Rancic.   
Giuliana Rancic is best known for interviewing A-listers on the red carpet and E! News, skewering their shocking style choices on Fashion Police, and giving viewers a front row seat to her marriage and family life on her reality show, Giuliana & Bill. What fans may not know is that she learned English from Eddie Murphy, got her American citizenship so she could be a beauty queen, and used to have a bad habit of stealing cars for fun.  
Giuliana bares this and so much more in her hilarious, warm, and inspiring memoir, Going Off Script.  From a young age she dreamed of being a TV anchorwoman but, because of her inclination toward mischief and away from schoolwork, her path to her dream job was far from straight. After a fateful (and mortifying) encounter with the late Senator Ted Kennedy, she learned that Hollywood news was where she belonged.  Thankfully for readers, this epiphany led her to a bounty of LA misadventures (featuring notables such as Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Russell Crowe) and an entertaining behind-the-scenes perspective on what our favorite celebrities are really like.  
In spite of her glamorous Hollywood life, however, Giuliana could not escape some rockier times, including her battles with infertility and breast cancer.  Here, for the first time, she reveals the whole truth behind her well-publicized struggles, and the highly controversial decisions she had to make. And, of course, at the heart of it all are the two loves of her life who keep her strong through everything, her husband Bill and her son, Duke.  
Candid, funny, and poignant, Going Off Script is an autobiography that proves you don’t always have to follow the rules to get the life you’ve always dreamed of.
I went into the book feeling like I already knew quite a bit about Giuliana. I suppose that's the way a lot of us feel when we see someone on TV every day, particularly when we're given a pseudo-backstage glimpse of their life through a reality TV show. But there were quite a few stories in here that were new to me. And I also saw a more accurate depiction of what was really going on behind the scenes of cameras.

Though I laughed a lot, there were several moments of this story that had me full-out crying. While the Rancics were publicly candid about their struggles with fertility and her cancer diagnosis, these parts of the book were particularly crushing to read. They put on such a brave face publicly, that it makes me admire them even more to know how much of a hard-fought struggle it was to keep going when facing personal devastation.

Probably my favorite part about this book was reading more about how Giuliana and Bill's relationship developed. I've always thought they seemed like such a fun, loving couple that challenges and brings out the best in each other, but in reality it's all that times eleven. They're definitely a total #relationshipgoal.

I laughed a lot reading about her childhood, and will admit I was surprised to hear how much she struggled in school, though it made a lot of sense. It was at times inspiring to see how driven she was to fulfill her dreams even when there were naysayers telling her it wasn't going to happen.

And... I had actually just finished reading this book the night before Giuliana announced she would be leaving E! News. Based on some of the stories she shared in the book, I wasn't at all surprised by the news. Though she seemed appreciative for all of the opportunities her career with E! has afforded her, you definitely had the impression that maybe enough was enough and she was ready to move on to the next phase of her life.

If you're a fan of Giuliana and her work, this is a solid, fast-paced, and entertaining read that feels more like a gossip-session between friends than a straight-up memoir, which made it enjoyable.

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August 3, 2015

what's on my bookshelf? from alcott to christie

Blogger's Note: After years of sharing my thoughts on books through book releases and #bookselfies, throughout the month of August I'll be giving you a closer look at what books are in my home library.

My first bookshelf is kind of badass when you get down to it. Though it only encompasses about 20 books from authors that fall between Louisa May Alcott and Agatha Christie, you get a good taste of what the rest of my collection will hold.

There's a nice mix of historic and contemporary classics; cozy mysteries and anything but cozy mysteries; chick lit and romance; local and international; traditional and independent; young adult to stories I'd prefer my future kids wait until they're mature enough to handle. Another common theme this shelf shares with many others we'll explore in the weeks ahead of us: there's a mixture of books I've never read, stories I've read once, and ones I go back to over and over again.

This shelf has a lot of power when it comes to stories that I go back to over and over again. Stories that have changed my life.

A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich is one of them. I read this book for the first time in fifth grade when my homeroom teacher learned about my love for the Little House book series. She wrote me a note in my reading journal suggesting I check out Bess Streeter Aldrich, who also wrote historical fiction based on her life and she was practically local, coming from nearby Elmwood, Nebraska. I read the book and I loved it. I went on to do a major book report and presentation on it--complete with me wearing my grandma's dress and bonnet from the Nebraska centennial celebration--and I earned a Girl Scouts patch for studying a local women's author.

(Sidebar thought: Does the Nebraska Girl Scouts organization still feature a different women's author/writer each year for girls to research and learn about? I sure hope so, because what an amazing idea!)

There's a ton of power contained in the Complete Novels of Jane Austen. This heavy volume contains dozens of characters and lines that inspire and thrill me each time I read them. Though I'd read Emma, Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility in other volumes, this specific copy was the one I used to read Persuasion for the first time. I later studied the story going back to review it again and again when I was plotting and writing The Marrying Type.

I recently (and finally) read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I figured it was about time after watching Michael Fassbender play Mr. Rochester dozens of times. Though it kind of took me forever to read it, I'm glad I did. While the movie was amazing, there were so many lines, so many little asides that weren't included, but that I immensely enjoyed.

This will also be our first, but not last, sighting of Agatha Christie books. (I'll save the story about those later.) But along the lines of mysteries, I have the first three Body Movers by Stephanie Bond. I actually reviewed the second book in the series for my college newspaper, and I had a chance to attend a day-long writing seminar led by Stephanie. While many of the stories on this shelf inspired me to become a writer, I would say that the day I spent listening to Stephanie talk about her method for plotting and her tips for maintaining steady writing was probably one of the most influential moments in my writing career. I still think about her advice often when I write, and I've carried those lessons with me and made them my own.

The Complete List of Books Featured on This Shelf:

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
SECRET by L. Marie Adeline
A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
The Ideal Wife by Mary Balogh
In Need of Therapy by Tracie Banister
Body Movers by Stephanie Bond
2 Bodies for the Price of 1 by Stephanie Bond
3 Men and a Body by Stephanie Bond
Daydreamer by Brea Brown
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Big Boned by Meg Cabot
The Elite by Kiera Cass
The One by Kiera Cass
The Selection by Kiera Cass
My Antonio by Willa Cather
13 for Luck by Agatha Christie
The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie
Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie
The Big Four by Agatha Christie

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July 29, 2015

'up to i do' release day

Happy Release Day to fellow Marching Ink author Samantha March and her fourth novel, Up To I Do. Be sure to check out the blurb for this story and enter to win the fabulous giveaway. I'm a sucker for wedding stories (obvi), and I already have this one on my Kindle ready to read.

About the Book
Emerson Sinclair, twenty-seven year old hotel heiress, has said yes. With just over a year to plan her extravagant, over the top nuptials to Logan Worthington, it’s all hands on deck with the wedding plans. A Sinclair marrying into the Worthington family is the talk of their small New Hampshire town, and ideas include filming the wedding for a TV segment. But as the items get checked off the list, plans start to go ... not as planned. From not getting a designer dress to a selfish bridesmaid and unaccountable best man, Emerson is afraid her wedding will be more a joke than anything.

When both her mother and sister seemingly begin to lose interest in her wedding plans in favor of their own personal lives, Emerson fears her big day will turn into the forgotten wedding. With the pressure to pull off a beautiful and elegant event that everyone expects from their respectable families, Emerson starts to forget the reason why she is saying I Do in the first place.

Buy the Book
Barnes & Noble

About the Author
Samantha March is an author, editor, publisher, blogger, and all-around book lover. She runs the popular book/women’s lifestyle blog ChickLitPlus, which keeps her bookshelf stocked with the latest reads and up-to-date on all things health, fitness, fashion, and beauty related. In 2011, she launched her independent publishing company, Marching Ink, and has four published novels—Destined to Fail, The Green Ticket, A Questionable Friendship, and Up To I Do. When she isn’t reading, writing, or blogging, you can find her cheering for the Green Bay Packers. Samantha lives in Iowa with her husband and Vizsla puppy.

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Enter the Giveaway

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July 27, 2015

guest post with caroline fardig about writing a series

Blogger's Note: Caroline Fardig recently released Bad Medicine, the third novel in her Lizzy Hart Mysteries series. As a new series writer myself, I'm curious about how other authors do it. Caroline graciously provided this thoughtful response to my question of how she writes a series and how she maintains consistency and continuity throughout. Be sure to enter to win a fabulous prize using the Rafflecopter below.

By Caroline Fardig

First, I make sure to have a few very well-rounded characters bouncing around in my head before I ever put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). These guys live in my mind for months before I ever write a single word. They grow and develop, they interact with one another, and they become a part of me so I know them and can easily tell their story once it’s time.

Then comes the setting. You’ve got to have an interesting enough place in which to set your characters loose, otherwise, you’ll have to struggle to find things for them to do several books down the road. Small towns might be considered “boring”, but when your characters have grown up together, they know all of each other’s secrets and know exactly how to push each other’s buttons. With a big city, you might not always have a plethora of characters with storied history, but you do have a wealth of interesting places, events, and new people to meet. Use the setting to your advantage and broaden it as needed.

As for plot elements, you need to make sure you don’t contradict yourself in a later book. The way I do it is a two-pronged approach. I keep a notebook of ideas and information on each book I write. It will have a list of characters (with their traits), a list of red herrings, all of my potential victim/murderer combos, plot outlines, and so forth.  I refer to my notes all the time to make sure I haven’t already used an idea. My second safeguard is going back to the previous book(s) in the series and searching for the character’s name and any words associated with the description, event, or idea I’m using in my current book. For example, just a few minutes ago, I couldn’t remember if I’d never given a name to one of my “off-screen” characters.  I thought I’d only ever referred to him as someone’s “grandfather”. So, I searched for “grandfather” and found that I indeed had never named the character. If I had suddenly started calling him “Grandpa Bill” when I’d already named him “Grandpa Steve” in a previous book, it would have been a problem. Now that I’ve thoroughly researched it, I can now name him whatever I want with confidence.

Another thing I’ve been doing lately is to read through each secondary character’s scenes in succession in order to make sure I’m being fluid with their personalities. For example, if I want to read all about Lizzie’s best friend Julia, I search my Word document for “Julia” and read only her scenes straight through. It does wonders for continuity.

Lastly, I always have my next book in mind. If I know a certain character is going to have a central role in my upcoming book, I give them a little cameo in the current book. For instance, in That Old Black Magic, Lizzie’s ex Lee is a very central character. So, I gave him a good introduction in It's Just a Little Crush, even though he really didn’t need to be in that book.  I wanted my readers to get to know him a little before I stuck him in the spotlight.

You have to be on your toes when you work with a series. However, if you’re organized and thorough, it’s easy to keep track of your fictional world. Happy Writing!

What do a smokin’ hot detective, an evil chiropractor, and a couple of blind dates from hell have in common?

Lizzie has to wrangle them all in the third book of THE LIZZIE HART MYSTERIES series!

BAD MEDICINE is the third book in THE LIZZIE HART MYSTERIES series. Now available on Amazon.

About the Book
Lizzie Hart is overjoyed that six whole months have passed without a single murder in the sleepy town of Liberty. It’s also been six months since Blake Morgan heartlessly dumped her, but she’s determined to get over him. She’s slimmed down, ready to party, and injury-free, except for a little nagging pain in her ankle. She’s also very single, but her friends are doing everything in their power to fix that—including setting her up on one disastrous blind date after another.  Lizzie’s reprieve is short-lived when an old friend of hers is found dead from an apparent drug overdose. She wants to write it off as bad behavior after having seen the guy cheating on his wife with the new chiropractor in town. However, when she sees that same chiropractor playing doctor with another man who ends up dead, she worries there could be murder afoot. 
Doing her best to stay on the right side of the law this time, Lizzie decides to go straight to the police with her suspicions. Unfortunately, the only cop available to speak with her is the stern yet hot new detective who has already given her a traffic ticket and a reprimand for public intoxication. Not surprisingly, he brushes her off, leaving her no choice but to begin snooping on her own. Lizzie soon learns she’s going to need help to get to the bottom of this mystery, but her best partner in crime solving, Blake, has turned into her worst enemy.  
Can Lizzie and Blake find a way to work together to catch the killer…or will they kill each other first?
About the Author
CAROLINE FARDIG is the author of the LIZZIE HART MYSTERIES series and the forthcoming DEATH BEFORE DECAF, available November 2015 through Random House.  Her eclectic working career included occupations of schoolteacher, church organist, insurance agent, funeral parlor associate, and stay-at-home mom before she realized that she wanted to be a writer when she grew up. Born and raised in a small town in Indiana, Fardig still lives in that same town with an understanding husband, two sweet kids, two energetic dogs, and one malevolent cat.

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July 21, 2015

britlit challenge: hamlet

Blogger's note: Like any good amateur anglophile (I'm not really devout enough to call myself a full-fledged one) and English major (okay, it was technically a double minor) I desperately wanted to take BritLit in high school and college. Unfortunately it never worked out. So in an attempt to make up for lost time, I'm working my way through the list of stories I figured I'd read in those classes and (true to form) skipping the ones I would've used Spark Notes for instead. This is my Brit Lit Reading Challenge.

My sophomore year of college, my mom won tickets to see a traveling theater's performance of William Shakespeare's Hamlet. Vaguely familiar with the play (anyone who grew up during Adam Sandler's movie making hay days of the 90s will recall the rendition of the "To be or not to be" monologue) one of my roommate's and I gladly accepted the tickets. I mean, it was kind of exciting. We had a chance to dress up on a school night and go to the Lied Center and pretend we were super cultured. (We tried to be, but going to the campus art museum and one play after countless nights spent binge-watching every variation of CSI and The Girls Next Door probably doesn't count.)

While watching the play (by a performance group I can't remember, but was quite good) I was struck by a few things:
  1. You had to pay attention. Though it can be easy to zone out in Elizabethan English, you really shouldn't. You might miss something.
  2. People kind of suck. At least they do in a Shakespearean tragedy. Everyone is killing everyone, people are shacking up with other people's wives. It's a big mess.
  3. Hamlet, in particular, is kind of a dick. Look, I get that he's upset about his father's death. I get that having the ghost of his father tell him his uncle (who is now the king) did it is probably even more upsetting. But he was kind of wishy washy about how to deal with the whole thing, and Hamlet, to quote that knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, you "chose poorly." 
  4. Women are perhaps portrayed the worst. This wasn't a big shocker. I did read Romeo and Juliet (Quick survey: Did anyone educated in the U.S. during the past 50 years not have to read this play?) and King Lear in high school. But between Ophelia and the Queen, there's no strong female protagonist in the story. (And they're always talking about the men. Shakespeare wouldn't pass the Bechdel test.)
Still, it was entertaining, and when it came time to kick off my Brit Lit Challenge, which included a list of Shakespeare's plays, Hamlet seemed like a good place to start. For one, I had seen the play, so I figured that would help me follow the story better as I read. For another, my one-time love Benedict Cumberbatch his playing him in London later this summer. Since I couldn't swing a trip to England to see him, I used my imagination while reading.

I was left with many of the same thoughts I had while watching the play, but I did highlight some text passages that stuck with me after reading. Brace yourself: You're about to get insight into what I was like in most of my English classes. I was the nerdy girl who spoke up often and then made herself even nerdier (while probably dumber at the same time) by spouting off connections to other basically unrelated books/movies/TV shows/plays.
"This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man."
(Please tell me I'm not the only person who reads this passage--which is all good and probably inspiring--and remembers the scene in Clueless when Cher corrects Josh's date for mis-attributing the quote to Hamlet when "that Polonius guy did"?)
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
(Maybe I've been following the news a little too closely during the past year or so and feeling really bummed about the state of things, but this quote kind of stuck with me. Not entirely for the point it raises--that people's thoughts and beliefs are ultimately what define morality, but because it put things in a bit of perspective. I'm guilty of frequently falling into the mindset of "Wow, things are terrible these days" or "What an awful world." But really... every generation has the moments. That's by no means comforting--wouldn't it be great to live in a world that was always wonderful and free of pain and suffering?--but maybe it's a challenge to keep fighting the good fight? I don't know. I'm attempting to channel intro philosophy, and I never took it.)

From the "To be, or not to be" monologue:
"To die, to sleep -To sleep, perchance to dream - ay, there's the rub,For in this sleep of death what dreams may come..."
"Thus conscience does make cowards of us all..."
(Again, both of these lines bring out the philosopher in me. They're also more beautifully put than anything I say when I get all broody.)
“Brevity is the soul of wit.”
(This is another example of Bill Shakespeare being more poetic than I am. I like to tell people "brevity is beautiful," which I actually stole from someone else, but maybe I'll use this line going forward.)
“I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers could not, with all their quantity of love, make up my sum.”
(Right, so I'm the girl who read Fifty Shades of Grey--without trying to be ironic--and enjoyed it. And I'm guessing it's that part of me who read this passage--spoken after Hamlet has been a total douche nozzle to everyone, including the woman he apparently loved prior to the play, and discovers she's dead, seemingly by her own hand--and thought, "Wow. That's kind of beautiful. I guess he really did love her." I promptly reminded myself that Hamlet was hardly a romantic hero--not even Byronic based on the way he behaved during the play--and pretended to be offended by his too little too late statement, all while kind of wishing someone would claim he loved me more than 40,000 other people's love combined.)

If you're still with me after reading through this rambling mess, and gaining a little insight into the way my brain works while I read, thank you. And as your reward, here's my favorite interpretation of Hamlet:

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