Friday, December 30, 2011

TGIF: First & Last

TGIF at GReads
This feature is for Fridays to re-cap the week's posts & to propose a question for Ginger's followers.

I know I kind of did a post like this earlier in the week, with my favorite books of the year, but this is a little different, and I felt like I should get another blog post in before the year is out.

As of right now, I’ve read 115 books this year, just 10 shy of my goal to read 125. Not too shabby. I should finish another tonight, making that 116, and if I’m really adventurous, possibly even read another tomorrow for 117. But we’ll see how that goes.

The first book I finished in 2011 was Happy Ever After by Nora Roberts. It was the last in her Bride Quartet, and I have to say, of all the Nora books/trilogies/etc. I’ve read, this one was one of my favorites. (And the covers were all gorgeous.) I work at a country club, where people have weddings all the time, so I know some of what goes into doing them (and how crazy it can be). And even knowing that, I still found myself wishing I could work with the girls at Vows. Nora’s setting for the quartet was written so well, I wished it was real so I could see the gorgeous property in person, and all the characters were interesting and likable. I loved how each book focused on not just a new member of the Vows staff, but a new aspect of the wedding business: from photography to flowers to cakes to the overall organization of it all.

Since 2011 isn’t quite over, I don’t know what my absolute last book will be. It will either be the one I’m currently reading, My Soul to Save by Rachel Vincent, or One Magic Moment by Lynn Kurland, which is what I plan to start next. I got halfway through My Soul to Save last night, and would have gotten farther if I hadn’t stayed up until 3am the night before to finish Succubus Revealed by Richelle Mead. (Which would have been on my favorite books of the year list if I had waited to write it.)

So, since I can’t review a book I haven’t finished or read yet, that leaves Succubus Revealed as my “last book” of the year. I really loved this series, and was very satisfied with how it ended. I wasn’t sure how we were going to get a happily ever after for Georgina and Seth, but I was pleased with the way it all worked out. Sometimes these things can get overly contrived to make the HEA work, but in this case, I didn’t feel that way at all. It made sense, it worked in her history well, and everything was wrapped up nicely without being too over the top. A great series I would recommend to anyone who likes paranormal romance. So now I’m 2 for 2 in liking Richelle’s writing (the VA series being the other one I’ve read), which means it’s about time I try her Dark Swan series. My library has the first 3 in a bundle available on their ebook site, so one of these days, I’ll be sure to check it out.

All in all, a good year for reading. There were very few books that I didn't like, and only a couple I DNRed (rare for me). I hope 2012 is not only just as good for reading, but even better for me writing-wise. Destined is out and getting good reviews, and if all goes well, my next release will be in the early part of the year. Very exciting!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Favorites of 2011

I’m not a book blogger, and only do occasional reviews over on GoodReads, but I am a reader. An avid one, at that. My goal this year was to read 125 books, and while I didn’t quite make it (I’ll be at 114 when I finish the one I’m currently reading, and doubt I will read another 11 books in the next 4 days), I came close. I might have made it if I hadn’t published Destined this year: editing and formatting that took me a couple of months, in which I didn’t read much else. Still, I read a lot, and will probably get at least one, if not two, more books finished before the year is out. I’ve been eagerly waiting to read Succubus Revealed by Richelle Mead for months now, but always had library books to get through first. I’m finished my last library book tonight, so I can FINALLY read it. I predict some lost sleep, as I tend to read books I’m really excited about in one late-night marathon reading session.

But enough about that. I wanted to do a quick listing of my favorite books this year. They may not necessarily have been released in 2011, but most probably were.

My top favorite:

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I don’t know what it was about this book that I loved so much. Maybe it’s my inner Child of the 80s? All the nostalgia was fantastic, but the story itself was really original and engrossing. If you like dystopian books and the 80s, you’ll probably love this one.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Speaking of dystopian novels, I have to include this one. It didn’t win GoodReads Favorite Book of the Year for nothing. Plus, I’m originally from Chicago, so the setting only added to my initial interest. I loved this, and can’t wait for the next one to come out.

Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning

Holy crap, do I love this series. Each book only got better than the last, and I really didn’t want it to end. You can’t even imagine how thrilled I was to hear Karen was going to return to the Fever world and write more! (Okay, maybe you can, since I imagine many of you loved this series as much as I did!) Iced is already at the top of my “can’t wait” list for 2012.


Unwind by Neal Shusterman

I read this one at the start of the year and almost forgot about it (I have a bad memory for what I’ve read, no matter how good the book). But going back through my GoodReads lists, I saw that I gave it 5 stars, and I now remember why. This YA dystopian was disturbing. But it was also very good, and I only wish the second would come out sooner than September.

I know there’s a lot of dystopian YA on this list, and if you saw my full read-in-2011 list, there’d be even more of it. It’s been one of my favorite genres the last few years, and for the time being, I don’t see that changing much. Granted, some of the dystopians that have come out lately aren’t as good. That happens when a genre explodes like that (it happened with vampire romances, too), but for the most part, I’ve been pretty happy with the ones I’ve read. And while I didn’t read it this year, I have to give a quick nod to the book that got me back into dystopians in the first place (besides 1984, which I read many, many years ago).

LIfe As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

You know how sometimes, when you go tot the movies, when you come out of the theater you feel sort of weird and disconnected, like you’re not quite ready for reality to come back? It’s not often a book does that to me, but reading this one did. I had to read most of it in one sitting because I couldn’t put it down until I knew how it ended, and once it did, I wasn’t ready to let it go. It was a disorienting feeling to go back to “real life” once I closed the cover, and the story stuck with me for a long time afterward. I also cried, which is something I don’t do very often with a book. Movies and TV, no problem: I bawl like a baby pretty easily with them. But not with a book. This one was a rare exception, and I have devoured dystopians ever since. There are 2 more in the series, both also fantastic, but nothing quite compares to the first. I highly recommend it.

So what were your favorites this year? What are you looking forward to in 2012?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holiday Wishes

For those who celebrate, Happy Hanukkah! (Chanukah? They’re both technically correct, right?) I remember when I was a kid, I was always a little jealous of my Jewish friends because they got presents for 8 days. And even more, many of those friends had parents from both religions, so they celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas. What can I say, I was all about the presents back then. Come to think of it, I still am. I do love presents.

Christmas is my favorite holiday, and not just because of the gifts. I love the decorations, the music, the food, the general merryment of the season … everything, pretty much. It took me longer than normal to get into the mood for it this year, but I think I’m finally there. I still have a little shopping left to do (I’m a procrastinator), and have yet to wrap a single gift, but I’ll get it all done. I always do, even if it’s at the last minute. I baked this weekend, put up both trees, helped with the outdoor lights and listened to lots of Christmas music. I think that’s what I needed to feel like it really is that time of year, since the weather certainly isn’t showing it. We live in Florida, so it’s always warmer than my childhood Christmases were in Chicago, but this year it seems warmer than usual. It was nearly 80 degrees when we were putting up lights! I keep hoping a cold front will come through, just enough to make it a little cooler. I have Christmas shirts I want to wear, but they’re all long-sleeved, and it’s been too warm for them.

I know, not exactly a bad problem to have. I’m not complaining, trust me. I love living here, although I’m a little less excited about it in the summer, when it’s miserably hot and humid.

My original plan for this post was to do a “Christmas on the Titanic” article for Titanic Tuesdays, but I wasn’t able to find enough information to say much. Obviously, the Titanic never had any kind of Christmas celebration, since its one and only voyage was in April, but other ships at that time would have. Her sister ship, Olympic, most likely went all-out and decorated in December, much like cruises do nowadays. I’ve read that many of the ocean liners at the time would put up trees and lights and serve special holiday menus, even hire on special entertainment (famous choirs, for example). I had hoped to find some pictures or detailed accounts online of some of these, but had no luck.

Still, I can’t help thinking Captain Smith would have made an awesome Santa Claus. Don't you think?

I probably won’t post again before the holidays, so Merry Christmas to those who observe it. I’ll see you all again before the New Year. And hopefully once the craziness of the holidays passes by, I can get back to working on my next book. I’m still aiming for an early 2012 release (February, maybe, if I’m lucky), so keep an eye here for more news!

Friday, December 16, 2011

My new toy

Warning: technogeekery ahead

I realize I haven’t been very chatty online lately, either here or elsewhere. It’s been a busy month, between work getting crazy and my own procrastination. I never seem to start Christmas shopping as early as I should, so I find myself going nuts in the last few weeks of the month, trying to get everything bought. We still haven’t even put up decorations! I think this is the latest I’ve ever waited to decorate. I love Christmas, and am usually wanting to put up the lights and trees right after Thanksgiving. This year I just… never seemed to get around to it. If I don’t do it later today, definitely tomorrow!

I might have decorated yesterday, except I ended up spending most of my afternoon getting a new toy: a Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone! It’s all new and shiny and I already love it. I was due for my 2-year renewal, so I’ve been waiting for this particular model to be released, but Verizon has been cagey about setting a date. They finally announced it Wednesday night, so I reserved one at my Verizon store and went in the next day after work to snatch it up.

Apologies for the crappy quality of that photo. I had to take it without flash to avoid glare, and the light in here isn’t that great. But you can see the difference: the one on the left is my old Drois Eris, on the right is the Nexus. So much bigger! (That’s my iPad underneath them.) Yes, I like technology. I think it’s partly due to being a Taurus. I don’t normally follow astrology much, but whenever I read personality descriptions of Taurus I find myself agreeing with most of them. This bit in particular:

"The key words that best describes Taurus is the phrase "I have" which basically means that you have a nature to own and possess whatever you think is yours; from relationships to material goods. How I have seen this trait in just about every Taurus is the quality of never liking to let go of anything that they have previously invested any time or energy and especially money."

To put it simply: I want All the Things. And once I have the Things, I rarely let them go, unless it’s to get a newer, better, faster Thing. Combine being a packrat with wanting to buy everything you see and you get very full closets. Sometimes I manage to control myself, but if it’s electronic and shiny, chances are I’m going to cave in sooner or later. Most of the time I’m at war with myself: my materalistic Taurus side is usually fighting my spendthrift Bohemian side, and it can get ugly. (Bohemian is what people nowadays would call Czech.) So while I always want these new, expensive Things, I also tend to take a long time reading reviews and price-checking before I finally go out and buy one, to be sure I’m getting the best deal possible. Case in point: the Galaxy Nexus.

I didn’t really need such a fancy smartphone. Hell, I probably don’t even need a smartphone at all. I have the iPad to use at home, and unless I’m at work (where there are computers), home is usually where I am. So it’s not that often that I need to check my email or a website on my phone. Need and want are two different things, however, so I’ve had a smartphone for 2 years now and couldn’t imagine going back down to a regular cell. So fine, there are plenty of smartphones out there that are free with contract renewal, why not one of them? Because they aren’t NEW. I like new, and I like having the latest Thing. My old phone, the Droid Eris, was great when I first got it (because it was new: Droids had only just come out), but it wasn’t long before they stopped selling it, then stopped updating it. It’s been a dinosaur for about 1 1/2 of those 2 years I’ve owned it. The Android OS was ancient (I’m not even sure it ever got an upgrade to 2.0, and if it did, not much past that), it was sloooooow and every time I tried to look something up online, the web browser would crash. I had come to hate it. So when it was time to get a new one, I had to be sure I picked a phone that wouldn’t fall into the same black hole of non-updates. I’ve been researching Verizon smartphones since early November, making sure when I finally bought one, it would be the best choice for me. And even though I was sure by Thanksgiving that I wanted the Nexus, it wasn’t out yet, and everyone was doing these great sales on the other new ones that was tempting me to stop waiting because that Bohemian side of me can’t resist a Good Deal.

I almost went with the Droid RAZR or the HTC Rezound back then, because both were being sold for almost nothing online in Black Fricay/Cyber Monday sales. I liked the HTC part of my Eris (the big clock with weather widget was nifty), but the fancy audio didn’t really matter to me, and without that it seemed like any other smartphone. The RAZR was cool-looking, but felt too wide in my hand, and I read some negative reviews about how bad Motorola is about updating their phones. The Galaxy Nexus had many things going for it: one, it was preloaded with Ice Cream Sandwich (aka Android 4.0, the latest version of the OS). Two, it has one of the biggest screens of a smartphone, which with my bad eyes, is a godsend. I hated my tiny Eris screen. I couldn’t read anything on the damn thing most of the time, which only added to the reasons I hardly ever used it. Also, the Nexus screen is HD and absolutely beautiful. Bonus! Three, it’s a “pure Google phone,” which means (so they say) it will be among the first to get updates in the future. Also, by being a “pure Google phone,” it didn’t come preloaded with all the crapware most smartphones have. Crapware being all those apps you didn’t want, won’t ever use, but can’t delete because the carrier won’t let you get rid of them. The only apps on the Nexus were the basic Google-centric apps and a couple of Verizon apps that I suspect all their phones have to have (one to view your account and I don’t know what the other is for). Nothing that bothers me. And four: it’s really pretty. And shiny. Have I mentioned shiny?

So that was my excitement for the week. A shiny new toy to play with. And it’s not even Christmas yet!

Enough with the geekery. I’m going to go play with my phone some more. I still haven’t tested out how the HD video works. Where are the cats?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Titanic Tuesdays: Message in a Bottle

Those of you who have read Destined may recognize the following name, but if you haven’t read it yet, it won’t spoil anything. Jeremiah Burke is mentioned towards the end of the book, and his story given briefly. But because he interests me so much, I wanted to expand on it a little.

Jeremiah Burke (age 19) and his cousin, Nora Hegarty (age 18), from County Cork, Ireland, sailed on the Titanic in third class from Queenstown (now known as Cobh). Jeremiah was traveling to the United States to join two of his sisters who were already living there, while Nora was on her way to join a convent. They nearly avoided the tragedy, however, because their initial intent was to sail on another ship. According to his grandniece, Brid O’Flynn McSwiney, in an article from the Cork News, Jeremiah went to buy their tickets a month in advance, with the intent to sail on an earlier ship. But he knew the girl at the ticket counter, and she advised him to wait a few weeks for the Titanic. (An alternate account says Jeremiah’s mother bought the tickets.) Sadly, both he and Nora perished in the sinking. Their families waited for weeks afterwards for news, but never received any, and neither body was recovered (or at least, never identified).

Before heading off for the ship, Jeremiah’s mother gave him a holy water bottle filled with Lourdes water. In those days, this sort of thing was an important gift, something that would be treasured. Yet a year later, an off-duty Royal Irish Constabulary officer was walking his dog along the river near Cork Harbour, and spotted a bottle on the shore. It was an empty holy water bottle, and inside was the following note:

13/4/1912 from Titanic, Goodbye all: Burke of Glanmire, Co. Queenstown

Given the date, the message and the fact that the bottle was not something he would have tossed overboard on a whim, most came to the conclusion that Jeremiah wrote the message as the ship was sinking, put it in the bottle and threw it in the water. How it made it back to not only Ireland, but very near to where the Burke family lived, will always be a mystery. According to Brid, “Over the years people have suggested that he could have thrown it out at Cobh. He could have, but it’s unlikely that if your mother gave you a holy water bottle, you would fling it out there. The note was in blue pencil and in very distinctive handwriting. The bottle was something that his Mother had given him as a special memento - going to Lourdes at the time was huge thing - so it wouldn’t have been thrown away as a flippant action.” In a sad twist to the story, Jeremiah’s mother died shortly after the note was found.

An interesting note: in the same article, Brid mentions that while her grandfather (William, Jeremiah’s brother) never returned to Cobh (Queenstown), he would often visit a Titanic survivor, Eugene Daly, who remembered meeting Jeremiah on the tender that ferried them on board the ship. Eugene is also featured briefly in Destined: he is the third class man Apolline sees out on the stern of the ship, playing an Irish tune (“Erin’s Lament”) on his pipes as the ship leaves port at Queenstown.

You can see photos of Jeremiah and the his note in this article at Until recently, the bottle was in the possession of Nora Hegarty’s family while the letter was with Jeremiah’s, but it looks like the Burkes donated the letter to the Cobh Heritage Centre a few months ago.

There’s one more thing I can’t resist noting: if anyone watched the Curiosity special on the Discovery Channel a few months back entitled “What Sank Titanic?”, there is a brief allusion to this story at the end. Unfortunately, the special wasn’t quite as factual as I’d have liked, and among the errors and fictionalizations, Jeremiah’s note was attributed to a greaser from England named Frank Goree. In the documentary, Goree climbed up the ship’s dummy 4th funnel, finished off a bottle of liquor, then wrote the note, stuffed it in and chucked the bottle into the water. It made for a more dramatic picture, I’m sure, but since I knew the true story of that note, I can’t deny it bugged me a little that they gave Jeremiah’s story to someone else. They also got the time of the sinking wrong (they said she sunk at 2:02, not 2:20), which is hardly a minor detail! That said, it is a very interesting and enjoyable special, as long as you don’t expect 100% accuracy from it. Heck, even the James Cameron movie wasn’t 100% accurate (and neither is Destined for that matter. We all take small liberties when trying to entertain.). If you’d like to watch it, and have an hour and a half to spare, it’s on YouTube in HD.