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Not Hooked On This Crochet Mystery

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was stuck on a book. Despite all the reasons I thought I would like that mystery set in Georgian England, it just wasn’t grabbing me and it seemed like the best way to restart my reading was to switch books. Normally, to get on-track with my reading again, I like turn to a book by a favorite author, a known quantity. But, much to my folly, I went with an author I hadn’t read before.

The premise of Hooked on Murder by Betty Hechtman appealed to me for a couple reasons. It was set in a bookstore and it involved a crochet group–two things I love. Not only that, but because this author was published by Berkley Prime Crime, I had a feeling I knew what to expect from the book in terms style and the quality of writing.

Berkley Prime Crime tends to specialize in “cozies”, mysteries in the tradition of Agatha Christie where things happen in a set location with an established cast of characters. These books focus more on the mystery of figuring out “who-done-it” than on vividly gruesome crime description, overt violence, or action. And the Prime Crime books seem to be aimed at women because so many of the authors and protagonists are female.  But while Hooked on Murder was generally true to what I have come to expect from Berkley Prime Crime, it just didn’t do it for me.

The story. Molly Pink, a recent widow in her late 40s, has fought to get her life back to a new normal after the early death of her husband Charlie, a partner in a small public relations firm. But Molly’s plans for her new normal are thrown when she discovers the dead body of Ellen, her husband’s business partner. Now Molly is scrambling to figure out who would kill Ellen because a jealous female police detective seems convinced Molly is guilty, a development that would free up Molly’s boyfriend for this detective. In her efforts to learn more about the deceased and find an outlet for the nervous energy being the prime suspect of a murder investigation can cause, Molly joins the crochet group that Ellen ran and learns that there were a variety of people who benefited from Ellen’s death far more than Molly did. In order to prove her innocence, Molly is going to have to find out who really killed Ellen–all while learning to crochet the perfect granny square.

What I liked. As a protagonist, Molly is likeable. She’s been through tough times with the early death of her husband, but she’s rebuilding her life on her own and struggles to maintain the independence she’s discovered in the wake of tragedy. Not only is Molly herself likeable, but so is her best friend Dinah, a community college English teacher who refuses to disclose her age. I enjoyed this story the most when it stayed with Molly and Dinah.

The other characters. Other than Molly and Dinah, almost none of the characters were likeable. Molly had two grown sons, Peter and Samuel, and neither of them seemed worthy of her. Peter came across as coldly self-centered that even as his mother worried about being arrested. Samuel fares no better, coming across as a complete wuss. Molly’s boyfriend Barry was remarkably obtuse for a police detective, never realizing that “Detective Heather” was crushing on him and trying to get Molly out of the way, even if that meant charging Molly with a murder she didn’t commit. Adele, a fellow bookstore employee, is so over-the-top rude to Molly that I cringed each time she appeared in the story. An aging star, CeeCee, attempting to become the crochet group’s new leader is entertaining in her vain way, but the other group members are kind of flat. The owners of the bookstore where Molly works are only present to heap pressure on Molly for things she can’t control, and it felt odd that small business owners would be in their shop so seldom. Perhaps the only other likeable character was Jeffrey, Barry’s son. Thirteen-year-old Jeffrey, despite his father’s consternation, wants to be an actor and wants to know all about Molly’s experience finding a dead body. I can go along with a lot in a story so long as I like the characters in it, but with Hooked on Murder I mostly felt sorry for Molly, Dinah, and Jeffrey that they were surrounded by so many jerks.

The writing. Despite the drought of likeable characters, Betty Hechtman writes a clear, understandable story. Through the action and the revelation of the mystery, there weren’t any times in the story when it was unclear who had done what. I appreciate that because it gives me the feeling that I’m getting the information I need to figure out the mystery. However, that wasn’t quite the case with this book. Not unlike Agatha Christie, there was a whole lot of red herring and very little that would allow the reader to figure out the mystery.

I really wanted to like this mystery, but I don’t think I will read anymore books in this series. My affection for crocheting isn’t enough to overcome my dislike for so many of the characters. However, the good thing this book this did was it compelled me to start a new crochet project. If I like how it turns out, I’ll share it here.

Until then, I wish you better reads than I’ve been reading. A book that you think is going to be good and doesn’t deliver, well, that feels like a broken promise.

 
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Posted by on February 29, 2012 in Books, Lifestyle, Uncategorized

 

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The Bibliophile is Behind in Her Reading

Yes, I’m a bad, bad blogger and I’ve neglected this site for a long time. Okay, a very, long time. No need to rub it in. But I write about the Minnesota Vikings over at the Daily Norseman and that has really divided my time. It’s a funny thing, but a really lousy season (and the continuing Vikings stadium drama) is surprisingly demanding. Turns out bad football seasons are an endless source of material–emotionally draining, soul-sucking material, but material nonetheless. And all that terribly good source material has distracted me from telling you about how I’ve already fallen horribly behind in a New Year’s Suggestion–I don’t like resolutions, they’re something passed by the United Nations that countries promptly ignore.

While looking at my overflowing bookcase it occurred to me that my affection for Hulu has been seriously detrimental to my reading. The books kept piling up, but I wasn’t flipping through them nearly as quickly. Seeing the backlog, I had to…stop getting books. Well, okay, it was more like I seriously slowed up on buying books. Mostly.

Something had to be done. All those books stacked up on and around and next to my bookshelf seemed to be shaming me. So, as a New Year’s Suggestion, I decided to try to read a book a week.

Right now February is nearly over and that New Year’s Suggestion has atrophied and is close to death. Something has to be done.

While my affection for Hulu is definitely part of the problem, another reason for my snail pace was that I just didn’t like the book I was reading. I felt like I should like the book because the setting was interesting and (it was a historical novel) well-researched with vivid period details. However, I’ve been in enough doomed relationships to know that arguing for the way things should be when it comes to preference, is a waste of time. Sometimes you just don’t like a book despite everything in its favor. Sometimes you’re just not that into a book.

This is a difficult thing for me because I get hooked on a premise and, if it isn’t grabbing me, I feel dumb for giving up on it. But I’m reading novels for entertainment, not studying for a test or pouring over them looking for the cure for cancer–I just want to be entertained by a good story. So, if the book isn’t entertaining, why am I wasting my time on it?

I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, maybe I’m the only one. But here’s how I’m trying to get back on track with my reading.

  • Put the boring book down. Yeah, it’s pretty elementary, but I thought I’d mention it just the same because it’s something I have to remind myself to do. There’s a whole world of books out there and only so much time to read, there’s no reason to waste it on dull reading material. With the rise of self-publishing and the increased competition for the fewer and fewer literate members of the general public, there are a lot of books being published and a lot of them really shouldn’t have been published. Sometimes it has very little to do with the book itself, I’ll find I’m just not in the mood for a particular book at that time and will come back to it later. Other times, well, sometimes the book just isn’t that good. Give it a rest and try it again later, read something else in the meantime.
  • Go with a tried and true author. I really enjoy finding new authors to read, but sometimes you just want to read a book by an author you trust. This is especially true when it’s an author who has an ongoing series with characters you like, then it feels like reconnecting with good friends. Here are some of my go-to authors: Will Thomas, Victoria Thompson, Colin Cotterill, Elizabeth Peters, and, a new favorite, C.S. Graham. Oh, and I can’t forget Mary Stewart, one of the pioneers of romantic suspense. She practically created the genre.
  • Look forward to new books. It’s good to have something to look forward to and it can help me clear through some reading material. Normally, with authors I really like, I try not to stay current with the series so I know I have one of their books on hand. This method doesn’t always work. I’ve been waiting for more than a year for another installment of Will Thomas‘ excellent Barker and Llewelyn series. I held that book in reserve for much longer than that. Fortunately, according a post from Thomas on Facebook, there’s a new novel coming soon and I can’t wait. And then there was the problem of Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris’ Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series. I blundered into their highly entertaining series as soon as it came out and I’m getting cranky with them for making me wait a year for another book–sometimes I just need to hear about the adventures of a heavily armed woman and her librarian archivist partner. All my grudges against the Ministry will be forgotten when The Janus Affair, second book in the series, is in my hands. Also, congratulations to Ballantine and Morris because Phoenix Rising, the first book in their series, was Finalist for Best Science Fiction of 2011 on Goodreads.com and winner of the 2011 Airship Award for best written steampunk.
  • Read paperbacks instead of hardcover novels. Even if I don’t have the time to just sit and read for hours on end, I tend to read more if I bring books with me and can read even a few pages at a time throughout the day when I’m waiting. For that, I prefer paperbacks because they don’t make my purse as heavy. Now, that point is moot if you have a nice, light e-reader, but if not, having a light paperback instead of a hefty hardcover can make a difference in whether or not you feel like bringing your book with you.

And there you have my plan (at least for the moment) for getting back on track in my reading. I may not make my goal of a book-a-week in 2012, I may not even be remotely close, but I’ll be doing better than I’m doing right now. But what do you think? What are your tips for finding time to read in your busy life? Oh, and if you have a good book recommendation, do tell! I can quit any time this book addiction lets me.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2012 in Books, Uncategorized

 

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The Curious Misadventures of the Unlikeliest Sports Blogger–Part 4

Or, Where I Stop Toying with Ted’s Patience and Get On with the Story

Ted is a patient person, but even his patience has come to an end. He has demanded to know what happens in Part 4 of my curious misadventures of the unlikeliest sports blogger.

So there I was, writing under the name Skol Girl, a member of the Daily Norseman site for about a month and suddenly they were asking if I was interested in writing for the site’s front page. I pinched myself and enjoyed that feeling of professional validation for longer than I should have when it suddenly occurred to me that my first front page story would land just before the Minnesota Vikings’ rematch with the New Orleans Saints.

Not since 1998 had Vikings fans experienced that acutely agonizing sense of what could have been the way they did after the Vikings lost to the Saints in the NFC Championship game during the 2009 post-season. The game was close, scrappy, with both Brett Favre and Drew Brees marshalling their forces for incredible scoring drives. But the game ended with the Saints going on to the Super Bowl and the Vikings just going home. For the NFL to start the 2010 season with a rematch of that game…well, I got the feeling the NFL was setting up the Vikings to get completely trounced so the Super Bowl-winning Saints would have that glorious, “conquering-champion” moment.

My suspicion stemmed from the fact that the NFC Championship game was incredibly costly for the Vikings. Several key players were injured in that game and even several months later the Vikings’ roster was still gashed. I had my story.

I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little concerned about suddenly writing for the Daily Norseman front page. Because what I wrote would be on the site’s main page, a lot more people were going to be reading my articles and I really wanted to validate Chris Gates’ (our fearless leader) decision to add me to the staff. However, if I had known how I came to be offered that position, I would have been more interested in what Ted thought. Ah yes, we have come to the Ted portion of my tale and the explanation of why I refer to him as my fairy godfather.

Back when I was snarking back at Ted’s supportive comments on my fan posts (Part 3), I had no idea that he was sharing that same opinion with Chris and the other front-page writer Eric. See, my timing for drawing Ted’s attention was surprisingly good. Just as Ted was noticing my writing, the Daily Norseman found itself in need of another front-page writer.

It was Ted who recommended me for the front-page staff. He read my fan posts on the Daily Norseman and liked my peculiar take on football writing and my interaction with other DN members in the comments, which is kind of a big deal with DN.

As a chick in the sausage fest world of football writing, the odds are good that at least one guy in the entire readership of DN might be a dick. Thus far, I had been remarkably lucky in avoiding those people. However, there were a couple of the condescending “honey” and “sweetie” comments where guys kindly explained to me the error of my ways regarding my opinions. Actually, for some of those guys being condescending was probably a kindness—if I’d been a guy there’s a good chance they would have been a lot more abusive in their disagreement. Even though those “oh sweetie, let me explain something to you” comments grated on me, I tried not to answer back combatively. Sometimes it was a struggle, but I didn’t have many readers and couldn’t afford to start alienating them.

But Ted noticed my efforts. And it made him curious about me. Curiosity isn’t too surprising since a chick writing about football is only a little less rare than a two-headed duck. So, Ted wandered over here to WordPress to see what else I had written. Turns out he liked that too. Despite my family’s skepticism, it turns out I do have charm. Unfortunately, it’s only in print form.

When I set about writing that first front-page story, I had not a clue that Ted was my fairy godfather. That’s probably good because I had enough nerves about that first story, if I’d known he had vouched for me I would have been a wreck. Like I said, I wanted to validate the decision to add me to the front-page staff. It had me feeling insecure and as if I needed to up my game.

That professional insecurity is a spooky feeling and the urge to reinvent myself was strong. Fortunately, I had one of my better moments of self-awareness and realized that my style, quirky as it was, was what got me noticed so I should probably just be myself. I could improve, make sure to double-check all my facts and stuff like that, but stay myself. Even though my style wasn’t full of statistical analysis, it was full of me and I would sink or swim on the DN front-page as me.

I wrote exactly what I felt about the Vikings rematch with the Saints—dread. If the Vikings’ first game of the 2010 season was as costly as the last game of the 2009 season, I suspected that the Vikings would be limping the rest of the season. So, as humorously as I could, I wrote about how I would be cringing during that rematch and titled it “Wincing the Night Away,” I posted it, and then I waited.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from my first front-page post. That was probably good because any expectations I might have had would have been wrong. I got a ton of positive comments, some flirty banter, a marriage proposal, and asked out for a date. That guy who asked me out? A Saints fan–nope, not making that up. Real pity he was on the other end of the country because a guy who likes football and quotes Oscar Wilde is certainly worth meeting.

Despite my fears that DN readers would be outraged to have me doing my quirky schtick on the front page of the best Minnesota Vikings blog around, no one was calling for my immediate removal or saying I should be beaten with sticks. It was a surprise. Little did I know, bigger surprises were in store.

As always, thanks for reading. Join me for Part 5 and the bigger surprises. They may or may not have something to do with lights, cameras, and action.

 

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Feeling Superstitious About MN Vikings’ Loss in San Diego

Normally, I’m not a superstitious person. I have a black cat in residence who is constantly crossing my path, I don’t shy away from picking up coins that are tails side up, on occasion I have opened umbrellas indoors, and 13 never seemed like a particularly ominous number to me. But my normally levelheaded attitude is pretty much gone when it comes to football. Games like Minnesota Vikings‘ season opener against the San Diego Chargers, don’t do much to dispel that tendency.

While there are plenty of reasons for why the Vikings wrote A Tale of Two Halves at Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday, it seems that bad ju-ju is as likely a reason as everything else I have heard.

I trace the change in the game’s momentum to the seemingly reasonable idea of putting my 20-month-old niece down for a quick nap. My sister and my niece were flying back home to Michigan Sunday evening and we thought it was worth a try to get Rookie (a.k.a. baby niece) to take a nap because it was going to be a late evening for her. Until this point, Rookie had been suited up in her new Adrian Peterson jersey and she was grooving to “Skol Vikings.” It was crazy cute to walk into the room and see her get excited that the rest of us were wearing purple jerseys just like her jersey.

All suited up and armed with a wiggly toddler, we watched the Vikings start off their season with Percy Harvin returning the ball 103 yards for a touchdown. That opening play was fantastic, but things got even better because the Vikings’ offensive line did a respectable job of helping Donovan McNabb stay upright and giving Adrian Peterson holes to run through. Free-agent acquisition Michael Jenkins gave us hope for the receiving corps. Fred Pagac’s aggressive defense kept San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers from getting comfortable with pressure from the Vikings’ revamped defensive line. Mike Singletary’s linebackers tackled like men on a mission. The Vikings looked a lot more like a team making a statement than a team in a dreaded rebuilding year.

Then Rookie, much to her very vocal dismay, was put down for a nap and things went all pear-shaped for the Vikings. Now, I suppose that it might be silly to credit the Vikings’ second-half collapse with the absence of a toddler whose understanding of the game is comprised solely of her affection for the color purple but, when faced with the possibility that Bill Musgrave’s offense is no better at adapting and executing than Brad Childress’s offense, I lean toward the missing toddler theory because it’s a much easier fix.

That offensive breakdown was the loose thread that unraveled what could have been an upset victory for the Vikings on the road in San Diego. Instead, the Vikings are starting the season in the NFC North’s basement because all the other teams in the division won their opening games. While being one game behind the rest of the division is hardly hole the Vikings can’t climb out of if they correct the problems they had on Sunday, it isn’t the way Leslie Frazier wanted to start his first full season as head coach, and it isn’t a great way to build positive momentum for a team that is seeking a new stadium.

For me, the most mind-boggling moment in Sunday’s game came when the Vikings sent Joe Webb in to take snaps in the Wildcat formation. As much as I love watching Joe Webb play, I’m biased against the Wildcat formation-not because it isn’t a good idea, but because I’ve never really seen it work. It’s supposed to confuse and confound an opposing defense so the offense can break lose an explosive play. While the Wildcat did confuse the Chargers on Sunday, it also seemed to confuse the Vikings because after two plays they were in a third-and-ten situation. But the worst part of it was that the Vikings squandered the momentum Adrian Peterson had created with two strong runs.

Adrian Peterson wasn’t awarded a $100 million seven-year contract just because he’s a swell guy, he got it because he’s a strong, punishing running back. The offense is built around him and he’s going to be the face of the franchise for many years, so why, why would you take the ball away from him when he’s hot? Seems to me that Bill Musgrave would do well to heed the immortal words of Bruce Springsteen, “Tramps like us, baby we were born to run.”

When you’ve got a talent like Adrian Peterson, why would you want to do anything else?

The Vikings’ running game is the center of the Vikings’ team identity. It’s meant to punish and demoralize defenders who try to stop it, the running game sets up the passing so the quarterback can take advantage of opposing defenses loading the box to stop the run, and it takes time off the clock helping the team win the time of possession battle. Taking time off the clock is especially handy in spelling the defense so they have the energy to stuff the opposing run and force them into third-and-long situations. Therefore, I cannot understand the decision to abandon an effective running game for a gimmicky play. The Vikings didn’t need to do it.

When faced with both the possibility that the Vikings new offensive system is falling prey to the same mistakes that their previous offensive system made, is it any wonder that I prefer to hope the offense can be fixed by making sure Rookie doesn’t miss a game? Making sure my niece has access to NFL Season Ticket is a lot easier than suffering through another season of Childressian offense.

*This post is also available at The Daily Norseman, a fantastic SB Nation blog. At The Daily Norseman I write under the name Skol Girl.

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2011 in Football, Sports Writing

 

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It Takes Two To Make a Thing Go Write…

…At least it does in both of these novels

A couple years ago I read a book written by two authors. I thought having a male/female writing team would be a good combination, giving more realistic reactions for both genders. Instead, the book was awful. No, I take that back, it was worse than awful. It was abysmal. In fact, I dislike this book so much I refuse to even mention the title or author names in case someone can actually think of some kind of defense for that craptastic book.

That experience made me seriously skeptical of writing teams. I realize that this was not particularly fair, but I did have a couple good reasons for my thinking. First, that book (that shall not be named) was incredibly bad. Second, writing styles can be like fingerprints, unique to the individual, therefore, combining writing styles can be challenging. Third, logistically, it is challenging to combine information without a bunch of mistakes—brings up bad memories of group projects in grad school. Fourth, people tend to like to be stars more than team players, no matter what bunk they say might say during job interviews.

And yet, despite these deeply held beliefs that team-writing is a challenge few conquer, I took a chance on not one, but two books written by male/female writing teams. Yes, I contradict myself.

The interesting premises of these books persuaded me to put doubts aside and take another chance on writing teams and it is a good thing I did. Both books were excellent. Widely different in premise, setting, and style, but both were solidly good reads that left me wanting more.

The Archangel Project

C.S. Graham

Back when The Davinci Code by Dan Brown came out, it seemed like everyone was reading his stuff and I followed suit. But, while Brown had a great knack for suspense, the female characters in his book were such stupid nymphos it was laughable. I’d be reading along thinking to myself, “I don’t know any woman who would think that” or “that doesn’t seem realistic.”

A fiction writer knows right off that the readers are fully aware that the story before them isn’t true. Therefore the writer has to create a mood in the novel with enough realism so that readers can suspend disbelief and just allow themselves to be swept along with the story. When I’m thinking, “no woman would do that” I’m not being swept along. Not only am I not suspending my disbelief and letting the story whisk me away, I’m also kind of pissed off.

One day, while checking out the new mystery section at my favorite Barnes and Noble, I found a book by C.S. Harris, a mystery series set in Regency era England. In reading about the author, I discovered that she (real name Candice Proctor) also wrote another series with her husband, Steven Harris, under the pseudonym C.S. Graham. This series, set in present-day New Orleans, also sounded fascinating.

Even though I didn’t know a thing about remote viewing, I wanted to take a chance on the October “Tobie” Guinness/Jax Alexander series. I just had a strong gut instinct that a woman who wrote her own series of mysteries would be able to exert enough influence on her husband to write a female character who was believable. Turns out, my gut was actually right.

October “Tobie” Guinness is attempting to restart her life in New Orleans after she was discharged from the Navy. A connection through the VA hospital leads to her research and development as a “remote viewer” with Tulane professor Henry Youngblood. Using Tobie’s cognitive abilities Professor Youngblood unwittingly uncovers a domestic terror plot with international implications—information that people are willing to kill to keep secret. As the one who remotely viewed this explosive information, Tobie’s life expectancy is suddenly nil. Her only chance of survival is black-sheep CIA agent Jax Alexander, a guy the current director of the CIA is actively working to destroy, and unraveling the mystery of the information she uncovered.

This book takes place over the course of about three days, three very breathless days of Tobie running for her life. The Archangel Project moves between Tobie, Jax, and the bad guys who are relentlessly chasing them through steamy, post-Katrina New Orleans. The descriptions of the crippled, but recovering, city were so vivid that I swear I could almost smell salt water and feel the sticky air. Better yet, despite being together for a solid two days of adrenaline-charged near-death, Tobie and Jax managed to avoid sliding into one of the ridiculous sexual encounters that so often plague other books like this. I made the mistake of starting to read this book at night, it is damn hard to put down. Can’t wait to get my hands on the second book in the series, The Deadlight Connection*.

Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel

Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

Prior to reading this book, I didn’t know much of anything about steampunk. I knew about gamers, and Goths, and gloom cookies, but not steampunk. Turns out, steampunk is sort of like a lovechild between Victorian era steam-powered technology and science fiction fueled alternate history. The culture, manners, and social mores of the late 19th century gets creatively mashed together with steam-powered innovation, science fiction, and a liberal sprinkling of whimsy in this series debut Phoenix Rising.

Miss Eliza Braun, a proud daughter of New Zealand, is an agent for the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. She is fearless, progressive, has a deep affection for dynamite and firearms, and is currently being punished. Instead of working in the field chasing down threats to the Crown, she’s stuck in a damp basement learning from archivist (do not call him a librarian) Wellington Books, a man she recently rescued. Eliza is bored to tears cataloging evidence other agents bring back from field assignments, but then chance offers her a rare opportunity to investigate the unsolved case that destroyed her former partner. With Wellington Books, reluctantly, at her side, Eliza investigates a conspiracy that will take them from London dives to opulent country estates, requiring both of their skill sets to keep them alive.

Ballantine and Morris have created an appealing steampunk Odd Couple in Eliza and Wellington and I’m really annoyed that I discovered this series so early on. Ideally, I like to stumble across established series so I don’t have to impatiently wait for the next book in the series to come out. But the premise and characters in this series were so fun I didn’t want to wait. I’m glad I didn’t, even though now I’m stuck waiting for the next installation to hit bookshelves.

Part of what I liked so much about this book is that it did just about everything right. The historical touches of gritty Victorian England were vivid, the action sequences were well-paced and made sense, and the banter between Eliza and Wellington was funny. This bit, where Eliza comes dragging into the office late and dead tired after a long night of running down a lead in the case, was one of my favorite examples of the desert-dry humor used in Phoenix Rising’s dialogue.

“You’re late,” he reminded her, punching into the engine his tea sequence.

Eliza’s hand dropped to her lap as she let her head fall back. “Yes, Books, I know. I’m such a bad, bad agent. I should be put across your knee and spanked.”

“Your fantasies are not my concern,” he observed dryly.

In contrast to The Archangel Project, there is a lot more titillation and sexual tension in Phoenix Rising. The events in Phoenix Rising take place over the course of a couple weeks and the action ebbs and flows so I don’t mind the addition of sexual tension and a possible eventual relationship between Eliza and Wellington–to me, that makes sense. What doesn’t make sense to me is when the main characters are concussed, dealing with gunshot wounds, and still somehow feel like getting their freak on, ala Dan Brown.

Even though I’m reviewing these two books together, they are very different. For those of you who like a good historical mystery with a sci-fi twist, Ballentine and Morris’s Phoenix Rising might just be the ticket for a nice, late summer read. And, for those who are into government conspiracies, CIA operatives, and racing the clock to save the world in a present-day setting, you might want to check out The Archangel Project. Both books are good reads that lead off what promises to be two very good series.

*I looked for The Deadlight Connection and couldn’t find it. Turns out, somewhere between putting the first chapter of book two at the back of The Archangel Project and it actually coming out in print, there was a title change. So, book two in the Tobie Guinness/Jax Alexander series is The Solomon Effect and not The Deadlight Connection.

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2011 in Books, Lifestyle, Series

 

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The Curious Misadventures of the Unlikeliest Sports Blogger–Part 3

The NFL lockout has dragged into its fourth month, the Minnesota Vikings and lawmakers are at odds over the Arden Hills stadium proposal, and not even Bryant McKinnie, who usually doesn’t disappoint, has caused a scandal lately. To say that stories about football in general and the Vikings in particular are thin is kind of like saying George Hamilton has a bit of a tan.

So, with absolutely nothing else to distract me, it seemed like a good time to turn my attention back to the long-neglected topic of how the heck I got into sports writing. That’s right we’re back with Part 3 of the Curious Misadventures of the Unlikeliest Sports Blogger. Which you already know from reading the title of this article. Hmmm, kind of stole my own thunder on that one.

But enough of that, back to the story.

To recap, I’m a girly-girl crème puff who also happens to rabidly love Minnesota Vikings football. In Part 1 of this series I wrote about how in August 2009, I responded to an ad asking for writers to blog about the Vikings on a site called vikingsmix and suddenly, I was writing about football every week–a prospect that wouldn’t have scared me so much if I had known just how few readers vikingsmix had. Then, in Part 2 of this series, I mentioned discovering the Daily Norseman and how different it was from vikingsmix.com. When I posted a story on the Daily Norseman I knew that people actually read it because they left comments. It was cool to write something and then share a dialogue about it with other fans. I wrote a couple posts and started to get some attention, not much, but some. Then, I posted “Brett Favre Returns to Football Again, Er, Again-Again.”

He’s ba-ack!

Eventually, the day will come when the football world no longer cares about every single thing Brett Favre does. Fortunately for me, August 18, 2010 was not that day.

Favre returning to the Vikings in 2010 was big news. It wasn’t as big a deal as it was the year before, but it was still big news. The Wilfs sent Steve Hutchinson, Ryan Longwell, and Jared Allen to Mississippi to reason with Favre and they managed to get him to agree to return for another season. Once again, Minnesota Vikings fans wanted to read everything they could about Brett Favre—even Daily Norseman fan posts written by Skol Girl. Yeah, that would be me.

My August 18, 2010 post about Favre rejoining the Vikings garnered lots of comments, lots more than my previous posts, and it even received a few recs. The recs were particularly exciting because they kept my story at the top of the fan post queue, exposing my story to more readers. However, more important than the comments or the recs, that post attracted the attention of Ted, my fairy godfather.

Where I meet Ted, sort of

Ted didn’t sprinkle me with pixie dust or say, “bibbity-boppity-boo”, but he was the first member of the Daily Norseman staff to leave a comment on one of my stories. Complimentary comments were always nice to read, but complimentary comments from someone on the site’s staff were even better. I love to write and it’s something I do almost more naturally than speaking, but I’m not doing this to get poor—so, knowing that someone on the Daily Norseman staff was reading my material made me feel hopeful.

That hopeful feeling was validated when, about two weeks later, I heard from Ted again. After my story about a particularly ugly preseason game he left me a comment saying I was a great writer and that he loved reading my posts. I remember I smiled benignly at my computer screen and asked, aloud, “Then why the hell haven’t you hired me?”

The computer screen did not respond. Fortunately, I didn’t expect it to.

The right ingredients

Success in life is about working hard and making the right choices, but it’s also about timing and luck. Ideally, through hard work and good choices, you’ll be in a position to take advantage of luck when the timing is right. This combination has almost always eluded me.

But not in early September 2010.

It was the day after the draft party for my fantasy football league and I was dead tired. We had stayed up ridiculously late enjoying the Minneapolis nightlife on a rooftop patio the night before. I was so tired that it hurt to focus my eyes enough to read. And yet, for some reason, I thought this was a good time to check my email.

Lurking in my inbox was an email from someone called Christopher Gates. I didn’t know who that was but the subject line was about the Daily Norseman. Despite not knowing who Chris was, I opened the email. It was an offer to write for the front page of the Daily Norseman.

I won’t kid you, in my sleep-deprived state, and considering what I’d been telling my computer screen less than a week before, I was under the distinct impression I was being punked. In retrospect, I can see that that didn’t make sense, but at the time I was really, really tired and not thinking straight. I did the wisest thing I could think of, I logged out and went to bed.

The next day, being much more rested and no longer seeing double, I reread the email from Chris. Good thing too because the offer was genuine. That’s how, just a month after I became at member on the Daily Norseman, I was a front-page writer.

For once, it seemed like my hard work and good choices had put me in the position to take advantage of some well-timed luck.

Thanks for reading and I’m fairly sure that in Part 4 of my Misadventures I’ll get around to mentioning marriage proposals, stalkers, and my first front-page post for the Daily Norseman. Oh, and more about Ted’s role in how I got the offer to write for the front page.

 

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Ode to a Book: The Bibliophile Defends the Printed Page, Sort Of

The world is changing. In the last hundred years we’ve moved from the industrial age to the technological age. And now our technology upgrades so rapidly gadgets are obsolete almost as soon as they hit the market–a smaller, faster, cheaper version out as soon as you get the original. It leaves me wondering if there are any remaining constants, any traditions that transcend generations and gadgets.

Mostly, I don’t mind the techno-encroachment and the convenience it brings. But there is one place where the rapid demise of tradition makes me wince–the bookstore.

E-readers are exploding onto the market. These sleek tablet computers let you travel with an entire library, but take up no more space than a single book. They allow you to purchase new reading material anywhere you can find a wifi connection. E-readers and digital books are the wave of the future and I understand their  practicality and appeal, but I’m reluctant to give up the joy of cracking the binding and smelling the paper of a traditional printed book.

More than a feeling.

I grew up loving books, largely because I’m a night person. Like a lot of little kids, I didn’t want to go to bed. I was absolutely certain fascinating, exciting things happened as soon as I closed my eyes. So, I tried to push back my bedtime with bedtime stories. Maybe you did that too, begging your mom or dad for another book before going to sleep, one more story while they held you close and read words you could recite by heart, and all the while you’re rubbing your eyes and fighting off sleep.

Now that I have a niece, I’m rediscovering that same cozy, bedtime-story feeling. Baby Girl, now a toddler, loves her books. Once, I carried her too close to the bookshelf and she tried to launch all 21 pounds of herself at the shelf like a flying squirrel. When she wants a book, she’s gotta have her book–now. Her current favorite is Heads, written and illustrated by Matthew Van Fleet. It’s a book for babies and toddlers, complete with thick, easy to turn pages, different textures for her to touch, and tabs that she can push or pull to see the images on the page move.

Since Baby Girl started walking she doesn’t like sitting still or being held, there’s just too much for her to see and do. But sometimes, for book time, she puts that aside to sit on a lap, be cuddled, and turn pages. And in that moment I get to share something with that 21st century digital kid that I did when I was her age.

When I was little my favorite picture book was Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day written by Judith Viorst and Ray Cruz. I loved that book and I still do. There’s something strangely comforting in knowing that bad days can happen to anyone, even in Australia. In college, I wrote a column in the school paper about my distress over losing my copy of Alexander. Not long after reading that, a friend found me a replacement copy at a garage sale. This book is slightly battered and dog-eared with a bluish splotch on the cover that could either be fossilized gum or paint, I’m not sure. And yet, I like it even better for knowing it was read, and that sticky, little fingers turned the pages while someone read the familiar words aloud.

Bibliophile unplugged.

Packing for a trip requires at least three different power cords and chargers nowadays. I can’t tell you how tired I get of making sure to plug in, well, everything. It’s almost nice to have at least one thing that I know will work no matter how long ago I put it down and that makes a printed paperback more relaxing for me. And, as an ever-so-slightly clutzy person, I like knowing that if a book slides off my bed or gets bumped off a table or falls in the bathtub (that happened with my copy of The Great Brain), I can still read it.

Tradition.

And, it isn’t just the joy of the books themselves, it’s also the traditions I have with them. Browsing used bookstores is a habit that ranks just slightly below a compulsion for me. Armed with a list of the authors and books I’m looking for, I hunt the aisles. It’s like being in a Humane Society for books, all of them sitting there just waiting for a good home. While I know it’s easier to get a digital versions of some of the books I’m looking for, there isn’t that same thrill of the hunt involved with pointing, clicking, and downloading.

Viva la resistance!

My nostalgic love of traditional books has also taken on a slight air of resistance. I don’t like the idea of buying something but not really owning it. Can you resell your e-book after you read it? Share it with a friend? See, I can’t help think that e-books are being promoted by publishers who want to take a chunk out of the used-book market by creating single-use books. Sure an e-book is cheaper than a regular book, but since it can’t be resold everyone who wants to read it has to buy it. You can’t simply finish a book, tell someone you liked it, and then hand your book to the person. With ebooks, you either have to surrender your e-reader to the person for as long as it takes them to read the book, or, and more likely, that person has to buy a copy of the book you’re recommending. The second option is probably what publishers are aiming for, and it functions more like a book lease rather than an outright purchase.

Ode to a disappearing dream.

As a writer I’ve dreamed of having a book-signing. Now, I have to wonder if that’s going to be a dream lost to digital books. How would you even have a book-signing for an e-book? Writing is something of an undervalued skill. Since it is something nearly everyone can do it doesn’t garner a lot of respect. The idea of eventually having people gather to hear me read from my book and then sign copies of it for them helps keep me going. That I might have missed a window that was open for oh, the last few thousand years, is irksome.

I know that no matter what the format, print or digital, stories will still be told. And the story should be the important thing, not the medium. But books and I have spent a lot of good times together over the years and, judging from the state of my over-stuffed bookshelves, we’ll be spending a lot of time together for a while to come.

Who knows, the printed page, like vinyl records and horn-rimmed glasses, could become the new retro. I think I’ll crack a binding or two and try to start a trend. Lower the needle on my turntable on your way out.

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2011 in Books, Lifestyle, Series

 

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