Book Review: Finding Gloria

Finding Gloria is a memoir written by journalist Marianne Curtis. It can be found on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.ca/Finding-Gloria-Marianne-Curtis-ebook/dp/B007XA222Y (NOTE I do not receive any money from the sales of this book)

Finding Gloria is honest, sometimes funny, and often painful. Given up for adoption at birth Marianne lives through a traumatic childhood. She breaks free as a teen only to find that the emotional trauma has left scars, scars that send her reeling from one bad experience to the next.

Though brutally honest Marianne treats every member of her family and community with respect. She repeatedly states that this is her experience and her memories and nothing more. She omits every name, allowing those involved to maintain their privacy. And if she is honest about the shortcomings and failings of others she is twice as hard on herself.

This book was hard to put down. Our book club read it and we were all deeply moved and disturbed by the things that occurred in this book. But the book was uplifting as well. Here among the horrors of her childhood were the good people who helped her along. And she was able to eventually find her birth family.

5 stars. I would recommend this book to anyone, if you like non-fiction, if you or someone you know is a survivor of child abuse or sexual assault, if you are considering writing your own memoir, this is a must read book.

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Book Review: If We Had No Winter

I had the chance to read an ARC copy of this amazing book which is being officially released today by D.L. Pitchford. You can download your copy here: https://www.amazon.com/Had-Winter-Billie-Dixon-Book-ebook/dp/B06XR4PZ81/

If We Had No Winter is a contemporary drama set in a small college city in the US. The main character, Wilhelmina, is a freshman living in the dorms, just down the hall from her childhood friend and next door neighbour, Jimmy. In a refreshing twist there is no romantic connection between Jimmy and Wilhelmina (who is called Billie by her friends and Mina by her father).

Billie’s family includes her mother and sister (Imogene or Mo) back home and her father, Dr. Elijah Dixon, who is the head of the Mathematics department at the same college Billie is attending. Billie has not seen her father in the three years since he and her mother divorced.

Jimmy’s parents, Charlie and Thea (which is my grandmother’s name!) also feature strongly in the background. Other characters include various professors, Jimmy’s roommate, Xander, Billie’s roommate, Val, a half dozen other freshmen living in the same hallway, and Zane, a senior whom Billie is tutoring in Calculus.

 

I guess this book is best described as a coming of age novel. Billie has a lot of hang-ups because of the divorce. She was always closer to her father than her mother and he left. She has trouble with trust, with letting people in. Her pain and the way it manifests in her life is honest and feels very real. I never felt that she was whiny or annoying, except that I completely understood her friends’ frustrations with her. Xander was a complete ass but at least he was an honest ass and I found myself liking him even though Billie, the first person narrator, found him aggravating.

Billie was sympathetic without coming across as pathetic. She struggled without her issues feeling fake or repetitive. She gained ground and lost ground. She was stubborn and sometimes that resulted in some poor choices. She was hurt and that led to other poor choices. But she was always able to make her own choices and she had to face honest and realistic consequences for them.

Also – Zane was a detailed, subtly written character whose presence grew on you in a certain way. The reaction I had was exactly right for who he turned out to be. You could see the hints of it. It was masterfully portrayed.

I loved how each of the little steps Billie took towards growing up snowballed forcing her to take each of the next steps. But at the same time she still had every opportunity to make bad choices, and regularly did. She just felt so real. I could believe the choices she made and her motivation for making them.

 

I give this book a hearty 5 stars and I look forward to reading more by D.L. Pitchford, especially Billie Dixon Book 2.

Book Review: Charlotte’s Rescue

Charlotte’s Rescue is a contemporary literary fiction novel written by Violet Moore. It can be found on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Charlottes-Rescue-Violet-Moore-ebook/dp/B00G80RFMC/ (NOTE I do not receive any money from the sale of these books)

Charlotte’s Rescue is one of the books we read at our book club. It is the first in a series of four (Charlotte on the Run, Charlotte’s Nemesis, Charlotte’s Reward). Charlotte’s Rescue begins with Charlotte’s birth and continues until she is 18 or 19 years old. Told in 3rd person we first get the view point of Charlotte’s mom, then Charlotte herself as she gets older.

Charlotte is a very good girl. So good in fact that I found her a little unbelievable. I know there are genuinely good people in the world but Charlotte rarely has those internal moments of conflict, the “I could slap him – no, you have to be nice. Deep breath, let it go” sort of thing. I found the other characters in the book more fleshed out and easier to connect with.

That small complaint aside the book is an easy read, very uplifting and overall light-hearted. What added to the reading pleasure for me was that it was set in the same small city where we have our book club, Steinbach, MB. If you enjoy books that are set in real places, where characters attend read schools and shop at read stores and eat at real restaurants then this book is for you. If you like reading about the early 90s, those years before cellphones and internet, a story set in a peaceful small town where people really care about each other, then this book is for you.

Just because this book is about real, average people doesn’t mean it’s boring. There is still conflict and tension but it is the sort that we can all identify with. I’ve never had to face a dragon but I’ve struggled to pay the bills. I think I’d rather face the dragon.

Violet does a beautiful job of capturing the joy and innocence of youth and the idyllic qualities of small town life.

I gave this book 4 stars and I am looking forward to finishing the series.

Book Review: Casey’s Climax

Casey’s Climax is an erotic short romance for mature readers. 18+ is advised. The story was written by Jax Lane and can be found on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Caseys-Climax-Jax-Lane-ebook/dp/B01DOW75Q2/ (NOTE I do not receive any royalties or kickback from the sales of this book)

This was an odd story for me to read because most people don’t call me Casia – they call me Casey. However, I am not the super curvy sexpot teenager that is depicted in this story. Not at all.

This is a fairly typical erotic short featuring a too good to be true gorgeous teen girl who is so sexy she’s intimidating and can’t get laid even though she wants it. Her best friend is pretty enough to get laid but not as sexy as her BFF.

The story relates their various plans to get Casey laid, including a taboo encounter with her BFF’s father. Yes, Casey is 18 in this story so no underage sex occurs.

The sex scenes are, well, sexy. They weren’t exactly realistic but then I don’t think people read these for the realism. The dialogue was a little stiff but the text was relatively error free.

It was short, 9 chapters over roughly 20 pages. I found it a little overpriced for the length compared to other fiction in this genre.

I gave it 3 stars.

Review – The Magnificent 7

I usually review books but I watched The Magnificent 7 last night and it stuck with me for a few reasons, mainly because of all the conversations going on right now about whitewashing in movies. WARNING: this post contains MAJOR spoilers.

Overview: The Magnificent 7 is about the valley of Rose Creek, a small farm community down river of a mine shortly after the Civil War. The settlers are being forced out by an unscrupulous mine owner. They go in search of help and find it in Sam Chisholm.

Sam (played by Denzel Washington) recruits six other men to assist him in protecting this town. The main cast of gunmen consists of an African-American, a Mexican, a Native-American, an Asian (please forgive me that I can’t be more specific, the movie mentions Shenghai so I’m assuming Chinese but I could be wrong), and three Caucasians of various backgrounds. As well, of the two main townsfolk you focus on, one is female, and she’s a good shot and she’s got a lot of guts.

There were several reasons why this movie stuck with me.

  1. The POC cast members were played by actors of those nationalities. There was no white washing in this movie. Of the named characters with lines 5 were non-white, 10 were white. Still leaning to the white roles of course, but more balanced than other movies.
  2. The main character, ring leader, and driving force of the movie was Denzel Washington. The second character slot would have to go either to Chris Pratt or Hailey Bennet.
  3. The black man is not a criminal. In fact he’s a sanctioned warrant officer in Kansas and a peace officer in 7 states and the Indian Province.
  4. The female lead is not helpless. She is courageous and winds up fighting alongside the men. At the same time she does not have to cut her hair or wear pants. She is a widow and she doesn’t have to fall in love with one of the gun men.
  5. The movie passes the Bechdel Test. There are two named female characters and they talk about something other than men, though only briefly and only once. Still, combine this with the fact that the female lead has a story arc that centers on revenge and not romance, and that she has agency and fulfills her own story arc, those are all pluses.
  6. The story line focuses on a conflict between a white town and a white business man. This isn’t a white-invasion of Native land movie (except of course that all those early western towns were built on Native land, but that’s not the focus of the movie). This isn’t a white-saviour movie with a white man coming in and saving a Native village.
  7. SPOILER Of all the gunmen, only one of the POC characters dies. That’s right. The three surviving gunmen are all POC. And not a single woman dies in the final fight sequence that you see, or that is overly focused on. And they ride off together. No lone hero at the end of this movie.
  8.  The movie actually shows the men bonding (a short fall in Suicide Squad). While some of their motives for being in the fight are thin by the time it comes to “this is your last chance to bale” they are all committed to the town and each other and you believe it.
  9. The movie shows a character with PTSD. I’m not sure how well they do with this representation, I would love to hear other opinions on this, but he’s there, and he knows something is “wrong”.
  10. The stunts were action movie big but too far over the top. Reload times weren’t shortened too badly. People took a realistic amount of damage. Property damage was realistic too.

The movie was fun. There were some amazing lines in there that made me chuckle. The pacing was good – you had time to connect to the characters, there were conversations, but there was tension and more than one action sequence. The movie built to a peak and had a fulfilling climax and conclusion.

My only complaint? Her voice over at the end was DUMB. They could have made a much stronger ending, something without the cliche and corniness. Overall I give it 4.5 stars.

 

Siblings Change Everything

I’m an oldest child. I have one younger sibling. If you ask us to recount various childhood memories we will remember them differently. The way we grew up, the way people treated us, the ways we interacted with each other, this has shaped our view of the past, and our personalities today.

Our cousin right between us in age and she was an only child for twelve or thirteen years. You can tell. We could tell. Weeks spent at the cabin were interesting. Her personality was different. Her needs and expectations were different.

I studied to be an Educational Assistant and we once took a look at birth order because it does have some effect on personality, in addition to other environmental influences.

Only children are a complex creature. An only child can be very independent, they may learn to entertain themselves, to be content alone for longer periods of time. Depending on other factors they can become independent quickly and benefit from more concentrated parental attention. Other factors can alter this: they may be needy, needing someone to entertain them all the time (I imagine an extroverted pre-school aged only child would be like this), instead of being independent they may be over dependent if the parents do everything for them. Only children have the reputation of being spoiled because they don’t have to share the Christmas budget with siblings.

First borns tend to mature faster, they are expected to help out around the house, to help their younger siblings. They can become resentful of it, or become protective and nurturing, depending on other environmental factors. First borns benefit from being alone with adults until their sibling comes along. They may develop verbal and motor skills earlier.

After that things get complicated depending on how many kids there are.

Younger siblings can struggle to find an identity. My other cousins, two boys, three years apart. The eldest was exceptionally intelligent, like reading Marx in junior high smart. He was serious, dedicated, fairly quiet, even tempered. His younger brother was louder, wilder, and less interested in books and puzzles. He was needy and pouty, at least until he discovered that he could play the piano, and well. Once he found what he was good at people stopped comparing him to his older brother. This one is book smart, that one is musically gifted. Apples and oranges. He had his own identity. This struggle is especially hard for middle children – those who are neither oldest or youngest, but can affect any younger sibling.

Last born, the the baby of the family. You’ll be the “baby” even as an adult. You will always be the last. The last first word, the last diaper change, the last school play. The baby often has a reputation as being spoiled but at the same time they tend to be partially raised by their siblings as well. Often the parents are not pushing the baby to exceed milestones, when they get there they get there. Keep them little and cute as long as possible, especially if it is a planned last.

Historically there were big implications to birth order.

The first born inherited the land and title of the father (if it is a noble or landed family). Freemen also had land to pass down though no titles. In lower class families the first born inherited the shop, the farm, or the trade of their father.

The second son was sent to learn another trade, usually one that complimented the first born’s. Got a family of fishermen? Apprentice out the second son to a fish monger. You breed horses? The second son gets to be a blacksmith. In wealthier families the second son could end up the steward to the first son, depending on just how wealthy the family was. There might also be multiple properties that could be split between them. Otherwise, it’s off to the army where the family’s wealth would buy them a high ranking position.

Third wealthy son? Military, with or without a bought rank.

Fourth wealthy son? Expect to be sent to a church school to serve the church as a priest, clerk, monk etc.

Fifth son and on? Soldier’s life, or trades for you!

In lower classes being battle fodder was always a choice, helping on the family farm or working as a labourer was common. With a little money for gear you could be a “sell sword” working for traders or merchants to protect them on the road. But generally as you went down the line there was less resources to help you get a start on life.

What got me thinking about all this was the huge difference between all this books about teens with no siblings. Or one sibling that’s hardly mentioned. Half the time they have no cousins, no grandparents – they’re either never mentioned or they’re dead or their parents are only children so there are no cousins. When you’re writing you want to keep your cast stream-lined so the reader doesn’t get confused. Why drop in a cousin for a single scene? On the other hand you have the sweeping cast of Game of Thrones. A dozen major and minor houses, each with 1-3 generations – parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, in-laws, rivalries. As a fan of the books first and the TV series second I admit that the genealogies are part of the intrigue and appeal of the books.

Having siblings changes a person’s personality and skill set. Only children have less of a chance to learn peace-keeping and compromising skills at a young age (though daycare is changing that in our society). First borns are latch-key kids at 12, escorting younger siblings home from school.

Our characters come to us as teens or adults, but people don’t start out that way. People have a childhood that shapes them, and not just the traumatic backstory stuff, but the little things. At what age did they do their own laundry? Did they have to share a bedroom? That changes you.  Sure, in contemporary western society we’re more likely to have 1-3 children as opposed to the 5 Stark children or (heaven forbid) the 36 recorded Frey children! Even in historical fiction 5-10 children is more than enough!!

As writers large families are hard. Each must be memorable, physically and in personality, or they blur together. It’s tempting to leave off the siblings and cousins for simplicity’s sake. But if we had a world of only children we’d be forgoing the influence siblings have on our characters’ development. As well, siblings can add nice little subplots to fill out a novel, and they give your characters someone to talk to, care about, hate, compete with, or protect.

In the end the choice is the author’s, it always is. But I think that a literary world of only children is going to be bland. I think it’s already on its way there.

What do you think?

Book Review: Children of Laramie

The Children of Laramie is a series of 8 clean western romances by Eliza King. (Note I do not receive any royalties or kickback from the sale of these books)

The Uncertain Bride and the Shy Rancher: https://www.amazon.com/MAIL-ORDER-BRIDE-Uncertain-Historical-ebook/dp/B01LYQJFNF/r

The Reluctant Bride and the Jealous Teacher: https://www.amazon.com/MAIL-ORDER-BRIDE-Reluctant-Historical-ebook/dp/B01MFAKRJB/r

The Christmas Bride and the Nearly Ruined Pastor: https://www.amazon.com/MAIL-ORDER-BRIDE-Christmas-Historical-ebook/dp/B01MFFJJ4V/

The Unexpected Bride and the Eager Shopkeeper: https://www.amazon.com/MAIL-ORDER-BRIDE-Unexpected-Shopkeeper-ebook/dp/B01MSTQOB2/

The Doubtful Bride and the Two Suitors: https://www.amazon.com/MAIL-ORDER-BRIDE-Doubtful-Historical-ebook/dp/B01NAPHL5C/

The Adventurous Bride and the Sheep Farmer: https://www.amazon.com/MAIL-ORDER-BRIDE-Adventurous-Historical-ebook/dp/B01NCTZ389/

The Distressed Bride and the Drifter: https://www.amazon.com/MAIL-ORDER-BRIDE-Distressed-Historical-ebook/dp/B01NAY3NGD/

The Hopeful Bride and the Fur Trader: https://www.amazon.com/MAIL-ORDER-BRIDE-Historical-Children-ebook/dp/B06WD1V211

In this series Eliza King returns to Laramie 20 years after Heather’s Humility, the final book in her Brides of Laramie series. This series features the children of the original 5 couples: Julie and Daniel, Claire and Edmund, Hannah and Jonathan, Vera and Christopher, and Heather and Mathew. Between them there are 11 children with the eldest, Claire’s daughter Katharine, now working at the Boston Women’s Academy.

Unlike the first series in which all the girls were mail order brides from Boston this series has more variety. But Eliza’s tight writing style and strong characterization continues to shine.

Gus is Mathew’s son from his first marriage, Heather’s step son, and he is sweet on Julie’s daughter, Beatrice. Of course they’re both shy and there’s a rich rancher’s son to compete with. It’s young love at its finest.

Christian is Christopher and Hannah’s son, just returned to from Boston to become a school teacher. He requests a bride and is sent a young woman who has no intention of marrying anyone! It’s up to him to win her affections before he loses her to some other eager bachelor in town.

Anna is Gus and Heather’s daughter and her gift is her voice. She loves to sing in the church choir. Unfortunately the new young pastor’s praise of her gift causes quite the scandal.

Samuel, Claire and Edmund’s son, was not looking for love when Sarah, a banker’s daughter, arrives in town. They pursue a brief, sweet courtship but her father’s work takes the family away from Laramie on short notice. Only with her gone does Samuel realize how deep his feelings for her are.

Maria is Anna’s younger sister and she has long been the subject of Kenneth’s admiration. Kenneth, Julie’s son, is certain he will marry his childhood sweetheart one day, even if she doesn’t pay him much attention. But then Jonathan’s son, Joseph, returns from law school. Once friends the boys become bitter rivals for Maria’s hand.

At the end of the love triangle story Maria makes her choice and the sore loser runs away to Texas where he buys a dilapidated sheep farm.Lonely, he sends Katharine a letter requesting a bride that is Maria in every way possible. What he gets is a feisty young woman who is not afraid of getting her hands dirty.

Helen is afraid for her life so Katharine helps her escape Boston by putting her on a train to Laramie. There she tugs at the protective heartstrings of the town drifter, Christian’s younger brother, Connor.

Shawn, the last of the Children of Laramie, has grown cold and cynical. He is out watching sheep for a local rancher when Helen arrives and he feels that if he had met her first he’d have had a chance with her. Everything he tries seems to fail. He winds up in Alaska chasing the golden dream. Instead he finds a young woman working in a tavern with no options. She’s not easily won however, and Shawn will have to straighten out his life, and his attitude.

The series wraps up with a sweet epilogue that illustrates how one couple of childhood sweethearts, 3 bachelors, 1 widower, and 4 mail order brides have grown into a three generation clan of family and friends.

I was really excited to read this story and revisit characters I already knew. The town of Laramie has grown in 20 years and the original characters are all in their late 30s, early 40s now. Eliza King gives a glimpse into the world of the wild west and provides a full array of varied and exciting characters.

I gave these books a range of 4-5 stars depending on the story.

The Power of the Small Goal

As I was struggling to beat my project-end avoidance habits and actually finish the 2nd draft of Rose from the Ash I stumbled back onto a system that I find useful but often neglect to use. We’re told to set goals, whether financial or project-based, for relationships and parenting and saving and travelling. Goals. Milestones. Everyone thinks they’re important but honestly they can be overwhelming.

My goal was to finish my book. Simple and yet on it’s own it was a huge undertaking. I know that from writing my first 3 novels. Starting projects is so much more appealing. I find myself world building for a project I won’t be able to start for three years yet. I’m playing with language creation when I should be editing. I made my own bullet journal. Yeah, I procrastinate hard sometimes.

So what’s working? Small goals. Finish the book is just too big. So when I had typing to do I set a daily typing goal – transcribe x number of pages onto the computer each day. I drew a box on my white board and put the goal number beside it and every time I reached the bottom of the page I got to put a bright orange check in the box.

I had 10 scenes to add to finish out the political plot line of the book and 10,000 words to go to reach my ideal word count so I made two lists of numbers on my white board. The blue numbers (16, 20, 23, 31, 32, 34, 35, 1, 7, 9) are the dates of the scenes that need to be written (on this world months have 36 days). 10 dates, 10 scenes. Every time I finish a scene I get to scratch a number off the list. The green numbers (56-64) are my thousand word mileposts. Every time I write another thousand words I get to scratch a number off that list. I hit 61,124 before I realized I’d passed the marker and actually cheered a little – loud enough that I startled my husband.

By breaking my goal (finish the book) into little tiny baby steps I’m motivated to continue. Sometimes I have to use bribes (I can only have a snack every 5 pages or every 2 scenes or I can get up and stretch at the next thousand word marker) but for the most part just being able to put another check on the board, scratch another item off the list, is enough of a boost to keep me going.

I love to do lists. I don’t always finish what’s on them, but I love them. I love crossing things off of them. I love that sense of accomplishment. So I’m celebrating every page typed, every thousand words written, every scene completed. And maybe I’ll beat these end of project blues long enough to reach the euphoric I FINISHED IT!

And then I can start on a new project. And that’s the best part.

Book Review: Tools for Your Creative Side

Tools for Your Creative Side: Free and Easy Online and Application Resources for All Things Creative is a tech guide written by Jason Greiner. It can be found on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Tools-Your-Creative-Side-Application-ebook/dp/B01LX7QS48/. (NOTE I do not receive any royalties of kickback from the sale of this book)

Tools for your Creative Side is a short e-book, only 72 pages including front matter. Each page has a screen shot, a website name, a website address, and a brief description of the website. Each website is either free, freemium, or inexpensive to use.

Websites range from meme creators to video editors, sound editors to grammar checkers. A few websites are for removing backgrounds from images, useful for logo and ad design.

Personally I found there wasn’t much in this book for me, as a writer. The majority of the sites and apps were for visual artists, videographers, and musicians. I also found that while the descriptions were good they were very basic. More details, such as a basic tutorial or site tour would have been beneficial.

While it is nice to have all of these services listed in one place I’m sure you could get most of this information from a search engine. The only benefit to buying the book is that these sites have been vetted by the author so you know you’re not going to a spyware/malware site.

I gave this book 3 stars because it is error free with good presentation. I just didn’t find it overly useful.