Friday, July 31, 2015

Buy My Friends' Books!

I thought I'd do something a little different here today. (Who am I trying to kid? I needed a post and didn't have anything ready, so I'm improvising!) I haven't posted book reviews here in a long time--not only is Amazon patrolling their own site in search of friends reviewing authors' books, they're always on the lookout for reviews by book bloggers. I don't want to be mistaken for a book blogger and have all of my reviews dumped, nor do I want my author friends to lose my reviews.

The idea of not allowing authors to review books is ridiculous. For as long as I've been in this nutty business, conventional publishers have turned to other authors in the same genres for endorsements used to sell books. Amazon says they're giving more value to the reviews that get the most Helpful votes. Well, if you take a look at the reviews on any book, more often than not, the most helpful reviews come from...yep, other authors.

Anyway, I thought I'd devote today's post to giving a shout-out to books by some of my author friends I've reviewed on Amazon. If you haven't already bought their books, what are you waiting for?






Penniless Hearts by Eve Gaal




I love a good romance. I love happy endings. And I love novels and movies set in Hawaii. Penniless Hearts is all that...and it has a heroine I can definitely identify with. Author Eve Gaal has a gift for characterization--Penny Himmell is a delightful protagonist, an artist with a true artist's spirit, restless, yearning. She wants more from life than she has at the start of her story. She feels taken for granted on all levels--by her father, by her boyfriend, and by her boss. She wants adventure. She wants romance. She's convinced there's something better out there for her...somewhere. And she's willing to take the chance and go for that brass ring. Like most young women in her predicament, she falls for the dubious charms of a bad boy pilot who lures her off to the genuine charms of the Hawaiian islands--and an adventure she and the reader will never forget. I know I won't! Penniless Hearts is one of the best novels I've read in a very long time. 



Secondhand Shoes by Shelly Arkon

  
Shelly Arkon has a unique voice that comes through in every aspect of her wonderful first novel. Her characterization is on par with more experienced authors, and her attention to detail is spot-on. And I would have to agree with her editor's assessment of her off-kilter sense of humor. This comes through in spades throughout the novel. Her delightfully quirky characters make you feel for them--whether you're rooting for Lila or wanting to throttle the evil Babs (okay, that might sound extreme, but I happen to think any mother who would arrange her own daughter's marriage to a man named Max Butz is evil). The name's bad enough, but the man himself personifies despicable! I hear the Fashion Police have a warrant out for his arrest.



No-Campfire Girls by Mark R. Hunter

  
If the camp I went to as a kid had been like this, I wouldn't have gone home after two days!

Mark Hunter is an excellent author. If you haven't already read his debut novel, Storm Chaser, I strongly recommend it as well. I had a discussion with a fellow author recently--about what good movies Hunter's novels would make. Hollywood, take notice of this author!


 Dangled Carat by Hilary Grossman
  
Hilary Grossman has written a real-life romance--the story of her relationship with her husband Marc and their sometimes bumpy road to happily-ever-after. I've always been a bit of a skeptic when it comes to relationships, but Hilary's memoir makes me see that miracles can and do happen.

I can identify with her childhood struggles, having had a less-than-fairytale childhood myself--but as the saying goes, what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, and Hilary has clearly emerged a strong, confident woman able to change the commitment-phobic Marc into her happy, loving husband. You'll find it hard to read her story--their story--without cheering them on!

I can't wait to see what her next book is going to be....


Butterman Time Travel, Inc. by P.K. Hrezo


I've been a fan of time travel novels ever since I first picked up one of Constance O'Day-Flannery's novels over twenty years ago...and new author PK Hrezo definitely does not disappoint. I read it in one sitting--unusual for me these days. I know I'll be reading it again soon--also unusual for me. I give PK Hrezo high marks for originality. I especially loved the temporal detour the main characters were forced to take. As one reviewer has already stated, it takes them to an important time in music history that fans will love. (I could see this as a movie, easily.)

The author has done her homework--the scientific background used to make the time travel process seem plausible is impressive. Her characters are well-developed--not a stereotype in the lot of them. I thought writing in present tense might detract from the story, but I was pleased to find that it didn't.

Butterman (Time) Travel, Inc. is the first of a series. Check out the sequels as well!






Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Pony Express Would Have Been Faster....

Last week, Collin was having issues with his smartphone. I recommended getting a dumb phone (calls, texts and photos only--I hear they're making a comeback), but he was underwhelmed by that idea. He went to Virgin Mobile's website to check out the available deals, and got such a good one, he ordered two. I get a new phone, too--good thing, since mine has been a little squirrely lately. (We don't do contracts. We discovered a long time ago that we can get good service, unlimited data, talk and text plans, and--a new one for me, unlimited calls to and from the US, Canada and Mexico.)


Collin was going to request expedited service, but we were planning to go to the movies on Friday, so I convinced him there was no hurry. I should have kept my mouth shut.

He was given a tracking number which enabled him to follow the package en route and know where it was at any given time. On Thursday evening, it showed the package leaving Indianapolis and arriving at the St. Louis sorting facility in Berkeley shortly before midnight.




Great. That meant it would be delivered on Friday. We decided to postpone our plans to see a movie until Monday. We were home all day Friday, waiting...waiting...for a package that never arrived.

According to the tracker on FedEx's website, the package still had an estimated Monday delivery. Estimated? The friggin' thing was already in St. Louis. Why was the delivery date "estimated?"

We order online all the time and never have this much trouble getting anything delivered. Amazon in particular always sends emails with a confirmed delivery date, via UPS or regular postal service. We don't have to sit home for days, wondering when they'll finally arrive.




I took to social media, voicing my concerns (read: bitching) on FedEx's Facebook page. I got an immediate response, and for a moment thought it might actually yield a positive result.

No such luck. After requesting order information (tracking number, address and phone number), we never heard another word from them. When Collin went back to their site to check on the package, it was confusing. It looked like the package might have been sent back to Indianapolis!

In short, it's taken this package longer to travel from the local distribution center to our place than it took to get from Indianapolis to St. Louis. Go figure.

This is not by any means the first time I've had trouble with FedEx. The first time was back in 1985--my agent sent me an overnight envelope guaranteed to arrive by 10:30am. Because we lived so close to the sorting center at that time, I received overnight letters and shipments around 8:30am most of the time.

On that particular morning, however, 10:30 came and went with no sign of delivery. Finally, I phoned my agent. She contacted FedEx, and discovered my overnight letter was in...Atlanta! To their credit, FedEx did somehow get the envelope to me that day. But their service certainly isn't what it used to be. 


 


A UPS driver once mistook a same-day delivery for which I'd paid $149.00 to be a ground shipment--and that one was urgent. Collin and I once chased a DHL delivery truck around our neighborhood, to no avail--until my agent put in a call and told his superiors that the guy was apparently lost. Things are bad when the US Postal Service is the reliable one.

Have you ever had problems with deliveries? Missing packages? Rude customer service? Damaged goods? 


 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Movie Review: ANT-MAN

This is about a week late. Sorry! But my partner in crime, William Kendall, posted an excellent review of Ant-Man at Speak of the Devil....




When I first heard Marvel was going to make an Ant-Man movie, to say I was skeptical is a textbook understatement. Ant-Man? Were they kidding? A superhero who shrinks to the size of an ant? What could he accomplish?

Quite a lot, as it turns out. The more I saw and heard about the movie, the more eager I was to see it. I was not disappointed. This is Marvel's best since Guardians of the Galaxy. It has just the right balance of action and humor. With fewer characters, there's more room for character development--and what characters they are!

 
The story opens in 1987 at SHIELD headquarters in Washington DC. Scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) is confronting SHIELD director Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), co-founder Howard Stark (John Slattery) and Mitchell Carson (Martin Donovan) about unauthorized use of his discovery. After punching Carson, Pym walks out.

Fast forward to the present. At the San Quentin prison, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is about to be released. He's picked up outside the gates by his former partner in crime, Luis (Michael Pena). Luis has a tip for a hot job, but Lang declines. He's determined to go straight--but his plan goes awry when he's fired from a job at Baskin Robbins and kicked out of his young daughter's birthday party.

He decides to join Luis and their friends on the aforementioned heist. He breaks in the home of a retired scientist (who turns out to be Hank Pym) and opens the old basement vault--where he finds only what appears to be "an old motorcycle suit and helmet." He takes the suit--and soon discovers its incredible secret. It reduces him to the size of an insect.

 
He also discovers that Pym wanted him to break in, to take the suit. Pym offers him a second chance, a chance to become the hero his little girl believes him to be.

All he has to do is steal something.

Lang has his doubts, but agrees to work with Pym. He finds he and Pym have something in common: they both want to improve their relationships with their daughters. Pym's daughter, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), has been estranged from him since the death of her mother, Janet, Pym's late wife--which is why she's taken her mother's maiden name. She's come to her father now because his former protege, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), is close to duplicating Hank's Pym Particles, which allow one to reduce in size but increase in strength, and is planning to sell Yellowjacket suits similar to Pym's Ant-Man suit to Pym's old adversary, Mitchell Carson--who, it turns out, is an agent of HYDRA.


Hope wants to put on the Ant-Man suit and do what needs to be done herelf. As she points out, she knows her way around Pym Technologies and has the trust of Darren Cross. Hank won't hear of it. The suit has taken a toll on him, and though he's never told Hope, it was responsible for the loss of her mother.

First, Lang must retrieve something of Pym's from an old Stark warehouse in upstate New York. Trouble is, it's no longer an old Stark warehouse. It's now an Avengers facility--where Ant-Man has a fight with Falcon (Anthony Mackie).

Will Lang, Pym and Van Dyne succeed? Will Pym ever tell Hope how her mother really died? Is Janet really dead? Will Scott Lang be reunited with Cassie? Will Falcon come looking for Ant-Man? And above all, will there be an Ant-Man 2? I sure hope so!

PS Be sure you stick around for both end credits scenes! 


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Movie Review: MINIONS

So much for following a schedule.


Anyone who knows Collin and me knows we're totally devoted fans of those delightful little yellow sidekicks of former supervillain Gru (Steve Carell) in the Despicable Me animated movies. No way could we wait until Collin's next day off to see the loveable Minions in their own movie. So when he managed to get off early yesterday, we headed for Ronnies 20 and made it in time for the 4:05 showing. I wonder why everyone assumed we were there for Minions...could it have been the Minions T-shirts and caps? Or maybe it was the eight plush Minions we brought along? (I told Collin we should have brought all of them. We would have made the evening news!)



We've developed something of a reputation for causing weather mishaps by going to the movies. There was the tornado the night we went to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier...the freak lighting storm when we saw Guardians of the Galaxy...the downpour when we saw Jurassic World...just to name a few. Well, the curse has been broken! Yesterday it was bright and sunny when we entered the theater and when we left! Yay!

I was not at all surprised by the number of adults without children in the theater. Sometimes I think the Minions have more adults than children among their fans. For the unenlightened, Minions are cute, funny, easily distracted, and have a special fondness for potty humor and photocopying their butts. They laugh a lot. And they're absolutely loyal. Picture a bunch of hyperactive toddlers. Yep, that's the Minions!




This movie explains the origins of the Minions (voiced by Pierre Coffin) from single-cell organisms at the beginning of time, emerging to serve their first master--a T-Rex. Minions were created to serve--but, as narrator Geoffrey Rush explains, finding a master is easy. Keeping one is another story. They almost immediately cause the demise of the T-Rex...and it's all downhill from there. From dropping a pyramid on the Pharaoh to waking Dracula for an early morning birthday surprise involving sunlight to inadvertently aiming a cannon at Napoleon, the well-meaning Minions prove a hazard to villains throughout time. Finally, they go into hiding in an ice cave in Antarctica. Over time, however, they become deeply depressed by their lack of purpose. Kevin, the leader of the tribe and the smartest of the Minions (which isn't saying much, really), realizes they may not survive. He decides to leave the ice caves and go out into the world to find the Minions a new master.



Accompanied by then-teenager Stuart and youngster Bob, he sets off on a journey that lands the trio in New York City in the '60s. While trapped in a mall overnight, they see a TV ad for Villain-Con (Comic-Con, anyone?) and decide to go there to find a new master. They hitch a ride to Orlando with a family of bank robbers (Michael Keaton and Allison Janney voice the parents). There, while attempting to rescue his teddy bear in a mob of eager villains, Bob ends up winning a competition to serve the world's first female supervillain, Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock). She and her inventor husband, Herb (Jon Hamm), take the Minions home to their castle.



 
Is it just me, or is Scarlet possibly Universal and Illumination's single-finger salute to Disney? A female supervillain who's gone the evil route because she was denied her childhood dreams of being a princess....a castle that looks suspiciously like the one at Disney World....

Scarlet orders the Minions to steal the crown of the Queen of England. She wants to be Queen, and plans to take over the country. Herb equips them with some of his inventions, and they nearly succeed...until an attempt by little Bob to save himself and his buddies from the palace guards fulfills an ancient legend and Bob is declared King (think Excalibur). Scarlet is furious and accuses the Minions of betrayal. They immediately give her the crown and declare her Queen, but she responds by imprisoning them. They escape, and while their fellow Minions travel the world to find them, the trio look for a way to stop Scarlet. Do they succeed? Will they ever be reunited with the rest of the tribe? And how do they meet Gru, who will be their master for many, many years to come? Minions answers all of these questions.


The movie is fast-paced, frantic, and fun. Though some reviewers have found the script to be "uneven," I disagree. I think there's a  possibility that Scarlet and Herb could return in a future movie--Despicable Me 3 is scheduled for 2017, so maybe then....

Whether you have kids or not, I happily recommend this one. Laughter is healthy, and Minions is just what the doctor ordered!





Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Best Times to do What???

Now that I have a publisher to do all the non-writing work involving my books, I have a confession to make--I spend a lot less time online than I probably should. I had a blog post planned for Tuesday, for example, that still isn't finished. But maybe I shouldn't be so lazy....

I'm going to try a little experiment. I saw a segment on Today last week about the best times to post on various social networking sites. Intrigued, I got online and did a little research. I found the chart below in an article at AdWeek. It's geared to business, sure--but as an author trying to sell books, I find myself wondering if it might be effective in selling books as well....


Crap! It's a lot smaller than it is on their page!

Anyway, I'm going to try posting at these times on Twitter, Facebook and Google + don't use the others) for a month and see what happens....

Friday, July 3, 2015

Flashback Friday--Those Were the Days!

It took me a long time to scan photos, documents and other important items from the pre-technology era. I had at least a dozen file boxes full of stuff--I'm still trying to locate all of our remaining old photographs. Mom wasn't exactly the most organized person I've ever known--she stuck things everywhere. Looking for those photos requires the skill of an Indiana Jones.

Anyway, I did create a "Scrapbook" folder in one of my clouds. I thought a walk down memory lane for Flashback Friday might be fun....

A telegram I received from my agent after an
anxious month of waiting for my
first novel to be sold. She sent it to 12 publishers; 8 made offers.
The book went to Damaris Rowland at Berkley

First advance check (the advance was paid out in three payments).
 

 
Red roses from my editor for the first book; yellow for the two-book 
contract that came six months after the first!

Yep, I got the very first copy off the presses!

No, these weren't from the publisher.This arrangement was 
created by a fellow author for a party she threw to celebrate the publication
of that first novel!

And now, twenty-seven years later, that novel, Dance of the Gods, having had five printings at Berkley, is about to be reissued by my new publisher with a new cover and the original title (the one I gave it), Alexander's Empire.

Happy Flashback Friday, everyone!


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Movie Review: THE VILLAIN

Though most of my reviews are for new releases, this is one I just had to write--because it's one of the funniest movies I've ever seen, and because almost no one I know has ever seen it. 


Released in 1979, The Villain could best be described as a live action Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner movie. It stars Kirk Douglas in a rare comedic turn as Cactus Jack Slade, "a mistake nature made--a trick fate has played on itself," as the theme song says. Cactus Jack's a would-be villain in the old west, a guy with a room temperature IQ who's his own worst enemy. As the story opens, he's trying unsuccessfully to rob a bank. When he can't open the safe, he decides to blow it up. The dynamite brings down the building...but fails to budge the safe.


Still, the crooked banker, Avery Simpson (Jack Elam), sees potential in Cactus Jack and enlists him to steal a large sum of money being transported by Charming Jones (Ann-Margret) to her rich daddy, Parody Jones (Strother Martin). However, Parody has hired an escort for his daughter--Handsome Stranger (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who's strong as an ox but not quite as smart. In fact, he's almost as dumb as Cactus Jack. When Charming asks about his unusual name, he explains, "I was named after my father."

Okaaaaaay....


As they travel toward their destination, Charming tries every way she can to seduce Handsome Stranger, but he's oblivious to her advances. He's also oblivious to Cactus Jack's pursuit--and multiple bungled attempts to rob them. While Cactus Jack could be Wile E. Coyote, Handsome Stranger's no Road Runner.


  Add to the mix two Indians hired by the banker, Nervous Elk (Paul Lynde) and Mashing Finger (Robert Tessier). Nervous Elk observes, "This one needs to be looked after."


He does indeed--and is, by his smarter-than-the-average horse, Whiskey, who has to save Jack from himself more than once. Whether he's being run over by a gigantic boulder or gluing himself to the railroad tracks, Cactus Jack is nothing if not persistent! Too bad he's so stupid. Does he really think using a handbook for villains is a good idea?



Does Cactus Jack end up blown up or flattened by an Acme anvil? Will Handsome Stranger finally realize he's traveling with a sexually frustrated woman? Will Whiskey get tired of saving his idiot master? If you can find a copy of The Villain on DVD, do give it a look! And if you can't find the DVD, here's the movie on YouTube.