Th Reading Lair

Archive for August, 2012

  • THE BRACKEN TRILOGY by Jeri Massi (book review)

    Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

    I’ve been on a fantasy kick lately and am enjoying discovering some really fresh stories. A few beauties were recommended by friends, another I picked up on a whim from the bookseller’s. I don’t know, maybe it’s the autumn weather easing in alongside the morning fog on the coastline, but between the books and the seasonal changes, it’s fully put me in the mood for things like petting giant wolves, stoking morning fires, and drinking cups of mead accompanied by the sounds of lustrous singing from random wood folk. Not that I know any random wood folk but…it’s on my to-do list.

    (Note: *Make friends with small, singing, tree-chopping people who may or may not believe in magic.)

    With each book, my mind keeps slipping back to the first fantasy series I ever read on my own – The Bracken Trilogy by Jeri Massi. I was probably eight at the time, and for many years they were my favorite in the genre. So of course I had to mention them on here :0). They’re little, middle grade level books, and adorably precious with strong female protagonists and sweetly colorful side characters. The first is:


    The Bridge (Bracken Trilogy, #1)

    When the kingdom of Folger attacks Bracken and captures its castle as well as the bridge connecting the two realms, the spoiled Princess Rosalynn barely escapes with the cloak on her back. Out on her own and hunted by Folger’s master, the young princess must make her way through territory saturated with spies and thieves who would sell her in a heartbeat to the highest bidder. Until she comes across a mysterious woman who may hold the secret to saving her kingdom. A secret involving the old bridge.

    I’ll just tell you right now that this book is my favorite of the three. :0)


    Followed by


    Crown and Jewel (Bracken Trilogy, #2)

    Rosalynn’s daughter, the Princess Rosewyn, is nothing like her royal mother — mainly because her favorite pastimes include beating up the stable boys and riding around on full-grown pigs. But one day when the little princess is heading off to draw mustaches on the fancy people in the royal library books, she stumbles across a plot to overthrow her parents. And like her mother before her, it’s up to Rosewyn to find a way to save her kingdom. Except to do so will require entry into a world of assassins and political betrayal.

    Okay, my very favorite aspect of this book is the coal miners. Who are basically wood folk. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to live with them… *sigh*


    And lastly


    The Two Collars (Bracken Trilogy, #3)

    In this final story, seven-year-old Krea works as a slave for a traveling circus. Her days are filled with hunger, and her nights are spent dodging beatings from her master. So when a seemingly kind woman takes a particular interest in Krea, she is both intrigued and terrified. What could the woman want from her? And with the unified kingdoms of Bracken and Folger cracking under the weight of an oncoming war, what does their conflict have to do with her?

    Um…I pretty much love any story that has to do with traveling circus folk and evil villians. So there’s that.


    All right, so what about you, preciouses? What are some of YOUR favorite fantasy books? Any I need to check out???



    *Book Cover pics from GOODREADS!


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    Posted in Book Reviews | 12 Comments »

  • An Interview with Comic-Con’s Space Trip Winner!

    Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

    Meet my friend Mercedes! Fellow pop culture lover. Superhero fangirl. And Joss Whedon squealer. (Er…okay, maybe that last one is a bit more me, but whatever.)

    So last month, right around the time I was launching my very persuasive Joss Whedon Cupcake Campaign, Mercedes was down at Comic-Con actually breathing the same air as ol’ Joss, and facebooking me fangirl info about him (cuz although we rarely see each other, she’s super nice like that). And, well, wouldn’t you know it but while she was there she won THE coolest prize EVER (which, incidentally, has nothing whatsoever to do with Joss). Which made me all squealy and happy for her since she is such an absolute sweetheart.

    You’ve got to watch this CNN clip.



    And since I figured not only would you find the space trip awesome but you’d enjoy Mercedes as well, I asked her to do an interview with us! So here goes… Her comments are in green, mine in white. Enjoy! ;0)

    (1) Have you ever been to Comic-Con before?

    Mercedes:  I’ve never been. My sister has been telling me to go for a couple of years. She told me there were openings for volunteers, so my son Johnnie and I decided to go this time!

    Wait, seriously? It was your FIRST time and you won a space trip?! Um…BEST. DECISION. EVER.  *rushes off to buy 2013 Comic-Con tickets*

    (2) So you were waiting to see the cast of the Big Bang Theory. But how’d you become a part of the selection to go onstage and open the envelopes? *discreetly takes notes for next year’s Comic-Con*

    Mercedes:  Yes, we were waiting to see the Big Bang Theory! We totally love them! My mom said we had to start watching the show because it was hilarious! We did, and we were hooked! I got to meet the writers, Bill Prady, Steve Molaro, and of course the awesome Chuck Lorre! I excitedly told them, “You are comedic geniuses!”

    The way the selection worked is that anybody from the audience who asked a question to the panel was offered a chance to enter “The Trip to Space Contest,” where we got to randomly pick out these shiny envelopes from a plastic container. One guy shockingly declined! He was the one in the Spiderman costume, who refused to take off his mask! Some people just don’t want to reveal their secret identity I guess?

    *laughs* That’s hilariously awesome. Although, now I’m left to wonder if he was the real Spiderman or just having a bad hair day.  *sigh* Darn you Peter Parker.

    (3) So tell us what the trip entails. What exactly is meant by “trip to space,” and is it just you and the captain or is there a whole crew?

    Mercedes:  The trip to space involves a four day training stint at the Xcor facility. No zero gravity training or centrifuge (boo), which I totally would’ve done! From what I gather, it’ll be mostly safety training…. The “trip to space” means sub orbital, so I will experience weightlessness and get to see the whole pacific coast, but not so high that I see the Great Wall of China. And yes, it will be just me and the Cap.

    So in other words it’ll be COMPLETELY AWESOME.

    And speaking of completely awesome…I’m thinking you should brush up on your Klingon language skills. That way, when you get up there you could start speaking it to the captain as a way to show him you’ve really done your homework on this whole space travel thing. I imagine he’ll be impressed.

    (Seriously, I’ll give you like 5 bucks if you do it.) ;0)

    (4) Ahem. Anyway, I think we can all agree that, hands down, winning the ticket had to have been one of the coolest experiences ever! Did you have any inkling that it *might* be you in the moment right before opening the envelope?

    Mercedes:  Yes, I agree! THE coolest thing that’s ever happened to me! I actually was thinking it probably wouldn’t be me, so as to not bum myself out, but I was definitely hoping it would be! :) My heart is racing just thinking back to that moment! I guess it’s really hitting me! I won a trip to space! :-)

    *throws a squeal-party with you in which we scream space words and make Trekkie signs at each other while I promise not to be toooooo unbelievably jealous*

    (5) Oh, and before I forget, I have to ask — what were your favorite costumes at Comic-Con? Did YOU dress up?

    Mercedes:  The Star Trek costumes were my favorite! No, I didn’t dress up. I’m not quite there yet as a Comic Con fan. But Kaley Cuoco (Penny from Big Bang Theory) mentioned on stage that I could totally wear my pressure suit to Comic Con next year! LOL!

    Ha! I totally second that! (And if you’re anything like me, you’ll also wear it to your son’s prom. Because that’d be amazing. Just tell him he can thank you later.) ;0)

    (6) And since we’re unashamedly food-infatuated on this blog, was there any incredible food you ate at Comic-Con?

    Mercedes:  Not really. I’m sorry but their stands in “The Con” as they call it were cart food pretzels, nachos, and such. But I did go to Tin Fish Gaslamp where their entry had a Brothers Grimm makeover. That was cool! I wish I would’ve ventured outside The Con more because their famed Gaslamp District has a lot of amazing eateries! Next time.

    A Brothers Grimm makeover? LOVE.

    (7) Also, seeing as we’re a bookish blog, do you have a favorite novel?

    Mercedes:  Definitely, the Left Behind series! I’m not much of a reader but I loved it!

    (8) Favorite superhero?

    Mercedes:  Exponentially, the Hulk! I even got to meet Lou Ferigno! I had to ask if he really was a sheriff in our county! He said “YES, let me show you some pictures of me being sworn in.” He whipped out his GREEN iPhone (of course) and proceeded to show me pictures! Crazy Awesome! He had soft hands too! I totally thought I was going to get a muscle bound, finger crushing handshake but it was nice!

    Okay, firstly, I love that he’s a sheriff. And secondly, I love that you said the Hulk has soft hands. I will never forget this moment. Ever.

    (9) Lastly, the question we’ve all been wondering: How was Joss Whedon? Did he mention me and my cupcake campaign?

    Mercedes:  So a bunch of us were squashed like sardines in the trolley ride from a parking station, and I overheard a lot of people relaying their cool experiences. I just happened to see your Joss Whedon bobble-head post on Facebook at the same time that this guy riding near us was talking about Joss Whedon, and that’s how I confirmed the Firefly reunion information to you! I must say we had lots of cool conversations with the people going to Comic Con! It had a family of geeks atmosphere!

    But I’m sure Joss mentioned the cupcakes! ;-)

    I KNEW it. *fist pump*


    And just so we can see how truly adorable Mercedes is, here’s a CBS clip of her singing “Soft Kitty” at Comic-Con.


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    Posted in Genre Savvy, Uncategorized | 10 Comments »

  • The Best Time Ever to be a Writer—or a Reader! (by Anne R. Allen)

    Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

    Guess what, Preciouses?

    I’ve got a crazy-cool treat for us today! We get the very fabulous (and fun) blogging goddess Anne R. Allen guest posting! Right here. Right now. And afterward? Way down there at the bottom of the page, we have a short, silly interview with Anne in which I, um, *cough, cough* might ask who’d win in a light saber death match between her and Catherine Ryan Hyde. *GRIN*

    I’ve known Anne for a number of years now, and not only is she incredibly sweet, she’s super funny. We first met via her blog when I’d stalk her posts to read all about how the blogging / writing / social media world would not actually bite my face off and that perhaps I really should dip my feet into it. Shortly after, we met in person at a local writers’ meeting hosted by the SLO Nightwriters (which we’re both members of). Then last year, I had the privilege of introducing Anne in one of the workshops at the Central Coast Writers’ Conference.

    And this year? Well, this year Anne’s the Central Coast Writers’ Conference 2012 Success Story. (I’d like to claim it had something to do with my awesome introduction last year, but I’d be lying. Dang-it.)

    Anne is both an author and blogger, and her blog is one of the most highly respected in the writing community. Among Anne’s strengths is her ability to help writers navigate the often choppy waters of publishing and social media in this new e-book, e-reader, e-publishing era. She does so by bringing a sense of stability that’s laced with humor to the table, encouraging writers to find what works best for them and then do so in a way that reaches the best audience for them. Whether that’s traditional or self-publishing, twittering or facebooking, Nathan Bransford or no-Nathan Bransford.

    Oh wait. Nevermind that last one. Nathan is a must for everyone. ;0)

    So, a few months ago when Anne and I were tossing around the idea of her guest posting for me, I was grateful she agreed to it. Yes, it’s a little off my book blogging path, but I think readers and writers alike are affected by the e-revolution, and since her new book How to be a Writer in the E-age and Keep Your E-sanity, coauthored with Catherine Ryan Hyde (of Pay It Forward and about a bazillion other books) just came out, I figured it’d be helpful to have her share some of her thoughts with us.

    Hence, without further ado, I give you Anne R. Allen.


    The Best Time Ever to be a Writer—or a Reader!

    This may seem a terrifying time for book-lovers. Everything in the publishing industry is in upheaval. Bookstores are closing all around us. Publishers and online retailers are battling each other in the courts.

    The rules keep changing. “Experts” don’t agree on anything. Us/them, either/or arguments of self-publishers vs. traditional publishers can be toxic.  What you read one week is out of date the next. 

    Change can be very scary. It’s like trying to go about normal business in the middle of an earthquake. There’s nothing solid to hang onto.

    But you know what’s scarier than change?

    No change.

    Before the electronic revolution, publishing was a calcifying industry. New writers were finding it tougher and tougher to break in. Successful career authors were dropped if they couldn’t produce annual blockbusters in spite of no marketing budget. The antiquated system of returns—which makes every bookstore a consignment shop—means publishers have been wasting a huge amount of money shipping books back and forth to warehouses and eventually pulping them.

    The ebook is changing everything. So is social media.

    You’ll hear a lot of people, especially of my generation (Boomers) rant with doom and gloom about how the ebook and Facebook are killing real books.

    But they’re not. Nobody needs to be afraid of the electronic revolution. More people are reading now than ever before. It’s not destroying our literature with a “tsunami of self-published crap.”

    There is certainly a lot of not-ready-for-its-close-up writing out there right now. But you don’t have to read it. Every book on Amazon has a “look inside” feature, so all you have to do is take a peek. Amateur writing usually announces itself in the first five pages.

    But the self-publishing revolution is helping us all grow in new directions. I love this joke from social media guru Kristen Lamb: “Great, thanks to that Gutenberg jerk, everyone can be published.”

    Just as Johannes Gutenberg took power from the ruling priestly caste and gave it to the people—who could then read the Bible and find out for themselves what it said—ebooks are taking power from the ruling publishing caste and letting the people decide for themselves what they want to read.

    This means more power is now in the hands of readers and writers than any time in history. Thanks to ebooks and social media marketing, writers can now go directly to readers with fresh, innovative ideas and stories.

    If they want to.

    Here’s the thing: the revolution doesn’t mean everybody has to self-publish. But the self-publishing option changes the playing field for everybody.

    Your life is being changed for the better by the electronic revolution right now—

    1. Even if you’ve never touched a Kindle—and you don’t intend to until they pry the world’s last moldering paperback from your cold, dead hands. 
    2. Even if you’d rather endure waterboarding during a tax audit than try to make sense of a Twitter stream.
    3. Even if your idea of hell is being pleasant on a daily basis to a bunch of strangers on the Internet.
    4. Even if you stopped keeping up with technology when your last VCR went to that Great Techno-dump in the Sky.

    That’s because you now have choices that never existed before. And new choices are opening up all the time as the industry processes new ideas. Whatever path you take, you have the choice to turn around and try a different one.

    1. If you try traditional publishing and get offered a rotten contract—you can walk away.
    2. If you self-publish and then St. Martin’s comes calling with a seven figure deal—you can jump on it.
    3. If you publish with a small press, you can still work at getting an agent who might make you a super author-friendly deal with one of the new Amazon imprints.

    Everything is possible.

    You can choose to self-publish. Or not. 

    You can choose to read self-published books. Or not.

    You can choose to blog/Tweet/Facebook. Or not.

    Don’t let anybody push you onto one path or the other. Everybody has a different tolerance for technology. You can mix and match as you wish. I’ve read that Twitter god Neil Gaiman writes his first draft with a #2 pencil. I know successful Kindle authors who swear by their manual typewriters.  Try things out, take your time, and make your own choices.

    Remember it’s people who are most insecure in their own choices who will seek to control yours.

    Totally good stuff, right? Right.

    And…if I can get a DRUMROLL please…..

    I give you


    A Short Interview with Anne R. Allen ;0)

    (1)  First question — do you listen to music while you write, and if so, what?

    Anne:  I don’t listen to music when I’m actually writing, but I often listen to it when I’m working on plot and thinking through ideas before I put them on paper. Then, it’s usually classical music or acoustic folk. I love Mozart for putting my thoughts in order. I listen to old Leonard Cohen when I’m trying to get into a male point of view.

    Mary:  Nice :0). And I rarely listen to music during the actual writing either. I suspect it’s because, as writers, that’s when we’re creating word music of our own.

    (2)  Rumor has it you spent twenty-five years acting and directing in theater. Do you have a favorite production or role you participated in?

    Anne:  I used to say I specialized in “witches, b**ches and moms.” I never went for the lead–I was always more interested in the supporting roles. (It’s the same way when I watch TV or film. I’m always more interested in the supporting characters than the “hero”–who can get a little boring.) I think my favorite role ever was Vera Charles in Auntie Mame. The character was based on the notorious Hollywood “vamp” Theda Bara. I had so much fun with that one. Got to wear great costumes, too. I also loved playing Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest–whom I played several times.

    Mary:  Hahaha! Those sound like awesomely fun over-the-top roles. And The Importance of Being Earnest is one of my all-time favorite comedies.

    (3) Okay, so as you know, we’re kind of obsessed with eating around here, and I always have to ask this in an interview: Can you share with us your top three favorite foods?

    Anne:  Artichokes, lobster, and dark Belgian chocolate. Yeah. I have expensive tastes.

    Mary:  Oh, I FULLY approve. And, uh, when can I come over for dinner?

    (4) Last question. And I’m certain it’s the question everyone’s been secretly dying to know. You and Catherine Ryan Hyde have been friends for years. So tell us truthfully, who would win in a Star Wars worthy light saber death match—you or Catherine?

    Anne:  Catherine, in about a second and a half. I have no combat skills whatsoever. She’s very fit and I’m a couch potato.

    Mary:  See? This is why you make me laugh, Anne. Thanks for visiting with us today. :0)


    Anne R. Allen is a blogger, humorist, and the author of five comic mysteries that debuted in 2011: Food of Love, The Gatsby Game, Ghostwriters in the Sky, Sherwood, Ltd. and The Best Revenge. She’s also the co-author of the writer’s guide How to be a Writer in the E-Age…And Keep Your E-Sanity (MWiDP June 2012), written with Pay it Forward author Catherine Ryan Hyde. She lives on the Central Coast of California where she teaches blogging and social media. Her blog, “Anne R. Allen’s Blog…with Ruth Harris: Writing about Writing. Mostly” was a finalist in the American Publishers Association/Goodreads IBB Awards for Best Publishing Industry Blog. NYT Bestseller and former Big Six editor Ruth Harris joined the blog in 2011.


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    Posted in Author Tidbits | 21 Comments »

  • You Like Cupcakes, Yes? 5 Recipes of Goodness

    Thursday, August 9th, 2012

    So ever since my Joss Whedon Cupcake Campaign post a few weeks ago, I’ve had this zombie-level need for cupcakes. With lots of frosting. Seriously, like GOBS of frosting. (Because as any 4-year-old will tell you, the frosting is the best part.) And since work has just calmed down, what better way to bring on the reading / writing / cleaning-my-embarrassingly-dirty-house goodness than with cupcakes?

    Hence I dub this weekend **BAKING WEEKEND**.

    Oh…and did I mention it’s Wolverine’s birthday on Saturday?    <— Let’s just all take a moment of silence for the handsome man, shall we?


    Okay, we can now commence with the birthday singing. And while you’re busy singing (and wondering just exactly HOW OLD he’s turning), I’ve got some cupcake recipes to share for this month’s Reading Recipes. The first one, I’m not counting as an actual recipe though because, well, you just add water. It’s my laziest baking thing ever. But it’s honestly one of my favorites. In the entire universe. It makes these:

    Yum, yes?

    And are you ready for it?     

    Don’t hate me because it’s truly so lazy, okay?

    You simply take this (or any other angel food cake mix):

    Add water. Mix. Bake.

    And here’s the tricky part —>  You cover the cupcakes with this Fluffy White Frosting (yes it HAS to be THIS type of frosting in order to be awesomely delicious and taste like marshmallows). And I just realized this post now looks like a Betty Crocker add. Sheesh. I swear it’s not – they’re just super yummy! ;0) 


    The result is these sweet babies:

    Easy and fabulous melt-in-your-mouth cupcakes.

    And for some REAL cupcake recipes that require actual effort on the part of us reading / baking-type people…well, I’ve put together the below list. I’ve not actually tried any of them, but I WILL over the next few weeks when I’m searching for sustenance to eat while reading. Probably in this order:

    1. Gluten Free, Sugar Free Cinnamon Apple Cupcakes (from Simply Gluten-Free)

    Everything about these has me intrigued (including her gorgeous photos).


    2. Butterbeer Cupcakes (from Pastry Affair)

    Good heavens I need these like Harry needs his friends.


    3. Peach Cupcakes with Peach Buttercream (from Cathlin Cooks)

    Like summer in the form of a cupcake. I could make these with the giant peaches we picked last week.


    4. Zucchini Cupcakes (from Taste of Home)

    I heart anything zucchini. That is all we need know.


    And finally…Caramel Macchiato Cupcakes (from My Buttery Fingers)

    Might. Be. The. Best. Invention. Ever. Mmm…



    How about YOU, preciouses? What are you reading or eating or generally up to as we head toward this fine birthday weekend?



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    Posted in Reading Recipes, Uncategorized | 17 Comments »

  • Off the Book Beaten Path

    Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

    I don’t know about you, but summer is my busiest season of the year. It’s when my work picks up and I’m away at youth camp or facilitating fundraisers or sitting in on extra counseling sessions or planning vbs (Narnia-themed this year!) or making sure schedules are out and teams are set up or background checks are done before the school year starts again.

    And in between those things, I read books. And I blog about the interesting ones. And I try to write intriguing ones of my own.

    And much more important, I continue to work hard at being a good mom. One whom my kids feel connected to and cherished by, no matter how busy my schedule is. One whom, at the end of the day, they can say was there for them, investing in them, challenging and cuddling them.

    Not that I always manage this (cuz let’s be honest — sometimes I’m sadly lousy at it), but I try. And they know I try.

    Which is what was going through my mind as I stared at this computer screen yesterday with its white-paged blog post waiting to be written…before finally giving up and telling the kids to pile into the van instead. Off we went and spent the rest of the afternoon at one of our favorite local barns, petting the animals and breathing in the salty sea air and dribbling peach juice all down our chins. 

    Incidentally, that’s my excuse for why you’ve ended up with a post full of photos today rather than anything remotely to do with books. :0)

    Because to paraphrase something my friend Allen Arnold said in his incredible keynote speech at the recent Christy Awards – The most important story isn’t the one you’re reading or writing. The most important story is the one you’re living.

    So here is yesterday’s story. In pictures (because my kids LOVE pictures… oh, and minus Wolverine since he was at work). :0)

    We’ve been coming to this farm since my oldest was 4 years old.

    Around the barn are fields of fruit and veggies. Once they ripen, we like to wander through the rows and pick them out to take home.

    (Um…my oldest just turned 13, by the way.)


    Inside are the most amazing flower displays. We like to stick our faces in them.


    My youngest always begs us to buy fresh roasted corn.


    So of course we did and sprinkled all sorts of goodness on it. (Yes, that’s mayo. My kids love it. It’s a weird California thing.)


    And then we took a hayride.


    And along the way, Middle Child decided we needed to pick tons of giant peaches.


    Before we walked back along the flower path.


    And imagined we were cowboys.


    Finally, we came home and slept up in our tree house.

    Have I ever told you we have a tree house? We do. Wolverine’s been building it. It’s kind of amazing. I’ll take you on a photo tour sometime. ;0)


    And how about you, my preciouses?

     How’s YOUR “summer story”going?



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    Posted in Book Nooks, Uncategorized | 19 Comments »

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