Thursday, May 31, 2012

What to Watch: Summer Edition: So You Think You Can Dance

Since I had so much fun with the TV theme for the A to Z Challenge, and had opportunity to dissect different shows for my TV writing gig on (which sadly, is ending as the site is closing), I thought I'd kick off a fun blog series on what to watch.

Summer is a great time to catch up on everything time didn't allow to see first hand over the regular season, whether by clearing out the DVR, watching reruns, Hulu, or Netflix. So many options exist! But as TV watching has changed, the networks have too, and they now offer more variety during the off season. Here's one of my favorites -- it doesn't require huge commitment (you can miss an episode) and it's genuinely fun and even inspiring:

For those who haven't seen this show, you might be thinking: I don't watch reality TV! I hardly do either, with few exceptions. What sets So You Think You Can Dance apart is it features people with real talent! What distinguishes it from many of the other competition shows is that it doesn't spend a great deal of time on humiliating dance wannabes who lack the skill to make the cut. Occasionally, yes, you'll see a misguided klutz whose mother insisted she was good enough for Broadway, but the judges dish criticism without tearing them to shreds (unlike American Idol and America's Got Talent). Mostly what you see is incredibly hardworking performers who turn out some pretty amazing dancing.

The second reason I like this show is a contestant can make into the competition based on tap dancing skills, but each week they're expected to perform a different dance style, which could be modern, hip-hop, ballet, ballroom, etc. Some of the best moments are when a street performing break-dancer nails a tango. Or when a performance is so dramatic, it brings tears to your eyes. I'm not much of a crier, but this show sometimes...

Image source:
The judges, while knowledgeable, can frequently be annoying, so that's the one downside. The first season I watched, I fast forwarded through every Mary Murphy response. She's just so loud and orange. Now I can either tune her out or I occasionally mute her. There's usually a guest judge, who can range from Lady Gaga, to legendary choreographer Debbie Allen to Mitchell from Modern Family.

So You Think You Can Dance airs on FOX Wednesdays.

Do you watch? Or, do you have a different favorite reality competition show?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Book Review: Tempest by Julie Cross

Julie Cross
Young Adult - Contemporary/Sci-fi elements
Published: Jan. 2012

I'd anticipated this book for awhile, having read early press for it last year. The story played out differently than I expected. The narrator is a boy, which is cool, but just unexpected based on the cover (which could go either way) and since so many YA books tend to be written from a female protagonist or multi-POV male and female, it surprised me.

The timelines in Tempest are pretty out of whack because the main character can flip back between different years at will (usually). It's a bit disorienting, but I suppose on a deeper level it helps the reader connect with the character and the instability he feels.

The time travel is central to the story, but it is more of a storytelling device rather than an element that's explained in detail. If you've read either Outlander or The Time Traveler's Wife, those are good examples of what I mean. Outlander uses time travel as a device to get a modern-era (well, WWII era) protagonist to an earlier time frame, but the story is not about time travel. In The Time Traveler's Wife, the character and plot are dictated by Henry's spontaneous time travelling condition. It is dissected and discussed and is central to the story, and it weaves romantic elements and a personal interest story within that.

Tempest falls somewhere in between with a specific YA slant. If you're looking for sci-fi, it's not here; rather it's another one with "sci-fi elements." It's plot driven, quick, and full of mystery and tension. I had a little trouble connecting with Jackson's love interest; part of the reason may be because Jackson himself was not very deep in his future relationship, which he realizes along the way when he goes back a few years and meets her before he should in his normal timeline. It actually reminded me a bit of I Am Number Four, which had lots of tension and plot twists, but was a bit lighter on the depth of characters. It depends what type of read you're looking for; I can see younger readers connecting with this for a cool time travel concept.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

TV Season Finales: Which Was Your Favorite?

As the regular TV season winds to a close, I've been clearing out my DVR to catch up on everything that's ending in May. So far, a few have stood out:

The Vampire Diaries

Instead of watching American Idol crown a new winner, I played The Vampire Diaries' season finale from May 10. I will refrain from spoilers, but let me just say, this show takes all the risks you don't expect. Characters die (frequently, sometimes multiple times). Many come back, but some don't, unless it's in a flashback. I'm a bit heartbroken at season 3's ending -- a few specific characters I can say I'M NOT PLEASED about. But what impressed me most was the storytelling device of revisiting events that triggered the first season. Glimpses of Elena's life with her parents before the accident, a first meeting with Damon which he wiped from her memory (vampire magic is great for continuity). Elena's memories of the accident interspersed with current action worked beautifully together, enhanced by a haunting Sigur Ros song (premiered on the show) that added another layer of drama. Then, a final scene that really threw me for a loop, and brings a whole new spin to the series.

Modern Family
 For the past 3 weeks I thought I was watching the season finale. First the Disneyland ep, then last week's very funny episode where each character had some issue with another member of the family, pitting them against each other, but resulting in some character defining moments that managed to do so without being overly schlocky (how do they do it?). But last night's was the finale, involving Cam and Mitchell racing to the hospital to potentially adopt a baby boy who was being born that minute. The family spoke Spanish so they brought along Gloria to translate. What followed mirrored a Spanish telenovela as the drama unfolded with the birth family, with Gloria zipping between a hysterical Cam & Mitchell, and the nurses, abuela and a mysterious man in a cowboy hat. The episode ended with a pretty cliche season finale twist, but I won't spoil the surprise. I'm amazed at how this show manages to combine heartfelt moments with total hilarity, and it works.


Castle has ridden the will-they-or-won't-they romantic tension for 4 seasons now. Castle and Beckett need to make some progress, and although I knew a change was coming -- it had to after Beckett admitted she remembered everything from when she was shot last season, including Castle telling her he loved her. But still, the writers pushed it and pushed it until even I doubted they would directly face the issue. This episode had me yelling at the TV; Beckett does every dumb move in the stubborn girl's handbook, including a vigilante mission to track down the man who shot her with only Huertas at her side -- and no back-up, behind the backs of the NYPD. It made for some great action, but come on Beckett, you aren't a superhero! So some inevitable things happen, and some not so inevitable. And again, the final scene is one that was a long time coming, but still managed to be a little different than I expected. It will be interesting to see how the next season unfolds.

I'm still making my way through 30 Rock, Bones, and a few others. What final episodes have you watched that have you excited for next season?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Book Launch: Closed Hearts by Susan Kaye Quinn + Giveaway!

Announcing the release of Closed Hearts, the sequel to Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn.

Book Two of the Mindjack Trilogy

When you control minds, only your heart can be used against you.

Eight months ago, Kira Moore revealed to the mindreading world that mindjackers like herself were hidden in their midst. Now she wonders if telling the truth was the right choice after all. As wild rumors spread, a powerful anti-jacker politician capitalizes on mindreaders’ fears and strips jackers of their rights. While some jackers flee to Jackertown—a slum rife with jackworkers who trade mind control favors for cash—Kira and her family hide from the readers who fear her and jackers who hate her. But when a jacker Clan member makes Kira’s boyfriend Raf collapse in her arms, Kira is forced to save the people she loves by facing the thing she fears most: FBI agent Kestrel and his experimental torture chamber for jackers. Now available! $2.99 Ebook at Amazon (and Amazon UK) and Barnes and Noble Request a Kindlegraph Paper copies available at Amazon or get signed copies from the author

Susan Kaye Quinn is the author of the bestselling YA novel Open Minds,  Book One of the Mindjack Trilogy, available on AmazonBarnes and Noble, and iTunesSusan's business card says "Author and Rocket Scientist," but she mostly plays on TwitterFacebook, and Pinterest.

Mind GamesOpen MindsClosed HeartsIn His EyesLife, Liberty, and PursuitFull Speed Ahead

CLICK HERE to join the Virtual Party for Closed Hearts
(including bonus content for the Mindjack Trilogy and writerly guest posts) 
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Monday, May 21, 2012

Book Review: Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn

Open Minds
Susan Kaye Quinn
Young Adult Science Fiction
Published: 2011

Open Minds has an interesting premise: over time, people have evolved to communicate telepathically, an attribute that's triggered during puberty. But sometimes the ability isn't triggered, like for Kari, who's known as a zero. She's an outcast who will live the rest of her life as an inferior part of society. The differences are already starting in school where she's required to wear a hearing aid to understand the teacher's murmured instructions; they speak low as not to disrupt the telepathic communication occuring for the rest of the class.

One day Kari gets so frustrated by her lack of telepathy, she fumes at her friend Raf to stop pestering her. And he does. He completely stops and slumps to the floor. Kari is terrified at whatever she's done to him. He's fine, and she moves on, but not before classmate Simon notices. He knows something is going on with Kari because he has the same power. It turns out Kari isn't a zero after all, but her ability isn't reading minds, she can control them.

What's cool about Open Minds is the mix of new technology, slang and a unique world setting, but there are enough familiar aspects to ground the story in reality. Once the story gets going, the pacing is fast, and constantly moving. Some of the plot turns surprised me, and it reminded me at times of Ilsa Bick's Ashes.

You can get the ebook at a great price now: B&N Link here

The second book in the series, Closed Hearts, comes out this week May 23. Stay tuned for a post all about the continuing story!

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Word on Captcha

I admit: up until a month or two ago I had captcha on my comments. It's the thing where you have to decipher increasingly fuzzy and obscure wording prior to commenting on a blog in order to prove you aren't a robot. 

But the more blogs I visited, the more frustrated I became with bizarre captcha screens. Kinda like this:

Half the time I enter it wrong and have to try again, sometimes losing my post in the process. Most blogs - like Blogger - have additional options to block out spam comments. You can choose to log in using google, Wordpress or your facebook or twitter account. 

Friendly word of advice: experiment with your comment parameters and consider ridding the universe of captcha. If you insist on using it on your blog, by all means, go ahead. I just can't promise I won't end up like rageface there after commenting.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Book Review: Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Across the Universe
Beth Revis
YA Sci Fi/Romace
Published: 2011

If you have the chance to listen to the audiobook, I highly recommend it. The narrator is actor Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under) who is superb (Sadly, I only made it through a few chapters of the audio due to some technical problems with my download, so I finished the book in paperback). 

Across the Universe is a Young Adult novel with sci-fi elements; I would label it "gateway sci-fi" as it takes a lighter approach to a space travel mystery. The main character awakens from her cryochamber too early on the 300-year journey to a new planet. Her story is told in alternate chapters with a teen boy born on the ship who is prepped to be the ship's next overseer. He has no idea an entire cargo floor is inhabited by frozen humans who founded the exploration project; meanwhile, the non-frozens have birthed new generations and a dictatorship rose within it, which is, expectedly, mysterious and tyrannical. 

What sold me on the book was Beth Revis herself, who is a delight in person. She spoke fondly of a childhood watching Star Trek and reading sci-fi novels. I can definitely see those facets worked into the story, even though this is a far cry from hard sci-fi (which I personally am not into, but have read a sampling of). 

I like that YA explores twists on so many genres; this is a cool concept that feels more fresh than the seemingly endless paranormal abilities stories. This book only scratches the surface of a larger plot that will continue in books 2 and 3. I would recommend it for a first foray into sci-fi, or if a YA space adventure mixed with romance sounds appealing.

Friday, May 11, 2012

New Follower Giveaway!!

Welcome new followers from the A to Z Blogging Challenge!

I'd love to give away some books to anyone who follows the blog. One of the great aspects of attending a writing conference is the free books! I'll need to invest in a full wall of IKEA Billy shelving if I hang on to all of these, so I'd love to give these brand new books a good home.

To Enter: Comment below with a way to contact you and which book set most interests you. Then, tell me about a recent book you've enjoyed. I'll choose two random winners!

Set #1 Historical Romance:

Set #2: Contemporary Romance

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Book Review: Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles

Rules of Attraction
Simone Elkeles
Young Adult - Contemporary
Published: 2011
Rules of Attraction is considered book #2 in the Perfect Chemistry series, but it's really more of a companion novel. Perfect Chemistry features gang-banger Alex Fuentes and his love/hate relationship with Brittany, a girl from a well-to-do family. Rules of Attraction involves Alex's younger brother Carlos who has his own story that reflects similar themes from the first book.

Carlos Fuentes is another great character who works best when he's devilishly smart-mouthed. I love reading his Spanglish wisecracks. Carlos' mother forces him to finish school in Colorado where Alex moved for college in order to keep him safe from gang activity in Mexico. He fights the change wishing he could stay in Mexico or move back to Chicago (where Perfect Chemistry takes place). Arrangements are made for Carlos to stay with the family of a professor Alex knows through his job fixing cars. This professor just happens to have a teenage daughter the same age as Carlos...

Like Perfect Chemistry, each chapter alternates point-of-view between the male and female leads. Kiara is a naive tomboy with a stutter that rears its ugly head when she's nervous. When Carlos enters her life, her stutter returns and they butt heads in pretty much every way possible. You can probably guess what happens from here.   

When his former gang connections seek him out, Carlos is wrongly pegged for drug possession as a set-up. Because of this, he must enroll in an after school program for delinquent kids and figure out how to reject the gang's threats. Kiara struggles with her feelings for Carlos and tries to understand why he resists getting close to anyone. This is an enjoyable read if you liked Perfect Chemistry, the story is pretty similar. The author is at her best writing the Fuentes brothers who are the highlight of both books.


Monday, May 7, 2012

Reflecting on the A to Z Blogging Challenge

If you followed my blog in April, I posted about a TV show for every letter of the alphabet for the A to Z Blogging Challenge, a annual blogfest. Many of you found me from the challenge: welcome!

What made the challenge easy was choosing a theme, writing my posts ahead of time and scheduling them to post on the right days. This advice came from many of the bloggers who posted on the A to Z site prior to the challenge. Before I read that I thought, how hard can it be to blog every day about whatever? But it really helped! I chose TV shows as a theme because I write about TV for a site called slackerheroes with feature articles on TV, movies, comics and books. I figured TV shows was a general enough topic to gain interest from browsing readers while specific enough to share about the shows I like.

I bookmarked the A to Z Challenge sign up list - boy is that a long list! I made effort every few days to go through as may blogs as I could. After awhile I noticed trends. There are a lot of blogs with names like "Sue's Random Musings" and "Another One of those Writing Blogs." Some of the best blogs I found simply featured a person's name, which often seemed to point to professionals who used their blog for specific networking purposes and less for the "random thoughts." I also picked quirky titled blogs and those with a writing angle since that's why I blog.

I found some great ones, with a few surprises:

  • This blog is written by a 71-year-old author reflecting back on the movies she loved from the 1940s-early 1960s. Every reflection is infused with her personal stories and commentary on the era. I couldn't stop reading!
  • had a great comic book theme with lots of thoughtful and colorful posts on the comics world. A very well organized blog with a lot of personality.

The blogging community is large, but I also found overlaps. Some blogs new to me I saw comments by bloggers I was already familiar with. I suppose when you narrow niches to writers of YA or book bloggers you see some crossover.

If you didn't participate this year, I highly recommend it. I'm already thinking of themes for next year -- either books or movies, I think. If you did participate, I'd love to hear about your experience!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Brenda Novak Auction - Tons of Options for Readers and Writers!

Brenda Novak's On-line Auction

Brenda Novak is a romance writer and her auction funds Diabetes research. You can bid on books, gift baskets, e-readers, jewelry, conference admissions, writing workshops, agent and author critiques, query critiques and a few top notch categories of special interest type things.

For writers - those critiques are golden opportunities to receive valuable feedback from published authors and working agents. I keep repeating my mantra FINISH THE BOOK! But I'm definitely checking out some of these partial manuscript critiques.

For readers - tons of genres and authors are represented, some with some pretty low bids starting out. Plus, the money funds research to cure diabetes.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Chicago North RWA Spring Fling Conference

On April 27-28 I attended the Chicago North chapter of Romance Writers of America's Spring Fling conference. Now, if you'd told me a couple years ago I'd end up at a romance writer's conference, I wouldn't have believed it.

This is what I thought all romance novels looked like:

Ok, I know they're not all like this. But what I didn't realize until more recently is that most books I read have what we call "romantic elements." Something else may be primary plot-wise, for example sci-fi with "romantic elements" can still be considered on the fringes of the romance category. RWA is incredibly inclusive!

Since RWA as a whole is widely recognized, and the conference was local, I signed up with hopes of learning more on the craft of writing. RWA Spring Fling did not disappoint! I was so impressed by the level of organization -- I encountered no hiccups whatsoever; it may have been busy behind the scenes, but it appeared seamless to me. The atmosphere was friendly and welcoming, I met tons of great people, both published and pre-published (don't you love that phrasing?). Also impressive: the quality of industry insiders who gave keynote speeches and taught workshops. I heard things at this conference I haven't heard elsewhere. True, I am newer to writing, but I do lots of research on blogs, agent websites and have read at least a few craft books on writing. After this conference, I feel like labeling myself a beginning writer is no longer true. I have an arsenal of resources including local chapters I can join for extended networking and critiques. Now what awaits me is the tough work of finishing my book.

If you're interested in a more specifics of what I found helpful, including my Top Three Take Away Pieces of Advice, please read on! Here also is a link to the event website.