Twilight: First Impressions, Rigid Judgments

Content Note: Infertility, Miscarriage, Stillbirths, Racism

Twilight Recap: It's the first day at a new school for Bella, and she's still trying to learn the names and faces of all her new classmates. In the school cafeteria, she catches her first glimpse of the Cullens children: five beautiful adopted/fostered children cared for by Dr. Carlisle Cullen and his wife Esme. 

Regular readers will have noticed by now that I usually start these posts with some quick framing quotes from the text before diving into my commentary for the week, but I'd like to depart from that structure for a quick moment and walk you through my morning so far.

I booted up my copy of Twilight this morning to find where we'd left off last time. As soon as I saw the next passage, I remembered exactly what had caught my eye in my first read-through, and I knew precisely what I wanted to talk about: the pitfalls of judging others in general and a little bit of personal insight into why you shouldn't make snap judgments about people based on their reproductive decisions.

Because today's Twilight passage starts out talking about infertility and adoption, I wanted to illustrate the blog entry with a photo that played off of that. I went to Google Image Search and keyed in "adoption" and my eye was immediately caught by this beautiful photo of a new father gazing lovingly at his adopted daughter. Now, I've been taught that it is both courteous and appropriate to host images with my own bandwidth instead of using other people's bandwidth, and when I saved off the image file to my local computer I was a little surprised to see the name of the photo was "grosspicture.jpg". My exact thought process went thus:  

"Gross Picture"? Huh?? Oh, I'll bet the father in the picture has the last name of "Gross". Or, I suppose it could be the photographer's name. Well, whoever it is, I'll bet they got teased a lot as a child. Still, I'd better rename the photo with their full name so that when I upload it, people won't get the wrong idea.

Sadly, however, this was not the case: when I clicked over to the site host to get the full name of the photographer and/or model, I found that the site host was actually a completely terrifying site that is covered in racist screeds and which I hope is meant to be heavy-handed satire, but I fear it isn't. The site did at least give credit to the actual source of the picture - this is a photo from the NY Times article about Cowboys' linebacker DeMarcus Ware, and the adoption of lovely little Marley after Ware and his wife suffered three failed pregnancies. And if you can read the NY Times article without sobbing profusely, then you're a less emotional person than me.

Now, it should come as no surprise to anyone that there are people on the internet who are horrible, hateful, and just plain wrong, and any attempt of my own to point that out would be at least a decade late to the party and would really just boil down to a repeat of this classic XKCD comic. However, this particular incidence of just plain wrongness stood out at me because, in looking for a picture of "adoption" to illustrate a post about how you shouldn't judge people based on their adoption choices, I inadvertently found a site that thought it was quite appropriate to do exactly that. Irony!

I just wish the irony hadn't been served with a heavy slice of racism, and I feel sort of depressed to share the same planet with the people who author that site.

Twilight, Chapter 1: First Sight

   “They look a little old for foster children.”
   “They are now, Jasper and Rosalie are both eighteen, but they’ve been with Mrs. Cullen since they were eight. She’s their aunt or something like that.”
   “That’s really kind of nice — for them to take care of all those kids like that, when they’re so young and everything.”
   “I guess so,” Jessica admitted reluctantly, and I got the impression that she didn’t like the doctor and his wife for some reason. With the glances she was throwing at their adopted children, I would presume the reason was jealousy. “I think that Mrs. Cullen can’t have any kids, though,” she added, as if that lessened their kindness.

Now it's time for a little bit of personal sharing, which may or may not be "TMI" for everyone - if it does turn out to be too much information, I apologize and I'll try not to make this a habit.

My husband and I are struggling with infertility at the moment. We've been trying to conceive for awhile now, and we're currently on our second IVF attempt. If there's one thing I can tell you about infertility, it's that when you want to have kids and you can't, it sucks pretty bad. The treatments are astonishingly expensive, and very few American health insurance companies cover much, if any, of the process. The medications have incredibly painful side effects - manic-depressive cycles, extreme nausea, and intense abdominal cramps - which will shatter your nerves at a time when all you can think about is all those studies that say that one of the biggest determining factors in IVF success is your stress level. No pressure, haha!

I myself haven't slept more than a couple of hours in the last 3 days because a medication I have to take at night has the same effect on me as a 6-pack of Red Bull. During the day I crash and burn and everyone at work asks me why I look so tired, while I work up excuses to avoid the subject. Husband and I haven't told anyone in Real Life about this IVF process except a few close friends and family because possibly the hardest part of the IVF process is the very-likely prospect of failure. We've already lived through one failed IVF process where every single one of our embryos suffered arrested development (i.e., they stopped growing) before we even had the chance to put them inside for implantation, and it's very possible that this second attempt may end the same way, since the doctors believe the problem is genetic in nature.

Now, I tell you all this not so that you'll feel sorry for me (please don't) and not so that this blog can become an infertility blog (it won't), but rather so that I can honestly say here that I don't see Jessica as being out-of-line with her 'qualifier' that the Cullens' adoption policies may be less out a gracious desire to heal the world and make it a better place and more because they simply want children and adoption is the only way they can get them. There's absolutely, 100% nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't (in my opinion) automatically make you "really kind of nice" - at least not any more than any other parent with a wanted child.

I said last week that while adoption can be a good thing, it's not an automatic good. People can and do adopt children for many reasons, just as people have children in general for many reasons. Some people adopt because they feel a higher calling to share their good fortune and loving home environment with a child that might not otherwise have that blessing; some people adopt simply because they very much want to have children in their family and can't accomplish that dream any other way. And then there are some truly oddball reasons for adopting, like when Bianca Cappello adopted a child because it was the only way she could convince Archduke Francesco de Medici of Tuscany to marry her and make her an archduchess - that particular adoption may be fascinating for many reasons, but probably we shouldn't automatically deem the act "really kind of nice" of Miss Bianca, because it really probably wasn't (even if it did work out well for the child in the end).

I say this not because I think Bianca Cappello is some kind of typical adoptive parent (I don't), but rather to illustrate that, to my way of thinking, actions are rarely in themselves good or bad, at least not in the "moral" sense of those words - most often, it is the intention behind the action that makes it good, bad, or neutral. Like any action, adoption can be undertaken for good reasons, for bad reasons, and for completely neutral reasons. I'm reminded of George MacDonald's book, "The Princess and Curdie", where the wise godmother points out to the titular Curdie, "It is a good thing to eat your breakfast, but you don't fancy it's very good of you to do it. The thing is good, not you."

The problem with Bella is that she can't seem to reserve judgment on people - everyone she has met so far today has been instantly classified as good or bad, usually within a few minutes of meeting them. Eric and Jessica are obviously bad in her mind - the two have been described in the most unflattering of terms and their descriptions have been carefully worded to convey unpleasantness. Eric is gangly, suffers from skin problems, has shiny oily hair, and is "over-helpful". Jessica "prattles" and will be mentally condemned by Bella three times in a single conversation for failing to recognize the Cullens' greatness: once, for being so small-minded as to find the sexual coupling of the adopted siblings shocking; twice, for failing to immediately agree that the Cullens are obviously really kind of nice (here Jessica is condemned for jealousy); and a third time for pointing out that Bella shouldn't waste her time chasing Edward (here Jessica is condemned for sour grapes). The Cullens, on the other hand, have already been classified as good in Bella's mind, and seemingly nothing will be able to change her judgment on that front. Her snap judgment is even odder in light of the fact that we really only know a few bare facts about the family:

  1. The father is a doctor of some kind. 
  2. The children are all adopted or fostered. 
  3. The children are all astonishingly beautiful. 
  4. The children don't socialize much at school.

That's pretty much all we know about them so far, and none of those points really screams "sainted family of saints" at me. Indeed, except for #2, the above points seem like the perfect setup for a family of Libbies.

   “Which one is the boy with the reddish brown hair?” I asked. I peeked at him from the corner of my eye, and he was still staring at me, but not gawking like the other students had today — he had a slightly frustrated expression. I looked down again.
   “That’s Edward. He’s gorgeous, of course, but don’t waste your time. He doesn’t date. Apparently none of the girls here are good-looking enough for him.” She sniffed, a clear case of sour grapes. I wondered when he’d turned her down.

Of course, we've mentioned before that one of the hardest things about analyzing Twilight is the degree to which the narration is thickly filtered through the character of Bella Swan. Maybe it's not that Bella makes snap judgments about the people around her (Jessica & Eric = Bad; Cullens = Good), maybe it's that the goodness and badness of those characters has already been established in the mind of the author, and Bella is just able to pick up on those characteristics with the astonishing quickness of an author-insert character.

The problem with this, however, is that we can't really confirm whether Bella is judgmental or psychic because most of her snap judgments are never confirmed or denied properly in the actual text. Jessica's "clear case of sour grapes" is a perfect example: I'm fairly certain we never hear one way or another whether Edward "turned her down" in the way that Bella is assuming. If it had turned out that Bella's hunch is right, then we could take from that fact that Bella is either incredibly good at reading people or has a direct line to the author; if Bella's hunch turned out to be wrong, she would be a human and flawed character that occasionally jumps to the wrong conclusions. Instead, however, we never hear one way or another whether or not Bella's assumption is correct, and it feels like this is less a matter of the author forgetting to resolve a dangling characterization and more a matter of the author feeling like the characterization has already been resolved by virtue of Bella's fiat - I think we're just supposed to take as fact that Jessica asked Edward out in the past and he blew her off because Bella has said so

What's even more interesting is that if this is the case - if Edward has a history of turning down all the pretty girls at the school for dates and Jessica is one of his spurned suitors - then Jessica is being far more gracious than I would expect of a jilted suitor in a modern American high school. Given a family of relative outcasts who seem more interested in dating one another and honing their graceful beauty to perfection than going out with the local high school hotties, I can think of a few juicier insults than, essentially, He's so hot, and we're so not. Burn!

eReader: Running CM7 Firmware on a Nook Color from an SD Card

Update: There is a newer version of this post here.

I think I've mentioned approximately 758 times now that I bought a Nook Color when they first came out last year, and liked it so much that I immediately bought another one for Husband (so that he would stop hogging mine).

I do love my Nook Color, but I'll also frankly admit that after the shine wore off a little, my daily experience with the device wasn't all that I had hoped for. I don't feel like I'm an especially picky person, but the stock software that came on the device just wasn't well-suited for my style of reading, and I soon found myself reading more and more on my 4" android phone than on my 7" Nook Color. Clearly something was wrong with this picture.

I read up on rooting the device so that I could transform the Nook Color into a "proper" android tablet, with the idea that access to the Google android market would solve this problem. I eventually went with the wonderful autonooter rooting method, and everything was solved forever - I still had all the stock B&N software for accessing my Nook magazine and newspaper subscriptions, but I also had an android launcher (Zeam) configured to basically mirror my phone setup, but on my Nook Color. Awesome!

The only problem with this was that the autonooter procedure could be wiped with a B&N update such as the one that went out recently (to rather lackluster community response). And even with the Zeam launcher, the Nook Color still didn't feel like a real tablet device - the icons were very small and spread out across the screen, and the entire device behaved not unlike a small phone stretched to a larger screen. Then, too, there was the problem that rooting did technically void the warranty, which made Husband rather reluctant to try.

All in all, the autonooter method works and works well and I'm absolutely thrilled that clever and thoughtful people took the time to make it, film a helpful tutorial video, and disseminate it online. However, when friends on the MobileRead forums started recommending an alternative method for creating a full tablet experience - running the CM7 firmware from a removable micro-SD card - I knew I had to try it out.

The benefits to the CM7-from-SD-card experience are many and varied. The entire procedure takes less than 30 minutes to setup. Once setup, your Nook Color can run either the B&N stock software OR the CM7 tablet firmware at any time - the only trigger is whether or not the magical SD card has been inserted prior to powering up the device. The Nook Color doesn't have to be rooted, and everything involving CM7 and your new android tablet environment is confined entirely to the SD card, so you (apparently) aren't voiding your warranty or risking damage to your device. Best of all, the tablet experience provided here really is a full-fledged tablet environment - the icons are properly sized and the screen space available for your shortcuts and widgets is absolutely amazing.

Now, I want to stress that I have nothing to do with CM7 or the Cyanogen team whatsoever - I didn't even know they existed before last week. And I take no responsibility for anything you do to your device, etc., etc. boiler-plate legal disclaimer. But having said *that*, I wanted to put together a video of how to install CM7 on an SD card for use with your Nook Color, because frankly I find written instructions to be harder to follow than visual ones. (Although this eventually became five videos because Adobe Premier wouldn't let me easily stream my "live-camera" movies with my "computer-screenshot-movies" without scrunching the computer stuff to a totally unreadable format.)

Ready? Let's get started.

Here is a list of all the things you will need:

  1. A Nook Color. (Duh.)
  2. A micro SD card. There's no mandatory size / format / manufacturer for this process, but supposedly quality does matter on these things and I have no idea how you tell the "good" ones from the "bad" ones without buying them first. I use this micro SD card - I own three of these now, all from this listing on Amazon, and two of them are running CM7 for Nook Colors as I type. (You'll also need a way to connect your micro SD card to your computer - something like this should work.)
  3. An image-writing program like WinImage. I used WinImage85 in my tutorial.
  4. The CM7 installer image here. Note that the ".gz" extension is a compressed format - you'll need to unzip it with a program like WinRar. (Update: This link seems to be dead now, and I'm not sure why. I've uploaded the version I used here, but I take no credit for this build. I think you can still get it free on the CyanogenMod website, but I can't find it at the moment.)
  5. The CM7 build here. (Download the file. Do not unzip - just leave as is.)
  6. The CM7 google apps installer here. (Scroll to the bottom until you see this download link.)

OK. Now that you've got your hardware (Nook Color, micro SD card, and a card reader to connect to your computer) and your software (WinRar, WinImage, CM7 installer, CM7 build, CM7 gapps), we're ready to start watching videos.

  • Video 1 is an introduction to the process and gets you from "What is this whole CM7 thing that Ana keeps talking about?" to "Mmkay, we're putting the SD card in the computer now."
  • Video 2 is a step-by-step computer tutorial showing how to use WinImage to write the CM7 installer to the SD card and how to move the CM7 build file over to the imaged card.
  • Video 3 shows you how to put the SD card into your Nook Color so that the CM7 installer can build CM7 onto the SD card for actual use, and what to expect when you boot up CM7 for the first time.
  • Video 4 is another step-by-step computer tutorial for where to put the gapps (Google apps) installer on your SD card for installation to the CM7 build.
  • Video 5 shows you how to walk through the Google apps installation process, how to connect to WiFi, and how shiny and cool CM7 is once you've done this final step.

Overall, the process is fairly simple, and I actually think a video of the process will probably seem like overkill to anyone familiar with the process, but I hope this will help newbies (like me!) who feel overwhelmed by not knowing what, exactly, to expect. Once you've seen the videos, hopefully this won't seem so scary or strange.

As a final note, credits must be given where credit is most definitely due:
  1. Huge love goes out to The Unlockr for their Autonooter method that originally got me brave enough to mess around with my Nook Color in the first place.
  2. Even more huge love to The Unlockr for their equally helpful instructions on how to flash the Nook Color back to a complete fresh-out-of-the-box factory reset
  3. Great appreciation goes to Quinxy von Besiex for his helpful article on the difference between running CM7 from SD card verses from the internal memory of the device...
  4. ...and for his wonderful how-to-use-a-bluetooth-keyboard-with-your-CM7-nook-color instructions, which were what convinced me to use CM7 and which I will use just as soon as my new bluetooth keyboard arrives in the mail.
  5. Buckets of credit goes to verygreen for the size-agnostic SD card CM7 installer, as well as for the instructions that I followed in this process
  6. The community of MobileRead deserves special thanks for introducing me to the very concept of CM7 and its use with the Nook Color. 
  7. And, of course, the Cyanogen team deserves my undying love and gratitude for making and distributing this incredibly cool mod.
I hope that someone finds this video helpful, and I appreciate any and all comments, emails, questions, and constructive criticisms of my speaking voice.

Update: Once you have everything set up on your SD card exactly the way you want (apps downloaded, emails setup, etc.), you can create a backup of the SD card contents by following these steps:
  1. Turn off your Nook Color. 
  2. Remove the SD card and insert it into your computer card reader. 
  3. Open the WinImage program.
  4. Select Disk --> "Creating Virtual Hard Disk image from physical drive..."
  5. Pick your SD card at the prompt. 
  6. Save the image as an "*.ima" file to your local computer. 
  7. After the image is saved, you'll be able to browse the partitions in WinImage - just ignore this and shut it down. 

To restore the image to a new SD card, follow these steps: 
  1. Pop in a new SD card of the same size (or larger). 
  2. Open the WinImage program. 
  3. Select Disk --> "Restore Virtual Hard Disk image on physical drive..."
  4. Pick your new SD card at the prompt. 
  5. The image will save to the SD card - when you pop it into your Nook Color and boot up, everything should be the same as it was when you backed up the initial SD card. 
Warning: Writing this image to the new SD card will partition the new card and the only way to get the card back to normal is to use a de-partitioning program like Paragon Partition Manager. Supposedly, the stock Windows Disk Management can do the trick, but I never could get it to work. So don't load this image up on SD cards willy-nilly.

Update: The Cyanogen website has a very nice tutorial that some people may find a little more clear-cut than my own rambling videos. Check it out here

    eReader: Library Books and Adobe Digital Editions

    Recently, I just helped my mother buy her first eReader, and she's been so excited to check out free eBooks from her local library. The process is far from intuitive, though, and in light of my recent post encouraging people to join their local library and/or the Free Library of Philadelphia, I thought I'd create a quick-and-dirty tutorial detailing how to check out books from an Overdrive-affiliated library.

    The biggest trick is that the majority of Overdrive titles have Adobe DRM, and thus are only available for management and loading to your eReader through the Adobe Digital Editions program. The program itself is quite powerful, and even lets you return your library book before its due date (otherwise, it will just stop working on your device after its due date, and the book license will be returned automatically), but these options are a little hidden within the program and may not be immediately apparent to new users.

    My amateur tutorial video can be found on YouTube and is also embedded directly here:

    Metapost: Subscription and Site Navigation

    It's recently come to my attention via a devoted reader who shall only be known henceforth by the codename "Husband" that apparently my blog isn't instantly intuitive to navigate. I reassured Husband that the blog is quite intuitive to navigate for people who are used to blogs, but Husband pointed out that not everyone is used to blogs, even in this day and age, and that just because something is intuitive to me doesn't mean it is to everyone else.

    I had to concede he had a point, and I really do want my blog to be as accessible as possible, so while I solicit opinions about navigation from all my other readers (I have readers! I got shivers typing that!), I thought I'd put together a "how to navigate this site" post in the hopes that it might help someone.

    If you're not subscribed to the blog, there are a whole slew of little thumbnail links at the top of the page so that you can subscribe via the medium of your choice:

    1. The orange rss feed button will take you to the rss feed link for this site, perfect for your favorite rss reader like Google Reader or the Google Reader Android application. This is your best option for blog subscribing as it reports every blog post I publish straight to your reader account.
    2. The dark blue Facebook button will take you to my Facebook profile where you are more than welcome to friend me. I try to remember to post all my posts to Facebook, but in reality I tend to only remember for the weekly Twilight posts and the GoodReads reviews.
    3. The light blue Twitter button will take you to my Twitter profile where you are more than welcome to friend me. I try to remember to post all my posts toTwitter, but in reality I tend to only remember for the weekly Twilight posts and the GoodReads reviews. 
    4. The black Amazon button will take you to my Amazon profile to see my reviews.
    5. The white Barnes and Noble button will take you to my B&N profile to see my reviews. 
    6. The cream GoodReads button will take you to my GoodReads profile to see my reviews. 
    7. The white and red Gmail button will bring up my email and you can drop me a note any time!
    Label Navigation
    If you're only here for a very specific types of posts, you can navigate by the post type links on the right side of the blog:

    If it's the Twilight posts that really float your boat, you can bookmark the "Blog Deconstructions" category; if you're more interested in the posts on managing your eReaders, the "Reading and e-Readers" category is right up your alley. And, of course, if you just come for the scathing 1-star reviews, we've got a category for that, too!

    History Navigation
    If you're looking to see what's been posted recently, there's a list of posts by date on the right side of the blog as well:

    The post titles are shown as part of the history, so you should be able to easily glance at the history and drill down to what most interests you.

    Planned Posts
    If you're interested to see what I have planned for blog posts in the near future, there's a calendar app installed on the right side of the blog:

    Important events such as the weekly Twilight posts and author interviews are listed here in advance, so you can know precisely what to look forward to seeing on the blog!

    I do welcome any and all comments on the blog layout, navigation, and commenting engine - and I'll do my best to make and keep this site as accessible as possible for all my readers.

    eReader: Free Library of Philadelphia

    One of the incredible things about having an eReader (yes, even a Kindle!) is being able to check out and read library books on your eReader without ever having to leave the comfort of your home. Unfortunately, funding for public libraries being what it is, not every library has yet affiliated with the Overdrive lending program, or necessarily has a large number of licenses.

    If you're new to the library scene, you can check if your library has an Overdrive online lending program from your library's web page or from the Overdrive library search

    Hopefully, your local library will be represented among the Overdrive partners (and if they aren't, do remember to write them and express your interest!), but if you're interested in being a member of more than one online library, I can't recommend highly enough the delightful Free Library of Philadelphia (FLP).

    Like most public libraries, the FLP is free for local residents to join and use, but people who aren't residents of Philadelphia can still join and use the library for the extremely reasonable fee of $35 a year. The application process can be done entirely by mail, but locating the links can be a little tricky.

    • The main page of the FLP where you can search the library catalog can be found here
    • The FLP account registration process can be followed here.
    • The FLP mail application (to be sent with your check) can be downloaded here.

    Your new FLP card takes about two weeks to arrive in the mail, and you may need to call to activate it once it does arrive, but the process overall is fairly painless and a wonderful deal for dedicated readers.

    Do remember, though, to support your local library - and it never hurts to call up and ask how you can go about donating the funds for the latest eBooks you're interested in reading. If you're fairly certain that you're only going to read an eBook once, there's no harm in buying it for the library rather than having it sit on your Nook-account or Kindle-account or SonyReader-account or wherever else for all eternity.

    eReader: Pocket Readers

    I purchased a new eReader this week (a PocketBook 360) and was directly involved in the purchase of another eReader (a Sony PRS-350) for my mom and I have to say that there's nothing like the buying rush of a new eReader for me. I'll sorely tempted to go out and purchase another three or four eReaders, just so I can pile them all up together and gaze lovingly at them.

    Which isn't to say that I don't get a lot of use out of my current eReaders, because I do. And they're all *necessary* in their own ways, at least as far as "necessary" can be used in conjunction with an expensive electronic toy (I am acutely aware that I am very lucky both to have the money to indulge my hobbies and a family that supports me in doing so). My android phone is perfect for mobile reading and annotation (god bless Moon+ and its poor beleaguered creator who is always patient with me no matter how many emails I write him), my Nook Color is a delightful tablet (at least it is when B&N isn't trying to break my root with lackluster updates) that is wonderful for magazine reading and (again) Moon+ annotating, my adorable new PocketBook 360 (with sun-friendly eInk and a battery that can outlast my marathon reading sessions) will henceforth never leave my person (I bought a jacket with inner pockets specifically for this reason), and my Nook Classic (the first eReader I owned!) is necessary for long trips when my 700+ library might not be able to keep me occupied and thus I might need to connect to B&N over the 3G to buy and download new books right away. (The fact that I am never more than an hour from my house and I have enough reading material to last me the next 7 years does not prevent that irrational fear from keeping me awake at nights.)

    So I didn't just buy a new eReader because I like putting all my eReaders in a pile and rolling luxuriously around on them. I had a serious use case (Reading on the run. Multi-tasking reading.) with serious requirements (SD card expansion. eInk. Size and weight limits.) and serious research was done in support of all that. But at the same time, I recognized that quite a lot of my rationalization for the "need" of this eReader was very "Step 3: Profit" in that I kept saying and really, truly believing, that this new eReader would make me read more. And while it's true that there are times when I don't whip my phone out to read even though I would like to (bright sunlight on walks to the car, or even just because I need to save the battery for that day because I won't be near a charger all day long), and that those times were "lost opportunity" costs in terms of reading, I was also able to admit to myself that the eReader solution to that problem wasn't going to equal a sudden uptick in books-read-per-week by any stretch of the imagination.

    This realization - admitted to myself in the dead of night and when no one was listening - made me realize that I was at least as much motivated by the hunt for a pretty new shiny thing as I was for a cold, logical, rational "solution" to the problem that it's a long walk from my desk to my car every day and I really could be using that time more wisely. It's the same hunt that brings a flush to mom's cheeks when she's searching for a bargain on new shoes, and it's the same delight that Husband gets when he's buying new software to integrate into ARAT or KIP or any of the other software programs I request from him. And I really wish I could draw like my friend J.D., because her story of how she acquired a shiny new Kobo isn't too dissimilar (in the sense of dancing elves) than my own PocketBook hunt.

    To be honest, I'm absolutely ecstatic that I got my PocketBook 360 (and I'm equally thrilled that we got my mother a Sony PRS-350 as an early Mother's Day present). And in some ways I am reading more because of it - it's the perfect size and weight to carry around the house and read while putting away dishes, sorting laundry, and playing video games with the other hand. I've always read this way with paper books (Odd that I wasn't diagnosed with A.D.D. until adulthood, and even then only as the most mild of cases. Does anyone else out there read, play video games, and watch movies at the same time, or is it just me? I really want to know if I'm normal or not.) and I was always a little sad that my eReaders didn't facilitate the same reading habits. Now with my adorable, perfect, wonderful little PocketBook 360, my life is complete - at least until the next toy comes along.

    Update: My Amazon review video still hasn't posted to Amazon, but it is on YouTube now:

    Review: How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming

    How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It ComingHow I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming
    by Mike Brown

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming / 978-0385531085

    Like many people, I watched with interest the 2006 showdown that culminated in the announcement that Pluto was no longer a "planet". I'd been taught since childhood that Pluto was a planet, and in some ways it seemed a little sad for it to be stripped of its status. Ultimately, however, the decision seemed reasonable given what very little I knew of the situation. The year came and went, Pluto was demoted to "dwarf planet" (a category it would share with several other small bodies), and life went on. When this book came available on Amazon Vine, I was quick to snatch it up because I was sure the in-depth story would be interesting, but if you had told me at the time that I would stay up until the wee hours of the morning madly turning pages as fast as I could read, them I would have been skeptical to say the least.

    "How I Killed Pluto" is a truly delightful read, and a wonderful page-turner. Professor of planetary astronomy and author Mike Brown writes in a distinctly clear and clever manner, and the science on display here is astonishingly easy to follow - if Dr. Brown teaches as clearly as he writes, then it must be a delight to be one of his students. The book follows Brown's discoveries of several bodies in our solar system, including the "tenth planet" (for a very short time, at least!) Eris, as well as his increasingly firm opinion that the objects he is discovering are not truly planets - and, by extension, neither can be Pluto.

    It's surprising to see someone with so much to gain from a looser planetary definition (as Eris' discoverer, Brown would be the only living human being to discover a planet!) so strongly and fervently fight for the opposition - it's abundantly clear throughout the book that Brown is devoted to what he sees as the science and 'rightness' of planetary definitions as opposed to the fame and attention that would naturally come with being a planet-finder. Indeed, if Brown's love of science and mathematics were not already abundantly clear from his frenzied search of the solar system for more planetoids, it would be clearly illustrated in his delightfully obsessive graphings of his daughter's first months of life - feeding times, feeding incidents (and who did the feeding!), sleeping times, and so much more!

    And this is where enjoyment of the book may be different for some readers. Brown spends a great deal of time weaving his tale of astronomical discoveries closely to the story of his engagement and wedding to his wife and the birth of their first daughter. In some ways, these parts of the book really humanize the story and place it squarely back on earth instead of in the distant skies, but in other ways, I can see where the slow pacing and all the wacky newborn stories might drag on for some readers. The wife-and-daughter tales never detract from the story and did many times make me laugh out loud, but in some places they don't seem to add as much - particularly near the end when you're racing towards the controversial vote and you just want to see what happens.

    Overall, "How I Killed Pluto" is that rare and wonderful thing: an educational and instructional book that also manages to be easy to understand and delightful to read. Brown's passion for astronomy shines through every page of the book, and it's impossible to not be infected by his joy and wonder in the solar system around us.

    NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.

    ~ Ana Mardoll

    View all my reviews

    Twilight: Pretty People Make Pretty... Foster Children?

    Twilight Recap: Bella has learned from her new friend Jessica the names and relationships of the Cullen 'children'. Although Bella takes in stride the information that many of the adopted "siblings" are dating each other, she is somewhat startled by the Cullens' old-fashioned names.

    Twilight, Chapter 1: First Sight

    Earlier when the ever-helpful (but not over-helpful!) Jessica rattled off the Cullen's names, we got this earful:

       “That’s Edward and Emmett Cullen, and Rosalie and Jasper Hale. The one who left was Alice Cullen; they all live together with Dr. Cullen and his wife.”

    Open Thread: Why I Love My Husband

    As much as I hate my current day job, it has one advantage (apart from, you know, regular pay) in that Husband works at the same company and we can communicate through the inter-office IM system as much as we want. I really love Husband's company and conversation, so this is a major perk in my day, and we often spend time chatting while our respective softwares install, compile, spawn child processes, and otherwise live out their short happy lives.

    I also rely on Husband mightily to reassure me and calm me down when I get frustrated with my current job. He does this with patience and aplomb and seems to be only getting better as time goes by, for which I am thoroughly grateful. Today, for instance, we had this exchange:

    Ana [11:06 AM]:

    I have a rant.
    But it's not worth saying. Because you don't really care and it will just get me worked up and it's stupid.
     So instead I'm just going to do this: 
    Ranty stuff! Rant! Rant! You know?? Rant. Rant, rant, rant. Rant!! Oh well. Rant.
    Now I want you to say that you understand and I'm right and you love me. 

    Husband [11:11 AM]:
    your rant was very eloquent... deserves to be on your blog

    And while that may sound like sarcasm over the internet, believe me when I say it was the kindest thing he could have done for me and that I am the luckiest woman alive. *grins*

    Review: 1 Mix, 100 Cakes

    1 Mix, 100 Cakes: Take 1 Basic Recipe and Make 100 Kinds of Cake1 Mix, 100 Cakes
    by Christine France

    My rating: 2 of 5 stars

    1 Mix, 100 Cakes / 9781407564333

    I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I love the idea: there's supposed to be one basic cake mix here, with 100 variations on the theme. This is a great idea in theory - you can mix the basic cake elements even before you decide which variation to make - but it doesn't pan out in practice. First of all, there *isn't* one mix - there are variations on the "basic mix" depending on the extra ingredients; for instance, the moisture elements and sweet elements in the "basic mix" varies from recipe to recipe. Without the "1 Mix" aspect, this book just becomes "100 Cakes", but only in the loosest sense of the term. A lot of the "cakes" are cupcakes and bar desserts, which is fine for my own needs, but isn't quite Exactly What It Says On The Tin.

    Another thing I like about this book is that *every* recipe here has a photo - that's a major deal for me. I really, really, really like to see photos before baking, and I think that aspect is very important. The implementation is flubbed, though, because a lot of the cakes are shown "post-icing" without any kind of "side-slice" view - this is particularly frustrating with cakes where the icing is just rolled-out fondant because I don't need to see what fondant looks like! And as much as I love the information presented in pictures, that doesn't mean that words become optional; there's no description of *any* of the cakes outside of the 'information' in the title - you have no way of knowing how sweet or sour or whatever any of the cakes are *before* you choose to make them.

    I would definitely not recommend this book for beginners - the instructions are confusing and in some cases just plain wrong or strange. Instead of creaming the wet ingredients and adding the dry, the reader is told to combine all the dry ingredients and then dump the wet ones in all at once! This goes against everything I've read about baking cakes. Since the cakes don't have descriptions, sometimes the instructions are extra confusing - the "Whole Orange" cake *seems* to call for a whole orange (skin and all) added to the mix, but it's tricky to tell.

    It's worth noting that the recipes I've tried with this book have all resulted in very dense and dry cakes and in icing that is very sweet but not very flavorful. I honestly thought this was my own fault, but it sounds like another reviewer had the same experience, so now I'm re-evaluating whether or not I want to continue trying to work with this book. I think, ultimately, it's not worth the struggle - there are plenty of good pictures-plus-text dessert books out there that make it clear what to expect in advance from a recipe and that have clearer instructions. Also, as much as I love this little hardcover with the puffy covers, the pages are starting to fall out after very gentle handling.

    ~ Ana Mardoll

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    Author Interview: Katherine McKay on "My House Eats People"

    Ana: Katherine, an excerpt from your novel “My House Eats People” was submitted in the ABNA 2010 contest. You provided us with a truly scary and original storyline: the narrator’s house was slowly eating the family members - day by day, the child would come how to find that another family member had simply… disappeared. If that wasn’t creepy enough, the piles of junk and clothing in the house start to form into moving creatures that stalk the house at night in a state of apparent torment. Can you tell us more about your novel and where it goes from the end of the excerpt? What sorts of themes do you explore and what do you hope the reader will take away from the experience?

    Katherine: Well, that's an interesting question. I never set out to write a book about a house that eats people! The book was meant to be set somewhere else entirely - not only another house, but also in another dimension. But when I was writing the beginning, I had the idea of "wouldn't it be funny if the parents didn't just disappear - they disappeared from their own house?" Then I casually went on and wrote a different book entirely...until the input of two agents (and plenty of other people online) resulted in not one, but two, re-writes! The second, and I hope final, re-write is going on right now.

    So what's going to happen now, at last, is that the house is the centre of the story and becomes a monster the kids have to fight. Hopefully it will terrify kids but make them laugh at the same time, never becoming TOO dark but still living up to the scary opening chapters!

    Ana: There's a lot to be said for scary children's stories - I think a lot of readers crave a good scare, no matter what their age! What was your inspiration when writing your novel? Were you influenced by a specific author or work that inspired you to add your voice to this genre?

    Katherine: No particular writers...although I loved reading as a child, it was more straightforward adventure stories such as Enid Blyton. I'm probably more influenced in terms of story by TV programmes such as Buffy or the new Dr Who. I've always wanted to write books though! Children's books have become so exciting in the past 10-15 years. Once I accepted that you don't have to be as good as someone like Philip Pullman, I thought - why not have a go?

    Ana: When I first read the excerpt for “My House Eats People”, I was reminded strongly of Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline”, with the overall theme of being truly unsafe in a place that is traditionally considered our haven - if you’re not safe in your own home, then where can you possibly go for respite? If you could compare your novel to any other existing work, which one would it be and why?

    Katherine: Actually doing these re-writes, I'm most influenced by "The Sea, The Sea" by Iris Murdoch! Not in style, talent or intelligence because she was a Cambridge professor, philosopher and amazing writer - but the theme and the sense that anything could happen.

    Ana: Is this your first or only finished work, or have you written other novels? If you have written other novels, how do they compare to this one? Do you have any more novels planned, either as a follow-up to this one, or as a completely different novel or genre?

    Katherine: I wrote a book over ten years ago - a 90's book about twentysomethings being neurotic - yawn! But with my two re-writes, I've got plenty of stuff I can recycle in future books! I'd definitely want to write a sequel to this book. I've also got an idea for a ghost story set on the mudflats of the East English coast - not the most glamourous setting!

    Ana: Haha, I think many classic gothic novels could be improved with the addition of mud! I was first introduced to your novel through the Amazon Breakthrough Award contest of 2010. What prompted you to enter the contest, and what were your overall feelings towards the contest in general?

    Katherine: I entered by chance, having seen it mentioned on another website. I thought I'd be disqualified because my book is technically a children's book. On the other hand plenty of adults have liked it too!

    Ana: Are you currently published or self-published? Where can readers obtain a copy of your novel for them to enjoy? If you’re not currently published, how can readers “sign up” to be notified when your novel does become available?

    Katherine: I'm not published yet. However, after many ups and downs, and failed hopes, I have just signed with a major British agent, so I'm incredibly happy about that! Providing he likes my re-write, my book will be going to publishers in a few months' time. Of course there's a long way to go but having an agent has given my hopes a real boost.

    Ana: Katherine, thank you so very much for being willing to participate in this guest blog interview. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

    Katherine: No, just to thank you for being so interested and for running your website. And I'm sorry, I don't have any photos that don't make me look like a crazy witch - although I'll keep looking!

    Review: Never Knowing

    Never KnowingNever Knowing
    by Chevy Stevens

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Never Knowing / 9780312595685

    Sara Gallagher has a pretty good life - she has a beautiful daughter and a loving fiance, and if her adoptive parents haven't always been as kind to her as they have been to her sisters, well, they've never been outright abusive, either. But when she's given the chance to open her adoption records and look for her birth parents, Sara feels she has to take this chance - until she realizes too late that doing so will embroil her and her young daughter in an open case for a local serial killer...

    "Never Knowing" weighs in at 400 pages, but I suspect most readers will feel compelled to finish it in a single sitting - this book is almost impossible to set down. The novel has all the skill and dark beauty as Chevy Stevens' debut novel, "Still Missing", and the narrative device of a young woman confiding in her therapist as events unfold over the course of several sessions is as incredibly compelling as before. And for readers who enjoy shows like "Law & Order" or "CSI", the hunt for the serial killer is intoxicating - full of exciting twists and frustrating pitfalls.

    What really makes "Never Knowing" stand out as exceptional is the immediacy of the tension and the reality of the characters. The author clearly has an incredible talent with dysfunctional families and with the 'normal' everyday strife that is almost certain to set off bouts of panic attacks in dangerous situations like the ones our protagonist rapidly finds herself in. It's really fascinating to see how the 'big drama' of the serial-killer-on-the-loose situation interacts with the 'little drama' of dysfunctional families in order to create this thick tension that will keep the reader on the edge of their seat. And yet, for all the frustration that the characters create, they always seem extremely immediate and genuine - you never get the sense that the characters are being stupid or stubborn merely for the sake of the plot. Instead, it's simply abundantly clear that these are complex and imperfect humans stuck in terrible situations they aren't prepared to deal with.

    I really cannot think of anything to criticize about this novel. As much as I loved Stevens' debut, "Still Missing", I think I loved "Never Knowing" even more - my heart was pounding throughout the entire story, and I couldn't put the book down until I'd read the final page. I'm incredibly impressed at how well the author has adapted her writing style to a completely fresh new story, and it's really thrilling to see what can be done with real characters in such a terrifying setting. If you liked "Still Missing", I can almost guarantee that you'll love "Never Knowing", and if you haven't read either, then I highly recommend both.

    NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through the author.

    ~ Ana Mardoll

    View all my reviews

    Twilight: Incest and Cults

    Readers, you find me today in a somewhat melancholic mood. You see, I've been following with great pleasure the incredible conversations in the comments of these posts, and I've been thrilled by all the wonderful information that has been brought to the table, from the explanation for why the opening Bible quote in Twilight was so King James Version-y to the delightful breakdown on why "masterpiece" and "swimsuit model" are not synonymous descriptions (more on that later).

    What has saddened-and-delighted me the most, however, are all the absolutely wonderful characterization details and plot "alternatives" that have been brought up in the last few weeks. We've had several suggestions that the Cullens' situation would more adequately lend itself to college or homeschooling, where their home could be a veritable garden of learning. In this scenario, Bella could be drawn to Edward for his erudition and charm, having met him at their after-school job at the local burger joint (where Ed doesn't take lunch breaks because he's a vegetarian, natch). The draw of immortality in this case would be the offer of unlimited learning and self-improvement - a draw that I myself would feel acutely, having realized yesterday that if I never buy another book again, I still have enough unread material to last me for the next 7 years, minimum. (This realization simultaneously pleases and horrifies me - at least partly because a good chunk of my reading material is review requests that all need to be finished yesterday).

    Review: Wither

    Wither (Chemical Garden, #1)Wither
    by Lauren DeStefano

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    Wither / 978-1-442-40905-7

    I'm really pleased at the number of solid "infertile end of the world" dystopias coming out in YA literature lately - between "Wither" and "Bumped", it's almost like a new generation of Margaret Atwoods are honing their literary skills with these thrilling new releases. "Wither" is a strong addition to the genre and if it fails anywhere, it is perhaps with the sometimes muddled world-building - if you can overlook that, then you're almost sure to enjoy this depressing-yet-haunting read.

    "Wither" is set in a world very different from our own. About 80 years before the book starts, the final generation of "normal" humans (people like you and me - let's call them 'Alphas') made a major breakthrough in genetic engineering and every baby born after a certain date was born genetically enhanced to resist every known form of disease. This super-human generation (called "The First Generation" in the novel, but let's call them the 'Betas') has thrived and flourished and are "practically immortal". However, every child born to a Beta (let's call these children 'Gammas') has died almost instantly at the age of either 20 (for girls) or 25 (for boys). Now, 80 years after the first Betas were born, the world is struggling to find a cure and to keep the human race alive somehow with the dwindling stock of Gammas available for breeding.

    It's an ambitious hook, and while it's not easy to plausibly set up (Why did ALL the Alphas move over to the genetically enhanced babies right away? How could they all afford it? Were the designer babies paid for by the government? Were they MANDATED by the government? What about all the Amish and Jehovah's Witness groups that would have religious objections to this sort of thing?), you *could* hand-wave a lot of it pretty easily with a convenient plague that took out everyone except the disease resistant Betas, so it's easy enough to let the gaps in the setup slide. Then the author seems to realize, though, that a world-wide acceptance and implementation of genetically enhanced babies might be a bit harder to explain, so it's briefly dropped in text that the entire world EXCEPT North America has been so completely devastated by wars and bombings that there's no remaining land mass (besides North American) that is large enough to be seen from space - the world is now basically one big ocean. This is covered in maybe two paragraphs in text - you can quite literally blink and miss it.

    So now we have a world where North America is the only thing that exists and everyone in it (except the aging Betas) is absolutely guaranteed to drop dead at either 20 or 25, depending on gender. I'm honestly not sure what a world like that would look like, but what's problematic with "Wither" is that the world looks surprisingly like our own. The premise of the novel is that young women are captured off the street by professional "Gatherers" who sell the girls as breeding stock and sex slaves to the wealthy upper-class who live in beautiful gated estates, but what I'm not sure I understand is how any of that can be possible in this world. What does "wealth" mean in a world where no one can expect to live past 25? Why are the wealthy and the pampered perfectly safe at their parties and rich gatherings, rather than besieged in their estate homes by mobs of ravening apocalypse-crazed young men and women? And where do the absolutely phenomenal amount of goods come from that are lavished on the young protagonist - someone, somewhere, is spinning fine cloths, and creating lovely makeups, and farming delectable animals and vegetables, and I find myself thoroughly disappointed that we don't get to see more of their motivation.

    Even if you sadly jettison the world-building (which I hate to do, because so much of a good dystopia depends on the world-building), the character building in "Wither" also sometimes seems a little anemic. Some admirable attempts were made at the beginning to establish a "gray-and-gray morality" world - the master of the house is an aging Beta desperate to find a cure for his 21-year-old son, and the son is a pampered noble unwilling to imagine that his three new brides would ever want anything more in life than to be his little toys - but by the end, all that seems tossed out in favor of a heroes-and-villains mentality: the aging scientist quickly devolves into a cruel, murdering despot, and we're apparently meant to see his son as a sweetly innocent boy who just somehow failed to notice that his father is Joseph Mengele. Oddly, the main love interest - a boy named Gabriel - seems the least well-characterized of all the people in the book, and sometimes I couldn't help but feel that the novel would have been better if he'd been removed entirely - indeed, I don't even think the story would have to change much to accommodate his absence! On the other hand, the plural wives - Rose, Rhine, Jenna, and Cecily - are so incredibly well-realized that they are perfect examples of how a vibrant character can evolve and change over the course of a novel.

    At the end of the day, "Wither" is a fascinating and lovely read. If it stumbled a little on the world-building, I can't help but feel that it was *still* better than many books that aren't quite so brave and bold. I recommend it despite the minor flaws because it's still a horrifying and incredible read - and because I particularly liked the strong characters of the four sister wives, as well as the clear and vivid portrayal of the horrors of being trapped in a gilded cage.

    NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.

    ~ Ana Mardoll

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    Review: East of Denver

    East of Denver - excerpt from 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award EntryEast of Denver
    by Gregory Hill

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    East of Denver / B004TEYTGO

    This is really one of the most beautiful things I've read this year - I actually cried while reading this excerpt. The prose is incredibly intense and has this wonderfully abrupt, matter-of-fact writing style that really fits the setting and adds so much to the overall characterization. The narrator and his father are so real and genuine, and I love that while the narrator worries for his father, he doesn't constantly baby him or talk down to him. Such an incredible job has been done with the anosmia and senility, and I'm impressed at all the little perfect details that really make the story come alive.

    The hooks so far are just incredible and are guaranteed to keep the reader up at night. I'm wondering now how Unabelle died, and why no one noticed her - does the poor woman have no family or friends? (All the sadness forever.) And this wrinkle with the bank account being drained heavily and the missing checks is really quite serious, and I'm anxious to know how it will all get resolved. Overall, I really think this excerpt is perfect, and I really wish that I could read so much more.

    NOTE: This review is based on a sample excerpt of this book provided through the ABNA contest.

    ~ Ana Mardoll

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    Review: The Dawn Project

    The Dawn Project - excerpt from 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award EntryThe Dawn Project
    by Nicole Anderson

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    The Dawn Project / B004TEYSUG

    There's really so much to like about this excerpt. The world-building is well-done and the plot hook is incredibly strong. The idea of an immortal robot body isn't new, but there's a lot of fresh originality brought to the idea here, and I love the "branding" of eHuman. I'm also intensely intrigued at the idea that a Jump causes you to lose memories from a previous life - that's a very new and interesting twist. I'd love to read further into this fascinating new world. I'm curious how they handle population control - there must be accidents and occasional suicides; can they have children to replenish the loss?

    There's some very memorable descriptions and prose here, and a really good grasp on how to dish out detail at a good pace. I really love how this excerpt reminds me a tiny bit of Tanith Lee's Biting the Sun, but has gone in a completely different direction with the "mortality" implied in the Jump amnesia - I'm really fascinated to see how that original aspect will affect this brave new world.

    NOTE: This review is based on a sample excerpt of this book provided through the ABNA contest.

    ~ Ana Mardoll

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    Review: Artistic License

    Artistic LicenseArtistic License
    by Joana Hill

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    Artistic License / B004TEYSV0

    I really like the character and setting given so far - I think this is the first story I've read this year with an explicitly gay protagonist. It's very painful to see his daily life and interactions, as he lives his life between the people who love and accept him and those who lash out at him and hurt him - as a reader, you sort of wish you could take him in your arms and give him a big reassuring hug. The high school setting is very realistic, and at the same time has this hazy fog of memory about it that feels very artistic - almost as though the reader is viewing everything through a memory filter.

    I feel like the characterization of your narrator is really well done. He seems very genuine and full of the very real hopes and fears and doubts that plague us in high school. Will I go to college? Will my high school love last past high school? What does my future look like? I appreciate how real and genuine he is. I do wish the pacing of the narration would slow down a little and take a more linear tone, though, as I did feel myself a little disoriented with some of the flash-backs and flash-sideways. Overall, though, very original voice and well done.

    NOTE: This review is based on a sample excerpt of this book provided through the ABNA contest.

    ~ Ana Mardoll

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    Review: Sendero

    Sendero - excerpt from 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award EntrySendero
    by Max Tomlinson

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Sendero / B004TEYRZM

    I think this is such a great example of an intense and frightening excerpt. The fear, frustration, and helplessness of the people is very tangible and overall the whole setting feels intensely oppressive and depressing. The subject matter is very original, and the narrative voice is so memorable. The characters are well-defined and well-characterized. I can't think of anything I've read in recent memory that read quite like this, and I would like to read so much more of this story.

    The only thing that concerns me about the excerpt is that if the reader isn't familiar with the subject matter (and I know that I wasn't), then it does take a few pages to really acclimate to the political and social climate. I would have liked a little more backstory, maybe, or something to really bring home what exactly was going on. Then again, this is a story of a war told from the point of view of the victimized (so far, at least) so maybe it makes sense that the reader would be a little disoriented.

    Overall, I love the subject matter and how it really comes to life in a very personal way in the characters and their daily struggle to survive.

    NOTE: This review is based on a sample excerpt of this book provided through the ABNA contest.

    ~ Ana Mardoll

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    Review: Red Moon Rising

    Red Moon Rising: secret stories of a sixties schoolgirlRed Moon Rising
    by Pamela Mariko

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Red Moon Rising / B004TEYHMK

    I'm really stunned with this excerpt - despite the fact that I was worried a "set in the 60s" novel wouldn't appeal to today's YA audience, I absolutely loved this excerpt and want very badly to read more. The pacing and characterization is superb, and the opening is such a strong hook - pregnancy scares and (sarcastic?) threats of suicide, all covered with this wonderfully dry wit. I think it would have been easy to turn Andrea into a snarking Mary Sue, but that thankfully hasn't happened - she seems very real and genuinely vulnerable. I was touched that she returned to playing with dolls for awhile immediately after her father's death - that seemed like a very nice and realistic detail.

    I really don't know where this is going, but I want very much to find out. I also especially love the tarot references and the "maiden, mother, crone" symbolism sprinkled in - it reminds me a lot of a Joanne Harris novel and is very well done.

    NOTE: This review is based on a sample excerpt of this book provided through the ABNA contest.

    ~ Ana Mardoll

    View all my reviews

    Review: Truth Is Not Our Business

    Truth Is Not Our Business - excerpt from 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award EntryTruth Is Not Our Business
    by William Glaeser

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    Truth is Not Our Business / B004TEYRNY

    This is a really good "in your face" hooking excerpt - it's fast pace and seizes the reader right from the beginning. I'm impressed by the originality of the plot: two competing coupon businesses, and a death threat right off the bat? Very intriguing. I would maybe have liked to see this updated to the more modern coupon businesses (like Groupon or LivingSocial, maybe) but at the same time, since the coupon businesses here are struggling, maybe it makes more sense to have them be members of the old guard.

    The writing here is very solid - I like a lot of the "tete-a-tete" conversations as the characters battle it out. I think a little bit of the swearing could be toned down a bit, not because I'm prudish but more because it gets a little repetitious in such a short space. Overall, though, I really like the feeling of tension and strain that is immediately introduced, and the way it really hooks you right away with the threats of death and financial ruin. Very dark and very interesting, but in a very modern way.

    NOTE: This review is based on a sample excerpt of this book provided through the ABNA contest.

    ~ Ana Mardoll

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    Review: A Wasp in the Fig Tree

    A Wasp in the Fig Tree - excerpt from 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award EntryA Wasp in the Fig Tree
    by Mary Bryan Stafford

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    A Wasp in the Fig Tree / B004TEYT1O

    This is a truly wonderful excerpt that draws me in and makes me distressed that I can't read more. The writing is incredibly vivid and the descriptions are a perfect blend of visual imagery and the necessary restraint that keeps everything from coming out "technicolor". One line that really stuck with me was the jackrabbit's ears being so translucent against the sunrise that you could count your fingers through the ears. That imagery was just so beautiful and intense that I felt acutely like I was in the story. For that matter, the setting is wonderfully well-realized - too many authors have no idea what Texas looks like, but the author here is clearly working with first-hand knowledge and it shows.

    I love the exquisite prose, and all the wonderful pain and sorrow you've brought to bear in a few short pages. I'm also really blown away at the story so far - tax evasion and suicide may not sound like real story winners, but it definitely hooked me. Overall, this is really a fantastic excerpt. It's not perfect - I felt a little confused at points as I worked out the family details, the backstory, and the main character's overall appearance - but I would definitely read more and if I'd been browsing this in a store, I would have closed and bought the book well before the end of the chapter.

    NOTE: This review is based on a sample excerpt of this book provided through the ABNA contest.

    ~ Ana Mardoll

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    Author Interview: Eileen Gormley on "Don't Feed the Fairies"

    Ana: Eileen, an excerpt from your novel “Don't Feed the Fairies” was submitted in the ABNA 2010 contest. You introduced us to Cytolene, a perfectly delightful alien who has been picked for an important assignment: scouting the planet Earth with an eye towards harvesting humans for food! Unfortunately, when she ends up stranded on Earth with no exit strategy, she has to figure out how to survive - sure, she can drain the occasional passerby for nourishment, but she has a standard of living to maintain, not to mention the trickiness of staying hidden on a world where she is quite literally an illegal alien. Can you tell us more about your novel and where it goes from the end of the excerpt? What sorts of themes do you explore and what do you hope the reader will take away from the experience?

    Eileen: Cytolene discovers that she's not the only alien from Eris stranded on Earth. She finds a baby Erisian and has to protect her, particularly from the journalist who lost his job when he admitted he had been abducted by aliens. There are adventures and chases and hot guys, then the baby's mother comes looking for her.

    Now Cytolene is forced to protect the humans who had had given her such a hard time, even from the baby's sexy big brother. Things get worse when they finally arrive back on Eris, and her mother is not exactly pleased to see her.

    And when you have a species that mates three males to one female, romance gets very complicated.

    I didn't set out to explore a theme, just to tell a rip-roaring story, but I did find that the theme of motherhood kept popping up.

    Ana: What was your inspiration when writing your novel? Were you influenced by a specific author or work that inspired you to add your voice to this genre?

    Eileen: This novel started by accident. As a joke, I wrote a short story for my writing class about how Sarah Palin was a space vampire. My teacher, Patricia O'Reilly, said "That's good, now make a book out of it." So I did. But I got rid of Sarah Palin as my heroine. That would be too weird even for me.

    Ana: Haha, now we'll all have to wonder "what could have been". When I first read the excerpt for “Don't Feed the Fairies”, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and how the delightful Ford Prefect was absolutely aghast at being stranded on the phenomenally boring and backward planet Earth for 15 years! If you could compare your novel to any other existing work, which one would it be and why?

    Eileen: This is difficult, because by pure luck, I've written a book that isn't like anything else in print at the moment. My children think it's most like "Avatar", my husband reckons it has echoes of "The Long Kiss Goodnight" where Geena Davis is the spy coming in from the cold, but I tend to to think of it as "Pride and Prejudice" in outer space.

    Ana: Is this your first or only finished work, or have you written other novels? If you have written other novels, how do they compare to this one? Do you have any more novels planned, either as a follow-up to this one, or as a completely different novel or genre?

    Eileen: It's turning into a series. I've written a second book, where Cytolene comes back to earth, develops an eating disorder and discovers that there are other, very nasty, aliens threatening Earth.

    In the third book, the baby alien has grown up into a grumpy hormonal teenager who starts a civil war, then has to save the planet while Cytolene is busy looking after babies.

    And I've just started a fourth book, which I hope will be a whodunnit in outer space. With more hot guys and a heroine who is out to kill Cytolene.

    Ana: I was first introduced to your novel through the Amazon Breakthrough Award contest of 2010. What prompted you to enter the contest, and what were your overall feelings towards the contest in general?

    Eileen: I think this is a fabulous contest. It's international, free to enter, and gives you a great chance to pit your book against some of the best new writers in the world. I've entered it again this year, and I'm at the Quarter final stage, and hoping to get further.

    Ana: Are you currently published or self-published? Where can readers obtain a copy of your novel for them to enjoy? If you’re not currently published, how can readers “sign up” to be notified when your novel does become available?

    Eileen: An excerpt of my novel is available as free Kindle download from Or you can go to my website at

    Ana: Eileen, thank you so very much for being willing to participate in this guest blog interview. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

    Eileen: Thank you for wanting to interview me! All I can say is, if you have a story to tell, start writing.