Thursday, February 25, 2010

Book Review: "Lockdown" by Traci Hunter Abramson

I've been hearing fabulous things about Traci's books for several years now, but hadn't squeezed in time to read one until last week. Traci says in the front of the book that she is from Virginia and was hit hard when the Virginia Tec tragedy occurred. This book was written in response to that grief. As a former employee of the FBI Traci has a good grip on how these events unfold, what causes them, and how they are handled by police and special forces. Here's the blurb:

Only twice had she set foot inside the building since the massacre. The first time had been just a month after the tragedy .. . . The second time she had returned to the scene of the crime had been two days ago when she forced herself to enter the building to check on the temporary office for the SEAL team. The counselor she had seen in the months after the shooting had encouraged her to face her fears, but now . . . Riley wasn't sure she was ready to face them after all.

Caught up in a hostage situation that is hauntingly familiar, Riley Palmetta once more finds her life hanging in the balance. What starts out as a well-organized and highly intensive training course for the prevention of random acts of terror quickly turns into a real-life nightmare of suspense and intrigue that will test the faith and finely honed skills of Tristan Crowther and his elite group of LDS Navy SEALS.

For Tristan, this is not only a race to save lives; it is a deeply personal mission that moves relentlessly toward an irreversible crisis. And life-as well as love-is on the line.

I really enjoyed this book, and stayed up late two nights in a row to push through it (even though I originally thought I would just read the first chapter before dropping off into sleep). The relationship between Riley and Tristan is sweet and believable. It hooked me from the very first moment, and had me hanging on tight as they dealt with emergencies and personal crisis. Riley's demons leftover from her experiences in the massacre at her own school are deftly handled.

I'm anxious to look up Traci's other books and completely understand why this one is a finalist for the Whitney Awards. I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Book review: "Altered State" by Gregg Luke

I’ve been hearing good things about Gregg Luke’s latest book, Altered State, for several months now, beginning at a conference I attended in the fall. I had never heard of the author before, but after reading this book, I intend to go look for his other two titles, Do No Harm, and The Survivors.

First, the blurb:

Homer and Morgan Winegar believe they may have finally found happiness in the quiet college town in which they have settled. Perhaps now in their new life together with Morgan’s nine-year-old son, they can each leave a troubled past behind.

But when Morgan’s psychology students begin exhibiting bizarre behavior, the couple quickly becomes entangled in an experiment headed for catastrophe. Someone is illegally administering a mind-altering drug to unwitting students. With the potential for millions of dollars in profits on the line, the pharmaceutical designers are more than willing to set aside morals to test the limits of the subconscious and mind control.

As the growing ranks of test subjects fulfill increasingly disturbing commands, Homer and Morgan race to discover who’s pulling the strings—and how they are doing it. But as the final stages of research point to a deadly calamity, events from the past threaten to shatter the couple’s fragile trust—just as they need it most. Will they be able to overcome the forces that threaten to pull them apart and find a way to stop the impending tragedy?

Luke opens the book with a male USU student drinking something offered to him by a beautiful stranger, listens to a strange new song, then at her command, does something he never would have done under other circumstances. When she commands him to forget their whole encounter, he does, wondering what had happened. This is a perfect setup for the book, and a mild example of what the drug students are being slipped has the potential to do.

I loved the main characters, Homer and Morgan. They were very believable, likable, hard working, but both had their faults and struggles, which kept them from seeming too perfect. The escalating trouble ratcheted up the suspense nicely throughout the book, so that by the climax, there is a definite sense of desperation, far too much is at stake, and failure is not an option. The use of dates at the beginning of many of the scenes helped to pump up the tension as the final date grew closer and the reader could infer what would happen at the end of the four-week trials conducted on campus.

This book is well worth your time—thus the reason it was selected as a Whitney finalist this year. For more information about the Whitney Awards, or to see a list of books stacked against this one, check out their website.

You can learn more about Gregg Luke by visiting his website.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Previously unpublished Cleon Skousen book coming out

Over the weekend some great news was released for read ers of the prolific Cleon Skousen's work. Skousen had written four unpublished books that he turned over to his sons before his death, charging them to find a
publisher who would do justice to it. Skousen's sons just signed the contract last weekend and the first book, Cleansing of America will be out BEFORE general conference in April! Books are available for pre-order on the Valor website, and people who pre-order will receive their copies at least a week before the books hit stores.

The back cover blurb:

Dr. W. Cleon Skousen spent the majority of his life researching the gospel, the U.S. Constitution, the founding of America and writing numerous books and articles on the topic, and he is one of the most well-known, respected defenders of America and the gospel the world has ever known. At the time of his passing in 2006, his work was not yet finished. His book Cleansing of America, written in 1994 and given into the care and keeping of his sons, is now being brought forth for the first time ever.

Included in these pages are the events and stages the Lord has predicted, through his servants, the winding-up scenes of this world. It helps the reader understand: the nature of prophecy, the known chronology of prophetic events, and the importance of staying close to the Lord and his prophets during the difficult and challenging years prior to the Second Coming. We are fast approaching those prophetic events. Some are upon us even now.

If we are prepared and obedient, we need not fear these events, but rather embrace them for the blessings they portend.

Monday, February 15, 2010

My "Dark Divinie" cake contest entry and more

Because she loved the new YA book, "The Dark Divine," and was thinking bout cake decorating contests, Debbie over at the Cranberryfries blog held a contest using something from the book. When I first heard of the contest I hadn't read the book, in fact, I think I had only heard of it once before (where have I been, right?) and was struggling to come up with enough information about the book to design a cake off of it (because you all know me, cake are my only canvass). Then I went to Authorpalooza at the Barnes & Noble in Sandy and who was sitting at the next table? Bree Despain, the author of said YA book. I kept watching the customers line up a her table, chat, buy books, and pick up some free nail polish.

Finally, minutes before the signing ended, I broke down and bought a copy (hey, everyone else was doing it). If you read the review I posted a few days ago, you'll know that I really enjoyed the book, and I considered all of the different scenes and themes I could use in the cake contest--of course I didn't even think about the main thing that readers recognize as a symbol of the book--the walnut tree--but I came up with another idea that sounded different. The book mentions a stain glass window that is broken in the church. I thought it might be interesting to do a stained glass cake. so this is what you get:

I told Debbie I would post a how-to on this because several people were interested to know. The fact is, it was fairly simple--it just looks impressive! If you've been to cake decorating stores or stores that have sections on cake decorating, you've probably seen the 1-pint containers of piping gel. Wilton puts this out in a little white tub with orange writing on it, but it comes clear.

I spent a fair amount of time online looking at pictures of stained glass windows until I found one that looks very much like the cake above. I frosted the cake in white (as you cane see) because piping gel always shows off whatever color you frost the cake, so ALWAYS use white unless you want a special affect from tinted frosting. Next I took a chopstick and made lines across the cake by pressing it lightly into the forsting surface, creating the pie-shaped segments. Then I copied the picture I was using as a guide, blew it up, and cut out the dove. I set it in the middle of the cake top and outlines it with the tip of a toothpick.

The rest was straight forward. I colored some frosting black and covered all of the lines I'd made on the cake top. I used a bit of the piping gel straight from the tub for the dove, then colored some blue for the blue panes. When I had enough blue, I put the rest of the blue gel back into a bowl, added more, and tinted it green, then spread that in the rest of the areas. I used a pasty bag to pip the gel into place because it was the easiest way, then spread it with the tip of a butter knife. The whole project from frosting to finish only took a couple of hours--try it yourself sometime!

Below is a birthday cake I made at the first of the month--okay, so it was for my birthday! I was trying some new techniques, not having done most of the flowers pictured here before, or used colorflow icing (the butterflies are made from colorflow) I'm sorry the picture is so fuzzy, I got it put together at and realized I didn't have the memory card for my camera and had to use my phone. I was very pleased with the way my lilies turned out (and they were SO EASY!), and with much practice, I even managed most of the other flower techniques I was working on.

On completely different news, I submitted my third book to my publisher on Friday on my way to the LTUE conference at BYU. I'm trying to remind myself I probably won't hear back before the Storymaker's Conference at the end of April, but I feel my stomach quiver every time I wonder what they'll think of the book. Also, i'm excited, my editor is supposed to be working on "Rebound" starting sometimes this week, and I'll be doing a final proof on it in a few weeks. I'm really excited and totally curious about what the cover will look like. Patience is not my strongest virtue!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Book Review of "The Dark Divine" by Bree Despain

Last Saturday I signed books along with about 40 other authors at Authorpalooza at the Barnes & Noble in Sandy, Utah. I love big signings if for no other reason than to get to know other authors and check out books I hadn't heard of before--and with this many authors, there were plenty I hadn't met yet. One of those authors was Bree Despain, whose first book, The Dark Divine flew off the table almost as fast as the free nail polish she gave away. (The purple nail polish was created specifically to coordinate with the toe nails on the cover of her book, which is completely awesome, and the fact that it was purple was like the buttercream frosting on the cake.)

I watched people line up at her table, then linger to chat for the three hours we were there (yes, I did sign a respectable number myself, but she was one busy lady!). Since I had looked up her book only a couple of days earlier after I found out Debbie at Cranberryfries was doing a "The Dark Divine" cake contest, I lingered and listened, and finally broke down and bought a copy of Bree's book. I read a bit when I reached home late that night, then sucked up every free minute the next day reading, and finished it before the day was over. So, yeah, I liked it. Before I get into any specifics, check out the book blurb I found on Amazon.

Grace Divine, daughter of the local pastor, always knew something terrible happened the night Daniel Kalbi disappeared--the night she found her brother Jude collapsed on the porch, covered in his own blood--but she has no idea what a truly monstrous secret that night held.

The memories her family has tried to bury resurface when Daniel returns, three years later, and enrolls in Grace and Jude's high school. Despite promising Jude she'll stay away, Grace cannot deny her attraction to Daniel's shocking artistic abilities, his way of getting her to look at the world from new angles, and the strange, hungry glint in his eyes.

The closer Grace gets to Daniel, the more she jeopardizes her life, as her actions stir resentment in Jude and drive him to embrace the ancient evil Daniel unleashed that horrific night. Grace must discover the truth behind the boy's dark secret...and the cure that can save the ones she loves. But she may have to lay down the ultimate sacrifice to do it--her soul.

Okay, so if you liked Twilight, you'll probably enjoy this book, it has the same feel to it in many ways, though as Bree said, "You can swing a cat and are guaranteed not to hit a single vampire." So those of you who are tired of vampires may breathe freely.

I found the juxtaposition of Grace dealing with the troubles she dealt with, while juggling the issues in her family was totally realistic. The struggle her father went through to be the kind of leader in his church that a pastor ought to be, and taking on too much was really interesting. There are a lot of deeper issues in the book as far as good verses evil, and making decisions for good, despite the fact that those choices came with a price. Yet there was nothing remotely preachy about any of it--it was embedded so deeply in the story, an organic part of who the characters were.

Bree's characters were well rounded and believable, the story unique, and she hit her target audience straight on. Though the characters swear a bit (and bite their tongue in response--Grace is a pastor's daughter after all, and really tries to curb her tongue most of the time), there is no unnecessary violence, and nothing beyond kisses to worry about. I'll happily give this book to my fourteen-year-old niece to read when she comes to visit.

Bree said her deadline for the next book in the series is only weeks off, so hopefully the wait won't be too long. You can learn more about Bree and her books on her website.

On a side note, I did enter a cake in the cake contest, but you'll have to wait until after judging before I'll post it here.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

How to (not) peel a potato

Okay, so my sister sent me this video a week ago, but I didn't get around to watching it until now (because I have this thing with procrastinating both my editing and going to bed, so the wee hours of the morning seemed like the perfect time) and I was totally excited. Unless I intend to keep the skin on--it's healthier that way, you know--I'm totally doing this from now on.

Monday, February 8, 2010

2009 Whitney Award Finalists anounced!

The ballots have been tallied and the finalists have been announced for the 2009 Whitney Awards. Competition for these five slots in each category was fierce so all of them deserve big kudos for their accomplishment. the winners will be announced at a banquet in Provo, Utah on April 24th. Check out the Whitney Awards webpage for details about what the awards are, and how to sign up to attend. I'm looking forward to seeing the picks!

Best romance:
Counting the Cost by Liz Adair
Illuminations of the Heart by Joyce DiPastena
All the Stars in Heaven by Michele Paige Holmes
Santa Maybe by Aubrey Mace
Previously Engaged by Elodia Strain

Best Mystery/Suspense
Lockdown by Traci Hunter Abramson
Methods of Madness by Stephanie Black
Murder by the Book by Betsy Brannon Green
Lemon Tart by Josi Kilpack
Altered State by Gregg Luke

Best Youth Fiction
Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George
Fablehaven IV: Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary by Brandon Mull
My Fair Godmother by Janette Rallison
Bright Blue Miracle by Becca Wilhite
The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

Best Speculative Fiction
Servant of a Dark God by John Brown
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Wings by Aprilynne Pike
Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells

Best Historical
Tribunal by Sandra Grey
The Undaunted by Gerald Lund
Alma by H.B. Moore
The Last Waltz by G.G. Vandagriff
In the Company of Angels by David Farland

Best General Fiction
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
No Going Back by Jonathan Langford
Gravity vs. the Girl by Eiley Noehren
The Route by Gale Sears
Eyes Like Mine by Julie Wright

A Lifetime Achievement Award will be given to Gerald Lund

An Outstanding Achievement Award will be given to Dave Wolverton

There are two other awards given out, first, Novel of the Year, and second, Best Novel by a New Author. These winners will be selected and will then be ineligible to win in their respective categories.

Here's a list of those who are eligible to win Best Novel by a new Author:
Servant of a Dark God, by John Brown
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford
No Going Back, by Jonathan Langford
Gravity vs. The Girl, by Riley Noehren
Wings, by Aprilynne Pike
I Am Not A Serial Killer, by Dan Wells
Bright Blue Miracle, by Becca Wilhite

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Lots of great writer's conferences coming up!

If you're a writer who wants to hone their craft writing conferences are a must--and there are several great ones coming up very soon.

First, coming up NEXT WEEK:

Life, the Universe & Everything 28: The Marion "Doc" Smith Symposium on Science Fiction & Fantasy
February 11-13, 2010
Brigham Young University, in Provo Utah

I admit, I've never managed to make it to this conference because it's always conflicted with something else in my life, but this year I'm planning to go up on Friday and Saturday. No, I don't write Sci-fi or Fantasy, but everyone I know who has attended this FREE conference has spoken highly of it regardless of their genre, and if you like to draw (either illustrating books or do to comic strips) there are classes on that too.

The 2010 ANWA Writer’s Conference
Saturday, February 27, 2010
8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Dobson Ranch Inn,
Mesa, Arizona 85202-5699

I'd love to go to this one, too, but it's just not in my budget right now. I know lots of writers who attend this conference every year, however, and thoroughly enjoy it. The great J Scott Savage (author of Farworld: Waterkeep and Farworld: Landkeep) is a big speaker at this conference, so anyone who goes is guaranteed to be entertained and learn a great deal.

2010 - 7th Annual LDStorymakers Writers Conference
April 23-24, 2010

The Marriott Hotel in downtown Provo, Utah

I've attended every Storymaker's conference since they first met in the Little Brown Theater in Springville (and let me tell you, it's come a long way since then!) and wouldn't miss it unless I was in the hospital or dead. This year there will be classes offered not only in fiction and non fiction as they've always had, not only in marketing and publicity, which they added a couple of years back, but also for screen writers, illustrators, and those wanting to write short stories. Basically, if you want to have anything to do with publishing, this is a great conference to attend. Hope to see you there!

2010 Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop
June 14-18, Sandy Utah

I've never gone to this conference, either, but I've heard a lot of good things about it from people who write YA and children's fiction. This conference has previously been held at BYU, but has a new venue this year.