Monday, November 30, 2009

Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe by Jennie Shortridge

Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe is a charming novel, set in Fremont, Washington, the so-called "Center of the Universe" as claimed by the eclectic residents of this funky, offbeat village about 10 miles from downtown Seattle.
Having lived nearby in Phinney Ridge, which is cheek and jowl with Fremont,as I read the book I could see the statues that the residents dress up at the bus stop (It is officially called "Waiting for the InterUrban", and people dress the figures in everything from Husky gear to ballerina outfits for is always a comedic sight) and the famed Fremont Troll, as well as the statue of Lenin that competes with the rocket sticking out of a building as one of the largest oddities in the area. I found myself recalling the evening that Blue C Sushi opened in Fremont, and my family were allowed front row seats for the event, because I had interviewed the owner, a Mercer Island resident, for the Mercer Island Reporter. Somehow the kaiten sushi going by on its little conveyor belt seemed to fit in perfectly with the odd nature of the Fremont neighborhood. I also interviewed the drawbridge operators, and always enjoyed their neon-light Rapunzel in the window of one of the towers, so I was gratified to read that the protagonist of the book found it charming as well.
There is something so satisfying about reading a fictional character's fresh view of a familiar place.
Love and about middle aged Mira Serafino, an "obedient daughter, supermom, loyal wife" and all-around 'good girl' who discovers that her husband of many years has been having feelings for another woman, though, other than a kiss, he's not really acted on them yet.
This sends Mira into a tailspin, in which she flees from her hometown of Pacifica, Oregon to Fremont, Washington, only stopping when her car breaks down in Seattle.
Mira is one of those annoying women who believe they can control everything and everyone around them to be 'perfect' or at least her ideal of perfection. She is also used to having her relatives tell her what to do instead of handling situations herself. Mira's not too good at dealing with crisis situations, or dealing with her own emotions, desires and her own failures. Her daughter can barely stand talking to her, because she feels her mothers lack of dealing with the 'real world' full of imperfection and ugliness. Her husband, though we really hear little from him throughout the book, seems to also feel that there is a wall separating the real Mira, the human being with emotions and desires, from him as well.
Though her nonna (grandmother) and father all counsel her to forgive her husband and return to her family, Mira decides to 'find herself' by staying in Fremont, cutting her hair, wearing more youthful clothing, smoking pot, and having sex with a younger guy that she barely knows. Mira also takes over a coffee shop called "The Center of the Universe" where she works to 'fix' the shop and fires those who are slacking off or irresponsible, such as the owners thieving girlfriend.
For an Italian woman, I found Mira to be somewhat wimpy at the outset of the novel...she didn't seem able to handle anything that she couldn't control into being 'perfect.' I knew that things would blow up on her because it is inevitable--life is messy and perfectionists are always fighting a losing battle.
Yet I enjoyed watching Mira make realizations about herself, her desire to be seen as a sexual being, her letting things go instead of fretting over them with such vigor, and her growing understanding of the truism that the only person you need to worry about making happy is yourself, and everything else will fall into place. I thought she fell into bed with another man all too quickly, especially considering she was still married and still felt she loved her husband, but somehow Mira needed that sexual reawakening to learn about herself and her needs, which had been subjugated to her family's needs for years. Shortridge makes a good point here, by showing how invisible women in their 40s become, how taken for granted they are by their families and friends. By moving away from her obnoxious daughter, for example, Thea now has to make some realizations of her own, and deal with the consequences of her choice of career. Everyone learns, and grows, just by having one stable person throw a monkey wrench into their lives by leaving town.
Shortridge's prose is like Italian wedding soup--rich and delicious, with lots of meatballs to keep it interesting. Her plot starts at a languid pace but develops a nice brisk rhythm by the 50th page, and never lets up after that. Her characters are so well drawn they seem real, and you find yourself wanting to give Mira a hug about every other page.
I thoroughly enjoyed the quirky atmosphere of the book, and the insights into female midlife crisis. Fair warning, you won't get away from this novel without some thoughts being provoked. You'll also be charmed and aggravated and fall in love with the wonderful characters. I know that I did, and I heartily recommend this book to women who enjoy chick lit and book groups looking for something with a few meatballs of wit and wisdom to chew on.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Biggest Problem Non Fiction Writers Face Today

I don't normally post discussions about my 24 year career as a writer/reporter, but I am making an exception because there is a heinous problem for non fiction writers that has reached epidemic proportions during the past two years of economic crisis.

The problem is that there are web sites, email newsletters, and other print and digital venues that are scamming writers by offering them jobs or projects that pay a dollar an hour or less. Some are paying $10 per article, or $15, but those people are asking for research and rewriting for free, even as they want to pay this paltry amount for the high quality content they say they require.

As newspapers and magazines close or strip down their staff to the bone, journalists like myself are finding it nearly impossible to make a living doing what we love and were trained to do. Add to that the rise of these lowball publishers and outright scammers, like, (which pays per click, so most writers make a few dollars per article, at most) and what you are left with is writers having to change careers or work menial jobs just to get by, because they can't bring in enough money to pay bills or mortgage or car payments by working for pennies or a couple of dollars for hours of research and writing. At least most menial jobs pay minimum wage, which is over 8 dollars an hour here in Washington state.

Unfortunately, too many young "newbie" writers or gullible writers are willing to work for next to nothing so they can say they have online 'clips' for publishers to view. Really, though, most publishers who pay decently are not going to be trolling these scam web sites for writing talent, because they already have piles of resumes from qualified writers that they can delve into and know that they are getting quality writing for their money. "Exposure" on these sites doesn't really pay the bills or help the writer at all.

I recently read an article in the email newsletter Writer's Weekly from a woman who was determined to stand up to these "mill" sites that use up writers crazy enough to fall for their scam, and leave them burned out and impoverished. I responded to the author of the article that I am with her in boycotting these sites and demanding decent pay for writers hard work. My letter was published in this weeks Writer's Weekly in the "Letters to the Editor" section, at

Today I got an email from the Women in Digital Journalism site that pointed me to an article by Carol Tice, about the reasons why she refuses to write for chump change, too. I couldn't agree more with her reasoning.

Here's the URL to the article, and an excerpt:

7 Reasons Why I Won't Write A $15 Blog

1. I'd rather quit writing. If that's all I'm going to make, I'd rather go out on the lawn and play Frisbee with my kids. They'll only be young once. If I can't really pay the bills writing, I should pack it in and enjoy life.

2. I won't be part of the problem. I won't contribute to the current downward spiral in pay rates by accepting insulting pay. If I accept this kind of work, it reinforces the idea that high-quality content on specialized topics can be obtained from professional writers at one-tenth or less of what was, until recently, market rates. I refuse to be part of the problem.

3. Low paying work begets more low-paying work. Say I worked for this legal content sweatshop, and managed to convince one of their clients to work for me directly. Even if the connection helped me land other clients and I cut out the middleman, I'm doubtful the wages would be appropriate. Any client I got through my association with this low-payer would likely also want to pay me joke wages. Once customers have the impression you're cheap, it's hard to convince them that you're not.

4. I'd rather get a day job. At those rates, I could make more money as an assistant manager at a fast-food place, and work on that novel in my off hours. So if it comes to it, I'll do something else to pay the bills. My creativity will be fairly compensated, or I'll earn money another way. I type fast – I have made a living as a secretary in the past, and could again.

5. I want to take a stand. I believe we're at a turning point in the world of online content that requires taking a moral stand. Thousands of scam operators have flooded into the marketplace, hoping to get writers to write for peanuts and then either resell the work for much more, or sell ads against them and make much more, or sell their whole Web site to someone else and make a killing – all off our backs. What they're doing is morally wrong. So my basic sense of decency and justice demands that I resist exploitation. Accepting low-pay assignments may pay a few bills in the short term – emphasis on a few – but in the long term it will foster more exploitation. That's why, for the sake of our vocation's future, it's important to refuse.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Agents and Allie Beckstrom

For those who are looking for an agent for their book manuscript, there's an article in the most recent issue of Writers Digest that gives out the names and addresses of agents who are looking for authors.
Here's the link:

This morning I finished the latest Allie Beckstrom novel, Magic in the Shadows by Devon Monk, and found it to be even more of a fast ride through enchanted Portland, Oregon, than the last book.
Monk has created a protagonist who is the female version of Harry Dresden of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. Allie Beckstrom is a tall, strong, brave, stubborn and fiesty gal who has strong values and talents and seems to always get herself into trouble because of it, just like Harry Dresden, Chicago wizard extraordinaire. Also like Dresden, Beckstrom is a rebel, leaving her family and going her own way despite the strictures of the local magicians union, called The Authority (In Dresden's world it is called The White Council). Harry Dresden is a very powerful wizard who tends to get beat the hell out of on a regular basis in defense of others, as does Allie Beckstrom, who has the rare ability to hold magic within herself and use it to do everything from 'hound' out who created a given spell to opening a gate between the world of the living and the world of the dead.
Harry Dresden had to put up with the ghost of a Roman magician/fallen angel in his head who nearly drove him crazy, and in this third installment of the "Magic in the" series, Allie Beckstrom has to deal with her father's ghost in her head,(Daniel Beckstrom was a powerful magician and ruthless businessman who was estranged from his daughter) and try to keep him from taking over her body and using her to make himself immortal, find his killer and retrieve some magical discs that have been stolen and are being used with death magic for revenge.
Unlike Harry Dresden, Allie has a lover/soul mate named Zayvion Jones, a powerful magician who is a guardian/closer and a high ranking member of the Authority. In this book Zayvion is required to pit himself against Allie to test her for membership in the Authority. Unfortunately, the price of not passing the test is to have your memories and your magic 'closed' and removed forever. Meanwhile, Allie's best friend Nora develops a relationship with Stotts, the policeman in charge of MERC, a magical arm of the law, and Allie gets a stone dog/gargoyle as a companion after she sets it free of magical influence at a restaurant. The gargoyle, named Stone, is as fiercely protective of Allie as Mouse, Dresden's Foo dog is of him.
Throughout Magic in the Shadows, horrible magic-sucking, murderous creatures and the Veiled are on the loose, and Allie has to try and help contain or rid the city of them, as well as deal with the alliance of Hounds that she's been charged with heading up after the death of their original leader in the previous book. This was reminiscent of Harry Dresden teaching his best friends (and guardian angel) wizard daughter as an apprentice because she will be a harm to others if she isn't trained. Allie also has problems with cell phones and computers, like Dresden she tends to fry them, and she prefers living in the working-class part of town, eschewing the finery she could easily afford as her father's heir.
I was glad to read that Allie is going to learn martial arts so she can better defend herself against the bad guys/ghosts/ghouls out there, but I believe this will make her even more like Harry Dresden, who is trained in martial arts and the use of his staff as a bo-staff.
Still, I enjoy Allie Beckstrom's world, her refusal to be molded to what others want her to be, and her beautiful meshing of heart/soul/magic with Zayvion, who provides a perfectly calm counterpart to Allies chaoes. I can't wait for the next installment of this series, due out in the spring of next year.
I recommend this series for those who love Harry Dresden type of fantasy novels, with clear heroes and heroines, and lots of magic and mayhem.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

For Sale: Bibliophile Astrology

I've decided to combine my passion for books with my ability to write fun and entertaining astrology columns for specific audiences.

So I'm launching Bibliophile's Astrology, a column about the signs of the zodiac that specifically targets book lovers, librarians, bookstore owners and bibliophiles.

I'm open to ideas of where to send queries about my column, which magazines, email newsletters or web sites that need a fun, positive book lovers column to spice things up a bit. Please let me know if you have the email address of the editor or big cheese of that magazine or email newsletter, so I can send off a query ASAP. The column will be inexpensive and fun and will captivate readers and those who support them alike.

Thanks to all who want to help!

Yours in astrological book blogging,

Monday, November 09, 2009

Four books in 2 weeks

I just finished four books, plus one I'm not really going to dwell on here.
Fledgling by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller was a delight, with their usual intricate plots and insanely fascinating characters from the Liaden Universe.
This particular story was about a teenager named Theo Waitley who is, as are most teens, trying to get her bearings both physically and mentally, while struggling for independence from her mother and yearning for time with her father. I enjoyed Theo's journey and that of her mother somewhat less so, as Kamele, who is a professor, is something of a cold fish toward her offspring, while Jen Sar, Theos father, seems much more compassionate, kind and understanding. The story will continue in Saltation, which is set to come out next year, and I look forward to reading it once it hits the shelves of my local branch of KCLS.
I also read the second in Devon Monk's "Magic" series, Magic in the Blood, which had an even crankier Allie in it than Magic in the Bone. Fortunately, we do see the return of the delicious Zayvion Jones, hottie magic man who smells of mint, and we see even more of the unsavory side of magic use and repurcussions, as an insane doctor uses Allie's dead father to try and suck the magic power from a host of young girls he's kidnapped for that purpose. Allie does her best to stop him, but in so doing encounters possession by the shade of her evil father, who was a ruthless businessman, and a lousy parent. I look forward to reading the third book in the series, if only to see how Allie gets her dead Da out of her head.
The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes by Jennifer Cruisie and two other authors, was a joy of a book to read, though it was yet another retelling of the Witches of Eastwick with a bit of the TV show "Charmed" thrown in for fun. No one can replicate the fine prose of John Updyke, of course, but the authors of Miss Fortunes managed to update it with a light and frothy touch, lots of hot romance and a satisfying storyline.
Today I finished Call of the Highland Moon by Kendra Leigh Castle, and though I enjoyed the steamy scenes with Carly and Guideon, I found myself wishing that there were more of them, and less of the self doubt, the lying and breaking up and getting back together bits, and more dealing with the paranormal aspect of falling in love with a werewolf stuff. But as paranormal romances go, it was a pretty decent read, though I winced at the use of the traditional "petite blonde who is fiesty yet ultra-feminine and sexy" protagonist, paired with the big hulking Scotsman who is totally enchanted with wee blondie the minute he sees her, and of course she can barely suppress her lust for his throbbing manliness from the moment he uses his husky Scottish accent on her. Insert eye roll here. I wish romance novelists would jettison the stereotypes and cliches. Still, this was a fun novel to read, the plot was swift and sure, and the line between good and evil clearly delineated.
I picked up a rather formulaic novel by Katherine Stone called "The Other Twin" that I read and didn't enjoy, so I will just note here that it was read, and leave it at that.
Now, I am on to Wen Spencer's "Tinker" which should prove to be interesting, as the last book I read by this author had the usual gender stereotypes reversed. I hope this book proves to be equally as inventive.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

An Atrocity of a Best Books List from Publishers Weekly

This blog post was written by Kamy Wicoff of, and I had to post it here, as I was so appalled by Publishers Weekly I could barely see!

Wow, did I feel good yesterday. 5000 women writers here. A depth and breadth of talent that takes my breath away. We write fiction, we write memoir, we write scifi; we are bestsellers, we are award winners, we are just starting out; we are working hard, we are writing well; we are...not as good at it as men are.

Or at least that seems to be the opinion of Publishers' Weekly, which published its "Best Books of 2009" list on November 2nd and could not see its way to including a single book by a woman without destroying its integrity or betraying its unassailable good taste. Apparently books by women just aren't as good. Sorry, girls! Poor PW, they felt really badly about it. According to the novelist and journalist Louisa Ermelino, the editors at PW bent over backwards to be objective as they chose the Best Books of the year. "We ignored gender and genre and who had the buzz. We gave fair chance to the 'big' books of the year, but made them stand on their own two feet. It disturbed us when we were done that our list was all male."

It "disturbed" you? In what way exactly? Like, did it make you think, "we are insane?" Try to imagine if they had come out with a list of the Best Books of 2009 and it had included ZERO MEN. Try to imagine if Amazon had released its Best Books of 2009 and it had included only TWO men. I know it's hard. But just try.

And in case you think ALL men got the star treatment from PW, you should also know that only ONE of the men on the list isn't a white dude. Naturally he is the dude on the cover. (More on that in a post to come.)

I have never felt clearer about why I started She Writes. It is time to start making our own lists. On that note I am issuing our first She Writes call to action. Tell us what YOU believe are the top ten best books of 2009 thus far. Written by men or women, please -- fiction or nonfiction. Be as objective as you can, with the awareness that lists of the "best" anything are subjective in the end. We are not trying to generate a list of books only by women. I'm guessing there will be some overlap with the lists Amazon and PW put together. I am also guessing we will somehow, some way, find a book or two by a woman that can stand on its own two feet.

Click here to give us your list of the Top Ten Best Books of 2009.

We will announce our She Writes Top Ten list two weeks from today.

In the meantime, I will be featuring posts from our membership on this subject. Please feel free to share your lists and alert me when you do. Cate Marvin and Erin Belieu, co-founders of the much needed new literary organization WILLA (Women in Letters and Literary Arts), will be discussing their reaction to PW's list (and Amazon's) in a conversation we will post on She Writes in the next few days.

A parting thought: my friend and colleague Gloria Feldt, who also happens to be one of the most inspiring and important thought-leaders on women and leadership in the country, likes to cite a pair of statistics that speak volumes: women make 85% of the consumer buying decisions in this country; women are 17% of Congress.

Here's another one for you: 65% of books sold in the U.S. are purchased by women; women wrote 0% of the Best Books of 2009. Really?

Monday, November 02, 2009

Skin Game by Ava Gray

This is Ann Aguirre, writing as Ava Gray's latest book, coming out tomorrow.
Here's the blurb and the gorgeous cover shot:

SKIN GAME by Ava Gray
Berkley Sensation (November 3, 2009)
ISBN-10: 0425231534
ISBN-13: 978-0425231531

A beautiful fugitive—wanted dead or alive.
Kyra is a con woman and a particular kind of thief. She steals with a touch, but she only takes one thing: her target’s strongest skill. Which means she can be a fighter, an athlete, a musician, an artist—anything she wants… for a limited time. Heartbroken, she turns her gift toward avenging her father’s murder; with deadly patience, Kyra works her way into casino owner Gerard Serrano’s inner circle. After pulling off the ultimate con, she flees with his money and his pride.

A hit man who never misses the mark.
Reyes has nothing but his work. Pity for Kyra, he’s the best and mercy never sways him once he takes a job. He’s been hired to find out where Kyra hid the cash—and bring her back to face Serrano’s “justice.” Dead will do, if he can’t locate the loot. He’s never failed to complete a contract, but Kyra tempts him with her fierce heat and her outlaw heart. So Reyes has a hell of a choice: forsake his word or kill the woman he might love.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Burgeoning TBR Stacks

Since I've been to three book sales in recent weeks, I've added to my To Be Read (TBR) stacks, until now I have three of them, containing about 60 books total.
On top of that, I have two library books that I've just finished, both of which need to be reviewed here so I can turn them back in at the Maple Valley Library.

Here's the list of what is looming in my stacks, threatening to topple over on me while I sit at my computer and type. The first two listed are the library books I've completed.

1) Fledgling by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
2) Magic in the Blood by Devon Monk
3) Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald
4) Patches of Godlight by Jan Karon
5) Don't Count the Candles, Just Keep the Fire Lit by Joan Rivers
6) The Other Twin by Katherine Stone
7) The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox
8) Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
9) Natural Blonde by Liz Smith
10) Treasure Forest by Cat Bordhi
11) Personal Pleasures by Rose Macaulay
12) The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant
13) In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant
14) Enchanted, Inc by Shanna Swendson
15) One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus
16) Body Surfing by Anita Shreve
17) A Thousand Days in Tuscany by Marlena De Blasi
18) Queen of the Tambourine by Jane Gardam
19) Daisy Bates in the Desert by Julia Blackburn
20) The Librarians of Alexandria by Alessandra Lavagnino
21) Darcy's Story by Janet Aylmer
22) Little Pink Slips by Sally Koslow
23) One Sunday Morning by Amy Ephron
24) The Lepers Companions by Julia Blackburn
25) The Sonnet Lover by Carol Goodman
26) Passion by Jude Morgan
27) Pinkerton's Sister by Peter Rushforth
28) Bury Me Deep by Megan Abbott
29) Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach
30) The History of Love by Nicole Kraus
31) My Sherlock Holmes by Michael Kurland
32) There's No Place Like Here By Cecelia Ahern
33) No One Noticed the Cat by Anne McCaffrey
34) Afternoons with Emily by Rose MacMurray
35) Olive Kitteridge By Elizabeth Strout
36) Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
37) The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie
38) The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice
39) The Artist's Way at Work by Julia Cameron et al
40) The King of Sword and Sky by CL Wilson
41) The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes by Jennifer Crusie et al
42) Cybele's Secret by Juliet Mariller
43) Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe by Jennie Shortridge
44) If You Could See Me Now by Cecelia Ahern
45) Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
46) An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor
47) The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir
48) The Glory Cloak by Patricia O'Brien
49) The Bride Stone by Tom Williams
50) The Tailors Daughter by Janice Graham
51) Faery Moon by PR Frost
52) The Book of Joby by Mark J Ferrari
53) Icefalcon's Quest by Barbara Hambly
54) Winterlands by Barbara Hambly
55) Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
56) Firebird by Janice Graham
57) The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer
58) The Sex Life of Food by Bunny Crumpacker
59) An Irish Country Village by Patrick Taylor
60) Harriet and Isabella by Patricia O'Brien
61) The Cranberry Queen by Kathleen DeMarco