Thursday, September 30, 2010

Drama! Dance! Murder! Sounds like Bollywood (and Sue)

I *thought* I'd prepared myself for my first Bollywood class at J'Adore Dance. I loaded my iPod with the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack. Watched the movie a couple of times - great flick, btw. I discussed "Bollywood" around the work water cooler. Downloaded YouTube videos of various routines. And procrastinated for about two weeks before taking the plunge.

Not bad, right?

Except that I don't think anyone can truly prepare for the awesomeness that is Bollywood.

I had no idea the steps would be so fast. Or the music so catchy. I couldn't have predicted how much I would love it, and I definitely wasn't prepared for Luke. Sure, he's a good looking guy (close your eyes, handsome hubby), but more than that, he's captivating. Luke makes it look easy.

It so isn't.

The steps aren't complex or even as sweat-inducing as a Jessica Fit Hop or Kasha Salsa Burn experience. But you are expected to perform. Bollywood, as Luke points out, is about telling a story - so your motion should be fluid, and your expressions...well, expressive.

Drama is not my thing, but I "get" storytelling. It's what I do.

I also know that's what dancers do. It just wasn't until last night's Bollywood experience that I made the connection.

Essentially, it comes down to showing versus telling - sound painfully familiar my writerly friends? For me too, but it was the kind of revelation that smacked me between the eye balls last night (or maybe that was the after effects of feeling like I'd been hit by a truck named Kasha...wicked Salsa Burn workout...)

Bollywood isn't quite my genre - meaning, I still have to understand the story before I can convincingly tell it. But I want to. For some strange reason (cute instructor aside) I need to learn Bollywood. It's so easy to get wrapped up in the music, the moment.

The story.

I just have to take time to get to know MY character.

And survive.

Actually, I'm grateful after two fairly intense classes last night, I'm still alive to blog. Sound dramatic? Try this on for size...

Sue is back at Salsa Burn. (New to the blog? Revisit her here.)

I thought the break would do us good, you know, bring back some of the love, but before Sue even arrived at the studio, I received this text: Do I start cursing you now or do you want me to wait until we are dancing?

The threats started five minutes into the warm-up.

I sympathize a little because Kasha worked us hard last night. We launched into the Quick Salsa (my heart is still racing) and cha cha cha'd our way into a grueling final two exercises. One of them has my abdominal muscles cursing Kasha this morning - and I'm sure is the reason behind my teenager's "tummy" troubles today. (Sidenote: My stepdaughter has decided that "hawt abs" will be hers, no matter what it takes. Last night's intense standing crunch workout has now moved Kasha to heroine status in my teen's eyes...Nice work, Kasha!)

In typical Sue fashion, the threats escalated throughout the night - perhaps fueled by Kasha's ultra warm welcome back hug (traitor), until before parting, Sue actually warned my to watch my back.

Don't worry, Sue. After that workout, I'm watching my back. And my abs. My buttocks. My arms...

And yeah, I slept with one eye open.

The Book In My Bag Today: Another One Bites The Dust, Jennifer Rardin

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dancing with a full heart

I've always considered myself lucky to have an amazing birth father as well as a tremendous stepdad who bucks the "evil" stereotype in every way. Over the years, I've leaned on both of them, but in the past year, I've relied on my stepdad for very specific advice.

Simon entered my life when I was young, embracing his role with honesty, positivity, and love. So much love. There were ups and downs of course - relationships that remain on an even keel are rare. And boring.

Being a step parent is tough. You're always walking a tightrope of caring too much, or stepping over the line, forgetting you're not mom (or dad). Sure, my stepdad slipped a few times, but it didn't take long for him to shape - and embrace - his role. I love him, yes, but I also admire and respect him. His mentorship has been instrumental in my life choices, and his words of wisdom guide me even in adulthood.

I thought of him last night while struggling through Jessica's very difficult Fit Hop class. My beautiful stepdaughter was busting out the moves beside me, panting, and kind of sweating (she never sweats!), but always smiling. She didn't "get it" - knowing when to push right, or pop left. She couldn't keep up with Jessica any better than I could.

But she didn't give up.

A lot of that has to do with the atmosphere at J'Adore Dance , and frankly, the leadership demonstrated by Jessica.

When my stepdaughter moved in with my husband and I last year, I called my stepdad and asked for his advice. He said a lot of things that make sense. But something he said really resonated after listening to my teenager gush about Jessica.

Surround her with positivity. Provide good mentors.

How appropriate for her to join me in this dance adventure.

It's no secret a adore Jessica. I'm blown away by her enthusiasm and beauty. I'm astounded with her business sense. She's a wonderful mother, wife and friend. And I'm so grateful for the opportunity she has provided for me to "find" myself through dance.

But I'm also thankful for the example she is setting for young women.

My stepdaughter commented on Jessica's beauty, she complimented her hawt body, and she admitted that the workout was way harder than she thought. (Sorry Kasha, but Jess busted our butts!) But my teenager also noticed other things. Like how young Jessica is to own such a successful company. How caring and passionate she is about her clients. How her smile is infectious. And how her encouragement makes people want to work harder.

Even my self-admitted somewhat lazy teenager.

My heart is full knowing that my girl looks forward to learning to dance with me. It's an added bonus that we've discovered a place that embodies the advice my stepdad has given me, and a leader my stepdaughter and I can both look up to.

The Book In My Bag Today: Another One Bites the Dust, Jennifer Rardin

Monday, September 27, 2010

Pretty aMUSEment

I'm not normally the pretty boy type - I tend to gravitate toward diamonds in the rough, as most of my muse avatars would suggest.

But this week, I'll definitely make an exception for Halle Berry's hunky partner Gabriel Aubry.

I'm on the final stretch (again) of WIP revisions and I'm struggling a bit with finding the perfect voice for one of my characters. She's a model, but not your stereotypical pretty girl. I'd like to think she has teeth.

At least one beta reader doesn't agree.

I've long passed revising her scenes, but I'm thinking about going back and taking another look at her character. I'm second guessing whether she's sympathetic enough, or whether she successfully bucks the stereotype. Sigh.

In ABSOLUTION, Joey is at the peak of her modeling career. Seems fitting to profile one of her peers, no?

I'll give you a sec to wipe off the drool.

The Book In My Bag Today: Reckless, Cornelia Funke

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Book 46 - Dead Until Dark

I'm such a True Blood fan, I'm surprised it's taken me so long to read the first of Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse books. Maybe it's my typical aversion to novels made into films or TV shows - they rarely turn out right.

In this case, I'd say the producers of True Blood did a heck of a good job.

Of course, they started with some incredible material. Dead Until Dark is excellent.

If you watch True Blood, the book follows the storyline fairly closely. Sookie is a small-time cocktail waitress with an interesting ability to read minds. Except Bill's - one of Bon Temps' only vampires. Since the introduction of "True Blood" - a synthetic blood that allows vampires to live without feeding off humans - vampires live in the open. But not everyone is as trusting of them, and when a series of women is killed, the police assume the culprit is a vamp, and more specifically, Bon Temps' celebrity undead, Bill.

That's a pretty brief synopsis of a quite complex story, but to divulge more would ruin the book. Of course, if you watch the show, you already know all of that - and more, including the answers to each of the mysteries (and there are several.)  Dead Until Dark is essentially the entire first season of True Blood wrapped into one novel.

Harris is a fabulous writer. Dead Until Dark is a tight story - though maybe a little too tight. I felt rushed at the end, and some of the loose ends were tied up too neatly. Not deal breakers though because so much else was done so well.

Like voice. I love Sookie's character in the book, even if she did kind of annoy me during the first season of the show. And I can admit, now, that the producers did an excellent job of casting. Not only Sookie, but everyone. The descriptions of Bill and Eric are brilliant, and though his part was small (shucks), I did swoon over Eric.

I haven't quite jumped on the Charlaine Harris bandwagon with both feet, but I'll definitely check out the rest of the books in the series. Especially since the show is on seasonal hiatus. Always looking for ways to bring back Eric...

The Book In My Bag Today: Reckless, Cornelia Funke

Friday, September 24, 2010

My teen and I pop it like it's hot

I'm feeling pretty G this morning.

Not a clue what that means? Whew! I'm not the only one.

It's teen-speak short for "Gangsta" - which is, I hear, the equivalent of cool.

I took my stepdaughter with me to Fit Hop last night. Before we even walked out the door, we had a discussion about boundaries.

ME: You need to promise not to make fun of me.
HER: Why would I make fun of you?
ME: Because I suck.
HER: Well, I can't dance, either.

I didn't respond how I would have before I started this dance journey. Only a few months ago, I might have broken down into tears, and explained that while she might not know how to dance, she's tall and thin and beautiful - which, in my previous stereotypical mindset must mean she'd be a natural on the dance floor.

Instead, I tucked my insecurities in a gym bag, gathered up a couple of water bottles, and booked it to class.

I'm grateful she was engrossed in texting so she couldn't see the perspiration beading across my forehead, or my chewed off fingernails. I'm thankful she couldn't read my mind, or hear the devil on my shoulder reminding me that I'm not even comfortable dancing for my husband, that I should just turn around and surrender to the fear.

That would have been a terrible mistake.

My stepdaughter is right - she isn't a natural dancer. She's tall (very tall) and never been into team sports. Her coordination is off, and her two left feet are slightly bigger than mine. But my kid's got swagger. And confidence. And a youthful enthusiasm that's infectious.

She played throughout the warm-up - teasing me, laughing, drawing attention to herself (and inadvertently me), but after a few minutes with Kasha, my kid got serious. Though she imagined the class to be more "fit" than "hop," she was excited to learn a series of steps that could earn her some "dance cred" at school.

In the process, I picked up some serious stepmom cred.

By no means did I execute the steps in Kasha or Jessica style, and though I didn't fixate on my image in the mirror, I still cringed when I caught a glimpse of my frumpy self popping it across the floor. But I worked hard. My stepdaughter worked hard.

And we both did it with a smile.

I have no words to explain how HUGE this is.

When I began this journey, I kind of wanted to do it alone. To suffer in silence. But after last night, my stepdaughter is itching to get back on the dance floor. She wants to definitely do Fit Hop, Salsa Burn, and even begged me to take her to Bollywood next week. A few months ago, I would have made up every excuse in the book not to.

Next week, I'll be counting down the hours until those classes.

She's not as sore as I am this morning, but before leaving for school, she hugged me and said even with my hair a frazzled mess, and my face not even washed, I'm still pretty G.

I'll take that.

The Book In My Bag Today: Dead After Dark, Charlaine Harris

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Oh, Kasha, how I have (bleeping) missed thee...

... let me count the ways.

8 - number of times I cursed you during Salsa Burn warm-up
22 - number of times I cursed you during Salsa Burn workout
3 - number of times I cursed you while learning that hop-up step we did NOT do last session
8 - number of times I cursed you climbing the stairs to bed last night
11 - number of times I cursed you climbing crawling out of bed this morning
17 - number of muscles cursing you today (the majority of them located in my butt from that blasted NUMB BUMB thing you do)
4 - number of buckets of sweat I expended in an hour and fifteen minutes of your class
15 - number of times I cursed Jessica (and J'Adore Dance ) for introducing me to this torture in the first place
3 - number of bottles of water I downed when I dragged my numb bumb home
1 - number of bags of chocolate covered raisins I felt justified in eating when I got home from your class
2 - number of voodoo dolls I have currently fashioned after your likeness (I'm carrying one in my purse right now)
6 - the number of days until you can torture me again
0 - the number of times I mocked myself in the mirror last night

100% = truthfully, how much better I feel after going to dance class last night.

Okay, so I admit, after the summer dance sessions, it's been tough for me to go back.

I loved dance - Salsa, Fit Hop, Naughty Hotties. J'adore Dance is inspiring, Jessica is brilliant, and the rest of the J'Adore team welcome me (and everyone) with open arms.

But I started this dance journey for so many reasons. The most public reason was to kick start my creativity after a dry spell of non-writing. Dance definitely helped with that - and in future posts, I'll better describe how.

What I didn't realize, though, is that my confidence and self esteem had hit rock bottom. Despite my amazing husband and stepdaughter, and a cast of remarkable friends, I'd let a lot of adult "bullies" bring me down. (That too, is for another post.) In the past, I've used boxing to release some of that pent up frustration. Jessica offered me an alternative.

Over the summer, I witnessed so many changes in myself through dance. I lost weight (not a ton, but enough to widen my perspectives on fitness), I gained confidence, I even starting finding a beat.

So why did it take me so long to find it again?

I could use life as an excuse, but really, I think after the summer, I allowed a series of small setbacks dictate how to spend my time.

Up until the minute I stepped on the dance floor, I questioned whether I should return. But then I found my place at the back of the room, and there was Kasha, all smiles and energy, and I felt that pop of my heart. The sound of things settling into place.

I may not "belong" on the dance floor, but I do belong at J'Adore Dance. I just needed the break to recognize that. Hopefully that makes sense. (And hopefully I feel that way after Fit Hop tonight...)

The Book In My Bag Today: Dead After Dark, Charlaine Harris

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

An open letter to Mr. Apple

Dear Mr. Jobs:

May I call you Steve? K, thanks.

I should start out by telling you, I could be your biggest fan. Not in that stalker-kind-of-way, rather, I am gob-smacked-by-your-brilliance.

You see, I discovered the Mac in high school and begged - harder than I've begged for anything - for a laptop. As a burgeoning writer, the sleek, yet colorful design of the Clamshell Mac seemed the only option. Your marketing department had done such a great job of promoting it for the publishing world - how could I ever write a novel without it?

I still remember how it glowed, even after I turned it off at night, that little Mac icon almost breathing while I slept. My first story was typed onto that computer and somewhere in my dungeon office, I still have the disks on which it's saved. Primitive technology now, huh?

Over the years, I've flitted between platforms. They kind of made us do that in Journalism classes. On the Mac, I discovered Quark X-Press and Photoshop. On the PC, I found viruses. On my little blue Clamshell, I wrote stories - great and wonderful stories! I used the PC for accounting. Spreadsheets. Corporate communication. Blech.

But over time, Steve, my Clamshell died, and for years I pledged my allegiance to Bill Gates. Please understand, I had no choice. Your prices were so...extreme. I mean, being a student and all.

Three years ago, I recognized my mistake. Clearly, Mac continued to own the publishing world - could my lack of Apple toys be the reason the road to publication seemed windy?

A dear friend bought me a Mac. An older laptop, slow, but reliable. The Tab key fell off after one year (so many of your products have that tell-tale click and I can't resist pounding on the keys), and the Internet connection became sketchy. I can't blame you, Steve. As my friend Ashley says, I'm quite hard on my laptops.

Quite suddenly, though, my refurbished Mac died. Failure to the motherboard, or something technical like that. I mourned. I cursed (not you, of course).

The devastation might have been less so had my iPhone not crapped out at the same time. Don't be alarmed - that too was not Apple's fault. I dropped it several times, cracking the screen like a rock-beaten windshield. It kept on ticking. I lost it on an airplane - and some wonderful soul returned it, albeit in slightly less than perfect form. And then husband, bless his heart, threw it in the wash. The cracked screen darkened, and texting became impossible. The ringer shut down. The wi-fi ceased to exist. And finally, my trusty 3G simply croaked.

I waited many weeks for the iPhone 4 - deflecting rumors of its imperfections, patiently (mostly) calling my service provider for shipment updates. This past weekend, I found one. A beautiful 32 gig iPhone 4.

My affection for this brilliant piece of technology - I can FaceTime chat with my friend Kyle in Boston for free! - was second only to my husband and stepdaughter. I thought it could never be replaced.

But I was wrong, Steve. So very wrong.

I remember the commercials for that cute little Airbook - the laptop that fits in a manilla envelope. How cool! My writerly friends had them. Just looking at it made me salivate.

The price of them, however, made my mouth go dry.

And then this past week - a miracle of Apple corporation proportions. My husband, who sits firmly at the top of my adoration ladder, found me a (well) used Airbook. There are dents and scratches, a sign of a computer well loved. But it's mine. My very own Mac.

I could not be happier. (Well, I suppose I wouldn't mind one of those iPad things, and I wouldn't turn away the MacBook Pro if you dropped one by my house...)

You see, for the past month or so, I've borrowed my amazing critique partner's PC laptop. It's quite cute, and even clicks the way I like. But it isn't an Apple, no matter how much I squeeze my eyes shut - and it isn't mine.

Jagger (named in honor of one of my fiercest characters) IS mine. The sound of her click lulls my handsome husband to sleep. And while she does not glow like my old Clamshell, she has breathed life into my creativity once again.

Well done, Steve. Well done.

A loyal Mac lover. Always.

The Book In My Bag Today: Dead Until Dark, Charlaine Harris

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Book 45 - The Search

I love Nora Roberts, honestly I do, but I feel a little empty after finishing The Search.

All of the trademark skills are there - and make no mistake, the woman has mad writing skillz - but the story fell flat, and the chemistry lacked its typical Nora Roberts sparkle. The Search is a solid, well-written, romantic suspense novel.

But solid isn't good enough on the heels of intensely emotional books like Shiver, Heartsick, or Bitten.

Over the years, I've relied on Nora to sweep me off my feet, to give me - if even for a few hundred pages - that fairy tale romance, a strong heroine and even stronger hero. I'm looking for the quick adrenaline rush of falling in lust, because in many of Nora's books, that heady lovestruck emotion borders on addicting - she's simply that good. Usually.

Fiona and Simon's relationship in The Search is more like a slow burn rather than instant flame, and while that's more consistent with how most real-life love stories go, I never really felt their heat. I expect that from Nora.

Fiona Bristow is the sole survivor of a deranged serial killer. Though it was her quick thinking and determination that allowed her to escape - and put the man behind bars - her cop-fiancee was murdered in the process. Years later, she finds solace on an island where she lives with her three Labrador dogs and runs a Search and Rescue unit.

Fiona's newfound peace is drastically interrupted, first when she meets Simon (mysterious handsome man) and his adorable puppy, Jaws, and then again when a copycat killer uses a familiar - and terrifying - MO for a batch of new murders.

This isn't a small book (almost 500 pages), but I didn't feel either story line - Fiona and Simon's romance or the fresh killings - was particularly well flushed out. Not enough chemistry for the romance side, not enough character development of the killer.

In the 200+ Nora Roberts (JD Robb) books I've read, I'd be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of characters I didn't like. Unfortunately, neither Simon nor Fiona sparked more than a casual interest. Fiona's wit and independence kind of grew tiresome, and Simon's rugged indifference didn't spice up his sex appeal in the slightest.

As always, I remain in awe of Nora's writing skills and can pick out sentence after sentence of perfectly polished prose. But as I read The Search, Steve Berry's eight rules of writing craft filtered through my brain and technical skill aside, Nora breached a couple of those rules.

Dealbreakers for me, but I suspect many Nora fans will strongly disagree.

The Book In My Bag Today: Dead Until Dark, Charlaine Harris

Monday, September 20, 2010

CAMeo aMUSEment

My stepdaughter and checked out Easy A yesterday, a surprisingly funny chick flick. Though many of the actors were familiar to my teenager, including Emma Stone who plays Olive, the witty victim of high school's vicious rumour mill, most of the faces were new to me.

Except Cam Giganet.

His face I remember very well.

Apparently, Cam's starred in quite a few movies, though I mostly remember him as the bad-boy vampire from Twilight, James. (It's never been about Jacob or Edward for me.) In Easy A, Cam has a small part - almost a cameo - and despite those smoldering eyes and very nice arms, I mostly wanted to crawl under my seat in embarrassment for him. It's kind of a geeky role.

But I figure Cam's worth redemption, so I've recast him as this week's muse avatar.

However, I hope he forgives me in that when I refer to his image for my daily / minute-by-minute inspiration, I don't picture him as Micah in Easy A, but rather, like this:

Oh Stephanie, why-oh-why did you have to kill of James in the FIRST book?

The Book In My Bag Today: Dead Until Dark, Charlaine Harris

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Would you kiss these lips?

Let's face it, Steven Tyler is not the most attractive man in the music industry. His lips are a little too big, his legs far too skinny, his "assets" way too...out there...

Yet, each time I watch him perform live, I'm compelled to watch his every move. And forced to admit, the Aerosmith frontman straddles the line between sexy and downright gross.

This isn't the first Aerosmith concert I've attended - my youth is peppered with an eclectic sampling of performances I've stood in line for. I've talked dirty with Poison (three times), helped Alice Cooper take out the garbage, watched Def Leppard pour some sugar on me, gone for a ride in Prince's little red corvette, rocked out with the Boss, been to never never land with Metallica and spent a considerable amount of time (though not nearly enough) with Bon Jovi.

And that's just a (small) sampling.

There's a scar on my hand from hopping a barbed wire fence to meet Skid Row, and I still remember the scent of Janie Lane's hairspray when he gave me a hug after a Warrant / Danger Danger concert. Sad, I know. I've slept outside the Calgary Saddledome to secure front row tickets for anything from Motley Crue to Tiffany (*blushing*), and logged overtime hours at the fast-food-job-of-the-month for a collection of concert shirts I no longer wear.

Good times, back then.

Back when it was mostly about rock - and admittedly, hairbands and heavy metal.

My tastes are even more eclectic now, and the music loaded on my iPod tends to lean toward the commercial pop/hip hop playing on the radio. I don't mind Tik Tok'ing with Ke$ha, or occasionally hitting Britney one more time. I'm more than willing to stand up and watch Eminem and Rihanna burn. And, since I have a teenaged stepdaughter, yes, Biebs, when you smile, I smile. Gag.

But after nights like last, when Steven Tyler is doing that oddly appealing strut across the stage, and I'm still gob-smacked at Joan Jett's amazing arm definition (Yes, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts OPENED for Aerosmith), I'm reminded of how much I miss the concert scene, and some of that old school music.

I don't have a single Aerosmith song loaded on my iPod but I sang along to all but one tune. And watching Steven slither in tight yellow pants had me up on my feet dancing - though not anything the girls at J'Adore Dance would applaud. (Jess dear, I thought about popping my chest, but there was a rather well endowed woman beside me who seemed to have cornered the market. Kasha darling, somehow the cha cha didn't feel quite right for Love in an Elevator. Right? And Juicy J, Steven did enough Naughty Hottie moves for all of Edmonton last night...I've yet to master that crotch-grabbing, hip-popping style.)

I hadn't planned on going to the concert last night (lack of finances often triumph over want these days) but couldn't resist the comp ticket and awesome company - and though I dreamed of Steven's hips lips, I woke up intent to reload my iPod. I'm also a little stiff from all that step-together "dancing" (grin). Pretty sure Kasha's going to kill me tonight at Salsa Burn.

So tell me, any wild concert stories you're willing to share? Who's the rocker who rocks your world?

The Book In My Bag Today: The Search, Nora Roberts

Monday, September 13, 2010

Absolute aMUSEment

I'm still trying to wrap my head around last night's season finale of True Blood. At the risk of posting spoilers, I'll just say - wow, plenty of weird stuff going on there. The kind of stuff that had me and handsome hubby shaking our heads in confusion.

But despite some of last night's eyebrow-raising moments, one thing echoed crystal clear - I'm solidly, absolutely, 100% on Team Eric.

Which shouldn't be too surprising.

Alexander Skarsgard has been my muse avatar once or twice (or a half dozen) times before and he's done right by me. Challenging me to push harder. Encouraging me to continue writing from a place of (fictional) truth. Providing inspiration for those R-rated scenes...

So, after last night, I couldn't resist bringing him back for a repeat performance. Am I the only one aching to see Eric and Sookie together? I just can't understand what she sees in Bill...

There was a lot I didn't get about the final episode, but I loved each of Eric's scenes - and not just for the assets pictured here. This season we've seen a softer, more sensitive side of Eric and while much of that was evident in the finale, some of his bad boy demeanor (woot!) came rushing back - and you all know how I like those bad boys (grin).

Thankfully, Vampire Diaries (and thus, Damon) is back on TV, because with True Blood now on seasonal hiatus, I'd hate to go into hot-vampire withdrawal. Casting Alexander as muse avatar prolongs his presence for at least one more week. Clever, right?

The Book In My Bag Today: The Search, Nora Roberts

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Book 44 - Shiver

I wish I could turn back the clock and re-read Shiver, take a moment to absorb every word, each brilliantly-crafted sentence. I wish I could go back and stop time, cease the clock from moving forward and simply bask in the afterglow of this sad and beautiful story.

I find myself at a loss on how to describe Maggie Stiefvater's masterpiece - and confused about how deeply this novel affected me. With every turn of the page, my heart ached - for a love that could never be, for characters I longed to create, for emotions I couldn't describe.

Stiefvater didn't just draw me in with Shiver, she wrapped her paragraphs around and around my body until I felt stifled with her brilliance. I couldn't wait to read more - and yet I never wanted the story to end.

Too many times I've heard Shiver described in comparison to Twilight, but with respect to Stephanie Myers, Stiefvater is in a whole different league. Sam and Grace are star crossed lovers, Grace a seemingly normal teen and Sam, part man, part wolf. Their chemistry spills on the page with agonizing beauty - by the first few chapters I was swooning over Sam and appluading Grace. By the end, I felt every kiss, every heartache, every smile and every tear.

It's easy, with books of this nature, to get swept up in the story and believe in the supernatural - but at the end of Twilight, I returned to my normal reality - without vampires (or Edward). Yet, when I finished Shiver, I didn't want to let go of that world, and wished there was a forest in my backyard in which I could watch for the wolves. Perhaps it is because Stiefvater's writing creates such wonderful visuals and evokes such a tremendous emotional response, but it is also due to the author's challenge for readers: Forget everything you thought about werewolves.

For Sam is not a werewolf - not in the commercial sense, bur rather a boy caught between his ultimate change from human to animal. He does not transform under the moonlight, and when he finally succumbs to his fate, he will no longer be human ever again. It is this dynamic that heightens the urgency for Sam and Grace, the ticking time bomb that propells the story forward.

Shiver has no slow parts. If anything, it moves so quickly there is scarcely a moment to breathe.

I have many favourite authors and dozens of favourite books, but Shiver is easily the best book I have read in a very long time. Maybe ever. If that sounds frivalous, I understand. And I'm sure many of you won't agree. I know there are story flaws, craft flaws, character flaws. No book is perfect.

But in my opinion, Shiver is about as close as it gets.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Book 43 - Fragile Eternity

When I was young, I discovered Lady Cottington's Pressed Faery book - a fascinating and stunning collection of young and old faeries the author had "caught" between the glossy pages of a now-famous journal. Faces and arms and legs - and at the back of the book, even breasts - are artistically smeared and distorted, until they resemble strangely beautiful blobs with elongated limbs.

This was my first introduction to faeries - and I admit my fascination with them grew over the years. I share a love of Tinkerbelle with my stepdaughter, and of course believe whole heartedly in the tooth fairy...

But those are light-hearted sprites and as my writing became darker (thriller vs romance), I found a deeper connection with supernatural of a less wholesome nature -- vampires, werewolves, demons and the occasional witch.

Melissa Marr has changed that for me.

Fragile Eternity is the third book in Marr's brilliant Wicked Lovely YA series, and I'm going out on a limb to say it is my favourite. In truth, I loved Wicked Lovely and Ink Exchange for distinct reasons - the characters of Ash and Seth in the first novel, and the beautiful exploration of sensory detail in the second. In Fragile Eternity, we return to Ash and Seth's un-orthodox (and complex) relationship and witness an incredible adventure through each of their eyes. Not only is it a compelling read, it is a wonderful lesson in writing - and a reminder of how much I have left to learn.

For readers who swooned over Edward and Bella's chemistry in the Twilight series, Marr offers something even more real. Snippets of dialogue from Fragile Eternity might not be sprinkled in journals, and recited by teens across the globe, but Seth will grab a piece of your heart and hang on long after the book is closed. He is a mortal caught in Faerie, alive only because of his will to survive - and his unconditional love for Ash.

Make no mistake, however. Fragile Eternity is not just a love story - though I challenge you not to fall for Marr's characters in some way. It is a dark, haunting tale of immortality and the lengths people would go to achieve it.

To delve deeper into the plot here would ruin not only the essence of this book, but the series in general - and I'd hate to cheapen the experience. (You're welcome.)

Marr's writing is so wonderful, I cant help but be swept into her Faerie world. I want to live amongst the Summer Girls and vie for the affections of Niall (yummy!) and the rest of the fey in the Dark Court. I would love to be trapped in another dimension where my purpose was to create, or run alongside the mortals, taunting them with my heightened speed and glamour.

Alas, I am back to reality and wishing I had another Marr novel to satisfy my lust.

The Book In My Bag Today: Shiver, Maggie Stiefvater

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Making amends

In the beginning, there was Jensen Ackles.

The original muse avatar. The hottie that started it all.

It's been almost a year since I began selecting weekly muse avatars, and save for a few weeks and a couple of late starts, I've amassed an impressive list of inspirational guys (and a couple girls) to fuel my creative energy.

But I've been a bad blogger these past few weeks, friends. Ever since I headed out for holidays in August, I've been delinquent in pretty much everything - reading, writing, dancing. Distracted, I suppose, by other dreams I thought needed some extra TLC.

So today, I shall try to make amends.

Many of you have sent emails asking about my dancing adventures and while I have responded personally, I'll say it here: I have not given up. When the fall season begins, I will haul my butt back out of my comfort zone and give it my all. Until then, I hope to tackle a few of the "trial" sessions this week.

But, because I'm feeling ULTRA guilty about my crappy blogging this past month, and for Miss V - who made a special request for the following - I present this buffet of previous muse avatars. Hopefully this will make up for my delinquency? (Oh, the first to name each of my muses (real, not screen names) either in the comments or to my inbox at will win a special autographed picture of Sam and Dean Winchester from Supernatural...)

With the next (and best for reasons I can't disclose QUITE yet) season of Supernatural JUST around the corner, I'd be remiss if I didn't give a nod to the other (hot) demon hunter:

And of course, there were a number of "vampires" who caught my fancy:

A few musical muses:

A handful of my fave actors (though not necessarily for acting talent in all cases...just to be clear):

A magician:

And two sports hotties:

So... am I forgiven?

The Book In My Bag Today: Fragile Eternity, Melissa Marr