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Reading Recs With Bonus Giveaway! June 25, 2013

Oh, darlins, I've been reading SO much lately. I've been on a reading bender, overdosing on books. 

There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by...Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading--that is a good life. -- Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

I picked up that book in 2007. I know because my Kindle told me not to buy it again last week (thanks!). I vaguely remembered starting it, and not connecting with her language, with her level of intensity. Dillard takes her job as writer very seriously, and that scared me. This time through? I'm highlighting sentences on every page. I love this book. I finished it earlier this week, hit the home button, and started it again from the beginning. I'm not sure I've ever done that before. 

Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein. Recommended by just about everyone around me, this book gripped me from the very start. Female pilots in World War Two! The Gestapo! Spies! Don't read any of the blurbs -- just jump in and read, blind, like I did. I have never cried so much while reading a book, maybe ever. (That is not a spoiler. When I heard that before I started reading it, I thought Dang, I didn't want to know that! But trust me, it's not really a spoiler.) I couldn't put this down -- one of those books you can't wait to get back to. 

Speaking of books you can't wait to get back to, I'd love to introduce you to Vanessa Kier! She's an exciting writer I was lucky enough to beta-read for, and she writes romantic thrillers. Who doesn't love a thriller? Vanessa writes what I like -- spicy hot alpha males and women who are even stronger. She gave me an interview, and she'll be giving away a copy of Vengeance - The Surgical Strike Unit Trilogy Book 1 in hard copy or e-version to a lucky commenter! 


Hi, Vanessa! First of all, I love where he's carrying that gun. Next, What comes first for you, characters or plot? How do you marry the two?

Character usually comes first for me. For example, with Vengeance the first thing I knew about the story was that it revolved around an emotionally wounded heroine, Jenna. I knew that she’d survived a horrific attack that killed her parents and her younger siblings, and that trauma and survivor’s guilt pushed her in a direction no one who knew her up to that point would have expected. After that, I had to actually get into the writing before I even discovered who the hero was. Mark Tonelli was the original hero, until he met Jenna and was such a jerk I realized he was a secondary villain. Niko appeared to me shortly after that.

Betrayal worked slightly differently, because the plot and many of the characters flowed from Vengeance. So I already knew the hero, some of the villains and that the heroine was the daughter of the villainous Dr. Nevsky. From the moment I started thinking about Betrayal I knew that the heroine was going to be either an archaeologist or anthropologist. Susana Dias appeared very shortly after that and was a blast to write!

The plot usually flows from the characters. I often know a few key plot points and maybe the ending, but for the most part, when writing the rough draft I let the characters dictate the action.


What draws you to fast-paced suspense?

The simple answer is probably that I’m just hard-wired that way. I get bored if I'm not writing mayhem! :D After I finished my first full-length manuscript, a romantic suspense that took me five years to write, I was so burned out I thought I’d try to write a light contemporary romance about a woman who meets a man while on vacation. But before long there are dead bodies, her Army brother goes missing in action over seas, and the heroine becomes involved in an investigation that uncovers corruption in the army command. Then Jenna’s story popped into my head and completely overrode the other plot. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll go back and write that as a suspense, not a contemporary romance!

The more complex answer is twofold. First, I’m fascinated by the idea that if you put a character in a life or death situation, you’ll quickly see their true essence. 

Second, I’m a worrier. I think that it's cathartic for me to write down some of the worst situations I can think of, then maneuver the plot to result in a happy ending. In my books I can make sure the good guys win, which is very satisfying emotionally and something that doesn’t always happen in real life. 


What's your favorite part of the writing process?

The organic process of putting emotion and action on the page is my favorite part. I like sitting down to a blank page and not knowing what's going to come out as my fingers fly over the keyboard. I also love discovering new details while interviewing one of my characters. 


What's your least favorite?

Trying to organize all the messy scenes into a coherent whole! I’ve learned that I’m no good at following an outline. I outlined Vengeance, but as I wrote, the characters deviated so far from my outline there was no going back! After the rough draft is done I really drill down and make sure that the characters’ motivations and goals are clear and that the actions they take are logical. Sometimes I end up having to completely alter the plot because of this, which ends up in a lot of work. However, my muse is happier if there's not too much structure when I'm writing the first draft.

Also, keeping the timeline straight for the SSU trilogy was horrible, particularly since Retribution (Book 3) starts chronologically before Betrayal (Book 2). It took several iterations of tracking events on an erasable wall calendar with multiple colors of markers to make sure that the characters weren’t in two places at the same time! 


What's on your plate now?

Retribution_200x300I’m revising the first book in a new romantic thriller series. The series takes place in Africa and I’m drawing on my time spent living there to add authentic details. The first book is about Jane Gardiner, an international aid worker nicknamed Calamity Jane, because no matter where she goes natural disaster, disease or strife seems to strike. If this was a paranormal, she’d behaunted by the Four Horsemen! The hero isRio Martinez, an ex-Marine. Rio is Jane's former lover and the man she was forced to betray several years earlier, ending up in his imprisonment and torture. Rio has become part of a secret African organization that is part special operations, part Robin Hood’s Merry Men, with a goal of preventing violent rebel groups from throwing the region into chaos. Jane and Rio are forced to work together to locate a disk that contains data that can prevent a series of attacks against foreign embassies. There arerebels and traitors and some pretty gritty action scenes. You know, the usual fun and games! 

Thanks so much for having me here!


 One lucky commenter will win a copy of  Vengeance! Say whatever you'd like in your comment, but as always, it's fun if you share the latest great book you read with everyone else. - R


I haven't read much worth recommending lately, but just picked up these three and they sound good: Back Fire by Catherine Coulter, Line of Fire by Stephen White, and A Witch's Handbook of Kisses and Curses by Molly Harper. I'll let you know how they are!

That is some hot cover art! Thanks for sharing.

I love the concept of interviewing your characters! I'm writing my first (hope it's not also my last) novel right now, but have hit a serious snag: I can't figure out what my main female protag wants, aside from the obvious day-to-day stuff. Maybe I need to have a little heart-to-heart with her, because the story can't go forward much more if I don't know what the real source of conflict needs to be to make her story ring true. And I broke the 10K word barrier today, so this probably needs to happen pronto.

Thanks for the reading recs, btw. As for me, I'm on a Lee Child jag, reading through his Jack Reacher series. I'm on book 7 now. All of them are solid reads. (I didn't see the movie adaptation, which is based on book 6, so I can't provide any insight into the similarities/differences between the two media. I must say, it's hard to picture Jack Reacher of the books, who is 6'5" and who uses his size to his advantage, as the 5'6"-ish Tom Cruise.)

The only things I've read lately have been cookbooks. Not much plot in most of them, but I'm drawn to them.

I recommend Jennifer Donnelly's work. Her novel The Tea Rose is my favourite book. Hope I haven't mentioned her before!


Definitely try interviewing your heroine. I've learned many fascinating things about my characters and about issues I'm having with my characters via interviews. For example, a recent character interview led me to discover that I had a bit of anger toward both the heroine and hero in my WIP. It made me realize the stumbling block wasn't just about them. We kind of needed author/character therapy there for a while, but we're getting along a lot better now and I finally understand their motivations.

All of which probably sounds totally crazy to anyone who isn't a writer!

I've been reading a lot of Jim Butcher lately. Love that Harry Dresden!

Code Name Verity is brilliant - we got it in a conference goodie bag last year and I read it in one sitting. This year we got Rose under Fire by the same author and I can't wait to get started.

A day spent reading sounds like an EXCELLENT day to me. But then, I have a baby. That amount of quiet, solitary time is fantasy of the purest and most exciting kind.

I loved the interview. The last lot of books I bought for my e-reader, contained several first book of a series. I like reading series where the author is already several books on, saves me waiting years for the sequel :) I just finished Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon - it really reeled me in, I was always itching to get back to it. I also read Jim Butcher's first of the Dresden series and enjoyed it enough that I will be following that series as well.

Thanks, Vanessa, for the encouragement. I'm not sure if I should structure it like a magazine interview (with preplanned questions) or like a psychologist's interview (with more fluid questions). Either way, I need to figure out what makes this girl tick... all the better to mess with her!

Thank you for the interview. I love hearing the thought process of an author. I am adding these books to my book list. :-)

The most recent book that I read, that I really enjoyed, was Stephen King's "Joyland". I'm a big Stephen King fan. I love how he tells a story and how he develops the characters. I feel like I know these people. My only complaint is that the book was too short.

These books sound so exciting! Your interview with Vanessa makes want to read these books even more. I need an exciting book to read right about now.

I am reading More Room in a Broken Heart, The True Adventures of Carly Simon by Stephen Davis. I love Carly Simon so I took a leap off of my usual reading track.

The interview was great! Thank you for taking the time...

My recently enjoyed books include Code Name Verity (which you've already mentioned), A Wolf at the Door by J Damask, Enchanted by Alethia Kontis, and The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord.

I have a similar addiction to my kindle! This would be a perfect add to my ever growing library of fun. =)

Fun! Love a good read & ooo yes that book cover looks great! :)

Just finished Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. I've loved every one of her books and this one was excellent too.

I've started this book, " The Astonishing General: The Life and Legacy of Sir Issac Brock." by Wesley B. Turner . I been reading books about people who become larger then life because of timing, serendipity and the kindness or not of history lessons.
I would love to win such an intriguing, guns blazing all at once kind of book....

Oh, the last good book I read would have to be Stephen McCauley's "The object of my affection." I cried on about every other page it seemed like. (IT's funny, we tell who good a book is by how much it makes us cry. I realize how silly that sounds, but that doesn't make me feel any differently.)

Oh, I loved Code Name Verity too (and I'm so excited to see from another commenter that she has a new book coming this fall)! Right now I'm reading and really enjoying Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu: a modern-day retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's story "The Snow Queen."

Always have enjoyed your recommendations, be they books or knitting. I just finished Stonemouth by Iain Banks, a many layered story about a Scottish village. Wonderful characters!

I'm halfway through "What Alice Forgot" by Liane Moriarty about a young mother who gets injured and forgets her whole current life. Interesting characters and plot - I'm wondering how it'll end...

K, As you know, I love this series! So happy for all your success with it. Those covers...Sigh. You did good by your SSU men. Can't wait for Africa!! Hugs, Virna

P.S. Waving to Rachel!! :)

Sounds like a fun book. Thanks for the chance to win.

Ok, that was supposed to be "VK" and Rachael. Sorry. :P

Tempest's Fury!

Great interview! Definitely will be taking a look at her books.

I love the nickname Calamity Jane. Your book sounds exciting. I like the idea of putting the main character in the worst situation you can imagine to show his or her character. I develop my characters with forethought about the plot, but they almost never write the story for me. Rats, that sounds so much easier. I have to keep thinking what else bad can happen, and how will they react.
Carolyn Rae Author - facebook, author of Romancing the Gold, coming soon from Noble Romance Publishing

I'm finishing the audiobook Wonderland by Robert B. Parker and Ace Atkins. I'll miss "real" Spenser books. I'm a huge fan of Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden books; I reread/listen to them regularly. I'm waiting my turn to read Carl Hiaasen's Bad Monkey.

Can't wait to read Vanessa's books! I love me a good thriller.

(And a *Whoot* to Rachael for that unexpected gift of including the cover art.)
Fascinated by the concept of interviewing your characters (and the writer-character couples therapy) Vanessa. I know what's next for the summer reading list!
Love the idea of strong men interested in stronger women. Yes its fiction, but it gives us hope ;)
And do love the option of ebook or hardbody, ahem, hardbound, as Nook is not droolproof.
And here's my report for What I Read This Summer(so far) -just finished the best summer read: Chet and Bernie mystery series by Spencer Quinn. Chet is the former police K9 and Bernie is the former cop now PI. Each claims to have rescued the other. Engaging mysteries and the best part...Chet (the dog) is the narrator! Quinn speaks fluent dog and keeps you laughing and guessing.
Grab an icy cold beverage, your sunscreen, and the series: Dog on It, To Fetch a Thief, Thereby Hangs a Tail, The Dog Who Knew Too Much and A Fistful of Collars.
(Not required to be a K9 lover- but you'll end up wishing you had a Chet as your summer beverage buddy-and maybe a Bernie too)

I am currently reading "A Life in Stitches". As an avid fiber lover, I am most touched by how the threads weave themselves through the stories. I can really relate to the "need" to create.

Gotta to go now and check out Vanessa's books as they sound like a great read!

The last great book I read was "Cora's Heart", by my favorite author, Rachael Herron. Got everything, knitting, warmth, candles, pushed and pulled emotions in a beautiful setting. And it's got a cowboy,with his picture on the front so it sells in Australia where you can only get it, so far.

Happy birthday tomorrow Rachael, your card is in the mail tomorrow.


I picked up Code Name Verity on your recommendation for our 4th of July cabin trip, read it in one sitting, and then gave it to (in turn), my husband and two friends, who each did the same. Great recommendation! Now I can't wait for her next book!

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Rachael loves it when book clubs read her work! She's happy to attend book clubs that read her books either in person or via Skype. Contact her at rachael@rachaelherron.com to make arrangements.


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