Liz Andra Shaw

Journey into the Creative Mind of a Writing Reader

Book Review: The Process Server by LH Thomson

July 17th, 2014
Send to Kindle

The Process Server
The Process Server by LH Thomson shows us a glimpse into a dystopian future that is all too likely to come true. Imagine a world where you can escape into virtual reality and never come out. The trade off for this is a debt that builds up and enslaves generation after generation.

Enter our protagonist, Smith, a man who has rejected the economic system based on virtual reality. He is a self-made man who owns his own space ship so that he can travel the galaxy as a process server. His pilot, Jayde, looks like a young teen, but is really over 200 years old and has a deadly temper.

In this book, Jayde and Smith take on an assignment that is a huge gamble – it will either help them make enough credits to become independent or it will be their last hurrah.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable book. I enjoyed the fully realized setting. I can definitely see a future in which people become so enmeshed with virtual reality that they give up their lives to it, so the world that Thomson has created is both imaginative and completely plausible.

If you like science fiction or thrillers, I’d recommend The Process Server to you. It’s a fast, exciting read that will not disappoint.

Send to Kindle

Still in that rut – still climbing out

May 30th, 2014
Send to Kindle

calico

I was at Michaels a few weeks ago and they had a smoking sale on canvases. Ten 8×10 canvases for $15.

I never buy canvas. I never buy canvas because no matter how much art I create, I don’t think of myself as an artist. I don’t believe what I create is worthy of canvas. I’m not even sure it’s worthy of paper.

But there I was buying 10 canvases. Scared to death, by the way. What would I do with them? Where would I hang them? As the cashier was ringing them up, I was about ready to bolt, leaving them behind.

A woman standing in line behind me asked, “What are you going to do with the canvases?”

Really? I’m going to run away from them, I thought. But I squared myself up and said, “Stencil, spray ink, gelli plate, glue things to them, I don’t know. Stuff. I really just do this for the fun. It’s therapeutic for me, I guess.”

“What a great idea,” she replied. “And you can’t go wrong. $1.50 a canvas. You’d drop more than that at Starbucks.”

I laughed, because I don’t drink coffee or frequent Starbucks. Still, she had a point. $1.50 a canvas. It’s a pittance, right?

I’m choosing to believe that I’m worth $1.50 a canvas, and I am having fun! I have the calico cat canvas (above) hanging in my office at work. I purposely hung it off center, because I’m going to paint a bunch more. So much of my stress is work-related. I can’t make art there, but I can hang my art there to remind myself of the feeling I had when I made it. Even more, to remind myself that I can always make more art and experience that wonderful feeling again.

Excuse me. There’s a canvas calling to me in the other room. And some paint. And spray ink, a gelli plate, collage papers, and stuff. I think I should go investigate.

Send to Kindle

What to do when you’re stuck in a rut

April 19th, 2014
Send to Kindle

I’ve been in a rut. My dragons are flying without pilots, my rebels are probably running amok pillaging the countryside on Alykan, and, on this planet, my flash fiction is being rejected by publishers and I’m losing speech contests. I’ve been demoralized and down resulting in a catastrophic loss of mojo.

It’s been this way for a year now. It’s not really about the writing, but reality leaks, doesn’t it? Chaos at work always translates into chaos in my brain that leaves work and goes home with me. And wow, last year there was a record amount of chaos. Just when I thought I was adjusting, things would change, and then, without warning, change again. It’s hard to get your sea legs when the wind keeps changing direction.

That’s my story anyway. You can believe it or not. I don’t care. I am too busy climbing out of this rut. The way I’m doing it is with art. I love playing with paint. I mean “playing” quite literally. “The messier the better” should be stenciled over my work table.

Last year, I discovered the joy of gelatin, as in gelatin print making. I bought myself a Gelli plate. Have you seen these? O  M   G. These are so fun they should be illegal! Here’s a speech I gave about them.

The background for this quote is made from one of my Gelli prints:

Pablo-Picasso

I’m also art journaling, which is challenging for me since I don’t feel like an artist in comparison to the many wonderful folks I see on YouTube. I’m stretching myself here and posting one of my spreads. Please don’t laugh!

I_Became_the_Butterfly

Not all my spreads are that pretty. I won’t torture you with the messier ones. You can look me up on Flickr if you have a brave soul.

Recently I discovered a gal on YouTube who talks about mistakes as “oops – outstanding opportunities presenting suddenly.” She encourages play, while being honest about her mistakes, her lack of patience, and her disdain for rulers. I absolutely fell in love with her videos and immediately followed her blog. You should, too. Her name is Carolyn Dube and her blog is “A Colorful Journey.” (And by the way, her last name is pronounced do-bee, which took me back to my childhood with memories of Romper Room. How could I resist a Do Bee?)

I love Carolyn Dube so much that I almost fainted when she announced she was coming to Mesa, AZ, to teach. I got some money together and the next thing I knew, we were madly stenciling and flinging paint around. Carolyn even let me use sharp instruments to bind my own journal. Check out her summary of the day – lots of pictures of the action, including a couple of yours truly.

Carolyn has caused a big uproar in my world. I am now officially addicted to stencils and binding my own journals. I joined the StencilGirl Club and already have my first shipment. Thank goodness I have tomorrow off work already so that I don’t have to fake a sick day to play with them! Here’s a stenciled page done on vintage ledger paper that I made in the workshop:

taste-the-rainbow

So… rut? What rut? I’m busy painting. And gelli printing. And stenciling. And look! I wrote an actual blog post! Watch out world, I think my mojo is coming back!

Send to Kindle

Book Review: The Blue Hallelujah by Andy Straka

February 16th, 2014
Send to Kindle

TheBlueHallelujahbyAndyStraka
Andy Straka presents us with layers of plot in The Blue Hallelujah. The protagonist, Jerry Strickland, is a retired detective who is dying. When his granddaughter is kidnapped, he cancels the medical appointments and becomes involved in the case.

His love for his granddaughter is only one of the reasons he’s so driven to use the last of his fading energies to solve this case. Jerry’s wife, Rebecca, had been his right hand during his years as a detective. She had an intuitive sense about criminals, and it led her into trouble. After a killer escaped justice, she gunned him down in cold blood and spent the rest of her life in prison atoning for it. Jerry believes that by solving this case, he can not only save his granddaughter but also redeem his wife’s reputation.

Jerry is one of the most interesting protagonists I’ve met recently. He isn’t just wrestling with worldly issues, like life and death, but also with spiritual issues of evil, redemption, and justice in ways that normal cops and detectives see only superficially.

Although the ending has been foreshadowed, it will still grip you. If you don’t shed a tear or three for Jerry and his choice, you may not have a heart. Straka doesn’t achieve this with cheap, sentimental manipulation. His writing is honest and compelling.

Jerry is very different from Frank Pavlicek, the protagonist of Cold Quarry by Andy Straka. Frank is more hard-boiled. I suspect that Jerry was in his prime as well, but now he has more eternal priorities. I highly recommend both books to any reader who enjoys mysteries.

Send to Kindle

A Personal Update

February 1st, 2014
Send to Kindle

It’s been forever since I made a personal post. 2013 was a difficult year for me. I chose the word “Peace” as my theme, but I didn’t have much of that. Things still feel very unsettled to me, but I chose the theme “Rebirth” for this year as a way of putting 2013 into perspective.

I got stuck last year, not just in my personal life, but also in my creative work. I didn’t write much of anything. Some months I didn’t write anything but Writing Reader prompts.

As a way of jump starting my creative process, I started doing mixed media art again. I may share an occasional photo here, but I do the art for myself as a form of play. If you feel so inspired, you can check in on my Flickr photostream. I’m just warning you, it’s quite a mishmash.

She's got the Power

 

This Gelli print is one of my favorites. I made it as a response to a prompt in the Journal52 project. The prompt was “Up, up, and away!”

Journal52 is a free class for art journaling. People are doing everything from sketching and photography to mixed media and scrapbooking.  You don’t need a special journal to do this in. They recommend using a simple 3-ring binder.

If you’re looking for something fun to do this year, check it out at Journal52.com.


I’m also doing a daily journaling exercise called No Excuses journaling. It’s really challenged me to pick up my watercolor pencils and sketch something. You’re supposed to use a moleskin or other planner, but I set it up in a wire-bound card stock book I picked up on sale at Michaels. I’m having a lot of fun with it so far. It gives me permission to do some things for myself that I normally wouldn’t do. And no guilt, because I’m doing a class!

Because that is all clearly not enough, I am also doing the Documented Life Project in the No Excuses journal. They seem to tie together very nicely. The Documented Life Project is also a free class. Find out more here.

It hasn’t been at all difficult to integrate these projects into my life, even with a scorpion sting, the flu, and a visit from the parental units also tucked into this month.

The best part: I’m writing again. Flash fiction mostly. It’s dark, but I think it’s good. We’ll see what editors think.

Oh, and that scorpion sting? There’s a whole blog post coming with that story, and if it doesn’t give you nightmares, then I don’t know what will.

 

Send to Kindle

Book Review: Nailed by Joseph Flynn

January 19th, 2014
Send to Kindle


This is the first book by Joseph Flynn that I have read, and it won’t be the last. From the gruesome discovery of the murdered minister at the beginning of the book to the surprising revelation of the murderer at the end, it is a beautifully executed mystery. There are no shortage of suspects, and they are all guilty of something, just not the murder that Ron Ketchum is out to solve. Add a killer cougar into the mix, and you’ve got a story that grabs you from the first page and never lets go.

The protagonist, Ron Ketchum, is a retired LAPD officer who is now police chief is a small town where the worst thing that normally happens is jaywalking. He’s put into the eye of the perfect storm in this book such that his own complicated past becomes part of the national media circus surrounding a very high profile, very unusual murder. I really enjoyed Ron as a character and will be reading the next book in the series to see what happens to him next.

Read Nailed by Joseph Flynn if you love mysteries!

Send to Kindle

Book Review: The Weight of Glass by Stuart Heatherington

November 3rd, 2013
Send to Kindle

theweightofglass

 

My review at Amazon.com:

Child abuse is epidemic in our country. This book tells the story of three siblings left orphaned by their mother with an abusive step-father. The author calls this a novel of suspense, but I would classify it more as horror. I deal with children who are fighting to recover from the evils of child abuse, and I still couldn’t read this book in the evening for fear of having nightmares. Even so, it’s a book that I couldn’t put down. The story is compelling. It’s told with chapters that alternate from a present day reunion between brother and sister to flashbacks of their childhood. Each chapter pulls you inexorably into the next. If you’re interested in a dark, psychological read, this will not disappoint you. Just be warned: it’s not for the faint at heart.

I agree with the reviewers who suggest that the book needed a professional copy editor. There are problems, particularly with homonyms, In the copy I received, there were issues with the Kindle formatting as well, sometimes making it very difficult to tell who was speaking. If the premise of the book interests you, though, don’t let these problems stop you.

Send to Kindle

Book Review: Bleedover by Curtis Hox

October 26th, 2013
Send to Kindle

bleedover

Bleedover by Curtis Hox is based on a whopper of an idea. An idea so big that it may have gotten away from the author. Here’s my review from Amazon.com:

I really love the idea behind this book. Realities from fiction can bleedover into our reality, and by use of a portal, we can enter those realities. The protagonist, Dr. Harriet Sterling, harnesses this phenomenon using what she calls science, however it’s really spellcasting. Even her students are put off by this aspect of it. The villain of the story, Corbin Lyell, harnesses the phenomenon by immersing naive people in pulp horror films and enhancing the experience with a drug cocktail. In the denouement, his monster is released during a symposium with tragic consequences. This book definitely kept me turning the pages, despite some of my issues with the book. The bleedover phenomenon and how it works was poorly developed, making it difficult to suspend belief and buy into it. A college professor calling what is essentially medieval spellcasting a scientific study is a bit much. (To the author’s credit, her students felt the same way.)

My biggest problem, however, is with the constant use of the acronym NPB for New Phenomenon of Bleedover. If this was the New Phenomenon of Bleedover, then what was the old phenomenon of bleedover? And how long is something new? Imagine Volta or Faraday dubbing their discovery the New Phenomenon of Electricity. Do you think we’d still be calling that NPE? Of course not. I know this is a really nitpicky point, but it irritated me every time the acronym was used.

If you’re not a picky reader, there’s an exciting story in this book that you will enjoy. If, however, you tend toward pickiness, you may want to keep looking.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for this review.

So now you know my secret (in case you hadn’t already guessed): I am a picky reader. Not so picky that an occasional typo will perturb me, but I will argue with strange acronyms every time. Besides, everyone knows that NPB really stands for “no problem, bud.”

Send to Kindle

Flash Fiction: Faerie Dance

September 28th, 2013
Send to Kindle

This is a response to Prompt #794 Faerie Dance at The Writing Reader.

Come, faeries, take me out of this dull house!
Let me have all the freedom I have lost;
Work when I will and idle when I will!
Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the disheveled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.
-William Butler Yeats, The Land of Heart’s Desire

Faerie

Marina sighed as she shifted from her left to her right cheek. The tweet stream was at top speed for the day now, over 1200 tweets per minute. EnvironTek paid her per interaction with their tweet stream. Her fingers danced as she retweeted, replied, and sent direct messages to the twits in the stream. Most days she found it invigorating, a worthy challenge. Definitely better than her best friend’s job as a receptionist or her sister’s job as a full-time parent. Today, however, she was tired of it.

That didn’t matter. The rent was due. She squared her shoulders and allowed the flow of the stream to carry her away.

She hit a small eddy a few minutes later. A tweet from a user calling herself @Titania declared, “Come dance with me.” Marina stopped for a moment, then laughed. If the Queen of the Faeries was real, she certainly wouldn’t be wasting her time on Twitter. Sometimes twits were just that – twits. She dove back into the stream and redoubled her efforts.

It came again, this time as an RT from a user calling himself @Oberon. “TY for the invite @Titania! RT Come dance with me.” Without thinking, she replied, “TY @Oberon, I wish I could.”

As soon as she sent it, she knew she was in trouble. She wasn’t tweeting as Marina, but as her employing corporation. It only took one mistake like this to create a newsworthy scandal for a company like EnvironTek. The multinational conglomerate had its talons into everything that environmentalists considered evil – from fracking in New Jersey to tar sands in Canada and rain forest logging in Brazil. It was her job to create good PR for them on Twitter, not to get caught up in a silly scheme promoted by a couple of twits pretending to be King and Queen of the Faeries. She could only pray that no one would notice her reply.

Marina dug in and sent out a couple of tweets about EnvironTek’s donations to educational foundations benefiting children with special needs. Then she opened hashtag.org and began to read the stream for #specialed, following users, direct messaging new contacts about the EnvironTek programs, and retweeting their tweets like a mad woman. She hadn’t received a DM from HR yet, so maybe no one had noticed.

Suddenly, “Come dance with us @Environtek #specialed” came from Oberon and Titania at the same time. How had they found her here in this smaller, protected stream? She closed the tab instinctively and pressed her hands over her eyes. Who were these people?

An alert sounded. She’d received a DM. She opened her eyes, praying that it wasn’t from HR.

“Come dance with us @EnvironTek” began to fill her stream. Tweet after tweet after tweet scrolled across her screen, crowding out the other tweets until that was all that she could see. The alerts were coming so quickly that they sounded like a fireworks display.

Marina shoved her chair away from the desk and stalked into her kitchen. She pulled an ice pack out of the freezer and held it to her forehead in the hopes of staving off the headache that was gathering behind her eyes.

She jumped when the phone rang. She hit the button on her Bluetooth ear bud, sure that it would be Connie in HR telling her that she was fired. Well, Connie, she thought. You can have this job. It sucks.

“Hello?”

“Come dance with me,” a sultry female voice demanded.

Before she could answer, the music flowed through her, a more powerful stream than Twitter had ever been. She stumbled into the living room, sagged into the couch, and allowed Titania to pull her mind into the dance.

 


Thanks to JayVeeAre for the lovely faerie picture.

Send to Kindle

Book Review: America’s Bravest by Kathryn Shay

August 24th, 2013
Send to Kindle

I don’t read romance. <– Notice the tense of that sentence. Present tense. I don’t read romance. Once upon a time, however, I did.

Back when I was attending college, I worked the overnight shift at University of Michigan Hospital. I sat with patients that couldn’t be left alone. The first night I worked, I took my textbooks. They put me to sleep quickly. Clearly, I needed a different type of reading.

The next night, I took the book I was reading for enjoyment. Let’s just say that The Gulag Archipelago put me to sleep even faster than my anatomy text had.

The third night, one of my room mates took mercy on me and handed me a book with a most embarrassing cover. Sweet Savage Love screamed to everyone in a 50 mile radius that I was about to start blushing uncontrollably. Which I did. All night long. But I was awake! And that’s all that really counted.

I read my room mate’s entire stash of books with embarrassing covers that year. They saved my job. You’d think I would be more grateful to the genre, but I’m not. I still blush when I read them, and that’s not OK with me. I haven’t read a romance novel in years, so imagine how shocked I was to find one in my Inbox. Apparently I said I’d review one through BookRooster. (I suspect that I clicked on a link in an email describing a completely different book. One that wouldn’t make me blush. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) Regardless of my typical reading habits, I felt I had a commitment to read and review it, despite all the blushing it would cause.

americas-bravest-by-kathryn-shayHere is my review of America’s Bravest by Kathryn Shay from Amazon.com:

I got a free copy of this book in exchange for this review. I think I actually requested a different book and got this one by mistake – I don’t generally read romance, and there’s a lot of romance in these six novellas. Some are about single people falling in love, but my favorite was El Bombero, which is about a married couple that is struggling. The male fire fighter wants to work on the front lines, but his wife is terrified by the danger that he’s in every time he is called out to a fire. She’s resistant to getting counseling, so he ends up moving into a training position where he’s miserable. How they get back together is the best romance in these novellas, at least for this non-romance reader.

The main appeal of these novellas for me was the information on fire fighting techniques and training. Shay’s research really shines whenever the crews go out on a call.

Just a couple quibbles. First, there is some jargon used in the book without any explanation. For instance, she refers to several types of truck without defining them. Finally, in the last novella, she tells us what a “quint” is. Yes, I could have gotten out of bed and looked it up on Wikipedia, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to stay comfy and keep reading the story. If she defined quint in novella 6, why not the first time she used the term?

Second, I felt that the identity of the arsonist as well as the leak in the department (threads that tie all 6 novellas together) were fairly obvious very early on. Yes, she threw in a red herring, which as it turns out was more pink than red, but it was still predictable. I prefer a story where the mystery is more difficult to figure out, even when all the clues are right in front of you.

If you’re a fan of romance, you’ll love this book. If you’re not, you may learn some things from this book, but be aware that it’s quite heavy on the romance.

It’s no Sweet Savage Love, but I did blush. You may, too, if you decide to read America’s Bravest by Kathryn Shay.

Send to Kindle

Liz Andra Shaw

Journey into the Creative Mind of a Writing Reader