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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Books and Cookies: YA Book Review #2—Uglies

Today, I have another cookie recipe and another great book review! So, whip up a batch of cookies, download this book to your Kindle, and get reading. Enjoy!

Rainbow M&M's Cookies

I found this cookie recipe on Sally's Baking Addiction and it turned out to be the perfect holiday cookie. Pair it with a glass of peppermint milk and you have a yummy treat. And now, for the review...

A YA Book Review: Uglies by Scott Westerfield

In a world where a person is considered ugly until the day they turn sixteen and can have an invasive operation that turns them pretty, Tally is counting the days until her sixteenth birthday. All her friends have already turned pretty and now live on the other side of the river in New Pretty Town. It isn’t until she meets a girl named Shay that Tally begins to wonder if turning pretty is everything she’s ever dreamed it would be. When Shay decides to run away and join a band of “uglies” nicknamed the Smokies, Tally is forced to find her if she ever hopes to become pretty herself. But in the world of the Smokies, a crude town built in a hidden location away from the eyes of Special Circumstances, Tally discovers the truth behind what it means to turn pretty. And she quickly realizes she wants nothing to do with it. Unfortunately, it may be too late to change her fate. 

I’ll be honest, it took me a little while to get into this book. I even set it down several times, but kept picking it up, and boy, am I glad I did. It’s set in a futuristic dystopian-type society where the leaders want to make everyone appear the same. No one should be more beautiful than another, so they make everyone pretty. I guess it’s a way to get rid of judgments and unfairness, but it’s really a way for the ones in charge to control the population like mindless sheep. Tally is a very superficial character at first, but it’s because of the way she’s been brainwashed into thinking that anyone “normal” is ugly and anyone “pretty” is the ideal. You do see her mature and grow throughout the novel as she learns more about the truth behind these operations. 

Here’s one of my favorite passages from the novel. It shows this superficial mentality of these teenagers who are waiting to turn pretty. This is an excerpt of Tally and Shay as they are looking at an old magazine while in the Smokies library. 

“Who are these freaks?”

“They aren’t freaks,” Shay said. “The weird thing is, these are famous people.”

“Famous for what? Being hideous?”

“No. They’re like sports stars, actors, artists. The men with stringy hair are musicians, I think. The really ugly ones are politicians, and someone told me the fatties are mostly comedians.”

Anyone who likes YA dystopian novels will enjoy this read. And like most dystopians, it’s the first novel in a series. I can’t wait to read the next one titled Pretties. In fact, I’m heading to Amazon right now to buy it…

Monday, December 29, 2014

Books and Cookies: YA Book Review #1—Phobic

Hi, everyone! Hope you are having a wonderful holiday season! And what is better during the holidays than to relax and catch up on that looming TBR pile?

Today, you are in for a treat. Literally. If you're like me, then you enjoy cozying up under a blanket, curling up on your bed, or settling into your favorite comfy chair to read your latest book pick. And what better way to do that than with a plate of cookies by your side. That's right. Cookies. So, obviously, I CAN'T make you a plate of cookies, but I CAN provide you with an awesome recipe. And a great book recommendation.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Banana Cookies

This is a pic of the Peanut Butter Oatmeal Banana Cookies I made for the holidays, and they were dee-licious! To find the recipe and make these cookies, please visit Inside BruCrew Life.

And while you eat your scrumptious cookies, here's a book you might want to check out.

A YA Book Review: Phobic by Cortney Pearson

Fifteen-year-old Piper Crenshaw knows her house is anything but ordinary. The walls groan, doors slam on their own accord, and once, her room turned upside down. With a dead father and a mother in prison, Piper’s life has been torn apart by events that happened years earlier. Teased and tormented by the popular kids at school, Piper clings to her best friend Todd and her talent at playing the clarinet. But when things start to get incredibly creepy at her house, and Piper starts seeing the dead former inhabitants of the old home, she knows there’s a mystery that needs to be unraveled. A mystery that propels her into another reality and becomes a matter of life and death. 

I was pulled into this book from the first page. Cortney's writing is beautiful and descriptive while still maintaing that important young adult voice. Here are some of my favorite lines from the book:

“My best friend Todd’s red pickup appears at the curb, spewing exhaust like the truck has a cigarette up its backside. I jerk up. My pulse kicks at the sight of him. That’s been happening a lot more lately, my insides flaring up and doing some sort of spastic dance whenever I catch sight of his alluring smile and dark curls.” -Piper Crenshaw

In reference to high school:

“I don’t get how one place can offer Spectacular for some and then Suckfest for others.” 
-Piper Crenshaw

This book is a mixture of creepy, intriguing, mysterious, and romantic. As the reader, I felt for Piper and this crazy life she’s living devoid of parents to love and protect her. When the haunted aspects of her house intensified as did the ridicule from classmates, I wanted things to work out for Piper, including her “getting the guy.” Piper has a great teenage voice, especially when she talks about Pop-Tarts, the popular kids, and school in general. Cortney did a fabulous job of capturing the teenage mind and putting it onto paper. 

As a fan of romance, I loved the romantic elements of the story. Piper and Todd have been friends for years, but suddenly the heat kicks up between them. They are more “aware” of each other and yet, neither of them is willing to admit it. And of course, there’s feelings of jealousy and betrayal that only adds to the conflict of the story. 

Cortney weaves a tale rich in language and description with a full-blown mystery that needs to be solved. Add to that a teenage girl tormented by her peers and a romance blossoming between her and her best friend, and you have an enthralling read. Of course, there are those characters you love to hate, and without giving anything away, all I can say is they definitely get what they deserve. I would recommend Phobic for anyone who loves a good YA novel with a compelling story that makes you want to stay up way too late reading it. 

And here's a special offer for those who are interested in reading Phobic. But you better hurry, I think it only lasts through the holiday season! Happy Reading! 

Buy on Amazon

Sunday, December 28, 2014

It's time to toot your own horn

So. I thought I'd do something completely different to end this year. Instead of promoting someone else's book, which is often what we prefer to do, I want everyone to toot their own horn. Like this:

I wrote a book called West of Paradise:


It's about this guy named Jack McCabe who gets the opportunity to go back in time. He jumps at it; it’s the adventure he always dreamed of - until he meets a beautiful but deadly train robber. It’s also about Katherine Kennedy who hopes a trip to the past will cure her ennui. She can't believe an ignorant bounty hunter has mistaken her for a criminal – until she sees the WANTED poster, which looks exactly like her. Neither of them can imagine how the past has a way of catching up with the present.

Set in the old west, this is a tale of mistaken identity, romance, and murder.

Why you might like it: You might like it if you like history, adventure, and a little romance.Oh, and it's not as racy as the cover might suggest...But there is kissing!

Now it's your turn. I'll take the first six people who email me (unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com) with the above info about their book, including a cover pic and link to buy, and I'll help you toot your own horn. Please limit 'what it's about' and 'why you might like it' to 100 words max. Your toot will appear next week, January 5-10.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

We Need Your Feedback for the New Year


First, Merry Christmas to those who celebrate and Happy Holidays to everyone else. All of us at Unicorn Bell hope you enjoy this season and move safely into a wonderful New Year.

It will be quiet here this week, but we really need your help. We've spent lots of time wondering how we can improve Unicorn Bell. How can we re-energize the blog and our followers? The biggest question is always, What Do YOU Need From Us?

Please take 5 minutes to fill out our survey form. Your answers will make the difference in posts for the new year.


Friday, December 19, 2014

Quiet Treasures - L. Blankenship

Today we're switching from YA to Adult.

Most definitely adult.

I was privileged to crit L. Blankenship’s Disciple series. How could I not with a title like For Want of a Piglet? This blog was introduced to her via a submission. After reading it, I was hooked.

Kate is an acolyte of Parselev, a master healer. Marked by the Saints, imbued with perfect recall, she is still only a female, and worse, a peasant girl. But her duty is clear, given to her by her master and her patron saint; serve the kingdom and the will of the king. No matter what.

It’s the no matter what that kindles her fear. She thinks enemies will be the worst of it, the war that threatens all of them. But the truth is far from the creatures that stalk their every move. It is simpler, a human trait, that is her downfall. Love and jealousy; and all the emotions that nest in those feelings.

The Disciple series pits tragedy against human nature, duty with longing. I rocketed from mumbling under my breath at Kate, Anders, and His Majesty, the prince Kiefan to sorrow at the loss of a character. Magic figures hugely in these books, epic fantasy to the nth degree. L. molds and creates a new world out of her imagination that spins the reader into a new reality. By the time you finish the first chapter, you see the colors, smell the campfires, and hear the chink of horses’ bits.

You will believe in her world. And never want to leave.

Extraordinary writing highlights her books. Uncommon world building completes it. Now, listen up you Wannabe-Published Authors. L. Blankenship self-published this series. Self. Published. Truly outstanding.

Disciple, Part I is free at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Parts II through V continue the story. The last and final volume of Disciple comes out next year but no date has been set yet.

So what has L. been up to since completing the series?

My current WIP is an urban fantasy medical drama/thriller and it is really challenging me.

I noticed you signed with an adult small press, Dreamspinner, for a new book.

Hawks & Rams is coming out on the 31st from Dreamspinner. They're taking pre-orders and here's the page: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=5897 

Other links:
Author Site: Amazon

Check out her blog and her writing stats for this year. Truly, your ego will suffer. I know mine did.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Quiet Treasures - Taylor Longford

Few authors epitomize and define the Young Adult genre like Taylor. If I had a young ’un, I’d recommend these books. Sweet, a little bit scary, moral yet shades of naughty (not much *grin*), The Greystone Series is the one for you tweens, teens, New Adults, and for sure those who think they’re adults. (Psssst. I’ll let you in on a secret, you adults. The secret to youth is finding an age you like and sticking to it.)

We’ve grown up thinking gargoyles are ugly, misshapen, nasty creatures. But that’s a trick played on us by those jealous of the gargoyles’ beauty.

Brothers, trapped in stone form for hundreds of years, emerge and find themselves in a different society than the one they left. Gone are the carts pulled by oxen, thatched roofs, and peasants. Here to stay are cell phones, Ebay, and the internet. They must adjust—and fast. Because some of their siblings are lost and they don’t know where they are.

The series begins with Valor, the story about one of the first gargoyles to grasp how much his world has changed. His head spins at the difference. But help arrives—although clothed in a different package than what he’s used to. Mackenzie accepts the delivery of the statue of a young man with a visage so drop-dead gorgeous and lifelike that she wonders if he’s alive. She has good intuition. Because Valor, the hunk of stone gargoyle, is eyeing her with the same appreciation.

Where Valor ends, Dare’s adventure begins, the story continuation of the brothers Gargoyle. Six books (so far) are in the Greystone Series

Valor (now free at Amazon)

This author’s books are uncommonly good. Well-written...very well-written. And the storyline is amazing. It kept my interest piqued and the drama never lets up. How often do you run across a series like this? Not often. Usually something disappoints a letdown of characters or storyline. Not this one. And for weeks—or days...or hours, depending how fast you read—you won't need to scrounge for a good book to read. You are totally setup on reading material.

So, Author, what is next for the series? Do you have a title?

I'm currently writing Force, the 7th book in the Greystone Series. If you've been following the series, you'll know that the gargoyles are trying to find a few members of their family who were accidentally separated from the pack. Force is one of the missing gargoyles and this book will tell his story.

How do you schedule your writing time around Life and all those other little distractions?

I did pretty good with the first six stories, publishing two books every year. But my day job has gotten busier and lately I've been especially pressed for time. But writing is a huge escape for me and I'm happy to do some escaping whenever I get the chance.

Are you considering other genres than YA?

I love to read old sword & sorcery as well as scifi but I'm not planning to venture into these genres. I have two more books to write after I've finished Force and I expect Courage and Havoc's stories will keep me busy for at least the next year. 

Link to website: www.taylorlongford.com

Love, love, love this unique series. Give it a try. I guarantee, it will not disappoint.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Quiet Treasures. Melanie Schulz

Erron. You only see him because he wants you to.

Willow knew it was her last summer for doing things her way. College and a career she didn’t want lay ahead of her. But after meeting the enigmatic Erron, her life changes in ways that define all logic. 

She knows, feels, when he is near. Her reactions are the near-mirror image of his emotions, and she can’t believe his interest in her. Friends can’t believe it either. They respond to Erron in the extreme. Either belligerent or fawning toward him.

She doesn't understand who—or what—Erron is, but all too soon, inordinate fear will crush her to a pulp.

My review. Rarely do I find a book that interests me these days. Whether it is lack of time or erring on the side of taste, I do not know, but my patience is non-existent.

Such was not the case with Erron by Melanie Schulz. Time--and the lack thereof--was still a factor, but I elbowed my projects aside when Willow and Erron grabbed me by the collar and said, "Pay attention. You won't regret it."

Fast paced, unique in many ways, the storyline surprised me. The characters are well rounded and held me enthralled for the whole book. I kept disturbing my hubby, gasping and making small noises when he was trying to watch TV but that's the hazards of having a most excellent book in my hands.

Bio. I live in upstate New York, where I've finally come to grips with the fact that I'm a writer. It's taken me six books to make it to that conclusion, but it appears to be inevitable. Not that I'm complaining; writing is like reading a good book, only you get to be the first person who discovers what happens next.

Books. The Newstead Trilogy: The Newstead Project, Bashan Agenda, and The Revenge of the Rephaim.

The Newstead Anthem: Blackbird and 2084 (I want, I want)

And Erron.

She will continue Willow’s story where Erron left off, with Willow's mental state hanging on by a thread when Erron’s plan backfires in a big way. Now everyone wants him. And he has nowhere to hide. 

Are you looking for something good to read these dreary days of clouds and rain? Pick Erron. You can't go wrong.

Monday, December 15, 2014

This Week in Books: Quiet Treasures

You’re not even looking for it, but there it is. Like finding a four-leaf clover in a wheat field. Or a forgotten item made by your child, a homemade card so full of love that it holds you fast in memory.

Music is like that. Scents. It takes you back to the memory, the day, that piece of your life buried in your mind, so rich with intangible, unexplainable emotions. You go back to that moment and breathe the same air again.

Books. I can’t tell you how many times I've read Lord of the Rings and lived again the vivid walk through Ithilien, smelled rabbit cooking, and pondered my next move to Cirith Ungol.

Lilacs, Sunshine, and Honey. Twilight was also a life-changer for me. Those who know what I’m talking about nod in agreement. If it didn't affect you the way it did me, I hope you find a book that does.

Quiet treasures are out there for anyone caring to look. This week is about those crystals found
among the gravel.

Watch for them. They are out there, unheralded perhaps, but sweet and wonderful nonetheless.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Writerly Woes: Frustration

When I asked for writerly woes the word "frustration" was tossed around A LOT. Usually, in connection with rewrites. Someone mentioned rewriting the same scene multiple times and it never working. Another person mentioned rewriting an entire chapter to oblivion before her editor accepted it.
It's not a secret rewrites are tough. If you didn't think it worked well, you wouldn't have written it that way to begin with. And the original wording probably does make perfect sense in your head. You know exactly what you're thinking, but a stranger picking up your book doesn't have access to that information. You've got to spell it all out. If you've rewritten something more than once there is a good chance you're working with one of two problems. 1)Insufficient detail. (This doesn't necessarily mean not enough details. You could be including the wrong details. 2) Is the scene needed?

If something really does need to be included but it's making no sense, it's probably a problem showing. Paint the picture better. I would like to give you advice on how to do this, but since showing is my personal nemesis and will probably be the death of me, I will do a flip instead. You could open Youtube and watch videos of dancing lambs. This won't help you show, but it might make you laugh.

But if the picture is well painted, cute and adorable and still not working, the scene could be unneeded. If it isn't propelling your story or adding depth to your characters (or preferably both), there is a good chance the scene isn't working, because it's not needed. It can't do it's job, because it doesn't have a job to do. This is where the phrase "death to your darlings" comes in. You may need to cut that scene or at least repurpose it. (Repurposing can be much harder. I'm in the process of rewriting an entire novel based on one line that wasn't working that I didn't want to change). If you do cut the scene make a scrap file on your computer and save it. You may be able to use the same scene with different characcters later. (Or if you're planning a series maybe even the same characters in a different book).

What are your suggestions for dealing with frustrating rewrites?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Writerly Woes: The Synop

I asked for your writerly woes a week ago and several people said that dreaded one-two page synopsis. And unlike writer's block/writer's anxiety, this is something I can actually help with. (Woohoo points for Beth)! (Although writing that post at least helped me, :-p). 

So how do you cram your whole book into a page? Super easy. You need the three act (sometimes called four act) structure. That looks something like this:

  1. Inciting Incident--where your story actually starts. This should be REALLY early on.
  2. 1st Turning Point- Your MC may have attempted to ignore the problem before,  but now he/she cannot. And if MC wasn't ignoring the problem now MC is taking a more active attempt at solving the problem.
  3. Midpoint (also referred to as the reversal of fortune) This can be anything. Maybe even something that seems like a good thing but further complicates the problem. A possible solution gone awry.
  4. 2nd Turning point-- Things just got worse.
  5. 3rd Turning point- This needs to be big enough to drive you straight into the climax. In fact, the second turning point could have propelled you straight here. 
  6. CLIMAX: The moment you have all been waiting for is here. 
  7. Resolution: Yeah, it's all over. The fat lady sang. Hero is/isnot a winner. But it's over. The battle has come and gone.
Now once, you have broken your novel down into the points writing a synopsis should be relatively easy. Your first paragraph will start with your inciting incident. You will decribe it in a few sentences and should naturally lead in to your first turning point and so on. You will likely need to leave subplots out (although sometimes a subplot is to intertwined with the main plot it comes up naturally as the story progresses, and that's okay). You will probably leave minor characters out. And that's okay. But you should be able to get your complete story in using this process. 

Do you have a hard time with the synop? Do you have suggestions?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Writerly Woes: Writer's Block

This week I'm talking about writerly woes. I know some of you mentioned specific frustrations and I'll be dealing with those later in the week. Today, I'm tackling the beast. Writer's Block.

A well published author once told me there is no such thing as writer's block. You just haven't thought it through enough. I think this statement is in part true. If you're stuck in the middle of a project, you just can't seem to finish, this statement applies. Go back to the drawing board, story board, plot map, concept, whatever you use. Think it through. Think some more. Come back and write it down.
But it's only in part true, because this advice makes an assumption: you're stuck on a project or couple of a projects. What about when you just can't write? You sit down for your writing time and stare at a blank page the entire time. You have projects you could be working on. You know what should be happening. You can see it in your head. It's funny and cute and oh so sweet. But it's not coming out of your head. More planning won't help with this. You already know what's going to happen, you're just not doing the work. I get this sometimes and it's much harder to crush. I think this comes in two varieties.
1. Writer's Anxiety: It's not that I'm really blocked, or that I don't know where to take the story. It's that I'm scared. Scared it's going in the wrong direction. I'll use the wrong words. People are going to hate this. It sucks. I'm writing a book and I'll get to the end to have a whole book that sucks. My agent is going to drop me. My publisher is going to drop me. The world is going to end. My entire career--everything I've worked for four years to build--is hanging on this next sentence. That is alot of pressure on this sentence. This sentence has to be perfect. Do you get it? You just don't get it. My entire life depends on this sentence. ---Yeah, just thinking about that got me so worked up I think I need a Prozac.
Whew. So when I find myself in this place, I know what I need. Help. The kind of help that can only come from another writer. Or in completely desperate moments when I've been abandoned by the whole writing community (like 4 a.m.) it must come from within. My first steps are to text my bff, Kelly Hashway and say, "I suck." Because she will immediately say that I don't. She will remind me I've told her every book I've ever written has sucked and most of them have turned out to be interesting reads sometimes even high concept. My next step is to challenge her to a word war. If she's available we will compete. This helps me get past the anxiety and the worry about quality because my goal is only to get more words on paper than her. It's fine if they're bad. We'll fix it later. If she's not available I will go on Twitter and ask who is up for a word war. I've met new people this way and found more support. Or Kelly will say I can't war, but I challenge you to write X number of words. The thing about this once I start writing past the fear, I move in the flow. The words come and I'm on a roll again. Or I have another friend Ashley Maker who will check in with me to see what my word counts are and send me cute gifs throughout the day as I hit certain goals. We are part of an amazingly supportive community. Use it.
2. Writer's Depression: I lied. It all comes down to anxiety. That stupid fear that can control your life. This entire paragraph is a rewrite, because I was writing it the first time, I realized that when you are too disappointed with all the things that didn't happen right or haven't happened yet what you're really feeling is "I'm not getting anywhere." And what that really means is "I'm afraid I'm never going to get anywhere." As I wrote this paragraph the first time, I told you I had no idea how to get through writer's depression, but I was looking for answers because I'm stuck in it. And I didn't know how to get through it, but I knew that you could get through it, because I was stuck here in 2011 and then I came back like a champ in 2012. I wrote The Fate of A Marlowe Girl and A Missing Peace, the book that got my agent. I channeled that success through 2013 and wrote The Other Marlowe Girl and Finding Hope. I realized I was writing this the true problem. And 2015 will be a good year.

Do you know of any other forms of writer's block? Do you suffer from writer's anxiety?

Friday, December 5, 2014

You Cannot Kill a Swan

And to close out the week, one more interview...

1. Where did the initial idea for You Cannot Kill a Swan come from?

I actually had the initial idea when I was perhaps eleven or twelve years old, after first learning about Russia. I started a picture book about a 17-year-old ballerina and balalaika-player named Amy and her 10-year-old cousin Ginny (a boy), starting in 1917. Obviously, at the time, I had no idea Amy and Ginny aren't Russian names, and later changed Amy into the Russian equivalent Lyubov (Lyuba), and wrote in a plausible explanation as to how her cousin (whose real name is Mikhail) got the nickname Ginny. (This character is just Ginny to me. Changing his name to anything else would've felt very strange.)

I started the real first draft at the end of January 1993, inspired by my memories of having stayed on Cape Cod in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Bob and Ida Vos's autobiographical middle grade novel Hide and Seek. I got the idea to write a book about characters who also went into hiding and had to change residences often, only they'd be hiding from Bolsheviks instead of Nazis. Hide and Seek, like all of Ida Vos's books, is written in (third-person) present tense, which was like a revelation to me. This was years before present tense became so trendy, and I had never realized one could write in present tense. I felt it would work really well for my story too, increase the sense of drama, urgency, immediacy, never knowing what would happen next. I loosely based the first of my characters' hiding places on that two-story hotel room my family had stayed at in August 1991, deprived of things like electricity, ice, and running water thanks to Hurricane Bob.

2. Which part of the publishing process was the most surprising?

Finding out that I'm pretty much on my own regarding marketing! It takes longer than you might expect to build a name for yourself and start making a lot of regular sales.

3. If you could give yourself any piece of advice before you started writing, what would it be?

You need to really immerse yourself into the historical era and setting you're writing about. Do a lot of research from multiple sources, and don't be afraid to create characters who aren't exactly in line with your modern sensibilities. There are ways to create characters who are against the grain in ways which would've been acceptable within the parameters of their given generation. It doesn't mean you have to make them so in line with the status quo of their day that it turns off modern readers. Know when something is an anachronism; don't assume people in a past decade just had, e.g., clunkier answering machines or cassette players. You also never want your story to read like a contemporary dressed up with some historical references and costumes.

4. Plotter or panster?

I'm typically much more of a pantser, though I like to have some kind of general outline, in the form of notes or a table of contents, to remind me of what happens when, and what the basic chronology and events are. I enjoy letting my characters and storylines surprise me as I'm writing.

5. Quiet room or noisy room when you’re writing? How quiet do you need it? What sort of noise?

I tend to prefer music while I'm writing, for extra motivation and inspiration. My writing soundtracks are overwhelmingly music from the Sixties and Seventies, with some Eighties music. One of my books was written primarily to a soundtrack of The Four Seasons and The Hollies, and the second and third of my Russian historical novels have mostly been written with a Duran Duran soundtrack. (You don't have to tell me one of my favorite bands isn't like all the others!)

6. Your writing area/desk: a place for everything and everything in its place or if anyone ever straightened it, you’d never find a thing?
I tend towards organized chaos. I know where everything is on my desk, though it's not in neat little bundles or filed away on other shelves or in cabinets and folders. My maternal grandmother's carefree housekeeping style skipped over my mother and went to me instead!

7. What is your current pop culture obsession (book, TV show, movie, webcomic…)? What are the rest of us missing?

In the last year, I've become a huge fan of The Rap Critic, who has a show on That Guy with the Glasses and Blip TV. He does reviews of songs with music videos, used to do rap mad-libs, makes lists of the worst lyrics he's heard that month and year, and sometimes does miscellaneous videos, like the most haunting songs in hip-hop or the best rap songs of the year. He's very funny, particularly when he's reviewing a song that gets a 0 out of 5 rating, and very intelligent. He often says he wishes mainstream rap and hip-hop would be more intelligent and uplifting, instead of generic club songs, brag raps, and songs objectifying women. I'm far from the only fan of his who's gotten a whole new appreciation of rap thanks to him, and looked up some of the artists and songs he's praised for intelligent lyrics, original subject matter, and hard-hitting topics not often seen these days in the mainstream.

You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan (1917-24) (written as Ursula Hartlein):
Seventeen-year-old Lyuba Zhukova is left behind in Russia when her mother and aunt immigrate to America, forcing her to go into hiding from the Bolsheviks and sometimes flee at a moment’s notice. By the time the Civil War has turned in favor of the Reds, Lyuba has also become an unwed mother. But she still has her best friend and soulmate Ivan Konev, a cousin, and a band of friends, and together they’re determined to survive the Bolsheviks and escape to America.

As Lyuba runs for her life from during the terror and uncertainty of the Civil War, she’s committed to protecting her daughter and staying together with Ivan, her on-again, off-again boyfriend in addition to her best friend and the man who’s raised her child as his own since the night she was born. The race to get out of Russia, into Estonia, and over to America intensifies after Ivan commits a murder to protect her and becomes a wanted criminal.

Once in America, Lyuba discovers the streets aren’t lined with gold and that she’s just another Lower East Side tenement-dweller. Ivan brings in dirt wages from an iron factory, forcing them to largely live off the savings they brought from Russia and to indefinitely defer their dream of having their own farm in the Midwest. And though the Red Terror is just a nightmarish memory, Lyuba is still scarred in ways that have long prevented her and Ivan from becoming husband and wife and living happily ever after. Can she ever heal from her traumatic past and have the life she always dreamt of with the man she loves before Ivan gets tired of waiting?

Buy link:

Author bio:
I earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in History and Russian and East European Studies, and am currently pursuing a master’s degree in library science from the State University of New York at Albany. Under the pen name Carrie-Anne Brownian, I've published Little Ragdoll: A Bildungsroman, a family saga set in Manhattan and Hudson Falls from 1959–74 and inspired by the famous story behind The Four Seasons' song "Rag Doll." I've also had work published in the anthologies Campaigner Challenges 2011, edited by Katharina Gerlach and Rachael Harrie; Overcoming Adversity: An Anthology for Andrew, edited by Nick Wilford; How I Found the Right Path, edited by Carrie Butler and PK Hrezo; and The Insecure Writer's Support Group Guide to Publishing and Beyond.

Under the pen name Ursula Hartlein, I've published You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan, a historical saga set in Russia and Manhattan from 1917–24, and And Jakob Flew the Fiend Away, a Bildungsroman set in The Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies from 1940–46.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Murder of Crows

Today Kate Ayers is joining us to tell us a little about herself and her book...

1. Where did the initial idea for A Murder of Crows come from?

There’s an adorable little wine town a short distance outside of Portland, Oregon, called Carlton, populated by enthusiastic residents who run a host of chic businesses. One day, the first sentence (The morning Lodge Johnson died, I was an angry dog looking for a hand to bite.) popped into my head and I knew a body was going to show up among the rows of grapes out there.

2. Which part of the publishing process was the most surprising?

Oh, wow. I sort of ended up finding a tiny publisher out of the UK who turned out to be sort of a cross between traditional and a self publisher. I guess I’d say the sheer variety of choices surprised me.

3. If you could give yourself any piece of advice before you started writing, what would it be?

Read. Read a lot. Reading helps to define what style a person is most drawn to. I think it helped me shape my writer’s voice.

4. Plotter or panster?

Whole-hearted panster. I tried plotting and outlining, before and even after. I hated it. For me, the story unfolds. It seems to have control rather than the other way around.

5. Quiet room or noisy room when you’re writing? How quiet do you need it? What sort of noise?

Quiet, very quiet. As someone who spent her career recording what everyone in the room said, exterior noises always draw my attention away. Now I have an office that looks out onto a couple acres of trees and brush, and the largest distractions come in the form of herds of deer or coveys of quail.

6. Your writing area/desk: a place for everything and everything in its place or if anyone ever straightened it, you'd never find a thing?

Well, I tend toward being a neatnik, but I fail at it. Piles seem to appear and, since I don’t want to take the time away from writing to find another place for them, they often stay on my desk. However, I can find almost everything on it.

7. What is your current pop culture obsession (book, TV show, movie, webcomic...)? What are the rest of us missing?

I'm pretty traditional here. Probably Blacklist. I mean, watching the dynamic between Red and Lizzie is simply irresistible.

A Murder of Crows

The bloated body of a local winemaker is discovered in a vineyard a few miles outside Carlton, Oregon’s premier grape growing region. Private eye Cade Blackstone seems to be drawn to the murder investigation, although the police aren't too pleased with his involvement. Nor is his client, who has hired him to find her missing granddaughter. As he digs into the dead man’s past, Cade grows increasingly horrified at what he’s learning. And the more he learns, the more important it becomes to find the runaway, if that’s what she is.

About the Author:
Kate Ayers spent much of her career as a court reporter in the Pacific Northwest, taking up the writing of mysteries in just the last ten years. She’s the author of A Murder of Crows and A Walk of Snipes.Kate lives in Oregon with her husband of over three decades and her slightly imbalanced dog.

Visit her website: www.kateayers.com

Email her at kate@kateayers.com

Follow her on Facebook at Kate Ayers, Author

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

We Walk Alone

Today I'm welcoming Mariah E. Wilson to the blog to answer the usual questions...

Where did the initial idea for We Walk Alone come from?

The idea for We Walk Alone came after my decision to put together a poetry collection. I gathered my work and tried to find a common theme or some way to connect all my different poems together. It’s a bit of an eclectic mix, but the poems examine life and how we connect and relate to other people. The title comes from one of the poems in the collection that addresses the issue of wanting to connect to someone, anyone, but knowing that your journey is yours and yours alone.

Which part of the publishing process was the most surprising?

I have quite a few author friends, so I had a good idea of what life behind the scenes of a book deal was like, but I think the thing that surprised me the most was noticing just how many small errors there can be, even in a relatively short poetry collection.

Knowing how many small errors were in my poetry collection, I’m rather frightened to get the edits back from my publisher for my upcoming contemporary romance, The Demon in Him (due 2015)

If you could give yourself any piece of advice before you started writing, what would it be?

Give yourself permission to write garbage and finish what you start. I used to obsess over every page. I wanted it to be perfect before I moved on to the next. I spent forever editing and re-editing half finished projects with the idea of “someday” in mind. Don't wait for “someday”. Finish what you start, even if it’s bad. And some of it will be bad. But the only way to learn how to write well is to write poorly.

Plotter or panster?

Pantser. All the way. I start out with an idea or a character and I just run with it. Sometimes I get 30,000 words in and stop because things stop making sense and I’m not sure how to continue. But I go back later, sometimes years later as in the case of the novel I just finished, and I suddenly know what’s going to happen and how to fix certain issues that I couldn't fix the first time.

I used to want to be a planner and I tried. I tried really hard, but I just don’t have it in me. I like not knowing everything about the story when I start writing it. I like the little surprises that present themselves.

Quiet room or noisy room when you're writing? How quiet do you need it? What sort of noise?

I can write in silence. I can write in noise. I can write with music or television in the background. I don’t need a certain environment to in order to be productive. I have three children. A singleton and a set of twins that are 17 months younger. Because of them I've learned to be flexible. If I had a choice though, I do prefer to write with some sort of music on, but I don't always have that option.

Your writing area/desk: a place for everything and everything in its place or if anyone ever straightened it, you'd never find a thing?

My desk goes through stages of disorder, but a few things remain constant. My coffee sits to the left of the monitor because I’m right handed and need my right hand to run the mouse. My notebooks for the novels and poetry project I’m currently working on also sit to my left in a neat pile. I have a mug of pens always nearby and a small drawer caddy that houses yet more pens and other stationery. Other than that, the kids pile their stuff on my desk like drawings they create for me. When it gets too messy I clean it off, but it’s never long before it’s cluttered again, but I can always find my writing resources.

What is your current pop culture obsession (book, TV show, movie, webcomic…)? What are the rest of us missing?

I watch quite a few different show but I'm currently obsessed with Outlander. I’m dying waiting for the second half of the first season, so I'm re-reading the books. I just started #5, The Fiery Cross.

I also watch Lost Girl, which is going into it’s fifth and final season. It’s full of fun, supernatural creatures. If you haven't watched it, you need to. Some parts are a bit racy (you've been warned)

And The Vampire Diaries. And Sailor Moon Crystal. I love those shows and fangirl about them with my good friend quite frequently.

We Walk Alone

We each are but a grain of sand on a beach, a cog in a great time piece. We are surrounded, yet solitary, wanting to be part of the whole while aching to be individual. We search for those special connections, reaching out with hope but holding back with trepidation, our hearts wanting one thing while our minds are saying something different. Yet within this batter, despite the scars, we somehow manage to find love, hope, companionship, and purpose, ultimately without surrendering our ability to find that necessary peace within ourselves.

About the Author

Mariah E. Wilson is a writer from beautiful British Columbia. She has been published in Thin Air Magazine, Every Day Poets, The Kitchen Poet, Literary Orphans and The Corner Club Press, for which she is also now the Poetry Editor. Her first poetry collection, We Walk Alone, was published by Writers AMuse Me Publishing.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Broken Branch Falls by Tara Tyler

One of the original moderators of Unicorn Bell is here to share with us her latest...

I am so thankful for Unicorn Bell! I was privileged to be part of its beginnings, making friends for life with Marcy, Charity, and CD. And UB also lead me to my current publisher with one of its wonderful contests! I'm very happy to see UB has continued to thrive and give advice and help to other writers. It's a much needed and appreciated site. And now I get to come back and be a guest - one more thing to be thankful for! Yay for Unicorn Bell!

by Tara Tyler
Publisher: Curiosity Quills

Gabe is an average fifteen-year-old goblin. He’s in the marching band, breezes through calculus, and gets picked on daily by the other kids at school, especially the ogres. But Gabe wants to break out of his nerdy stereotype and try other things. He has his eye on the new ogress at school. Though it’s against all beastly rules, there’s just something about her.

Chaos erupts when Gabe sparks a fad of mingling with other species, forcing the High Council to step in and ruin things, threatening to destroy the school and split up Broken Branch Falls. With help from other outcast friends, Gabe sets out on a quest to save his town. They'll show 'em different species can work wonders together!

Available at
B&N ~~~ Amazon
Add it to your GOODREADS list!

Tara Tyler has had a hand at everything from waitressing to rocket engineering. After living up and down the Eastern US, she now writes and teaches math in Ohio with her three active boys and Coach Husband. Currently, she has two series, The Cooper Chronicles (techno-thriller detective capers) and Beast World (MG fantasy) She's an adventure writer who believes every good story should have action, a moral, and a few laughs!

Also by Tara Tyler, techno-thriller detective series,
The Cooper Chronicles, Book One: POP TRAVEL

Monday, December 1, 2014

Fade Into Me

In case you missed it, Charity Bradford's Kickstarter project is fully funded! Hooray!

Didn't hear about it? That's okay. When it's released, you can buy the book and support her that way.

What's it about? I'm glad you asked...

Aliens live among us. Their purpose: to protect and nurture their greatest mistake—mankind.

Caedan Frey’s family has fulfilled this duty for thousands of years, but it doesn’t free him from his obligation as prince of the Reparation. Although he doesn't believe humans will evolve to see the magic, much less control it, he has two months to marry one or face the wrath of the High Council. Bitter about a responsibility he thinks prevents him from marrying for love, he figures any human girl will do. He's ready to propose to one when his soul mate stumbles into—and right out—of his arms.

Human, Ryanne Killian might be his one shot at happiness while still fulfilling his duty. Unfortunately, she guards a dark secret within her co-dependent personality, and she thinks the only way to protect Caedan is to push him away.

Caedan must convince her she’s worthy of his love before the men from her nightmares return for a second round. If she can see her own worth, she just might save herself and his people.

Coming February 2015 (unless I can get it out in January)

Congrats, Charity.