Category Archives: Book Reviews

The Art of Keeping Secrets

It seems I go through reading ‘spurts’ where I tend to read compulsively. Then I write. The last month or so has been a spurt. My latest reading, a book by an author I’ve read in the past, The Art of Keeping Secrets, by Patti Callahan Henry.

Synopsis:

Since a plane crash killed her husband two years ago, Annabelle Murphy has found solace in raising her two children. Just when she thinks the grief is behind her, she receives the news that the wreckage of the small plane has been discovered and that her husband did not die alone. He was with another woman. Suddenly, Annabelle is forced to question everything she once held true.

Sophie Parker knows the woman who was on that plane. A dolphin researcher who has lived a quiet life, Sophie has never let anyone get too close. But when Annabelle shows up on Sophie’s doorstep full of painful questions, both women must confront their intertwining pasts, and find the courage to face the truth.

Review:

This is a story about two women: one who doesn’t know the truth, and one who knows it but can’t share it.

the-art-of-keeping-secretsAnnabelle is living on autopilot since her husband died in a plane crash. She has her friends, her kids, and her job and is quite content to live a predictable life filled with memories. Sofie is trying to find her way through life. She has a job she loves, a man who loves her (even if it isn’t exactly healthy love), and a lifetime of secrets. The one thing these women have in common is that they are both weak characters. Annabelle can’t stand up for herself or to anyone, including her obnoxiously entitled daughter, while Sofie can’t fight her way out of a relationship where she is treated like the cute new puppy of a much older man.

For what the story was, it took the author a long time to get there, especially considering Annabelle found Sofie so early on. It was a bloated story filled with stiff characters. In far too many cases, the dialogue was too formal to feel real.

I hate to see one book take away from an otherwise good author, but this one did. I have read her work in the past and enjoyed it, but found little to redeem this title. The book was extremely predictable, the characters less than believable, and it took the very long way to get to the meat of the story.

I believe this is one of Henry’s earlier works. Although I haven’t read her titles in order, it seems to me that the more she writes, the better she gets – as it should be. Unfortunately, for some that isn’t the case.

This book wasn’t a horrible read. It simply did not stand up to the standards of many of her titles. Don’t let that fact keep you from picking up a Henry book, but in my opinion, make sure it was published 2012 or later.

Patti Callahan Henry is usually a 4+ star writer, but The Art of Keeping Secrets fell a bit flat at 3-stars (Just okay).

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The Innocent Sleep

I hope you all are having a wonderful Thanksgiving and were able to spend it with loved ones. I was able to come home for a short stay to see my daughter and her family. Until he teaches me how to fly the plane (I say that like I’m serious), I’ll spend my in-air hours reading.

Karen Perry, the author of The Innocent Sleep is actually two authors: Paul Perry and Karen Gillece, both prize-winning authors and both having written critically acclaimed books. I didn’t know that fact before reading this title and only learned of it as I read the back matter of the book. The reason I mention this fact is that it runs parallel to my review.

Synopsis:

Tangiers. Harry is preparing his wife’s birthday dinner while she is still at work and their son, Dillon, is upstairs asleep in bed. Harry suddenly remembers that he’s left Robin’s gift at the café in town. It’s only a five-minute walk away and Dillon’s so tricky to put down for the night, so Harry decides to run out on his own and fetch the present.
Disaster strikes. An earthquake hits, buildings crumble, people scream and run. Harry fights his way through the crowd to his house, only to find it razed to the ground. Dillon is presumed dead, though his body is never found.
Five years later, Harry and Robin have settled into a new kind of life after relocating to their native Dublin. Their grief will always be with them, but lately, it feels as if they’re ready for a new beginning. Harry’s career as an artist is taking off and Robin has just realized that she’s pregnant.
But when Harry gets a glimpse of Dillon on the crowded streets of Dublin, the past comes rushing back at both of them. Has Dillon been alive all these years? Or was what Harry saw just a figment of his guilt-ridden imagination? With razor-sharp writing, Karen Perry’s The Innocent Sleep delivers a fast-paced, ingeniously plotted thriller brimming with deception, doubt, and betrayal.

Review:

the-innocent-sleep

The story follows Harry and Robin in a non-linear fashion through their relationship. It switches viewpoints at almost every chapter, between Harry and Robin, but not always in chronological order. This isn’t a huge problem, although there were a couple times I had to pause to figure out if I was reading ‘now or then’.

The characters were fleshed out enough to sympathize with, their personalities different and consistent. There was not a lot of setting description, which I liked, as I am not one who wants every little detail written out. I’d rather garner a few details from the book and imagine the rest for myself.

When I say the fact that there were two authors for this title runs parallel to my review, I am referring to the actual writing. The first three-quarters of the book are written out, a pace set and maintained, until the three-quarter mark. At that point, it changes. It begins to read like elaborate bullet points, the narrator telling the sequence of events one paragraph at a time. It reads like a narration to no one in particular, even though it is basically precise details being told to one particular person, in most cases Dillon. Even after Harry is killed, he relays the account of what happened to his son. I found that awkward as the entire book was written in real time, so this transfer of information did not seem to fit. It was obviously for the reader’s benefit. I saw it as a lazy way to reveal what had happened in as few words as possible. At one point, the thought crossed my mind that it wasn’t reading like the same author anymore. I have no way of knowing how these authors split the writing, and I may very well be wrong about one person writing the last quarter of the book, but learning there were two authors somehow vindicated my initial impression.

At one point near the end, a new POV character, Garrick, is introduced. Even though it is not the first mention of him in the book, the fact that a new POV was introduced so late in the story had an odd feel to it. It went from being Harry and Robin’s story and all of a sudden, it was Garrick’s story, too.

Entertainment Weekly said, “You won’t see the twist coming.” I don’t agree. The main storyline was predictable, and a little drawn out. What I didn’t see coming and saw no real reason for other than shock value, was Harry’s death.

There were reasons to keep reading, but there were also things that slowed it down. The Innocent Sleep was not a bad read and worthy of 3.5 stars on Amazon’s review system.

Have you read The Innocent Sleep? Share your thoughts…


Troubleshooting Your Novel… by Steven James

I own a number of writing reference books. A ridiculously, too-large (463) number if I were being honest. I suppose you could say I collect them as others might collect tiny spoons emblazoned with artwork of their corresponding state or coasters from their favorite bars.

I haven’t read each one in its entirety, although I have read parts of each of them. I use them for exactly what the genre suggests: reference. Sometimes I turn to them for an answer to a question I am grappling with. Other times, I skim through and read particular sections that seem to jump-start my mind when it has stalled. But every once in a slim while, I read one because it is just THAT informative (and useful). I recently purchased one such book. This is going to sound more like a plug for the book rather than a review, but it is just that good.

Troubleshooting Your Novel just came out. Actually, it was in bookstores before the publication date Amazon has listed. It’s so new that, who knows, I may have actually been the very first person to purchase it!

Writer’s Digest puts out some of the best writing reference/guides on the market. They make use of many authors, Steven James (author of Story Trumps Structure)  being one of them.

I am not going to give a blow-by-blow of what is offered within the pages of the book, as there is just so much, but I will highlight some of my favorite parts.

First, my personal favorite part: Fine Tuning My Manuscript. This section ends each chapter of the book. Rather than tell you what you should be doing, it engages you by making you ask yourself the how, what, where, why type questions that are the basis of your novel. At least for me, it caused me to look at my current WIP a bit differently, seeing crucial aspects that had gone unnoticed up until that point.

Another section I really like is the Fixing _____ Issues, which correlated with each chapter heading (transitions, symbolism, theme, etc.)

There are eighty different sections divided into five parts to help you troubleshoot any issue you could possibly find within your manuscript.

I can’t think of a single aspect of storytelling that isn’t covered within the pages of this book. I rarely review reference books but felt compelled to do so with this book because it is so new on the market and at the time of this review, there aren’t any on Amazon to help a potential reader make their decision.

As I said, I have far too many (useless) reference books on my shelves. If I had to pare down, this book would definitely make the cut. I’d even go as far as to say it’d make the top 10. It’s. That. Good.

troubleshooting-your-novel

Troubleshooting Your Novel


Keepsake, by Kristina Riggle

Keepsake is a book that covers a real issue. The issue has even been covered in a television show named Hoarders. This will be another brief review that states the important aspects without irrelevant additions due to time constraints.

Synopsis:

For her previous novels (Things We Didn’t Say, The Life You’ve Imagined, Real Life & Liars), author Kristina Riggle has garnered fabulous reviews and established herself as a rapidly rising star of contemporary women’s fiction. In Keepsake, she explores that most complicated of relationships, as two sisters raised by a hoarder deal with old hurts and resentments, and the very different paths their lives have taken. As always, Riggle approaches important topics poignantly and honestly—including hoarding and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in her remarkable Keepsake—while writing with real emotional power and compassion about families and their baggage. For readers of Katrina Kittle and Elin Hildenbrand, Kristina Riggle’s Keepsake is a treasure.

Review:

The book wasn’t horrible, but it tends to become dull in places. Trish is a hoarder. I got that from the beginning. After a while, I grew tired of hearing about the stacks of storage containers, or how she resisted parting with anything. I felt the emotion in the book was what carried it through. The family tensions and dynamics were well done, but the repetitive hoarding sequences wore on me. I never liked the television show for the same reason. Once the camera panned the piles of ‘stuff’ it went from disbelief to disgust. I didn’t need to see one half hour of it. *A note: I would absolutely read another title from this author as I felt the writing itself was good. It was the subject matter that turned me off.


A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

It’s been a while since I have given a review… but then, it’s been a while since I’ve had time to read for pleasure. I took advantage of a recent break in my work schedule and caught up on my reading. The first book I read was A Man Called Ove.

I’m going to keep my review brief due to time constraints, and vague as not to give away spoilers.

Synopsis:

In this bestselling and delightfully quirky debut novel from Sweden, a grumpy yet lovable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time? Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations. A feel-good story in the spirit of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Fredrik Backman’s novel about the angry old man next door is a thoughtful and charming exploration of the profound impact one life has on countless others.

Review:

This book was a little different than many of the books I read. If you can stick it out, it is a good book. But for some, the beginning will be too hard to stick with. It starts off slow and other than to be a truly stand-up guy like his father before him, there wasn’t much to hold my interest in Ove or his life. I don’t want to give spoilers, but I will say, stick it out. Touching and heartfelt, overall worth the read.


The Deepest Secret… by Carla Buckley

Synopsis:

Twelve years ago, Eve Lattimore’s life changed forever. Her two-year-old son Tyler on her lap, her husband’s hand in hers, she waited for the child’s devastating diagnosis: XP, a rare genetic disease, a fatal sensitivity to sunlight. Eve remembers that day every morning as she hustles Tyler up the stairs from breakfast before the sun rises, locking her son in his room, curtains drawn, computer glowing, as he faces another day of virtual schooling, of virtual friendships. But every moment of vigilance is worth it. This is Eve’s job, to safeguard her boy against the light, to protect his fragile life each day, to keep him alive—maybe even long enough for a cure to be found.
Tonight, Eve’s life is about to change again, forever. It’s only an instant on a rainy road—just a quick text as she sits behind the wheel—and another mother’s child lies dead in Eve’s headlights. The choice she faces is impossible: confess and be taken from Tyler, or drive away and start to lie like she’s never lied before.

Review:

Buckley uses every element of writing to her advantage in her suspenseful family drama, The Deepest Secret.

My biggest compliment to the author is that she executed her plot so well, other than whether Eve would do the right thing, the story was not predictable.

The Deepest Secret

The Deepest Secret

*Spoilers:

I thought David was going to have an affair with Renee. He didn’t.

When Melissa took her father’s car, I thought it was either foreshadowing of what really happened the night of the accident (she was the car in front of her mother) and she saw what her mother did, or that it was a red herring to throw the reader off)

I thought that (possibly) Tyler would pay the ultimate price to protect his mother. He didn’t. (The UV rays/disease hook was always somewhere between the background and the foreground, making me think it might have more to do with the story)

It kept me guessing on many levels, which is the mark of any good novel.

The author added just enough ‘extras’, or non-essential details, to bring realism to the tale without making me feel as though she were bloating it for length. The phrasing was fresh, the characters well developed (likable, but not cliché perfect), description enough, but not too much. It was well crafted story, from the minute details such as which way she turned out of the driveway, to the use of Tyler’s camera (and love for his sister) to plant evidence, the author was thorough.

The only area of the book I felt didn’t quite fit the tone of the rest of it, was the scene outside when Sophie was having/had giant lights put up. I understand she was afraid of the peeping Tom and I understand Eve’s reaction, but the everybody-talking-at-the-same-time scene was a little unrealistic. Fortunately, coming in at 420+ pages, that one scene didn’t take away from the read.

Worth a mention, but not specifically about the writing – I’ve read books where a child dies and somehow, it almost always brings a tear to my eye. I was surprised at the fact that this book did not. I can’t say what was missing in the writing that it didn’t induce that emotion in me, but there were no ‘Oh my God’ moments, or ‘that’s so sad’ scenes, even though the subject matter was sad, somehow, the author was not able to pull that emotion from me.

Still, a worthy read I would recommend. As a parent, it will make you think, ‘how far would I go to protect my child?’

Kathy Reinhart is the award-winning author of Lily White Lies, among other titles.
Website

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Once in a Lifetime… by Jayne Nichols

Synopsis:

Is it possible for a poor hash-house waitress to find love with a wealthy Irish horse breeder? Not as long as he thinks she conned his father into leaving her his cottage on the island of Inish Mor in the Aran Islands. To prove his assumption false, Samantha St. John sells her new inheritance to Kieran McDade for one Euro, receives his thank-you kiss on her cheek, and bids him farewell. Never expecting to see him again, she is surprised to receive his invitation and a plane ticket to Ireland. He’s had second thoughts and offers Samantha a holiday at his home on FastTrack Farm where she charms not only his race horse, but Kieran himself. For Samantha, it is like a fairy tale, complete with a wicked witch, an elegant ball, and a horse race that could decide whether her Cinderella story will have a happy ending. Book One in the Wish Fulfilled Series, Once in a Lifetime is a contemporary romance set in Ireland.

Once

Once in a Lifetime

Review:

Although my love of reading began with my mother’s romance novels during my teen years, I rarely pick up a romance novel now. I think my reason being that after countless dozens of them; they seemed to lose their uniqueness. Even the covers began to repeat. A strikingly beautiful woman in a stunning dress fit tightly over her incredibly tiny waist snared in the arms of a shirtless Indian, a square-jawed pirate, or a rogue cowboy.

The title, Once in a Lifetime, was a nice play on words. If you are a tried and true romance reader, you will enjoy this book.

Although the storyline is predictable, it is a pleasing read. The characters are likable, yet rather clichéd: Young, inexperienced, naïve girl thrown in the path of a virile, slightly damaged, (but deep-down noble) handsome man who unknowingly needs her to save him. Ever notice how both the hero and heroine always have either blue or green eyes?

I digress. It was a very pleasant read; although at no point did I feel it upped the game from the romance novels of the seventies. Overall, it was well written. There were a few spots where the author went into a bit too much detail on things that the reader would have known without any explanation at all. Example: Page 36 – when talking about the sale of her inheritance that has already happened, the narrative takes you through the steps of notary, legally binding, witness, no coercion, etc. It had already been stated that Cherise was a notary and the sale was done, there was no reason to itemize the steps for the reader. It’s equivalent to talking down to them as if they would not understand how the sale was completed otherwise. Another example was the explanation as to why Sam has a passport. Her relationship with Jason was brought up at another point, making that a needless info-dump. Most people have passports. No one questions why.

Fortunately, there weren’t many info dumps and they weren’t detrimental to the read.

I ran across a few senseless items, such as: Kieran sent her a ticket to fly to Ireland alone. He spots her helping an elderly woman off the plane before her and the elderly woman go their separate ways. He even thinks to himself ‘Samantha hasn’t changed a bit’ referring to her kind-hearted ways. Yet, he still feels the need to ask her if she knew the elderly woman outside of the flight? Why? Again, I felt it was one of those areas where the author felt the need to reiterate a point (Sam’s kindness) as if the reader wouldn’t ‘get it’ without her doing so.

For much of the story, the book seemed to follow one character’s thoughts at a time. But there were scenes here and there where the author fell into the omniscient POV and it felt like head hopping. Example: pages 72. We are in Sam’s head as she approaches the horse. She sees Kieran take a step toward her and then stop when Niall places a hand on his arm. Suddenly we’re in Kieran’s head as he thinks he will lunge forward to save her if need be, just as he would have done when she was buying the pencils from Benedict. Now we are in his head as he remembers that night.

Again, it is a pleasant read, especially if you are a fan of the standard romance novel. It contained all of the basic elements: Young, innocent woman… handsome man, emotionally damaged, but not without integrity… the damsel in distress, saved-by-the-hero moment (pages 112-113)… hardened heart melted by her warm touch…. And of course, the happily-ever-after.

It had a steady flow – no lags and coming in at a 233 pages it’s a book that can be read in a few hours.

Kathy Reinhart is an editor and the award-winning author of Missouri in a SuitcaseThe Red Strokes, and Lily White Lies.

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Kathy Reinhart


Here I Stand… by Jillian Bullock

A few days ago I had the pleasure of talking with Jillian Bullock, author of the captivating, Here I Stand. I’ve had the pleasure of reading her memoir and would like to share my thoughts…

REVIEW:

Jillian Bullock never had a conventional home or family. Her mother was black and the only father she ever knew was white, and a member of the mob. Or was he? Jillian saw things no little girl should ever have to see. Things that gave her nightmares. Things that gave her an ulcer. Things that made her question every detail of her life and what she believed to be true.

She lost people she loved, people she loved changed without warning or reason she understood, and she was hurt and traumatized by others she loved and thought loved her back. She went from not knowing whom to trust, to not trusting anyone. At fifteen, through no fault of her own, she was forced to live on the street where she ate out of dumpsters and stood in line for one of only twenty beds each night, sleeping on a park bench when she didn’t get a bed. She fought off the cold, hunger, sexual advances, and her own depression.

When it became impossible to survive on the street, she did what so many young runaways do – she turned to prostitution. She learned how to turn off her emotions, detach her mind from her body. She swayed between determination for a better life and giving up. She had mastered Tae Kwon Do and if not for that ability, may very well have ended up dead on several occasions.

Jillian Bullock was damaged. Emotionally and physically damaged. But, from somewhere deep inside of her, a place her stepfather saw, she pulled out the drive, determination, resiliency, and grit needed to break free from a life forced upon her and become the person she was meant to be. The obstacles in her young life might have been insurmountable to many. Truth be told, I doubt I could have survived as she did.

Even when she believes she has lost hope in her dreams, from a spark within, she rebuilds a life that seemed all but lost. Jillian writes with candor, raw emotion, hope, despair, and a confidence that even she loses sight of a time or two. Jillian shares her accomplishments, her losses, her pain, her feelings toward those close to her, and her own transgressions in a strong, unshakable voice able to pull emotion from the most detached reader.

From within the embrace of a loving family, to a world feared by many, through her own strength and diligence, Jillian Bullock rises above.

The writing was wonderful. I could not put it down. I applaud Jillian first, for turning struggle into success and second, for having the gumption and courage to share her story in a clear and objective voice. I believe that anyone who might be feeling helpless or hopeless or at their end would benefit greatly from reading this story.

Here I Stand is a lesson in perseverance, hope, and redemption.

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Here I Stand – 5 stars


Rogue Lawyer… by John Grisham

Grisham’s latest novel is set up a bit differently from his conventional style. In the beginning, I thought it was going to be told in vignettes, each story largely unrelated to the next. And although the ‘cases’ had little to do with each other, there was a theme that connected them nicely. I actually enjoyed seeing him do something a little different.

Rogue LawyerThere isn’t much I can say about the writing, style, voice, characters, or plot. When I pick up a Grisham book, I expect him to deliver. And in Rogue Lawyer he delivers on cue.

The only thing I wasn’t crazy about was the ending. It wasn’t bad, as some books are, but it wasn’t as neat as I would have liked. There were a few loose threads that weren’t essential to the read, but important enough for me to realize immediately that they were left hanging. Sebastian and Naomi, Sebasian and Starcher (hated that name, btw). Again, not a dealbreaker, but I would have liked even a paragraph on each.

One thing I couldn’t get out of my head for the entire read (not necessarily a bad thing)… Anyone who has ever watched A Time To Kill or The Lincoln Lawyer might agree… Throughout the entire novel, I heard each passage narrated by the protagonist, Sebastian, in the voice of Matthew McConaughey. Crazy as it sounds, Jake Briggance has left an indelible impression on me! I think it’s because Sebastian Rudd has the same basic personality and attitude. (Who doesn’t like Matthew McConaughey… and aside from Dallas Buyer’s Club, his lawyer roles are my favorite.)

Definitely a book worth reading and I think most Grisham fans will enjoy his new approach.

k.e. garvey (formerly known as Kathy Reinhart) is the award-winning author of Lily White Lies and The Red Strokes among others under the name Nova Scott.


The Munich Girl… by Phyllis Edgerly Ring

The Munich Girl

the munich girl

The Munich Girl

Synopsis:

Anna Dahlberg grew up eating dinner under her father’s war-trophy portrait of Eva Braun. Fifty years after the war, she discovers what he never did—that her mother and Hitler’s mistress were friends. The secret surfaces with a mysterious monogrammed handkerchief, and a man, Hannes Ritter, whose Third Reich family history is entwined with Anna’s. Plunged into the world of the “ordinary” Munich girl who was her mother’s confidante—and a tyrant’s lover—Anna finds her every belief about right and wrong challenged. With Hannes’s help, she retraces the path of two women who met as teenagers, shared a friendship that spanned the years that Eva Braun was Hitler’s mistress, yet never knew that the men they loved had opposing ambitions. Eva’s story reveals that she never joined the Nazi party, had Jewish friends, and was credited at the Nuremberg Trials with saving 35,000 Allied lives. As Anna’s journey leads back through the treacherous years in wartime Germany, it uncovers long-buried secrets and unknown reaches of her heart to reveal the enduring power of love in the legacies that always outlast war.

Review:

The Munich Girl is a work of historical fiction that reads and feels like a memoir. So many of the story’s details are historically accurate that it is hard to determine where the facts leave off and the fiction begins.

Beautifully told, and exquisitely written, each page unfolds like the wrapping over a gem. The settings are vivid, the characters come to life. It is a rather involved story between Anna’s existence with a narcissistic husband, the budding relationship between her and Hannes, her mother’s story that neatly intertwines with Eva’s. There are also the premonition-like dreams and the chapters written in her mother’s hand to keep you turning pages.

Told in a focused and experienced style, every page draws you further into the story. Hard to put down, even harder to forget.

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