Friday, December 18, 2009

Travels: A Holiday Trip to the Napa Valley, CA

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We are off the visit the Napa Valley CA,  to celebrate Christmas and New Years with family. I miss the country side there, looking at these pictures makes me truly home sick. Even in winter it is beautiful and it does look just like the above pictures so it will be a welcome trip. We are almost ready to go, all packed and have the cat and house sitter coming to care for the house and pool.

Needless to say posting will be at a hiatus till January and comment moderation will be slower than usual. I will be checking emails as well as visiting everyone’s blogs to see the Holiday posts so hopefully we won’t miss any fun stuff!


Cheers My Dears! 

As my mother in law, Margaret from England would say in her wonderful North Yorkshire accent.


 Here’s a toast to you for a fun filled holidays and a move into a new decade 2010!

(click on the glasses to visit one a favorite Napa Valley wineries which serves wonderful sparkling wines and has an incredible French restaurant – Domaine Chandon)


Helpful Holiday Tips:

Here’s an informative article by Wednesday Martin – author of Stepmonster (reviewed here on Layers of Thought) on ways for those of us within “blended families” to keep stress at a minimum. She gives us some ways to understand and 10 logical tips which only take a few minutes to read. Definitely recommended.

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Stepfamily Sanity this Holiday Season
By Wednesday Martin, Ph.D.,
Author of Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do

When you think of holidays, you probably think of family.

And that's what makes holidays so tough for stepfamilies. At this time of year, couples in a remarriage with children might be feeling . . . imperfect. For example, they might be polarized -- he misses his kids, while she hopes they won't treat her like the maid when they show up. She wants to buy her 25-year old's plane ticket to come for a holiday visit -- he thinks she spoils her kids and young adults should pay their own way.

Even if they're on the same page about their step/kids, both members of the couple likely find themselves facing plenty of misunderstanding from friends and family as visions of sugarplums dance in our collective heads. "His kids won't be here for the holidays? How come?!" "I can't believe they're going to spend only Christmas Eve with you." "You're not doing holidays with his ex? How come? Isn't that the best thing for the kids?"

In the face of all the pressure and misunderstanding, take heart. Here are ten simple tips for stepfamily sanity this holiday season.

1. Give up on "blending." Stepfamilies come together in their own ways, and in their own time -- experts say four to 12 years! Particularly at holiday time, stepkids of any age may feel their loyalty binds more acutely ("Dad's remarried but mom's not so I should spend the whole holiday with her"). And sometimes in spite of a stepparent's best efforts, a stepchild may keep his or her distance, taking a "stand" at holiday time. Don't expect your stepfamily to resemble an eggnog smoothie during the holidays and you'll spare yourself and your marriage a lot of aggravation.

2. Let your stepfamily be what it is. One family I interviewed put up two trees every year, because it mattered that much to them all to honor their own traditions. Respecting those differences can help everyone come together in their own way.

3. Know that you and your spouse will probably argue. From deciding how much to spend on gifts for her kids, to reopening old wounds about how the stepkids behaved during holidays past, couples in a remarriage with children are under extraordinary pressure this season. Arguments aren't signs of failure -- they're opportunities to communicate. Find communication formulas and tips that work for you in Stepmonster and other books for couples with stepchildren.

4. Keep it normal. Whether they're five or 50, what kids want post divorce and remarriage is a sense of belonging. So skip the red carpet welcome and think "inclusive" and "normal." Give mom or dad some time alone with his or her kids, and then do the things you do every day and every holiday, inviting the kids to join. Let older and adult stepkids help with holiday meal planning and prep, serving and clean-up. Little ones can make place cards or holiday art for guests. This helps them feel like family, not guests. And when they're pitching in and happy, stepmom/stepdad won't feel as depleted or de-centered by their visit.

5. Choose side by side activities. Puzzles, stringing popcorn, baking, and watching a holiday movie all let you spend time together without interacting "head on," which experts like Patricia Papernow tell us can be more stressful for "steps."

6. Know your limits. Don't do or give in a way that will increase your resentment. If your stepkids habitually forget to bring anything for you, or have a history of not writing thank you notes, don't go overboard with extravagant gifts and efforts. Let them be your guide to avoid martyr syndrome ("I do and I do for them!") during (and after) the holidays.

7. Strategize ahead of time. Stepfamilies aren't first families. There may be tensions, and that's normal. Spouses might have to plan out activities and time alone ahead of time. "I think I'm going to need a break tomorrow. How about a long walk together first thing in the morning?" This is not a failure -- just a constructive way of adapting.

8. Remember stepfamily members bond best one-on-one. All-together-now activities can activate stepkids' anxieties about who's an insider and who's an outsider. Give parent and stepparent plenty of one-on-one time with kids and stepkids -- and with each other. And don't forget about yourselves as a couple. You need one-on-one time, too.

9. Get out of the house. For stepmothers especially, there can be extraordinary pressure to create that Norman Rockwell aura over the holidays. Before the pressure gets to be too much, get out to see friends and your own family. Take time to pamper, whether it's a spa visit or a coffee with pals who understand and don't judge. Getting out of your own home, away from your stepkids and even your spouse, isn't a sign of failure. It's a necessity, rejuvenating you and helping prevent stepparental burnout.

10. Let go of the guilt. Remember that even first families struggle with unrealistic expectations during the holidays. If things don't go perfectly -- if there are squabbles or hurt feelings -- have faith that this is normal and won't damage the kids or your marriage irreparably. Stepfamily members are bound to have differences and even blow-ups. By showing your stepkids that people can argue and then move on, you are modeling the kind of resilience that will serve them well for a lifetime. That might be the ultimate holiday gift.

©2009 Wednesday Martin, Ph.D., author of Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do

Coming in January the Brandon Sanderson – The Gathering Storm signed first edition giveaway and signing event post. We got pics! So stay tuned!

Until next year!

Travels: Palm Springs, California – December 2010


Finally an update for you all regarding our recent trip to Palm Springs, CA.

The Hotel and Setting:

Despite my complaints about the hotel construction in Palm Springs things were not as bad as they sounded. (See my ranty post here.) They were doing some construction and it was slightly noisy and a bit smelly but the rooms were lovely (they did a sort of Japanese style and Asian Buddhist color scheme of grays and browns with a touch of orange… loved it.) And the location was fantastic. We had a view of the mountains on the back deck and could walk to any of the wonderful restaurants and shops near the hotel. In Scottsdale it is difficult to walk anywhere so it was a welcome treat. The weather was cool in the low 70’s to high 30’s.

Here is a link for pictures of the rooms – Hyatt Regency. Looks just like the room we stayed in. We like Asian décor so this was nice.

The Shopping:

Dad did his seminar and John worked in the hotel room, which was great because Mom and I did not bore them with our obsessive 2 day junk shopping spree. We found a plethora of junk, thrift, and antique store shopping and brought in a haul of clothing and misc stuffs which the local population have tons of. Considered a consignment store Mecca, Palm Springs is the play ground for LA celebrities. With a huge GLBT population the stores and restaurants are fun, quirky, and tasteful. The food was also amazing.

We found some wonderful treasures. Sadly due to the poor economy and much of the gay population suffering from AIDS, they are almost giving away so many beautiful collectable treasures.


And no trip would be complete without its prerequisite book purchases. We found this super funky used book store and I found two fairly old copies of two science fiction books:

I found a copy of Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It was originally published in 1915 but this paper back was reprinted in 1979. Which is still fairly old. It is feminist science fiction and is utopian in nature.

Here are what the covers look like:

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I also found a copy of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein. This is a paper back  which appears to never have been read. It is almost as old as I am (you can do the math.) Published in 1966 with an original price of 95 cents. Amazing!

The great thing about these two books is the fact I got both for under five dollars. Wow!

The Oasis Canyons:

The best part of the trip - when the “parental units” left for home, John and I went for a hike and found this wonderful canyon with naturally occurring springs where he took some pictures – seen above.

It is easy to see why the area was populated for centuries by Native American Indians. In the top right picture you can get some idea of the scale. John took a picture of me in front of the palm trees – the only native palm trees in the Northern US. (Top picture on the right.) I’m the little grey blue line there.

The two canyons we visited where beautiful and the landscape is lined with these oases, which at one time supported a very large population of original residents hundreds of years ago. Apparently under the Palm Springs area (which is appropriately named) there is a huge aquifer which feed the springs.

A recommended place to visit, especially in seasons other than summer – unless you like it very hot. We are talking 110 degrees plus. Where temperatures remain fairly constant and generally do not go below the 90’s in the height of the season, even at night.

Highly recommended! We give it 4.25 stars.

42 Challenge 2010 – 42 Science Fiction Reviews (not just books – movies, interviews, podcasts… and more)

challenge422010 (Click on the badge to access the site to follow the reviews or join the challenge)

Yes, another challenge!

“Are you nuts?” you say.

I say “Yep, pistachio! and these challenges overlap.” *silly grin*

Here is the 42 Challenge 2010 (hosted by Becky form Becky’s Book Reviews) – in which 42 references an element within the Hitchhikers' Guide series which neither John or I have read. (I did try in high school but we won’t mention that.) An explanation for the 42 reference is on the Wikipedia page which is linked on the series title above.

Challenge Specs Taken from the Site:

  • 42 Challenge (for 2010)
  • Officially starts January 1, 2010 Officially ends December 3, 2010
  • Your mission--if you choose to accept it--is to read, watch, listen, and (possibly) review 42 sci-fi related items.
  • What counts? Short stories, novellas, novels, radio show episodes, television show episodes, movies, graphic novels, comic books, audio books, essays about science fiction, biographies about sci-fi authors, etc. Adapted or abridged works are okay as well.

This sounds like a fun and flexible challenge. One where both John and I can post our nerdy “Science Fiction Addiction” thoughts and reviews. We will be accessing most of our books from Shellie’s list on Goodreads - Science Fiction and JD’s ancient science fiction book collection  at home.  Maybe we will make the 42?

Come join the fun!

All reviews for this challenge will be listed and linked below:

  1. Eon by Greg Bear – read by JD
  2. Life As We Knew It
  3. The Dead and The Gone
  4. This World We Live In (all linked here in one post)
  5. Inside Out by Maria Snyder
  6. The Quiet War by Paul McAuley
  7. The Army of the Republic by Stuart Archer Cohen
7 down 35 to go!

Bloggiesta Ole! – Join in the Festivities and Create a Better Blog


Maw Books is hosting this second and what looks like a bi-annual event January 8, 9, and 10 – 2010. It is 3 days where bloggers come together to organize their blogs, complete mini challenges, win prizes, and connect with others.

This will be my first Bloggiesta. What a great way to start the new year, and get a bit more organized. Kind of like a new years blog resolution. I will just have to back up my blog prior, just in case any minor or major oopsies occur.

Natasha has a very professional and organized blog. There are also some helpful links and tips on her Book Blogs group (linked below in the text.) This is a perfect event for her to host.

This event is flexible do as much or as little as you like. Listed below are a few of the activities that you can attempt to do within the time frame. The text below was taken from directly from Maw’s site:

What to do during the Bloggiesta?
  • Write reviews.
  • Write backup posts for a rainy day.
  • Write that great post idea from three months back.
  • Work on series posts.
  • Write guest posts.
  • Put out invitations for guest posts.
  • Conduct and edit author interviews.
  • Create template posts for your future reads (ie: title, images, linking, tags, etc,) so you can open up, write review and post without being bogged down with technicalities
  • Clean up your tags, archives, books reviewed list, etc.
  • Create a text file (or Google Doc) of cheat sheets (html codes, post url’s, etc)
  • Improve your blog template, clean up sidebars, add a favicon, install those plugins that you’ve been meaning to do.
  • Add or edit your about me page, review policy, disclosure policy, privacy policy, create landing pages (for example – an about me for Twitter readers page) or any other pages you might have.
  • Any bloggy type housekeeping that you’ve been neglecting.
  • Clean up and update your challenge lists.  Link up your posts with hosts.
  • Make sure all of your social network profiles are up to date.  Brand yourself through those profiles with color scheme, images, etc.
  • Go get a gravatar.
  • Visit the Blogging Tips group on the Book Blogs Ning and find ways to improve your blog.
  • Work on any specialized projects that you may have going.
  • Clean out and organize your feed reader and blog subscriptions.
  • Create an elevator pitch.
  • Make business cards.
  • Find a blogging buddy.
  • The sky’s the limit!
How to play:
  1. The date is Friday, January 8th,  Saturday the 9th and Sunday the 10th. You can really start whenever you want within that time but official hours are 8am to 8am (wherever you are).  That is a total of 76 hours, of which you should aim high for a total of 18-24 hours spent on the challenge. (I chose both a weekday and a weekend to hopefully accommodate different needs.  The hours spent on the challenge do NOT need to be in a row. Use the entire 76 hour time frame and see what you can do with it.  (I say aim for 24 hours but really if you can only do six, twelve or eighteen that’s fine too. I just like to have something to aim for.)
  2. It’s your call as to how much you want to put into it. But you have to put something into it or it’s not a challenge. So stay up all night or sleep and take care of kids when you need to.
  3. When you start the challenge, come to this blog and  to the “starting line” post and link to your specific post about beginning the challenge which is posted on your blog. That way I’ll be able to track participants and know who’s really at the party.
  4. How many updates (if any) you want to do is up to you.  Make it work for you.  Personally, I plan on making a to do list and then crossing off items as I accomplish them.  There will be bloggers hosting mini-challenges as well.  These are great to learn new information.  To get an idea of the mini-challenges last time, check out the list.
  5. If you are on Twitter, use the hashtag #bloggiesta to join the chatter.
  6. Your final summary post needs to be posted no later than Monday, January 11th. Come back to the finish line and link to your specific summary post.  Your summary should include the number of hours spent on the challenge, what you accomplished, links to mini-challenge hosts if you completed them and any other experiences you’d like to add.
  7. Sign the Mr. Linky now if you intend to join the challenge. I’d like to get an idea of how many people will be participating.  If you blog about the challenge, point them to this post.  I’ll have a starting line post on Friday to sign in when you begin the challenge.  Don’t forget to subscribe, so you’ll be notified of  future bloggiesta posts.

To join in, post about it, then add your link to Mr. Linky. If you cannot join you may just want to find tips on how to make your blog more organized.

To access the challenge page at Maw Books click the badge at the top of this post.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Preview: Friends Like These – My Worldwide Quest to Find My Best Childhood Friends, Knock on Their Doors, and Ask Them to Come Out and Play by Danny Wallace

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(covers US and Canada to left – two covers in the UK on right)

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (September 2, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316042773
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316042772
  • Genre: Memoir – Humor

    Book Info:

    Danny Wallace has friends. He has a wife and goes to brunch, and his new house has a couch with throw pillows. But as he nears 30, he can't help wondering about his best childhood friends, whose names he finds in a long-forgotten address book. Where are they now-and where, really, is he?

    Acting on an impulse we've all had at least once, he travels from London to Berlin, Tokyo, Australia, and California, risking rejection and ridicule to show up on his old pals' doorsteps. Memories of his 1980s childhood-from Michael Jackson to Ghostbusters-overwhelm him as he meets former buddies who have blossomed into rappers and ninjas, time-traveling pioneers, mediocre restaurant managers, and even Fijian royalty.

    Danny's attempt to re-befriend them all gives remarkable new resonance to the age-old mantra, "friends forever!"

    200px-Danny_Wallace Author Bio:

    Daniel Frederick Wallace (born 16 November 1976) is a British filmmaker, comedian, writer, and presenter of radio and television. His notable works include the books Join Me, Yes Man, and the TV series How to Start Your Own Country. (all links lead to Wikipedia.)

    He lives in London, with his wife, an Australian publicist. Throughout Danny's books, his wife is referred to as "Lizzie", at her request.

    From the UK – Scotland there’s a bit more info on him at his website at this link.

    This book was received for review through Shelf Awareness.

    Amazon purchasing links for US/UK/Canada, and for The Book Depository in Euro and AUD.

    Personal review coming soon!

  • Preview for Mommy’s Black Eye: Children Dealing With Domestic Violence ~ by William Bentrim (illustrations by Christi Schofield)



    This is a preview with author information, author’s book blurb and purchasing links. An opinion will come later in the review.

    Mommy’s Black Eye ~ by William G. Bentrim

    Book Description:  Domestic violence exists. That is a simple disturbing fact. It isn't something that should be ignored or swept under the rug. It is imperative to face this problem, acknowledge it's existence and do our best to aid those who are exposed to it. Children, all too often, are susceptible to accepting responsibility for their parent's bad behavior. They need to understand that they are not responsible for the violence. This book attempts to explain a very complicated issue to young children. It is focused on pre-school to middle school children. It is not designed as a panacea, merely an attempt to help them understand what is going on in their lives.

    4a7051c88da0c29afd833210.L_thumb[2]Author’s Personal Bio:    I'm a former teacher, guidance counselor and current parent and grandparent. After spending ten years in education as a teacher and guidance counselor, I purchased a convenience store and provided full service counseling with the bread and milk. The retail environment allowed the flexibility to work as many hours as I wanted as well as the flexibility to be a room parent for my children for 9 consecutive years. An agreement to make our children our primary priority and our careers secondary, was a precursor to my wife and I being parents. We have both endeavored to stay faithful to that agreement unto the next generation, our grandchildren. Prior to selling the convenience store, I founded a computer business. Computers and their myriad nuances occupied me until we sold that business several years ago and mostly retired. My time today is spent reveling in my grandchildren, babysitting, golfing, reading, blogging and enjoying the opportunity to try many things that were proscribed by tight time parameters in the past. As an avid reader, one of my life long goals has been to become an author. As I have a truly eclectic nature, I suspect that my work will span multiple genres. My hope is that what I write will be of benefit not just to me but perhaps to those who may enjoy or even learn from what I write. My life has been blessed by four decades of happy marriage, wonderful children and now astoundingly wonderful grandchildren. I learn new things everyday and hope to continue to learn as I age. My family has been my priority all my life and I see no reason to alter what has worked so well.

    To contact the William Bentrim link to one of his blogs Pick of the Literate, Money Saving Tech Tips, his professional website, or to his page on Goodreads.

    Amazon purchasing links for US|UK|Canada.

    • Paperback: 28 pages
    • Publisher: CreateSpace (November 29, 2009)

    William has several other books one which has be reviewed here - Daddy Goes on a Trip.

    Personal thoughts and review coming soon!

    Preview: The Adventures of Hardy Belch ~ by William G. Bentrim



    A preview has author’s blurb, author bio, contact and purchasing links. An opinion is coming soon in a personal review.

    The Adventures of Hardy Belch ~ by William G. Bentrim

    Book Info:    The Adventures of Hardy Belch chronicle the exciting and unbelievable adventures of a normal 12 year old boy and his 240 pound telepathic dog. Hardy and Tiny (his best friend and dog) find themselves in many predicaments but as a team and best friends they always end up helping others. Combining mystery and humor each story is written to entertain, and highlight the value of friendship, planning and selfless actions.


    Author’s Personal Bio:    I am currently working hard to become an author, my 4th career. I owned and operated a computer networking company for 25 years. I was a school teacher and counselor with 10 years of experience in the public schools. I owned and operated a convenience store for 10 years. I am a proud husband, father and grandfather. I am someone who cares about the people around me, who wants to improve the society we all live in, who hopes on a daily basis to leave the planet a little better than it was the previous day and who is cognizant that the impact I have on the world is minimal. Tilting at windmills is a part of my character as is a deep love for all those who need to be loved. In my own mind I am a complex, multi-layered, unique character in the kaleidoscoping drama of life.

    To contact the author link to his blogs Pick of the Literate, Money Saving Tech Tips, his professional website, and to his page on Goodreads.

    William G. Bentrim has written several other books Mommy’s Black Eye, Daddy Goes on a Trip (reviews linked to titles), and I like to Whine.

    Amazon purchasing links for US/UK/Canada.

    • Paperback: 104 pages
    • Publisher: CreateSpace (December 7, 2009)
    • Genre: Pre Teen to Young Adult Adventure  

    Personal review coming soon!

    Wednesday, December 16, 2009

    War Through the Generations Reading Challenge 2010 - The Vietnam War





    (to link to information and sign up click on the left badge, to link to reading resources click on the right)

    1. The War Through the Generations Reading Challenge 2010  will be focusing on the Vietnam war.
    2. It appears that you can still read and post reviews about WWII.
    3. The challenge will run from January 1, 2010, through December 31, 2010.

    This important challenge is hosted by Anna from Diary of an Eccentric and Serena from Savvy Verse & Wit. It has become very popular, has multiple daily, as well as access to an rss feed and emailed updates!


    GLBT Challenge 2010



    (to link and join click on the left badge, to access resources click on the right)

    Information here is taken from the site:


    The basic idea of this challenge is to read books about GLBT topics and/or by GLBT authors.

    The challenge runs year-round, and there will be three levels of participation:

    • Lambda Level: Read 4 books.
    • Pink Triangle Level: Read 8 books.
    • Rainbow Level: Read 12 or more books.

    You don't need to choose your books right away, and they can change at any time. Overlaps with other challenges are fine.

    In January, I will put up a post for you to leave links to your reviews, if you like. Those links can help serve as a reference for others. That will also be how I track participants for prize drawings.

    Prizes! There will be prizes, both for this main challenge and for various mini-challenges throughout the year. Keep an eye on the blog for details.


    Hosted by Amanda at The Zen Leaf and Jen from Multi Genre Fan the site is very well organized and clear.

    Shellie’s Commitment:

    • Lambda Level: Read 4 Books (I may read more)
    • Shellie’s Goodreads GLBT shelf link to access books from
    • Books linked and listed below as they are read and reviewed


    1. RELEASE by Nicole Hadaway– (horror)– secondary glbt character
    2. Soulless by Gail Carrigan – (urban fantasy) – secondary glbt character
    3. Fun Home by Allison Bechdel - (memoir) – author lgbt

    3 down and 1 to go

    Mini Challenges:

    Tuesday, December 15, 2009

    Speculative Fiction Challenge 2010

    Speculative Fiction Challenge 2010  - Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror

    Speculatice Fiction Challenge 3

    (To access and join the challenge post at Book Chick City click on the above gorgeous badge.)

    Here is the Wikipedia definition of Speculative Fiction with links -

    Speculative fiction is a fiction genre speculating about worlds that are unlike the real world in various important ways. In these contexts, it generally overlaps one or more of the following: science fiction, fantasy fiction, horror fiction, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history.

    Challenge Specifics:

    • Timeline: 1st Jan 2010 ~ 31st Dec 2010. Only books started on January 1st count towards this challenge.
    • Level of Reading: I have chosen ObsessedRead 24 Speculative Fiction novels.
    • Books: Here are links to my main lists on Goodreads – Science Fiction and Fantasy where I will be accessing and adding books to be used in this challenge.
    • Review Link: All monthly review links are posted on this page.
    • Listing: All books that are finished for this challenge will be listed and linked below.


    1. RELEASE by Nicole Hadaway – (horror)
    2. Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan – (dark fantasy )
    3. Soulless by Gail Carrigan – (urban fantasy)
    4. The Metamorphosis by Frank Kafka (horror)
    5. Life As We Knew It
    6. The Dead and The Gone
    7. This World We Live In (all linked here in one post) - (sci fi, apocalyptic, young adult)
    8. Inside Out by Maria Snyder - (young adult sci-fi)
    9. Cursed by Jeremy Shipp (bizzarro horror)
    10. Keeper by Kathi Appelt - (young adult/tween, mythic - slipstream)
    11. The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight by Gina Ochsner - (slip stream, literary)

    12 down 12 to go.

    Mind Voyages – Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Challenge 2010

    mind yoyages explore your imagination button

     (To link and join to the challenge site click on this gorgeous badge above)

    Mind Voyages - Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Challenge

    January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2010 

    Hosted by Robin of My Two Blessings – below is an abbreviated version of her post:

    So come take a mind voyage with me - explore the Hugo and Nebula winners. (links are to Wikipedia’s list for the winners for best novel)


    • Moon Voyage :  Read at least 6 winners on the Hugo Winners List
    • Sling shot back to Earth:  Read at least  3 winners on the Nebula Winner's List
    • Venus Voyage:  Philip K. Dick Quest  - Read at least 2 of his books
    • Mercury  Voyage:   Robert Heinlein Quest - Read at least 2 of his books
    • Mars Voyage:   Read at least 6 winners on the Hugo List and take a side trip through the 21st century and read at least 4 nominees
    • Go into Warp Drive and visit the other planets
    • Jupiter Voyage:   Go side tripping 90's Style
    • Saturn:  Go Side Tripping 80's Style
    • Uranus: Go Side Tripping 70's Style
    • Neptune Voyage:  Go Side Tripping through the 50's and 60's

    Mix it up, choose the number of books you want to read from each voyage, include some new books you pick up along the way and enjoy the ride.

    The Rules are simple:

    1. The challenge will run from January 1, 2010 through December 31, 2010.  
    2. Participants may join at any time.
    3. All forms of books are acceptable including e-books, audio books, etc.
    4. Re-reads are acceptable as long as they are read after January 1, 2010.
    5. Books may overlap other challenges.
    6. Create an entry post linking to this blog. 
    7. You don't have to decide before hand what you will be reading. 
    8. Come back and sign up with Mr. Linky in the "I'm participating post" below this post.
    9. You don't have a blog to participate. 
    10. I'll be adding a post with Mr. Linky for participants to post book reviews.

    blog Hugo Awards winner picture blog widget mind voyages tripping through the nebulaeMind Voyages Button Philip K. Dick Quest

    (each badge connects to a post and information around the specific journey within the challenge)

    Review links for the site will be listed here.

    Shellie’s Itinerary:

    • The Trip: is going to be spontaneous and unplanned.
    • Books: Here are links to my main lists on Goodreads – Science Fiction and Fantasy where I will be accessing and adding books to be used in this challenge.
    • Listing: Books will be listed and linked below as they are read and reviewed:

    Preview: The Army of the Republic by Stuart Archer Cohen

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    Book Data:

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (September 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312429053
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312429058
  • Genre: Science Fiction - Dystopia

    Book Info from Goodreads:

    CEO and Washington D.C. insider James Sands has made billions by privatizing bankrupt municipal water supplies, but his command of a dwindling resource infuriates citizen and environmental groups. When his partner is assassinated by the shadowy Army of the Republic, Sands begins to lose control of his company and his life. Desperate to save his empire, he turns to Whitehall Security, the massive private intelligence firm with far-reaching political connections. For a steep monthly fee, Whitehall will hunt down and destroy the enemies of Sands’ enterprise, and disrupt any civil organizations that still oppose him.

    Meanwhile, in Seattle, a guerilla named Lando leads The Army of the Republic on a dangerous campaign against the alliance of big business and government. Charismatic, cunning, and driven, Lando is obsessed with the idea of saving the country from itself, no matter what.

    Lando’s reluctant ally is savvy political organizer Emily Cortwright, coordinator of a network of civil action groups that seek to inspire a mass movement powerful enough to overthrow the corrupt ruling party. But when peaceful public protests quickly give way to violence, Lando, Emily, and James Sands become lost in a welter of assumed identities and conflicting loyalties. With increasing intensity, rife with secret lives, deadly compromises, and false identities, all of them struggle to both redeem and destroy the people they love most.

    Powerful, disturbing, and unforgettable, The Army of the Republic is a brilliant novel about what it means to live in a democracy.

    879515 Author Bio:

    Stuart Archer Cohen lives in Juneau, Alaska, where he owns Invisible World, an international company dealing in wool, silk, alpaca and cashmere in Asia and South America.  His previous two novels, Invisible World and 17 Stone Angels, have been translated into 10 languages.

    Connect with the author on Goodreads, and his blog.

    Amazon purchasing links for US/UK/Canada, The Book Depository in Euros and AUD

    Review, author interview and giveaway coming soon!

  • EBook Preview: Alone by Marissa Farrar

    Alone 2 copy

    • Publisher: Vamplit Publishing (November 2009)
    • ISBN: 978-1-907366-07-09
    • Ebook - pages 225
    • Genre: Horror - Romance

    Book Info:

    When Serenity reaches the end of her tether no one can save her. The men in her life to date have all been takers, users, people who suck the life out her and then somehow make her feel as if it’s her fault. This was Serenity’s life until she crosses paths with the mysterious Sebastian.

    From the moment they meet Serenity’s life changes, but Sebastian has a dark secret and a past that threatens Serenity’s future. Finally Serenity is alone, but does she now have the strength to conquer her fears and save herself.

    This vampire novel is a romance not just between a man and a woman or between vampire and human. It is a novel that looks at how we are all alone and how we can actually draw strength from our past to face the future.

    pic.phpAuthor Bio:

    Writing since she was a young girl Alone is Marissa’s first novel. She has always had a connection with horror, and as a child would sneak downstairs to read her mother’s horror books when everyone else was asleep.

    She has a degree in Zoology, has traveled the world and currently lives in Spain with her husband and daughter. She will always consider Devon, England her home


    To connect with Marissa link to her blog. She is a new author and would love to hear from you!

    To read the first chapter of Alone, as well as purchase and download it - link here to 

    This book was won at a contest on Nicole Hadaway’s Blog, where she has an ebook contest every Friday. Thanks Nicole and Marissa!

    For more horror, fantasy, science fiction, and vampire ebooks link to:

    Ebookundead Widget Header copy
    Review coming soon!

    Monday, December 14, 2009

    Review by Shellie: The Things That Keep Us Here by Carla Buckley (Apocalyptic Novel)

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    (US and Canadian cover left, UK cover and title right)

    Synopsys and Review:

    *includes basic set up information to entice but does not disclose middle or ending of book*

    Ann and Peter are separated and going through the process of getting a divorce. Peter has instigated the separation. It’s the “I love you but not in love with you” scenario. Ann is suffering from the inevitable repercussions of this, yet is mostly reconciled with the fact.

    They have two healthy girls, one 8 and the other 13, to whom they are devoted. Ann dotes on them while teaching at a local elementary school. Peter is a veterinarian, turned head research professor at the local university. He is studying viral activity between humans and animals – mainly the avian flu.

    Several massive bird die outs are reported locally and Peter is sent to investigate. The sites are visually devastating with thousands of dead birds. Shortly thereafter the US and the entire world go on alert for the virus H5N1. What was once a potential epidemic turns pandemic. People are told to isolate themselves and their families to prevent to spread of this deadly flu.

    Due to some bad luck regarding logistics Peter is reluctantly welcomed to stay at Ann’s home with his gorgeous graduate assistant. As the pandemic develops and the local area is quarantined, the story progresses and we see the psychological aspects of each individual as the taken-for-granted social structures meltdown, and everyone struggles to survive psychologically and physically. As they are pushed to their limits, we see their “humanness”, as they are forced to deal with horrific events.

    My Personal Thoughts:

    This apocalyptic novel is an absolute page turner. It is something which could potentially happen, which makes the story poignant. I thought the characters felt real. I did not guess how it would end. It has just enough technical information to keep it feeling intellectual and enough emotional insight to make it heart wrenching; all the while considering what it means to be imperfect and human when faced with questionable survival.

    Highly recommended for anyone interested in realistic apocalyptic scenarios and for readers who like a bit of science as well as internal conflict in their reading. I would define this as a woman’s science fiction book, not to say men would not enjoy it. I give The Things That Keep Us Here -  4 stars, perhaps more since the ARC copy I read understandably felt unfinished in parts.

    I am excitedly looking forward to Carla’s next novel coming out in 2011. I believe the title is Invisible.

    For more information regarding this book, the author Carla Buckley, and pre-purchasing information please link to the Preview of The Things That Keep us Here.

    Friday, December 11, 2009

    The Goodreads’ Winter Seasonal Challenge - December 1, 2009 to February 28, 2010

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    The “insane” Winter Seasonal Challenge list is here! And what a list it is… It is my 4th challenge for this group on Goodreads

    The challenge runs from December 1, 2009 to February 28, 2010. This is the link for the current challenge - tasks at the challenge site. There are 58 task for a cumulative of 1100 points +410 from last season. We have gone from abnormally nuts to insane.

    For this past Fall’s challenge I completed 120 of the 690 challenge points – Not great but I am improving. Or so I tell myself (out loud with a silly grin.)

    Here is the Fall challenge post on Layers of Thought if you are at all curious. (note I have not fixed my math error of +10 point yet.)

    My goal is not to finish but to fit as many of my current TBR list into the challenge tasks, a challenge in itself. The list is ever changing and flexible, keeps me focused, and its fun.

    Suggestions are welcome. I received one great book recommendation which I was struggling to fill in the task list last season from Lilly at Reading ExtravaganzaWhite Apples by Jonathan Carroll. (Thanks Lilly!) My preference would be to keep the list within speculative fiction as much as possible, but no need to limit your suggestions to that genre.

    Of course you are also welcome to join as well.

    5 Point Tasks

    1. Disney's Birthday - a book related to your favorite Disney film: Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty: Prince Harming Syndrome by Karen Salmansohn
    2. Flag Maker - a book with the word star(s) or stripe(s) in the title: Variable Star by Robinson and Heinlein
    3. Royal Reading - read a book with a monarch as the main character: In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente or Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
    4. *Winning Decade - a Book that has won an award in the last decade: Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan  - World Fantasy Award 2009 
    5. Librarian’s Week - read a book with a library or librarian as the main theme: Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
    6. Dirty Job - read a book about a job that you could never imagine doing: Nibble & Kuhn by David Schmahmann - attorney
    7. Eye of the Tiger - Chinese New Year - read a book by an author that shares your Chinese zodiac sign - The Rabbit (1903, 1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987)  - Wings to the Kingdom by Cherie Priest
    8. *Baby its Cold Outside - Cozy Mystery since its cold outside: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Allan Bradley (in progress)
    9. Romantic Read - read a book with love, romance, cupid, sweetheart, valentine, heart, kiss, chocolate, rose, or jewelry in the title: Dreaming Anastasia - A Story of Love, Magic, and the Power of Dreams by Joy Preble or The Heart of Buddha by Elsie Sze
    10. Alliteration- read a book whose title is an alliteration: Flesh and Fire by Laura Ann Gilman

    10 Point Tasks

    1. Under the Big Top - Circus Book in honor of Charles Ringling’s Birthday: The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes
    2. Louis Braille's Birthday - a book with a main character whom does not have the use of one his/her five senses: TBA
    3. Renaissance Reading - Zora Neale Hurston's Birthday - read a book which is written by an African American and has an African American Protagonist: TBA
    4. *Winners Choice - read a five star book from one of the winners of the Fall challenge: PJREADS - Grass by Sherri Tepper or WENDY - Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (in progress)
    5. Popularity Contest - read a book that is listed on the top reads here in you birthday month here on Goodreads (May): The City & The City by China Mieville
    6. *Local Lit Lover - find a person on Goodreads that is five miles from your zip code and read a book on their five star list: 85260 – Linda:  Watchmen by Alan Moore (in progress)
    7. Small Screen Stories - Favorite TV Show book relation - True Blood; Defining Twilight by Brian Leaf
    8. *Oh Canada - Canadian Author or set in Canada: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Allan Bradley (in progress)
    9. Remembering Pearl Harbor - Hawaiian Book: TBA
    10. From Russia With Love - Russian themed or author: Moonlight in Odessa by Janet Skeslien Charles or Dreaming Anastasia by Joy Preble

    15 Point Tasks

    1. Richard Prior Makes Me Laugh – a) read a black comedy or satirical novel and b) watch a black comedy or satire: TBA
    2. Lewis Carroll's Birthday - book with main character or author with the name Alice or Lewis and a book set in a fictional place: a)Voracious by Alice Henderson or Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll b) TBA
    3. *Betty Friedan’s Birthday - read a book in a series by a woman about woman and and autobiography of a woman by a woman: a) The Scent of Shadow by Vicki Pettersen or Soulless by Gail Carrigan  b) Here if You Need Me by Kate Braestrup or Welcome to the Departure Lounge by Meg Federico or The Feminine Mystique (in progress)
    4. Favorite Game – a) read a book which relates to your favorite game and b) spend and hour playing the game: b) World of Warcraft is my favorite game  a) The Army of the Republic by Stuart Archer Cohen
    5. Around the World - find a reader on Goodreads in a country with a) your first and b) last name initial then read a 5 star book from their list: b) N- Jamie from Nicuargua - The Metamorphosis by Frank Kafka and a) S- Fuzanda from Singapore - Soulless by Gail Carrigan
    6. Best Gift and Give Back – a) read a book that relates to your favorite gift: Vacation by Jeremy Shipp  b) Give back: TBA
    7. Food Family Friends – a) read a recipe book and b) make that recipe for friends and or family: a) The Recipe Club by Isreal and Garfinkel b) TBA
    8. Silver Screen Celebrations – a) Holiday Book and b) Movie combo - must be about the same holiday that occurs in Winter: The Stupidest Angel 
    9. Out with the Old in with the New – a) read the book on your tbr list the longest and b) one by an author you have not read before: a) Brisingr by Christopher Paolini  b) TBA
    10. We Will Remember You - Book Movie combo – a) read a book by an author who has passed in 2009 and b) watch a movie by with a director or actor that has passed in 2009: a) Dayworld #1 by Philip Jose Farmer or Flesh and Gold by Phillis Gotlieg  b) movie TBA

    20 Point Tasks

    1. *Revisit the Past – Choose a favorite task from the past worth 15 or more points:  GR Fall 09 50 Point Task  - Minding the World - Read 3 Books: 1. Senses - Searching for Whitopia by Rich Benjamin 2. Emotions –  Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious by Gerd Gigerenzer or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson 3. Memory – Defining Twilight by Brian Leaf – it involves memory and reminds me of my teaching credential
    2. Civil Rights – read a book about civil rights: TBA

    25 Point Tasks

    1. Read 2 Books from the 1001 Books to Read before you die list: my choices are for two of the following  Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides; Watchmen by Alan Moore; Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro; The Wind Up Bird Chronicles by Murakami; The Drowned and The Saved by Primo Levi; The Lord of The Rings by J R R Tolkien; The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham; Foundation by Isaac Asimov; Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
    2. International Friendship Month – read a book with friend in the title or a book about friendship and tell what friendship means to you: Friends Like These by Danny Wallace
    3. *Game of Clue – a) read a book with a cover that is mostly red, yellow, green, purple, or white b) read a book with a weapon in the title c) one book needs to be from the public or your personal library: a) blue cover – Post Human by David Simpson or Chasing Stardust by Laurel Rain Snow or Searching for Whitopia  by Rich Benjamin or Fallen by Lauren Kate or The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell or Dreaming Anastasia by Joy Preble; green cover – Searching for Whitopia  by Rich Benjamin  or The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley ; white – The Novice by Stephen Schettini; red cover – Defining Twilight by Brian Leaf or Release by Nicole Hadaway b) Gun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethmen or The Knife or Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (in progress) (DT = pages 183)
    4. *Turn Back Time – read two books from two different time periods and tell which one you would prefer to live in before the end of WWII: a) Thirsty by Kristin Bair O’Keeffe – set in the late 1800’s or Across the Endless River by Thaddeus Carhart set in the mid to late 1800’s b) The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee set in WWII
    5. Odd Man Out - read a book that does not fit into any of the 5/10/15 pt tasks: Dirty Little Angels by Chris Tusa or Manufactured Identity by Heath Sommer or The Cost of Dreams by Gary Stelzer
    6. Island Dreams - read a book that takes place on an island country: TBA – Vacation by Jeremy Shipp (? – not sure about this one)
    7. Lost Generations - read two books a) one from an author from the "lost generation" and b) one mentioned in the series lost: a) TBA  b) Stranger in a Strange Land; Slaughter House 5; Alice in Wonderland; Flowers for Algernon; Oh Pioneer; The Pearl
    8. Inane Answering Machine Day - read two books a) one with an unnecessarily long title 7 plus words, and b) one with a single word title: a) The Novice – Why I Became a Buddhist Monk, and Why I Quit by Stephen Schettini or The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World by The Dalai Lama b) Cursed or Vacation by Jeremy Ship; or Thirsty by Kristin Bar O’Keefe
    9. World of Books - read two books a) one with a map included in it and b) one with with extra content: TBA
    10. *Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover – read two books a) one with a great cover and the b) other a graphic novel: a) Children of Dust by Ali Eteraz  b) Watchmen by Alan Moore 

    30 Point Tasks

    1. Celebrate The End of the Decade - Read two books a) one book that was published in the past decade and b) one that was made into a movie in the past decade: TBA
    2. *Sci Fi Past and Present - read a Hugo or Nebula winner prior to the year 2000 and one published after 2000 and compare a) TBA b) Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress – Nebula 91 and Hugo 92
    3. Snowed In and Loving It - read anything by one author must be 825+ list your reads: TBA
    4. World AIDs Day - read a book about a worldwide epidemic: The Things That Keep Us Here by Carla Buckley
    5. *Posthumously Speaking - read a book with a dead narrator and read a book that was published after the death of the author: a) White Apples by Jonathan Carroll b) TBA  (in progress)
    6. Winter Vacation Dreams - read a book that takes place in your dream vacation spot:  Release by Nicole Hadaway - Europe
    7. Multi-Tasking - read a book that will fit into two tasks in this winter challenge: The Magic Warble by Victoria Simcox  fits into tasks 25 point # 10 and 15 point # 2
    8. *Lewis and Clark - read a book about Sacajawea and another about events within America between 1800 to 1880 and describe why or why not you would want to live in this time. a) Across the Endless River by Thaddeus Carhart   b) TBA
    9. Newberry Award - read an award winner and a runner up within the same year and compare: 1999 – Holes by Louis Sachar and A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck
    10. Color by Numbers - read a book with a happy color in the title and read a book with a number in the title: a) Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess or Zadayi Red by Caleb Fox or Green Mansions by William Henry Hudson b) My One Hundred Adventures by Polly Horvath or 1984 by George Orwell or Slaughter House 5 by Kurt Vonnegut or The Traveler - The 4th Realm Trilogy by John Twelve Hawks

    35 Point Tasks

    1. Dewey Decimal System - skipping this one
    2. *Going On A Winter Vacation - read two books one with warm in it the other with beach in it: a) On the Beach by Nevil Shute b) The Stupidest Angel - A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Thomas Moore  (TSA - 12/21/09 pages 272)
    3. Its About Time - read a book with seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, seasons, or years in the title: The Day of The Triffids by John Wyndham or The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford
    4. Resolutions - read a fiction book related to a) a resolution and read b) a nonfiction book about that same resolution - happiness: a) Cursed by Jeremy Shipp and b) The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World by The Dalai Lama

    50 Point Task

    1. Pending


    Completed Challenge Data

    Total Points: 145 /1100
    Completed Tasks: 8/58
    Books Read for Completed Tasks: 9
    Pages Read for Completed Tasks: 2808

    Thursday, December 10, 2009

    Blog Tour, Give Away, and Review: The Magic Warble by Victoria Simcox


    Book Stats:

  • Reading level: Ages 9-12
  • Paperback: 276 pages
  • Publisher: Two Harbors Press (January 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1935097172
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935097174
  • Genre: Children’s Fantasy

    Review by Shellie:

    Kristina is a smart girl on the verge of being a teenager, but is essentially still a child. She is slightly awkward, wearing mismatched socks and a bit of an outcast at school. Her best friend is her rat, Raymond.

    On the last day of school before Christmas vacation her teacher gives her a mysterious present – an unusual and light filled globe. She dismisses it until she falls into another realm through her family’s laundry shoot. There she discovers that she is in fact in the possession of a “Magic Warble”. It will save this fantastic realm from a very evil and heartless queen and she alone is responsible for replacing it in its rightful spot.

    As the story enfolds Kristina will be helped and hindered by others on her journey. These characters are a displaced prince, a jealous fairy, misguided gnomes, conflicted dwarves, talking animals, monsters with horrible breath, and some of the friends whom at school view her as a wall flower - whom have also been pulled magically into this world.

    This Magic Warble is a sweet introduction to fantasy for preteens and younger, especially girls. I can see a young person enjoying it by either reading it themselves or having it read to them. There are pictures strategically placed within the writing which is good for a younger reader helping them visualize.The language is mild and easy to follow. There is only a slight amount of violence, a few clichés, and one generalization that I noted about women mentioned. The main message is clearly of a moral nature, and the author succeeds in supporting the belief that faith is important. It is a lovely and mostly light story. I give The Magic Warble 3.5 stars.

    For more information on The Magic Warble and Victoria Simcox please see Layers of Thought’s Preview for the book.


    Amazon purchasing links are as follows US/UK/Canada and for The Book Depository in Euros.

    Now for the Give Away!

    Contest Info:

    To enter you must:

    • be a subscriber of Layers of Thought – google or facebook
    • comment
    • include in the post your email so that I can contact you

    You can do none, any, or all of the below for 1 extra entry point each. All entries may be included in one single comment. Good Luck!

    1. Blog it - side bars are great - please provide links
    2. Tweet it  – provide links please
    3. Friend on Twitter
    4. Friend on Goodreads
    5. Friend on Book Blogs
    6. Friend on Glue  - new to glue? have questions? let me know.

    This giveaway is International. Contest ends Sunday January 10, 2010 at 12 pm US Pacific time. Winner will be posted on Monday January 11, 2010. Thanks for entering!

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