Monday, November 9, 2015

Blog Tour: A Sister's Place by Savannah Page

A Sister's PlaceA Sister's Place by Savannah Page
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm very particular in my stories about sisters. Having a sister myself, I probably like to see my relationship reflected on the page. Why? No idea. The author hasn't met me. Even in this story, I didn't see my weird relationship with my big sister, but there are always similarities.
I was always very close to both of my grandmothers. I remember my maternal grandmother teaching me how to make Keethla Cookies and I remember hanging out with my paternal grandmother during a music contest day that took place across the street from her house. I spent a lot of time with them until their deaths in 2004. I don't know if my sister had a similar relationship with them, but I hope she did. Grandmothers are important, as are sisters, and I love how this book braided the relationships together to show how beautiful family is.
The premise of two sisters being forced to live together in order to keep their family home is perfect for a movie, and I honestly think it should be done. This is the kind of story that pulls on your heartstrings because it's so relatable. I felt like during my college years, my sister and I were at this fork, where we could either go our separate ways, or we could get closer. This is the same situation that Gracie and Juliette found themselves in, and Grandma Mimi saw that.
I love stories that speak to me, and this one definitely did. I can't wait to read more by Savannah Page.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Girlfriend Vacation Day 2: Embarkation Day!

Ready for Day 2 of the journey? The best part of the journey? 

I always get so excited for that first glimpse of the boat. I don't really remember it when we went on our first cruise, a Carnival, in 2009, but on the Disney Dream in 2011, we were driving up in a Limo my mom rented for us, and my aunt, uncle, and cousins, and my mom saw the boat first. She squealed and pointed, showing the excitement we were all feeling. On our second Disney cruise in 2014, out of Miami, we'd been driving for over 24 hours, and the Florida interstate was nearly never-ending. The exhaustion was overtaken by the excitement we felt the moment we saw the red funnels of the Disney Wonder.

Ann drove us from her home near Ft. Lauderdale down to the Port of Miami, and on our way there, it was raining (Not exactly how you want to start your vacation). Apparently it rains every day in Florida? 

When we got to the port, said our goodbyes to Ann (Love you! Miss you!), and we headed through security.

But on the other side of security were people just as nerdy about Disney as me. Like this family who dressed up as the cast of Inside Out (which I saw during our second day at sea. Amazing!). At last! Among my people!

When you check into your cruise online, you can pick a time to get on board, based on your travel plans. Since we got in the night before, I made sure to sign us up for the first time available, 11 AM, and we were in Group 5, so we didn't need to wait to get onto the boat!

Goofy is preparing the back of the ship for our cruise!

Crossing the gangway, ready to say Goodbye to Miami!

The Halloween Tree! I didn't catch the story (I ran late to it. Boo), but the next day, the tree was covered in Jack-o-lanterns!

The beautiful 3-deck atrium, decorated in an Art Deco fashion. Captain Mickey and his helm stand in front of Lumiere's French Restaurant. The Disney Magic is Disney's first Cruise Ship of their own (they used to rent and sail on The Big Red Boat). 

After getting lunch at Cabanas, the buffet styled after Finding Nemo, we decided to explore the ship, and we started with Senses Spa & Salon, where we got a tour, coupons for different treatments, and an invitation to come back for the drawing later that afternoon. 

All cruise ships are required to do a safety drill before we can leave port. Our meeting place was at the Animator's Palate, and while there we met three people, Jen, Renee, and Jen's daughter, Ava, who drew a picture of me while we were waiting for the drill to be over. I didn't get a picture, but we hung out with them a few times during the cruise. 

At the Spa drawing, none of us won anything, but they did offer a treatment, 5 Steps to Heaven, which was $100 off for people who came to the drawing. Kiri and Lisa opted to get it, and scheduled their appointment for that night. I would've if I could've afforded it, but while they were there, I walked around the ship, taking tons of pictures. I was going to go to a Movie Quote Trivia Game, but they started early and were halfway done when I got there, so I left. 

Deck 4 between Mickey's Mainsail and White Caps. I love this picture, with the carpet, and the picture of Walt Disney framed at the end of the hall.

This was about as quite as the Quite Cove was when it wasn't night time, but it was still always quiet, despite the family pool being just on the other side of the funnel, where it was always crowded, noisy, and nearly impossible to pass without bumping into someone. In the Quiet Cove, it is perfectly quiet, which I love. 

Despite the showers that preceeded our cruise, the rest of it was sunny and bright. You could see storms in the distance, and I could feel the rocking of the boat, so I'm guessing they were going a bit faster to go around the storms. But, we got to see some cool rainbows!

Anyway, that's all for now! Check back later for more adventures in cruising!

A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes

Monday, November 2, 2015

Girlfriend Vacation Day1: The Long Journey

It finally came! Vacation has finally happened! The trip there and back was exhausting, but it was all worth it.

Kiri and I left on Wednesday night at 9 for Des Moines, where we picked up Lisa, who didn't get off work until about 11. I drove the first couple hours from Council Bluffs to Des Moines, and after getting food at Abelardo's, Lisa drove us to Kansas City, while I slept in the back seat (I was SOOOOOO SLEEPY!). 

I took no pictures during that time but waited until we got to the airport.

Aunt Donna took us to the airport on Thursday morning (Thank you!), and KC Airport is probably the easiest airport I've ever been through. Even easier than Eppley! There are the drop off doors, and right next to it is the gate to get to your plane. 

From KC, we flew to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, which was a very quick flight. Our connecting flight to Miami was on the biggest plane I'd ever ridden on. And the nicest. We flew with American Airlines, and I don't care what reviewers say. I thought the people we dealt with from the check-in desk to the flight attendants were all very kind. You hear these horror stories about airlines, but it's really never been my experience. *knock on wood* 

Three rows of seats in coach.

It was raining in DFW. Aways fun.

Okay, now how awesome is this? There was a screen on the back of the chair in front of me, with a remote, a plug to charge my phone, and tons of free shows, movies, articles, music, and games! I watched Pitch Perfect 2, and it might be sacrilege, but I thought it was better than Pitch Perfect. I know I'm in the minority.

 I asked for the window seat on the way out, and look at the billowy clouds below! Like Care-A-Lot!

I wanted the window so I could see the Gulf of Mexico as we flew over. It was pretty dark, but the pictures show more than I was actually able to see.

After nearly a full day of traveling, I was so relieved to get to Miami, where our cousin, Ann, was waiting for us at the airport. Check out the city!

My mom sent us down with a quilt she'd made for Ann, which was supposed to get to her last year when we drove down, but we ended up not meeting up. So armed with a carry-on suitcase (which I never take onboard), we took it all the way to Miami, and Ann and her family loved it. Ann later told me the boys were taking turns sleeping with it. 

Their house is so cute, and the in-laws are super close, sharing a backyard (courtyard?). It's awesome that the boys are so close to their grandparents. I'm glad I grew up with mine.

 We also fell in love with their dog, Daisy. She was a sweetie pie.

I feel like Kiri, Ann, and I need to get together more often. As the Martin girl cousins, we're almost convinced that we have a superpower of remembering teeny tiny details that freak people out (I've used this power to freak out our cousin Joe's wife, Brooke, shortly after we met). I think the three of us should vacation together sometime. (hint! hint!)

There will be more pictures to come because I have so much to share about the trip itself, but now, I'm just thankful we made it. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Blog Tour: Geli Voyante's Hot or Not by Elle Field

Geli Voyante's Hot or NotGeli Voyante's Hot or Not by Elle Field
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh my goodness! This book was so clever! Once I got past the fact that Geli was British (slang kept throwing me), but I really loved how quick-witted she was.

The story moved on at a really fast clip, mostly because Geli's stream-of-consciousness rambling actually made sense and made me laugh along with her shenanigans. I honestly thought her rivalry with Tiggy was ridiculous, at first, but at the same time, what girl can't relate to her sworn enemy from childhood?

This is the kind of story that makes for a quick, fun weekend read. I was reading and couldn't put it down. Every spare second, I found myself reaching for my kindle to continue on Geli's journey and take a closer look into Geli's world (I seriously wanted her flat/apartment. It just sounded amazing, and if I could live with my best friend, too, I would. There were so many parts of Geli's life that made me seriously jealous from her job to her clothes, and her relationships.

It was slightly predictable, but most Chick Lit is, and I am perfectly okay with that. Sometimes you don't want to read anything too deep, and after the book I'd read before this one, I was wanting something on the lighter side. I really enjoyed this book and want to read more by Elle Field!

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This book was provided for the tour for my honest opinion.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Things I Learned Writing, Publishing, and Unpublishing My First Book

As I've mentioned here before, I've wanted to be a writer since I was nine. I saw the Winona Ryder version of Little Women, and a light clicked on. It was what I had to be, and I wrote pretty much every day during elementary, middle, and high school. I had big dreams of making my mark on the world with the written word. Writing in college was harder because I wasn't writing for me, anymore, but for an audience who didn't like what I presented. I have learned some things about writing and self-publishing.

Writing One book does not a millionaire make

I had big dreams of this first book making me an overnight success. Like, I would be able to quit my day job before Christmas. This was in 2012, and I'm still at the same day job. So I want you to know that writing one book without a plan of action as to marketing won't make you a success. 

That's not to say you shouldn't try. Once one book is written and published, you've got to get on your next book. If your audience reads your book, likes it, but there's nothing else there, they'll move on to another author. If you want writing to be your business, you have to write. Don't rest on your laurels. 

Writing is Hard

I used to think writing was something mindless that I did for fun. But as I grew up, and learned about writing and storytelling, I learned that you have to put a lot of things in your book besides a day in the life of your characters. You have to think motivation, theme, characterization, etc. I've met so many people who tell me they want to write a book, to which I encourage, but I also tell them it's harder than it seems. It seriously is. There's a reason writers need a lot of coffee: ideas are fleeting, and we need to get them out of our heads as quickly as possible, no matter how late we need to stay up. 

Editing is Hard

Writing is nothing compared to editing. When I first wrote Sugar and Spies, I thought editing was just going through, looking for typos. Subsequent read-throughs have shown me just how wrong I was, which is what led me to pulling it from Amazon. The story is disjointed, there are plot lines that I never tie up, it ends on a cliffhanger (kind of). 

Editing goes beyond looking for typos. Looking for typos is called Proofreading. Editing is looking for story flow, characterization, plot, inconsistencies, It's best to pay for a professional editor, someone who doesn't have an emotional connection to your work. Do your research. I wish I had. 

Formatting is effing hard

Formatting, oh formatting. The biggest headache in the world of publishing, IMHO. Around the time I published my book, my mom had published hers, and my dad did her formatting. He walked me through it, but it was the biggest headache in the world. It's time-consuming, and if you don't save your work consistently, your computer could be a giant jerkface, and restart (ask me how I know). 

There are a lot of places that tell you how to format, but none of them are written particularly well. You can pay to have it done, if you're doing self-publishing (Indie or Mainstream publishing houses do this for you). I've actually started writing my stories formatted. It's amazing the difference it makes. It just looks cleaner, it makes it easier to look at when I'm reading it on my phone. It makes a huge difference. I'd say, save yourself the trouble and format as you go.

Hitting publish is easy

Who knew, right? The hardest part of hitting publish once it's all uploaded to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books, etc, is telling yourself you're ready (though, I really should've silenced the voice in my own head, but I digress). If you've done everything right, from writing, to editing, re-editing, proofreading, formatting, given it your all, it's time to send your child out into the world. But your job isn't done. Not by a long shot.

Marketing is HARD

You still need to guide your "child" after you've sent it into the world. I didn't do this. I half-assed it, found one blogger to read it, sent it to my friends, spammed my Facebook page, started having Kindle sales, but none of it really made people want to get my book. I've learned a lot about marketing in the last three years, as well as the differences between Self-publishing, Indie Publishing, Mainstream/Big 4 publishing, and I know that either self or indie is the direction I'd really like to do in the future (Self is when you publish it yourself, indie is when you find a small, independent publishing company to publish your books. There are lots, too!). But with the big publishing houses, I've heard that you have to do most of your marketing, yourself, so if you have to do that, anyway, I'd just go through a smaller company who can focus their efforts on you, specifically.

I also wish I'd arranged some kind of opening day. I was so anxious to push it into the world, that I basically did it in the dead of night, and casually mentioned it in my blog the next day. That's what you do when you're ashamed of something, not when you've got something to share that you're proud of. 

Building relationships gets easier

With marketing comes making friends with other writers. The only writers I knew prior to this whole journey were about three friends from college, my mother, my sister, and several people from college that I wasn't terribly fond of. Since joining Goodreads as an author, I've made tons of new author friends!

From there, I met author Samantha Stroh Bailey, who wrote the novel, Finding Lucas, and she introduced me to a Facebook group of authors. I somehow met author Ashley R. Carlson when I stumbled across her blog, and got super excited watching her process in creating her own first novel, The Charismatics. I think that's the beauty of blogs, Facebook, and Twitter: finding people you admire, and building connections and a network of other people with the same dream. 

Finding optimistic writers has been instrumental in changing my own mind, business model, and how I do everything. Plus, when you have something good to share, these people are really quick to celebrate with you. We're not in competition, which is amazing. You just have to take the first step of reaching out, and being open to meeting people. It's hard for introverted me, but it's been a blessing. 

Unpublishing, and why I did it

After I realized that my book was far from the perfect piece of writing I'd hoped it would be I knew my readers and future readers deserved better. I've been on the end of picking up a book that hasn't been properly edited, proofread, formatted, and was rushed into production. It wasn't ready, and neither was I. Unpublishing has been freeing, if you can believe that. Now I know that there are only about twelve eBooks and six paperbacks out there. Those are better odds of people reading poor work than if it had become a runaway best seller, with terrible reviews due to negligence on my part. It was just for the best to take it back until it was truly ready. 

Luckily, I've got it to rewrite, plus its two sequels pretty much written, all just in dire need of editing for content, clarity, and pacing. 

  • Do you have any writing tips that have helped you?
  • Any great Twitter Chats, or groups I should know about? 
  • Have you ever unpublished a novel? How did you feel about it?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Twitter: The Other Social Media

For a lot of people, Twitter is a way of life. For me, it was more, What the heck is this? I honestly didn't get the point of Twitter, I didn't really want to get it. 140 characters isn't enough for what I wanted to say (I feel like I'm more long-winded than I should be, especially when writing).

Where It All Began

Back in 2012, I went out to Denver to visit Lauren. We spent the weekend hanging out, enjoying each other's company, and doing what we do best: dreaming. I'd recently published Sugar and Spies, and was at a loss as to find readers, find an audience, and truthfully, why would anyone listen to what I had to say? I mean, really?

Well, that weekend in Denver, I finally signed up for Twitter. I had NO IDEA what to do, what I would post, how I could find followers. I think the first couple people I followed were probably from the cast of Chuck (Zachary Levi, Adam Baldwin), as well as people I know in real life (Lauren, Lindsay), and I left it at that.

Growing My Following

It wasn't until a couple years later when my followers really started to grow. I'd read this book called How I Made Over $42,000 in 1 Month Selling My Kindle eBooks by Cheryl Kaye Tardif, who directed me toward a website to find other authors to promote my books. I joined the Twitter group, and my following has steadily grown from there. 

I also started following the blog, Oddly Lovely, and she has some AMAZING Twitter use tips, which I implemented, including separating the people I follow into groups, which makes it less daunting to erad what people are sharing (I just want to read about politics? There's a group for that. What about actors? Got a group for that, too). Score. 

Getting The Hang Of It

It's really been in the last year that my following has really boomed, which has really surprised me. Part of it is because I've started utilizing Twitter Chats. I got the idea by following the blog, The Nectar Collective, and watching one of her chats, #NectarChat (Wednesdays at 8 PM Central). She asks a question, and you answer, and you can also answer other followers questions. I haven't participated, but I have enjoyed watching, and finding out blogging Twitter Chats. 

But that's not the best part about Twitter Chats. There are Twitter Chats for EVERYTHING. I've really participated in TV Show Twitter Chats. These are really fun, especially on Reality TV, like Project Runway and Ink Master. And you want to know the best part about Twitter Chats with TV shows? When famous people Like and Retweet you. 

I don't really have a lot of tips on how to build your following, aside from talking to people, joining Twitter Chats, and just being on it, but I think during those days when I'm watching my shows live, I get the most Twitter Action, because it's this great community where you're all following something (Though, it's SOOOOOOOO weird for me to join in a Twitter Chat for Ink Master, since I'm rooting for Chris Blinston, who is from Omaha, and people who aren't rooting for him see him as the villain. I see Matt and Kruseman as the smug villains of the show. It's like, are we really watching the same show?

  • What tips do you have for using Twitter?
  • Don't miss the live season finale of Ink Master tonight at 9PM Central on Spike TV! 
  • If you're on Twitter, follow me @martinbeks

Friday, October 9, 2015

Blog Tour: Center of Gravity by Laura McNeill

Center of GravityCenter of Gravity by Laura McNeill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an intense read. It took me awhile to get into it, mostly because I had no idea exactly what was going on. The story is told from several different viewpoints, which can be a good thing or a bad thing.
I honestly thought that Jack spoke a little too eloquently for an eight-year-old, but he was a good character, who definitely had a lot to say.
I think stories of sociopaths, ruining the lives of those around them are something that a lot of people can probably relate to. You're just going about your day when you suddenly walk into the line of fire. Hearing the story from Ava's POV was familiar, and you could definitely relate to her (at least I could). Every encounter she had with Mitchell was like walking on glass shards. You knew it wasn't a good idea to do it, and you felt every single cut. I was surprised that she didn't just sit in her house, not making any noise because God knows, he would've heard it, and had her arrested. I honestly thought it took a little long for Ava to get a backbone, but once she did, Look out!
Once I got into the story and the groove of the different POVs, I really got invested, but the formatting of my eBook made it really hard to focus sometimes. People would be talking, and then on the same line, someone else would start talking, it got really distracting. That said, I really did like this book. Mitchell was a scary antagonist, and while there were parts that seemed like Jack's character was a little inconsistent (He's eight, but later on, Ava tells her Father-in-Law that Jack is taller than her? How short is she?), but I liked it.

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I received this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.