Into the Dreaming Imaginative Fiction from Author, Editor, and Writing Coach Christine Amsden

NEW Cassie Scot Cover Art

I’ve gone with new cover art for the first four books in the Cassie Scot Series … and here they are!!!

(These will be updated at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, Audible, etc. over the coming days.)

Stranger Things Season 2 Review

stranger-things-poster

Warning: Minor spoilers ahead – nothing that will make or break the show, but small details hinting at end conditions are present. Paragraphs with these conditions are marked.

The first season of Stranger Things took America by storm, bringing us a combination of 1980s nostalgia and campy horror. I watched it with everyone else and enjoyed it, although I had some reservations that I confess, kept me from jumping right on top of season two until just this month (March).

My reservations were justified.

I haven’t heard as much enthusiasm regarding season two, although there is a vague sense that the show remains “good.” In a nutshell, that’s probably true insofar as it was good enough that I will watch season three, sooner or later. Much like with season two, it might not be the week or even the month it is released.

The good:

This show continues to marry 1980s nostalgia and campy horror in a fun if comfortably predictable way. The nine episodes in this season gradually built to an intense finale that had me wondering who was going to die. Wil and Dustin were my top two guesses. I won’t spoil it and say how that panned out.

Season two bridged the gap from season one, bringing out more character and fully redeeming Steve, who I finally decided deserved better than Nancy. The season also tied up the loose ends that season one left behind, including Barbara’s death, and in a very satisfying way. In fact, the way they handled Barb’s death and the surrounding cover up was possibly my favorite part of the season.

The not-so-good and the bad:

The season got off to a very slow start, with the first episode nearly putting me to sleep. Things didn’t get moving until about episode three. Part of the problem with the start and indeed, with the plotline of the entire season: too many main characters trying to steal the show.

As a character girl, I do appreciate depth of character. But as a realist, I know you can’t reasonably do this for over a dozen characters – at least not equally. Which was probably why I didn’t feel that most of the characters were particularly deep; they instead came across like stronger and stronger versions of the archetypes upon which they were based.

Watching this show made me feel like I was witnessing the result of contract negotiations with a dozen actors who all wanted at least X many lines in the new season. There was no focus, nothing bringing them together.

(Minor Spoiler) And bizarrely, they introduced Max (Maxine) and her jerk of a brother who turned out to be completely unnecessary extra baggage. I thought surely they were going somewhere with these two, earning the decision to add even more key cast members on top of an already large cast, but they didn’t. The plot did not require their presence in any way.

(Minor Spoiler) The new Byers love interest, Bob, did have a use – to die. Clearly, from episode one, we knew his role was to make us love him and then die. He did this fairly well, although I thought the writers got lazy with his ultimate demise. They had the opportunity to make it more meaningful and they let it slip through their fingers.

But I think by far my biggest complaint with this season was episode seven, which completely focused on Eleven (Jane) and sort of shone a spotlight on the trouble they had with keeping the actual main character reigned in while they dealt with the backup crew. Eleven IS the star of this show. She was what made the first season interesting, and her character transformations were key to season two. However, almost all of that transformation was squashed haphazardly into episode seven in a way that made it feel disconnected from the rest of the show. Episode seven probably should have covered most of the season.

Look, strange shadow monsters from other dimensions aren’t scary. The monster in the first season wasn’t scary either – the men in the lab were scary. The government running experiments on little girls is scary. In fact, the government is pretty universally scary! (Sidestepping political commentary here.)

This season began with a hint of more scary government stuff – the introduction of Eight, a sister and precursor to Eleven. This was literally the first scene, so not a spoiler. Yet it hinted at the idea that this season was going to expand on the scary government’s role in creating literal monsters, an expectation that was equally well-established by the end of season one. Somewhere along the line, the writers forgot that shadow monsters aren’t scary; the government is scary.

All in all, I found this to be a bit of a mess – focusing too much on superfluous characters and magical monsters rather than on the main character and the monsters (real and figurative) that she’s fighting.

Black Panther Review

One-word review: Boring

It’s hard for a movie like this to live up to the hype. And Marvel has burned me before, so I wasn’t expecting much. Except to be entertained. And on that one, final expectation, Black Panther failed me.

The plot to this movie is thin, to say the least. It begins with two back-to-back prologues, or the movie equivalent thereof. The first prologue was the history of Wakanda told in a child’s story format. The second prologue took us to 1982, and a bit of family betrayal between the old king and his brother.

After that, it was hard to say what the movie was about for a while. Things happened. A king got crowned in an overly long, dull ceremony. We meet random people. There’s a museum heist involving unnecessary carnage that frankly ended up leading into a mid-movie distraction from what, in the end, I think it was about.

Politics. Yep. This movie was ultimately about Wakandan politics. Which is a made up place which allows duels to the death determine the ruler. So, how can that possibly go wrong?

Honestly, when the “bad guy” showed up to challenge the sitting king, I wasn’t at all invested in the outcome. I think that’s when I knew the movie was hopelessly broken.

I wanted to like this movie. Yes, it was overdo for a blockbuster movie to have an almost entirely black cast, but wouldn’t it have been nice if they’d also brought a plot with them?

This movie’s one saving grace were the women – Black Panther’s sister, mother, love interest, and the general of his personal guard (who I thought should have challenged him and become queen – I’d have rooted for her) The women’s quiet strength and intelligence, IMO, completely outshone Black Panther’s. ss

Love is a Verb: Valentine’s Day Giveaway

All the rules and how the hop will work it listed on the Safari Heat site.

Be sure to post a comment with your name and e-mail address for more chances to win the grand prize (a Kindle Fire HD 7″). If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, mention it in the comment for more chances to win!

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Love is a Verb

From our earliest pre-teen days, chatting about boys and wondering over the mystery that is romance, we’ve tried to define love. We’ve asked our girlfriends (who didn’t know any better than we did), and our parents (who may also not have known). We watched movies and read books which presented us with spectacular dreams of “soulmates” and “true love” and “happily ever after.”

My personal favorite:

“And wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva…” (The Princess Bride)

I won’t pretend like I know what love is better than the rest of you, but I’ve spent the past few years of my life writing a romantic series with one idea in mind: Love is a verb. I know – it’s not a definition, it’s a part of speech – but that’s the best I’ve got!

I’m an incurable romantic, really. I’ve read countless hundreds of romance novels – from historical to contemporary, normal to paranormal – and I love many of them. Yet when it came time to breathe life into my own romance novels, I couldn’t help but notice how so much of the romance world treats love as a noun. It’s a thing, a power that conquers all, a force, a feeling. When it’s true, it’s all you need and it lasts forever; if it fails, then it couldn’t have been love.

I’ve been married for fourteen years to a man who is also my best friend. He drives me crazy and drives me wild. He’s not perfect and neither am I. There are days when I can’t remember why I married him and days I can’t imagine how I’d live without him. And through all of that, love has never been a noun. Or at least, not just a noun.

Love is something you do. It’s an action – the act of loving – and it’s a little different for everyone because we’re all a little different. We want and need different things.

Love is a choice you make, every day. It’s thinking of someone else’s needs before your own, and considering their feelings as at least as important as yours. It’s making a big sacrifice because what he needs is more important than what you want. It’s about making little sacrifices just because, well, you may not like kale but he does so every once in a while you make it for dinner.

Chemistry is great. Aside from feeling good, it makes the choice to love someone a little bit easier. But at the end of the day if you want to sell me a fabulous tale of love, then it needs more than feelings. It needs actions.

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Cassie Scot Cover Reveal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming April 25, 2018!

A big thank you and shout out to all the bloggers who took part in my cover reveal:

Books are Love

Travelers Season 2

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Netflix released season two of Travelers on December 18 and honestly, the only reason it took me so long to watch was Christmas. I’m not convinced the week before Christmas was the greatest release date, but I won’t pretend to be a marketing expert. 🙂

I watched season 1 of this show back in May and reviewed it here. I enjoyed it a lot, praising the show for its time travel mechanics, but questioning its decision to keep so much of the future shrouded in mystery.

When i settled in for season 2, I still felt the pinch of not truly knowing what was going on. Now we have two groups fighting for control of the timeline — those loyal to the director and The Faction, who want … I’m not sure what they want. I’m not sure what the director wants. I’m not sure what their point of contention is, exactly.

At the same time, they introduced a new antagonist to the series who ended up taking the story in an unexpected direction come the finale. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that I am intrigued and eager for season three!

Season two continued to develop the characters from the future here in the present as they took on their host lives and formed relationships. Most of what I loved about this season was in these moments, and most of why I plan to keep watching is there as well.

I continue to highly recommend this show to scifi fans, especially those who like time travel.

Series Review: Haven

I have just finished watching all five seasons of Haven (2011-2015) on Netflix and I recommend it to those who enjoy a paranormal mystery — with a few caveats.

First and foremost: Season 1 was uninspiring. I don’t think I would have finished it except that my 11-year-old son was watching with me, and he was into it. The episodes were episodic, the “troubles” made little sense, and in some cases were truly absurd, and it was hard to believe that the writers had a serious plan for the show.

Then things got rolling!

Seasons 2, 3, and 4 were the true highlights of this series, IMO. Though the shows continued with their episodic nature clear up until the last season, when there was no longer any hope for it, the series arc became clearer, the stakes became higher, more interesting characters and relationships developed, and we began to see that the writers did, in fact, have a plan.

There were even some twists and turns I definitely did not see coming, and that’s high praise indeed, coming from me!

Season 5 brought the show to a complete and satisfying conclusion, although I did begin to feel the drag and thought things might have gone on just a tad longer than they needed to.

It was nice that this show was watchable with my 11-year-old son. There is some kissing and romance (he hid under the blankets during these moments) but it was reasonably tame and it was plot relevant.

All in all, this is good. It’s not going to be on my favorites list, but not everything can be. If you’re looking for something paranormal to watch and you have Netflix, check this out — all 5 seasons are available to watch.

Gourmet Meals in a Box? Home Chef Review

A few years ago I had never heard of them, but now they’re everywhere: Companies willing to deliver everything you need to prepare your own culinary masterpiece.

These companies cater largely to working singles and couples who want to play in the kitchen on the weekend. (Their deliver schedules universally favor weekend chefs.) That is not me. I’m a work-at-home mom with two kids (9 and 12). Sometimes I think I live in the kitchen. I certainly know how to cook, at least to a point. So why did I decide to give this a try?

Put simply, I’m in a rut. I cook the same basic meals on a rotation, and I usually opt for cheap and fast. When I do work up the motivation to try new dishes, especially fancy new dishes, something usually goes wrong: bad recipes abound on the Internet, and high-quality ingredients, when readily available, often sit right next to temptingly cheaper options. Sometimes, they are hard to find at all.

Many of these services advertise a monetary savings compared to the grocery store, but I don’t believe it. Even if you choose the best quality, freshest, organic ingredients, and even if you take into account the ability to scale quantities, I don’t believe there’s a real monetary incentive.

But money is not the only value. Time is of value. Excellent recipes are of value. Confidence in the kitchen is of value. And pushing me out of my comfort zone is of value.

One last note: I am currently trying to lose weight using an intuitive, mindful eating approach. I observe that I am more satisfied when I truly enjoy what I’m eating, so that is an additional value I seek.

With all that in mind, let’s get started!

Home Chef (10-25-17)

My first foray into gourmet meal delivery services was Home Chef, which offered a $30 discount on the first order. Thanks! That did, in fact, help me click “buy.”

Selecting meals was easy. You simply log into their website, choose from a wide selection of choices, and make sure you have your order in place by the Friday before your scheduled delivery date. They had a lot of yummy looking choices, but in the end, I went with their recommendations.

Salmon with Green Goddess sauce was a fantastic dish that the whole family enjoyed. I make salmon at home all the time, and I don’t do half bad at it when I get a good fillet. (This is one of those cases where the quality of the product will make or break the dish.) The zucchini, on the other hand, is something I tend to do boring things with and am usually disappointed by the result. This zucchini was well flavored via white wine and fresh paprika. Roasted potatoes are a staple in this house, but the recipe made these even more convenient to prepare by cleverly starting them in a skillet, then baking them in the oven in a way that had both the salmon and potatoes coming out at the same time. The green goddess sauce was wonderful too, and an easy throw together.

As we ate, we considered the cost of this meal at the grocery store. With the first-week discount, it was clearly cheaper than anything we could have bought. But actually, given the high quality of the ingredients, it would probably be pretty close at full price – in this case. (I do not believe this is true of most of their meals.) Then consider the fact that it came to my door, packed in ice, neatly divided into little pouches, and complete with easy-to-follow instructions … yeah, there’s a value here. It’s definitely a yuppy value, but I grudgingly confess that I qualify.

Acapulco Steak Tacos were good too, although not as good as the salmon. The pico di gallo was the highlight of the dish, a combination of fresh tomatoes, shallots, jalapenos, cilantro, and lime juice that marinated while the steak cooked to let the flavors develop and that created a sort of garden fresh accompaniment to the steak. I did mess up by dobbing sour cream on my first taco, because in my experience, sour cream always goes on tacos. It does not go on these tacos. It obscures the flavors, weakening them.

As a value comparison, it’s a bit harder to justify these tacos. Even fresh and organic, I could purchase these ingredients at about half the cost. The only caveat is that I don’t know what was in the beef marinade. (It came already marinating in something.)

Again, this came with clear, easy-to-follow instructions. I will say that I have tried to make tacos similar to this before and failed. Most recipes say to cut the meat before you cook it and this creates strips of thin, tough meat. This recipe had me cook the steaks then cut it into strips, which worked out much better.

I would probably not order this particular meal again, but I can understand why it is a successful customer favorite and I’m glad I gave it a try.

Environmental Impact

I was a little concerned by the environmental impact of the shipping methods. I’m not sure if anyone does it better, but this si something I plan to look out for. They claimed the ice packs were “recyclable by reusing” but we didn’t need them for anything. There was also a great deal of insulating material that needed to be thrown away, although some of this did go toward our daughter’s egg drop project.

Customization

Number of servings: While you can choose dinners for two, for, or six people, it is worth mentioning that Home Chef packages their meals for two people at a time. They will send you two packages for the four-person plan, and three for the six-person plan.

*The recipes are written for the two-person package.* I had to double the recipe for my four-person family as the enclosed instructions were written for the two-person package, including amounts. If I have one complaint to make about this company, it’s this. For the cost, they should have sent a set of instructions that didn’t require me to do math in my head, detracting from the ease I mentioned above.

Delivery frequency: Shipments must have a $50 value. I had no problem with this requirement, because it would be hard to justify their shipping costs for cheaper deliveries.

They will, however, ship you food less frequently than once a week, if you like the services but maybe can’t afford quite so much every month. They’ll ship them every two weeks, or three, or four, or let you put a pause on your account indefinitely, welcoming you and your money back whenever you’re ready. 🙂

Sustainability: Each dish has a use by date, specified on the web site so you can plan accordingly. The salmon, for instance, needed to be used within three days. The steak tacos within five. You can choose to have your meals delivered on Wednesday, Friday, or Saturday depending upon your needs.

Overall Impressions

I was surprised by how much I liked this program. I’m still having trouble justifying the expense, especially since I’m not exactly the target market for this service. But as much as I try to cook excellent foods, I’m a cook, not a chef. You want meatloaf and mashed potatoes? I got your meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Cookies? I’m awesome at cookies. And nice hearty soups are no problem either.

These meals were things I wouldn’t be upset to be served at a sit-down restaurant. Yes, I still had to cook them, but they were easy and convenient, and created few dishes.

I felt pampered, just a little bit, using this service.

So yeah, I think I could try this again. But I plan to try a different service first, because I’m the kind of girl who likes to shop around. When I finish, there will be a side-by-side comparison.

Next up – Plated!

The Irony of Isolation #HoldOnToTheLight

 

Growing up, I never felt like I fit in. I still don’t. Every day remains a struggle, with that demon we like to call depression whispering lies into my ear.

“You’re a failure.”

“Nobody likes you.”

“You have nothing interesting to say.”

And on and on … these are some of the tamer lies my demon likes to tell. He can get downright nasty, especially when I let myself stop and listen.

“You are alone” is possibly the most insidious lie that depression demons like to tell. It’s horrific because humans are, first and foremost, social animals. Infants deprived of love have died of it, but it doesn’t end there. We continue to need to feel love and connection throughout our lives.

Yet it is a lie. How can we be alone when so many of our demons are telling us precisely the same thing? That’s the irony – that we are not remotely alone in our feelings of isolation.

Writing, for me, began as an escape. I imagined my way out of loneliness, away from the kids on the playground I watched from a distance, and often into outer space where I was a princess with magical powers. (Yes, I’ve always mixed my genres!) Eventually, the escape itself became its own dream – that of becoming a “successful” author.

What a terrible career choice for someone who needs regular infusions of positive reinforcement! I sit around for days, weeks, even months on end without getting any feedback at all, not even in the form of a paycheck. Yet, when I backed away from writing a couple of years ago, I sank into the worst depression I’ve ever experienced in my life. It didn’t help that when I tried to explain my troubles, the reaction was something along the lines of, “You’ve published seven, almost eight books and you think you’re a failure? Oh my God!”

Sorry. Didn’t mean to step over other people’s far worse problems!

But let’s face it: Again, I’m not alone on this. I am not the only writer who feels the disappointment that can only come from a lifetime of hard work meeting lackluster results. I am not the only writer who struggles with infrequent positive reinforcement intermingled with heartbreaking criticism or downright rejection. And I am not the only writer to lose hope, resulting in a lengthy period of burnout.

It wasn’t until I heard the words, “I don’t consider myself a success” coming from a New York published author with over thirty books that I realized how not alone I really was.

Depression and anxiety (another of my demons) are always lying. And like the worst sorts of lies, they tend to be rooted in a kernel of truth. Overcoming them is a daily challenge that begins with a simple truth:

You are not alone.

About the campaign:
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight

Frequency Season 1

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I’m going to go out on a limb here and say: Pass on this one.

Frequency is a one-season CW show which originally aired in 2016/20177. It has been cancelled, although it isn’t entirely clear why because despite what I’m about to say, it got a fairly positive audience reception. They apparently released an epilogue to provide closure, which is a decent thing to do although I didn’t feel like it ended on a cliffhanger. The ending barely hinted at more conflict to come.

So why am I not feeling the same positive energy as others on this show?

Logic problems.

Time travel is becoming popular again, which is fine. As a long-time scifi fan I’m intrigued by time travel and have considered its myriad implications. Is time travel all part of a single continuum in which everything that has happened, has already happened, meaning time travelers can’t change the future? Or does every minor change spark a new reality, making it impossible for time travelers to truly find their way home again? How does it work? Why does it work? I’m not talking about quantum physics here; I just want to know that there are rules, that they make sense, and that the show is working within them.

This show begins with an intriguing pilot episode that sets up the rest of the series. A woman, fumbling with her old HAM radio, finds herself talking to her dad 20 years ago. And as they both figure out that this communication is real, she tells him he’s going to die the next day. Forewarned is forearmed and all that, so he survives. But at a cost …

There was a serial killer called the Nightingale who had killed a few women back in 1996 in the original time line. Somehow, when dear dad survives, that all changes — the Nightingale has now been active for 20 years and worse, he’s going to kill her mom in a few months in the 1996 timestreame.

Sounds pretty good, right? I thought so! The race is on to save her mom and mend personal relationships that were also torn asunder by these events. Over the course of the season they follow leads, sometimes changing the timestream more — sometimes with more serious consequences than others.

So the problem, without giving away the ending for those of you who want to try to figure out whodunit, I feel like I need to say that the show never satisfactorily explained the key point:

What changed when dear dad lived? How did his survival cause the dramatic new path for this serial killer?

Not only was this not answered, but it became clear within a few short episodes that it never would be. They forgot, as they chased down this that and the other lead, that this was a TIME TRAVEL story, not just a parallel police procedural running in two different decades. This means that ultimately, even though I did work out who did it, the ending was unsatisfying and senseless. It didn’t help that they paused mid-season for a chat with a crazy prisoner who also claimed to talk to a different time who claimed that you had to “chop it off at the trunk” — ie killing a person was the only way to make real, effective changes in the timelines.

Ummm … clearly not?

I’ve forgiven many a fantasy and scifi series for bungling science now and again, but when a show can’t even stay consistent throughout a single 13-episode series, particularly regarding its defining characteristic, we’re done.