Friday, September 26, 2014

Financial Literacy a must for teens and young adults

I have written three articles in the last few weeks addressing financial literacy for teens and young adults. This is an important subject as the cost of college continues to go up and by some accounts graduates average almost $30,000 of debt at matriculation. To keep from spiraling into a financial pit, kids need some common sense guidelines and tools. Two of these articles address the this and the last shows that financial institutions are aware of the problem and are offering courses so that their students can better navigate financial waters come graduation.

How to Keep Your Kid From Becoming a Broke College Student

How have you educated your kids about money? Do you give them an allowance? 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Michmoms: "Astronaut's Guide" A Must Read for Teens and Parents

What does being an astronaut have to do with being a parent? Check out the newest Michmoms post then tell us your out of this world parenting stories!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Michmoms: When dealing with teens, don't be Tom Cruise

Are you guilty of being Tom Cruise when it comes to being a parent? Join the conversation at Michmoms and tell us about your "Minority Report" parenting experiences.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

MichMoms: Don't Offer New Parents Advice

Photo by Sarith C. Some Rights Reserved
I avoid giving new parents advice. Check out my newest post on Michmoms to find out what I would tell myself if I traveled back in time and could give myself one piece of parenting wisdom. What would you tell yourself about being a parent?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

What I'm Reading Now: The Captive Dove by John Ouellet

Published by: All Things That Matter Press, 2013
Available: Through Amazon or Barnes and Noble
Violence: This book contains violent images including bullying, fighting, detailed descriptions of head wounds inflicted during war, discussion but not description of sexual assault.
Age Appropriate: I'd be comfortable having my 10th grader read this.
Grade*: B

Mr. Ouellet contacted my book group wondering if we'd like to read his new release. He sent a free advance copy to me so I could evaluate it for the group. I like to support authors who are local and independent, like me. I also like the thrill of unearthing a new writer that I can introduce to others. Since Mr. Ouellet lives in Michigan, we will invite him attend the meeting and discuss the book with us. Bonus!

What it's about:
Joe (Nasser) and his sister Sue (Sureia) were sent to the West Bank to live with their uncle's family in the summer of 1964. Their parents feared the influence of the South Side of Chicago and their father wanted to make sure they learned about Islam and their heritage. The story follows Joe through his time in Palestine and how it impacted him into adulthood.

What I thought as I read:
The book is an interesting concept to start with, part of the new movement of creative non-fiction. Although it's told in the first person memoir-style and the events are true, they didn't happen to author.  In fact, Mr. Ouellet has never met Joe and Sue although he has spoken on the phone with Sue. Taped conversations were the basis for the book.

One of the challenges in memoir is telling the story in an effective manner and yet staying true to the events and the narrator. Time and again, I've seen authors get tripped up either by truth that is stranger than fiction or with the desire to stick to the absolute truth at the expense of the story.

Because this wasn't Mr. Ouellet's own story, he could have taken more creative license with the facts and built a more compelling narrative with deeper symbolism and themes. What did Joe learn after his journey over all? How does this story reverberate today? How does this conflict apply outside the Middle East? None of these question are addressed in the novel, but were absolute options based on the plot and characters.

The adherence to the absolute truth resulted in a book that, at 373 pages, was longer than necessary. There were parts that dragged and could have been shortened up or cut. Some of the descriptions of daily life in both Palestine and Chicago could have been deleted and there were characters that were described and added into the mix, but ultimately never went anywhere. They could have been dropped or consolidated.

Even though the novel is written in first person, because it was in past tense, there was room for an adult Joe to reflect more deeply on the events of his life. He does it to a certain extent, but I found it falling short and leaving me wanting more. A deeper understanding of the motivations of the main character, especially during his time in Chicago when he become involved with terrorists, would have made the plot stronger and would have bound the reader more tightly to the main character as well.

Overall, this is a great story. It's an interesting perspective on an event that is still reverberating today. Many non-Arab people scratch their heads and don't understand the basis of the conflict between Israel and Palestine and why they can't "just get over it." Although this book is not political at all, it gives a glimpse into the attitudes that exist in that part of the world. Despite some of the issues noted above, it was never a chore to pick the book up. I would recommend this as a read.

*I'm transitioning to letter grades as I feel they give a more nuanced evaluation than the old five star method.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Michmoms: Sex and Violence in books and movies aimed at teens

It occurred to me after reading The Hunger Games trilogy and Divergent that a lot of parents were way more comfortable with their kids seeing violence in movies than sex. Check out my newest post at The Detroit News Michmoms blog to find out why.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Michmoms: A letter to Michigan lawmakers about education

I'm afraid that students in Michigan will get the short end of the stick as the legislature debates what to do with the estimated $300 million annual surplus. Join the conversation at Michmoms.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

MichMoms: Parenting Conflict: How much can we really protect our kids?

AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by Hanna-
I am completely guilty of wanting to encase The Girl in bubble-wrap every time she walks out of the house. But I know I'm yelling into the wind that will eventually whisk her away to her own life. What about you? Do you feel the same way about your kids? Join the conversation at Michmoms.

Monday, February 24, 2014

What I'm Reading Now: Deadly Sins by Lora Leigh

Title: Deadly Sins
Author: Lora Leigh
Publisher: St. Martins Press 2012
Hot Factor: Sexually explicit. Not for readers under 18.
My Rating: 0 out of 5 (I usually give a least a star for getting published, but this time it didn't help)

I was looking for a good romance and my sister loaned me Deadly Sins, by Lora Leigh, published by St. Martin's Press in 2012. I was looking forward to it as I've read a couple of the books in Lora Leigh's Nauti Boys series and liked them. She's known for solid plots and hot sex scenes. Just what the doctor ordered during a record cold and snowy January!

Unfortunately, this book did not deliver. I can't even say it was the author's fault. Contrary to popular belief, a writer does not slave away in their garrett, send a manuscript to a publisher and it magically becomes a novel. There are usually several rounds of editing of the plot, scene sequences, and dialogue. The last step is a thorough going over by a proofreader who should catch errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Any novel you read is a months long collaboration between the author and the team at the press.

This novel had so many technical problems it makes me wonder if somehow an early draft was released by accident. There were numerous continuity errors. For instance, a character finishes his coffee, then three paragraphs later, he's sipping it again. Wish I had one of those magic refill mugs. During one sex scene, Logan and Skye are on the bed, then the kitchen counter, then back on the bed. Ms. Leigh is already accomplished enough in writing sex scenes, she doesn't need to add teleportation.  There are character name switches, hard to follow dialogue tags, repeating sentences, and worse yet, a typo.

For this I blame the editing team. These are all things they should have caught before the book went to print. Ms. Leigh would have done better to self publish. At least she wouldn't have had to share royalties with an inept team.

As for the characters and plot, which the author is responsible for, we've got standard fare romance characters and plot. Logan is the studly, hard with a mushy interior former military man. Skye is the girl with a mission. She's annoying, though. She's supposed to have been raised to be in the FBI through some bizarre program which I cannot imagine parents agreeing to. But she's a wimp. I hate that. If she is supposed to be a bad-ass FBI agent, then she should kick-butt. Not turn a weapon over to Logan, who's hands are tied, and then proceed to get beaten to a pulp by the bad guy. Give me a break.

The plot is murky and not in a "I can't wait to see what happens" way. It was more like, "What IS happening?" Ms. Leigh didn't do a great job integrating the background from the first novel so we had an idea of what was going on. I also don't see how the prologue, which I actually read, ties into the rest of the book.

I usually give these types of books a lot of leeway. I'm aware of the genre tropes and they don't bother me. I'm not expecting fine literature, but I am expecting a professional presentation, great characters, and an engaging plot. I can't recommend this book to others and it's going right into the recycle bin. Unfortunate, because as I said before, I've liked this author in the past.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Thursday, February 6, 2014

What I'm Writing Now: Experiments with outlines

Photo by Tnarik via flickr- some rights reserved

I admit it, I've never been much of a planner when I write. "Pantsing," or writing from the seat of my pants, has been my modus operandi from the get go. However, I'm finding that as I try to attack longer works, pantsing hasn't been effective. Case in point: the novel I've been working on for almost four years. I'm now convinced that I've actually been writing two novels at the same time. Talk about nightmare revisions!

My lack of planning hasn't been from lack of trying. I've read multiple books and articles about the joys of planning out your plots and characters. When it comes time to write that outline, though, I get over- whelmed and soon feel like I'm locked in a straight jacket and go "off-road" with my writing at the first opportunity.

I've been writing quite a bit of short fiction lately, mostly under 3000 words, one coming in at just under 400. However, I've had an idea for quite awhile now to write what I call "20 Minute Romances." All of my friends say they want to read but only have about twenty minutes at night before they fall asleep. I also thought women commuting or waiting for kids could read a story in 20-30 minutes and get the satisfaction of reading a full story without having to commit to reading a novel. So this means generating a story between 6000 and 10,000 words.

Almost as if I ordered it, Writer's Digest February 2014 had two serendipitous articles: Outline and Story Mapping- 7 Steps to Creating a Flexible Outline for any Story, by KM Wieland and Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Steven James. The first caught my eye because I knew I had to get serious about outlining, but didn't want a rigid system. The second stood out because I knew that in order to have a compelling story, I had to add lots of tension and nothing causes more tension than a dilemma.

I dutifully got my spiral ring note book out and started following the steps*. In the process I've gotten to know my characters because I've been able to ask myself questions on paper like "Why is a 32 year old, educated man an exotic dancer?" (Interested yet?) I can doodle around and go way off on a tangent and then come back and refine the story line because it's not a rigid outline. I'm having a lot more fun and have been able to more fully realize my thoughts on the page, even before starting the first draft.

When I got to the conflict portion of the process, I got out Rock and Hard Place. I sat around gleefully thinking about how I could torture my characters, making them choose between two losing scenarios and racking my brain for a "third option" - something that would resolve the dilemma in a surprising way. I admit, it took me a couple days to come up with it, but I think I've got a good one.

All of this brain work has resulted in the following blurb:

Holly wants nothing more than to prove to her ex-husband, Richard, that he made a huge mistake by leaving her for her ex-BFF. When a friend invites Holly to the same New Year's Eve party as her two ex's, she hires Ryan, a young, sexy, exotic dancer, to show her husband she's still desirable. Despite his crazy life, Holly finds herself falling for Ryan. Things take a serious turn when Richard discovers Ryan's occupation and uses it as leverage to start a custody battle for his and Holly's daughters. Holly must find a way to keep her daughters and Ryan.

What do you think? If you're a romance fan, do you think you'd like to read a story like this? What do you think the third option would be? If you come up with a better idea than mine (which I'm not telling!) I might use it in the story.

*Yes, strangely enough I've found that going old school with a paper and pen for a first draft is producing much better second drafts since I edit as I type them into the computer.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

New MichMoms Post: Walking the tightrope of offering advice, help to teens

Picture by Jeff Kubina, some rights reserved
The model for this statue clearly had teenagers. Are you guilty of giving your teen unwanted advice because you have more experience and possibly know something they don't? Check out my newest blog post at Michmoms and commiserate along with me.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

New Post For MichMoms

Do you feel like the financial responsibility for college is bearing down on you like a freight train?

Then check out my latest post at The Detroit News: 

The runaway financial freight train of parenthood: paying for college

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

What I'm Reading Now: "When You Dare" by Lori Foster

I had a hankering for a steamy romance, so my sister gave me When You Dare by Lori Foster. It's the first in a trilogy the publisher, Harlequin, bills as "Three smoldering tales of men who walk the edge of honor…" Harlequin is the power house publisher of romance that has branched out from iconic little romances that ended with a kiss to longer more explicit novels and even erotica.

A caveat before I review the book. This is a specific genre of writing that has it's rules. I'm an omnivorous reader and read across genres and even venture into literary occasionally. However, I don't spend a lot of time comparing across genres. I've said it before and I'll say it again: You don't go to a burger joint and expect to get a white table cloth and five star service. I'll be comparing this book to other romances I've read, not the latest literary darling.

What it's about: Dare Macintosh is a mercenary that managed to pick up a little extra baggage on a rescue mission in Mexico. Her name is Molly Alexander. She's the victim of a kidnapping scheme and is determined to find out who is behind it. Dare agrees to help her. Things get steamy when their relationship veers into more personal territory.

The Characters: The protagonists are typical romance novel characters. He's the beautifully sculpted, dangerous mercenary with a code of morals that sometimes strays outside the law. She's the perky, independent author who is gamely recovering from a terrible trauma.

What I like about Dare the most is that he doesn't brood. He presents himself to Molly honestly. Dare doesn't go out of his way to kill people, but if it's necessary for him to complete his mission, then he does it. No haunted dreams or nightmares for this guy. It's refreshing.

Molly was a little less original, not that either character is going to win any rewards for originality. She's likable and she's game. She's trying to recover from brutality and she's brave.

The best part is that it's obvious why the characters are attracted to each other.  Ms. Foster made sure to show what Dare admired in Molly and vice versa. Sometimes with romance novels there's a big, HUH? moment because there's no basis for the attraction other than some special look. I didn't find that with this one.

I did find it weird that Dare kept referring to Molly as tiny, even though she's described as 5'7". Maybe tiny to him but it just didn't fit with how I was envisioning the character.

The Plot: I thought the plot moved along nicely and was well developed. I did figure out who the bad guy was long before the reveal, but this is a romance not a mystery, so I wasn't too upset.

Dare was presented numerous times as careful about checking out everyone around him and there were three plot points that conflicted with that picture. 1) He didn't run a background on Molly's sister's sudden boyfriend. 2) If he had run a careful background on the bad guy, he would have identified the perpetrator long before the end of the book. 3) He also allowed Molly to order clothes online and use her own credit cards to pay. I waited for that particular detail to come home to roost, although it never did.

There was that over thinking thing that happens in romances on both sides of the equation: "Does he really love me? Will she want me after this is all over?" It wasn't nearly as bad as Fifty Shades of Grey, but there was enough of it.

I also felt that some of the added points of view, like Dare's assistant, Chris, weren't really necessary.

Summary: I enjoyed reading When You Dare. I was looking for a fun, quick read and that's what I got. I'd say it was steamy but books like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey had more sexual tension between the characters. There were explicit sex scenes so not for readers under 18. I'd read the next two in the series.

Have you read this book or other's by this author? Let me know! I'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

MichMoms: Lock It Down, Folks! The Girl is Driving.

Photo by Toshihiro Oimatsu Some rights reserved
My latest post on the terror induced by my teen driving is now available at The Detroit News MichMoms blog. Stop by and check it out!