Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Book Review: Promise Me

Richard Paul Evans knows how to nail a great Christmas story. He has done it again in this brief novella, Promise Me. I'm so glad I selected two audio books to listen to during the holidays (since my first choice left me somewhat disappointed). This was a beautiful story of love. similar in flavor to The Time Traveller's Wife.

On Christmas Eve of 2008, Beth Cardall is finally going to share a secret she has carried for eighteen years. The story fades back to the year 1989, a horrible year for Beth when her daughter was stricken with a perplexing illness, her marriage was falling apart at the seams, her job was threatened and her ability to hope and trust had been completely maxed out. Then on Christmas day, she bumps into a strange man in the 7-Eleven, and her life changes course in ways she could never have imagined. He knows things about her that he cannot possibly know. He draws her in and weaves his way into her life, altering things permanently.

Spoiler alert - There were a few things I found uncomfortable: the likelihood of a betrayed woman plunging into a new relationship so quickly on the heels of her failed marriage, the idea of a mother pursuing a relationship, while knowing full well that the man will one day belong to her daughter, and the use of inside information to play the gambling games and win a fortune. Still, I was fully sucked into the story and the air of romance and longing. The seams were tied up nicely and I did really enjoy the tale. It was a wonderful holiday read.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Book Review: I Work at a Public Library

Gina Sheridan is a librarian. She's seen some crazy stuff go down at the public library. When she began blogging about her experiences, other librarians began to write in with their own stories. Thus, I Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Stacks, came to be. Although it wasn't as funny as I had anticipated (I guess I've seen a lot more wacky stories from my times living with Salvation Army officer parents and my short time working in a Salvation Army thrift store), it was the perfect read for my time waiting for my boys to jump for an hour an a half at a trampoline place.

The book is organized by call number, telling stories about computer usage, reading habits, communication failures, telephone conversations and other topics. I think my absolute favorite stories were found in the Volumes of Gratitude chapter. Those stories melted my heart. Still, the rest was mildly amusing and worth a quick read. The blog features photos to accompany the stories (ex. three things found in returned books ... a pancake, $20, and a corn husk). Not sure why she didn't include photos in the book. It might have made it a tad more colorful.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Book Review: Little Fish

Little Fish by Ramsey Beyer pulled me in for three different reasons: 1) it is a YA book; 2) it is a memoir; and 3) it is about a young girl's first year away from home at a big-city art school. My niece recently shared the news that she was accepted into the Art Institute of Chicago. She acted like it was no big deal, but I'm pretty sure that is a big deal. I wanted to check out this book to see if I might want to recommend it to her.

Ramsey Beyer grew up in a very small Michigan town and leaves to attend art school in Baltimore. She chronicles her adventure, highlighting who she is and where she comes from, as well as her impressions of the changes occurring in her life. She meets and makes new friends.

It was a quick and easy read, if a little boring at times. The list-making (a trademark activity for the author) sometimes bogged the story line down instead of enhancing it. Still, it was a fairly interesting story of growing up and facing new challenges. I do think my niece might enjoy it as she is departing from a small town, headed for the big city and the specific challenges of art school (criticism, endless projects, demands for constant creativity). Being a graphic memoir, it should make for quick reading even if she decides she doesn't like the book.

Friday, December 26, 2014

My Favorite Christmas Presents to Myself



Not the best picture, but it does show one of my new mosaic necklaces made by my friend Lori O'Connor. I purchased two of these for myself for Christmas from her Etsy store and I love them! The purple is so rich and sparkly. They go really well with a pair of earrings I recently bought.




Go check out her Etsy store for yourself (or for a wider selection of photos of her necklaces go to her Facebook page where she posted photos of her products with a pre-Christmas sale on a December 15th post - sorry that deal is no longer available)! Who knows maybe you'll find something for yourself as a post-Christmas gift.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Book Review: You Should Really Write a Book

When I began to consider drafting a memoir instead of a novel for my 2014 Nanowrimo efforts, I sought out books about writing memoir. I was thrilled to find that my own library had a copy of a book written by Regina Brooks (author of another writing book I enjoyed called Writing Great Books for Young Adults). Brooks is one of New York's top literary agents, working with Serendipity Literary Agency. If you're looking for an expert on writing, selling, and marketing a memoir, you can't do better than advice from an actual successful agent.

You Really Should Write a Book is an excellent source for the basics on memoir. Its goal is to take you through the process entirely so that at the outset you will think "big picture" rather than merely writing a tale which might appeal to interested family members and friends. You must write with your mind centered on the selling and marketing aspects of a book if you expect to achieve anything significant with your manuscript.

I appreciated that the book highlighted several key memoirs and evaluated their marketability. This is the bird's eye view offered from someone within the machinery of the publishing process. This taught me to think like an agent about my manuscript, while I was in the process of writing. The book emphasizes the importance of building an audience and a platform prior to seeking publication. Doing this guarantees more success when approaching agents and publishers.

The book is broken into three parts: 1) An introduction to the popularity of memoir; 2) An outline of the major memoir categories (I only skimmed the ones which didn't pertain to my manuscript) with advice for each sub-genre; and 3) Advice for contacting an agent (a necessary step in this day and age when publishers refuse to accept unsolicited manuscripts). This final section was the most productive part of the book for me. It offered advice on preparing the query, the proposal, and the verbal pitch. Most people don't realize that you cannot simply sit down and write an absorbing story and immediately end up with a book deal. You have to master the difficult steps of pitching and marketing your finished work. For me, that has always been the greatest challenge (a mountain I cannot seem to climb).

As I've said before about other books on the craft of writing memoir, I don't know if this is the absolute best book on the subject. Moreover, my own experience with the book was difficult to peg because I started the book several weeks ago and left off for a span, then picked it up to finish it only a few days ago. This interruption may have detracted from my take-away from the book. However, if you are looking for a book about memoir, especially from the perspective of the bottom line (marketability), this is certainly a good place to start.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Book Review: Family Blessings

In looking for a Christmas audio book to enjoy, I stumbled upon Family Blessings by Fern Michaels (an author of over seventy novels, yet I don't think I've ever read anything else by her). It certainly didn't rank as high as the inspirational Christmas novellas by Karen Kingsbury (in my book). It is merely an average, quick holiday read. The action of the novel takes place primarily over the Thanksgiving holiday and merely ends with a Christmas wedding (so if you are looking for a Christmas read, you'd probably be more satisfied with another book).

It is not only a tornado stirring up trouble in the small town of Larkspur, Pennsylvania. Loretta Cisco and her three triplet grandchildren (annoyingly labeled "the trips") enter a whirlwind of difficulty on the heels of mother nature's shattering blow. Cisco's beloved house is lost. Sam's wife is leaving him. Hannah and Sara are convinced that their doctor husbands are both having affairs. The back cover proclaims "As the citizens of Larkspur help to rebuild Cisco's home in time for Christmas, she vows to work a holiday miracle that will hold her family together."

I guess I didn't really see any work done on the part of Cisco in healing the situations her grandchildren are dealing with. In the end, most of it came down to miscommunication and a whole lot of bluster over nothing. The characters were not terribly endearing and acted in a quite juvenile manner. The best I can say is that the book managed to hold my attention and was a quick and easy listen. If I had a choice, though, I'd choose Kingsbury's Red Glove series over this one any day of the year.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Caroling on K-Love

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was given the incredible opportunity of playing with an ensemble on K-Love's national radio station. Last night, my niece in Kentucky sent a message saying that she heard me on the radio. How cool is that!

Here's a photo of our group:



I'm holding my $60 Craigslist instrument and I'm the only one in the group not wearing an official Salvation Army uniform (gave mine away back when I got married and joined my husband's church; not to mention, that one probably wouldn't fit me now anyway).

If you want to hear the brief blurb you can either click here for the sound cloud bite or go to the K-Love Morning Show blog. At the blog site, you can find a second carol. (I'm the one playing the second part - in the harmony line-up.) I don't know if they'll end up playing all four carols at some point, but it was thrilling just to have this rare opportunity to play with the group on the radio.

Merry Christmas from our small Salvation Army band ensemble!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Book Review: Dash & Lily's Book of Dares

I was all set to love this book. I mean, what could go wrong, right? It has the trail of a secreted notebook with clues for adventures, left in none other than a bookstore. It has a girl seeking a boy. It has Manhattan at Christmas time. It has a lover of words. I loved the idea that two authors worked together (Rachel Cohn writing the female voice and David Levithan writing the male voice). Yet, somehow, I didn't love this book.

Sixteen year old Dash is wandering the aisles of his favorite bookshop when he happens upon a red moleskin notebook with a challenge to join in a mutual dialogue with various dares thrown in. He is transfixed and cannot leave the notebook there. He must follow the clues and discover more about the female owner of this notebook, Lily. The notebook travels back and forth between the two characters with each one pouring out their authentic souls into the notebook. Will they still maintain this chemistry when they actually meet? Will true love descend at Christmas time?

I was truly worried I would get to my young adult book club to find that everyone else adored the book but me. Thankfully, that was not the case. Most of the others felt just as meh about it as I did. I didn't want to hear the descriptive word "snarly" one more time. And really, Dash isn't so much snarly as he is endlessly snarky and full of attitude. His love of words, while commendable, seemed to end up bogging down the dialogue instead of enhancing it. Moreover, the dialogue was a bit of a stretch for teen speak.

The willful suspension of disbelief was challenged to the limit (the notebook never falls into any other hands than it is intended for, the clues are followed without confusion, the one who happens to find the book happens to fit what Lily is looking for, etc.). If the brother knows beforehand that Lily's parents intend to uproot her to move to an exotic location, why would he send her on this wild goose chase hoping for a true love connection? Moreover, we decided in our discussion that it would have made more sense if the one who answered the notebook was in cahoots with her brother to begin with, thus having an inside view to what is going on. For whatever reason, the novel just left me wishing for more. I liked the idea and it held promise ... it just didn't deliver on all that it could have.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Book Review: Good Pictures, Bad Pictures

If you are a parent of boys these days, chances are great that you are deeply interested in finding a way to porn-proof your sons. Who isn't aware of the devastation wreaked by involvement with pornography? It is tearing apart our marriages, destroying our families, and sucking in our children at staggering rates.

According to statistics listed on Enough. org concerning Internet safety, 70 percent of children have encountered pornography on the Web accidentally (Kaiser Family Foundation, 11/2006). An even worse statistic, gleaned from the London School of Economics in January of 2002, estimates that "9 out of 10 children between 8 and 16 have viewed pornography on the Internet. In most cases, the sex sites were accessed unintentionally when a child, often in the process of doing homework, used a seemingly innocent sounding word to search for information or pictures." Our children are in danger. That is clear.

Kirsten A Jensen, MA, and Gail Poyner, PhD, have addressed this mounting problem with a book written specifically to assist parents in introducing the topic for discussion with young children, Good Pictures, Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today's Young Kids. In the introduction to the book, the authors admit to their own discomfort with feeling led to write the book: "You may be asking yourself, 'Talk to a seven-year-old about pornography? You've got to be kidding! Shouldn't I wait until they're twelve or thirteen?' But the sad reality is that many American children begin viewing hard-core Internet pornography at the age of seven and even younger, long before most parents consider discussing the dangers."

You may feel like you've protected your child adequately because you've put in place the technology to block sexual content. Nonetheless, our sons are able to access it in ways we've not considered, perhaps through the phone of a friend. In the end, the best thing we can do for our sons is to assist them in developing their own internal filters. This book is key to opening that conversation. The authors stress the importance of "empowering kids by teaching them what pornography is, why they should avoid it, and how it can damage their brains and become a progressive addiction."

This book is effectively structured to introduce the topic and provide a solution for a child to master. The first seven chapters talk about the brain and how it functions in regard to the images they might encounter. It breaks down the information to a level a young child can grasp and appreciate. It highlights the dangers involved in opening the mind to these images which will be seared on their memories like the image of the space shuttle explosion will always be seared on my own memory. It teaches the child how pornography tricks the brain into an addiction. But, it doesn't stop there.

In chapter eight, the authors introduce children to an acronym to assist them in battling against the lure of pornography. They provide a CAN DO plan. C - The child is urged to Close their eyes immediately, even to shut down whatever device they are on, rather than continue to view the images. A - The next step is to Alert an adult. N - is for Name it as pornography. D - is a highly important phase, urging the child to Distract themselves with something different or some physical activity to divert the brain from focusing on the images. Finally, the O is for Ordering the thinking brain to take charge of the feeling brain. This is a conscious effort a child can make to extract themselves from the pull of pornography.

It is inevitable. Even with exceptional vigil, our children are bound to encounter this deadly evil at some point in their lives. This book offers an avenue for discussion and a plan of attack for a child to memorize and execute when faced with this foe. If you want a tool to help your children fend off the temptations of looking at pornography, you cannot go wrong by investing in this book and sharing it with your children (the authors highlight the dangers for both girls and boys in their introductory comments).

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Book Review: Walking Across Egypt

Walking Across Egypt wouldn't have been on my radar if it hadn't been for my book club. I had never heard of this author before or any of his books. I decided to check it out in audio form and I think the narrator did a great job of telling the story, infusing the characters with their own voices and pausing in just the right moments. It was a bit slow at times, but I did enjoy it. It reminded me somewhat of the tales of Grandma Dowdel in Richard Peck's books. With an old fashioned flair and the clear character of an elderly woman, I was swept into the tale and felt I knew Mattie inside and out.

Mattie Rigsby, at age 78, is slowing down.  When an old dog wanders into her yard, she realizes she has about as much business taking in a stray dog as she has of "walking across Egypt," (apparently the name of an old hymn). She calls the dogcatcher and ends up learning of his nephew, Wesley, a boy familiar with the hard knocks of life. Raised in an orphanage and now in a youth detention center due to the theft of a car, Wesley appears to Mattie to be "one of the least of these my brethren." She determines to take him a slice of pie and pound cake. What follows is a hilarious adventure as we delve further and further into the mind of this elderly woman and the plight of this wayward young man. She yearns for grandchildren, but her own children refuse to cooperate and get married. She serves up a helping heap of good food to everyone who comes her way.

With plenty of laughter injected into the story, this is a tale from yesteryear full of Southern charm. It includes ruminations on the necessity of good manners, the importance of family, the duty of compassion, the trials of children not taking the road you desire, and the need for a purpose in life. I delighted in the voice of Mattie and the imagination of Wesley. The whole cast of characters appealed to me.

Although the book is considered a young adult novel, I think it would probably appeal more to an older crowd than to teenagers today. It wasn't labeled as young adult at my library, but does have a review by the School Library Journal and has a special binding for school libraries. I noted at the end of the book that there is a sequel, called Killer Diller (which my library has, thankfully). Plus, it might be interesting to look into viewing the 1999 movie version of this book available on YouTube (although the casting of Jonathan Taylor Thomas as Wesley seems a bit too attractive for the character I saw in my mind's eye). I'm so glad this was our book selection for December.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Book Review: The Silent Sister

The drama unfolds seamlessly in Diane Chamberlain's novel, The Silent Sister. She carefully weaves each clue into the tale, one at a time, until the truth is revealed and the final crisis moment arrives. The suspense is palpable, but I figured out the truth too soon. Plus, I thought the resolution was a bit too quick and undefined. In the end, we are left wondering whether or not the silent sister meets her tragic end or not.

Riley MacPherson and her brother Danny have been told that their older sister committed suicide, as a teen, over the stress of being a child prodigy on the violin. Their family has been reeling ever since. The deceased mother spent the rest of her life as a shell of the woman she once was. Danny is angry and volatile in the aftermath of all the attention given to his older sister.

Now Riley is forced to confront the past as she clears things out of her family home after the death of her father. Danny is no help at all, wanting nothing to do with the past or his family. When information is uncovered suggesting that her sister Lisa's suicide was faked, Riley must uncover the clues of the past and discover much about herself in the process. Feeling alone in the face of loss, she is desperate to find out anything she can about this much older sister (15 year gap) even if her brother is determined to bring this attention thief to justice.

The beginning was a bit slow getting going, but once I reached the 100th page, I was deeply engrossed in the novel. This author does a fine job of maintaining the reader's interest and slowly unveiling the truth. I would be willing to attempt another suspense novel from this author. From the reviews on Amazon, it sounds like many have liked her other books even more.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Book Review: Remember Me?

I always love how Sophie Kinsella can craft a believable, strong female protagonist, inject ample humor, and weave an interesting journey of a tale. I adored the Shopaholic series. I knew this would be another example of a great story with memorable characters.

Remember Me? tells the tale of twenty-eight year old Lexi Smart, who wakes up from a jolt to the head to find that she has lost three years' worth of memory. One would think things couldn't change much in such a short amount of time, but for Lexi, her whole existence is different and she has to figure out how she got to where she is now. At first, it seems like she has won the lottery. She has a drop-dead gorgeous, wealthy husband, lives in a beautiful, expensive loft, and is no longer a clerk at her company, but actually the boss of her department. It would seem that life couldn't get any better than this. Only problem is, she is a different person and her past is riddled with questions and secrets she must uncover.

While I did thoroughly enjoy the story and really liked the main character, I simply could have done without the sexual part of the story. For one thing, I could only listen to the story when my boys were at school (since I checked this out in audio form to ingest while exercising). Even then, there were moments when my husband walked into the room and definitely gave me looks to say, "What on earth are you listening to?" This was awkward and embarrassing. Yikes.

If all the sexual details don't unnerve you, then you can't go wrong with another Sophie Kinsella offering. She remains one of my favorite authors (just learned that Sophie Kinsella is a pseudonym - didn't know that). So glad my mom recommended her Shopaholic series to me so many years ago. I'm hoping the next installment of that series, Shopaholic to the Stars, will be one I can listen to in any company.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Book Review: Lulu's Lunch


Here is yet another children's book my friend Anne is launching in time for Christmas purchases. Lulu's Lunch tells the age-old story of the bully who takes the lunch with a twist on the solution. When I read the book to my seven year old, he said his favorite part was that the children came up with the solution to the problem on their own. He also loved the illustrations of Brutus, the bully, who is three times the size of the other children. This book provides a great conversation opener for kids trying to deal with a bully.

I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

In the Christmas Frame of Mind

CARDS:

I have managed to get things moving for Christmas in a reasonable manner this year. This has not always been the case. I used to be the kind of person who sent Christmas cards closer to New Year's Eve every year. Then, one year something happened to trigger a change. Someone, who used to be a casual acquaintance friend back when we lived in DeKalb - you know, the kind you make through your child's friends, but they just seem to stand out more than the rest - responded to my Christmas card with a card of her own and a few choice words.

Her note read something like this: "I don't know why you still send us a card. You don't live here anymore. Plus, we always get your card way after Christmas, like it was something you just did because you received our card in the mail. Feel free to take us off your Christmas card list in the future."

I was speechless. It was especially puzzling since she had sent a letter thanking me for my newsy Christmas card in February of the year before (probably another year when I was far, far behind). In that note, she had responded to almost every bullet point I had made in my Christmas letter, had included a note of greeting from her daughter to Bryce, and had gone on to say, "Some people might not like holiday letters, but I really enjoy them & reading how everyone is." Was she feeling that I share too many tidbits about my family? Did she think I only sent the card out of obligation? Do you really stop sending cards to old friends when you move away from a place? Is the friendship just supposed to stop because there is no immediate contact any more? To this day, that note of hers disturbs me.

Thus, I have taken to attempting to get my cards out shortly after Thanksgiving, lest anyone think they are on my list out of obligation. This year, I sent them on December 1st. If I only sent them to current friends, my list would be quite short. No, I continue to send them to old friends I haven't seen in years (all except for the one who basically requested I remove her from my list). They go overseas, to about ten different states, and to a wide range of individuals I have met and come to care about over the years.



 DECORATIONS:

The decorations are now up. Our big tree is up on the back porch, where we can turn up the heaters and sit and enjoy the tree as if we were outside with it. Usually, this is the place where we all congregate when we have the big gathering with my side of the family. (We are taking a year off from hosting my family's Christmas gathering this year and my boys are already moaning about missing seeing their cousins.)



Trevor put almost all of the ornaments on and remarked over the various special ornaments (I always try to buy a special significant ornament each year for each of the boys, with the intention of passing them on when they marry.) He noted that the last few years, Bryce has received football ornaments (because of his involvement with his h.s. football team). I had an extra football ornament (a Hallmark keepsake one snatched up at a resale shop) and Trevor has claimed that as his ornament for 2014. I found another resale store find in a Purdue ornament for Bryce. Now I must find something to represent Sean's year. I doubt I can find something with stitches (he fell on the school bus steps and required four stitches to his chin last month), but I will probably look for something with a roller skate (since he just had a field trip to a roller rink and discovered that he loves skating ... this was quite an accomplishment because he was quaking in fear about the whole thing for weeks before the trip).

I've pared back quite a bit of our decorations (things I was simply tired of, like the singing Christmas tree which used to so amuse the kids and so annoy me). The biggest issue has always been the stockings. We had purchased three matching ones back when there were only three of us, but after the two little guys came along, I just couldn't bring myself to spend a heap of change on five new matching ones. Thus, we've always had a mix-match mess of a stocking display. If only one of the matching ones wasn't an angel, I could simply use the three matching ones for the boys and two others for John and me. This year, I finally settled on something which looks a bit better. I had the stockings my mother used to use when we used to have family gatherings at their house (now that they're in Florida, in a tiny house, this isn't feasible). John and Bryce's are both red, so I added a third red one for Sean and now have an alternating theme. It still isn't the way I want it to look, but it is better than it has been.



The stockings make me think of a funny story. A few years ago, my sister was aware of my stocking dilemma and so whenever she was out and about and saw a set of stockings she thought I might like, she took a picture with her phone and then sent them to me. When we gathered that year for Christmas, she asked why I never responded to any of her stocking suggestions, I shook my head and chuckled. Then, I pulled my old-fashioned flip phone from my pocket to let her know that I'm so far behind the times that I couldn't even receive the photos she was sending to my phone. Ha!

One of the decorations I still put out every year is one we acquired from my husband's work, when they were getting rid of it (it is fully functional, so I'll never get understand that). It is a ceramic village display with lit up trees and houses. I love it. But this year, in my eagerness to get things moving more quickly, I tried to carry the whole thing to the back of the piano, without taking each piece separately. Note to self - Don't ever do something that stupid again! One of the sets of trees fell off and shattered to the ground. Thankfully it was only in a few pieces and I was able to superglue the whole thing back together again. Now, I'm waiting for my husband to look at one of the bulbs which will not light this year.



COOKIES:

Another favorite decoration is one I only just received last year. It was displayed in our library's Christmas shop and I came home and added it to my husband's list of gift suggestions for me. It is a beautiful snow-capped house cookie jar. I have already baked up a small batch of cookies to fill the jar (simple peanut butter cup ones from a fundraiser the boys participated in at school). Sadly, I am practically the only one eating the cookies. I may need to add a new wardrobe to my Christmas list, if I continue with my cookie baking plans.



I'm hoping to make up at least five different types of Christmas cookies this year. My paternal grandmother always greeted us with trays of Christmas cookies which she baked in advance and froze to have ready for our visits. I'm talking wide variety! She would bake up a dozen different kinds and freeze them in little baggies, then array them on her special Christmas trays. It is a happy memory I would love to duplicate for my kids ... even if they don't end up eating very many of them.

At least, if I manage to bake the five types of cookies, I will be able to take a tin of cookies to the guy who hunts in our woods every year. He always favors us with a fruit basket or a tray of cookies (or dark chocolate - because he knows how much I adore dark chocolate) and I like to be able to reciprocate in some small way. He is always good to keep an eye out for trespassers on our property and he feeds the deer to keep them coming back.

GIFTS:

I have all of the Christmas presents purchased for my boys. This is the first year I failed to buy them books. There are a few reasons. Primarily, it is because we have just participated in the school's book fair and they both picked out a selection of books they had been wanting (including the newest Diary of a Wimpy Kid book - which was another good one - a Weird But True book, a Minecraft book and an Eye Twister optical illusions book). Plus, it is just heartbreaking, when they are allowed to open one present early on Christmas Eve and they happen to grab for the book box and then groan because they were expecting something better. Even my youngest, who is an avid reader, doesn't seem to care for receiving books as a gift. Sob, sob. What's a book lover to do when the rest of her family scorns her passion?

For my part, I did put a few books on my gift suggestion list for my husband. My husband and I don't share the same view on gifts. The other day, I mentioned a gift I had purchased for Trevor and he immediately replied, "That wasn't on his list of things he wanted." Another comment he recently made was "would you like a new set of Cutco knives for Christmas?" Cutco knives? Really?

His list of gift suggestions always includes things that he is in need of (and most of them are things he could really just pick up himself). Here's his list for this year: "work out gloves, sweatbands, black belts, ties, pictures of the boys in frames, sweatpants, nutcracker; and holiday blend coffee." Have you ever heard such a boring list?

Thus, I tend to buy things I think he would like which don't appear on the list. So far, I have purchased a squirrel-proof bird feeder (because he is all about feeding the birds), the nutcracker, and a word-a-day calendar (he loves learning new words). I can list these purchases because he never reads my blog. I have also been keeping my eye out for another Uncle John's Bathroom Reader (he loves those books, filled with tidbits and anecdotal stories). I like to veer off the list. He remains glued to his and only adds things which are practical needs ... like the knife set.

I have to spell out exactly what I would like and where he could find it (example - the special seasonal flavor of Lindt truffles with the snowman on the blue package which offers milk chocolate on the outside with white chocolate on the inside - yum - available at Walmart or Walgreens). But then, I tend to only get what I already listed and that feels like something of a let-down. I always find myself hoping he will have taken the initiative to pay attention to the things I might like outside of my list (I've collected monkeys for years and thus my list often has things like a monkey flash drive). Alas, that doesn't happen very often.

Then, there's the half-way joking comment I made the other day about a trip to London-Paris-Rome. He immediately gets incensed that I would even think about making such an expensive journey (despite his intention to fly us all to Mexico this year for his niece's wedding - that doesn't count as frivolous in his book ... only my dream trips are frivolous). This is definitely another area where we don't see eye-to-eye. Groan.

But, although I won't receive a ticket for my dream trip in my stocking this year, and I won't be surprised by anything I receive, I still enjoy the process of the gift-giving. I love to find the choice treasures and wrap them and see bright faces when they are unwrapped. I enjoy sending unexpected gifts to friends out of the blue. One year, I sent a loaf of my banana-chocolate-chip bread, along with an alto horn pin, to an old Salvation Army friend who used to play alto horn with me in the band when I was a teenager. This year, I'm thinking about sending a soccer door-knob hanger to a college- age girl who used to be Bryce's best friend back in DeKalb (she is an avid soccer player and won a soccer scholarship for her first year in college). I just enjoy doing little things like that. It warms my heart to give.

CAROLS:

This year, I had the unexpected pleasure of participating in a Salvation Army ensemble as we played a spot for the K-Love radio station's morning show. I listen to K-Love all the time, so it was quite thrilling to meet the DJs, especially Kankelfritz (because his name is so unique) and to put faces behind the voices I hear on the morning show. Our little quintet had never played together before, but, of course, we're all familiar with the music from the Salvation Army carol book. We each introduced ourselves and the instrument we play and played four little carols. They are supposed to air sometime during the week of December 13th on national radio and our photo will be up on the K-Love Morning Show's Facebook page. How exciting is that?

Thus, my Christmas is off to a good start. How about you? Do you still send cards to old friends from long ago? Do you manage to get them sent prior to Christmas? Do your stockings match? Do you bake reams of Christmas cookies? Do you only purchase practical gifts? Have you ever played or sung on national radio for the holidays? All these things are on my mind. What's on yours?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Book Review: The Crooked House


My friend Anne is launching her second children's book on Amazon today and I agreed to be a part of the launch team and post reviews of her new book, The Crooked House. Once again, this book is also illustrated by Anne's talented daughter, Jessica. The illustrations burst with color to pair with a rhyming tale of a girl who is ashamed of her house. The main character is transformed when she learns the true story behind her crooked house and begins to feel less crooked herself. The story has a great moral and the illustrations are superb.

I received this book in exchange for a review.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Book Review: Since You've Been Gone

While Since You've Been Gone, by Morgan Matson, had a captivating plot device, it ended up being just a good, but not a great, read. I appreciated that the language and events remained clean. Although I liked the main character, I was more intrigued by the missing one and not much was really revealed about her until the very end, and even then, my response was sort of "meh."

The teaser from the front cover sucked me in: "It was Sloane who yanked Emily out of her shell and made life 100% interesting. But right before what should have been the most epic summer, Sloane just ... disappears.  All she leaves behind is a to-do list.

"On it, thirteen Sloane-inspired tasks that Emily would normally never try. But what if they could bring her best friend back? Apple picking at night? Okay, easy enough. Dance until dawn? Sure. Why not? Kiss a stranger? Um...

"Emily now has this unexpected summer, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected), to check things off Sloane's list. Who knows what she'll find?"

So, there's a list of thirteen off-the-wall activities for Emily to cross off. All of the activities take her out of her comfort zone, but she ends up making new friends in the process and finally comes to discover some clues to help her locate her missing friend. There's a little romance between Emily and Frank, complete with the friction of a girlfriend away at a summer program at Princeton. Emily begins to be brave on her own and to stand on her own two feet, without the assistance of Sloane.

But what about Sloane? Who just up and leaves a best friend without any word besides a list of things to accomplish in her absence? Who doesn't even bother to answer her phone to let the friend know she is okay? The mysterious Sloane annoyed me. It was the part of the book I liked the least. Even though the situation resolved in the end, it still left a bad taste in my mouth. Sure, both characters grew throughout the process, but I just wasn't as on board with the way the growth took place.

The one person I kept thinking of while reading this book was my blogging friend, Amy. Since she is a runner who listens to playlists while running, and Emily and Frank bond mostly through their morning runs, I thought perhaps this would appeal to Amy. For me, I didn't recognize many of the songs (just not a pop music kind of person) and thus, felt totally in the dark about the significance of the titles and bands.

I don't want to imply that it was a bad read. It wasn't. The writing was smooth. The plot moved along at an amiable pace. There was just enough conflict to keep the reader engaged and interested. I guess, in the end, it was a decent read but just okay, and at 449 pages, it was a lot to invest for an okay read.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Book Review: No-Drama Discipline

As soon as I saw this book by the authors of The Whole-Brain Child, I wanted to read it. I am a big fan of their previous book and read with interest their many guidelines for nurturing your child's brain. The full title of this book is No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind. Both books share similarities: outstanding structure, clearly defined strategies, explanatory stories and illustrations, and solid information on how the brain works.

I will have to say, I have friends who parent in this manner consistently. Their discipline is always gentle and mindful, their relationship with their children strong and respectful. Although I'm not around them often (especially now that we live in a different state), they have never lost their patience with one of their children in my presence. I have often thought that I would like to be more like them in my parenting style.

This book encourages parents to engage their children more fully in the task of discipline. The principles are simple. First, connect with your child, then redirect their behavior. Connecting serves three purposes: 1) "it moves the child from reactivity to receptivity," 2) "it builds a child's brain," 3) "it deepens your relationship with your child." While connecting, you must ask why the child is misbehaving and what they need, then you must think about how you say what you want to say in response. This slows down the process and takes away some of the knee-jerk reactions which often lead to ineffective parenting models. Plus, it allows the child to get to a point of being receptive to what you wish to say.

For the redirect portion of the instruction, the authors provide an acronym:

Reduce words
Embrace emotions
Describe, don't preach
Involve your child in the discipline
Reframe a no into a yes with conditions
Emphasize the positive
Creatively approach the situation
Teach mindsight tools

I know, personally, I have a tendency to use too many words (which end up being processed as "blah, blah, blah," to preach, and to fail to involve the child in determining the best way to resolve the problem. I often do react in the moment with my own big emotions (lower brain) without tapping into the more rational perspective (offered by the upper brain). Even just the act of slowing down my response time will do wonders for my own discipline with my children. I appreciated the emphasis on remaining calm and reasoning out what needs to be taught.

Once again, the authors have provided an excellent refrigerator chart containing the principles explained. Thus, even if you didn't have time to read the whole book, you could begin to incorporate the wisdom simply by reviewing the handy chart. Plus, they humbly offer up an addendum with examples of some of their own parenting failures. They gently offer hope to any parent who wishes to be more mindful as they discipline their children.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Nanowrimo Winner 2014

I can check off Nanowrimo Number Six. I completed the final words on my Nanowrimo manuscript on Friday morning, topping the manuscript out at 51,824 words. I am very happy with how it turned out and really can't wait to dig in for the revision stages (although I will put it off for at least six weeks in order to approach the manuscript with fresh eyes).

I also recently took one of my YA manuscripts to a member of my Young Adult book club for her review. She came back with wonderful comments, saying I really caused the action to come alive in her head and that she truly fell in love with my main character. She said that I nailed the voice of the male narrator well. She added that she hopes I plan on working on a sequel to that novel (something I haven't considered and don't know if I will because I, myself, don't see the main character further along than where his trials have taken him thus far).

Now, I can relax and enjoy the holidays, knowing I have another rough draft manuscript to return to in the new year. My friend Anne has written two more children's books and I agreed to be a member of her launch team for each of them. I finally feel like I have time to devote to reading her manuscripts and providing some feedback and reviews for her. Let the holiday shopping, Christmas card sending, house cleaning and decorating begin! I'm in a good spot for it! Plus, there's a present in the mail, since I ordered a Nanowrimo winner t-shirt before I even completed the challenge (I was pretty sure I could do it again).

Friday, November 21, 2014

Book Review: Other People's Rejection Letters

I think I was expecting something a bit different from this book, although if I had read the subtitle, I wouldn't have gone into it thinking it would primarily be about rejection letters received by other writers. The entire title is: Other People's Rejection Letters: Relationship Enders, Career Killers, and 150 Other Letters You'll Be Glad You Didn't Receive. The book covered a far wider spectrum of rejection than I was anticipating, but it was still a somewhat enjoyable experience to eavesdrop on other people's disappointments and rejections (I almost feel guilty saying that ... almost).

Although many of the letters are downright lame, I think my favorite part was a small section at the end of the book where several of the letters are explained more fully and the reader learns what happened after the rejection. For example, there were three hilarious Water Frog Certificates where the poor little girl was refused admittance to the next level up in her water training because she could not master the face float. She went on to earn an MVP title with her high school swimming team. The biggest belly laugh of all arose from eight rejection letters received by a Mr. Richard Barrett after he supposedly sent a manuscript titled, Insanity of War, to the most bizarre recipients (including Texas Instruments, Charlton Heston, Walter Cronkite, The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, General Motors, King Hussein of Amman, Yale University and the Vatican). One recipient actually responded with "We have reviewed the material and are unsure of your purpose in sending it to us, so we are returning it to you for safekeeping." Another man received fifteen rejection letters from NASA, but was accepted into the program on his sixteenth try.

By far, the strangest entry was a letter from F. Scott Fitzgerald, written to his daughter Scottie while she was away at college. The letter is sharp and critical and full of vitriol. But, the caustic tone isn't what renders it amusing. I was fascinated because the letter is so poorly written. He urges her to read it twice because he wrote it twice. You'd think he'd have communicated better after going over it a second time. You'd be wrong.

As with one writer who rejected the editor by failing to send any rejection letters, the topic of rejection caused me to think. She writes, "I don't have any rejection letters in my possession and it's not because I always have excelled at everything I've done, I think it's because I haven't put myself out there enough - haven't taken enough chances." In a similar way, I don't think I've put myself, or my writings, out there enough. I receive a few rejections and immediately withdraw from the process of sending things out. I must remedy this. The rejection needs to propel me to try harder (yet with wisdom, not willy-nilly like Mr. Barrett - ha) and to fail to shrink back from the repeated failure. Who knows? Maybe on that sixteenth try, someone will bite and a publisher will offer to take my work on. I mustn't give up at attempt number six. I must keep putting my work out there for consideration. And, I must keep writing regardless of any rejection letters I may receive.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Book Review: Out of the Easy

After seeing Ruta Sepetys's book, Out of the Easy, on-line a few times, I encountered it again on Sheila's blog, The Deliberate Reader. She declared it "fantastic." Thus, when it was offered up as our November read for my young adult literature book club, I was eager to dive in.

I completely agree with Sheila. Even if I wouldn't have expected to like a book about New Orleans or one filled with prostitutes, it was a wonderful book of historical fiction and left me wanting to know more of the main character's story. She is off on a new adventure and I'd love to see a sequel so that I could find out how things work out for her. I came to love her just as much as Sheila did.

Josie Moraine lives in the French Quarter of New Orleans in the 1950's. Her mother is a prostitute, working for the Madam Willie Woodley. Despite making her own way in life, living above a bookstore and working there for the owner in exchange for her board, Josie is still tied in many ways to her despicable mother. Josie works cleaning house for Willie after the johns have left in the morning. But her real goal is to get out of New Orleans and head to the east coast to attend an upper class university. She might have the grades, but she certainly doesn't have the connections. While trying to establish some way of getting in and getting there, Josie uncovers information about a murder which might just implicate her mother. She wants to do the right thing, but so often finds herself spouting more and more lies and getting herself caught in the thick of things.

With a little bit of love, a little bit of friendship, and a whole lot of heart, Josie faces her obstacles with grace, dignity, and courage. She is the only one who can chart her course, but she does get by with a little help from her friends. The reader cannot help be cheer her on. By the end of the book, Josie is in a mess of trouble and the reader is desperate to find out how she will get out of the mess and make her way out into the world. Thank you, Ruta Sepetys, for transporting me into another world and making me love the characters within it.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Book Review: Allegiant

I went into this book with some reservations. I have a few friends who had voiced their disillusionment with the final installment of Veronica Roth's Divergent series (to the point of saying they wished they had never read the books!) and I was worried I would feel the same sense of disillusionment. I didn't want to end a great series with a bad taste in my mouth. I anticipated being duped in some way, finding out that the ground I stood on wasn't really what I had been led to believe it was. Thankfully, it wasn't really that which led to their feelings of dissatisfaction. They merely didn't like the ending. While I wonder what it would have been like, had it ended differently, I wasn't as bothered by the ending as other people have been. To me, it seemed like the final bits made sense and needed to happen to remain true to both character and plot development.

This book was different from the other two, at the outset. Instead of merely getting the perspective of the main character, Beatrice Prior, we are now given an alternating narration by Tris and Tobias. It was interesting to get into the head of a male character as the final actions played out (although it could be argued that there isn't a whole lot of difference in voice between the two characters). Despite understanding the reasoning behind the switch, again I find myself wondering what it would have been like if Roth had simply kept with the first person narration from Tris. Then I wonder whether the author foresaw this necessity for two narrators from the outset or if the books simply progressed as they did and the plot line dictated a switch in viewpoint. Did she know things were headed this way? Did she know, while writing the first, that the third book would end in this manner? I cannot help but read like a writer and want to know what the experience was like during the process of unfolding the story.

In this third installment, the factions which gripped their world have disbanded, but the society is no better off. They are still on the verge of war as various individuals fight to claim power over the remaining citizens. A group rises up, called "the Allegiant," with the purpose of returning to the outside world to discover what it was they were meant to do with this crumbling society. Of course, Tris and Tobias are part of the Allegiant and thus, they are the key ones who attempt to make sense of the new information they are given about their world and they must determine the best course of action to help their old society.

I enjoyed this trilogy. It was a very thought-provoking series. It raised questions of identity, the value of virtues, the damage of weaknesses, the frailty of the human personality and the importance of love, over all. The phrase used to pitch this series is "one choice will define you." I am grateful to discover, in thinking about this book and in reflecting on my own life, that one choice will not define you entirely. You are made up of far more than single aspects of who you are. You are a blend of good and bad, and your choices render consequences which carry both good and bad. I especially appreciated the many thoughts in the book on the subject of forgiveness. Roth brought forward some profound observations about life and grief and relationships. I would happily read this series again. Despite being pitched as a young adult series, it is definitely a worthwhile read for adults as well, if you can give in to the fact that you might not agree with or like the ending. I still think it was worth exploring all these interesting ideas about human nature, despite the questionable ending.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Book Review: The One

The One is the third installment in Kiera Cass's The Selection series. I think I liked the first book best of all and each following book less so, but have still enjoyed the series and loved getting sucked into the story. The characters were engaging and the plot kept pace. It has been an enchanted fairy tale world for me to escape into.

Cass is a master at maintaining suspense. I really thought the big reveal would come sooner in this book. Throughout the entire book, you are left wondering whether America will be selected as the new princess. Finally, the resolution comes in the final five or six pages (and even that feels rather rushed and chaotic). Up until that point, it is just a roller coaster of up and downs as political plans are revealed and relationships are tested. I think the author is to be congratulated on her skill in drawing the reader along for three solid books, still wanting the answer to the seminal question of who is finally chosen in the selection.

Although I had a hard time buying into the political fervor in this magical kingdom, and could barely bring myself to believe that a future United States would look this way, I was still able to go along with that part of the progressing plot. Moreover, I will admit that I was a bit irked with America for stringing along both young men in order to assure that she will have someone in the end. Despite my misgivings in these various areas, the series kept my interest throughout and it was a delightful read. I don't know if I liked it well enough to pursue the other two novellas centered around the other characters in the story. I think I'll be happy enough with the three books in this series and consider the story well-done.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Nanowrimo - Half Way In

Yesterday morning, I made it to the halfway point in my November book. I surpassed 25,000 words. Of course, this doesn't mean the book is halfway done because I always try to keep writing clear to the final word, which almost always is well beyond the 50,000 word goal. But, still, I feel encouraged that it is going so well.

I'm going to try to have another 4000 word day today because I know I will be gone for much of the morning and afternoon tomorrow. I'll be playing my horn with a small ensemble to kick off The Salvation Army's kettle campaign in Indianapolis. It is supposed to be cold, so I hope my horn valves don't freeze up. I have purchased hand and foot warmers because I remember how cold my feet were last year.

I'm finding my morning walks around the high school track to be especially productive. I have resumed that practice and left off walking on the treadmill while listening to books. Thus, due to the writing and track-walking, I haven't been getting in as much reading. Still, I'm close to finishing one book and halfway through another.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Book Review: The Wonder of All Things

The inside cover declares: "On the heels of his critically acclaimed and New York Times bestselling debut novel, The Returned, Jason Mott delivers a spellbinding tale of love and sacrifice." I thought his what-if premise for the first book was intriguing and he has done it again with another interesting idea. This time the reader is asked to consider what might happen if a young girl had the power to heal someone else by laying hands on them, but diminished in her own strength with each healing action.

The Wonder of All Things begins on an ordinary day, when an air show is taking place in the small town of Stone Temple. Suddenly something goes wrong and the plane dives to the ground, hitting spectators and field alike. In the rubble of the debris, two young teens are found huddled together, the boy, Wash, with a pipe through his side, and the girl, Ava, looking desperately alarmed. While someone films on a cell phone, Ava pulls the pipe out and puts her hands on Wash's side. Miraculously, the wound heals completely. As would be expected, the coverage goes viral. All manner of rabble descend upon the little town of Stone Temple.

Everyone wants healing from the little wonder girl. Questions are raised about her responsibility to utilize the gift she has obviously been given. The story follows the development, in one line, of the girl's relationship with her deceased mother, and in another line, of the girl's relationship with her beloved friend, Wash. While Ava's father tries to determine the best way to protect his daughter, Ava herself must determine when and how she will use her remarkable gift, despite the personal cost.

While there were many interesting concepts raised for contemplation, the story followed a predictable arc and it still left me not quite as sucked in as I would have liked. Of course, I'm assuming some of that might be due to my own focus on my intense writing schedule at the moment. When you are eating, sleeping, and breathing your own story, it can sometimes be hard to let go and fully get engrossed in another story. It was a worthwhile tale and I expect more great things from Mott.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Nanowrimo - One Fifth In

I am one fifth of the way through in my goal to write 50,000 words this month. I have been trying to write 2000 words a day, but managed to crank out 4,300 today. I guess I just hit a flow point. Having done this before, I know that the beginning often takes off well and then you hit the middle and begin to lose steam. We shall see how it goes.

While I'm not overly thrilled with what I've written so far (it rambles a bit and lacks focus), I haven't had trouble knowing what to write about, so that is good. I don't really know what to call it. It is fiction based on personal experience. I think I've nailed the voice, but not the structure yet. Thankfully, the blessing of Nanowrimo is getting the words down and worrying about structure and refinement at a later date. If you are participating in Nanowrimo, I wish you all the best. It was instrumental in helping me to finally finish a manuscript (after years of starting and then abandoning projects). Viva la Nanowrimo!

Book Review: Fearless Confessions

Because I was toying with the idea of working on a memoir, I checked my library's holdings to see what other books they had besides the Beth Kephart one I read awhile back, Handling the Truth. Once again, just like with Kephart's book, I'm doubtful that this is the best out there in terms of books about writing memoir. Even though I haven't found it, I'm certain there's a book which would make me stand up and say, now that is some practical, helpful, well-organized advice on writing a memoir. Although, this wasn't it, Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir, does do a decent job of discussing the genre and what it takes to bleed out a memoir. The author has written two memoirs, so she has experience with the genre.

I certainly benefited from reading this book. I think it helped me in my start, anyway. I was reminded to focus on sensory imagery and also to plan the arc of the story or plot how the book will be laid out. Each chapter concluded with helpful writing exercises and, while I didn't take the time to participate in these exercises, I felt they were well-done. Another benefit of the book is the mention of many memoir titles (including an extensive reading list at the end of the book, divided into categories by subject), a defense for writing memoir, and examples of some quality memoir-styled writing (most of these were personal experience essays, since she couldn't exactly include whole memoirs, obviously).

I came away from this book encouraged to admit that I do, indeed, have a story to tell (everyone has a story within them waiting to get out in some way or form). I'm still not sure whether I will share my story in memoir form or simply in a fictional form with an autobiographical foundation. As Silverman observes, it does take a certain sense of fearlessness to put one's self out there in a brutally honest memoir. Even if I have an important story to share, I'm not sure I have the guts for fearless confessions.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Book Review: Now I See You

I have both a friend who is losing her sight and a brother-in-law who is dealing with an endless nightmare related to a detached retina. My friend is an artist. She makes mosaics and when I think of her, I cannot help but wonder how terrifying it must be to lose the gift of vision. My eyes are not what they once were. I have to wear glasses and will eventually be fitted with bifocals, no doubt, but I don't live under the sentence of significant vision loss. I can only imagine how terrifying that must be.

Thus, I put myself in another's shoes by opening this book, Now I See You, a memoir by Nicole C. Kear, who is in the process of losing her sight while still in her thirties. At the tender age of nineteen, she was informed of a diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa, an untreatable condition which promises to render her blind in a little over a decade. How devastating to receive such dire news at such a young age. In her tale, she explains how she fought acceptance of the disease tooth and nail. She is basically big into denial and refuses to admit that anything is amiss, choosing instead to live life with gusto.

This story was well-written and carried me deep into a landscape I've never known. If I think about it, though, I doubt I would have responded in the same way. I'm guessing that I would have wanted other people to know what was going on with me, both for their support and for their understanding when things would seem amiss. Then again, I've never been in those shoes, so I cannot say with certainty that I would take the road of confession over the road of denial. Even if I couldn't relate to the desire to keep others in the dark (ha), I could certainly relate to the longings of human nature for the opportunities to see her children and to achieve her dreams. It was an eye-opening read and affirmed the truths that obstacles can be overcome and that life is precious despite the set-backs we face.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Book Review: Why Smart Kids Worry

I remember what it was like to be a kid filled with worry and anxiety over the issue of medical visits and upcoming shots. I spent hours obsessing over the inevitable. I also worried about dying in a fire, for some reason. I remember countless nights of pouring out my heart's great fears to my father and having him pray over me to silence the concerns I felt. While prayer is a wonderful, powerful tool for helping a child to cope with anxiety, this book offers additional tools for parents to use if and when their children face anxiety and intense worry.

In Why Smart Kids Worry: And What Parents Can Do to Help, licensed professional counselor Allison Edwards guides parents through the issues of anxiety in children. The first half of the book is devoted to exploring why smart kids tend to worry. Gifted children often have a higher intellectual processing ability, and therefore tease out possibilities to a further extent than other children. While an average kid might realize that some people die, a gifted child can take that thought to the next level and realize that he/she might be one of them. The second part of the book focuses on tools a parent can use to help alleviate or diminish some of those feelings of anxiety. I felt the tools were the most valuable part of the book and therefore, if you have a child experiencing anxiety but lack time to devote to the whole of this book, you could really skim the first section and focus your attention primarily on the tools at the end of the book.

I can appreciate the author's warning that our children are presented with more information than ever before. I lived a fairly shielded life. I don't remember my parents discussing awful things going on in the world. I don't remember watching the news with them or hearing about epidemics or diseases or warfare. Yet, I know that I was a child filled with anxiety. My own life experiences had caused me to fear shots and medical situations and to be aware that children sometimes die of cancer (my childhood friend died of cancer). However, when I think about my own children, it is clear that efforts to shield them will be far more difficult to manage. They simply have access to far more information than I ever did.

For example, I made a point of telling my husband not to mention the Ebola situation to our boys and yet, not a day later, my middle son came to me to ask what Ebola was because he saw it mentioned on a vine he had watched. I know there are some parents who simply don't allow their children to have access to computers without their constant supervision (how do they manage that?), but inevitably the subject is viewed by other kids and brought up on the school playground. So, even if I restricted my son from watching vines, he would probably still come across information which could prompt great anxiety.

I believe, as a parent, my goal is not to shield my child from every possible ill or anxiety, but more to teach them to monitor their own use and manage their own emotional needs. Thus, I was quite interested to note several of the more promising tools suggested in the final portion of the book. These are tools which would not only assist children with anxieties, but also parents who experience anxiety (thus, they are things I will attempt to employ in my own life).

Here are some of the more helpful tools mentioned: "Square-breathing." You encourage the child to visualize the four sides of a square and using this image, then breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, breathe out for four counts, and rest for four counts. "Worry time" emphasizes the need to schedule a particular, limited time for focusing on worries. "Changing the channel" simply encourages you to switch gears so the child can move on to something different with the promise of returning to the worry at a more conducive time. "The five question rule" limits the child's obsessing by putting a boundary on how many questions a child can present. The "I Did It List" focuses on encouraging the child to make a list of times when they have accomplished something big, so they can build confidence. Other tools utilize positive reinforcement, role-playing, reverse psychology, providing structure and routine, employing the child's help to solve a similar anxiety in another hypothetical child, and expending physical and emotional energy so there is less available to plow into anxieties.

One of the tools I will use on myself in the future, is the concept of a "brain plate." Kids are encouraged to see their brain as a plate. Imagining a plate in front of them, they are asked to place all the meals for the whole week on their plate and then asked what would happen if they tried to eat all of those meals in one sitting. They obviously can understand that they would get sick and you can then shift gears to explain that, in a similar way, the brain cannot handle all of life's future anxieties in one dose. This encourages an individual to bite off only today's troubles, instead of being overwhelmed with troubles from the future. I loved the George MacDonald quote the author used, "No one ever sank under the burden of the day. It is when tomorrow's burden is added to the burden of today that the weight is more than one can bear."

If you are troubled by a child who is experiencing inordinate anxieties over possible life scenarios, this book certainly provides a healthy discussion of the topic, along with strategies for approaching this dilemma. No parent wants to watch their child immobilized by fears and anxiety. While providing a listening ear is helpful and offering up prayers encourages their faith, having a few tools at your disposal for approaching anxiety can only benefit the parent of an anxious child.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Nanowrimo Approaches

It's that time of year again. The time when I settle down all my writing energies and focus on churning out another book. I've done it five times before and have been fairly satisfied with my results. This year, however, I'm approaching it with the most trepidation I've felt yet. There are many reasons for my hesitation and angst.

To begin with, I have no idea what to focus on this time around. Since I'm struggling with finding an interested market for my Christian young adult fiction, I believe I should shift my focus to something else. Women's fiction is probably the best bet for a wider market, in terms of finding an agent and getting the manuscript read. But, I haven't come up with an idea for a story or a character to launch a story. Nata. Zilch. Nothing! Even though I've been in that position before, late in October, on the verge of the writing month, it is still an unsettling place to be.

Then there's another option. I have been toying with working on a memoir. The only problem with this is that the memoir, while primarily about me and the struggles I have faced in a particular area of life, necessarily involves other people. By nature of being on the periphery of my life, they fall into the story and I'm not sure how to handle that. No doubt they would like their lives to remain private, even if I am willing to bare my soul about an important, complex life issue. Plus, while it would be great writing practice, part of me thinks that such an endeavor would end up merely being a therapeutic venture with little prospect of future publication.

I actually started another young adult novel outside of the Nanowrimo month, but I don't think I have enough skill to pull off the story. It is a thriller based on a contemporary what-if question. Even if I think it holds merit and would not necessarily end up being in the narrow "Christian" market, it feels too difficult to pull off. I don't think I have what it takes to make the story well-rounded and consistently gripping.

In searching for an agent to pitch, I have come across loads of specific information about what agents are eager to see. None of what I write tends to appeal to those dramatic interests. I don't write paranormal. I don't write dystopian. My books seem too lame for the present market. Aren't there young adults out there looking for morally wholesome literature with a good story line and interesting characters? Apparently not. Apparently, they all want some new futuristic, gimmicky plot-line. Thus, I'm feeling down about my writing and that is never a good state to be in before launching into writing another book.

Moreover, I'm feeling the added external pressure of my husband's desire for me to abandon this dream. He doesn't word it like that, of course. But, he has said that "if this next book doesn't find an interested reader, perhaps it is time to look for a job and help out financially." Obviously, I'm aware that my writing hasn't panned out to a single cent of remuneration. I'm not really interested in the financial aspect. But, with his desire for me to give up, it makes it harder for my own sentiments to remain steadfast.

Finally, we're throwing another wrench into the mix because we've decided (me grudgingly) to go ahead and get the boys another dog (this time much smaller than our last dog). I don't know how much this will factor into the equation. Will my attention be diverted? Will I have to be responsible for the lion's share of training and acclimating our new pet? Who knows? It is something I definitely don't feel equipped for and something I certainly don't relish experiencing. Maybe I should write a novel about a woman who dreads getting a dog but desperately believes that every boy should experience the benefit of growing up with a dog. Ha!

What sort of book are you interested in finding or reading? Do you have any bones you could throw me to trigger an idea for a story? Do you have any advice for a new, reluctant pet owner? Any and all feedback would be appreciated.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Book Review: Insurgent

Insurgent, the second book in the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth, was as intriguing and engrossing as the first book. It continued the action nicely and didn't merely feel like filler, which sometimes happens when an author tries to pull out a story into three separate installments. So far, I'm deeply impressed with Roth's ability to build a believable world and people it with interesting characters in dire dilemmas.

The first book established that Beatrice Prior is a Divergent individual, meaning she doesn't easily fall into the categories of factions in her futuristic society. Being Divergent is dangerous, however, and it seems like everyone (especially the Erudite faction, under the control of Jeanine) wants to find them and either use their uniqueness to glean information or kill them.

The second book picks up after a failed simulation where the Erudite attempted to use the Dauntless in order to wipe out the Abnegation faction. Tris and Tobias are fleeing the city toward the Amity headquarters in hopes of finding safety there. They regroup, but are quickly forced to flee and return to the city, where they take up with the Factionless, who are eager to rise up against the Erudite and create a society free of the divisions into various factions.

Tris is dealing with internal guilt over killing a good friend during the simulation, simmering beneath the surface, but fails to inform Tobias of this. Tobias is holding his own secrets as he meets with the Factionless and decides to help them in their goals. When Tris sides with Tobias' cruel father in an attempt to return and access some secret information which Jeanine is holding, she risks losing everything - her relationship with Tobias, her only remaining family member (a brother who betrayed her to Jeanine), and her very life.

These books really cause the reader to think about the various parts of our personalities. There are so many ways in which human nature wars against itself and causes great destruction in its wake. Tris' world is bound to crumble. It is just a matter of time and the determination of how it will fall. At the end of book two, the reader is hooked for the third installment with the revelation of the secret information and news of what lies outside the walls and how they arrived at the point they are now in to begin with. I, for one, am eager to listen to the third installment, as soon as it becomes available from either of the two closest libraries to me.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Book Review: Eight Twenty Eight

I had noticed the story of this young couple online a few months ago. Ian and Larissa Murphy tell the story of their love in their book, Eight Twenty Eight: When Love Didn't Give Up. Based on Romans 8:28, which says, "We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose," it is an inspiring story of love despite tragedy and a commitment which does not waver.

The back cover author blurb describes their story: "Ian and Larissa Murphy are husband and wife. They love one another. They laugh together. They seek to serve God together all while dealing with the implications of life in a world marked by suffering, yet compelled by love." I love that description - compelled by love. It is certainly a mighty force in the tale of their love story.

Ian and Larissa had only been dating for about ten months, when Ian was in a car accident which resulted in brain damage. At first, everyone thought he would die. His injuries were serious; the prognosis was grim. He was failing four out of every five brain activity tests. As his girlfriend, Larissa writes of this unsettling time, where her desire to be involved with his care and her ache for things to return to the way they once were battle within her. Ultimately, they end up getting married and are committed to a life of love, in spite of the obstacles they face due to his brain damage.

I was expecting the story to be told in a more linear fashion, but they decided to jump back and forth from the married relationship to the dating relationship. At times, this was a little bit jarring. I guess I also expected pictures. It would have really complimented the story well to be able to see both of them as kids among their family members and then together both in the dating stage and in their new married existence.

Still, it was an encouraging, inspiring story. How could you come away from a tale such as theirs without feeling a renewed sense of purpose to cling to your own commitments and vows, no matter what life might throw at you? I loved the closing appeal, written by Ian's father, encouraging the reader to respond not with praise for Larissa's endurance, but with awe for the example it is of our Lord's unwavering love.

He writes: "God is limitless in His capacity to remain devoted to me, though I don't deserve His care.... Larissa's devotion directs my attention to the Savior. It is a glimpse of Christ.... When we see Larissa and Ian together, we should not be amazed by her devotion and love. Instead, we should be pointed to Christ, amazed by His love for us and the miracle it is that we can reflect even a portion of that."

If you can spare ten minutes, this video about their story is well worth viewing:

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

This must not be my month for book club picks. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz, is an American Book Award winner, but I just couldn't get behind it. I'm not a big fan of this book. At first, I thought it was merely a problem of the dialogue coming off too choppy. I know the author is trying to convey the mind and thought-processes of teenage boys, but the interactions between these two boys felt like watching a ping pong match. Brief comment by one. Brief comment by the other. Back to the first. Back to the other. Sadly, neither one ever seemed to really score any points in my book.

Aristotle introduces himself to the reader at the outset with three telling, choppy, sentences: "I was fifteen. I was bored. I was miserable." He heads off to kill the day by spending some time at the pool, where he ends up meeting Dante, the boy whose friendship eventually changes his life. Both Aristotle and Dante (who laugh at the irony of their both sharing such unusual names) are equally uncomfortable in social situations and lack a real friend base. The rest of the novel waxes on and on with lengthy discussions of anger and boredom and the inability to assess where they stand with one another.

Aristotle is comfortable with his mother, but distant from his father, who suffers from some sort of post-traumatic stress after being in war and is very tight-lipped around his son. He is also filled with anger over the silence surrounding the loss of his older brother, who was imprisoned at the tender age of fifteen (for something which Aristotle, himself, will encounter toward the end of the book). There's a whole lot of communication breakdown in this novel and yet the message is meant to convey a sense of coming up with the answer to the real meaning of life and love and the freedom a person should have to choose their own path in pursuit of love.

I didn't love the writing. I didn't fall in love with the characters. I didn't care for the story line progression and couldn't really agree with the overall message the book is trying to push. Do these two characters really have to embrace each other in order to "become men?" That's what the reader is encouraged to believe. The only thing I really appreciated in the book was a glimpse at some teens who feel affectionate and loving toward their parents. Otherwise, I wish I had passed on this month's selection.