Friday, December 9, 2016

Fablehaven Book of Imagination

Learn how to make Wizard Slime, create fairy fashions, and solve the Dreamstone maze in this first-ever interactive book of Fablehaven awesomeness. And that’s just the beginning:

·         Make your own origami model of Raxtus the dragon
·         Draw a map of your own magical preserve
·         Practice withstanding a distracter spell
·         Solve riddles from the sphinx
·         Learn how to play a game of Shadow Tag
·         Learn how to draw a dragon
·         Color detailed coloring pages of Fablehaven creatures
·         Make an enchanted rain stick
·         Learn to cook Ogre Stew
·         And much, much more . .

And within the pages of this book are secret codes that will help readers discover a secret message from Brandon Mull about Dragonwatch, the sequel series to Fablehaven.

Available at Deseret Book and Amazon

This was so much fun! 

My son and I did several of the activities together. Made powerful Wizard Slime (check out the awesome video below), Ogre Stew, and a paper dragon! 



Many of the drawing and writing activities were a little old for my kid, but I plan on doing them as he gets older. Though I'll admit I got involved in solving the puzzles without him. 

Warning: There is a code that reveals something about Dragonwatch. I have old hardback versions of the books, so the page references didn't match up. You'll need the paperback version in order to decipher the fun clues. 

My favorite part is all the quotes about dragons and imagination throughout the book. One of my favorites from Lewis Carrol: "Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality." 

So true!

Enjoy this fun gift idea for children of all ages who love fantasy and hands-on projects. Great for family time as well. 

Have an awesome day!






Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Fun Halloween Story for All Ages

Length -  350 Pages 
Chased by a vengeful witch, hunted by an undead corpse, and guided by a secretive preacher, a boy must protect a magical lantern that can either save Boston . . . or destroy it.

In October of 1730, young Rip Van Winkle sneaks into a graveyard and comes face-to-face with the ghost of William Blaxton, the first settler of Boston. Warning Rip that the city is in danger, Blaxton gives him a mysterious gift: a pumpkin lantern with power over life and death. Before fading into midnight, the ghost tells Rip to take the lantern to Feathertop, a mythical pumpkin-headed scarecrow.

Pursued by Mistress Hibbins, a witch of terrifying power, and hunted by the nightmarish Midnight Minister, young Rip must rely on the aid of Jonathan Edwards, a stern and secretive preacher, and Nathaniel, a talkative, know-it-all raven. Guided by the magical light of the lantern, Rip races across New England to find Feathertop, save Boston, and become a most unlikely hero!

From the bestselling, award-winning author Seth Adam Smith comes The Pumpkin Lantern--a fantasy novel influenced by the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Lloyd Alexander, and C. S. Lewis. Loaded with humor, action, suspense, and fascinating American history, The Pumpkin Lantern is also a poignant fable about faith, family, and the power of life over death.


Book Purchase Link: Amazon

My thoughts: 

A touching tale about finding a place to belong and facing the darkness life often throws at you. Though the style was a bit hard to get into at first, I found I really enjoyed this tale that was part adventure and part fable of hope and light. Set in the early-1700s, in the Boston area, the author weaves a tale reminiscent of C.S. Lewis and the classic fairytale tradition that embed rich meanings into wondrous stories that capture imagination.

The book does have some pacing issues, especially the events leading up to Charity’s fate, but fits with the storytelling style. Also, some grammar and punctuation errors were distracting, but didn’t detract too much when I read it aloud to my toddler. It provided a great message, and an entertaining way to prepare for Halloween. We both enjoyed the illustrations that showed the settings and characters, which were fun to explore. I especially connected with the Van Winkles warm relationship and their willingness to open their hearts and homes to the children who most needed them. As someone who struggles with depression, I really liked the message of becoming the person one was born to be and overcoming the bleak darkness that often overwhelms. Definitely will read to my kids as they get older.

I recommend for middle-graders that want magical journeys, and families who enjoy reading uplifting tales together.

Happy Halloween!


Monday, October 3, 2016

Sheriffs of Savage Wells Review


He's the most fearsome sheriff in the West. A force to be reckoned with. The stuff of legend.

So is she. . . . May the best sheriff win.

Paisley Bell knows the eccentric people of Savage Wells. From the absentminded shopkeeper who always thinks she's been robbed to the young man who has returned shell-shocked from the war, Paisley has compassion for them all. When the sheriff up and leaves town, Paisley steps up and assumes the responsibility, partly because she loves the work, but also because she needs the income to take care of her sick father. So when the town council decides that the position of sheriff should really go to a man, Paisley finds herself fighting to prove that she's the perfect candidate for the job, even though she wears a skirt.

Cade O'Brien is heartily sick of shooting people. In his many years as a lawman, Cade has seen his share of blood and violence. So when he answers an advertisement for a sheriff job in the sleepy town of Savage Wells, he believes he's found the peace and quiet he's always desired. But when he discovers that his biggest competition for the job is a woman, he begins to question his decisions.

Tension between the two begins to sizzle when both Cade and Paisley realize the attraction they have for each other, but when Paisley's former beau shows up in town, along with a band of bank robbers, the blossoming relationship between the two sheriffs is tested. They will have to work together to thwart the bank robbers and keep the town safe.
 

My Thoughts:

Four out of five stars

Sarah Eden is one of my favorite clean romance authors of all time. Her writing is full of wit and heart that blends together into a beautiful tale that sweeps me up, no matter if it is contemporary New York, a country estate in Regency England, or the wilds of the Old West. Her careful research and brilliance shines in every story that draws me in from start to finish. 

Savage Wells hooked me from the start, despite my usual lack of connection to westerns. The town, with all its quirky people, is hard to not love from the moment you walk into a jailhouse festooned with ribbons and run by a female sheriff. As for the characters, Paisley and Cade both brought their own unique viewpoint to the tale. They both are trying to find peace after violent pasts and heartbreaks.  Their relationship is full of tension and banter as they both vie for the position of sheriff. I love that Paisley doesn't give up, even when she feels beaten or the task overwhelms her. She pushes up her sleeves and does what needs to be done. Cade's respect for her and the people of the town swayed me over to his side as well, so I wanted both of them to get what they wanted. The ending was perfect with a solution figured out and some pieces left slightly undone to leave me wondering about Paisley and her town after I shut the book. 

The romance was great, but the mystery and stakeouts were even better. Usually I can guess who the culprits are, but I'll admit I was surprised when the shootout took place on who was on which side. I thoroughly enjoyed this tale of deception, hard work, and, of course, love. Each character tugged on my heartstrings as I read about this town that where so many people had faced opposition and learned to rise above it. Wonderful!

Source: I was given a free copy of this book as part of a blog tour. 

Content: Clean, some references to violence in other towns, and a brief shootout.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Summer Wrap-up

Yeah, I know school started awhile ago, but better late than never.

This summer was definitely one of growing for me and my writing. I set some hard goals for myself, and surprised myself by achieving them.

I started participating more actively in critique groups, and put on my big girl panties and, shocker, reached out to fellow authors to start making connections.

Another huge accomplishment was writing my very first query letter and synopsis. They were rough and I have so, so much to learn. But, go me! To top it off, I submitted said query to the awesome Pitch Wars contest. Didn't get picked, but learned a great lesson about myself. I can submit stuff, and, another shocker, not collapse from nerves. Not a bad summer, all in all.

And, of course, I made some time for discovering some new authors to read.

The Stone Bearers by Jacque Stevens: An interesting take on djinn.

Forbidden and Banished by Kimberly Griffiths Little: A sweeping romance saga set in Ancient Mesopotamia.

Born to Treason by E.B. Wheeler: Set against the conflict between Protestant and Catholic Wales in the middle ages.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir: A bit gritty and dark for a YA. There is some pretty intense violence and swearing, but a compelling look into an intense fantasy world and the characters who refuse to let the darkness beat them.

Bluescreen by Dan Well: Also a language advisory on this one. An interesting look at a future world that offers the perks of cool tech, but shows how dangerous it all can be.

That about covers my summer reading and writing adventures. The next fours months promise to be full of countless other opportunities for growth and learning. Can't wait!

How was your summer? Read any great books? Goals you reached?

Have an awesome writing day!



Friday, August 5, 2016

Beauty and the Clockwork Beast Review






Jane Eyre meets Beauty and the Beast. 

When Lucy Pickett arrives at Blackwell Manor to tend to her ailing cousin, Kate, she finds more than she bargained for. A restless ghost roams the hallways, werewolves have been reported in the area, and vampires lurk across the Scottish border. Lord Miles himself is clearly hiding a secret. He is brash and inhospitable, and does not take kindly to visitors—even one as smart and attractive as Miss Pickett. He is unsettled by the mysterious deaths of his new wife, Clara, and his sister, Marie. Working together, Miles and Lucy attempt to restore peace to Blackwell Manor. But can Lucy solve the mystery of Miles? Can she love the man—beast and all?





My Review:

Four out of five stars

I was super excited when I found out about this book. A clean steampunk romance made me so happy. The premise of the story borrows elements from the more traditional beast stories, Jane Eyre, and some classic steampunk tropes, blending them in an interesting new way. Werewolves and vampires make an appearance, but with some twists that kept me thoroughly engaged, especially since a vampire is at the heart of the murders the smart, but proper Lucky Pickett is determined to solve. Her cousin’s life, threatened by some automatons programmed with dastardly instructions, leads her to the heart of the secrets surrounding not only Blackwell Manor, but also the taciturn, yet handsome, Lord Miles.

I thought Miles and Lucy did a great job of balancing each other out, and while both followed familiar character formulas, they have enough unique traits to make them their own people. I thought the world was very well imagined, and I found myself disturbed at the thought of vampires able to hide among their unsuspecting victims, and those cursed to shift hunted merely for spite from the uneducated. The mystery was intriguing and kept me interested.

There were a couple things that bugged me. I felt Lucy’s analytical personality was a bit overdone in some places. She would be crying, but holding on a logical conversation at the same time. I found that a bit jarring. Her detached tone used to describe everything going on made me feel like I was being told many things happened, without seeing much evidence myself, or maybe I just missed the hints and clues. Besides the tone, I felt some things were revealed early, and would have upped the tension to have remained a mystery a bit longer, like Lord Miles’ secrets. But that’s just a personal note.

Overall an interesting steampunk world that makes me hope she write another book, maybe to reveal the mysteries surrounding the other men in Lucy’s life.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Winter's Heir Review

A price must be paid.


Elice has left behind the ice and isolation of winter. Before her is the warmth and wonder of summer with all its color and life. Adar, the young man she saved from the sea, is by her side, and his touch sends tendrils of heat where before there was only cold. 

But all is not as it seems. There are secrets hidden in the heart of summer. Secrets that could burn Elice to the ground and take the whole world with her. The decades-long war between the fairies of winter and summer has thrown off the balance of nature, leaving the world in its death throes. 

Adar believes Elice can stop the destruction—if only she will listen to him. But like the fairies’ bargains, that trust comes with a cost. And the price Elice will pay will tear asunder the boundaries between dreams and family, loyalty and betrayal.

My Review: 

5 out of 5 stars

I’ve waited for the last book in the Faery Queen series forever! It doesn’t disappoint. Winter’s Heir picks up right after the events of Daughter of Winter. Adar’s identity as prince of the summer kingdom is revealed and Elice is taken to Nelay’s court to be held until her mother agrees to cease fighting. Furious at Adar, Elice refuses to believe the Sundering nonsense he warns of, but does find herself drawn to the warm and heat of summer. When a dangerous deal with the Summer Queen goes wrong, both Adar and Elice flee, attempting to stop the land from tearing itself apart. But though capable of wielding the magic of winter and summer, they don’t stand a chance against the magic’s intent to restore the Balance if they can’t learn to trust each other first.

A great ending to a stunning series. The book finishes the arc started in Winter Queen, and reveals the faeries’ master plan. The many twists and turns in the deals and counterdeals left me wondering who was trying to outmaneuver who, and who lost in the end. The descriptions were rich and pulled me into a world of uncaring magic, and the lives of people who try to navigate around it. I loved how the message of overcoming darkness has been prevalent throughout the series, and especially in this book. I also love how Argyle always portrays women of such courage and strength. Cinder and her family’s history made me realize how fortunate I am, and how many women haven’t, and still don’t have the rights I often take for granted. The ending made me cry, I was so happy for both Ilyenna and Nelay, who were manipulated into becoming who they did. Of course, life is never black and white, so there is a bit of bitterness in the end as well, a foretelling that the magic isn’t done with humanity yet.

If you like the rich description and magic of high fantasy, and spicy kisses, you’ll love the entire series.

Enjoy!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Different Perspectives

The recent shootings and subsequent debates, not to mention all the other turmoil in the world, brought to mind how perspective plays such a crucial role in how we interpret what happens around us. Not one person, regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic background, etc., will ever have the exact same perspective, or lens, from which they view the world. Those with common backgrounds may have similar world views, but never identical.

The reason? Everyone has unique experiences, and even when similar things happen to a person, their personality means they handle it differently than the guy next door.
I’ve noticed this even in my own family; you would think since we grew up together, we’d all interpret things the same way. Man, would that have spared us so many contentious moments. It would have also led to a very dull and boring childhood and family reunions. I’m grateful for the uniqueness of each of my siblings, my mother, grandmother, and all those I call friends.
What does this have to do with writing, you may ask?

Everything.

No two characters will, or at least shouldn’t, react to a situation the same way. No two authors, though their ideas may be similar, will ever tell the same story. Because no two ever view life through the same perspective.

I recently read a great post on the Authors Think Tank that addresses how different people may view holidays. Fascinating! I started thinking about this and found it to be true in my own life.
I love Halloween. I met my husband during a Halloween carnival, so it has special meaning to me. Not to mention the awesome costumed! But I know others who hate Halloween. They find having to buy candy annoying. The dress-up aspect creeps them out. Or, some think the pagan holiday shouldn’t be allowed for religious reason. On the other hand, I find Valentine’s Day to be ridiculous. Others disagree.

It’s important to figure out how your character would respond and why. What in their background made them view a holiday, sport, particular day, or even something they encounter on a regular basis, like donuts, the way they do?

Let’s take donuts as an example, silly I know, but bear with me. 

Some people see a donut and think of cozy winter nights with some hot cocoa and yummy pastry. 
Others, perhaps a diabetic or those with celiac disease, see it as a cruel temptation, something they miss, or something that could possibly kill them. Or one person may think of the time they ate two dozen donuts on a dare, puked, and now can’t even smell the cursed things without gagging. Or, if they’re like me, you’ll wonder if it’s worth adding to the baby fat I have yet to lose. ;) No two people will see, or even smell, a donut and respond the same.

Do you need to know whether your character once ate two dozen donuts and now hates them before you start writing?

Absolutely not. 

But you do need to know if your character is the type who would eat two dozen donuts on a dare, or because they were never allowed one as a kid so went crazy the first time they tried one, or ate one and then had to rush to the hospital. If you know enough about what kind of person your character is, what shaped them to be that way, and can immerse yourself into their perspective, you’re well on your way to publication. There are crucial other steps, of course, but getting a character’s voice right and keeping it consistent, are key to sucking in a reader and making sure they stay hooked.

How can you do this?

Many writers swear by character interviews to get them started, like the one found here. Another tool I’ve heard about, and recently incorporated, is writing a journal entry or character synopsis, even a paragraph or two helps, for each character, major and minor. Make sure you write it as if you are that character, not the author. I’d highly recommend this method to wrap your head around the character’s voice and attitude toward events in the story. It helped me figure out my villain’s motivations for the project I’m outlining. Plus, I got to tap into my dark side!

Next, figure out what holidays, events, both personal and national/international, that elicit a strong emotional response from your character. Why do they respond that way? Did their father die Christmas Eve? Was Easter the day they got their first bike? Think about this for different seasons as well. Some are thrilled for winter, while others hate it. Why?

This why? should be something you ask all the time as you write. Why does my character feel/think that way? Why does he respond that way to each situation he faces? Why would this obstacle or setback have a negative/positive impact on him? Keep asking why and you’ll get to the heart of your character and story.

Once you know your character so well they annoy you day and night with their chatter, and yell at you when you try to write a scene wrong, and drive you bonkers, you’ll wish they never started talking. Kidding, though sleep may become scarce, embrace the journey.

If you want more information on character and their arcs, Jordan McCollum offers a ton of tips and resources on her blog.

Enjoy!


What are your best methods for developing character? Which characters have you fallen in love with, your own or someone else’s? Why? 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Evernote 101


I recently started using a program called Evernote to jot down little thoughts and inspirations throughout my hectic day with a toddler. 

Amazing!

As a person who has often resisted technology, part from liking the smell of books and the feel of pen and paper, and part from my ability to make any technology go haywire, I have fallen in love with this app.

I first heard about it from the wonderful Andrea Pearson, a prolific writer who mentioned she used it to write a book while feeding her baby. Yeah, she’s that awesome! Anyways, it works well even for technologically-challenged people, like me. Super easy to start using and, best of all, free. (There are upgrade that cost, as per usual.)

A couple months ago, I downloaded it to my phone, laptop, and desktop computer, everything since it will sync across devices. 

Best. Thing. Ever! 

I'm a mom, so having something on my phone that I can jot down my ideas and scenes into real quick has helped me not lose as many of my brilliant, few though they sometimes are, thoughts. And, this is the best part, I don’t have to spend precious writing time later typing up a bunch of handwritten notes or retyping the info from my phone to my writing software of choice. 

I just sync from my phone to my computer and . . . 

Voila! 

I have all my snippets of dialogue, character development, etc. right there. 

From there it’s super easy to copy and paste my notes over to Scrivener and flesh them out as needed.

Now that I’ve wowed you with my technical jargon, let me show you a bit what I mean.

You can organize your Evernote into Notebooks, like such.



Remember to title your notes to make searching for them, or just remembering why you wrote the note, easy to access later.



Save and you’re done. It’s really that simple. 

Of course, it has all sorts of other fun features that I’m starting to learn. One thing worth mentioning is the toolbar that pops up when you hit new note. 

(This is from my computer. Will be different on phone/tablet version)

It gives you various options of how you want to capture your note. I use the text version the most, but also love the audio feature for when I’m out walking with my son or driving, and can’t stop everything to write things down. 

Another handy feature is the ability to take a picture of something and jot myself a quick note on why I took the picture.

Oh, one thing that should be remembered, you have to remember to sync your Evernote with your other devices. You can set up something that automatically does this, or just at the end of your day remember to hit the sync button on your phone/tablet. 

I’m sure people who are much more tech-savvy than I can figure out even cooler ways to use this helpful app, but even in the simple ways I use it, it has saved me hours of frustration over ideas I can’t remember when I finally get a chance to write and searching for that note about that thing that I wrote in one of my many notebooks scattered about the house and car. 

Lest I be accused of becoming truly converted to electronics, I often still put notes in my notebooks, but like to, when I get a spare moment, take the time to quickly transfer them over to Evernote for easy access when I need them.

Well, that's my experience with Evernote in a nutshell. Hope it helps.

Enjoy a fabulous writing day!


Do you use Evernote? Other programs that help you stay organized? Let me know tips that have helped you streamline the process so you have more time to do what we all want to do, write. J

Friday, June 24, 2016

2016 Summer Book Trek



Time, once again, for the Summer Book Trek hosted by New LDS Fiction. The prizes look so great this year, and I’m excited to read some great books I’ve had waiting on my shelf and kindle for far too long. If you want more information about this challenge, you can click on the banner above. 


My Hope-to-Read List for July

Beauty and the Clockwork Beast by Nancy Campbell Allen (Proper Romance Steampunk Need I say more.)

Bluescreen by Dan Wells

Winter’s Heir by Amber Argyle (Final book in the Faerie Queen series. Can’t wait!)

Cupcakes and Cowboys by Lindzee Armstrong

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmeberg (Loved her Magician trilogy and Followed by Frost.)

Lost King and Slave Queen by H.B. Moore

Proposals and Poison by Rachelle J. Christensen

Fires of Invention by J. Scott Savage


Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

What are you reading this summer? 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Summer House Party Review

From the publisher of the #1 Amazon bestselling A Timeless Romance Anthology series in Clean Romance. 

Join three bestselling Regency Romance authors, Regina Scott, Donna Hatch, and Sarah M. Eden, for three new novellas in SUMMER HOUSE PARTY.

A ENGAGEMENT OF CONVENIENCE by Regina Scott: Kitty Chapworth is nearly a spinster, and an orphan living on the charity of her uncle, with nothing to recommend her for the marriage mart. Her primary purpose is relegated to acting chaperone for her cousins until she can see them successfully married. Kitty remains focused on her duty even though she knows her future is bleak. When Quentin Adair returns from a long ten years working in Jamaica and proposes a wild charade to Kitty, she agrees, although the plan might reawaken her old feelings for Quentin. Can a reformed rake convince the perfect chaperone to overlook propriety for love?

A PERFECT MATCH by Donna Hatch: Genevieve attends a summer house party hosted by her best friend who can't wait to introduce her to a gentleman she wants to marry, Christian Amesbury. After meeting him, Genevieve determines Christian is perfect . . . for her. Torn between loyalty to her best friend and the yearnings of her heart, Genevieve must first escape the attention of a powerful lord who's obsessed with her and who tries to rob her of any hope for a happily ever after.

THE PAUPERS’ HOUSE PARTY by Sarah M. Eden: It’s a rare event that Edward Downy and his brother are invited to a house party by a member of the ton. But when they arrive, Edward quickly realizes this house party is different than any other. All invited guests are quite destitute, fallen members of Society barely hanging onto their homes. The hosts of the house party, the Warricks, then make a stunning announcement—they intend to gift all their properties to one fortunate guest. As the guests race to impress the Warricks, Edward finds a fast friend in Agatha Holmwood, who shares his same aversion to the horrible expectations. But their growing fondness for each other only makes the game more painful.


4 out of 5 Stars

Three great clean regency romance from talented authors. Like most anthologies, all three stories center around a similar concept, this time a summer house party, with vastly different takes on it.

An Engagement of Convenience by Regina Scott

This one focuses on Katherine Chapworth, a lady who is considered on the shelf and has played guardian of the lady in her family’s virtue for the past few years. When her latest attempt to stop her youngest cousin from running away with a man with questionable motives leads her to a man from her past, she finds her own dreams of romance reawakened.

I liked this story and found Katherine’s character to be interesting. I always like it when the author writes about the older women finding happily-ever-after. I was a bit confused on the stakes of this story and felt the pace was a little rushed. I would have liked to see the relationship between Katherine and Quentin develop a little more deeply in order for their progress from fake engagement to real to have more of an impact. An interesting story though, and I was glad to see her uncle get his just dues in the end.

A Perfect Match by Donna Hatch

Hatch gives readers the story behind how Christian Amesbury, the youngest brother, and his love interest, Genevieve Marshall met. It was interesting to see how the two developed and attachment, but knowing what comes next made it hard for me to really get into the story. They have a longer book,  A Perfect Secret, that has been out for awhile. If you enjoyed that book, you’ll like this. Or if you haven’t read that book yet, I’d suggest starting with this one first.

The Pauper’s House Party by Sarah M. Eden

Eden blew me away, once again, with how she’s able to take a common topic and put a fresh new spin on it. I loved the twists and turns this story took as Edward attempted to keep his own moral strength amid a house part that quickly turned into a cutthroat competition for the chance a future. The romance was sweet and full of humor, and I loved how both characters stayed true to themselves, despite wanting to be together. A fantastic read to help endure the hot summer hours.


Enjoy!

Purchase Link: Amazon

Monday, June 13, 2016

Summer Madness


Whew! It's only the first couple weeks of summer, and I'm already exhausted. I've had a great beginning with visits to family and friends, and lots of birthday, graduation, etc., parties.

Amid all the chaos, I've managed to make a couple of my smaller writing deadlines, but still have a little less than 10K words on my current novel-length work. Fingers crossed that I can get it done this week, so I can move on to the next step. 

In other news, I'm so excited for the many upcoming adventures, including an amazing editing internship opportunity. If you haven't checked out the Eschler Editing website, do so. They have tons of articles on everything writing and publishing. So helpful! While focusing on that, I also have grand ambitions to outline/organize my notes for a couple new books, draft a half-finished manuscript that's gathering dust in a drawer, and make a dent in my to-read list. I may need a nap to gear up for it all!

Awesome side note: Just received a Steampunk Proper Romance to review in my mailbox. Yeah, pretty much grinning like a fool. Now to find time to read it. Hmm . . . the bathroom door has a lock . . . and I can write tomorrow . . .

All the writing stuff, of course, gets interwoven throughout spending tons of time with my family and creating some great memories, some of which may actually involve not getting lost or forgetting some crucial item. Then again, where's the fun in that? 

Among our many planned adventures, we're headed to the pageants in Nauvoo next month. Yay! Now to invent a personal air-conditioning unit to carry around with me. So hot!

What are your plans this summer? Writing? Non-writing? 

Enjoy!


Monday, May 23, 2016

The Christ-Centered Home

We often think of Jesus' ministry as teaching to the multitudes, feeding the 5,000, teaching in the temples and synagogues, teaching on the mountainside or the seashore. But many of His most personal teachings were done within the walls of a family's home. His followers invited Him into their personal spaces, and He blessed them, healed them, and performed miracles for them.So it is today. When we invite Jesus into our homes, we will also be blessed and healed and see miracles. Best-selling author, Emily Belle Freeman invites readers to create a more Christ-centered home through a series of twelve stories featuring Jesus teaching in the home, including the houses of Zaccheaus, Jarius, and Peter and houses in Galilee, Jerusalem, and Capernaum.Freeman encourages families to experience a Christ-centered conversation, connection, and celebration. She writes, ''Maybe you could set aside one night every month for your family to discuss an attribute of Jesus Christ and a lesson He taught within someone's home. Then you could set a family goal that would allow your family to connect personally with that lesson, and you could end the evening with a simple celebration.'' Invite Christ into your home and allow Him to make your home a home of refuge, grace, and joy.



The Christ-Centered Home by Emily Belle Freeman offers examples of the Savior Jesus Christ’s teachings in homes he visited throughout his mortal ministry. The messages in each chapter are inspiring and accessible to everyone who wants to have more peace, love, and joy in their homes. For me, it was nice to have a reminder on how I can better approach things that I’m already doing to invite the Savior into my home, and a great motivator on things I could do better.

One section that spoke to me was the eighth month, which, by the way, I love that the book separates each thing by month, so instead of trying to make all the changes at once, you do it little by little to grow closer to the Savior. Anyway, month eight focuses on Forget Your Perfect Offering. The story of Jesus is his very first miracle in the New Testament when he changes the water to wine—change being the key word. The whole focus of the chapter is on how we sometimes forget that Christ has the ultimate power to change if we let him, though sometimes we don’t give him the opportunity to do so by the mistaken belief that we have to bring him a perfect offering first.

My favorite quote is one the author includes by Leonard Cohen, “Forget your perfect offering—there’s a crack in everything—that’s how the light gets in.” That resonated with me so powerfully. I have been known to drive my family nuts with my need to be perfect at everything I do—the perfect mother, cook, writer, friend, etc. Inevitably, instead of achieving perfection, things fall apart because I’m asking the impossible of myself and those around me. This message of change reminded me that it’s okay to not be perfect right now. Christ can, if I let him, help change my weaknesses into strengths, little by little.

Sometimes I want more of a life change like that seen in the story of the Apostle Paul. He saw an angel and became a whole new person, seemingly overnight. But then I remind myself that the Apostle Peter’s change was more gradual, but no less powerful. He went from not understanding the Savior’s teachings, to denying him when scared, to serving with unwavering faith and diligence, even to the loss of his own life. Both Paul and Peter experienced mighty changes in their lives, even though they came about in very different ways. I realized that all my endeavors may not be perfect right this moment, but little by little, with a lot of help from Christ, I can get better and one day achieve things that would be impossible on my own.


So, rather than drive my family nuts with my attempts to have a perfect offering right now, I think I and my family will be much happier letting his light in through the cracks that exist in everything we do. Rather than see those gaps as something broken and in need of fixing, I try to now see them as ways to let Him into my life more, to offer my humble and imperfect offering, and know that He loves me and will help me turn those cracks into something wonderful. 

How have the cracks in your life helped you feel the Savior's love?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Daughter of Winter Review

Bargains. Only the truly desperate make them. Only the truly desperate need them. And always, the desperate pay. 



The silence and never-ending dark of winter are all Elice has ever known, for she is the daughter of the Winter Queen. Isolated in a northern queendom with only the seals for company, she dreams of color and music and life. So when a whaling ship crashes just offshore, she doesn't hesitate to rescue the lone survivor, Adar, who quickly becomes her friend. She must keep him hidden from her mother at all costs, for if the Winter Queen discovers him trespassing, she'll kill him. 



When her mother reveals just how dark her soul has become, Elice realizes she is as much a prisoner as Adar. To ever know true freedom—to ever become the woman she was meant to be—she must flee with him. But in their flight, she begins to see hints of something more nefarious. The darkness that has taken hold of her mother is spreading, staining the world with its influence. 



Unbeknownst to Elice, a bargain was made long ago. A bargain she was born to fulfill.

My Review:

five out five stars

Daughter of Winter is the third book in the Faerie Queen series. While they can be read as standalones, I recommend reading them in order. This book continues the story of the war between Illyena the Winter Queen and Nelay the Summer Queen. I really loved how we get to the cost of their war, not just in their realms, but the world. We also learn more about the Balance that has more serious consequences than either side thought. I was completely drawn into this complex world from book one and can’t wait to see how everything comes together in the final book. 

As usual, the setting descriptions are stunning in their simplicity. Argyle manages to weave together beautiful details that bring even a world of ice and snow alive with life and wonder. Her characters are complex and you truly care about them. Elice is the daughter of Illyena and Rone. I’ll admit I’ve been exited for her story every since Winter Queen. Despite growing up among the cunning and coldness of the fairies, Elice bursts with innocent wonder, but also has a great deal of moral strength and courage. She finds beauty in all around her and uses her powers over winter to create stunning works of art. But trapped all her life in the realm of winter, she longs to know of the world of color and warmth beyond the frozen tundra of her home. 


When she rescues a young man from her mother’s wrath, hiding him as he heals, she begins to dream of a life she never thought possible. Adar teaches her what it means to have a friend and the dangers that threaten them all if the Balance isn’t righted soon. I really liked that we got Adar’s perspective as well as Elice’s. He brings a humor and lightness that’s foreign to the cold court Elice grew up in. However, his ready smile seems to hide a secret agenda that makes me wonder who he really is and why he wants Elice so much. Despite his hidden motives, he and Elice must work together if they are to escape the clutches of her mother and her fairies. I won’t say more about that in fear of revealing too much, but know their race to freedom kept my heart racing and the pages turning with one danger after another. 


I had a couple things that bothered me. 1) Where was the kissing?! There were a couple moments when I held my breath waiting for it to happen, but didn’t. While I was a bit disappointed, I actually liked their relationship and can’t wait to find out what happens next. 2) I had a really hard time with Illyena’s coldness and heartlessness. I really liked her character and was sad to see her loss and heartache continued. Also, reading her journey and knowing why she became the Winter Queen made me not like Elice’s attitude toward her mom. I thought her own daughter wanting her dead was a bit rough. Other than those two things, I loved the book!

I’d recommend this book for teens 14-18. 

*Received an ebook from the author in exchange for my honest review*



Here's the purchase links:

 Amazon: http://amzn.to/1N74pgi

iBooks: https://geo.itunes.apple.com/us/book/daughter-of-winter/id1061184951?mt=11

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/daughter-of-winter-1

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/daughter-of-winter-amber-argyle/1123641840?ean=2940152478631

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17185327-winter-s-heir



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Friday, April 1, 2016

Forever and Forever by Josi S. Kilpack

A Proper Historical Romance series!

The first book in a new series which will focus on the lives of real historical figures who have intriguing stories of courtship that are recreated in fictionalized accounts based on real biographical and social history research.

Based on the true romance of poet Henry Longfellow who was madly in love with Fanny Appleton and devotedly courted her for seven years until finally winning her over. Includes notes, excerpts from Longfellow's poems and discussion group questions.



Purchase Links:



My Review: 

Five out of five stars

I loved this book! Josi Kilpack did an amazing job of weaving together truth and fiction to bring to life this tender romance between poet Henry Longfellow and his wife, Fanny Appleton. It is a tale of passion, unrequited love, growth, loss, and in the end, a love worth waiting for. I found myself trying to guess which parts were real and which were fiction. When I read the notes at the back, I was surprised to find many of the strange events were facts! Thanks to Kilpack’s careful research, Henry and Fanny’s story comes to life.

Fanny and Henry meet at a tragic time in both their lives. Henry has lost his wife, and Fanny is about lose another member of her family to consumption. There new friendship blossoms as Henry shows a great compassion for the Appleton’s loss and, in turn, the Appletons’ friendship and joy for life bring Henry out of his own darkness. Circumstances require that Henry part from his new friends, but upon their return to Massachusetts, he eagerly renews his acquaintance with the prosperous Appleton family, especially Fanny. He’s positive after their many delightful conversation that Fanny can’t help but feel the same fervor of feelings that have infused his life with new energy.

For her part, Fanny is not impressed. Their age difference, social status, and her desire to leave her heart untethered to prevent further heartbreak all lead her to reject his unsatisfactory proposal. The next few years bring one change after another for her, and much embarrassment for Henry’s sudden return to writing that casts her in a bad light. Through many ups and downs, and after everyone arounds her finds their own joy, she slowly comes to listen to her heart and dares to reach for true happiness for herself.

The timeline spans seven years, from right before Fanny and Henry meet to when they finally accept their feelings for each other, it didn’t drag in any way despite the slow progress of the actual love story. Both Henry’s and Fanny’s characters had such depth that is felt natural to go through the struggles they faced with each other, and in other areas of their life. I’ll admit it piqued my interest, and I'm eager to research more about one of America’s early writers.


Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Painting Rain Review



Painting Rain

Painting Rain by Annette K. Larsen
How do you heal your heart after tragedy leaves you broken? When the person you loved didn’t deserve it and they can’t earn your forgiveness because they’re already dead? How do you move on, and heal, and love?
If you’re Princess Lorraina, you paint.
A year ago Lorraina watched Tobias die, and she still doesn't know how she's supposed to heal—or forgive. How can she when she’s still running away? In an attempt to reinvent herself, she steps outside her comfortable life as princess and seeks the tutelage of a master painter—a man who is not at all impressed by her pedigree, and demands not just talent, but emotional honesty.
Struggling to learn what’s being taught, she finds herself drawn to someone who not only knows her secrets, but who she once considered far below her notice. Now she is compelled to seek him out despite knowing their relationship would be forbidden if discovered. Staying away from him doesn’t seem possible when discovering him may be the key to healing her heart and rediscovering herself.


My Review:

4 out of 5

I’ve looked forward to Lorraina’s story ever since reading about her loss at the end of Missing Lily. Lorraina was not the most likeable sister in earlier books, but has worked hard to become better. Her story focuses on her continual attempts to let go of who she and forgive herself for her past mistakes.
Her story starts out shortly before Lorraina finally gets up the courage to pursue her artistic dreams and leaves her home to study under a master painter for a few months. When she arrives, she’s met with the surprise of coldness from the man she hopes will mentor her, unwanted advances from one of her fellow students, and unexpected feelings for a guard she once believed beneath her elevated position as princess. Her future happiness depends on her ability to let go of the hurt and assumptions of the past to let her heart truly be whole.

I enjoyed the look into the artist’s world and the hard work involved in the process. I also enjoyed the friendly, easy relationship between Lorraina and West, and I felt their feelings progress in a natural way. I also really liked how Lorraina, unlike her sisters, is the source of her own problems. Yes, there are some external forces that offer conflict, but most of the book focuses on her journey to change. She dislikes the haughty, critical, and lonely person she allowed herself to be, but struggles to believe she can be somewhere better. I really liked how her paintings and the feelings they capture mirror her internal struggles and triumphs.

A couple things did bother me. One, I would have liked a little better development for West’s character. He seems like an honorable guard, but then easily decides to break the rules to pursue his relationship with Lorraina. I did like how he put her first, even if it meant breaking her heart so she could truly become her best self. I also felt the external conflict could have been better developed. I wanted there to be a real sense of danger of her losing everything, instead of just little hints at it.
A fast read for fans of the previous books and characters with deep internal struggles.

Enjoy!




add to goodreads


Excerpt:

“Now.” Master Sterrino stepped toward me, grabbing my arm and pulling me forward until I stood in front of the canvas. He jabbed a finger at the blank expanse. “This is your one chance. This is it. So I suggest you take it! If you are so convinced that I should spend my time teaching you instead of a worthier candidate, then prove it!”

My chest rose and fell as I battled my emotions. I fought for poise, for dignity. I fought for the righteous indignation I had felt only moments before.

But his words screamed through my head, over and over until all I could hear were the words Tobias had spoken to me. What’s pathetic is that you have one chance. And this is it. I—am it. I’m your one chance to choose, and you won’t take it!

It had been a long time since I’d felt this kind of burning anger, and I hated it. I hated that Sterrino had found a way to fling me back into the muck that I’d been in throughout my youth, that he could make me feel isolated and unwanted. What did he want? For me to paint something angry and disgusting? To tear open my healing heart and smear my own blood all over the canvas? I had put up with Dante’s provocations—his odd mood swings—all in the hopes of having a chance to work with this man, to show him what I could do. Now as he stood there, mocking, I couldn’t make myself move.

“That’s what I thought,” he said with grating satisfaction. “Brilliance comes from experiencing life, from true love and true loss. I didn’t expect a privileged member of the royal family to be acquainted with either.” He raised one eyebrow as a final challenge.

True loss? He wanted to know what my loss looked like? “Fine.” I stalked over to the paints. “You want me to paint something you’ll understand?” I ignored the brushes and thrust my hand directly into the bowl of deep black, scooping out a handful and slapping it onto the canvas in globs. I grabbed a rag and smeared the paint until it spread in uneven, clumsy strokes across most of the canvas. But I couldn’t leave the black uncontaminated, so I grabbed two more rags, dipping one into the gray and the other into brown, smearing them on top of the black, mixing everything into a muddy mess. If pain and angst was all he wanted to see, then I could certainly give him that. I had spent so much of my life pushing people away—afraid that any close attachments would make me weak, that having fun with my sisters would make me less worthy of my title. I knew what isolation, anger and fear would look like. I threw the rags aside and curled my hands into claws, then dragged my fingernails over the canvas, slashing through the paint, criss-crossing in jagged, broken stripes. I scrubbed my hands on my skirts, forgetting that I had abandoned my apron, and moved on to the bowl of red. The final touch would speak of blood because that had been the ending of my tragic story. The story that I would just as soon have left behind but which Sterrino seemed determined to drag out of me. I grabbed a jar of linseed oil and dumped some into the red, mixing it until it was thin and fluid; then, cupping my hands in the bowl, I filled them with crimson liquid before flinging it at the canvas. It splashed across the surface, dripping down in rivulets. I shook my hands forward, splattering the edges with the excess paint from my hands, then took two steps back, my breathing labored as I took it in. What I had created was angry, torn, and ugly. Exactly what I had wanted. Exactly what I thought Master Sterrino deserved.

I swallowed the lump in my throat, trying to tamp down the burning in my chest caused by the blatant reminder of the pain I used to cling to so desperately. I tore my gaze away, refusing to claim it as my own and spun to face Master Sterrino. He was staring at me, his eyes intent but unemotional.

I flung one paint-caked hand toward my work. “There you have it,” I declared. “Enjoy.” I sank into a mocking curtsey, but as I did, it reminded me too much of the way I used to treat people, of the way that Tobias used to taunt and humiliate, and I hated myself for stooping to such depths. I turned without meeting his eyes and stalked out of the studio.


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Annette LarsenAuthor Annette K. Larsen

I was born in Utah, but grew up in Flagstaff, Arizona and St. Louis, Missouri, the fifth of seven children. I attended Southern Virginia University and Brigham Young University, where I studied English and Theater. I now live in Idaho with my husband and four children. I have Charlotte Brontë to thank for the courage to write novels. After being bombarded with assigned reading about women who justified abandoning either their families or their principles in the name of love, I had the great fortune of reading Jane Eyre. And that was it: finally, a heroine who understood that being moral and making the right choice was hard, and sometimes it hurt, but it was still worth it. After rereading it several years later, I realized that if I wanted more books to exist with the kinds of heroines I admired, then I might as well write a few myself. My books are about women who face hard choices, who face pain and rejection and often have to face the reality of sacrificing what they want for what is right. The consequences are often difficult or unpleasant, but in the end, doing what’s right will always be worth it. I believe there is no substitute for good writing or good chocolate. Fortunately, one often leads to the other.


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