Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Book Review: The Storied life of A.J. Fikry

For lovers of literature, book stores and quirky characters, this is the book for you. 

But I want to put this disclaimer at the beginning - the only problem, and this could be a deal-breaker, is the language. (f-word used multiple times). Such a shame. It's not even needed.

OK. that being said- I really enjoyed this book. AJ Fikry is a fickle book store owner, a widow and from India. When a young child shows up in his book store, orphaned, his world changes. He changes. His vision for his future opens to include new people, including Amy, a publishing house agent who makes the trip to his store a couple of times a year to sell books.

Book readers will love this story because of all the literary references. There are conversations about telling what a person's personality is like based on what books they like to read. Reading lists. The conflict between paper books and electronic readers. And more. 

Non-book readers and readers alike, will like this story because the characters are quirky yet believable. Its easy to see yourself in these  characters and their weaknesses, insecurities and frailty. Its a story about being dealt a hard hand and persevering, finding joy along the way.

If not for the language, I would buy this book and share it with all my reading friends. It s a great, great story!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Book Review: Time Seller

We are first introduced to Anton in 1017. He is a disgraced soldier living a quiet life with his wife and young child. When an undefeatable monster appears, his life changes forever. 

And by forever, I mean we are again introduced to Anton, now known as Simeon, in 2017.

One of the best parts about "The Time Seller" is the way Abel Keogh plays with time. The concept of manipulating time is very complex and its very believable throughout the story. 

There are several things that make this story engaging. One of them is the setting. Throughout the novel we are jumping between time periods--old-timey fantasy and high-tech modern time. Both settings are believable and engaging. While reading, I was sad to leave one period but then I started the next and I was just as interested to read on. 

The characters are also unique and authentic. Anton is a strong, complex character faced with moral decisions and he makes the best decision he can, even if its not perfect. All the supporting characters are strong and developed. I loved that each character had strong motivation and moral compass. 

The only thing I would caution is that this is definitely an adult book. There is violence against a child and there are adult themes. I recommend this book for adults and older, mature teens maybe.

This is a great time traveling, time manipulating adventure. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Book Review: Amy Snow

"Amy Snow" by Tracy Rees is a fantastic book for someone who enjoys regency era but not regency romance.

A small babe is found in the snow by Aurelia, a young heiress on a large estate. Aurelia brings her inside and informs her parents that she is keeping the baby and names her Amy Snow. From that point on, feisty Aurelia loves Amy. By the rest of the household, she is seen as a second-class citizen. Especially by Aurelia's mother, who has not been able to hold on to a pregnancy since Aurelia. 

Aurelia and Amy have a strong bond that eventually earns Amy a place as Aurelia's handmaid. Then Aurelia becomes sick and the household is heartbroken, knowing she will die young and probably never marry. While Aurelia is still in relatively good health, and in order to avoid a marriage to a man she doesn't love, she leaves on a trip around England with her aunt. Amy is left behind, feeling confused and heartbroken.

It isn't long after Aurelia returns that she passes away. In her will, she leaves Amy a letter. A letter with a secret. By deciphering the hidden message, Amy is thrust into a treasure hunt. Following clues, Amy learns how to stand on her own and also uncovers more secrets she never knew Aurelia was hiding.

The interaction between Amy and Aurelia were so authentic. I wished I could read more about Aurelia before she died. She was such a head-strong character. Amy was fun to follow because of her growing self-awareness. There is a love-story element and it was almost too much for me. But it wasn't the typical regency romance. Phew. 

Then ending, though I had guessed at it early, was still rewarding and fitting. A good read for those who enjoy treasure hunts with clues dropped along the way, mixed with regency and a little romance.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Book Review: Veritas

"Veritas" is half murder mystery, half horror, with bits of love story and adventure thrown in to make it a compelling page turner.

Hester is blind and deaf and has heightened awareness of sound and smell. In fact, they are powers she holds because she is a Demi-god in Stonehenge, CO 1892. Raised as the only child in a wealthy family, she has everything she wants except the freedom to pursue the man she loves, Tom. She and Tom have the ability to communicate telepathically. And despite the restraints her parents put on her, she and Tom are lovers.

When one of the ghosts that constantly badgers Hester, clues her in on a new murder in town, her life is flipped upside down. And things get more complicated from there.

The first time I read anything from this book was for a first chapter online critique group. It read like a horror story and I was intrigued. It was just enough to horrify me but not gross me out. The character of Hester is what drew me in. She is so unique and strong, yet vulnerable. She stayed with me several days after I read.

The only critique I have is that some of the storylines are not resolved. But then again, this is the first in a series. At the same time, I wish they'd been addressed a little more.

I loved the setting. Stonehenge, CO! How did she come up with that? 1892. So very unique. I enjoyed the way Coleridge explores the senses with Hester. Everything has a unique smell, even emotions. The love triangle is not overbearing, which is always a relief for me. (I'm not opposed to romance. I just don't love romance novels.) The world building is well done with intriguing plot twists. 

But the writing... its good. Good writing. This is an author who is not just a good story-teller but a student of the craft. I highly recommend this book and look forward to the next.

Favorite quote:
"The doctor leads me to a chair, smelling of everything good and normal in the world. Cinnamon, chocolate, cold wintry air, dried lavender, pine needles, healthy horseflesh, and a male body kept clean with the daily application of warm water and soap. It's an unbefitting thing to admit, but I could sit here and inhale Kelly for hours."

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Book Review: Big Magic

 "Big Magic" by Elizabeth Gilbert is based on the premise that creative magic is all around us. Magical creative ideas are floating around us waiting for someone to grab on and make them a reality. 

It’s interesting but the first two sections of the book, I didn’t really buy. I’m more a believer in inspiration and God’s influence. But once I made it to the third section about giving yourself permission to be creative, I really started to enjoy the book. 

One of my very favorite quotes is how we can respond when doubt creeps in and we wonder what we are doing and why. Most creative people hit this roadblock at some point and multiple times. We wonder-
Why am I spending so much time on this writing/painting/music/etc?
I’m not any better or more creative than anyone else?
Is anyone going to care?
What if they don’t care?
What if I totally stink?
What am I doing?

Elizabeth Gilbert says:

"'Who the *bleep* do you think you are?' your darkest interior voices will demand.
"It's funny you should ask," you can reply. "I'll tell you who I am: I am a child of God, just like anyone else. I am a constituent of this universe. I have invisible spirit benefactors who believe in me, and who labor alongside me. The fact that I am here at all is evidence that I have the right to be here. I have a right to my own voice and a right to my own vision. I have a right to collaborate with creativity, because I myself am a product and a consequence of Creation. I'm on a mission of artistic liberation, so let the girl go."

I love that! It is my new creative mantra and gives me permission, validation, encouragement to keep creating.

Another quote I love is about being perfect.
"It starts by forgetting about perfect. We don't have time for perfect. In any event, perfection is unachievable: It's a myth and a trap and a hamster wheel that will run you to death. The writer Rebecca Solnit puts it well: 'So many of us believe in perfection, which ruins everything else, because the perfect is not only the enemy of the good; it's also the enemy of the realistic, the possible, and the fun'

As a writer, I also appreciated all the personal experiences she shared about her own writing and publishing life. One story that I got a kick out of was the background to her short story “Elk Talk.” I don’t want to give it away here, but it really is a great story. About the fickle world of publishing.

Big Magic is well written and Gilbert’s voice is so distinct, easy and fun to read. So, although I didn’t agree with everything in the book, I did appreciate a lot of it. 

I recommend this with a grain of salt. 

Another great quote is:
We all need an activity that is beyond the mundane and that takes us out of our established and limiting roles in society (mother, employee, neighbor, brother, boss, etc.). We all need something that helps us to forget ourselves for a while--to momentarily forget our age, our gender, our socioeconomic background, our duties, our failures, and all that we have lost and screwed up. We need something that takes us so far out of ourselves that we forget to eat, forget to pee, forget to mow the lawn, forget to resent our enemies, forget to brood over our insecurities. Praye rcan do that for us, community service can do it, sex can do it, exercise can do it, and substance abuse can most certainly do it (albeit with god-awful consequences)--but creative living can do it, too. Perhaps creativity's greatest mercy is this: By completely absorbing our attention for a short and magical spell, it can relieve us remporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are. Best of all, at the end of your creative adventure, you have a souvenir--something that you made, something to remind you forever of your brief but transformative encounter with inspiration.

the story about "Elk Talk"

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Book Review: Shatter

"Shatter" is a new-release by Nikki Trionfo and it is awesome!
But I'm getting ahead of myself.

First, take a look at this cover-
So great, right?

And the tag line-
three bodies.
two liars.
one killer.
Even better!

Salem's life is falling to pieces, shattered, by the recent death of her older sister, mentor and friend, Carrie. Others are convinced it was a freak accident but Carrie doesn't buy it. Something feels wrong. But Carrie's is not the only recent death. When Juan Herrera, a farm worker, turns up dead in her father's peach orchard, her father becomes a suspect. Salem knows there is more to the story in both murders and knows if she wants answers, she's going to have to find them herself. Uncovering the mystery leads her into dangerous gang situations, tense confrontations, new relationships and a never-saw-it-coming ending.

There are a lot of reasons why I enjoyed this book. Salem is awesome. At the start of the book, she is fragile, having just lost her sister. She is timid and accustomed to following her sister's lead. The loss Salem feels is real, raw and transfers from the written page straight to the heart. But she doesn't stay weak for long. Throughout the story, she grows and develops, through trial and error, and becomes strong and confident in her own self. Yay for strong female leads!

I also enjoyed the plot. I started reading this book at a time when I was frequently interrupted by children. And so, the first few chapters, which include several flashbacks and jump around a bit, were confusing. But overall, Trionfo did a great job of slowly introducing characters so that I remembered who they were and why they were important. She just led me right along until I was so immersed in the plot I couldn't wait to get back to the story each night.

Another thing I loved about the plot was that it was about farming and peach orchards! The conflict between the Growers, the Farm Workers Union-and also the immigrant workers and the influence of gangs was woven together in a way that made it all make sense. There is also a love story that is not teen-age-angst-y, which is a relief. It is complicated in the best sense of the word, because of ethnicity, gangs and trust issues. The mystery itself keeps you itching for each new clue. The diversity of characters is great with the Hispanic gangs and immigrant workers and white growers, which feels so fresh and new in the book market these days.

I'm excited for my 16-year-old daughter to read this book. Look for it on Amazon in paperback and e-book. It's a great fresh read!

Also- I talked to Nikki Trionfo at the Storymakers Conference last weekend and she is every bit as cool as her book!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Book Review: Cinder Heart

Cinder Heart by Amy Linnabary, is a Cinderella retelling and everyone knows I cannot resist a good retake on the classic tale. 

The Amazon blurb:
Sixteen-year-old Gabriella just wants to finish high school without ticking off her stepmom and being forced out of her father’s house. When she finds out she’s the girl prophesied about in the fairytale Cinderella, her world gets turned upside-down.
Things get worse when the cute senior, Hal Charm, finally discovers that she exists. Add a fairy godmother, the powers of fire and speed, and a villain other than her stepmom and Gabbie’s life goes up in flames.
Now she's forced to decide between ignoring her destiny to save her friendships, or risking discovery to become the hero she needs to be.

Gabby is a character that most high school girls can relate to. And truthfully, most high school girls can relate to the way Cinderella is oppressed and the feeling that they are special but its hidden and is yet to be discovered.

Anyway, Gabby has goals to just graduate and move on with her life. By the end of the novel, her goals have grown and so has she. She is no longer a victim but a powerful force to be reckoned with. Her relationships all feel very real, with her step family and teachers. The relationship she has with her best friend is one my favorite parts of the book. And of course all the YA romance lovers will enjoy the male lead, Hal. He is both mysterious and vulnerable. 

Linnabery does a great job of taking the classic fairy tale and turning it around to make it fresh and new. Some of the classic characters take on new roles and a new villain is on scene. The setting is contemporary and ready for action. This is also the first book in a series and sets the stage nicely for a broader setting and story arc. 

Get ready for a new, exciting series that fair tale lovers will enjoy!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Book Review: The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde is a classic. I remember reading it in college in one of my many English literature classes. 

It is so funny! Written in play form, it tells the story of two friends who have created fictious personas to get them out of uncomfortable situations. When they use those personas so engage in romantic relationships, the fun begins. 

 The characters are clear and though campy and cheesy, they are engaging and entertaining. Over the top characters are the perfect vehicle for Oscar Wilde to poke fun at the social rules of his day, more specifically marriage. Our book club had a great deal of fun discussing which character we would like to play and many of the social rules we have today that are easy to make fun of. Just repeating our favorite lines kept us rolling in laughter.

The next step is to watch the movie, both 1952 and 2002. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Book Review: The Wright Brothers

"The Wright Brothers" by David McCullough is not the sort of book I pick up lately, mostly because I just don't have the brain energy to focus that much. But I'm so glad my book club read it because I really enjoyed it. 

As you might surmise, this book is about the Wright brothers and their attempts and success is creating a flying machine. I never realized how important and interesting the beginning and ending of their story is. They began as bike makers,, which was actually almost scandalous at the time because bikes were deemed unsafe. And then in the end, the United States wasn't interested in their plane. European countries were more interested and they spent many years abroad, selling their plane. All of the history was very interesting.

But the most interesting part to me was to see how connected the brothers (and whole family) were. They never married and so spent their lives together. They knew each other so well, they worked together like a well-oiled machine. And work they did. Their work ethic was amazing. 

And as always, David McCullough was thorough and supplied the perfect amount of information to keep it interesting but not over-whelming.

This poem is the heading to one of the chapters and I love it!
One ship drives east and another drives west
With the self-same winds that blow.
''Tis the set of the sails
And the gales
Which tells us the way to go.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox
"Winds of Fate"

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


Look what's in my hot little hands!!!

I am so excited to be included in this anthology from the LDS Beta Readers. It has been such a fun experience. 
Here's the back cover blurb:

Sometimes the mind does more than play tricks on you--it plays twisted games. In this collaboration, wrap your brains around 25 stories ranging from soul-bending and heartbreaking to enchanting and sublime.
Follow a teacher trapped at a mysterious convention, a man whose only chance at survival is a finicky love potion, a student who sees the monsters in others, a syrian boy coming to grips with a new reality, and many more.
This collection features award-winning offerings from established and up-and-coming authors from the LDS Beta Readers group. Are you ready to play?

With so many stories, there's bound to be something you like, a little something in almost every genre. And they're short, which is perfect for busy moms, like me. Or people with short attention spans, like me. 

My story, "Strings", is the first in this collection of 25 short mind-bending stories. 

Cora wants to leave her past behind her but she can't let go of her music. When she decides to buy a piano, she finds it has strings attached. 
(haha. do you get it? strings attached?)

Here's a sneak peak:

If you would like to purchase "MindGames"-- send me an email, comment or message me and I'll get you one. 
$3 - ebook
$10 - paperback
$11 - ebook AND paperback

So fun to add this anthology to my collection of published works. 
("Lesson From My Parents" {essay}, "why i don't hide my freckles anymore" {essay}, "MindGames" {short story})

Monday, March 20, 2017

Book Launch: MiNdGaMeS

Yay for book launches! 
I will write more about this experience on Wednesday, but for now- I'm prepping for my 10 minutes of fame at the Online Book Launch PARTY  at 8:50pm over on Facebook! See you there!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Book Review: The War That Saved My Life

Product Details

Ada and her brother, Jamie, have lived in London all their lives, but they don't know how long that's been. You see, they don't know when they were born. 

Born with a club foot, Ada is trapped in their run-down apartment by her emotionally and physically abusive mother. she watches the world through her small apartment window, as other children, including her brother, play in the street, go to school and live a life of freedom and mobility.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is set during WW II and is appropriately written for middle grade readers. Full of insecurities and flaws, Ada is a relatable and endearing character. When the children are evacuated from London to a small town in the country, to keep them safe from bombing, she determines that she and Jamie will go, even without their mother's blessing. 

It is there that they meet Susan Smith, a single woman, a little rough around the edges and not accustomed to children, tasked with keeping the siblings safe. But she becomes much more than a simple guardian.

Bradley does a fantastic job of getting to the core emotional issues of the characters, delving into the anxiety of fitting into a new place and not understanding much of anything in their new surroundings. Because of the abuse Ada has suffered all her life, she pushes back against every attempt to nurture or love. Its heart-breaking and honest and beautiful and the readers takes the journey with her in discovering her individual worth and identity. 

This is a great story for elementary age kids to introduce WW II from a different perspective (as opposed to hiding Jews and concentration camps). But more importantly, its a story about finding your own value and standing up for yourself, learning who you are and learning to trust other people. 

(cautious parent warning: there is reference to Susan Smith having a female friend that she lived with and was very close to. This relationship caused a rift between her father, who is a preacher, and causes her to be uncomfortable or unwelcome at church. So take that for what its worth. Its not a significant part of the book and not important to the main story line)

To Be Perfect

To Be Perfect

Bryce waved a wrinkled piece of paper clutched in his dirty, toddler hand. In the center of the paper was a large circle with two straight lines extending from the bottom. Inside the circle were two large dots.
“This is a really neat picture, sweetheart. Tell me about it.” I picked him up and he settled into my lap.
“This is you, Mom,” he said, his eyes shone with pride. Together, we identified the parts of the picture I recognized - the head, legs and eyes.
“But where are my arms?” I teased, giving him a tight squeeze.
“Right here.” He pointed to either side of the circle. Although I couldn’t see them, he knew exactly where they were.
“And, where is my hair?” I was curious now about the different way we saw the picture. He pointed to the top of the circle, as if my short, blond hair was obviously visible. To anyone else, this simple drawing would be lacking key elements—incomplete and unfinished. To my son, his picture was perfect. He saw more than just lines—he saw me.
Time has passed since that discussion and his portrait has found a permanent place on the fridge. Nearly every day, I pause for a few minutes and look at my own personalized picture of perfection.
As elusive as perfection is, the world has many outlets that would have me believe they know how to find or create the perfect mom. Pinterest tells me I can find her in the elaborate planning of themed parties. Facebook tells me I can find her by showing off my awesome family dance party or over-the-top fun trip to an exotic location. Instagram and Twitter lead me to believe she’s found in witty words and sarcastic observations.
There are plenty of days when I believe them and add their pictures to the perfect mom image I’ve created all on my own. The one I’ve pieced together from social media, television, magazines, church and seminary lessons and lusting after the perceived perfection of others. Running at full speed, I try to juggle responsibilities, switching hats like a skilled magician and do my best to rise to the expectations.
A few years ago, my teenage daughter snapped a picture of me in the middle of the chase. The scene unfolds as I stand in the kitchen with my back to the camera. Vigorously stirring something on the stove, I am making dinner, healthy and colorful. The kind of dinner my children will eat one bite of and then sneak toast later on when I’m not looking. The phone is strategically balanced between my ear and shoulder as I talk with one of my visiting teaching sisters arranging for appointments for later in the week. So far so good. Perfection in the making.
The cord of the phone is stretched behind me across a pile of dirty dishes ready to be hand washed with homemade detergent. My effort to be earth friendly and environmentally aware. Behind the dishes, up against the wall are zucchini from our home grown garden, ready to be made into bread for the widow down the street. Under the dishes is a notebook filled with ideas for a new chore system that I will unveil at Family Home Evening that night.
The first time I saw that picture I was sitting at the computer, keeping up our family history by blogging. Still chasing the image. I leaned back in my chair and took a big breath. So much of my life was captured in one clear picture. Over and around the stove and the phone, under and behind dishes, I was working so hard to ‘be ye therefore perfect.’ What was missing in the picture were my children.
In my efforts to meet the expectation of all the picture-perfect mothering obligations, I couldn’t remember if I took the time to actually connect with my children. The most important and defining part of mothering. I volunteered in the school, cleaned a bathroom and mended a blouse. I helped the children finish homework, do chores and get to practice but I can’t remember if I stopped chasing perfection long enough to look my children in the eyes and say “I love you.”
Considering all the things that were left out of my son’s portrait of me, the eyes were not missing. In fact, they were front and center—the window to the soul. I love looking into my son’s eyes when he talks. His expressions are contagious as he opens his eyes wide with excitement or squints and his whole face puckers with a question. They sparkle with a joke and tear up when he is sad. I get more than words when I look my child in his eyes as we talk. It is when we are eye to eye, that we truly connect. When I take the time to look into the eyes of my children and really see them, the exhausting activity level of my grade-schooler becomes enthusiasm and the tireless mess-making of my toddler becomes curiosity.  Those moments of connection and love are where I find perfection.
My son’s perfect portrait of me, drawn with simple lines, will eventually be tucked away in a special place to be treasured for years to come. As he grows and matures, he will draw other pictures and they will be different than the first. Surely in later pictures, missing parts will be added as he includes arms, hair and a smile among other attributes.  It is mercifully reassuring to know that my image of perfection can grow and mature as well, line upon line, precept upon precept.

It is tempting to make my image of perfection complicated, with expectations above and beyond my reach. What I have learned through my son’s artwork is that perfection can really be quite simple because it begins with where I already am, with the people I love most, and grows with me.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Church Services

I walked into the chapel with a frown on my face. I’m not sure I’m up for this, I thought. Sitting through an hour plus of Sacrament Meeting with 5 kids and then wrangling other people’s kids in nursery for 2 more hours seemed like more than I could handle. Especially after the morning I’d had. Yet, here I was, walking into the chapel, practically asking for it.

I unloaded my bag and children onto the pew and listened to the prelude music. Now that’s a cushy calling, I thought, if I had someone to sit with my kids. I wouldn’t mind that calling. I noticed a friend walk in with her four very young children. She serves in the sunbeams. I’m sure she feels the same way I do, I guess. And that sister over there, I tell myself, is going through some pretty intense trials right now. I wouldn’t trade my calling for what she’s going through. Just then my good friend who is Young Women’s President walked down the aisle. There’s no way I would trade for her calling, I thought. Come to think of it, I continued my private dialog in my head, I’m not sure there is a calling I would trade for. If all the callings were laid out in front of me today, I’m not sure I would pick any of them. I’m pretty much just tired of serving. How about no callings? I cheered to myself. I shook my head, feeling mildly sacrilegious and guilty for my train of thought as the prelude music came to a close.

The 1st counselor in the bishopric stood to begin the meeting. “I’m Brother Finken. Bishop Brown is presiding at this meeting.” My eyes filled with tears. This is just too much. This burden is just too heavy. My husband presides over this meeting. He presides over this ward. And it’s been a long time and I’m tired of it. I’m tired of it all. Can’t we just take a break? Why are we doing this? Why do we stretch ourselves so thin sometimes in church callings? What’s the purpose of all these callings? Why not come for the sacrament and leave? Isn’t that the main point? Why all the extra work?

Lost in my doubtful thoughts, I was startled when the organist began playing the introduction to the sacrament hymn. I mechanically pulled the hymnbook from the back of the pew in front of me, although I didn’t feel like singing. “Oh how lovely was the morning. Radiant beamed the sun above.” But I knew these words. I didn’t need to open the book. “Humbly kneeling, sweet appealing- T’was the boy’s first uttered prayer-” Had I uttered a prayer this morning? I wondered. Could my doubts and discouragement be considered a prayer? Did Heavenly Father hear me, today, in this chapel? “Suddenly a light descended, brighter far than noon day sun.” I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion. Though offered with intention or not, God had heard me and answered my prayer. He responded in full Spirit to my faltering faith and determination. He did hear me in the middle of this chapel, lost in the middle of my doubt.

“Joseph, this is my Beloved. Hear Him!” Oh, how sweet the word.” My doubt dissipated like ash into the night sky, leaving only the burning embers of faith. This is why we serve. Because God hears and answers prayers. We have living prophets on the earth and Joseph was the first of this dispensation. He restored the true and full gospel to the earth. This is why we serve, and I knew it with my whole heart. I serve because He asks me to. Because I love Him. Because it’s true. The Bible, the Book of Mormon, the First Vision, the Priesthood, the Harvest Hills 2nd Ward. It’s all true and it all matters. It matters so much that it moves me to action and service in the church, even when it’s hard – especially when it’s hard.

“Oh, what rapture filled his bosom, for he saw the living God.”