Friday, December 19, 2014

Aoléon: The Martian Girl

Take me to your reader.
You don't need to be a member of MUFON to read this book, but it does help to have a vigorous imagination.  I've just read the ebook Aoléon: The Martian Girl (Part One: First Contact), written and illustrated by Brent LeVasseur, on my iPad mini (my eReader).  This short book (under 100 pages) will have five parts, and is appropriate for middle-grade children.

In the first chapter of Part One, we meet a young boy, Gilbert Sullivan, who often has disturbing dreams before crop circles appear on his neighbor's farm in Nebraska.  Gilbert's interest in space and astronomy was sparked by mysterious crop circles that appeared in Old Farmer Neville Johnson's farm.  One night, wide awake after his recurring nightmare, Gilbert hears his parents arguing downstairs, and wishes for an end to the trouble, and for an angel who would take him far away.  When he notices a bright light outside, he decides to investigate.

Gilbert ventures outside toward the distant, glowing light, through the wheat fields of the farm next door.  Farmer Johnson, at the urging of his wife, also goes outside, with his three-legged dog, Tripod, and walks toward the brilliant light.  Gilbert trips over someone in the field, and meets Aoléon, the Martian Girl.  

Strange-looking yet beautiful, with huge blue eyes and turquoise skin, this girl is from Mars (though Aoleon's website is accessible to Terrans like us).  She has special powers which are remarkable to Gilbert.  She seems to be able to read his mind, and her touch heals (she helps Tripod after he falls in a gopher hole).  To escape from Farmer Johnson, who believes that vandals are making the crop circles, the Martian Girl brings Gilbert onto her spacecraft.

Gilbert and Aoléon fly above the earth, travel through various countries, and experience many adventures together. As they soar toward the North Pole in Aoléon's spacecraft, Gilbert realizes that he's "been abducted by a nutty alien who's a speed freak".  Gilbert's wish to leave home has come true, and his boring, ordinary life is a thing of the past.

 
Aoléon: The Martian Girl features numerous large, brightly-colored pictures.  Three-dimensional images are an integral part of the story, and I asked how the author created them.  This is his reply:

"I used The Foundry Modo to make all the character models, buildings, props such as weapons and ships, and to render them, using Modo's amazing built in renderer.  The landscapes and the Planet Mars with the exclusion of Gilbert's farm field, were rendered using Planetside's Terragen 2/3.  The final renders were color corrected and any effects such as lens flares and or depth-of-field blurs were done in both Adobe After Effects and Photoshop."

Brent calls his pictures 3D renders.  They are really fantastic!  In fact, although I enjoyed the prose of the story, it's the images in this book that make it so appealing, at least to me.  The book features many pictures of space, as well as flying cows, and other humorous things (and one-liners), that would translate well into film.  This book has MOVIE written all over it.  While I was reading it, I wondered if this was going to be a movie--maybe it's already in pre-production?  It would be perfect as an animated film.

I enjoyed the ideas in the book about dreams (or nightmares), telepathy and mind-reading, and the ability to heal through touch and thought (yes, I'm a bit "new age").  It's imaginative and clever, and suitable for folks like me (who don't read a great deal of science fiction), as well as for young adults drawn to sci-fi and adventure stories.  At the end of the book there's a helpful glossary which defines some of the terms used in the book.  There's also a related song, Another World ~ Aoléon: The Martian Girl Song, featuring Élan Noelle, on iTunes!  I listened to it, and it's a pretty song (that would be great in the movie).  Aoléon: The Martian Girl (Part One) will be available at the end of January 2015, but you can pre-order the book now, on Amazon.  As for me, I look forward to reading Part Two!


Many thanks to Laura from iRead Book Tours for sending me an advanced readers copy of this ebook. For more reviews, please stop by iRead's book blog tour for Aoléon: The Martian Girl (Part One).  Since this book is for young adults, I've added a link to this review to Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama.


Thanks very much for reading!  Your comments are welcomed.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

First Lines 2014

At last--my wait is over!  I don't like time to pass too quickly, but I do look forward to this special meme all year long.  Created by Melwyk from The Indextrious Reader, A Year in First Lines is a once-a-year, end-of-year meme, that creates a personal collage of your year in reading and writing.  Simply stated, the idea of this meme is "to take the first line of each month's first post over the past year and see what it tells you about your blogging year".  It's a lot of fun, and I encourage other book bloggers to try it.  As a reader, you'll recall and think about some of the books that you read over the past year (which is valuable when you read a lot of books).  As a writer, you'll note the strength of your opening sentences.  (Are they good enough to "catch" readers?  Do they show variety?)  I could go on and on, but since it's an extra busy time of the year, here are my first lines.

Do your bookstacks defy gravity?

When Irish playwright and novelist Dermot Davis contacted me about reading his self-published book, Brain: The Man Who Wrote the Book That Changed the World, winner of the 2013 USA Best Book Awards for humor, I knew I wanted to read it.

After Caroline Sommer's husband of fifteen years, Scott, announces that he's "had enough", he methodically packs a suitcase and leaves her alone at home in Columbus, Ohio, with their three young children, Henry, 5, Maggie, 7, and Jack, 9, and Caroline is understandably distraught and confused.

Did she or didn't she? 

Most of you already know what a cozy mystery or "cozy" is, but for those who require a bit of help, it's a mystery that's not too gory or violent.

Although I have never had an eating disorder, I've struggled at various times with weight and appearance issues, like many women.

Which characteristic do you value most in a female protagonist?

When Laura from Italy Book Tours invited me to participate in the tour for The Supreme Macaroni Company by Adriana Trigiani, I was overjoyed.

Author Tanya J. Peterson does not shy away from difficult subjects in her books.

In My Thinning Years: Starving the Gay Within, a memoir by Jon Derek Croteau, published in September of 2014, the author talks a lot about his father, a bully who constantly criticized his wife and three children, Jared, Julie, and Jon.

Is there a term for someone who collects words?

Boop-oop-a-doop!


To read beyond these first lines, simply click on the month above them.  Not surprisingly, my year in reading and writing was rather eclectic.  Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful holiday season!  

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wondrous Words Wednesday

This year is almost over!  I decided to put my 2014 365 New Words-a-Year calendar to use one more time before its retirement.  (I plan to get a new words calendar for 2015.)  To begin, here is today's word from my dependable desk calendar: 

1. lord of misrule: a master of Christmas revels in England, especially during the 15th and 16th centuries

The lord of misrule was in charge of the Christmas revelries, which included partying and drunkenness.  Wild partying aside, I love this humorous title, and think I'll start using this term, although I'm not sure anyone in my family will understand what it means (unless they happen to stop by here). 


The next word is also from my desk calendar, from November.  Originally, my idea was to collect a few book-related words and present them together in a Wondrous Words Wednesday post, but because the year is almost over, I decided instead to "hurry up" and put the word I've been saving in today's post.  Literature students are most likely familiar with this word:

2. bildungsroman: a novel about the moral and psychological growth of a main character

Bildungsroman is a combination of two German words, bildung, which means education, and roman, which means novel.  There are many bildungsromans, including Jane Erye, David Copperfield, and The Catcher in the Rye (Holden Caulfield).  Do you have a favorite bildungsroman?


The last word is from the novel I'm currently reading, A Matter of Mercy by Lynne Hugo, which I'll review next month during the TLC book tour.


3. cultch: the mass of broken stones, shells, grit, and gravel that forms an oyster bed

Here is the sentence from the book:

"Caroline walked off the grant, cultch crunching under her boots."

I could picture this, and hear the crunch, but I looked cultch up to get a precise definition (and to help me remember how it's spelled--it can also be spelled without the 't', as culch). 



Hosted each week by Kathy from BermudaOnion's Weblog, Wondrous Words Wednesday is a fun celebration of words.  What are your latest word discoveries?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Liesl's Ocean Rescue: Review and Guest Post

The most compelling stories are often based on true stories.  Liesl's Ocean Rescue is a book for children that's based on a true story, written by Barbara Krasner, and illustrated by Avi Katz.  Published in 2014, this picture book tells the story of 10-year-old Liesl Joseph and her family, through expressive prose and charming drawings that complement each other well.

In the book, Liesl's father, Josef Joseph, a lawyer, is arrested in his own home in Rheydt, Germany by Nazi soldiers, and Jewish homes and businesses all over Germany are attacked and destroyed during Kristallnacht, "Night of the Broken Glass".  In order to survive, the Joseph family, and many other Jews, decide to leave Germany.  In May of 1939, along with nearly 1,000 others, they board the MS St. Louis, a luxury ocean liner which was bound for Havana, and then America.

The MS St. Louis, from Wikipedia

The story is from Liesl's perspective, although it's told in the third person, and we see life through the eyes of the young protagonist.  Liesl adores her father.  She has faith that Father will make everything all right, even when she learns they have to leave Germany "forever", on the MS St. Louis.

Liesl enjoys being on the MS St. Louis.  She has more freedom on the ship than she had in Germany.  She can walk around freely, watch movies, and enjoy a variety of foods (in Germany, she only ate rationed bread and eggs).  She makes friends, plays checkers, bangs the gong to communicate with people on the ship, and helps in other ways, too.

The fun of being on the ship lasts for two weeks.  When they reach the harbor in Havana, the passengers are not allowed into Cuba.  They're ordered to go back to Germany, but they refuse because they know they'll be taken to the concentration camps and killed.  Father has been put in charge, and he sends out cablegrams for help.  Eventually, after some more time at sea, they receive good news from the head of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee's Paris office, Mr. Morris Troper.  The passengers will be allowed to go to Belgium, Holland, France, and England.  When Liesl meets Mr. Troper on the ship, on her birthday, she has a thank you speech prepared.

Liesl's Ocean Rescue is a good way to introduce elementary school children to this dark part of our history which includes the story of the MS St. Louis and the Holocaust.  The gray and white drawings inside of the book contribute to the underlying tone of the story, which is somber.  Thankfully, the book features some joyful moments.  At the beginning of the book (November 1938), Father's birthday is mentioned, and at the end of the book (June 1939), it's Liesl's eleventh birthday.  Children will enjoy the mentions of the birthdays.  Throughout the pages, they will imagine what it must have been like for Liesl.  The story ends on an optimistic note which is a relief, given the difficult subject matter of the book.

As an adult, I found Liesl's story poignant.  Lovely details in the story made me smile, despite the seriousness of this story.  I was very pleased to read the author's notes at the end of the book and learn that Liesl and her family made it safely to America in 1940, and settled in Philadelphia, PA.  Liesl Joseph Loeb became a graphic designer and artist, and died in August of 2013.

Author Barbara Krasner has written an exclusive guest post for us, which follows this review.

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Something Surprising About Me: A Guest Post by Barbara Krasner

About twenty-five years ago, when my son was born, I was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, landing me in the hospital for more than two weeks.  It was a defining moment for me, as I began to realize my life’s priorities needed to change.  I ultimately became less enamored with my corporate life and wanted to connect to something higher and make more of an impact on the world.

I decided I wanted to leave a legacy to my son and once out of the hospital, I put plans in place to write for children and to research my family’s history.  The skills I learned as a genealogist help me as a historian and as a writer.

Barbara and her son

For example, one of the first steps one takes in researching the family tree is to speak with the eldest members of the family, collecting names, places, and dates, as well as family traditions and stories.  I didn’t know at the time that this would provide me with the foundation to become an oral historian.  I learned how to become a detective, how to put my B.A. in German and Russian to use in reading vital records from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and from Poland/Russia, and how to deal with conflicting information from multiple sources.

I had grown up with the story of the MS St. Louis, the ship the United States turned away, the ship with nearly 1,000 German-Jewish refugees seeking safety from the Nazis in 1939.  With the help of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. I located several survivors who had been children on board.  Using the oral history techniques I’d learned as a genealogist (and as a corporate market researcher), I collected testimonies about experiences on the St. Louis.  These, combined with material culled from the Holocaust Museum and from the archives of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in New York City, became the foundation for telling Liesl’s story aboard the St. Louis in Liesl’s Ocean Rescue.

I teach creative writing at William Paterson University, where I am also pursuing a master’s in public history, that is, making history accessible to the masses.  That is what I do as a writer.  But now I have even more opportunity to serve as an oral historian.  Currently, I’m helping the National Park Service collect oral histories of Paterson, New Jersey and I’ve collected several for my hometown of Kearny, New Jersey.

Being a genealogist and oral historian, I believe, brings a set of skills to writing and to writing for children that is unique.  It’s important to realize your strengths and to make them even stronger.  I hope that I continue to build on these skills for future books for kids and for adults.


Barbara, thank you for this interesting guest post!  Your work is purposeful and wonderful.  I think listening, intently, to the stories of others is incredibly important for writers, especially writers of history or historical fiction.

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Many thanks to Laura from iRead Book Tours for sending me an advanced readers copy of this book. For more reviews, giveaways, and other features, please stop by iRead's book blog tour for Liesl's Ocean Rescue.  Because this is a children's book, I've added a link to this review to Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama.

 
Thanks for reading!  Your comments are welcomed.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Really Random Tuesday #88: A Book Winner, and the Secrets of Spaghetti Squash

Boop-oop-a-doop!  Please help me to congratulate Lisa Brown, who uses this cute picture of Betty Boop as her online icon.  Lisa has won an ebook version of The Missing Heir by author Linda Weaver Clarke.  Congrats, Lisa!  I think you'll enjoy reading this book.

Thanks to everyone who entered the giveaway for this romantic, cozy mystery.  If you didn't win this time, please check the right side of my blog for other giveaways.  

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I'm not a vegetarian, but I don't eat a lot of meat.  A while ago, I started a tradition of Meatless Mondays in our home.  One dish I have started to make recently for Meatless Monday is spaghetti squash, although of course you could make this on any day of the week.  Recently, I found some organic spaghetti squash at Jimbo's, which carries primarily organic produce.

Spaghetti Squash


Ingredients:
2 spaghetti squashes, preferably organic
Olive oil
Salt, pepper, and spices
A small amount of water for the baking dish
Tomato or other sauce
Parmesan cheese, for topping


Directions:
Spaghetti squash is a tasty, healthy alternative to regular spaghetti or pasta, and is super easy to make. However, cutting the squash in half lengthwise is hard for me!  Perhaps I don't have the right knife for this.  You need a long, sturdy, and sharp knife to cut the squash.  None of my kitchen knives fit these requirements.  Anyway, I put the squash in the microwave first for a minute or two (even though I don't like to use microwaves), to soften it a bit and make it easier to cut in half.  Then I put the knife in the center of the squash, and cut it in half carefully, using my hands to separate the halves if needed.  Please be careful as the knife can get stuck!  Also, please use pot holders to handle the squash once it's been "nuked" (and after it's been in the oven).

Preheat oven to 350º.  After you succeed in cutting the squash in half, gently scrap out the seeds in the center.  Season the squash with a bit of olive oil (I use my Misto), and oregano, salt, pepper, or other spices to taste, and place cut side up in a baking dish with about 1/4 inch of water in it.  I use glass baking dishes, two halves per dish.


Cook uncovered for about 35 to 40 minutes, or until tender.  Handle hot squash (and dishes, too, of course) with pot holders.  Scrap inside of cooked squash with a fork and scoop out the "spaghetti".  Each person should get about half a squash.  Makes 4 servings.

Top with your favorite sauce (or more olive oil), and Parmesan cheese.  I love the addition of shredded Parmesan.  Serve with a fresh salad and some bread, if desired.  I want to try adding thin slices of cooked zucchini to this, to add even more squash to this dish!    

A plate of spaghetti squash

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Appearing on random Tuesdays, Really Random Tuesday is a way to post odds and ends--announcements, musings, quotes, photos--any blogging and book-related things you can think of.  I often announce my book giveaway winners in these posts, and sometimes I also share a recipe. If you have miscellaneous book news to gather up and are inspired by this idea, "grab" the button for use on your own blog, and add your link to the "master" Mister Linky on the Really Random Tuesday page.

Have a terrific Tuesday!  Your comments are welcomed.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Metabolism Solution: Spotlight and Giveaway



"Getting your body to switch over from fat-storing mode to fat-burning mode is easier than you think.  Food is the problem and the answer."
~ The Metabolism Solution, Lisa Lynn

Is there a new way to lose weight quickly?  Published in 2014, The Metabolism Solution: Lose 1 Pound Per Day and Melt Belly Fat Fast! by celebrity fitness and nutrition expert Lisa Lynn is a book that was motivated by the author's own struggles with weight loss.  With nearly 30 years of experience in nutrition and fitness, she's been Martha Stewart's personal trainer for 13 years, and has been a guest on Martha's television show over 50 times.  She's also appeared many times on The Dr. Oz Show (one of my favorite shows, although I don't watch it often enough).

"My specialty is revving the metabolism, known as metabolic hyping in the fitness world.  Metabolic hyping creates an optimal environment for fat loss by helping to lower blood sugar levels and enhancing metabolism--this is the secret to melting fat faster."
~ The Metabolism Solution, Lisa Lynn

The Metabolism Solution "addresses weight loss and fitness issues from the inside out", and explains how to use food, exercise, supplements, and the power of God to boost your metabolism.  This book features more than 100 healthy and delicious-sounding thermogenic recipes.  (Lisa's Famous Sautéed Salad sounds wonderful!)  I've skimmed my copy of the book, which arrived in the mail recently, and I've already learned a few things!  I'll post a review of The Metabolism Solution next month.

Great news!  In conjunction with iRead Book Tours, the author is generously offering a giveaway for the LynFit Fat Loss Trio Product Package, plus a copy of The Metabolism Solution.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

I'm pleased to be the first stop on the iRead Book Tours Spotlight Tour for The Metabolism Solution.  Many thanks to Laura from iRead Book Tours for sending me a complimentary copy of this book, and for offering this terrific giveaway!

Your comments are welcomed.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Here, Home, Hope

"I feel stuck between what I've done and what I want to do.  There was a time when every moment of my day revolved around my kids and their needs, but not anymore.  And that's the question I need to wrestle with, the cause of the restlessness: What's next?"
~ Here, Home, Hope, Kaira Rouda


Published in 2011, Here, Home, Hope by entrepreneur and author Kaira Rouda is the story of  thirty-nine-year-old Kelly Mills Johnson, who lives in the fictitious suburb of Grandville, Ohio.  After a breast cancer scare, Kelly starts to reevaluate her life as a suburban stay-at-home mom as she approaches her fortieth birthday.

"It was a sign. I needed to take charge of my life, take advantage of the sense of urgency I'd felt when I thought I'd had breast cancer.  While I want to grow old gracefully and happily, and I want to be a grandmother and enjoy slow walks on the beach, between now and then I need to get moving.  Seize my year."
~ Here, Home, Hope, Kaira Rouda  

Before she became a mother, Kelly was an account executive at a public relations firm, but for the past fifteen years she's taken care of her home and children, David and Sean, while Kelly's husband, Patrick, has become a successful partner in a law firm.  Now it's summer and the boys are away at camp, so Kelly has a bit of time to think about what she wants, and the direction of her own life.  She knows that she could be happier, and that it's her responsibility to change her own life (good to keep in mind).  She writes down some "things to change" (called T2Cs) on Post-it notes, and sticks them around the house as a way of reinforcing her ideas. 

Kelly is a great protagonist.  I would definitely like to have a friend like her.  She's funny, warm, kind, and caring.  (I hope that I'm at least somewhat like her.)  She encourages and helps others, and decides to consciously devote time to the "care and feeding" of friends.  Like many superwomen, Kelly gives much time and energy to her family and friends, even when she's exhausted.  She willingly agrees to take care of her friend's anorexic teenage daughter, Melanie, while Kathryn is away on a trip.  Friendships are important to Kelly, and the book focuses on her relationships with Charlotte, Kathryn, and Beth, who are at various stages in their careers.  Here, Home, Hope emphasizes the importance of friends, during good times and bad times, to support and celebrate with us, and perhaps even to start a business with. 

I think this novel will resonate with many women, especially with those who are or who have been stay-at-home moms.  I enjoyed this novel very much.  In fact, I loved it!  It's honest and funny and engaging, as well as inspiring, and I'm very glad that I read it.  Here, Home, Hope really does "sparkle with humor and heart".  In fact, if I could add another "H" word to the title, it would be Heart.  Additionally, an important message of the book is to put your heart into whatever you do.  Be like Kelly, and decide to live wholeheartedly.  Pursue your passions and dreams! 

Many thanks to Kaira Rouda for sending me a copy of her book, and for her incredible patience with me. Your comments are welcomed and appreciated.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Creation of Calm: A Cancer Survivor's Sketchbook Story

"Dear God, I know you love me and care for my family.  But what am I supposed to do with this?  Is there any other way to do things without pain involved?"
~ Creation of Calm, Mark Fraley


Creation of Calm: A Cancer Survivor's Sketchbook Story, illustrated and written by Mark Fraley, is a gorgeous and inspirational book.  Published in November 2014, this graphic memoir is a series of sketchbook entries that span six years, which illustrate the importance of family, friends, and faith. Through pictures and words, Mark depicts a very difficult period in his life, as a young husband and father who had two bouts of cancer in four years. Most of the pictures are sketches but there are also some colorful collages.  Below are some examples of the artwork and a few quotations from the book.



"Prayer is always a necessity; it is another word for 'balance'."
~ Creation of Calm, Mark Fraley 


"I pray that those who view my art and read my story will take a moment to slow down, maybe get off the phone, and just look intently at the everyday they may have overlooked."
~ Creation of Calm, Mark Fraley

Front Yard Discovery

Although cancer is a serious disease, Creation of Calm is full of joy and appreciation and hope.  We are reminded to slow down and appreciate the beauty and the details of "ordinary" life. 


Many thanks to Christina from Cladach Publishing for sending me a copy of this wonderful book, and for including me on this blog tour (part of the Fall Book Fling).

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Missing Heir: Review and Giveaway

This mystery begins with a bang!  Published in 2014, The Missing Heir is the third book in the Amelia Moore Detective Series by author Linda Weaver Clarke.  I've read many books by this author over the past few years, and so I was excited about the prospect of reading her newest cozy mystery.

The Missing Heir starts with emotion and impact, as twenty-something siblings Jenny and Robert Walker burst into Amelia Moore's detective office.  Jenny is especially upset, because she fears that the orphanage that her uncle, Dell Murphy, started about twenty years ago, the Orfanato de Tio Dell, will be closed down, leaving the children without a place to live. Uncle Dell has recently passed away, and has willed most of his fortune to his nephew, Neal Woods, who will take care of the orphanage, since Dell and his deceased wife didn't have children.  But Neal has gone missing!

Since Amelia specializes in missing persons, Jenny and Robert implore her to find their missing cousin, Neal, who they've been searching for over the past two months.  Amelia agrees to take on this touching case, and hopes to find Neal before the fortune is turned over to Dell's brother and sister.  In order to save the orphanage, she must find Neal before the reading of the will, or he'll forfeit his inheritance.  But how do you find a missing person in Mexico, particularly when time is of the essence?  I've mentioned before that cozy mysteries often feature intelligent women protagonists.  Is Amelia savvy enough to find Neal, the missing heir, with the help of her handsome partner, Rick Bonito? 

Author Linda Weaver Clarke is on a roll with this mystery series, which features spunky Amelia and dashing Rick, who work together.  There are unmistakable sparks between them, as well as a few passionate kisses, although Amelia attempts to resist Rick's charms.  (We readers think they're perfect for each other, naturally.)  I enjoyed this romantic cozy mystery a lot!  The writing is lovely and lively, and I felt as if I were experiencing the action myself.  Linda was inspired to write this book because of the darling children she met in orphanages in Mexico.  Although I've never visited a Mexican orphanage, I've been to Mexico many times, and her descriptions--of the land and the buildings and the food--are just about perfect.  This story flows well, and I read happily and eagerly (I thought that things would work out well in the end, although I wasn't able to figure out exactly how that would happen).  This is another positive, feel-good cozy mystery.  My copy was well edited, and I didn't realize it was a proof until I came to the very end of the book.

The Missing Heir is a wonderful addition to the Amelia Moore Detective Series.  I recommend all of the books in this series that I've read so far, without hesitation, to young adults and adults. 

If this new, cozy mystery sounds appealing to you, you're in luck. The author is generously offering an international giveaway for the ebook edition of The Missing Heir.  It works well as a stand-alone book, so don't be deterred if you haven't read the earlier books in this series. 

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment. 
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter.
  • For one more chance, leave a comment about the last cozy mystery you read.

Enter by 5 PM PST on Monday, December 1.  One winner will be selected randomly and announced on Tuesday, December 2.  Good luck!

Many thanks to talented story-teller Linda Weaver Clarke for sending me a complimentary copy of The Missing Heir.  I look forward to reading the next book in this series, The Mysterious Doll.

As always, your comments are welcomed and appreciated.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Really Random Tuesday #87: Veterans Day, a Book Winner, and Shakshuka

Thank you for your service.  November 11 is Veterans Day in America.  Today we honor the service of all U.S. military veterans.  Pictured above is World War I veteran Joseph Ambrose, at the dedication day parade for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982, who lost his son in the Korean War.  (Photo from Wikipedia.)

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Eriko is the randomly chosen winner of Me Before You by bestselling author Jojo Moyes. Congratulations, Eriko!  I'm pretty certain you'll become a fan of this bestselling author.

If you didn't win this book, why not take a look at the other tempting giveaways listed on the right side of my blog?





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I'm feeling like a bit of a recipe thief today!  My son, Oliver, and his sous-chef, my daughter, Angela, made us Shakshuka for breakfast a couple of months ago.  I had run in a 5k earlier that morning, and was famished.  I'd never heard of Shashuka before, but now I've made it several times, for dinner.  Oliver's girlfriend, Becca, taught him how to make this traditional, tomato-based dish, which is usually made with eggs, and often served for breakfast in Israel.  However, since I'm not a fan of eggs, they made mine without eggs, and instead added some ground turkey.  You can easily make it vegetarian (like I will for my daughter, Jasmine), or if you don't add meat or eggs, vegan.  I use as many organic ingredients as possible.  You can easily add additional ingredients to make more servings. 

Suko's Shakshuka



Ingredients:
4 or 5 tomatoes, chopped
3 or 4 bell peppers, chopped
1 to 3 chopped jalapeños*, according to taste
1 small or medium onion, chopped
2 or 3 cloves of freshly minced garlic
6 white mushrooms, sliced

Olive oil
16 ounce can (or larger) fire roasted diced tomatoes
3 tablespoons of tomato paste
Spices: oregano, cumin, paprika, black and/or cayenne and/or crushed red pepper, all to taste

Optional: 8 to 10 ounces of ground turkey, or vegetarian ground crumbles, and salt to taste
 

Directions:
Pour about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet and spread around pan with a paper towel.  Add peppers, onion, garlic, and spices to taste to the pan, and cook for about 7 minutes, on low to medium heat. 

Add the chopped up tomatoes, mushrooms, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, more spices to taste, and a bit more olive oil.  Stir together, and continue to cook the mixture.  If you want to add ground turkey or vegetarian ground crumbles, cook it in a separate skillet for about 7 minutes on low to medium heat (I add some salt and other spices to the turkey), before adding it to the veggie mixture.  

Continue to cook the Shakshuka on low heat, stirring every so often, for about 10 minutes, or until everything looks thoroughly cooked, and you're ready to eat.  This is a hot, savory, and healthy stovetop meal that's delicious for breakfast, lunch, or dinner!


Shakshuka

Serve in bowls, along with bread (pita is perfect), and a fresh green salad.  Makes about 4 servings.

*Important note: Please be careful when you handle or slice jalapeños!  I learned the hard way.  One evening I was not careful enough, and I paid the price--my hands were burning for several hours afterward.  I was in agony.  I had to search online for home remedies to control the pain.  (I ended up slathering yogurt on my hands so that I could sleep that night.)  Now I handle jalapeños gingerly, with paper towels, and am extra careful not to touch their seeds with my bare hands when I chop up these peppers.

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Appearing on random Tuesdays, Really Random Tuesday is a way to post odds and ends--announcements, musings, quotes, photos--any blogging and book-related things you can think of.  I often announce my book giveaway winners in these posts, and sometimes, like today, I share a recipe. If you have miscellaneous book news to gather up and are inspired by this idea, "grab" the button for use on your own blog, and add your link to the "master" Mister Linky on the Really Random Tuesday page.

Thanks for reading!  Your comments are welcomed.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Wondrous Words Wednesday: John, Jane, Joan, and a Librocubicularist

Is there a term for someone who collects words?  I had fun recently collecting a few words for this meme.  It's a favorite of mine, although I haven't featured a Wondrous Words Wednesday post in a long while.

My first word is from my 2014 365 New Words-a-Year desk calendar.

1. John Q. Public: a member of the public or the community, a person or citizen; it can also mean the public or the community personified 

John Q. Public started to appear in print in the late 1930s, about 10 years after John Citizen.  Some think that the Q was inspired by John Quincy Adams.  John Doe had been used since the mid-1600s to represent the anonymous or average man.  Female versions debuted later: Jane Doe (1930s), Joan Citizen (1940s), and Jane Q. Public (1980s).   


I discovered the next one on the Word of the Day feature on She Reads.

2. librocubicularist: a person who reads in bed

Not surprisingly, I'm a librocubicularist (even though I'm still learning how to spell and pronounce this seven-syllable word).  It's a rare word, although there are many of us.  It's truly wunderbar to read in bed, isn't it?  But isn't there a simpler term for someone who reads in bed?  Hmm....







I found my final word on Anna's blog, Diary of an Eccentric.  I could tell what it meant by the context ("a segue into the next installment"), but I admired her use of the word, and since it was new to me, I looked it up online.

3. segue: (verb or noun) to proceed without pause; a transition made without pause or interruption

Segue is often used in music or film to indicate a continuous transition from one piece of music or film scene to another. 



Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme for word collectors, hosted by Kathy from BermudaOnion's Weblog.  What new words have you garnered? 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Me Before You: Review and Giveaway

As I mentioned before, I picked up Me Before You by bestselling author Jojo Moyes at the airport because my daughter's flight was delayed, and I decided to put my waiting time to good use.  I'd been planning on reading this novel, so when I saw it at the airport shop I knew I'd found my next book.  It took me a long time to read it though--my reading is incredibly slow these days.  I don't know how some of you manage to read so many books!

Set in England near fictitious Stortfold Castle, the book focuses on twenty-six-year-old Louisa Clark, and is written mostly from her point of view in the first person.  After working at The Buttered Bun for six years, Louisa's job ends suddenly when the owner decides to close the café.  Because her family depends on her wages, she applies for work as a caregiver for an acerbic quadriplegic who requires twenty-four-hour care, Will Traynor.  This will be the beginning of a new chapter in Lou's life.

I don't want to give away much more here and spoil the story for potential readers, though you can probably guess what will eventually happen: Lou and Will fall in love.

"Yes only love
can break your heart."
~ Only Love Can Break Your Heart, Neil Young  

I loved this book!  I savored it, a small bit at a time.  It's a moving story, a beautiful, unconventional love story.  Jojo Moyes paces the story perfectly, and it was an exquisite pleasure to read it.  I took my time with this novel, not only because I lacked enough free time for reading, but also because I did not want the book to end.

I am now, officially and unabashedly, a fan of Jojo Moyes.  She's an exceptional writer who creates realistic characters who spring to life through her words.  Lou is a kind-hearted, likable protagonist, and I cared about her happiness.  I also cared about Will, and many of the other main characters.  I enjoyed the setting a great deal, and thought it added to my enjoyment of the story (I'm a bit of an Anglophile).  Me Before You is completely absorbing and touching, and at different times, funny and quite heartbreaking.  I shed more than a few tears while reading this book. 

“You only get one life. It's actually your duty to live it as fully as possible.”
~ Me Before You, Jojo Moyes

Me Before You is about living life to the fullest, even when faced with great obstacles and difficult choices.  Will encourages Lou, or "Clark" as he likes to call her, to push herself past her self-imposed limits.  This is my kind of book, heartrending yet positive.  And I've just learned that Me Before You is being made into a movie--I'll dash out to the theater to see it!  I'm now also very interested in reading more books by the prolific and supremely talented Jojo Moyes.

I'd like to share my enjoyment of this book by offering an international giveaway.  I'll send one copy of this book to a randomly chosen reader (U.S./Canada, print or ebook; elsewhere, ebook only).  If you've already read this book, I'll send you another book by Jojo Moyes if you win--just let me know which book you'd like to read!

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter.
  • For one more chance, mention another book by this author that you've enjoyed.

Enter by 5 PM PST on Monday, November 10.  One winner will be selected randomly and announced on Tuesday, November 11.  Best of luck to my readers!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Really Random Tuesday #86: A Book Winner, and a Sassy Quotation


Please help me to congratulate Carl Scott, who has won a copy of My Thinning Years, a memoir by Jon Derek Croteau.  Congratulations, Carl!

Thanks to all who participated in my giveaway, and special thanks to TLC and the publisher, for offering a copy of this book to one of my readers.  We bloggers are fortunate to be able to offer our readers so many wonderful book giveaways!  :)




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This Really Random Tuesday post will be short.  I'm still reading Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, slowly but surely.  (This will be a book I'll miss reading when I'm done.)  I don't have a recipe to post today (although I'm dreaming of making white bean chili tonight, a recipe I found in my inbox).  I'm not sure it's in "good taste" to share yesterday's humorous quotation from my Wild Words from Wild Women calendar, although at least it's related to books, so:

Shh...

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Appearing on random Tuesdays, Really Random Tuesday is a way to post odds and ends--announcements, musings, quotes, photos--any blogging and book-related things you can think of.  I often announce my book giveaway winners in these posts.  If you have miscellaneous book news to gather up and are inspired by this idea, "grab" the button for use on your own blog, and add your link to the "master" Mister Linky on the Really Random Tuesday page.

Thanks for stopping by!  Your comments are welcomed. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Really Random Tuesday #85: A Book Winner, and (Short-Term) Reading Plans


Please help me to congratulate Pat from Posting For Now!  She has won a copy of A Brief Moment of Weightlessness: Stories by Victoria Fish.  Pat, I hope you enjoy reading these short stories as much as I did.

If you didn't win this time, please take a look at the many other book giveaways on the right side of my blog.






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What are your short-term reading plans?  I'm looking forward to resuming my reading of Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. Caught without a book(!), I actually bought this novel at the airport about a month ago while waiting for my daughter, whose flight had been delayed.  I have a few other books that I should begin reading soon.  But tonight, if I'm not bogged down with chores, I hope to get back to Me Before You, and to read at least a chapter or two.  I've enjoyed the book so far, and can't wait to delve back into it.  (If it's cooler this evening I may light a scented candle before I begin reading.)  I'm also in the middle of reading 1984 (or Nineteen Eighty-Four) by George Orwell (a pen name; his real name was Eric Arthur Blair).  Although 1984 is powerful and thought-provoking (my apologies to any lingering Thoughtpolice), I'm finding it a bit dreary and depressing right now, and have been reading it somewhat reluctantly.

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Appearing on random Tuesdays, Really Random Tuesday is a way to post odds and ends--announcements, musings, quotes, photos--any blogging and book-related things you can think of.  I often announce my book giveaway winners in these posts.  If you have miscellaneous book news to gather up and are inspired by this idea, "grab" the button for use on your own blog, and add your link to the "master" Mister Linky on the Really Random Tuesday page.

Thanks for reading!  Your comments are appreciated.

Monday, October 6, 2014

My Thinning Years: Review and Giveaway

"The force inside of me, the commander in chief that was in charge of this war I was waging, was not me, but was actually an extension of my father.  From deep within me, as he had since I was a child, he was ordering me to starve the faggot inside.  At my foundation, conscious or unconscious, I knew that my father would rather I be dead than be gay."
~ My Thinning Years, Jon Derek Croteau


In My Thinning Years: Starving the Gay Within, a memoir by Jon Derek Croteau, published in September of 2014, the author talks a lot about his father, a bully who constantly criticized his wife and three children, Jared, Julie, and Jon.  The youngest of three children who grew up in Ohio and then in Massachusetts, Jon was mesmerized by his mother's loveliness, and was very close to her.  In this book, Jon says that his father, a volunteer athletic coach,  "pushed him into the three sports that he considered manliest: basketball, baseball, and, worst of all, football", even though Jon enjoyed participating in musical theater and was an excellent singer.  Jon was belittled, taunted, and abused by his father, emotionally and physically; his father beat Jon and his siblings with his belt, and he punished them by making them skip meals.  His father often warned Jon not to eat "fattening" foods, and made him feel fat and self-conscious about his body.  Not surprisingly, Jon developed eating disorders as an adolescent; he started to count fat grams and to severely restrict his caloric intake; and he started to run, compulsively.

"I kept running and cutting food from my diet.  Oftentimes, when I'd run endlessly, suffering with determination, I would think about my father.  I wondered if he would be sad if I collapsed on the side of the road."
My Thinning Years, Jon Derek Croteau

No matter what Jon did, it was not good enough for his father, who called him a "sissy" (and worse names), and made him feel terrible about himself.  Jon struggled intensely as a youth, and became despondent and suicidal, largely because his father refused to accept him the way he was.  Jon's father created (or at least contributed significantly to) the homophobic feelings that Jon adopted, and to his disgust with himself as a young man unsure about and unsettled by the onset of his sexual feelings.  Jon admired girls and women, and had many female friends over the years (such as Katie, in preschool), but he did not feel attracted to them.  As an adolescent, Jon did not want to be gay.  He didn't want to be different from the other boys, who lusted after girls, yet he gradually realized that he was different, as he developed strong feelings for his best friend in high school, "Chad". 

"After everything I've seen, my mission is nothing less than to help others."
~ Preface, My Thinning Years, Jon Derek Croteau

I'm touched and grateful when people who have endured very difficult pasts want to share their stories in order to help others.  The author hopes his candid memoir will help others to stop punishing themselves and to accept who they truly are.  My Thinning Years is a thoroughly engaging, touching, and sometimes funny memoir, which presents a portrait of a sensitive and gifted young man growing up with a quick-tempered, abusive, and homophobic father.  Children are at the mercy of their parents, and they tend to internalize their parents' ideas and values.  It upset me to read about Jon's father's beliefs and behavior, and about their profound effects on Jon; his father really was a tyrant.  However, Jon's story is gripping, honest, and well-written, and it's also a hopeful, inspiring story about success.  With the help of family and caring friends, and through an empowering Outward Bound trip, and counseling, Jon learns to accept himself, and he discovers how to best deal with his father, and how to overcome his eating disorders and psychologically grueling past.

Terrific news!  The publisher, Hazelden, is generously offering a copy of this affecting memoir, My Thinning Years, as a giveaway (U.S./Canada only).

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter.

Enter by 5 PM PDT on Monday, October 20.  One winner will be selected randomly and announced on Tuesday, October 21.  Good luck! 

Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for sending me an advance copy of this memoir.  For more reviews, giveaways, and other features, please visit the other stops on TLC's book blog tour for My Thinning Years.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Brief Moment of Weightlessness: Review and Giveaway

"I pressed my nose to the car window.  As we neared the coast, the light became sharper, the pines scrubbier. Everything became more of what it was.  I would write that down later, maybe in a poem."
~ A Brief Moment of Weightlessness, Victoria Fish


A Brief Moment of Weightlessness: Storiesby Victoria Fish is comprised of eleven short stories, that were published as a collection by Mayapple Press in 2014.  When I was invited to participate in the TLC book tour for A Brief Moment of Weightlessness, I was a bit concerned, because as much as I enjoy reading short stories, I tend to struggle with how to review them.  How do you properly review or discuss or present a collection of short stories?  Do you say a couple of words or sentences about the premise of each story, or about the various characters, or do you offer instead a longer summary of your favorites?  Or, do you simply write, without preconceived ideas, and let the process of writing shape the post?  Although I wasn't quite sure how to write this post about these short stories, I decided to start with a succinct synopsis of each story.

~ Where Do You Find a Turtle with No Legs? is written in the third person from the point of view of a fourth-grader, Maddie, who has just found a flattened turtle on the road, and is thinking about her father, who's in jail.

~ A Brief Moment of Weightlessness is written in the first person from the perspective of Frances; this story centers around her family's week long summer trip to a cabin on a lake in Maine.

~ The Sari is written in the third person from point of view of Sarah, a college student taking a semester abroad in India, who has a dream about her deceased mother.

~ Green Line is written in the third person from the point of view of Adam, who goes to see Esme and his daughter, Lily. 

~ Unleashed is written in the third person from the point of view of Alison from the Pet Visiting Program, who brings a dog and her four-year-old son, Thomas, to the nursing home.

~ What is the Color Blue? is written in the third person from the point of view of Claire, who becomes friends with her striking new neighbor, Isabel, who has just moved to Vermont.

~ Sanctuary Therapy is written in the first person from the perspective of Emily, whose son, Jackson, is being treated for cancer.

~ The Last and Kindest Thing is written in the third person from the point of view of Adam, whose dog, Banjo, is nearing the end of his life.  (Adam is also in the story Green Line.)

~ Phantom Pain is written in the third person, from the point of view of Katherine, whose husband, Eddie, has lost part of his leg.

~ The Voice at the End of the Line is written in the third person from the point of view of Valerie; her daughter, Delia, calls her in the middle of the night while Valerie's on a  business trip.

~ Between the Dream and Here is written in the third person from the point of view of Martha Waterman, an elderly woman who has just seen her childhood friend, Kate, in a dream.


These very brief descriptions give you an idea about the content of the stories, which are about family and friends and feelings.  The collection begins with a story from the point of view of a young girl, and ends with the perspective of an elderly woman.  In between are stories with main characters of varying ages, in different stages of life.  It's through these varied and distinct voices and perspectives that we see the world, and are transported by fiction into the lives of others.

Although I'm still not certain of the best way to review a collection of short stories, I'm certain that I need to express my admiration for Victoria Fish's writing.  It's truly astonishing.  What makes these stories so extraordinary?  The dialogue in these stories seems natural and authentic.  I also think it's the amount of description and detail that the author uses throughout her stories--not too little, not too much--but exactly the right amount which brings these stories to life, and makes them real, believable, and touching.  The situations and emotions in these stories are familiar, and as I immersed myself in them, I experienced the feelings of the main characters.  I felt empathy and cared about the characters.  Victoria Fish skillfully captures fleeting moments, and infuses her stories with a rare emotional depth.  I enjoyed this collection very much, and would eagerly read more short stories, or other work, by this gifted author.

I am very pleased to be able to share this exquisite collection of short stories with a reader.  Mayapple Press is generously offering a copy of A Brief Moment of Weightlessness as a giveaway (U.S./Canada only).

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter.
  • For one more chance, mention which story summarized above most interests you at this moment.

Enter by 5 PM PDT on Monday, October 6.  One winner will be selected randomly and announced on Tuesday, October 7.  Good luck! 

Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for sending me a copy of this book.  For more reviews, giveaways, and other features pertaining to this book, please visit the other stops on TLC's tour for A Brief Moment of Weightlessness.

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