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I'm a writer and library worker who wears many hats. I believe a good book and a good piece of chocolate are the keys to a happy life.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Room for Two by Abel Keogh

I have to be honest with you. Room for Two is a book I was almost unable to review. It’s not that the writing was bad, or that the storyline stunk; no, Room for Two is very well written and the story is exceptionally compelling. It is definitely one that needs to be shared. But, this true story can also be very emotionally taxing. Abel Keogh makes no apologies (nor should he have to) for very vividly and very accurately describing the events surrounding his wife’s death by her own hand.

I knew exactly what this book was about before I agreed to review it during Abel’s virtual book tour. I knew it would be hard, but I also knew that many, many people needed to read it. I thought that I would be able to handle it. I almost could not.

You see, the first chapter is very well written and because of this it had an unexpected affect on me. I’m afraid that in my former life as a nurse I became very familiar with the type of scene that played out for Abel. It was not an easy thing, but it could be done. Unfortunately, I found that as Mr. Keogh’s compelling writing continued I was not only walking his nightmare with him, but I was also carrying with me the names, faces, and cases of those I had treated many years ago. These were not memories and feelings that I had thought of in a long time, nor were they ones I was eager to re-live. By the end of the first chapter I was emotionally spent. I closed the book and had a good long cry— for Abel Keogh, for his wife, for myself, and all those other faces I had carried with me as I read.

The story had moved me, and I was compelled to find out what the rest of the pages held; but, it was still a full day before I was ready to pick up the book and move beyond chapter one. Then, I soon had to mourn a little more for another set of circumstances I knew all to well and another set of patients I had the honor and pain of caring for. The first third of the book was hard, very hard. Even so, I do not think this story could, or should, have been dealt with any other way. It is honest, sincere, and powerful. If you are one of the many who have personally dealt with this type of nightmare, and when you are ready, you will appreciate Abel’s candidness and understanding for the things you face. He makes it very clear that you are not, and will never be, all alone in those dark hours. Even when no one else can understand, the Savior weeps with you.

Rest assured this story has a satisfying ending, but the path taken is not always easy. If you have the courage to learn from Abel Keogh’s life you will be a much better person for it. You will definitely walk away with greater compassion and empathy.

That being said, Room for Two is not a book that I can globally recommend for every reader. Rather, it is one that I would prayerfully consider for anyone who has had to deal with this type of loss within or outside of an LDS belief system. It is also very appropriate for those who have the special responsibility of reaching out to these people. Prepare yourself mentally, emotionally, and spiritually for the experience and you’ll walk away with some powerful insights. Come to its pages with a lot of baggage and it may take a while longer to catch the messages of this story.

Room for Two is about choices, and understanding that even a seemingly small decision can impact many lives greatly. Most importantly it shows kindness and understanding for those who have faced serious consequences from badly made choices. Ultimately, this is a story of pain, suffering, repentance, renewal, peace, and forgiveness. It’s about finding yourself at the most horrid spot in your life you can ever imagine and finding a way to climb out of that quagmire. Room for Two offers hope. It carries the message that even when someone thinks they are beyond reach and have used their last chance with the Savior, they are still in His hand. Though He will not change or take away the consequences that must be faced, God still guides His children to the best blessings He can offer them. Still, in the end the choice is ours, once again, whether we will accept or turn away from His love.

Well done, Abel Keogh, for having the personal strength to endure, and to share, a very timely and compelling message.

Room for Two by Abel Keogh

Trade Paperback: 224 pages

Publisher: Cedar Fort (August 2007)

ISBN-10: 1599550628

ISBN-13: 978-1599550626

Amazon.com Sales Rank: #162,056 in Books (See Bestsellers in Books)

Follow Abel Keogh’s Virtual Book Tour at http://www.abelkeogh.com/blog/

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I'm Not Crazy After All!

Okay, I know what your thinking. Just keep those judgments about my sanity to yourself, or the rumors might make it back to me and make me even more paranoid....

Here's the deal. For the past year or so I've been at war with my body. Or rather, my body has been at war with me. Following a series of unpleasant health changes I swallowed my pride and admitted to my symptoms. After some hmmms and huhs some lab work was done and I had a label for my madness. That's all well and good, but that label also came with a "magic pill" that was supposed to fix the madness. It didn't. It wasn't that it was a bad choice, both my medical mind and the doctor's said the medication, when adjusted to my needs, would fix the problem.

After a year of blood draws and medication changes I can honestly say that I don't think anything has drastically changed. In fact I have continued to experience a myriad of quirky problems, some I could explain away, some I could not. It has left me many a times declaring that aliens have taken over my body, because I certainly don't recognize the way its acting as being me.

Then enters that whole "one closed door, opens a window somewhere" thing. About six weeks ago my doctor suddenly decided to leave her practice and move across the state. (I don't really blame her, I don't want to live here either.) But it left me with a bit of a quandary. Do I stop pretending I'm going to get any better and chuck the doctor thing all together, or do I find a specialist to see if there is anything else that can be done.

I had my first appointment with the specialist yesterday and I'm happy to report that I'm not crazy, and my body hasn't been taken over by aliens. When I showed the new doctor my latest test results and reviewed what had been done, I included the fact that I wasn't really experiencing any difference and sheepishly admitted to the fact that everything about my health seemed to be slightly messed up.

To my relief she didn't "hmmm" then say, "that's just part of getting older". She looked right at me and said, "Well, of course you don't feel good. And here's why." She then went on to tell me with realistic and medically founded reasons why my body hates me so badly and what I can do about it. She even brought up a few more things that I was having problems with that I didn't want to bother a doctor about, even though it bothered me.

We don't have all the answers yet, I had to get poked with another needle and have a few more tests done to make sure we're really headed in the right direction. But, I'm definitely feeling less discouraged today. The sad part? It wasn't that my family doctor or myself were really wrong. We were following the standard treatments, we just never realized that if it wasn't working there were other alternatives. The doctor and I both were going on the basic knowledge any medical professional has about my problem. Neither one of us really thought to look any deeper than that.

Had I taken that initial diagnosis and spent a event a little time digging deeper into the problem I would have realized why my body was acting so weirdly. At least a little bit.

So, here's my point. There are things we know, and things we think we know, but 99% of the time there is probably a lot more to it than we are able to recognize. Never try to assume anything. Never try to judge a situation outside of your own control. Always be humble and willing to learn. If the path your on doesn't seem to be working any more, and you can no longer see the door, look for a window to jump out of. Um, yeah. You get my point.

And, never tell your doctor that your sure you're possessed by some sadistic creature from another planet.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Journey by J. Adams

Wow. That is the only word I can use to describe my initial impression of J. Adams' (Jewel Adams) latest title The Journey. Never before have I read a more beautiful and poetic description of something so, well, disturbing.

I had just a few moments to read before boarding an airplane. I quickly glanced at the prologue, noting that is was a short two pages: just right for sneaking in before having to begin the rush and bustle of reality once more. That's when I noted the words on the page and my jaw drop in amazement. I could tell I was in for an exciting journey of my own.

Man, I hated tucking that book away to get on the plane and grabbed it up again at the first opportunity. The Journey can best be classified as YA romantic fantasy. Though not strictly an LDS novel, this poignant tale is a down-to-earth statement about truths we as Latter-day Saints hold dear. I had fun watching for the gospel messages so gently woven into a sweet story anyone can appreciate and learn from. It's all about choices and individual worth, presented in a thought provoking manner. The Journey lets those who have never been privileged to know about these concepts feel and believe the truth and power behind the message. For the teenager who wants a good story that doesn’t preach, they’ll enjoy The Journey and come away having learned something through their own thoughts and exploration of the story.

My only complaint with The Journey isn’t really a complaint, but rather an observation. Jewel's portrayal of the starter, or fuel, for all ill-chosen acts is very specific. Though she shows the process by which any one of us can make a choice that can be harmful very well, the main choice that needs to be made is whether or not to partake of the beverage “Splendorfire”. To quote the book: “On the indulgence of Splendorfire rest all other weakness that are sure to follow.” I understand the need to provide a clear and simple choice for the reader to understand and follow the characters through. She does this very well: The Journey shares the feelings and thoughts associated with both right and wrong choices and the paths that result from those choices. Ms. Adam is also right in pointing to this avenue as one that is frequently a door opener to bigger problems. Giving in to Splendorfire does lead to other miseries and complications in the character’s lives, but I hope that the young reader does not come away thinking that as long as they do not drink alcohol, they are safe from evil’s influence. I hope they also catch how serious Satan is about conquering us by any means possible. I would also imagine that in further volumes other snares and traps used to draw God’s children away will be explored more fully.

My favorite part of the story? As I’ve mentioned, from the first two pages I was hooked. The Journey is an engaging story that is beautifully told. It is full of little tidbits that make the reader ponder their own lives while cheering on the main character. My love for the book did not stop after I got on the plane. I read through the entire flight. I am not an easy-going flyer as my imagination tends to make me a little nervous. The Journey engaged my thoughts and imagination in a positive way, not many things can do that when I’m in a stressful situation. Reading it made what could have been an unpleasant experience, go much smoother. Aside from the value of its message, The Journey would earn a place of honor on my bookshelf for that alone.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Fool Me Twice by Stephanie Black

When I read Stephanie Black’s first novel, The Believer, I really didn't want to like it. Really. But it didn’t work. Instead of not liking it, I ended up loving it. I found myself placing The Believer among my favorites after reading it in a day and a half. So when Fool Me Twice came out I was thrilled, plus I absolutely love that cover, don’t you? I grabbed it up as soon as I could and read it with delicious anticipation of a great story told by a great author. That's exactly what I got.

Fool Me Twice by Stephanie Black represents some of the genres I'm most excited to see expanding in LDS literature. Suspense, thrillers, and mystery just add a fun element to the ways you can throw an LDS character into a whole world full of trouble. That trouble is what makes them real to us. Go figure, we like to know other people are having a hard time getting through life, too. If it’s done right (as Stephanie shows us) the characters don’t come across as perfect and you don’t feel like the gospel is being shoved down your throat. So, throw a good person who’s just discovering the church or a life-long member into this type of thriller and the characters begin to feel like long lost friends. Even though you may never find yourself in these same situations (thank goodness) sometimes you can relate to and become involved in an LDS character more than a secular character. They think and feel more like you do. When you're rooting for the heroine to succeed, you're also mentally yelling things that the rest of the world would never think to coach her with. Have you ever caught yourself in the middle of a harrowing scene and saying, “You doofus, why didn't you pray first?” or, “Well duh, everyone knows the Holy Ghost goes to bed at 11- what did you think you were going to come across walking around at 2am?” Ok, it may never have occurred to us in that situation either, but that’s beside the point.

It’s an “in the world, but not of it” thing. Ah yes, we are strange creatures.

Fool Me Twice starts with one of those things many authors use to set the stage: a premise built around identical twins. At some point we have all probably wondered what it would be like to see your own face starting back. Would it be a good thing or a bad? These are parts of the questions the twins Megan and Kristen have dealt with all their lives, and they seem to end up on opposite ends of the spectrum by the time we meet them in Fool Me Twice. Add that conflict to a few nastier twists and turns and you’ve essentially got a case of good-twin-verses-bad-twin fighting it out in a house of horrors. I won't tell you who comes out on top. You’ll have to read it for yourself.

Still, I did find myself having a couple of “bummer” moments when I felt Stephanie had spoiled my fun by giving me too much information. One of those moments came when I was first introduced to the evil twin; I was a little disappointed to find out as much as I did about her involvement right away. I think I would have preferred not knowing so much about her part in things. It might have made her betrayal a little more poignant. The introduction to the bad guys as Stephanie has it plotted out in the story is great, but I wanted to spend more time in “ignorance is bliss” land. I’m just weird that way.

On the whole Fool Me Twice took me on a thrilling ride. Almost every time I thought I’d just learned too much, I found out I really didn’t have a clue about what it was going to mean. My quirks aside, the way the plot progresses really does work. It's fine to know what you do about each character from the beginning; the end will still have you on the edge of your seat, mentally yelling at the characters that they should have prayed first, or what ever strikes your fancy.

So if you come across that particular chapter and find yourself saying, “What? Now what's left to show me later?" Don't worry, trust the author she definitely delivers the thrills and chills whether you think you have things figured out or not. ;)

Great job, Stephanie! Keep writing and we'll keep reading. Fool Me Twice is definitely a keeper.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Season of Sacrifice by Tristi Pinkston

In honor of Pioneer Day, I bring you a book review on a story about… pioneers!

When I first picked up Season of Sacrifice by Tristi Pinkston, I have to admit feeling a little intimidated by it. It’s a thick book (320+ pages), and the cast of characters looked longer than the cast of a Shakespeare play. J But, I’m happy to share that each character was introduced on its own timetable and not all at once. I didn’t have a bit of trouble keeping them straight as I became involved in the story, and I did become involved enough to forget how long the book was.

My friend Tristi has felt a passion for this story for many years and I’m proud of her for seeing it through to completion. It’s definitely a star in her crown. Season of Sacrifice tells the story of her great-great-grandparents and their part in settling Utah, particularly the famous “Hole in the Rock” (which I’m now dying to see, btw).

History is a strange creature. It doesn’t really have a beginning and doesn’t really have an end. So when you write about history it’s up to you to decide where to start and how far to go. It’s a tough decision, add that to making it interesting for someone else who may not feel as passionate as you do about the subject, and I stand in awe of those who write historical literature of any kind. I’m sure Tristi had to make some tough choices of her own about how and when to start and how much to tell. She did a great job of that, but I must admit that the beginning took a while to hold my interest. I felt that there might have been better ways to weave in the aspects of life in Wales at later times, when the “action” seemed to kick in for me. I enjoyed the sweet scene it set, but it did take me longer to read the first third of the book than the last two-thirds.

Season of Sacrifice is about three things, in my opinion: heritage, pioneering, and polygamy. They each have a place in the story as a whole. I’ve seen reviews for this book, focusing on the history of “Hole in the Rock”, which features prominently in Tristi’s book. I’ve also seen reviews that discuss why she chose to include the polygamy elements of her family history (she does this very well and with great sensitivity, by the way). For me, the most powerful aspects of the story were family and love. It’s about being proud of our ancestors for exactly who they were, not who we would like them to be. It’s a powerful love story about trials and commitment; it’s about the human aspects of life in general. You can see one interview with Tristi and get a closer look at her own thoughts about the story here.

If you’re a history buff, Season of Sacrifice will offer you a new voice of experience to some things you may already be familiar with. If you’re a scholar of the emotions, you’ll feel right at home. If you have relatives of your own that you value for their unique contributions, you’ll recognize Tristi’s passion for family. There is definitely something for everyone between its covers. Any way you look at it, Season of Sacrifice is a great and satisfying read.

At this time, Season of Sacrifice is available exclusively from Tristi’s web site. So pop on over and order a copy. She’ll probably even sign it for you. ;)

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

And They're Off!

Some of you may know that I finished my first “official” novel earlier this year. Since then I’ve been traveling, dealing with family, and filling my writing time with numerous smaller projects. About 3 months ago I began to seriously contemplate what my next book project would be. It took some time, but after letting several choices of nonfiction and fiction ideas duke it out, one finally came out on top: a new novel.

This past month I’ve been gathering information and trying to figure out how to make happen what I want to happen in this new story. It’s involved a lot of research and not a lot of writing. But this morning, the characters I’d created nudged me awake with most of the missing answers about how they fit into the story and how that story would play out. Stupid characters. I’d wanted to sleep in this morning, but now they’re off and running.

On the bright side, since they finally let me into their world, the ideas haven’t stopped flowing and I’ve been in full “write” mode ever since. So, today I’m happy to announce the official start of my next novel: working title— For Such a Time as This. (Can you tell which Bible story I’m working with this time?) ;)

If you’re interested, you can track my progress at the bottom of this blog. I’ve missed my friend Triti’s latest BIAM challenge by not getting these answers in time, so I’m just going to see how far I can get before adding in the upcoming Primary book to the mix. If you see those numbers stop for a while yell at me and tell me to get back to work, okay? I’m excited to see what these characters make of themselves and I hope you will be, too.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Caught in the Headlights by Barry K. Phillips

Remember my comment about not liking to read self-help/improvement books because they depress me? Shockingly, I have just finished another one. I was tricked into it, I tell you! I got this seemingly innocent email asking if I want to review a book called Caught in the Headlights by Barry K. Phillips. Taking one look at the title, I laughed out loud and didn’t read any further to find out what type of book it was. Hey, give me a break the title totally described my life that day.

When it arrived, I narrowed my eyes suspiciously at the cover— Caught in the Headlights: 10 Lessons Learned the Hard Way. “Huh” says I, “It’s another one of those.” I consoled myself with the fact that at least it was short (105 pages) and flipped it open. I was immediately hooked. Not only was it short, it had cartoons! Okay, okay, it’s the little things in life, ya know? Before I knew it I’d read another “how to make your life better” books and had a blast doing it. Sneaky author.

Where Enjoying the Journey felt like a comfortable home, Caught in the Headlights felt like a fun vacation to a water park. You know the kind—where you climb all those steps, take a thrilling slide, have the time of your life, feel refreshed, then say, “That was fun… let me rest for an hour and I’ll be ready to do it again.”

That’s not a bad thing. Though Caught in the Headlights is small, it packs a powerful punch. Every chapter promises a few smiles and a few thought provoking messages that can carry you a long way if you take time to let them sink in. Mr. Phillips creates an interesting blend of humor and insight to show that we are sometimes guilty of viewing the things that we want from an upside-down and blurred perspective. This muddled vision of what we want creates an unachievable quandary for us. Mr. Phillips points out that if we go back to the root of why we want the things we think we need, we’ll find that our goals can be better accomplished through something different. I think the back cover says it best. “Have you ever gotten what you wished for, only to discover that it’s not really what you wanted after all?”

So, here are the water slides Barry K. Phillips offers you in Caught in the Headlights.









The Big Event (dreams/goals), and

The Perfect Body

If you’ve found yourself chasing after any of these, wondering why it keep eluding you, then maybe Caught in the Headlights can offer some insight. Mr. Phillips shows you a vision of worthy goals, without the blinding headlights of the world surrounding them. I must say, I thought the view very refreshing.

The only part of the book I can’t vouch for is the poetry. Even though poetry is what introduced me to a love of writing (it was a teenage emoting thing), I now skip over every poem I come across in books. It’s not just Mr. Phillips; I’ve never read the prose in The Lord of the Rings trilogy or any other “must read” that I’ve probably read more than once. I just gloss right over it and can’t force myself to concentrate on it. Each chapter in Caught in the Headlights is formatted with a Pursuit (what we think we want and what it really is), a Lesson (how to go after what we are really looking for) and a poem, which I assume is meant to sum it all up. I got plenty out of the Pursuit and Lesson. Sorry Mr. Phillips. I’m sure you worked hard to create another learning method for your readers through the poems; they’re just not something I read.

Poetry aside, I would definitely recommend Caught in the Headlights by Barry K. Phillips. It’s straight forward and offers a perspective you may not have thought of. Caught in the Headlights would make a great bathroom reader, car, briefcase, or purse book. The chapters are just long enough for a few stolen minutes, when you finish one you can put it aside and let the message settle into your heart for a while. You don’t have to read it straight through, though I would recommend reading the chapters in order.

Barry Phillips will be on Virtual Blog Tour, promoting Caught in the Headlights, for the next few weeks. You can track his progress from here or read his personal blog from here.

Caught in the Headlights by Barry K. Phillips

Publisher: Cedar Fort (June 2008)

ISBN-10: 1599551675

ISBN-13: 978-1599551678

Caught in the Headlights can also be purchased from here.

Join the Neighborhood Newsletter . . . Subscriptions are free and joining is easy. Just by signing up and maintaining your subscription to receive the yourLDSneighborhood.com newsletter, you become eligible for our "Thank You" prizes. Our dozens of giveaways range from a trip for two to China, to iPods® (each with a $50 gift certificate for LDS music), cruises, and more.

Learn about our amazing monthly, quarterly, and annual giveaways by clicking here.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Piffle on Patience

If you know anything about me, you probably realize that I’m scatterbrained and more than a little distracted. Sometimes this is a blessing, sometimes it’s a frustration. One of the areas where the water gets a little muddy is patience.

Oh, I don’t mind things like waiting in line, or waiting for the bills to show up, or even waiting in many other things. See, I’m easily distracted, so I forget how long I’ve been waiting. But unfortunately when my brain catches a hold of something it considers very important, it suddenly becomes very focused and impatient. It probably assumes that if it doesn’t keep reminding me every minute of the day I’d forget about what I’m waiting for all together. Sometimes that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

So, here’s my problem. I’m being very impatient right now and it’s driving me (and my brain) crazy.

I’m waiting to hear back from the publisher about my latest manuscript. It’s been longer than their stated response time, but not long enough to be completely lost in the paperwork shuffle. I’m a big chicken. I figure when I look at the time frame from their point of view there’s nothing to worry about. From mine, well…. If I dare to ask what’s up with it, I’m afraid they’ll say, “Oh, you didn’t get that email? We told you we couldn’t publish it months ago!” Or worse, “What manuscript?” So I keep waiting, biting my nails to the quick and showing my OCD side by checking my email constantly and recounting the weeks to make sure I didn’t make some gross error in my time calculations.

Multiply that by the anxiety I’m beginning to feel about my next project. I have a book to write for next year’s Primary curriculum and I still have no outline! I have a small window of time from getting the official theme into my hands to sending back out a finished manuscript. That window is swiftly becoming teeny tiny. The materials for 2009 are very late this year, my publishers are getting antsy and adding an additional measure of nervous jiggle to my leg as I surf the net and check with everyone I’ve got scouting for its arrival, yet again. This behavior usually occurs after about every seventh unsuccessful email check.

So today I say: piffle on patience. Whoever said it was a virtue must be shot! (Wait… that wasn’t part of the beatitudes was it?) Obviously there is some sick and twisted humor behind this concept. It’s just great if you happen to live as a hermit on top of some mountain somewhere. What would you be waiting for, anyway? But some of the rest of us have gone from grey to blue to purple to ready-to-pass-out from holding our breath and waiting to find out which anticipated bomb is going to drop in our lives next.

I think I need oxygen.
I think I need migraine medication and a strong sedative.
I think I should be losing weight from all this stress.
I think I need some answers all ready!

Let me say again. Piffle on patience.

Friday, July 11, 2008

All's Fair by Julie Bellon

Ok, first my gripe. My puny little mind has a problem switching from one plot focus to another. Oh, it happens all the time—I do it myself. It’s a great way to weave two stories together as you move along. My complaint about using this technique in Julie Bellon’s new book All’s Fair, is that every time she made the shift I found myself cursing her, “Awe, man! It was just getting good! What’d she have to go and do that for?”

I loved All’s Fair. I hated being left on the cliff while she shifted the story between Kristen in the United States and her brother, Brandon, serving in Iraq; it’s just too cruel of a trick to play on someone who’s engrossed in the story. All I wanted to do was skip ahead to the next section of the same plot. My poor impatient self had a hard time waiting to find out what happened next.

All’s Fair is an excellent and timely story of love and adventure from a great storyteller. Darn her for being so good at turning my orderly world upside down. I think sometimes we become numb, or complacent, to the realities of what our men and women in the military face every day unless we directly know someone caught up in the problems overseas. Without preaching and without pushing one view point or another, Julie gives the reader more compassion and understanding for the hard choices and hard lives our soldiers face everyday. I have never in a million years entertained the prospect of missing ramen noodles (yuck!) but I can see it now.

That’s the next thing I would like to applaud Julie Bellon for. She says: “I actually wrote All's Fair in the summer of 2006. I was strolling through a Deseret Book one day and saw the little military pocket Book of Mormon on display, and the idea just popped into my head. What if an LDS person were captured and that's all they had to get them through the ordeal? I went home and started writing and the story just went from there. Of course, since I'd never been to Iraq, it took a great deal of research. But doing all of that research and talking to people who were there changed my perspective on a lot of things about the war, and really made me think about the sacrifices of the men and women who are serving there.”

Julie Bellon took those thoughts and feelings about the difficult situation of deployment and found a practical, very sweet way to help beyond her written words. From July 14th through July 19th, Julie and Seagull bookstores are working together to promote a unique service opportunity: Skittles for Soldiers. You’ll find out about the skittles part in All’s Fair, but in a nutshell the campaign is all about sending our love to deployed soldiers through the little everyday things that remind them of home. It’s about sending care packages filled with things you miss the most when your life is in chaos.

Julie will be appearing on Good Things Utah, Monday July 14th at 10am (MT) to talk about this charity drive. You can also read about it and find a copy of donation ideas listed on Julie’s web site. If you live near a Seagull book, please grab a couple of things off your shelf that you take for granted and drop it off at the bookstore to be sent to our soldiers who will appreciate it more than we ever could. Please, help Julie spread the word and make her resolve to help our soldiers any way she can be a successful project.

Now, for some fun. After reading about Kristen’s wedding dress difficulties and having a chuckle (my dress was big and poofy like that), I wanted to know if Julie was writing from experience. Here’s her response:

“How funny, I really didn't think of that, but my wedding dress was similar in that it had a billowy skirt and lots of buttons down the back. I got married on a hot August day, though, no rain or mud to be found!” :)

Want a compelling story filled with all the best elements of love, drama, and adventure, mixed with a gentle lesson in compassion? Pick up All’s Fair by Julie Bellon and while you’re already there, drop off a package of Skittles at Seagull Book for me. Trust me, after you read the book you’ll be glad you did.
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Can I Quote You On That?

Okay, so I’m in the middle of trying to re-design my web site and I had a little slot of extra space. I decided it would be fun to include some quotes on writing in that spot. I found some really great ones, too.

But, the whole time I was gathering quotes from all these famous writers, I was thinking about my favorite quotes from a different set of famous authors; my friends from LDStorymakers. See, most of them have blogs that I pop in on every once in a while, but we also have an email group that keeps me from feeling too sorry for myself for living on the wrong side of the United States. I get to peek into their lives and careers every day. Though it’s not quite as good as being able to answer, “I’ll be there!” when the call goes out for, “Anybody want to go to lunch tomorrow?” (They’re all stinkers for having fun without me, let me tell you!)

It’s interesting what types of things can pop up when you start over 50 LDS authors chatting. I’ve included some of my favorite quotes for your enjoyment. To protect the . . . well, I don’t think you could really call any of us “innocent” per se . . . to protect their image as nice, normal, sane people I haven’t included any names. Let’s see if any of them recognize their words. ;)

  • Writing to me is the freeing of my imagination and soul. When I give myself over to it the words pour out of me and it seems as if the words create pictures and stories in my mind that will tell a good story . . . In writing we allow those thoughts to grow and mature until someone, somewhere will be touched and their life enriched by the words you committed to the page.

  • Writers are always asked why we write. I think people are creative by nature and we look for ways to express ourselves. For some people it's scrapbooking or sewing or gardening. For me, it's inventing characters and spending months obsessing over details of their imagined lives. Yeah, I know, it sounds sort of insane, but it's more fun than doing housework.

  • Wanna hear something funny? On Meyer's My Space page, under her pictures, there's one of her standing in a bookstore, a closeup. Guess what's over her left shoulder? My book. She's trying to send me love hints. It's kinda cool. But she's not my type.

  • I'm going on little sleep. A character of mine was so inconsiderate last night!

  • I’ve been blogging so much . . . that I’m starting to suffer from itching, rash, bloody gums, and twitching eyes. I have no idea what that could mean.

  • In honor of the [happy grammar] day, I will actually pay attention to my grammar check when it shoots those little green lines under my sentences, instead of arguing that sentence fragments are a stylistic choice and thus completely valid.

  • We’d argue over every one of my semi colons. I got to keep most of them--including a few in dialogue. (Can you hear my victorious laugh?)
Discussion title:
  • Need a cancer

On accurately describing dead bodies
  • My wife won't let me talk about this cool stuff anymore. . . .You get dead guy juice all over you.
Follow ups to describing dead bodies-
  • I would never in this world have thought of that! Uh oh, now my mind’s going down the weirdest trails. Thanks a lot!

  • If the dead guy was nine days gone, would they take the body to the hospital for ID, or would they take him to the morgue.....or the bait shop ;)

  • Don't get me started (too late) because this only scratches the surface of my warped psyche.

  • Anyone else would think I'm mental for actually saving this crazy discussion for future reference.

On a reality show about authors-
  • They could film me sitting down to my computer, then my kids gathering around wanting their computer time. Or me sitting down to my computer and the phone ringing and it's a call I have to take. Or me sitting down to my computer only to hear screams and wails coming from the backyard. Or me sitting down to my computer and getting up quickly when I hear my 4 year-old and her friends squealing about the beautiful makeup they are painting with in my bathroom. Or me sitting down to my computer and looking out the window to see my daughter and her friend streaking down the street naked. Or me sitting down the computer and looking at the clock and realizing I was supposed to pick up my kids 5 minutes ago. Or me sitting down to my computer and my boys burst in yelling at each other and getting into a fistfight over the rules of some game they made up. Or me finally sitting down to the computer at 4:00 a.m. because I will finally be free of distractions, only to stare at the screen and realize that I can barely understand English, not to mention write any of it.
  • Yeah, that would be a great show. . . . At least it would have nudity.

You know how they have those “good news” minutes in Relief Society where sisters share good news with each other at the beginning of the meeting? Do you suppose it would be okay for an author to share her good news for the week? Picture it:
Relief Society President: “Does anyone have any good news they would like to share?”
Sister A: “I’m going to be a grandma! My daughter-in-law is due in July!”
President: “Congratulations! Anyone else?”
Sister B: “My son just got his mission call! He’s going to Guatemala!”
Pres: “Wonderful! You must be so proud of him. Does anyone else have anything to share?”
Sister C: “I just made a huge breakthrough in my novel. I realized the book is too flat because it doesn’t have enough sources of tension and I need to give Jane some sinister motives of her own and a secondary evil plot to complement the main one. One murder just wasn’t enough for this book, but now that Jane is planning to do away with Sally, it’s all coming together. I’m SO excited!”
President: “Um . . . great.”

And my personal all-time favorite:

  • The characters just took over. They don't let me do anything I want anymore. But I'm not going to talk to them about it. They scare me.

Thanks guys, you make my life so much more fun!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Enjoying the Journey by Jamie Theler with Deborah Talmadge

I have a confession to make. I read a lot of “how-to” books (which frightens my husband a bit, trying to figure out which “how-tos” I might actually try). The “how-to” books that I don’t read are probably the ones that could help me the most. I don’t read “Life is great, this is how to be happy” books. Why? They depress me. Their “simple” steps to happiness are far from simple for me and I come away feeling even worse about how I’m living my life. If what they say is true then obviously it should be easier and I’m getting something major wrong that I can’t seem to fix. Make sense?

I know it’s counterintuitive to everything the gospel teaches but that’s the power of Satan. He knows me well and makes sure I notice how inadequate I am in the face of such “simple” solutions that seem to work for “everyone else”. So that’s the big confession, I don’t read books that might actually be of use to me because I’m too afraid they won’t work and I’m too far gone already.

I love and respect Jamie Theler and Deborah Talmadge, authors of Enjoying the Journey: Steps to Finding Joy Now. When this book came out, I put its title on my reading list because I like to rejoice in my friend’s successes. Sadly, it kept finding its way to the bottom of the list. Even though I knew Jaime was real person with real problems and real outlooks she obviously knew something about this whole life thing that I wasn’t getting. I didn’t want to find out what that was. I didn’t want to have to admit that even though she got it, I couldn’t.

I know that my personal struggles are nothing compared to those many men and women face, but still they are struggles because, well, I struggle with them. Just like many of you, these trials can weigh me down until I switch from enjoyment to survival mode. Sadly, I probably find myself in survival mode much more often than I find myself in enjoyment mode.

Eventually it did happen. I opened the book and began to read and I was bawling before I was half-way through the first chapter. Jaime was describing me and the way I feel when others seem to point out what I’m lacking. Jaime and Deborah weren’t afraid to talk about their own human frailties. They’d tried everything that seemed to work for everybody else and still felt a void. Their answer? We don’t have all the answers for you, but we know where you can get them. We’ll teach you how to ask God and work with Him. He’s the only one who can make things right for you.

I know it sounds weird, but for me that was the most important part of the book- knowing that the people who wrote it honestly understand where I’m coming from. I didn’t feel belittled, incompetent, or talked down to within these pages. They aren’t testifying of their own triumph over huge and seemingly insurmountable trials, just every day things we all face. They are human and understood I am too.

I love the fact that each chapter not only lays it on the line and gives valuable insight but the authors don’t leave it at that. Most of us can read a self-help book and say, “Yeah, that’s what I need to do” but not come away with any realistic idea of how to accomplish it. Enjoying the Journey really wants to help you. Jaime and Deborah not only give you the thoughts and ideas, they give you the simple (yes, really) steps and methods you can use to make it happen in your own life in a practical down-to-earth way.

If you’re humble and open-minded, if you truly desire to make the most out of your time here on earth, there’s great wisdom to be found in Enjoying the Journey. If your like me and can’t figure out how to get a batch of laundry folded, much less establish a house of order, then just plant that first seed of faith. Buy the book; place it on your bedside table where you can see it. One day when you’re feeling brave just take a peek. Just a little one. See if you don’t feel at home within this book’s cover. If you’ll at least try, you’ll begin to figure out where your own joy in the journey can come from.

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How I Celebrated Independence Day

Okay, I know the 4th of July is all about celebrating America but this year I decided to celebrate something else: peace and quiet.

I sent my family on vacation Thursday night with out me. Yes, I do that sometimes. Then, by Friday morning I had turned off every electronic device I could get my hands on. I was declaring my independence from technology for the weekend. No computers, no phones, no stereos or tvs, no alarm clocks, I didn't even cook or go any where. The only things I didn't shut off were the fridge and the hot water heater (I'm not a barbarian you know).

All in all it was bliss. Yes, I think I spent too much time working on housework rather than enjoying my peace as much as I should, but I really did have a good time. If you ever get the chance. I highly recommend it.

The only problem was when my family came home Sunday night the little bit of chaos was a little over-whelming. It really wasn't bad but I was just not used to it any more. It took me a few hours to be really happy they were home again. ;) Of course, almost immediately after walking in the door my teenage daughter "just had to" check her email... then the fact that the computer was on and just sitting there was once again created a magnetism I couldn't ignore. I was eventually sucked in with needing to check my mail as well and it was all downhill from there.

There was also that small nagging of guilt at knowing that there were messages on the answering machine that were probably people needing stuff and refusing to find out what it was. I'd turned off all the phone ringers, but forgotten to shut off the answering machine. It was painful but also very gratifying to be able to tell myself that neither number could have been someone calling me for a true emergency and odds were whatever they needed someone else could help them just as well as I could. Still, my pathetic martyrdom's brain felt like I was letting the world down by refusing to interact for a weekend. Thankfully, I was able to talk myself back out of such nonsense in due time. I needed that time and I'm glad I took it, whether the rest of the world understands or not.

I have to admit that I did cheat a few times over the weekend. Here's a summary:
Spilled bath salts on my bedroom carpet, used the vacuum to get them up.
Got frustrated that my hands can't write as fast as my brain can create new material and broke out my mini-computer for an evening of frantic story plot typing.
Used the blender to make a smoothie as I needed to use up an ingredient before the end of the weekend.
Talked on the phone to my children twice and my husband once.
Used one lamp instead of a candle at bedtime the first night after discovering that my husband had rudely taken all of the lighters in the house with them on the camping trip.

I know it seems weird and maybe even impossible in your mind, but that was part of the reason I did it. I just wanted to see if I could. Turns out that for the most part I was happier than I've been in a while. Go ahead, challenge yourself sometime. See if you can put aside all those modern "conveniences" that so conveniently take over our lives, just for a day or two and see how you feel.

Friday, July 4, 2008

House of Secrets by Jeffery S. Savage

I recently had the pleasure of re-reading a favorite book of mine: House of Secrets by Jeffery S. Savage.
This is the first book in the Shandra Covington mystery series, and I love it. If you’re a mystery fan, but hate having to skip whole pages because of negative content, then these books are for you. The main character is LDS and there are a few cultural references. Aside from that it’s just a clean and exciting novel that anyone could pick up and appreciate. There are no covert or not-so-covert gospel messages and valuable insights, well except maybe: don’t go into houses that have been standing empty for years, there’s probably a good reason no one else is dumb enough to go inside.

Yes, this is a guy writing a female main character. I understand he has a lot of help making sure he portrays us correctly. Still, I have one bone to pick with him about Shandra. I do not know any women over the age of 20 who can eat as much as Shandra does and be as skinny as she is. Yeah, I know there are a few choice women out there with “high metabolisms” that makes this possible. For the rest of us pleasantly plump people we can only roll our eyes and get mildly jealous at the very mention of such a thing. Sure, I share her passion for food, but her waistline makes her less real to me. Sorry Shandra but you really need to gain a few pounds.

My husband claims that the plot in House of Secrets is fairly predictable. Whatever. The man thinks everything is fairly predictable. I don’t think he’s ever been surprised in his life. He’s also one of those who reads Stephen King and the like on a regular basis, so if that’s the type of book you crave it may be a little too mild for you. I couldn’t say for sure because for me it’s just right. Skinny heroine all, House of Secrets definitely earns a place among my favorites.

Jeff Savage is the master of cliffhanger breaks. Be forewarned that he is very skilled at not letting you go once he’s got you reading. The very first sentences hook you and then he spends the rest of the book reeling you in bit by bit. Just when you think you can put it down at the end of the chapter he’ll end with another point of tension that just draws you further in.

There are many who are still cursing his name for the ending of the second Shandra Convington mystery. He’d better get the third volume out pretty soon or there could be lynching mobs after him. Actually, a little bird told me recently that he is working on the editing process on that one right now. Yeah!

Ok, now here’s the best part. Click on one of the links for House of Secrets. Go on, I’ll wait. . .
. . .
. . .
. . .
Yep. It’s super saver time! As part of their summer clearance Deseret Book is offering House of Secrets for only $2! Go get one. Now. I promise it’s more fun than the two double cheeseburgers from McDonalds that you could have spent your money on.

Join the Neighborhood Newsletter . . . Subscriptions are free and joining is easy. Just by signing up and maintaining your subscription to receive the yourLDSneighborhood.com newsletter, you become eligible for our "Thank You" prizes. Our dozens of giveaways range from a trip for two to China, to iPods® (each with a $50 gift certificate for LDS music), cruises, and more.

Learn about our amazing monthly, quarterly, and annual giveaways by clicking here.

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