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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.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Lemon Tart by Josi Kilpack

Well here's a fun new twist. I've enjoyed the national culinary mystery series titles like Chocolate Chip Cookie Murders and Holy Guacamole! It's fun to mix good food with good reading. Now there's a new mystery that’s squeaky clean for the LDS audience. I've got to say that the yellow cover of Lemon Tart by Josi Kilpack is almost as fun as the actual book!

Lemon Tart features a fifty-one year old ultimate-happy-homemaker named Sadie. She finds herself sick at heart and curious of mind when her neighbor and friend Ann Lemmon is found murdered while she has a lemon tart baking in the oven. Hmmm, very curious. Even worse, no one seems to know where Ann's two-year-old son is. It's more than Sadie can handle without "doing something" about it all.

While I found Sadie to be a very lovable character and a neighbor I certainly wouldn't mind having if she'd feed me as much as she feeds here own neighbors, there were several moments when I thought she was an absolute ditz. I suppose that's half the fun of these kinds of books. I mean, what fun would it be if the main character was always totally reasonable and never gave us a chance to say, "You’re kidding me. You actually think it's a good idea to . . . " How cool is a horror movie if you don't get to scream, "No! Don't go in that room you idiot!"

Roll-my-eyes moments aside I certainly got caught up in the story and Josi's excellent story telling techniques. I picked up a few household hints, not that I will actually use them (that would require me too actually keep house) and I got a few new recipes to add to my collection. The lemon tart was far too complicated for my poor culinary skills but the recipes for alfredo sauce and brownies were very yummy. Those even a schmuck like me could make with out messing them up. How fun!

Oh yeah, I did have fun with the mystery part as well. Though I was able to figure some things ahead of time, but there was just enough that I couldn't piece together that made the ending very satisfying. It's a good mix of light and breezy fun and curious clues that will keep you engaged-- but not necessarily biting your nails until the very end.

Looking for a good summer day reading vacation? Lemon Tart just might fit the bill. I for one can’t wait for the next installment.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Personal Shopper for Agents

Okay, in case you haven’t figured it out yet I’m not exactly a typical girl. Point in case: I hate shopping. It’s just no fun for me. I can never find anything that fits right. I hate the way I look in full length mirrors under florescent lights. I cringe at just about every price tag. I’m pretty much a sweat pants and t-shirt kind of girl. Yes, there are times when I like to look decent I just can’t ever figure out how to do that. If I were the type I’d hire a personal shopper like from the movie In Her Shoes. I need someone who can just look at me and figure out what will fit and look wonderful instinctively, because I certainly don’t have a clue.

Now I’m discovering I’d like a personal shopper for something else, too. Is there such a thing as an agent for agents? Think about it. I’d totally pay for someone to make sure my query letter was knock-your-socks-off incredible and to find exactly the right agent matches for my manuscript and personality. They’d prioritize who to query first and take care of everything. All you’d have to do is wait for the introduction phone call.

So, here I am, awesome manuscript pining away in my hard drive as I try to figure out how to tweak my query for the millionth time and which agent I should try to charm next.

It’s a good thing I’m happily married. I’ve never mastered the dating thing either. There’s a reason writers are usually wallflowers. I’m not sure I have the guts to keep asking agents to dance.

New plan. Maybe I’ll just keep writing books and bequeath them to my children when I die. Maybe they’ll take pity on me and find someone to publish them. It’s the least they can do for all the bowls of cold cereal I’ve lovingly served them over the years, right?

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Landmark List by Karen C. Eddington

I have to admit that when I began reading The Landmark List by Karen C. Eddington, I had a strange sense of dejavué. It reminded me of a book I read several years ago, The Traveler’s Gift by Andy Andrews. Essentially, the main character is down and out, he is losing or has lost his job and his family is in trouble as well. Just at his darkest moment he receives help from an unusual source and the It’s a Wonderful Life scenario starts in earnest.

The premise of The Landmark List is using the tools of the self-help program outlined in the book —The Theory of Purpose— in order to find meaning and purpose in your life. This is a very timely topic and I’m glad Karen is one of those giving souls who try to tackle serious issues and help others overcome their problems. That being said, I’m not sure The Landmark List is her most effective tool for doing that. I think it makes a good supplement to other things she is doing, and it helps to get the word out about the types of things one can do, but it didn’t seem like an end-all-be-all to me.

I kept reading because I could recognize the importance of the principles being presented and the nature of the inspiration that could be obtained from considering some of these things. After a while it began reminding me less of The Traveler’s Gift and more of an experience I had many years ago in nursing school. As part of my psyche rotation, I had to sit in on and evaluate a Christian-base therapy group.

I heard a lot of the same types of thoughts and advice and I have to say, it was more effective in a group setting. Perhaps that’s my biggest problem with this book. The principles in it are sound. They are things every one of us needs to consider deeply, but the presentation of them did nothing for me. Maybe I’m just a big scrooge, but the scenarios just didn’t seem real to me. That being said, I can see this being a very, very effective fireside or workshop. The book probably becomes more meaningful after hearing from the author as well. I would suggest looking into where Karen is presenting. If she’s in your area, I think it would be a worthwhile experience to hear from her.

Here’s what it felt like happened as I was reading. Two people facing big life challenges stumble upon a book of answers. After every reading they suddenly wake up and say, “Of course! That’s what I’ve been doing wrong. I’m all better now.” Yes, they took a few actions to help that along, but those weren’t defined enough that the reader could take them and figure out what they could do as well.

As the story plays out it takes approximately a week to complete the transformation. I don’t buy that as a real-life situation. Change and enlightenment is a tough, long process. The story made it seem like just reading the book would automatically open up your life-path for you. I don’t think that was the intention, but I can see some severely depressed or hurting individuals coming away even more discouraged than they went in.

The most effective parts for me were the last 20 pages where the author outlines the program a little more and gives some more specific exercises. Here’s my humble opinion on how to read The Landmark List. Skip to the back and read it first. Once you have a feel for each step, go to the story, find the italicized portions dealing with that step and read them next. Do your own exercises, then see how the family in the story dealt with the information to give yourself more to think about.

Overall, as I’ve mentioned, The Landmark List is full of information that each of us need to consider, early and often in our lives. It may not appeal to you for pleasure reading, but it makes a good way to focus your thoughts for a Sunday afternoon of personal reflection. Don’t miss the important tidbits that really could chance your life and thinking. If nothing else, copy out the principles and place them inside your journal or other handy spot so that you can review them every few days and see how you’re doing. It probably won’t be as miraculous or as sudden as the changes in the character’s lives, but I bet after a while you’ll see a significant difference in the way you feel and think about things. And those differences are in line with the eternal truths Heavenly Father wants desperately for each of us to understand.

Karen is also the author and illustrator of the book “Today, I Live… A Gift of Peace for Girls at any Age.” You can read more about Karen Eddington and the Theory of Purpose at www.thelandmarklist.com.

The Landmark List goes on sale in June 2009. You can pre-order it here.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Roll of Thunder, Hear My . . . Typing

The other night I awoke to a thunderstorm that took my breath away.

It was my first experience with for-really-truly rolling thunder.

There was a bright flash of lightning somewhere near my house, and then the thunder came. It was loud and booming, but rather than fading away or echoing slightly to areas around; it literally rolled further and further away. The sound reminded me of a really long sonic boom. Yes, I actually said, “Wow”.

As I lay there, trying to figure out exactly how I would put the experience into words (in case I ever needed it for a story) another thought occurred to me. I think in that moment I understood what it really means to be a writer. Actually, not just a writer but anyone whose life is wrapped up in the arts. Maybe, just maybe, those who paint, sing, sculpt, write, those of us who try to share creativity with the world, have experienced something about this life and this world that left us in awe.

It may be positive, it may be negative, but I think there must have been at least one experience with life that has taken our breath away. That is the seed that sparks our spirit with an overwhelming desire to share the experience with someone else. There is a part of us that screams, “See! Look! Experience life! Love, laugh, cry! Isn’t it a wonderful experience?”

Here’s praying there will always be people who wake up in the middle of the night in awe of a thunderstorm and then do their best to share that beauty with the rest of the world. The “Wow” moments are what make life worth living.

Friday, May 15, 2009

My Fairy Grandmother by Aubrey Mace

As a big fan of Spare Change (winner of the 2008 Whitney Award for Best Romance), I was keen to get my hands on My Fairy Grandmother by Aubrey Mace. After all, it promised to be a book by someone I’d enjoyed reading before on a subject I enjoy: fairies and fantasy. Since attending the LDStorymaker’s conference is my book buying spree for the year, My Fairy Grandmother inevitably made it into the stack. It was also one of the first I read after getting my stash back home again and it was pretty fun when I needed snatches of escapism.

What I must first point out is that My Fairy Grandmother has a totally different feel than Aubrey’s first book. Spare Change was a light, fun and inspiring LDS chick-lit type of title. My Fairy Grandmother tends to be quite a bit darker and will not appeal to everyone. Those who enjoy magical realism are the ones who, IMHO, will find the most that speaks to them in the pages of My Fairy Grandmother.

My Fairy Grandmother is based on stories a grandmother is telling to her granddaughter that illustrate her heritage as a one who has fairy blood. There is a set of stories told within the story. Expect to hop from present to past and back again as Grandma tells about the fairies in her family.

My biggest whine about My Fairy Grandmother? There are a lot of view point changes in the book and some of them were a little too abrupt for my poor brain.

Also, I understand what Aubrey was trying to do by making the granddaughter young (age 9); she wanted the child to be innocent and believing of her grandmother’s stories. But, because of the nature of the stories being told I can see a lot of nine year olds having problems with the tales themselves, not the believability of them. I think I would have preferred an older granddaughter. Perhaps one that was wrestling with the issue of “grandma’s a fairy” verses “grandma’s lost her mind” herself rather than making this solely the role of the mother.

My biggest happy-dance for the story? Grandma Viola. Of the three main characters grandma is definitely my favorite. She seems the most defined to me and someone I would thoroughly enjoy knowing. I’m all for brownies for breakfast and will never look at a peppermint candy the same way again. She’s my type of gal.

I found the stories that Viola told more engaging than some parts of the modern day action, with the exception of the scene in the doctor’s office. That one was worth its weight in gold.

Seeing Aubrey shift gears between genres and knowing that her next book is a romantic comedy for Christmas, I get the feeling that-- like many writers-- she has far too many voices in her head for her own good. It takes time to figure out which ones you really want to listen to. So, I commend Aubrey Mace for exploring as many facets of fiction as she is able, but I will be watching curiously to see which genre becomes her signature. She’s a good storyteller and it will be fun watching her talent grow.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Confessions of Super Mom by Melanie Hauser

I have to tell you if I have a choice, I'm one of those people who would much rather skip Mother's day than acknowledge it. Now, I know that seems a little weird to some of you. I mean, it's the one day a year that many of us will actually hear a thank you and all that. But here's the thing, as far as I'm concerned Mother's day is another tool of Satan to make women feel bad.

If you are one of millions of women who are not mothers you feel bad, especially if you are one who desperately does want to be a mother but can be. If you are a mother you feel bad because no matter how it's played out Mother’s day can be just as bad for your self esteem as any fashion magazine or prime-time television show. It isn't about what is said or not said. It's about a woman's weird ability to take whatever is said and turn it into a negative. "See. I'm not like that so I'm obviously lacking as a mother."

Okay, maybe I'm just weird but that's what happens for me. I'm okay with sitting through the Primary kids singing while picking their noses, that's normal motherhood. But then somebody (ies) inevitably starts extolling all the virtues of their particular mother or mothers in general and I start a mental check list. "Nope I don't do that, nope I don't do that, nope I don't do that either."

I have yet to hear anyone celebrate the kind of mother I am. No, I don't think anyone would say I don't love my children or call protective services but I definitely do not reek of motherly virtues either. I don't cook. I don't clean. I don't run my kids to endless activities or cheer at all their games. I'm not totally supportive of everything they do. The list could go on and on. In fact I've decided my one motherhood claim-to-fame is the fact that my children can read me to sleep. No, not the other way around. My children take great pride in the fact that they can read me a bedtime story and I'll snuggle right down and go to sleep. I’m such a good mommy. :)

Why am I telling you all of this? So you'll understand where I'm coming from with my book pick for Mother's day. Of all the wonderful books put out by LDS and national publishers each year extolling the virtues of motherhood I wouldn't recommend a one to you. (Well, okay, maybe Confessions of a Completely Insane Mother.) Why? Because if you're anything like me you don't need something else to feel bad about on the one day that is supposed to make you feel good.

So, here's my recommendation. This Mother's day, skip church and curl up in bed with a large bowl of chocolate and Confessions of Super Mom by Melanie Lynne Hauser.

Super Mom is just about the most fun a person can have pointing out all the stereotypical characteristics of a mother. After a freak accident involving her Swiffer, Birdie Lee becomes a superhero to rival those in her son’s comic books. A typical single mother is suddenly transformed into a super cleaning, organizing, cooking, budgeting, and lecture-delivering super hero with an über mother's instinct not to be messed with.

There are a few pages that you'll have to cover your eyes for-- when Super Mom discovers that even moms are entitled to a love life. She's actually a little aghast at the fact that she could possibly even think about sex when she's supposed to be saving the world's children . . . Those few pages are very tame by a national standard, but they are still there.

So, go ahead grab a copy and snuggle down. I for one will spend the day with the sequel: Super Mom Saves the World. When your visiting teachers show up to hand you your already wilting Mother's day plant, and ask why you weren't at church Sunday, smile and hand them a copy of Confessions of Super Mom in return. With any luck it will get you released from some ward calling that requires you to be an upstanding example of motherhood.

Happy Mother’s Day everyone!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What's in a Name?

I’m discovering that apparently I have name issues. Oh, not my own—my characters.

While working on my current project I noticed a distinct trend in my writing. My last four fiction books (including my WIP) have had a character undergo a name change. The reasons vary, but it’s still there and it usually plays a crucial part in the story. Now, some would say this is not at all a wise thing to do. I mean, who wants to read half a story only to find out that the character you’ve been following really has a different name? It could get confusing.

So, now I’m wondering. What do I have against names? Do I hold some subliminal grudge against my parents for naming me Alison (and spelling it nontraditionally)? Do I lack some element of identity and self-esteem that makes me want to be someone else? Do I just really like messing with my reader’s minds? It’s a mystery.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Whitney Award Winners

Just in case you missed the announcements on everybody else’s sites. Here’s a run down of the Whitney Award winners.

Best Novel of the Year- Traitor by Sandra Grey

Best Novel by a New Author- Bound on Earth by Angela Hallstrom

Best Romance- Spare Change by Aubrey Mace

Best Mystery/Suspense- Fool Me Twice by Stephanie Black

Best Youth Fiction- The 13th Reality: The Journal of Curious Letters by James Dasher

Best Speculative- The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

Best Historical- Abinadi by H.B. Moore

(Sorry, for some reason Blogger wouldn't let me upload this image. Sigh.)

Best General Fiction- Waiting for the Light to Change by Annette Haws

There were only a few wins that surprised me. I didn’t always pick the winner myself, but I had a good idea which titles those winners would come from. Some of them were very tough choices.

Even if you aren’t particularly interested in World War II Traitor is an excellent novel with a very compelling story question. When Sandra Grey’s husband challenged her by saying “You can write better than that” (referring to a national title) he wasn’t kidding. She’s an excellent writer and though I never thought I say it about this type of novel, I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel.

I didn’t pick Bound on Earth as my top choice from a new author, simply because the style of the book didn’t appeal to me. That said, Angela Hallstrom has an excellent storyteller’s voice and I expect to see great things from her in the future.

Best Romance was probably my toughest category to judge. Which is weird, since I’m not normally a romance person. I was hard pressed to pick my favorite between: Seeking Persephone, Servant to a King, The Sound of Rain, Spare Change, and Taking Chances. They were unique and filled a certain niche given the type of romance reader you are. If you get your hands on any of these titles you’re in for a treat.

In the end I had to choose Seeking Persephone. You see, each of these titles kept me coming back and putting off things I should do to spend more time in their pages, but only Seeking Persephone compelled me to refuse to put it down when I really should have. I mention this specifically because Seeking Persephone is a self-published title. This is one area of publishing that can get a bad name very fast. But, Seeking Persephone was a real treat. There were very few editorial problems and the story was sweet and compelling. If I were asked to name titles from this market that show it is possible to be an excellent writer but still not publish in a traditional manor, Sarah Eden’s book would definitely make the list.

Best Youth Fiction was another category that really spoke to me. If you have a child interested in fantasy you can hand them any of these titles with confidence that they’ll find a great story that you don’t have to worry about. Though it didn’t win my top vote, the “Hambo” story in Alcatraz vs. The Scribner’s Bones made the whole book for me. My husband was looking at me funny again as I giggled delightedly. He’s such a patient man to tolerate all my weirdness. ;)

Anyway, this is only the second year for the Whitney Awards and I see wonderful things in its future. I’m sad to see Rob Wells step down as president. Don’t let him kid you, this program is his brain child and no one put more heart and soul into it than he did. But, he left it in very capable hands. Kerry Blair is one of the sweetest and most selfless people I know. She’ll do a great job.