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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year!

Tonight we become time travelers and journey from 2015 into an exciting new year: 2016!

As the new year approaches, I think over the past year. I'm happy to report that I kept my New Year's resolution! Last year, I decided that I was going to write a poem each week and a short story each month in addition to my regular writing. Yesterday, I wrote the last poem of the year. It's been fun and interesting writing in different genres through the short stories and writing about the different seasons and holidays through my poems.

When I taught writing to college students, I recommended that they write in a variety of areas. This builds skill, voice and character into the writing. If you're looking to expand your writing this year, then I'd recommend trying your hand at a writing challenge. It doesn't have to be anything huge to be valuable. Maybe you want to write a poem a month or maybe five short stories across the year. Whatever you choose, good luck!

How you celebrate the day sets the tone for the new year. There are many traditions in place. Here are mine-- Fireworks with Big Ben, Ballet and Classical Music with the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra and roses with the Rose Bowl Parade. Each year, I watch these events on TV and I think that they're a great start to the new year- fireworks in one of my favorite and neighbor cities, ballet, music and roses.
What are your traditions?

May your New Year be full of everything wonderful- good health, good friends, good family, love, joy, prosperity, peace and dreams come true!

Happy 2016!
My best to you all,

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Writer Wednesday: Christmas Reads


On Writer Wednesday, I discuss another author and his or her book. Today I'm discussing not just one book, but choosing to share with you all of the Christmas-themed books that I have read this December. 

Christmas with the Colburns by Keely Brooke Keith

This is a book that I've written about on a previous Writer Wednesday and you can read about it here

The Romance of a Christmas Card by Kate Douglas Wiggin

This was a book on Project Gutenberg (a free resource of older books) and it tells the charming tale of a minister's wife, her gift for art and the ability of a Christmas card to bridge the gap between past and present and across the miles. 

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie 

This book told the story of the Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, as well as several other mysteries of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. My favorite was the title's tale. 

Skipping Christmas by John Grisham

This was the first book of John Grisham's that I read. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it ended up being interesting and told the story of getting past the commercialism to get to the heart of Christmas and then what happens when you really get to the heart and re-embrace some of those festivities. 

On This Holy Night 
by Max Lucado, Rick Warren, David Jeremiah, John Maxwell, Jack Hayford, and Bill Hybels

This was one of the books featured in my top ten reads of the year and you can read more about it here

Visions of Sugar Plums by Janet Evanovich

This was my first Stephanie Plum mystery. It's hard to describe this book, but a few key words would be- wacky family adventures, supernatural happenings, crime fighting and Christmas. It was short, different and fun. 

And currently, I'm reading... 

White Christmas and Other Merry Christmas Plays by Walter Ben Hare

This is another find from Project Gutenberg. It's Christmas plays written in charming Edwardian poetry. 

What books have you read for Christmas or the holidays this year? What are some of your favorite Christmas reads?

One of my absolute favorites to read, that I've read several years is The Autobiography of Santa Claus by Jeff Guinn. 
My best to you all,

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Top Ten Best Books I read in 2015


Today's Top Ten Tuesday from The Broke and the Bookish is top ten books I've read this year. Talk about a challenge! I've picked a few top reads. I've liked many books this year. These are some stand-outs. I've restricted my list to authors that I don't know in real life. They follow no particular genre and span both non-fiction and fiction, just as my reading list does. They are in no specific order.

1. The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna Van Praag

This book was delightful- magical realism, strong characters, a literary connection and an interwoven tapestry of story lines.

2. Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear

I've read the first three so far in this series of female detective Maisie Dobbs. The books are set in WWI to the 1930s. I'm looking forward to reading more in the coming year!

3. Why the west rules for now: The Patterns of History and What they reveal about the future by Ian Morris

This book is a long view of history, a very long view, beginning with prehistory and stretching into predictions for the future. It examines why the world is arranged the way it is.

4. Doing good better: How Effective Altruism can help you make a difference by William MacAskill and  A Religion of One's Own: Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World by Thomas Moore

I read these books in a row and their messages flow together. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God and love others as you love yourself. A Religion of One's Own covers the first half. It encourages everyone, regardless of whether they are a member of a particular religion or not, to seek God in the everyday of life. It is about diving deeper into religion, but with scope for what that means to the individual. Loving others as yourself comes from Doing Good Better. Many have said that loving others as yourself means to sacrifice yourself, but this is loving others instead of yourself or more than yourself. The commandment says love others as yourself. Doing Good Better accomplishes this beautifully. It shows how we can have the most impact on helping others in the world (even saving lives!) by living lives that are fulfilling and complete ourselves.

5. July 1914: Countdown to War by Sean McMeekin

WWI and its after-effects continue to effect the world today. July 1914 examines those early rumblings of war, what decisions were made, what could have gone differently and a sequential build-up of the events as they happened.

6. On this Holy Night: The Heart of Christmas by Max Lucado, Rick Warren, David Jeremiah, John Maxwell, Jack Hayford and Bill Hybels

 Some of the most well-known Christian authors contribute to this collection of Christmas readings. Topics include having a "Mary" Christmas, what happens when you find a manger after following a star and examining Christmas through looking at a manger scene and its elements.

7. Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

Living by the sea means that seagulls flying above is an everyday occurrence. I had heard about this book for awhile and was interested in it. When I had the opportunity to read it this year, it didn't disappoint. At its heart, it's about reaching higher and soaring for your dreams.

8. The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B.White

Once there was a swan who couldn't honk and so he learned to read and write. Yes, you read that right. He goes on numerous adventures, full of heart and hilarious happenings. This book is from the author of Charlotte's Web and my grandparents sent it to me, because of the swans that live near my house. It was simply delightful!

9. Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

 I know Lauren Graham from Gilmore Girls and I'm thrilled to know that there will be more episodes in the coming year. This book did not disappoint. Lauren can act for sure, but she can also definitely write. This is the story of a struggling actor in the 1990s in New York City, trying to make it big. One of the most valuable pieces of advice in the book is "Just keep filling up the pages"- which means to keep filling your calendar with events that you are doing. Sometimes dreams take time to happen. The important thing is to just keep going, keep doing, keep filling up the pages.

10. National Geographic...
Every month, the National Geographic subscription from my grandparents arrives in the mail. It's a great combination of science, history, international relations and art. In short, it's pretty much perfect for me.

If this doesn't count, because it's technically not a book or even books but magazines, then my tenth pick is Northanger Abbey. Jane Austen is delightful. Northanger Abbey found me laughing out loud at the beloved author's witticisms and descriptions.

What are your top picks of 2015? Have you read any of these? What did you think of them?

My best to you all,

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Writer Wednesday: Christmas with the Colburns


Those of you who are regular readers know that I feature another author and his or her book on Writer Wednesday and that I read seasonally.

Christmas with the Colburns by Keely Brooke Keith fits that perfectly! Like a winter fire, this novella offers gentle warmth on a cold December night. Keely's readers of the Land Uncharted trilogy will already be acquainted with members of the Colburn family who live on a hidden island in the South Atlantic. Although this is set in the near future, it retains historic, rustic charm as the Colburns were a part of the original settlers to the island that landed during the American Civil War. That nineteenth century way of life is largely preserved. I was privileged to read the story of those founders in an early copy of the book and was able to offer editorial advice. Watch for the story of the founders coming from CrossRiver Media in 2016!

In Christmas with the Colburns, Lydia Bradshaw, doctor, wife, mother, daughter and sister, must find a way to live all of those roles as she faces unexpected challenges and surprises in the season. I especially liked how Keely wove a touching story of the past into this seasonal chapter of the Colburns' story. Needing an extra dose of festivity to boost her spirits, Lydia encounters an unexpected romance and family secret. It might be just the thing that she needs to make her Christmas merry.  And what Christmas would be complete without festive food? Keely has kindly provided a recipe from her own family that the characters of the book partake in at the end of this book.

If you haven't read the other stories about the Colburns, this book does fine as a stand-alone. If you have read them, then it'll read even better as you meet for Christmas with the characters that you know and love. If you'd like to read Christmas with the Colburns, you can obtain your copy here.

Happy Start of the Festive Season!

My best to you all,

Friday, November 27, 2015

Happy Black Friday!

Today only!! Special!! Extra $30 automatically added to any gift certificate purchased (Yes! You can buy gift certificates for yourself!) No minimum required.

Happy Black Friday!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Doing Good Better- Writer Wednesday

On Writer Wednesday, I discuss another author and his or her book. Today's pick is Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make A Difference by William MacAskill.

Thanksgiving is tomorrow and it's a great time not only to remember what we are thankful for, but to reach out and help others. This book captures that spirit by not just encouraging others to be altruistic, but by detailing how to be the most altruistic. A number of analyses, based upon the number of lives someone is able to save  because of an action, make for a very interesting read. This isn't about sacrificing one person for millions of others, though. Instead, this shows how simple measures can be very effective.

One particular aspect of the book that I found very interesting was the notion that you don't have to have a charity-based career in order to do good with your work. A doctor, nurse, teacher or care worker may come to mind when describing an altruistic job, but a high-paying job can be even more altruistic through the ability that it provides to donate money. And here's the thing, you don't have to donate millions. There's a multiplier effect. Money in the poorest regions of the world goes farther and so any donation that is made to these particularly badly-off places is magnified and multiplied.

Because of this multiplier effect and the vast difference in wages in poorer parts of the world to first world nations, if a person makes $52,000 a year, they are in the top 1% of the world's earners. In fact, if you earn over $20,000 a year than you are in the top 5% wealthiest people in the world. That's powerful.

Armed with that knowledge, MacAskill addresses several causes which have the potential of doing the most good for the world. Although many of the causes are abroad, and include such things as funding malaria nets and de-worming programs, one cause in the United States that still has potential for growth through his metric is judicial reform to limit unjust incarceration. There are plenty of ways to help. If you'd like to learn how to do good even better, then I recommend this book.

Even if you feel that you're unable to help via donation or volunteering, there's a simple way to do good today. All you have to do is click. Yep. That's it. Your click can manifest into feeding the hungry, providing books, and many other excellent causes. The funding for this is provided from the advertisements on the page. It really can't get any simpler than that to help others and it's an easily-incorporated minute or two into your day.

Happy Thanksgiving!
My best to you all,

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Quotations I loved from Books I read this year

Today's Top Ten Tuesday from The Broke and the Bookish is top ten quotations I loved from books I read this year. Not all the books that I've read have been annotated and so I've limited my selection to these great quotations from ones I stared or circled while reading. Also, because last week's list was entirely non-fiction, this week's is fiction. These are in no particular order. 

"Coincidence is a messenger sent by truth."- Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear, Chapter 14

"And there, pencilled into the corner of a single page, the artist had written: 'I can dance with life again.'"-  Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear, Chapter 5

"If two hearts truly love each other then they always will, even when they are apart. Unless they both let go. But if one holds on then it's because the other one hasn't yet let it go either."- Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna Van Praag, Chapter 19

"Most people think that this world we live in is mundane, but you remind us that it's magical. You wrap reality in the wonder and joy of fiction, until it infuses us and becomes true."- Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna Van Praag, Chapter 22

"'No,' said the priest, 'you don't need to accept everything as true, you only have to accept it as necessary.' Depressing views,' said K, "The lie made into the rule of the world."- The Trial by Franz Kafka

"'If I come home to you eating a pint of Haagen-Dazs and watching When Harry Met Sally, I'm calling the police.'
'What are they going to do, arrest me for being a cliche?'" Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham, Chapter 14

"Dry- cleaning is like this secret society you're not allowed into. No matter what, you're at their mercy. You can have a Ph.D. in anything, but you still can't dry clean your own clothes. They'll never tell you how. No one's ever even seen what the machine looks like. Think about it. There's a reason they keep the actual dry-cleaning apparatus hidden behind all those racks of hanging clothes. They don't want you to crack their code. They won't let anybody in. Not anybody. Even rich people. You know any rich people with dry-cleaning machines in their house? Exactly. Even they still have to pick it up and drop it off like everyone else." Someday, Someday Maybe by Lauren Graham, Chapter 12

"Maybe he was composing a poem. It's fascinating, I think, to line up words in a way they've never been before to allow you to see something differently." - Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland, Chapter 18

"There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves; it is not my nature."- Northanger Abbey by Jane AustenChapter 6

"Metaphors failed him, then. He had gone beyond the world of metaphor and simile into the place of things that are, and it was changing him."- Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, Chapter 16

What are your favorites that you've read this year?

My best to you all,

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Books for Veterans Day

Books for Veterans Day...

For top ten Tuesday today, I'm choosing my own topic and writing about top books for Veterans day. The number ten is loose, as I have more books than that. I've also only chosen non-fiction for this list. There are, of course, many wonderful historical fiction books that depict life amidst war and the importance of peace.
The books I've picked are a few that I've read over the past few years that have stuck out to me.

Books Related to American Freedom

The First Commander in Chief
Long before he was the first president, Washington was a solider and eventually the commander in chief. Without the American Revolution, there would be no American soldiers to remember on Veterans Day.

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

Gettysburg was the largest battle ever in North America and more American lives were lost in the Civil War than from the Revolution to the Korean War.

Illustrated Gettysburg Reader: An Eyewitness History of The Civil War's Greatest Battle by Rod Gragg

World War and Remembrance Day 

Veterans Day commemorates November 11, 1918 when the guns of war lay silent and the Armistice was signed to end the catastrophic first world war. These books explore the stories behind WWI and WWII.

July 1914: Countdown to War by Sean McMeekin

The War that Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 by Margaret MacMillan

Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany- June 7, 1944 to May 7, 1945 by Stephen Ambrose

The Resistance: The French Fight Against the Nazis by Matthew Cobb

The Women Who Wrote the War by Nancy Caldwell Sorel 

Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in its Darkest, Finest Hour by Lynne Olson

Transition Book for What's Happened and What's Happening

This book is magic. In the Paris Peace talks, WWI was not only "settled", but the roots of much of what lay ahead was also set-out. Not only WWII, but also ongoing global issues sparked within that conference.

Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World by Margaret MacMillan

Books to Explain Current Tensions
There are narratives for Africa and the Middle East. Many people point to these as reasons for current hostilities. But is that true? These books explore times of peace, as well as conflict, and the many layers that influence today. 

Jerusalem 1913: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict by Amy Dockser Marcus

Sea of Faith: Islam and Christianity in the Medieval Mediterranean World by Stephen O'Shea 

The State of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence by Martin Meredith

Books to Foster Understanding
These books delve into International Relations and promote better understanding among countries. When people understand each other better and see commonalities, they are more likely to live in peace.

Understanding Global Cultures: Metaphorical Journeys Through 29 Nations, Clusters of Nations and Continents by Martin J. Gannon

Histories of Nations: How their Identities were Forged by Peter Furtado

Why the West Rules for Now: The Patterns of History and What they Reveal about the Future by Ian Morris 

What are your favorite books for Veterans Day? 

My best to you all,