Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sweets For All Occasions

“For we believe that the sharing of food is akin to the sharing of one’s heart, and we can think of no better way to ‘be sweet’ to one another.”  … Co-author, Amy Lyles Wilson 

There are many ways to be sweet, especially during Advent and Christmas and this dessert “how-to”  shares great recipes for celebrating life and showing up with the perfect dessert (warning: the pictures will make you weak).  

Having a crowd for Sunday dinner? Consider making Strawberry Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce (Chapter 1: Sip and See The Baby) for dessert. The ingredients are readily available, the directions are easy and straightforward. The recipe serves 8-10 people.  

There is a recipe for Christmas Peppermint Bark (Chapter 11: Holidays and Traditions), and for “The Ladies Who Lunch” (Chapter 3) there is a recipe for White Chocolate Soup with Brownies. 

There is something for everyone’s sweet tooth here, whether it’s Mary Beth Has A Bridal Shower (Chapter 10 - Be sure to read the accompanying story),  peach preserves for When Neighbors Give You Lemons (Chapter 8), or what to serve when Reverend Boydston Comes To Town. The Coconut Butter Crust (Chapter 1) sounds delicious, has just two ingredients and would be a great beginning for the gluten-free diet.

The authors have come together to bring you stories and sweets that you will long remember, or as co-author Patsy Caldwell says, “…they go together like peanut butter and chocolate.”

You Be Sweet, Sharing Your Heart One Down-Home Dessert At A Time
With recipes by Patsy Caldwell
Stories by Amy Lyles Wilson
Published by Thomas Nelson
This book was provided by Thomas Nelson, Inc. for review purposes. These words are my own.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Southern Foodie, Book Review

Author Chris Chamberlain has written about

100 Places to Eat In The South Before You Die
(And The Recipes That Made Them Famous)

Southern food, like its hospitality, traditions and stories are well established and comforting. As the Baltimore born granddaughter and niece of two wonderful Southern cooks I was introduced to hearty breakfast plates that included a homemade biscuits and jams, fried chicken or fried pork chops and sometimes sausage, gravy, eggs ... and pie. For one week each summer in July my world took on a different hue and taste.

Dinner was served at noon and the produce was fresh and plentiful from the garden. It is easy to recollect the large brightly cloth-covered tables and platters of corn on the cob swimming in butter, meats (often more than one kind),  potatoes that were mashed or boiled or fried, steaming bowls of succotash, crisp coleslaw, peaches, slices of watermelon and mounds of freshly baked dinner rolls. All homemade and hearty and proudly served.

Reading The Southern Foodie (and looking at the pictures) makes it easy to remember sitting at my favorite aunt's table.  Her name was Irene Moore and she was beautiful, charming, and a gifted cook. She made is seem effortless, one minute she would be sitting on the back porch snapping green beans from the garden and in the next sharing the foods of her labor.  Her meals were only one reason I considered my three cousins as extremely lucky.

The food and the stories gathered in this collection make it a great addition to any cook's book shelf. There are recipes for cornbread, tomato corn chowder, coconut pie, peach cobbler, tomato gravy, grits, and pot roast.  Take an afternoon and spend it with Chris Chamberlain ... you won't be sorry. If you're planning on traveling in any of the "thirteen Southern states" check out their most celebrated restaurants.

Chris Chamberlain is a food and drink writer based in Nashville, Tennessee. He has served as a culinary judge at numerous competitions around the South and consulted with several restaurants regarding menu creation and marketing. One of his favorite things in life to do is to put a shoulder on the smoker and watch SEC football all day long while waiting for his pork to reach "pig-picking" temperature as slowly as possible.

A copy of The Southern Foodie was provided by the publisher Thomas Nelson for review purposes. The words are my own.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Band of Sister by Cathy Gohlke Blog Tour

Band of Sisters by Cathy Gohlke

If you've ever wondered about the lives of earlier family members, those related by birth, marriage and story who traveled in hopes of finding a better life you will enjoy reading about Maureen O'Reilly and her younger sister Katie Rose, "the lily flower of her family."

Fleeing from  Ireland their hardships are immediate, nearly overwhelming and very vivid.  In author Cathy Gohlke's capable hands this is a story that hits the ground running.

The details will lift you away from your current place neatly dropping you 100 years in the past.  There are secrets to contend with, grief to be shouldered and always hope for change. The characters and their lives are a window into our past.  If you enjoy reading creditable historical novels you will want to read this one. The flow, pace and character development are spot on here. The would be historical novelist will want to pay attention here.

But Miss Gohlke has also written an important novel for those of us who know little about human trafficking.  Surprisingly the numbers are far greater today. What if anything can we to bring attention to this horrendous practice?

You can begin by reading and considering the stories in Band of Sisters. Then recommend this novel to your friends, family members, and neighbors. Offer to hold a book discussion in your home, or with your Church group. Or both, even if you do not regularly meet as a book club.  Do online research to learn more about this modern day problem. Visit IOM's website   . Be prepared to share the information as a call to action. This is an opportunity to raise awareness and perhaps money for this cause.

Cathy Gohlke is the two-time Christy Award–winning author of the critically acclaimed novels Promise Me This, William Henry Is a Fine Name, and I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires, which also won the American Christian Fiction Writers' Book of the Year Award and was listed by Library Journal as one of the Best Books of 2008.
Cathy has worked as a school librarian, drama director, and director of children's and education ministries. When not traipsing the hills and dales of historic sites, she, her husband, and their dog, Reilly, make their home on the banks of the Laurel Run in Elkton, Maryland.

 Here is a link to Cathy's website:

The publisher supplied me with a copy of this book for review. The words are my own.

Learning More About Human Trafficking

UN General Assembly President Calls
                For Redoubled Efforts To End Human Trafficking

Reports of child trafficking cases are rising. Child victims of human trafficking helped by International Organization for Migration increased to 2,040 in 2011, up 27% from 1,565 in 2008.

The President of the 66th United Nations General Assembly His Excellency Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser today called on Member States, civil society, the private sector and the media to step up efforts to bring an end to human trafficking, calling it "an appalling form of human rights abuse". 

To learn more about this problem and how you might help please visit this website:

Two-time Christy Award - winning Cathy Gohlke's newest novel Band of Sisters "was born of a passion to end modern-day slavery and most of all ask: What can I do to help....?

To begin reading Band of Sisters please visit Cathy's website:

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Joanne Bischof's First Novel ... Review Coming

Look what the postman delivered today. Advance Reading Copy ...

Be Still My Soul
Book 1 The Cadence of Grace Series
Joanne Bischof

Release Date: October 2, 2012

Monday, August 13, 2012

Friday, August 10, 2012

Publishings Biggest Lie

"This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. "  Publisher's Note


Dear Reader, this is not a true story ... is of course the biggest lie in publishing.  Unless of course of it is a memoir ... then perhaps the words are a product of the author's imagination. 

Just saying.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Building Character

Anatomy Of A Novel

According to Syd Field "the story has to move forward, from beginning to end, whether in a linear or a nonlinear fashion. The way you drive your story forward is by focusing on the actions   of the  character.  ... every scene in a screenplay should fulfill one of two functions:  Either it moves the story forward, or it reveals information about the character."   From The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field

The story I am writing first appeared to me as a series of plot points complete with a handful of what ifs. That was the easy part. Populating the story with real characters was a little harder, but not impossible. I quickly recognized the antagonist and the protagonist and a bunch of supporting characters.

The main character arrived with two young sons and a whole lot of baggage. She's determined, overwhelmed, and single. She's also attractive, nice, energetic and a lot more unsure of herself than she was willing to admit. She has a ex-husband and an ex-boyfriend and isn't sure what had happened in either relationship. She sorta  knows what a relationship should look like.

I treated her as the main character. After all she was the one who caused things to happen in the story. I made a list of plot points, gathered my characters together and started writing. By page 52 I was less sure of myself.

Instinctively I knew that there was a problem with this story. Was it the order of events? The chapters did seem to be choppy and sloppy. I kept moving the index card into different patterns. It just didn't seem to matter. Did I have too many scenes? too many characters? Maybe.

I was so sure I knew what the story was about; the dramatic premise. I took another look at the characters. All of the characters ... and slowly realized that I had failed to recognize the main character. It wasn't her  at all, it  him  and his name was Dominic.  His problems are bigger .... deeper and more difficult to fix.  Dominic needs something (or someone) to resurrect him. 

He needs her. And she is the last thing he wants.  She is so obviously wrong that he is unable and unwilling to look beyond the complications. And suddenly this new information provided a different opening.  And a new direction. A new twist on complications.

Pema Chodron Heart Advice

Writing a novel requires action, commitment, creativity, a plotline, and characters ... yesterday was suppose to be a writing day ... it wasn't, because I was stuck. So, what's the problem?  The main character is incomplete. Defining him has been an ongoing problem.  I know him, know where he's been, what he needs (which is different than what he wants), understand his fears and insecurities.

He's been successful in the past,  thought he was happy and believed that there was enough time to fix things in his marriage. He was wrong. I know that the past will bring forth the best in Dominic. I want the reader to recognize this truth. 

In The Art of Fiction, Henry James says that the incidents you create for your characters are the best ways to illuminate who they are -- that is, reveal their true nature, their essential character. How they respond to this particular incident or event, how they act, and react, what they say and do is what really defines the essence of their character.

Dominic's life is about to change. A lot. My job is to make him believable, likable, worth investing in. I have to chose my words well. Yesterday I didn't write because I was stuck. I have a lot of bad writing habits.  Yesterday I stared at the sky waiting for the answer to reveal itself. I should have been actively writing. Today this appeared in my email:

Getting Unstuck

"We can contact our inner strength, our natural openness, for short periods before getting swept away. And this is excellent, heroic, a huge step in interrupting and weakening our ancient habits. If we keep a sense of humor and stay with it for the long haul, the ability to be present just naturally evolves. Gradually we lose our appetite for biting the hook. We look* our appetite for aggression. "  Pema Chodron

* I think this should read lose.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Reading & Seasoning


Today, in between chapters of Flunking Sainthood ... I season my first wok...

Tomorrow it is back to work writing.

Flunking Sainthood ... Sunday, A Day Late

Flunking Sainthood is Jana Riess' recounting of her "year-long quest to become more saintly by tackling twelve spiritual practices, including fasting, fixed-hour prayer, gratitude, Sabbath-keeping, the Jesus Prayer, and generosity. Although she begins with great plans for success ("Really, how hard could that be? she asks blithely at the start of her saint-making year) she finds to her growing humiliation that she is failing - not just at some practices, but at every single one. What emerges is a vulnerable story of the quest for perfection and the reality of failure...."   (taken from the back cover)

  It seemed appropriate that I should read Chapter Seven, Unorthodox Sabbath yesterday. For this chapter the author choose to follow the Orthodox Jewish Sabbath tradition (no driving, no use of electricity, no cooking...) and her companion during this month is Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) who wrote The Sabbath (1951).

I no longer keep the Sabbath of my childhood, Then my Sunday's were memorable for their once a week uniqueness. My father who worked every other day of the week now walked me to Sunday School in the early morning quiet. Dinner was at noon, afternoons were spent at my grandparents and Maryland Blue Laws meant that everyone was taking a scheduled time out.

As I continued to read today I came across Jana's own closing reflections of her "attempts at sainthood" and how the practice of spiritual practice forever changed her. Jana didn't fail.

There is a lot to like about this book. It is highly readable and well-intended. Often I found myself lost in memories of my own life. The unexpected gift is that Jana's journey opened wide the door for these thoughts and reflections. I hadn't expected this. I'd like to think I learned something about myself from reading Flunking Sainthood and how I might better organize my own spiritual learning in the near future ... and perhaps better prepare for my Sabbath keeping.

Note: This is a library book. My own is on order.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Discover Mystery with Poisoned Pen Press

Poison Pen Press is giving away free ebooks this week. Three books by three great authors, each with multiple series that have garnered starred reviews and consistent raves.

Judy Clemens' Embrace the Grim Reaper (#1 in this new series)
   Genre: Women Sleuths

    Casey Maldonado's life is over - at least as she knows it. In one brief moment of fire and wrenching metal, everything important was gone. The car manufacturer was generous with its settlement, but it can never be enough. Her family and friend - not to mention lawyers - want her to go for more. More money. More publicity. More everything. But Casey is done. No financial gain or courtroom retribution will bring back what really matters ....

Concrete Desert by Jon Talton (A David Mapstone Mystery #1)
   Genre: Police Procedural

   Having recently lost his job as a history professor, David Mapstone returns to his boyhood home of Phoenix, Arizona, to find the city dramatically changed. It's now a haven for the wealthy retirees and a seasonal retreat for West coast "sophisticates." But pockets of his earlier life - some welcome, some not - remain. Mapstone eagerly accepts a temporary job from his old friend and Maricopa County Chief Depty Mike Peralta: Look into still-open cases and see if he can close any. David is beginning to settle into his new job when his college sweetheart appears at his door one evening. True to his memory of her, she is there because she wants something. Her sister is missing and she want him to look for her.
   Mapstone's search for the missing woman is quickly resolved when her body is discovered in the desert, but he is stunned to find the dead sister in circumstances identical to a sensational 40-year-old unsolved murder....

Dangerous Undertaking, A Buryin' Barry Mystery by Mark de Castrique
   Genre: Police Procedural
   Barry Clayton has a job he doesn't want. When his father became stricken with Altzheimer's, barry left the Charolotte police force for the small mountain community of Gainesboro, North Carolina, where his family runs the local funeral home. "Buryin' Barry" reluctantly assumed the mantle of town undertaker, trying to fit his life into this somber profession. Almost at once it turns deadly...

For more information or to get automatic notification sign-up here: 

Publisher Note: "We can give away a book for free on Apple, but please remember that Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and all force us to set the price to no less that $.99. However, if enough of you click on the link, 'tell us about a lower price,' ... which is just above Customer Reviews on, then usually Amazon will quickly price-match at $0.00.

Robert Rosenwald
Poison Pen Press - Discover Mystery

At Last, The Famed Taste of Home Cooking School Has Its Own Cookbook

"Taste of Home credited with being the #1 food and entertaining magazine, read by more that 16 million home cooks has a brand-new cookbook."

Each chapter builds from simple, beloved classics to newer dishes handed down by families from generation to generation that will impress everyone who gathers at the table. Learn fresh techniques, tips, secrets and entertaining ideas shared by Taste of Home Cooking School experts. There are exciting twists on all-time favorites like burgers, pizza, and Chinese takeout ... and more.

This instructional cookbook features more than 400 easy-to-follow recipes with step-by-step instructions and expert advice.There is a Better Than Take Out Chapter that includes Beef Gyros and Chow Mein. Plus, the unique "Cheat It" icon showcases low effort recipes that offer big rewards.  Nutrition facts are included for all recipes.

The volume is well-thought-out and cook friendly and includes tempting pictures, tips on setting up a well-stocked kitchen and much more. "This essential cookbook allows people of all skill levels in the kitchen to create memorable holiday meal moments in their own homes with family, friends and neighbors," says Catherine Cassidy, Editor in Chief.

Taste of Home Cooking School Cookbook is available in both print and ebook at retailers now. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Did You Know...


... that Maeve Binchy authored a book for writers? According to the synopsis this book "give a unique insight into how a #1 bestselling author writes. 
Book cover
 Inspired by a course run by the national College of Ireland, it comprises 20 letters from Maeve, offering advice, tips and her own wonderfully witty take on the life of a writer, in addition to contributions from top writers, publishers and editors.... 

It is on order from my local library system. Review to follow.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Following The Path - Book Review

Following The Path, 
The Search For A Life of Passion, Purpose, and Joy.
by Joan Chittister

"...The question of what each of us is meant to do in life is the question that no one can answer for us. It is the question of uniqueness. It is the moral imperative of every human life. To discover and pursue what we are called to do in life is the very fundament of happiness...." Sister Joan Chittister

   How can we define the good life? For each of us the answer is different and depending on the day we are asked the answer can also vary. There are questions that most of us are reluctant to ask ourselves. Am I happy? Have I chosen well? Am I doing what I want to do? Should I make changes? Is this the life I dreamed of? What desire is hidden deep within?  Am I in a holding pattern? Is it too late?  Am I doomed to repeating the past?
Following the Path: The Search for a Life of Passion, Purpose, and JoyIn August I sign up for Medicare, next January I celebrate my next birthday, this time next year I will be 65 1/2 ... pondering my life has been a familiar and reoccurring event. As I look around at my peers and contemplate my own past journey there are a lot of questions for me to consider ... some come with answers, while others are waiting to be revealed. I'm not sure I fully understand how I came to make the choices I did, or how my life would have (could have) been different if I had chosen differently. I haven't been feeling very confident about making "the right" choices going forward.

Have I gained wisdom during my journey. I certainly hope so. Will I recognize opportunities? Yes, I believe I have gotten better. Will I show up? ... for myself and for others in a new and better way? Yes. And yes. I pray that I will.

Sister Joan has distilled the process of making life decisions in this book. Her words will help you look back while moving forward. There is much to like here.


Disclaimer: This book was provided by the publisher for review. The thoughts and words are my own.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Look What The Mailman Delivered:

3 New Books In Two Days!  Books to read and review. A wealth of reading pleasure.
Gone by Cathi Hanauer   *   Following The Path by Joan Chittister   *   The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner


Monday, July 30, 2012

Maeve Binchy, R.I.P.

Beloved Irish author Maeve Binchy has died. During her career she sold more than 40 million novels world wide.
"The author said that her secret was to write the way she spoke."

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ernest Hemingway 7/29/2012

"Some writers are only born to help another writer write one sentence."
                                                     -- Ernest Hemingway

".... Between 1925 and 1961, Ernest Hemingway changed the face of American fiction and became a widely recognized public figure. One hundred years after his birth, he has become an American icon whose picture needs no identifying caption, for his face and his name, both ubiquitous are the very definition of "the writer" to many people. His rise from promising unknown writer to world-renowned figure was charted with clarion accuracy by The New York Times, in whose pages Hemingway's life and art were regular features. Here on the Web, The Times has assembled the most important of those stories, making immediate what once took days toiling in libraries to locate, find on microfilm and print. Reading through these reviews and news stories, one not only learns a good deal about Ernest Hemingway, but also will take in a short cultural history of America in this century...."

Quoted from Michael Reynolds' July 11, 1999 essay "Hemingway in Our Times"

Friday, July 27, 2012

Calling All Cooks- The Naked Foods Cookbook

The Whole-Foods, Healthy-Fats, Gluten-Free Guide to Loosing Weight & Feeling Great. 

"...easy, unprocessed, gluten-free, full fat recipes..."

There are practical tips for setting up the Naked Kitchen, advice on what to buy and why, common sense lessons on how to shop and prepare food that is healthy and gluten free and close to the way God made them.

 There are recipes for breakfast, salads and sides, entrees, soups and stews, sauces, snacks, smoothies and desserts.  The book is well organized and a great introduction to someone about to make the change to gluten-free.

Written by Margaret Floyd author of Eat Naked, and chef to the stars James Barry, The Naked Food Cookbook includes over 150 gluten-free recipes for simple dishes that bring out the natural flavors and nutrients of fresh whole food. Contains colored photographs.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Comments Are Appreciated

When I started blogging here in 2008, my goal was to extend the classroom time for my H.C.C. writing students. The title was easy because I saw this as a place for these new writers to hang out, ask questions, share marketing news and successes.

The idea however, like the road to below was sincere and made with good intentions but it simply floundered. We failed to ... well, to converse on a regular basis or even dialogue.

I quickly realized that blogging takes a lot of time and you know I had other things to do ... like, writing and my other chief occupation procrastinating. I still had a lot to say and wrote dozens of postings in my head,  but getting them online didn't always happen. It was easier to hang out on Twitter and FB. And less likely that I'd make a fool of myself here.

I cared about my former students and often wondered how they were doing. Had Mary Beth found an agent, had Sheila written that historical novel, had Dan finished his YA series?  I know some of them had become readers because they sent me email responses.

It became clear that I wasn't good at getting readers to comment. Most of the readers simply had nothing to say. Or as my writer friend and fellow blogger once exclaimed: "Hey, is anybody out there?" If it weren't for the view counter I wouldn't know the count. Well, except for that month when a young lady call girl kept leaving come hither invitations in the comment box. Now she was dedicated.

But the truth is I'm also guilty as charged. I have favorite blogs I stop by regularly to read ... and leave. With nary a comment. Hmmm, while I was considering this, my new friend Scarlett Rains, Sister of the Hearts Blog was busy writing a great and informative post. "Why Should I Comment On A Blog...And How The Heck Do I Do It?"

And while you're there do read about Scarlett, she is one interesting lady ... oh, and don't forget to leave a comment!

Thursday Thoughts ...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Scent of Rain by Kristin Billerbeck

"The scent of rain was decidedly less inspiring when it came through a moldy Dayton rooftop."

Jesse has a young son to raise, a new floor cleaner product to launch, an overly optimistic 10% sales increase to capture at work, stockholders to keep happy and a boss with definite ideas about what separates great businesses from good ones. He also has a bottom line to content with and quickly before he is out of a job. The last thing Jesse needs is an overpriced, overqualified new employee to worry over.

Paris trained perfumer Daphne Sweeten can identify over five thousand scents on a good day. But things haven’t been going good for awhile. Her goal in life is to market Volatility her own original scent for men, but first she has to help design a floor cleaning product for Gibraltar Industries. Her recent past needs to be figured out along with a problem that could mean the end of her career.

Forced to work together Daphne and Jesse will need to learn to trust one another if they are to be successful in their separate lives. Both have a lukewarm faith, a need for personal change, and a new understanding of what it means to be happy.

This is a Christian novel about two people who need healing in their lives and what it means to have a second chance. Underneath however, The Scent of Rain looks at the theme of evil in the world. People who are motivated to do whatever it takes to get what they want, to take what isn’t theirs, to lie, steal and cheat to achieve.

In the end this is a book about what it means to forgive.

The book is by Kristin Billerbeck ... you can find her here:

Notice: This book was provided by the publisher Thomas Nelson for the purpose of review. The words are my own.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ending Well, Before Ever After - A Book Review

Before Ever After
By Samantha Sotto

They had been married two years when Shelley became a widow. One minute they were talking on the telephone, Shelley was asking Max to bring home some tea because tea … make that Jasmine tea made her world better. Before the conversation (and the short first chapter ends) Max is gone, killed in an explosion. Their happily ever after gone in an instant.

Fast forward three years (and on to Chapter Two) Shelley is still trying to figure out life without her beloved husband. She isn’t so much living as she is drifting, pretending really, much as her own mother had done years before when Shelley's father left them and remembering. She is stuck and struggling … until the doorbell rings.

Wearing Max’s plaid blue bathrobe and her own furry purple slippers she opens the door … and once again her life changes in an instant. Max is standing on the other side of the open door. Or at least his younger version. His name is Paolo and he has pictures of his grandfather … pictures of Max, whom he claims is alive and well. How is this possible?

Desperate to learn the truth, Shelley and Paolo jet across the globe to track Max down….

Right from the start this is a novel about endings. Before Ever After is a novel of discovery, what happened between the explosion that killed Max and Paolo’s claim that his grandfather was still alive. The one will have you guessing until the end.

Mini-Writers Workshop – Most first time novelist have an idea about how to open the story they want to tell and a vague notion about how to end it. The experienced novelist knows how to write openings that keep the reader reading, and how to construct an ending that leaves the reader satisfied. Ending well means that the writer includes a suggestion of the story-ending in the opening. In Before Ever After Shelley inherits “an obscene amount of money and a diverse investment portfolio…” and she struggles to understand why Max would keep such a secret .…” The reader realizes this isn’t Max’s only secret.

Perhaps the best advice is: Start well, write well, end well. Before you begin your first or next novel, ask yourself, how will this all end? Remember the ending begins in the beginning.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Friday, July 20, 2012

PBS Food Highlights for July 2012

Calling All Cooks
Every month PBS Food highlights five food books and cookbooks that will be released during the month.

"In July, we focus more on food writing than cookbooks with a collection of good reads that cover everything from wine to a good cupcake mystery series. Check out what new picks are gracing our bookshelves this month."


Also, check out the recipe file for some new ideas:
Huevos Rancheros

Watermelon Feta Salad

Pineapple Coconut Smoothie


My heart goes out to the families of the victims and to the wounded in Colorado. You are in my prayers.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Because Every Writer Has Different Needs

"...self-publishing is growing and converging with traditional publishing."
                                                                                                  John Makinson, Penguin CEO

Last year Penguin was the first conventional publisher to launch its own self-publishing service, Book Country, and they've followed that landmark venture with the acquisition of Author Solutions, a self-publishing firm .... Author Solutions also partners with about six other houses - Thomas Nelson and Hay House among them - to provide "white label" self-publishing services...

Amanda Hocking wrote 17 novels in her spare time and in 2010 she began selling them as e-books. My March 2011, she had sold over a million copies of her nine books and earned two million from sales.  (Wikipedia)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Kay Arthur's "As Silver Refined"

Like a lot of us Kay Arthur has faced her share of difficult moments and more than a few heartaches and misunderstandings in her life.  Her latest book offers an abundance of interpreted Biblical advice and "Answers to Life's Disappointments" (taken from the subtitle).

The author has identified five deadly D's that represent the devil's strategy for disrupting a Christian's daily life. Disappointment is the first of the deadly D's and can lead the unsuspecting person into a life of discouragement.  Depression, in its various forms will follow bringing the three remaining D's... dejection, despair and demoralization.

Miss Arthur is a prolific writer and apparently has a large following. She shares stories of how her previous books have helped others save their "lives, relationships, marriages-- and minds." A fan of war movies she uses a lot of military and warfare analogies to get her message across.

But not all life altering events are simply the work of the devil, according to Miss Arthur, some can be "God's Training in Disguise (the title of chapter two). There is a lot going on in this book written for the Born-Again Christian. It's full of personal experiences, Bible stories, Bible verses and it's long.

My concern is for the reader who desperately needs help and guidance in their life. It seems to me that 356 pages could be overwhelming for the person who finds themselves not only disappointed and discouraged, but perhaps in real despair and is feeling all alone.

The good news is that there is an in-depth study guide provided. In my opinion, this book could be beneficial to a group of like-minded Believers who come together with the commitment to explore these topics in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

Here's a recent video of Miss Arthur:

Disclaimer: The book was provided by the publisher, Waterbrook Press for an honest review. The words are my own.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Good Fiction Is All About What You Leave In...

I watched American Reunion yesterday. Actually I watched the first, third, and fourth movies in the series in order: American Pie(1999), American Pie: The Wedding (2003) , and then the 2012 sequel written and directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg.

While not on the short list of movies I was anxious to see, it was hot outside and I am studying a stack of books on screen writing in an attempt to improve the structure and pacing of my own novel w.i.p..

Here's the premise:
  It's been 13 years since the group of guys and their girls graduated from high school in East Great Falls so it's about time for that overdue 10th High School Reunion. When Jim Levenstein and his wife Michelle arrive at Jim's old home, Jim's dad Noah (who has been a widower for three years) is obviously happy to see them and quickly escorts his daughter-in-law and grandson Evan into the house leaving a less than enthusiastic Jim to slep their luggage inside.
  Just then a car comes speeding up the street and with horn blowing pulls into the driveway next door.  Jim watches as a gorgeous young chickie hurries out of the house (if you've watched the first pie you'll remember Jim for his Internet video  and other title antics). Chickie notices slack-jawed Jim ... and comes bouncing over to greet him instead of hopping into the car.
  Turns out that she is Kara, the girl he used to babysit. Married Jim seems not to have outgrown his high school fear of women. She is about to turn 18 she explains and invites Jim to her birthday party. Adult Jim seems to be having a hard time catching up. There are a lot of raunchy innuendos bounced around. 

Here's the problem:
   How is it that Jim hasn't seen Kara one time in these last thirteen years? Jim's mom died three years ago, wouldn't they have crossed paths then? Maybe? Or during a previous vacation? While it is clear that I am not the intended audience for this juvenile outing I do understand the deal we viewers make about suspending disbelief, but the idea that Jim is so befuddled was a tad annoying to me at first. Me, being a member of the audience.

But it got me (the writer me) thinking about scenes, characterization, dialogue and what it takes to tell a good story that hangs together. Or to be more succinct what to leave in and which scenes to delete. And in what order to write it.

If good storytelling reflects truth, and author, writing coach, screenwriter and producer Blake Snyder assures us this is indeed true, I understand that Jim needed to reconnect with Kara in the opening. It is the "truth" that bothered me.

Understanding the four-part story structure is crucial for any novelist who wants to write and sell commercial fiction. Our job as storytellers is to understand what has to happen in each of these divisions (and why Jim needed to connect with Kara in the opening), and to deliver the material in the right order. Our goal is to keep the reader turning the pages.

Larry Brooks, the author of Story Engineering cautions that if we "intend to sell what we write" we need to understand "the art and craft of the story architecture. Mr. Brooks has a ten-part tutorial on the fundamentals of story structure here:

A final note, Jim's dad, played by actor Eugene Levy steals the      show over and over again with his patient fatherly advice. I am a fan.

Monday, July 16, 2012

1922 Mocha & Java Blend

1922 Mocha & Java Blend is my new favorite coffee. Organic, rich, smooth, chocolaty and delightful. 

According to Counter  Culture Coffee: "... we discovered an old book with a 'Mocha & Java' recipe. We recreated that recipe using modern coffees, and voila: our 1922 Mocha & Java blend was born."

I love food with a story.

Disclaimer: I purchased this coffee at The Fresh Market and have received no compensation for this review. My goal is simply to share the experience with other coffee lovers.

Sign up for their newletter and receive a coupon for your first purchase. Here's their website for more information:

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Rick Bragg on Books & Reading

“But I hope I will never have a life that is not surrounded by books, by books that are bound in paper and cloth and glue, such perishable things for ideas have lasted thousands of years . . . I hope I am always walled in by the very weight and breadth and clumsy, inefficient, antiquated bulk of them, hope that I spend my last days on this Earth arranging and rearranging them on thrones of good, honest pine, oak, and mahogany, because I just like to look at their covers, and dream of the promise of the great stories inside.”

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Saturday's Are For Thinking
July 14, 2012

Friday, July 13, 2012

Calling All Cooks - Grilled Cheese, Please

  "Say grilled cheese and the memories of a childhood indulgence, the first cooking lesson from Mom or  Dad, a bowl of tomato soup, or the aroma of melting cheese comes wafting into consciousness. And it doesn't stop there. The two words strung together also bring to mind seductive images of the sound of bread sizzling and crackling as it makes its transformation from soft and pillowly to butter-crisped and crunchy. These imagined sights and sounds tease with anticipation, because just knowing that as the bread turns golden brown the strands of cheese nestled within are languorously but ever so surely giving way to their melted glory...." *

My mother, bless her, was never late when it came to having a meal on the table. The problem was they were not worth waiting for. Mostly she worked with ground meat known by various monikers, baked chicken thighs, canned veggies (pork and beans were a vegetable in our house), canned biscuits, lots of bologna sandwiches, mayonnaise and salt. She didn't use garlic, basil, Rosemary, fresh or dried herbs, not even curly parsley and rarely added pepper to anything.  Potatoes in our house were reconstituted and drinkable.  Olive oil, like sauces and mozzarella were viewed suspiciously.

The only thing fresh was tomatoes in summer and a dozen ears of corn per season. She didn't do pasta or steak. She could however, make a mean grilled cheese sandwich with pimento cheese, margarine, and white bread. Campbell's red and  white can of chicken noodle soup was a familiar and welcome sight in our kitchen. So were hot dogs.

If it weren't for her grilled cheese sandwiches, Tasty Cakes, penny candy,and our favorite soup I do believe I might have gone hungry most days.

I learned what not to do by watching her struggles.

My mother would not recognize even one of the 50 Scrumptiously Cheesy Recipes in this book, but she did master the 1950s child-friendly grilled cheese sandwich.

The author Laura Werline is a James Beard award-winning author with an unbridled passion for cheese. If you love grilled cheese this book will make you weak with hunger.

"Whoever thought that the most basic of sandwiches, the one we all grew up with, the one that was the easy solution for Mom instead of a full meal, the one we all loved but didn't really pay attention to, the sandwich that combined nondescript cheese, would today become the subject of recipe contests and blogs, the focal point of entire restaurants, the inspirational fuel that fires up mobile food trucks, and the basic foundation on which Americans build their ideal of the best grilled cheese sandwich?"*

(c) 2011   Grilled Cheese, Please is published by Andrew McMeel Publishing, LLC, Kansas City, Sydney, London.
* Taken from the Introduction

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Agatha Christie's Missing Manuscript ...

Elderly spinster, Jane Marple has charmed readers since first being introduced during the Murder At The Vicarage in 1930. Dame Agatha Christie featured this now world famous slueth in 12 published novels. Could there be a 13th offering?

Here's an excerpt from the recently discovered Miss Marple Mystery:

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Book Review - Constantly Craving

"If I had that job, or that relationship, or lived in that city or that house, or lost twenty-five pounds, or gained a lot of money ... then I would be happy."

We want more, we need more, we just want what every one has, we long to be happy. Bigger is better, right, after all we deserve to be happy. Right?

The big news according to author Marilyn Meberg is that getting more isn't the answer we're looking for. Craving won't make us whole or happy. It will keep us on the path of restlessness and the endless loop of searching. In the end the only thing we'll have is the perfect list of wants.

There is something deeper going on in our lives that we may not even recognize.  We only think think that we need the perfect black skirt, or a different car to make us happy.

Actually, we know from past experiences that checking off items on our wish list simply gave us more space to add more items. The high didn't last because it didn't address the real dissatisfaction.

What we crave is purpose. If we say we are Christians we want to find our "God-given meaning for living."  We want a relationship with our Creator, to discover His purpose for our lives, we want to serve Him and be of service to others.

Marilyn Meberg's Constantly Craving will help the reader discover "the how, when, and where of living out our purpose." God is not indifferent to the details of our lives, should we be any less mindful?

Marilyn is known for her common sense, great stories, being a speaker with Women of Faith. Here's how to connect with her: .

Thomas Nelson supplied this book to me for a review. The words and opinions are my own.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I spent most of the Sunday afternoon hanging out on the Internet doing research for my next writing project. The novel that I am currently writing is set in a real place, Baltimore’s Little Italy neighborhood.

Although I’ve not lived there, it is a place I’m immensely fond of and somewhat familiar with. Growing up in Hampden, another prominent Baltimore neighborhood, I experienced the same type of homegrown loyalty and love for place. Baltimore is known for its neighborhoods and these are two of my favorites (Fells Point is another).

Over the years I’ve shared meals in most of the restaurants in Little Italy, gone to Mass at St Leo’s Catholic Church, attended the St Anthony Festival in the Spring and St Gabriel Festival in the Fall (consuming even more food), shopped at the stores and shops, including Vaccaro’s Italian Pastry Shop, strolled High and Stiles Streets hanging out and talking with the residents of this historically rich, charming and very proud ethnic community.

My story could only happen here. These characters live here, work here, they are who they are because of the culture of the community and their heritage. But like the rest of us they have to deal with what’s really going on in their lives and what, if anything, they will do about it.

The setting is as much of a character as the lead protagonists and if I do my job well, each will be clearly and memorably defined. It is important that I choose concrete details and set the stage properly if I am to succeed. But the job of a writer is bigger, we have to find meaning and share a bigger truth among the familiar sights and sounds and scents of the places and stories we define. This community has been around since the late 1800s and has undergone a few changes in its lifetime, yet always remaining true to it authentic self. The theme of my novel is all about personal transformation, openness to change and second chances while remaining true to one’s self.

And so on a warm Sunday afternoon I looked at pictures, prints and photographs that spoke to me, capturing them on my own online storyboard here at “Dialogue.” And thinking about setting as theme and character as I hang out with All Our Tomorrows my w.i.p.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tips on Capturing the Novel Setting

             Four Ways to
       Bring Settings to Life

by Moira Allen

The devil, it's said, is in the details. So, too, is much of the work of a writer. Too little detail leaves your characters wandering through the narrative equivalent of an empty stage. Too much, and you end up with great blocks of description that tempt the reader to skip and skim, looking for the action.

To set your stage, it's important to choose the most appropriate, vivid details possible. It's equally important to present those details in a way that will engage the reader. The following four techniques can help.

1) Reveal setting through motion.

Let your description unfold as a character moves through the scene. Consider which details your character would notice immediately, and which might register more slowly. Let your character encounter those details interactively.

Suppose, for example, that your heroine, an "Orphan Annie" of humble origins, has entered a millionaire's mansion. What would she notice first? How would she react to her surroundings?

Let her observe how soft the rich Persian carpet feels underfoot, how it muffles her footfalls, how she's tempted to remove her shoes. Don't tell us the sofa is soft until she actually sinks into it. Let her smell the fragrance of hothouse flowers filling a cut-crystal vase.

Use active verbs to set the scene. Instead of saying "a heavy marble table dominated the room," force your character to detour around it. Instead of explaining that "light glittered and danced from the crystal chandelier," let your character blink at the prismatic display.

"Walking through" a description breaks the details into bite-sized nuggets, and scatters those nuggets throughout the scene so that the reader never feels overwhelmed or bored.

2) Reveal setting through a character's level of experience.

What your character knows will directly influence what she sees. Your orphan may not know whether the carpet is Persian or Moroccan, or even whether it's wool or polyester. If these details are important, how can you convey them?

You could, of course, let the haughty owner of the mansion point out your heroine's ignorance. Or, you could write the scene from the owner's perspective. Keep in mind, however, that different characters will perceive the same surroundings in very different ways, based on their familiarity (or lack thereof) with the setting.

Imagine, for example, that you're describing a stretch of windswept coastline from the perspective of a local fisherman's son. What would he notice? From the color of the sky or changes in the wind, he might make deductions about tomorrow's weather and sailing conditions. When he notices seabirds wheeling against the clouds, he doesn't just see "gulls," but terns and gannets and petrels -- easily identified by the shape of their wings or patterns of their flight.

Equally important are the things he might not notice. Being so familiar with the area, he might pay little attention to the fantastic shapes of the rocks, or the gnarled driftwood littering the sand. He hardly notices the bite of the wind through his cable-knit sweater, and he's oblivious to the stink of rotting kelp-mats that have washed ashore.

Now suppose a rich kid from the big city is trudging along that same beach. Bundled to the teeth in the latest Northwest Outfitters jacket, he's still shivering -- and can't imagine why the lad beside him isn't freezing to death. He keeps stumbling over half-buried pieces of driftwood, and fears that the sand is ruining his Doc Martens. From the way the waves pound against the beach, he thinks a major storm is brewing. The very thought of bad weather makes him nauseous, as does the stench of rotting seaweed (he doesn't think of it as "kelp") and dead fish.

Each of these characters' perceptions of the beach will be profoundly influenced by his experience. "Familiar," however, needn't imply a positive outlook, while "unfamiliar" needn't mean "negative." Your city kid might, in fact, regard the beach as an idyllic vacation spot -- rugged, romantic, isolated, just the place to make him feel he's really getting in touch with nature. The fisherman's son, on the other hand, may loathe the ocean, feeling trapped by the whims of wind and weather. Which brings us to the next point:

3) Reveal setting through the mood of your character.

What we see is profoundly influenced by what we feel. The same should be true for our characters. Filtering a scene through a character's feelings can profoundly influence what the reader "sees."

Suppose, for example, that your heroine -- a spunky young girl on holiday -- is strolling an archetypal stretch of British moorland. Across the blossoming gorse, she sees the ruins of some ancient watchtower, little more than a jumble of stones crowning the next hill (or "tor," as her guidebook puts it).

The temptation to explore is irresistible. Flicking dandelion heads with her walking stick, our heroine hikes up the slope, breathing the scents of grass and clover, admiring the lichen patterns on the granite boulders. At last, warmed by the sun and her exertions, she leans back against a stone and watches clouds drift overhead like fuzzy sheep herded by a gentle wind. A falcon shrills from a nearby hollow, its cry a pleasant reminder of how far she has come from the dirty high school she so despises.

A pleasant picture? By now, your reader might be considering travel arrangements to Dartmoor. But what if your heroine is in a different mood? What if she has become separated from her tour group and is lost? Perhaps she started across the moor because she thought she saw a dwelling -- but was dismayed to find that it was only a grey, creepy ruin. The tower's scattered stones, half-buried in weeds and tangled grasses, remind her of grave markers worn faceless with time. Its silent emptiness speaks of secrets, of a desolation that welcomes no trespassers. Though the sun is high, scudding clouds cast a pall over the landscape, and the eerie, lonesome cry of some unseen bird reminds her just how far she is from home.

When this traveler looks at the gorse, she sees thorns, not blossoms. When she looks at clouds, she sees no fanciful shapes, only the threat of rain. She wants out of this situation -- while your reader is on the edge of his seat, expecting something far worse than a ruin to appear on this character's horizon!

4) Reveal setting through the senses.

A character's perception of a setting will influence and be influenced by the senses. Our stranded hiker, for example, may not notice the fragrance of the grass, but she will be keenly aware of the cold wind. Our city kid notices odors the fisherman's son ignores, while the latter detects subtle variations in the color of the sky that are meaningless to the former.

Different sensory inputs evoke different reactions. For example, visual information tends to be processed primarily at the cognitive level: We make decisions and take action based on what we see. When we describe a scene in terms of visual inputs, we are appealing to the reader's intellect.

Emotions, however, are often affected by what we hear. Think of the effects of a favorite piece of music, the sound of a person's voice, the whistle of a train. In conversation, tone of voice is a more reliable indicator of mood and meaning than words alone. Sounds can make us shudder, shiver, jump -- or relax and smile. Scene that include sounds -- fingers scraping a blackboard, the distant baying of a hound -- are more likely to evoke an emotional response.

Smell has the remarkable ability to evoke memories. While not everyone is taken straight to childhood by "the smell of bread baking," we all have olfactory memories that can trigger a scene, or a recollection of an event or person. Think of someone's perfume, the smell of new-car leather, the odor of wet dog. Then describe that smell effectively, and your reader is there.

Touch evokes a sensory response. Let your reader feel the silkiness of a cat's fur, the roughness of castle stones, the prickly warmth of Dad's flannel shirt. Let your heroine's feet ache, let the wind raise goosebumps on her flesh, let the gorse thorns draw blood.

Finally, there is taste, which is closely related to smell in its ability to evoke memories. Taste, however, is perhaps the most difficult to incorporate into a setting; often, it simply doesn't belong there. Your heroine isn't going to start licking the castle stones, and it isn't time for lunch. As in real life, "taste" images should be used sparingly and appropriately.

The goal of description is to create a well-designed set that provides the perfect background for your characters -- and that stays in the background, without overwhelming the scene or interrupting the story. In real life, we explore our surroundings through our actions, experience them through our senses, understand (or fail to understand) them through our knowledge and experience, and respond to them through our emotions. When your characters do the same, you'll keep your readers turning pages -- and not just because they're waiting for something interesting to happen!

Copyright © 1999 Moira Allen

This article originally appeared in The Writer.


Moira Allen, editor of, has published more than 350 articles and columns and eight books, including How to Write for Magazines, Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests. Allen has served as columnist and contributing editor for The Writer and has written for Writer's Digest, Byline, and various other writing publications. In addition to, Allen hosts (a site dedicated to historic travel destinations in Britain); (a growing archive of articles and excerpts from Victorian books and magazines); The Pet Loss Support Page; and (showcasing her photography). She can be contacted at editors "at"


This article was used by perission by the author:
Moira Allen is the editor of ( and the author of more than 300 published articles. Her books on writing include Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests.