☕ Book Break ☕ |~The Christmas Angel Project by Melody Carlson~

~The Christmas Angel Project by Melody Carlson~

“It’s as if heaven has grown closer somehow. It used to feel so far away and otherworldly. But knowing that my loved ones are already there makes it seem more real.”

“Sometimes we have to let our dreams go in order to allow God to bring them back to us –in his way and his timing.”

Anytime I need to get into the holiday spirit, I pull out a Melody Carlson book.

Abby has been known as an “Earth Angel” for her many good deeds, and when she passes away, her book club members are devastated at the loss. In preparation for Christmas, Abby had made an angel ornament for each of the four women. When her husband delivers the angels, the friends make a pact to carry on her tradition of doing good.

This short Christmas novel follows four friends as they attempt to follow in Abby’s footsteps. New beginnings and lessons learned enrich the lives of the friends as they purpose to honor their friend’s memory.

A feel good, heartwarming read. Inspirational. Touch of romance. A story in the tradition of her past Christmas books. Enjoyable, easy read.

Do you have a favorite Christmas author?

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☕ Book Break ☕ |~Merry and Bright by Debbie Macomber~

~Merry and Bright by Debbie Macomber~

 

“Christmas is a condition of the heart.”

 

Merry’s loving, but meddling, family sign her up for an online dating service. They don’t post a photo of her. Merry’s boss, who she perceives as cold, comes across the dating profile. He doesn’t post his photo, either. Inevitably, the two strike up a conversation without knowing the true identity of the other and develop an online relationship. You know where it goes from there.

 

Classic, well done romcom of the best sort. Merry Knight is an adorable character, and her situation with her love interest is charming. As it turns out, Jayson Bright  is not really the bad sort he’s been pegged as. Both our hero and heroine have a complicated family life and issues to deal with. Good story line that kept me reading.

 

Every time I try to write about this one, I end up giving spoilers, so instead let me just say, if you like charming romcom with a Christmas theme you should get this book. Cute, warm, satisfying. An enjoyable holiday read.

 

This year I’ve discarded more Christmas books than I finished, but this is a good one.

 

Have you read any good Christmas books this season?

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Four Simple but Significant Gift Ideas

Four Simple but Significant Gifts

 

I am sentimental. I love old photos and quilts, but the things I cherish most are memories. I like to give gifts with significance attached to them, and I love books.

 

Journals or Fill in the Blank Books

Most people think their lives are boring, but this couldn’t be further from the truth! I love getting and giving journals. Some people may need journals with prompts.

 

 

My mother’s and my grandmother’s stories are irreplaceable treasures. If I hadn’t given each of them a spiral-bound set of cards with short, easy to answer questions, I would have missed some gems.

My mother is from England, and as a young bride her experiences arriving in America are noteworthy, even if she didn’t think so. For instance, one of the prompts was a question about the Fourth of July. My mother wrote about her first celebration of this holiday. My grandmother, her mother-in-law, told her there would be a picnic. They were to have the usual fixings, including hotdogs. My mother wrote, with typical British understatement:

“I’d never eaten a hotdog before. I’d read that the Indians ate dog, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to try it.”

Thinking about how the scenario must have played out, with my grandmother in charge and my reserved, soft spoken mother trying to fit in, cracks me up every time. My mother never mentioned this bit of family history until she was prompted by a journaling card. This one incident made me see my mother in a completely new light. Before, I hadn’t taken the time to imagine how strange it must’ve been to be young, newly married, away from family and everything familiar.

I learned from my grandmother’s responses about my father, as a toddler, climbing to the top of the windmill. My grandmother could do nothing about it. In those days, there was no 911. No one was around to help her, and besides, the structure was too fragile for an adult to climb up or she would have gone up after him herself. With no other recourse, she reprimanded him and yelled at him to get down right now. Then she went inside and closed her eyes while she gripped the edge of the kitchen sink, waiting for a scream. Can you imagine?

Recently my daughter and I were going through some of our old journals. We found plenty to laugh about, and a few things to cry about.

 

Books, Old or New 

The older I get the more I appreciate things that are handed down. One of my greatest treasures is a set of books that was originally a Christmas gift given to my father when he was a boy.

 

 

Finding an old book with an inscription in it ties us to the past. Old favorites shared by generations through the ages makes me feel a certain kinship with people of the past that I have no connection to otherwise. There’s something magical about a book given as a Christmas gift, inscribed with love. The sharing of beloved tales is a marvelous gift.

 

A Book of Memories

One year my mother wrote a compilation of her life and made copies for all of us grown kids. What a gem! How can you put a value on this kind of gift?

 

 

 

Recorded Storybook

If you have a young child in your life, a storybook accompanied by an audio recording of you reading the book aloud is sure to be a hit. My mother did this for my eldest when he was small. It’s not something he’s likely to ever forget.

Stories connect us in a way nothing else does.

 

What are some of your favorite gifts to give or receive?

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☕ Book Break ☕ |~A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy~

 ~A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy~

“She was still vaguely hopeful that there was love out there somewhere—just a little less sure that she might actually find it.”

“Her life was like her house—a colorful fantasy where anything was possible if you wanted it badly enough.”

Chicky Starr revamps an old mansion, turning it into a holiday resort for those wanting to spend time in an out-of-the-way place. Stone House is in a remote area on the cliffs of Ireland, part of a small village. The novel follows a varied cast of characters. A warm read. Humorous. Relatable.

Maeve Binchy was one of a kind. I’m not sure how she did it. The stories she wrote are rich with characters in situations that we often find ourselves. I find myself becoming attached to her characters, and remembering them long after the last page has been read. This was her last novel.

While this is not my favorite novel of hers, it was a joy to revisit for this fan.

This one may be a bit slow in parts, and does seem to meander a bit, but I think it’s well worth the time. It leaves me with a warm, cozy feeling.

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☕ Book Break ☕ |~An American Marriage by Tayari Jones~

~An American Marriage by Tayari Jones~

“A marriage is more than your heart, it’s your life. And we are not sharing ours.” 

“Home isn’t where you land; home is where you launch. You can’t pick your home any more than you can choose your family. In poker, you get five cards. Three of them you can swap out, but two are yours to keep: family and native land.” 

Celestial and Roy have only been married a year when Roy is falsely accused of a crime and sentenced to prison. Roy is incarcerated unjustly, and the focus of the novel is how the marriage unravels in the face of what has happened to them. Each chapter is told in alternating points of view. The story is complex and the writing amazing. I can see why this novel is so popular.

The novel is effective, causing one to think about the consequences of racial injustice and the far reaching impact it can have on lives. It’s also an examination of marriage, love, and commitment. It can be hard to read at times due to the subject matter.

This novel is an Oprah Book Club Selection and a 2018 National Book Award Nomination for Fiction.

A must read.

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☕ Book Break ☕ |~Across The Universe by Beth Revis~

~Across The Universe by Beth Revis~

Seventeen year old Amy, along with her parents, is cryogenically frozen in order to make a 300 year trip to a new earth. Someone starts the thawing process early, and Amy wakes. We don’t find out who until the end of the novel.

Amy doesn’t fit in with the other people. The small society of ship dwellers have become genetically similar over the generations spent on board, and Amy sticks out with her red hair and white skin. The ship dwellers’ behavior is odd and troubling. Elder, in training to become the leader of the ship, The Godspeed, is the only person Amy’s age on board. He finds Amy irresistibly attractive. Elder searches for the person who is tampering with the cryogenically frozen passengers and discovers much more.

My eldest picked this book for me at the library. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this novel. Before I made it to the last chapter, I felt the need to reserve the next book in the series. Many of the sci-fi novels my boys pick are too heavy on the technical side for me, but this one was perfect.

If you are a fan of sci-fi stories or shows, you might like this series. Great read. Highly entertaining. Satisfying ending to the book with enough left over to make me want to get the next book. Engaging. Satisfying story.

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☕ Book Break ☕ |~So B. It by Sarah Weeks~

~So B. It by Sarah Weeks~

“Not knowing something doesn’t mean you’re stupid. All it means is that there’s still room left to wonder.”

Twelve-year-old Heidi doesn’t know her extended family. She doesn’t even know her mother’s name or anything about her background. Her mentally disabled mother depends on a neighbor, and it has been this way since Heidi was an infant. The neighbor, Bernadette, is agoraphobic. When Heidi discovers some undeveloped film, she follows the clues left in the photos. She is determined to travel across the country to find out where she came from and the identity of her mother, who calls herself So B. It.

This is a beautiful story. I’m not really sure how I missed this one. This book is suitable for ages ten and up, but I found it to be very enjoyable.

Heart tugging. Fantastic characters. The mystery of how Heidi and her mother came to be in this apartment alone kept me turning pages. Such a brave little girl. I was rooting for her all the way.

This book is been made into a movie and now I want to check it out.

If you haven’t read this one, you should put it on your list. Another great read.

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How to Win a Novel Writing Contest

How to Win a Novel Writing Contest

I’ve got contests on the brain. There’s no point in entering unless you are in it to win it . . . except when you enter for feedback like I did. I wanted some uncensored examination of my work before I submit this book to agents.

Prepare

I’ve always wondered what the judges were looking for in novel writing contests and I had the opportunity recently to volunteer as a judge. The coordinator provided a score sheet and directions. I had not done a great deal of research into writing contests, but I have discovered many of the contests have their score sheets published.

It’s a good idea to look at the score sheets before you enter to see if your novel is a good fit and fulfills the requirements to score high. Score sheets are also useful for doing a self check of your manuscript before you submit it anywhere.

Pick the Best Contest to Enter

Aside from choosing a contest that fits your novel, here are a few other things I’ve learned along the way.

If there is a fee, make sure the contest are entering has a good track record. Even then, you may not get the feedback you desire. I was discouraged by the first writing contest I entered because the judges did not provide a great deal of feedback, and the comments I did get directly contradicted each other on two of the three evaluations! The third person gave minimal feedback.

The second contest I entered was not well known, but the entry fee was either nonexistent or negligible. I received valuable feedback from three different judges. Many contests keep the judges anonymous, but this one did not. in that contest I tied for third place. It was shocked to find myself in good company among the winners.

The contest should have multiple judges. Both of the contests I entered had three judges look over every manuscript. I prefer a contest that allows the participant to have information about the judges’ qualifications. This might help an inexperienced writer to know how much weight to give an opinion that feels off.

Best advice for choosing a contest to enter? Ask around.

Follow the rules

Whatever contest you choose to enter make sure you meticulously pay attention to the rules. If you choose to enter a contest without checking out all the boxes, you probably won’t place well.

Edit your work

Even if you’re entering a contest for feedback only, edit your work. Make sure you’re presenting the best manuscript you can. Use a spellchecker and a grammar checker.

Buddy Up

Have a critique partner look over your work. If you’re going to shell out your hard earned money for a chance at the golden ring, it makes sense to enter the best version of your work you can. Critique partners can help you polish that manuscript.

Learn From Feedback

Keep in mind that all the judges have their own particular areas of expertise and opinions. Even if you get contradicting advice as I did, chalk it up as a learning experience. Try to find the commonalities and take the information you can use to apply to your work. The judges spent time and effort trying to help the participants improve their writing. In every contest I entered, the judges have been volunteers. I appreciate the time and energy they give to the writing community.

Contests are about more than the big prize. Uncensored feedback is good. Perhaps painful, but good.

Don’t Take a Loss to Heart

Contests are funny things. There are a plethora of variables. Who you get as a judge is the luck of the draw. The score sheets may be slanted towards a criteria your novel does not fit into. An individual judge may determine that your novel does not fit into a specific standard while another judge may find it perfectly acceptable.

You can’t take negative feedback to personally. For both of the contests I entered I submitted  the identical manuscript but received vastly different evaluations. Which brings me to my last point.

It’s All a Matter of Opinion

There are certain parameters and requirements if you want to have your novel traditionally published, but in the end, follow your heart. If you have a story to tell, tell it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You only fail if you stop trying.

Keep writing.

Do you have any advice about entering a writing contests?

 

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☕ Book Break ☕ |~Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli~

~Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli~

⭐️
I adored this book.

⭐️
A new girl shows up at school. She different. For one thing, she dresses funny, and has a penchant for approaching her schoolmates in the lunchroom to sing to them on their birthday.. To add to the strangeness she does this while playing the ukulele she carries on her back. She’s starting 11th grade, but this is her first school. She was homeschooled.
⭐️
Leo is drawn to her, and an innocent romance develops between the two.
⭐️
Our heroine goes by a name she choose for herself, Stargirl. At first her classmates shun her, but then come to accept her when she becomes a cheerleader. Then the tide turns. Now they despise her.
⭐️
Leo asks her to change, so she does, attempting to fit in. It doesn’t work.
⭐️
This short book is chock full of loveliness and lessons. It unfolds beautifully, examining human nature. It’s a story that might cause a bit of reflection.
⭐️
This is one to put on your must read list. Marked as MG or YA, I think adults would enjoy it as well. If you liked Wonder, you might like this novel.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Characters
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Story Line
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Emotion Tugging
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
General All Around Good Read

I will reread this one.

“She was elusive. She was today. She was tomorrow. She was the faintest scent of a cactus flower, the flitting shadow of an elf owl. We did not know what to make of her. In our minds we tried to pin her to a cork board like a butterfly, but the pin merely went through and away she flew.” 

“She was bendable light: she shone around every corner of my day.” 

“The trouble with miracles is, they don’t last long.”

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☕ Book Break ☕ |~Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D.Vance~

~Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D.Vance~

I finally got around to reading Hillbilly Elegy. This is an interesting and eye-opening memoir. I’ve heard people compare Hillbilly Elegy by J.D.Vance and White Trash: The 400 Year Untold History by Nancy Isenberg, liking one over the other, but I found each one of these books unique in its own right. Studying our culture has always been a special fascination to me, so these types of books are right up my alley.

Hillbilly Elegy is a memoir about an a Kentucky boy with few advantages who grew up and made it good. He managed to go to an elite college, graduate, and become financially successful. This book is an exposition of his roots and a narrative of his journey. It’s also an examination of what has happened to the American dream and why so many have failed to achieve it from the perspective of an insider. It’s very thought-provoking.

I found myself growing attached to the characters in this story. Moving, at times humorous, colorful, interesting.

I think it is a much-needed read for anyone who wants to understand class in America. I would pair this with the other book, White Trash. If you’re not a voracious reader like I am, I think either one is excellent. If you prefer memoir then Hillbilly Elegy may suit your taste, if you lean more towards a broader examination of the class structure and love history, you may prefer White Trash. In all honesty, I feel they both deserve a place on your shelf.

Get both if you can.

What’s the last memoir you read?

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