Cover Reveal: He + She

Today I'm super excited to be part of the cover reveal for Michelle Warren's upcoming new release HE + SHE ... And if that name seems familiar, she wrote the fantastic WANDER DUST trilogy. Since I absolutely loved those books, I'm very must looking forward to this one!
Check out the gorgeous cover, tantalizing synopsis, links for further info and a rafflecopter giveaway below!

HE is trying to piece together his broken life.

SHE is running away from her wedding day.

TOGETHER, their world is a beautiful lie.

APART, their world is a perfect mess.

He + She is a free-­spirited romance about soul-­awakening, second chances, heartbreak, and hopeful beginnings.

About the Amazing Author:
Michelle Warren didn't travel the road to writer immediately. She spent over a decade as professional Illustrator and designer. Her artistic creativity combined with her love of science fiction, paranormal and fantasy led her to write her first YA novel, Wander Dust. Michelle loves reading and traveling to places that inspire her to create. She resides in downtown Chicago.

Connect with Michelle!
a Rafflecopter giveaway


Blog Tour: The Grudge Keeper

The Grudge Keeper
Mara Rockliff & Eliza Wheeler (illustrator)
Peachtree, 2014

Yet another pretty picture book from Peachtree, with a fun story that has a hidden nugget of a lesson.

The town of Bonnyripple doesn't hold grudges. Not a single one of the townspeople has to - because Cornelius, the Grudge Keeper, keeps them all neatly tucked away and out of the people's hair. This system works nicely, until a huge windstorm that creates a ginormous pile of old grudges that buries Cornelius. As the people come together to rescue their grudge keeper, they realize that they can actually dispense of the grudges altogether and not even have Cornelius store them. This makes a much happier town, of course, and the new friendliness keeps Cornelius company after his grudge keeping duties go awry.

The illustrations are beautiful, fun to look at and full of quirky little details. And the vocabulary! My geeky heart loves the vocabulary, and I look forward to seeing a whole host of little people using big words after reading The Grudge Keeper. Definitely a "keeper" book.

Book provided by publisher for review.

For more blog tour fun, swing by the Peachtree blog, where a complete schedule will be posted!


Princess in the Opal Mask

Princess in the Opal Mask
Jenny Lundquist
Running Press, 2013

Part fairy tale, part classic literature (blurb suggests Man in the Iron Mask, which I haven't read, but it makes me think of Prince and the Pauper), this is a story of intrigue and spunk. And, thankfully, just the first installment -- because I've got to know what happens next!

First we meet Elara, orphaned as a young child, and being raised in a not-so-wonderful environment. When she is given a mysterious old book by the local schoolmaster - who is promptly arrested by royal officials - she is determined to find the answers to her questions. And her identity. Thick in the mix of all the intrigue and mystery is the Princess in the Opal Mask (her real name is Wilha, but people rarely refer to her by name). Nobody ever sees the Princess's face, and rumor has it if she looks at you unmasked, you are cursed. When Elara and Wilha meet, startling things are revealed.

Faced with a difficult truth and an increasingly complicated reality, Elara and Wilha must come to terms with their new identities. What ensues is a dangerous adventure that tests the courage and loyalty of both girls, as well as helping them find their true selves. As they navigate the tricky waters of international relations, to say nothing of interpersonal relationships!, the girls find themselves stretching and growing into their new positions and roles. It's an interesting, engaging story and I enjoyed watching Elara and Wilha grow and interact. I'm very interested in seeing how things will play out in The Opal Crown later this year.

Book provided by publisher for review.


Writing Process Blog Hop

In a lovely, roundabout fashion, I have been tagged in the Writing Process Blog Hop that's floating around the interwebz. You can read Jennifer Becton's post here, and get an inside peek at what she does to write the Southern Fraud thrillers (they're the only thrillers I read, and you can catch my reviews here and here). If you didn't know I write ... well, surprise! I do! Not only do I have a fiction project or two up my sleeve, but I also do a lot of writing for the Library.

What am I working on?
I have several things bouncing around in my brain, some in various stages of completion, others existing solely in my head, but the one I'm most actively working on (aka: what I've written the most of) is the WIP I've affectionately dubbed #EnchantedDarcy. It's an idea that came to me, answering the question "what if Jane Austen wrote fairy tales?" And, of course, I'm using Pride and Prejudice as my first experiment. Because how can you go wrong with Darcy???

How does my work differ from others in my genre?
There are a lot of Austenesque novels available, and there are a lot of fairy tale revisions out there too. But I haven't seen anything that combines the two. Which is fun, because I'm getting to play with all these ideas in my head and not worry about it being compared to something else.

Why do I write what I do?
Because the story is in my head, and it must come out. <-- a="" and="" can="" cool="" have="" i="" it="" like="" movie="" out="" p="" play="" s="" see="" share="" story="" such="" that="" the="" this="" to="" truth.="" whole="">
How does my writing process work?
I get an idea, from somewhere - a dream, a random thought, a phrase - and it starts growing and developing. I "write" everything in my head first, until I can see the story, follow it from beginning to end and see the nuances and detail, until I know the characters on a personal level. And then ... I write. I like to write from the beginning and go straight through, but with #EnchantedDarcy I hit a point where I just really wanted to skip ahead and write some of the more awesome scenes - so I opened a new document and have been. I'll piece them together with the necessary material to weave them into the rest of the story later.
I don't outline, but I have been known to jot down short narratives - like a super condensed summary/short story version of the larger idea in my head - just so I can keep the story straight. I tend to do this for things I'm going to come back to in the future, rather than projects I'm actively working on. I have written character sketches before, but found that my characters can't evolve if I've written them down - I like to let them grow and change as I learn their story. So I just ... visualize everything, I guess. It's really all in my head until I start writing it. And that's a little scary on some level, especially when I hear how others (many of whom write things I lurve) write and develop stories ...
Also, I should probably point out that while I am prolific when I actually sit down to write, I am a very slow writer - I think I get distracted. Or something. Point being, I don't often make myself sit down and just write the way I should. My goal for 2014 is to FINALLY finish my Darcy tale, and then explore whatever else I've got going.
I love to write to music, but I've also discovered I write well to a steady hum of voices. I clocked some of my best word counts on afternoons when I'd write the last bit of my workday, to the backdrop of a particular professor's very enthusiastic Western Civilization lectures. (This was at my old job, obviously). Since I don't have access to those entertaining lectures, music has to fill the gap.

And I was supposed to tag another writer or two, and I totally failed. We had a massive ice storm the end of last week that made us lose power for most of the weekend ((dude, it's the South, in March!)), and this has been an absolutely ridiculous week ... So. #EpicFail on my part. Oops. But definitely track down some of the other posts - there's a lot of interesting writing stuff to be discovered.

Now you know my secret: I'm a writer.
Do you write?


Blog Tour: Lost for Words

Lost for Words
Natalie Russell
Peachtree, 2014

Another stellar picture book from Peachtree, with bright, whimsical illustrations and a cast of amusing animals. (I've decided I am a definite sucker for animals in kiddie books). So glad I got to be a part of this blog tour, because this book is a definite keeper!

All of Tapir's friends have a way with words. Giraffe writes beautiful poetry, Hippo writes thrilling stories with dashing heroes and damsels in distress, and Flamingo has the ability to write make-you-cry songs. But Tapir can't find his words, no matter how hard he tries - he has a brand new notebook and everything! Then one day, pondering deep thoughts, Tapir discovers how he can tell his stories. Not everyone can use words the same way, or even at all - and not everyone can draw.

A simple story, a fun story (especially since we get to see examples of everyone's writing!), a good reminder story. We all have different talents and giftings, and just like our endearing animal buddies discover, each way is special and beautiful - and when we combine all our gifts? Wow. What fun to be had, what stories to be told!

Book provided by publisher for review.

For more blog tour fun, visit:


Geek's Guide to Dating

Geek's Guide to Dating
Eric Smith
Quirk Books, 2013

This book ... oh man, where do I even begin? It's a book you might pick up on a whim, because the cover is eye-catchingly fun, and if you flip through its pages, there are "classic videogame" illustrations. As you skim through it, you'll probably chuckle at some of the headings, references, and quotable passages within. Once you're hooked, you'll realize this is actually a very handy - and helpful - dating resource guide for the ... socially challenged, but endearing, geek crowd.

While this is targeted toward (male) geeks, as a geekette I was able to appreciate much of what Smith had to say. A lot of it is universal, and some you just have to tweak your perspective, look on the flipside. (Also, as a girl, it offered unique insight into the mind of the geek, which made several things make so much sense, re: the way various geeks in my life have behaved. Double bonus!) Smith presents very sound, practical advice to help geeks navigate (and understand) the dating game - and does so with an easy-to-read style that demonstrates some pretty geektastic (read: awesome) humor. It's the kind of "useful" book that you actually enjoy reading, because it's fun. And did I mention the super cute illustrations? In a nutshell, this is quite probably the best dating book I've ever read, and I can think of several people who will also appreciate it.

Book provided by publisher for review.


"A Captain America & Loki Fangirl"

One of the funnest quirky perks of my job is "getting paid to check out [insert fangirl crush de jour here]". The phrase was first uttered, re: Caspian, and made my [guy] friend's eyebrows raise dramatically. His response cracked me up even more than my own offhand comment had, and I've played with it ever since. When I'm checking out said items (and let's face it, they're almost always DVDs) to patrons I've got a good rapport with, sometimes I'll make comments about said movies or characters. For example:

One of the regulars came in and checked out Captain America, and I was like "Captain Americaaaa" (at the time of this writing, and the exchange, I'm under the influence of a hotdog-induced migraine. Life is interesting). She asked if I liked the Avengers, and my enthusiastic reply: "Oh yeah. I am a Captain America and Loki fangirl!"
She looked at me in disbelief, before asking "Loki?!"
I laughed, and confessed "yep, Loki."
"But he's horrible! So -- so -- mean!"
"I know, but ... he's Loki. I just love him. I have from the beginning when I read the myths -- but yeah. Loki."
We then talked about the viewing adventure of the whole Avengers cannon, and I've seen Thor: The Dark World, but she hasn't yet, so she asked if Loki managed to redeem himself, somehow, in that one.
"Mmhmm, yep. He does," I smiled.
She left still not quite certain about my choice of fangirl crushes, teehee.

Then I started thinking, because it's quiet this afternoon (Wednesday, if you're curious), and like I said, I've got hotdog hangover going on ... and it's a thought I had last week actually, when I was watching Thor: TDW, and that is this ... The whole Captain America/Superman fangirl thing I have going on? It's totally at odds with the Loki/Han Solo thing. They're like sun and shadow, chocolate and salt. And yet ... it also sort of works.

Think about it: Captain America and Superman? They're the Nice Guys. The really, really Nice Guys. Chivalrous. Honorable. Trustworthy. Straight-arrow types. The kind you're really happy to take home to meet the parents and grandparents. Often underrated and under-appreciated, these are the guys who make you feel safe and cherished and content. The older I get, the more I appreciate the Nice Guys - both on screen and page, and in real life.

Now please take a gander at Exhibit B: The Bad Boys. Loki, Han Solo, Flynn Rider ... We first meet these guys and they're scoundrels. Conflicted. Not necessarily dudes your parents are going to approve of. And yet, there's more to them than the "villainy" (that's a fun word). There's depth. Layers. Heart. They've got histories that have shaped them, and character development that takes them ... beyond. There are a lot more Loki, Han and Flynns in the world than Cap'n and Supermans. Sadly.

I'm not sure where this thought is taking me, actually ... Maybe I just like talking about my fangirl crushes. My cast of superheroes ... But it's interesting all the same. And that's what Friday ramble posts are all about.

Next week, I'll be sharing my answers for the Writing Process Blog Hop thing going on, I was tagged by Jennifer Becton!


Blog Tour: Churchill's Tale of Tails

Churchill's Tale of Tails
Anca Sandu
Peachtree, 2014

This is one of those super cute animal books that kids love (and okay, so do adults), because it has awesome illustrations and a funny little main character. But it also has a sweet little lesson woven into the mix. You know it's there, but it's not overwhelming - it just works in and with the story. And that, my reading friends, is the perfect way for a picture book to be!

Churchill is a piggy with a very fine tail. He loves his tail, and he loves his life - books and tea parties and adventures. So when his tail goes missing one day, he is very, very sad. Until he starts trying on other tails for size, and gets carried away with all the different tails and how they make him feel. We're talking zebra, alligator, elephant, peacock (my personal favorite) - tails, my friends. Tail collecting is a fun thing, but it pretty much takes over Churchill's life until he has an encounter with a super scary shadowy monster ... which is a bird wearing his tail on its head. Yep, you read that right. So as the tale gets neatly wrapped up, and tails find proper homes, Churchill remembers all the fun he had before he started collecting tails. And, of course, it all ends happily ever after.

The story made me smile, but I loved the illustrations. So, so much. They're just plain fun! In short, this is a cute book with an important little life lesson tucked in all the fun, and kids and adults alike will appreciate Churchill and his tails.

Book provided by publisher for review.

For more blog tour fun, visit:
Monday: www.sallysbookshelf.blogspot.com & http://itsabouttimemamaw.blogspot.com/
Tuesday: www.readingtoknow.com 
Thursday: www.ToliversToTexas.com & www.kid-lit-reviews.com
Friday: http://geolibrarian.blogspot.com/


Views from the Depths

Views from the Depths
Jessica Grey
Tall House Books, 2013

I'm a bit of a Jessica Grey fangirl. Aside from the fact we're self-appointed, long-lost sisters, she has a knack for storytelling that keeps me spellbound. As with her previous collection of fairy tale shorts, Grey has taken familiar, beloved fairy tales and turned them inside out. Unlike Views from the Tower however, Views from the Depths has a dark edge to its tales.

Grey has delved deep into the psyche of pivotal characters in four classic tales (The Little Mermaid; Snow White; Twelve Dancing Princesses; and Beauty and the Beast), finding answers to the questions you didn't know you needed to ask. These deeply personal glimpses reveal the truth behind the sparkling glass dome of "happily ever after" ... They're darker, at times almost unnerving, but never overwhelming. Never too dark. There's always a whisper of hope -- a shimmer of light peeking around the corner, reminding you that the story isn't over yet.

Also, her "Beauty and the Beast"? Ah-mazing.

eARC provided by author for review.


Blog Tour: Love at First Slight

I am super excited to be a stop on the blog tour Jakki put together for J Marie Croft's new book Love at First Slight! Click on the banner above to see the full schedule, and check out my review below.

Love at First Slight
J Marie Croft
Meryton Press, 2013

This is one of those books that is just plain fun. Croft took the familiar and beloved tale of Pride and Prejudice, and gave it a fresh new update that is sure to make you laugh out loud. (I did, the cats were frightened). She keeps the original context, it's a historical, Regency novel - and the key scenes definitely do happen. You know, important stuff like the ill-fated first encounter at the Assembly, and a visit to Rosings Park - not to mention the surprise encounter on Pemberley's grounds. But everything plays out with an entertaining flair and a whole new flavor. You see, all the gender roles have been reversed in Croft's rendition.

Admittedly, it's a little unusual at first glance: No Mr Darcy! But once you start reading, and the five Bennett brothers take over, it works. Our Darcy is now Elizabeth - a much sought-after heiress with a fortune beyond belief. Her starcrossed lover is the middle Bennett brother, William. (He. Is. Awesome. Also a reverend). Mr Bennett is prone to nervous complaints and has an urgent need to marry off his five sons to rich wives. It is Casper Bingley who is after Miss Elizabeth Darcy, and his sister Jane - a wealthy widow - catches the attention of Charles Bennett. Mr Collins is himself, however he has a sister who is ... a force to be reckoned with. And then there is Sir de Bourgh and his sickly son Andrew. Seriously, this gender-switching works so much better than I'd have expected - and the added hilarity of knowing these characters as other characters amplifies the fun.

The story itself follows the pattern of the familiar original -there are misunderstandings, bad decisions, rash words, fierce encounters. With the different gender roles, the way things play out at the end is a little different, but I found it refreshing and not un-Jane. I love Lizzy, and really, really love Will Bennett. At times irreverent, always carefully fun and light, this is definitely a worthy addition to the Austenesque collection.

Book provided by publisher for review.


Blog Tour: Porcelain Keys (Excerpt)

Today I am pleased to present another excerpt to whet your reading appetite! If you can't tell from the banner, the cover of Porcelain Keys is simply beautiful. You can feast your eyes on a bigger image in just a minute, but first, a synopsis for you:
Aria's life is full of secrets--secrets about her mother's death, her father's cruelty, and her dream to go to Juilliard. When Aria meets Thomas, he draws out her secrets, captures her heart, and gives her the courage to defy her father. But when tragedy strikes and Thomas disappears, Aria is left alone to transform her broken heart's melody into something beautiful. Porcelain Keys is a captivating love story that will resonate long after the last page is turned.
Intriguing, no?

Pair that synopsis with this cover, and then I'm pretty sure you'll be racing down the page to devour the excerpt ...

Excerpt from Porcelain Keys
            Aria has just spent the night in her neighbor’s tree house—a secret and secluded place where she goes to hide when she needs to get away from her dad’s volatility. No one has lived in her neighbor’s house for a couple years, so she thinks she can stay in the tree house without being discovered.

            I awoke to a creaking sound, like wood bending under the weight of a heavy foot. But when I opened my eyes, there was no one there. Only a blue jay perched on the threshold of the doorway, his plumage vibrant in the early morning light. He tilted his crested head and stared at me curiously with one eye, then ruffled his feathers before going still again. He appeared to be listening, waiting expectantly for something.
            Wanting to sleep longer, I shut my eyes. Every joint in my body ached as if I’d hiked a mountain the day before. The blue jay called again, a musical whistle that sounded like a rusty old swing. I picked out the notes and the melodic interval. B-flat to G, I thought, a minor third. He repeated the call again and again, but soon another creak silenced him.
            I sat up in my sleeping bag, my ears suddenly attuned to the sounds outside the tree house. Weak wood whining against the strain of pressure. The tread of a shoe gripping the edge of a step. Labored breathing.
            Someone was climbing to the tree house.
            The blue jay’s crest bristled outward in warning, and in one movement I shed the sleeping bag and shot to my feet. The bird beat its wings and let out a hawk-like scream before flying up into the rafters, trapping itself along with me.
            My first thought was that Dad had finally found my hidden sanctuary. If he saw me here, I could never come back. As stealthily as I could manage, I scooped up my sleeping bag and receded into a shallow space behind a tall cabinet. My sleeping bag bulged around the corner, and I hooked my leg around it and drew it as close to my body as possible. The sounds of the blue jay’s escape attempts only added to my anxiety. A thump against a window, a clatter against the roof, an ear-piercing warning call. Every now and then I saw a flash of blue feathers in the rafters. My heart beat as wildly in my chest as the trapped bird’s wings.
            A shadow stretched from the doorway across the floor, and I held my breath and stiffened my body, hoping Dad would take a quick glance, then go on his way. But instead I heard the creak of steps. They were slow and tentative, and were coming closer. My lungs burned for want of new air, and I eased the stale air out and silently drew in more.
            Another step closer. Too close. I guessed he was right around the corner of the cabinet. If I moved a fraction of an inch, he would hear me. My muscles cramped up from being tense for so long, but I couldn’t release them without being discovered. I heard one more step, then my stomach contracted as someone stepped into my line of vision.
            It wasn’t Dad.
            It was a boy, tall with dark, tousled hair. His back was to me, but a moment later he turned to face me and his eyes locked with mine. The look of surprise I expected to see was strangely absent. Instead, his expression seemed to say, Oh, there you are.

Meet the Author:
SARAH BEARD is the author of Porcelain Keys, a YA contemporary romance. She has a degree in communications from the University of Utah and splits her time between writing and raising three energetic boys. She is a cancer survivor and a hopeless romantic. She enjoys reading and composing music, and lives with her husband and children in Salt Lake City, Utah. You can follow Sarah on twitter at @authorsarahb, or on facebook. Her website is www.sarahbeard.com.

Buy Links: Amazon and Barnes & Noble


Olympic Fever Strikes Again!

You guys. The Olympics are back!!!!!! Please imagine me bouncing up-and-down in my chair, grinning like the little girl who just won a trip to Disney and a lifetime supply of chocolate. Yeah. That big. I love the Olympics. I've been watching them pretty much my entire life, with my first Olympic memories involving Kristi Yamaguchi winning gold in 1992. Since then, I've been hooked ... My appreciation of the various sports has evolved as I've grown older. At first, I was drawn solely to the pageantry and grace of figure skating and gymnastics, yearning to have a quarter of the coordination necessary to "do that." Eventually I became interested in track-and-field (which has since waned a bit), then fell hard for the "X Games" sports and swimming. Right now, as it stands, the only Winter Games sport I detest is hockey, though my decided favorites are snowboarding, skating (all disciplines), and freestyle skiing (X Games, anyone?).

Anyone who knows me, knows I'm a bit of a sports junkie to begin with. It used to not be so -- the Olympics were the only thing "athletic" I really cared about until the end of high school, when I fell long and hard for football. Eventually I became enamored with the NCAA basketball tournament (but only tourney ball!), and most recently picked up a weird interest in the World Series. But the Olympics have always been something special -- a time that allows me to flaunt my American pride a little higher, to feel like I'm part of one huge group of people cheering for the same much smaller group of people who are fighting for honor and glory and the title of "Champion." It's a sense of community that is distinctly national, while also bringing together the world in a universal community. The music, the flair, the pomp and ceremony, the prestige. I love it. And I love Team USA. And I love that every two years, I can put things on hold and curl up to watch the world come together in something so huge, so filled with tradition, and know the world is watching with me.

I've blogged about my Olympic viewing experiences. The last several Games, I've live-texted with friends in different states, trading both excessively subjective commentary as well as technically objective analysis. This year ... things feel different. Oh, I'm psyched out of my mind, and fully prepared to feel like a zombie at work the next two weeks from staying up too late watching coverage. But my friends -- they're not. Some of them never watch the Olympics (how that stayed secret for the 7+ years we've been friends, I don't know), others just don't want to watch these Olympics. Oh, there are a few fellow Olympic faithfuls, but I'll have a far smaller circle of buddies with whom to gush over things with. Important things. Like breaking down all the technical elements and "What were they thinking?!" aspects of figure skating costuming. (This is serious stuff, y'all.) And we can't forget the breathtaking daredevilry of snowboarders, and watching the face of American snowboarding attempt to earn his third straight gold. (If you don't know who I'm talking about ... I pity you.) This year there are NEW SPORTS to contend and contest, and that's guaranteed to be worth dissecting.

It's these little, silly things, as well as the big, momentous, actually-important things that make the Olympics so great, and hold me spellbound.

To each his own, I suppose, but this girl will be faithfully watching -- and cheering.
Because it's The Olympics. And I can't imagine doing anything else.


Amanda's Beau (Excerpt)

Amanda’s Beau
by Shirley Raye Redmond

Now available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Astraea Press

The year is 1905. It is autumn in the village of Aztec in New Mexico territory. Amanda Dale is burdened with the responsibility of caring for her widowed sister—an invalid--and Ella’s two children—one a premature infant. Schoolteacher Gil Gladney is handsome, intelligent, and God-fearing. He is drawn to Amanda, but feels he cannot propose marriage until he is able to purchase the ranch he has been saving for. When Gil and his pupils discover the relics of an ancient culture among the ruins outside the village, Gil contacts an old college friend. The possibility of an archeological excavation excites the community of cash-strapped farmers, eager to earn extra money working on the site. When a rabid skunk reels through the excavation site, threatening the lives of Amanda and her nephew Rex, Gil realizes that life is short and the possibility of true happiness can be fleeting. In the end, Amanda learns to trust God to provide the happily-ever-after ending she’s been praying for.

Excerpt from Amanda's Beau:

Chapter 1
Village of Aztec,
New Mexico Territory--1905

      The baby was nestled snugly inside the large roasting pan. Wrapped in a bit of blue flannel blanket, she reminded Amanda Dale of an oversized tamale. The pan had been set upon the open door of the hot oven so that the premature infant could absorb the life-saving heat. She is so little, Amanda thought with a clutch of fear. She bent over the pan to peer into her niece’s tiny face—a face not much larger than a silver dollar.
     “Do you think she’ll die?” 10-year-old Rex asked. Bonita, the large red dog, stood beside him, her long tongue hanging out of her open mouth. Amanda noted the anxiety in her nephew’s voice. She didn’t answer at first. Born almost two months early, the baby had been quite small and barely strong enough to suckle. Tufts of dark hair now sprang from the top of her little head like scraggly sprouts. Her tiny limbs appeared so fragile that Amanda was reluctant to carry the infant without first placing her on a pillow. Ella hadn’t even bothered to name the child yet. When Rex started calling the baby Minnie, Amanda did too. After all, the tiny girl was no bigger than a minute, Gil Gladney had declared the first time he’d seen her.
     With a heavy sigh, Amanda shoved thoughts of the handsome schoolteacher, out of her mind and filled the medicine dropper with warm milk. She couldn’t afford to indulge in romantic daydreams. Not this busy September morning. Perhaps not ever.
     “Aunt Mandy, is she going to die?” Rex repeated.
     “Not if I can help it,” Amanda replied. She gently pressed the tip of the medicine dropper into the baby’s small rosebud mouth. Minnie puckered a bit, trying to suck. Small and feeble, the infant made frail, pitiful sounds like a mewling kitten.
     “How is Mama this morning?” Rex asked.
     “As well as can be expected,” Amanda replied, shrugging. Glancing at him, she noted the anxiety etched on his young face. Her heart ached for him. He’d endured a lot of grief for one so young. “Your mother is sick in her heart and in her mind. It takes a lot of time to heal in those places.” She did wish Ella would make more of an effort though. Sometimes she had to resist the urge to go in there and shake some sense into her younger sister. Of course, she’d never tell Rex that. Changing the subject, she asked, “Did you feed the chickens?”
     “That’s all I ever do--take care of those stupid chickens!” he snapped.
     “Watch your tone with me, young man!” Amanda warned.
     Rex sighed. “Yes, ma’am. I didn’t mean nothing by it. I fed the chickens and filled the pans with fresh water too.”
     “Anything, you didn’t mean anything by it,” she said, correcting his grammar.
     He shrugged a shoulder. “ I spend so much time out there, I should move my cot into the chicken house.” With another shrug, he added, “Ozzie Lancaster calls me Chicken Boy.”
     Amanda bit her lip and tried not to laugh.
To connect with Shirley, check out her website -- or visit her on facebook


Reading by the Numbers

Long before I was a book blogger - or knew what that was - a couple friends and I kept track of the books we read. On facebook, of all places. It was a hotly contested battle, and I reigned as Queen every year (no really, I kicked major reading butt, mwuhaha). As I started blogging, I shifted my record keeping to here and eventually began to integrate Goodreads more. Their challenge widget is so nifty!

The other day I started thinking: I know what my recent reading has been like, I can look at the stats on Goodreads, but what was I reading in college? In grad school? Back when this all started ... I dug up the old facebook notes, and found out!
  • 2007: 77 books, 24084 pages
  • 2008: 58 Books, 18124 pages
  • 2009: 64 books, 21333 pages
  • 2010: 76 Books, 25128 pages
  • 2011: 78 Books, 23679 pages
Not too shabby, especially considering the end of college and all of grad school are covered in those years. Apparently 2012 was the magic year to shift everything over to Goodreads, so the most recent numbers are:
  • 2012: 83 Books, 24723 pages
  • 2013: 83 Books, 25899 pages
Again, I don't feel that's too shabby. Even if I did have to step down as reigning champ in 2013. I bow to Steven's vacuum reading, and the resulting amazing numbers (151 books, 49137 pages!). Honestly, when I think about all the Crazy Big Things that happened in 2013, I'm a little surprised I managed to read as much as I did, let alone beat my personal page number record. I'm shooting for 100 again this year (I like the maths), but I'm not going to beat myself up if I don't make it. The numbers show I've never made it to 100 ... but as fun as the numbers are (Mum says I really should have majored in math), that's not what reading is about.

Reading is for fun. Sometimes an escape - a realization that came startlingly clear to me last week while I took a hiatus from fiction. I've got to find the balance between reading because it's what I love and is a great way to spend lunch hours and/or wind down from the day, and turning to a book when I don't want to deal with whatever is going on in life. I've taken back reading for pleasure - there won't be nearly as many "for review" titles, as we've discussed already, and I'm going to spend 2014 reading What I Want To Read. (I have a sneaking suspicion this might raise my final counts).

I plan to continue my experiments with audiobooks this year ... I do love my music in the car, but it's fun to work in an "extra" story too. And I desperately need to catch up on eBooks ... my poor Kindle is loaded with books I've stashed away in a virtual no-man's land, and I must be more diligent about reading these treasures. I should probably also try to resist the impulse to check out every awesome looking book that comes across the Library desk and read my own ... Since I brought home an entire trilogy last Friday, as soon as they transitioned from "in cataloging" to "checked in," I'm failing on that point already. Ah well, it's early yet.

Looking back at the titles and authors I've read - remembering some books and drawing a blank on others - I'm very interested in seeing how 2014 will develop as a year of reading ...


My Word of the Year ...

... I've never formally adopted a "word for the year" before, at least not in January. I used to pick a word that I would try and embrace for the coming year on my birthday (in July), seeing my age as more a "definer" than a calendar year. Last year, I unofficially claimed "NEW" as my word or theme for the year - looking back, it was a bit of a battlecry, the fierce determination to break out of the same-ol' and move into the next, NEW, chapter(s) of life. It worked, ha. As mentioned briefly earlier this week, 2013 was a year of many changes for me - most of them big. You know, the life-altering kind. I loved almost every minute of it, but some things definitely got lost in the blur. My year sped by at a rate that'd challenge Han Solo's Falcon, and I am still adjusting to the fact it is now 2014 and a whole year has gone by.

This year, I decided to declare an official word of the year, inspired in part by seeing my friends talking about their words on the interwebz, as well as Krafty Kash offering a discount on a personalized vintage dictionary necklace featuring your 2014 word. (Yes, I confess to being swayed by wordy jewelry). Deciding what my word would be ... now that was far more difficult than I anticipated. Since they all sort of linked together, I decided to share some of my "almost words" ...

My honest-to-goodness first impulse was "Elven," but I was fairly certain that would not exist in dictionaries ... Maybe I'll make myself an Elven necklace somewhere along the line this year.

In terms of serious word deliberation, I began with "treasure," in direct response to feeling like last year flew by too fast, wanting to treasure the moments in 2014. This shifted minutely to "savor," as well as "ponder" and "wonder." I toyed with the idea of "dance" or "breathe," to remind myself to take time to just enjoy. (I also considered "enjoy" for that matter). As I thought about where I've come, and where I'd like to go, I was very close to picking "story," but that's how I view life in general and as such can't be limited to a single year. I was tempted by "dare" and "experiment," to stretch my dreams and find new ones; and "grace" was a very real contender - to walk in grace daily, receiving it with a grateful heart and giving it freely. And then, everything fell into place and I simply knew what my word for 2014 was.

It encompasses all of the reasons I liked the other words, with the added bonus of being a key component in that favorite-of-all-favorites fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast." While we're on that subject, isn't this quote the most amazing ever?

Stacey Jay rocked my world, as I literally read myself into 2014 with Of Beast and Beauty.

In 2014, I will try and find beauty in all things. All. Things.
Beauty in the waiting times, when it seems life is stalling out and I've reached the end of the story.
Beauty in the every day: a stunning sunset; the stark silhouette of a tree against a winter sky; the way the stars shine brightest on clear, cold nights; laughing until I can't breathe with friends; baby giggles and kissing chubby cheeks.
Beauty in knowing who I am, and Who has called me His own.
Beauty in friendships, and the glorious vulnerability of trusting others.
Beauty in the words I read, the things I see, the dreams that grow.
Beauty in the music that stirs my soul and sets my heart at ease - or makes me feel brave and fierce.
Beauty in the stillness, and in the dance.


2014: Looking Ahead

Whew, two weeks into the new year, and I'm just getting around to posting about my goals/ideas/philosophies for 2014. It's been that kind of a start, y'all. Not bad, just zany.

To begin, by looking back ...
... 2013 was an amazing year for me. My official-unofficial word of 2013 was NEW, and boy did that come true! The 3rd day of the year, I was offered (and accepted) my dream job, and it kept getting better! Over the course of 365 days, I got new wheels, I found a new church - and made quite a few new friends, who I already know will be there for a time to come. There were babies born and relationships started, naturally expanding my personal circle(s). NEW was definitely a year-long theme. Of course, with all the new beginnings, there were also some endings ... Those are always tough, it's hard to say goodbye, even when you're leaving because dreams are coming true. But, in good book-speak, chapters - and books - must end at some point, so you can go on to the next. (Skipping ahead to read what's coming before you get there doesn't work so well in real life ...)

This blog maintained fairly well, until the fall, when it started to slip further and further "behind." As I was thinking about that, and starting to think about how I was going to approach 2014, I came to some conclusions ...

... I'm backing away from the "review" aspect. With a few exceptions: Nancy Kelley, Jessica Grey and Jennifer Becton will always be reviewed, because their writing kicks tail and makes me many kinds of happy. I'm also planning to continue my relationship with Peachtree and Quirk publishers, as well as Candlewick (for whom I'm dreadfully behind on reviewing, oops). These are my favorite publishing houses (teehee), and I get to pick exactly what I want to review. Outside of these parameters, I am probably not accepting "for review" titles - if I do, it will be a special exception for something I simply cannot turn down.

That said, here's what you can expect for 2014 ...
... Catching up on my backlog of books! Which, unfortunately, does feature many titles I accepted for review. I'm debating whether I will post reviews sort of "as I read them," or sprinkling them throughout the year. There are also so many books I want to read for me - and this is a big part of why I'm not doing the review thing. I want to read my books. I want to be able to check out twelve new arrivals from the library and sit down and read them all without talking myself out of it because I have other things I "need" to read. And I don't want to feel like I have to read-for-the-blog. I've always said that this blog is, first and foremost, about me - it's supposed to be fun. When I start feeling bad because I'm getting behind, or not doing as much as I could/should/would like to be doing, then it's not fun anymore. When it's not fun anymore, things have to change. (Wow, I felt a little like those anti-cable commercials there, ha).

There will still be books and posts! I'll review books I'm in love with, or have comments to make about, as well as those mentioned above. I'm also going to take part in (select) blog tours/blasts, primarily on a promo basis: I'll happily feature covers, release info, excerpts, or guest posts - but generally not reviews. Something else I'm planning to add (and excited about) are more personal-ish posts. I want to talk to you, tell you things ... Goofy stories, random reading (or writing) tangents, share giddy fangirling over new books/movies/shows. I'm toying with the idea of having these be "Friday things," but it's open for evolving and tweaking.

There's my glance into the future ... at least as regards blogging here. We'll see how it works, and go from there ...


2013: Book Survey

I saw this posted on Melissa's blog, loved it, and decided to do it myself ... I also swung by Effortlessly Reading's original post (where Melissa saw it), and added a few extra questions. Now, to think about these answers ...

1. Best Book You Read In 2013?
FAIRY TALE: Atone by Jessica Grey
CONTEMPORARY YA: Just One Day by Gayle Foreman
CONTEMPORARY ADULT: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (somewhat random selection, there were too many good ones)
HISTORICAL: The Gilded Chamber by Rebecca Kohn
CLASSIC: The Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien

2. Book you were excited about and thought you were going to love more but didn’t?
Jane Austen Marriage Manual by Kim Izzo ... It just wasn't what I wanted it to be.

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2013?
Grounded by Angela Correll -- Way better than I anticipated (is that horrible to admit? haha)

4. Book you read in 2013 that you recommended to people most in 2013?
Um ... I honestly have no idea. That's a horrible answer, but it's true ... I did a lot of library-pushing of books I've not read yet (yes, that's weird, but hey - it works!) ...

5. Best series you discovered in 2013?
The Hero's Guide series by Christopher Healy. 
I'm in love with the League of Princes.

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2013?
Let's go with Karen Kingsbury ... since I read her for the first time, and managed to knock out three of her novels

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?
Uh ... Shannon Hale's graphic novel fairy tale retellings: Calamity Jack and Rapunzel's Revenge

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2013?
Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta ... I had a major book hangover when I finished it (at some ridiculous midnight hour), and was desperate to start Quintana of Charyn as soon as possible

9. Book You Read In 2013 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?
Hmm ... Either Atone by Jessica Grey (I've read it several times over already) or The Silmarillion by Tolkien

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2013?
The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, because it's fun and summery

11. Most memorable character in 2013?
Nicholas Hunt, from Atone by Jessica Grey.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2013?
Can I take the easy way out and say "All the classics?" Because, really, they are all gorgeously written ...

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2013?
Hmm ... Excellent question, and I'm not sure I have an answer ... Actually, let's go with one I bailed on: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. I was trying to listen to it on CD, because a friend keeps nagging me to read it, and I just couldn't take it. I suffered through a disc, and couldn't take anymore ... It was a big impact, just not a positive one.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2013 to finally read?
Either The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery or North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.
I thoroughly enjoyed both (which was all-but guaranteed going into the reading), it just took me a while - and outside motivation - to read them. Glad I did, though!

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2013?
"A smuggler with a lover's kindly heart,
A gambler with a noble spirit brave."
Han Solo, William Shakespeare's Star Wars by Ian Doescher

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2013?
Longest: Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta
Shortest: I ... have no idea? Double Click by Lisa Becker, maybe?

17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? 
Atone by Jessica Grey.
One word for you: Mirror.

18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2013 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).
Beren and LĂșthien, from the Silmarillion

19. Favorite Book You Read in 2013 From An Author You’ve Read Previously
Considering I had a lot of read-again-authors, I'm sort of doing a random selection pick here and going with .... Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson - a beautifully satisfying sophomore novel.

20. Best Book You Read In 2013 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:
The Chance by Karen Kingsbury

21. Genre You Read The Most From in 2013?
If my rough count is correct: contemporary! There's a surprise ... Fantasy was second, with historical fiction significantly less than I would have guessed. Hmm, maybe my reading trends are shifting a bit ...

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2013?
Nicholas. Hunt.
For all the reasons.

23. Best 2013 debut you read?
I'm not sure what debuts I read ... Oh! The Geek's Guide to Dating by Eric Smith!

24. Most vivid world/imagery in a book you read in 2013?
I'm going with The Silmarillion, since I dreamed about it.

25. Book That Was The Most Fun To Read in 2013?
The Geek's Guide to Dating by Eric Smith!

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2013?
Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson

27. Book You Read in 2013 That You Think Got Overlooked This Year Or When It Came Out?
The Gilded Chamber by Rebecca Kohn - this one just sort of drifted across my radar, and was excellent

Some questions about looking into 2014 ...
1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2013 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2014?
Since I'm filling this out post-January 1st, that's easy answer: Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay.
It was an awesome way to start 2014's reading journey.

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2014 (non-debut)?
All of them? No, really, I can think of several, including-but-not-limited-to: Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw; The 3rd Keeper of the Lost Cities Book; The Here and Now; Solving for Ex ...

3. 2014 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?
Hmm ... I'm thinking Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge ... I love Beauty and the Beast retellings, and this one's been lurking on the radar for a while.

4. Series Ending You Are Most Anticipating in 2014?
Aspire by Jessica Grey, even if it might not strictly be considered a series-ender.
The One by Kiera Cass, because I have got to know if America gets with the program or not!

5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging In 2014?
Catch up on things! Both my actual, literal To Read stacks, as well as catching up on books I've missed.
And reread some others ... Like an extended journey through Middle Earth.
I also hope to always have one eBook in-progress, because my Kindle books get very "lost"


2013: Another Year of Bookish Adventures

This year, instead of breaking out ebooks from other monthly reads, I'm going to include them in the main listing and just mark 'em "(ebook)". I'm also going to mark books I've reviewed for the blog(s) at work with an * after the listing. I will still place "unfinished" and picture books in their own lists, but I think this will help things stay a little more organized.

- All Things New: Lynn Austin
- Turning Pages: Tristi Pinkston
- Out of the Blue: Lisa Maliga (ebook)
- All for a Song: Allison Pittman

- A Natural History of Dragons: Marie Brennan
- Never Gone: Laurel Garver (ebook)
- Safe Haven: Nicholas Sparks
- Loving Miss Darcy: Nancy Kelley (ebook)
- Attempting Elizabeth: Jessica Grey (ebook)

- Liberty: Annie Laurie Chechini (ebook)
- Bitter Greens: Kate Forsyth
- The Blue Castle: LM Montgomery

- Froi of the Exiles: Melina Marchetta
- North and South: Elizabeth Gaskell
- Being Friends with Boys: Terra Elan McVoy *
- Quintana of Charyn: Melina Marchetta
- Summerset Abbey: TJ Brown
- Summerset Abbey: Bloom in Winter: TJ Brown
- Wedding Night: Sophie Kinsella
- The Ryn: Serena Chase (ebook)

- At Fault: JW Becton (ebook)
- Fairest Beauty: Melanie Dickerson
- Time Between Us: Tamara Ireland Stone *
- Rapunzel's Revenge: Shannon Hale & Co
- Calamity Jack: Shannon Hale & Co
- The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom: Christopher Healy
- Strands of Bronze & Gold: Jane Nickerson
- Seraphina: Rachel Hartman
- Shadow and Smoke: Rachel Wetsriru *

- Towering: Alex Flinn
- The Karmic Connection: Libby Mercer (ebook)
- The Movement of Stars: Amy Brill
- Out of this Place: Emma Cameron
- Second Chance Summer: Morgan Matson
- Double Click: Lisa Becker (ebook)
- The Elite: Kiera Cass
- Just One Day: Gayle Forman

- Revenge Wears Prada: Lauren Weisberger
- Scarlet: Marissa Meyer
- The Chance: Karen Kingsbury
- Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood: Abby McDonald
- Limits: Steph Campbell & Liz Reinhardt (ebook)
- William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily A New Hope: Ian Doescher

- Beautiful Day: Elin Hilderbrand
- An Abundance of Katherines: John Green (audiobook)
- The Moon and More: Sarah Dessen
- Frogged: Vivian Vande Velde
- The Silmarillion: JRR Tolkien
- Jane Austen Marriage Manual: Kim Izzo

- Gorgeous: Paul Rudnick
- Pride & Prejudice: Jane Austen (audiobook)
- True Love: Jude Deveraux
- Lola and the Boy Next Door: Stephanie Perkins
- Longest Ride: Nicholas Sparks
- Mouse with the Question Mark Tail: Richard Peck
- Blackmoore: Julianne Donaldson
- Atone: Jessica Grey (ebook)
- Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle: Christopher Healy
- Sense & Sensibility: Jane Austen (audiobook)

- Grounded: Angela Correll
- Letters from Skye: Jessica Brockmole
- Small Town Girl: Ann H Gabhart
- The Sweetest Spell: Suzanne Selfors
- Life in Outer Space: Melissa Keil
- King's Mountain: Sharyn McCrumb
- The Rosie Project: Graeme Simsion
- Moonrise: Cassandra King

- Starry Night: Debbie Macomber
- Lying to Meet You: Anna Garner (ebook)
- Fangirl: Rainbow Rowell
- Southern as a Second Language: Lisa Patton
- Princess in the Opal Mask: Jenny Lundquist
- Seeing Light: Michelle Warren (ebook)
- The Bridge: Karen Kingsbury
- Over It!: Sarah Billington (ebook)

- Little Women: Louisa May Alcott (audiobook)
- Fifteen Minutes: Karen Kingsbury
- Cold Spell: Jackson Pearce
- The Gilded Chamber: Rebecca Kohn
- VIII: H.M. Castor
- Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor: Lisa Kleypas
- Geek's Guide to Dating: Eric Smith
- Trouble with Cowboys: Denise Hunter

Picture Books:
- Are the Dinosaurs Dead, Dad?
- Prairie Chicken Little
- Tiger in my Soup
- Claude in the City
- King of Small Things
- Claude at the Circus
- Where is Baby?

Reading started out a bit slow, and picked up steam once the year was underway. Reviewing on the other hand, took a definite turn for the worse. A lot more mini-reviews, and more than a few books I just didn't review at all. At first, the fact I wasn't reviewing bugged me a little. Then I remembered: this is my blog, and it's supposed to be fun. Yes, there are a couple of those November/December reads I read for review -- and those reviews will be posted soon. But the others? They were reading for me. That said, if you want to talk about any of them, I'd be more than happy to discuss!

Anywhosers. That's my 2013 at a glance. I'll be reflecting further on the year, as well as outlining some of the big changes coming for 2014, in days to come ... so stay tuned, my little flock of faithful readers.