Monday, November 30, 2009

One day I tripped and, sadly, my personality leaked out and rolled down the hill

No, I didn't really fall down literally. I mean it just seems like my personality has been missing from this blog in recent weeks. That's partly because I was busy with National Novel Writing Month, of course. And now my cat is exhausting me. It's like taking care of my dying mother all over again -- medicating round-the-clock, cleaning up, running to appointments. To ease our minds, Kiddo and I have been planning our future fur family. We want a minimum of 2 kittens. Those needy little red Somali kittens that act like puppies and look like foxes? Oh, yeah. It would be uber cool to have one of those in the family.

The husband is plotting the leather sofa he wants to get when the cat croaks (which we hope will be months, if not years, from now) and is threatening me with a dog and a fence. Big meanie.

The blind kitty is letting us know she is not dead yet, for crying out loud. She is so freaking determined to get around that she's absolutely hilarious. Today, she sat in front of a black leather IKEA chair, just gazing at it for a long stretch of time. I finally figured out she thought the chair was the front door when someone opened the door and she turned toward the sound with a look of shock.

Dear Spooky is frequently missing her litter box by a mile, but at least she's trying to hit it. We've moved her litter box close to her pallet (in the front entry of our house, which is no fine way to greet a guest, but hardly anyone ever drops by so it's not a big deal) because she simply could not figure out how to navigate her way through the kitchen and around two corners to get to the usual place.

And, that bag of litter near the corner of the wall, in the usual place, was getting pretty hazardous. It kept hitting her in the nose.

Let's get bookish:

I've got several children's books that I've put off reviewing, so I'm going to make tomorrow a Children's Day. I love doing that.

And, later tonight, probably tomorrow night (I forgot to ask an important question, so check back) I'm going to post info about a giveaway that you will love so much your cheeks will burn, your mouth will water, your fists will clench. "I must have that book!" you will shout aloud and your family, pet or roommate will turn to ask if you're okay. I can hear it, now. Either that or I'm wildly imaginative, but check back. Chef Alain Braux has agreed to let me offer up two copies of his nutrition/cookbook -- the one my family is so crazy about!!! Squeee!

On Wednesday, I will post a sneak peek of One Simple Act by Debbie Macomber and review it. It's a sweet little book about generosity that I am just loving. And, then maybe I can toss in my November Reads in Review (which I've already written, by golly -- getting a leap on things) on Thursday. Friday, I'll post a sneak peek of Essie in Progress by Marjorie Preston . . . which I've not yet begun to read. Thanks for reminding me.

This is what my mailbox has looked like, lately---->

Oh, man. How sad is that? Look at that big empty, vasty nothingness. It's deliberate, of course. I've stopped requesting books. I'm turning down anyone who summons the courage to offer, even after reading the notice in my sidebar. And I hate doing that because I adore authors, love books, thrill at being a part of the process of helping them get exposure but my house was about to do something bad, like . . . I don't know, explode? Rebel? Keel over in protest? Spontaneously combust?

Of course, there are certain authors I would never, ever say "no" to, but I'm sure they're not biting their fingernails and crying out, angst-ridden because Bookfool said she has to stop accepting review books. Simon, Pat, Colleen, John, Cindi . . . people I adore will find I'm still somewhat pliable.

Plus, I fell so far behind on books sent for review that it's humongously embarrassing. I know the reviews are going to be so late they'd make the White Rabbit turn himself over to the Queen of Hearts for punishment, but I'm going to slowly review them until there are no more. On my honor, I will try to do my duty, to God and the publicists and publishers of America . . . 'cause I was a Girl Scout, you know. Not a very good one, but we don't have to saunter down that road, now, do we?

Today, Kiddo and I hauled 36 books to the library and donated them to the perpetual sale corner. Oh, yes, I did check out one book. You have to expect that of a gal who calls herself "Bookfool", don't you? It's Extras by Scott Westerfeld. I'm only halfway through Specials but I figured what the heck. Might as well read the bonus book if it's available to check out utterly free of charge.

I am still reading Life After Genius (halted after husband's dental appointment, during which I sat in the car and read 50 delicious pages) and need to pick up my giant volume of Bone graphic novels . . . which somehow managed to move itself all the way to the bottom of a gigantic stack. I began reading Can God Be Trusted? and am curious whether making a man that handsome a priest (the author) is God's form of a joke or I'm just hormonal. I set aside A Novel Idea because I want a mental break from writing, but I'll get back to it. And, over the weekend I read Logan's Run -- my tattered original, which I happened across whilst cleaning house -- during a time when I was sitting up to wait for the proper time to give Blind Kitty her eyedrops.

Head spinning? I recommend a glass of water and a fluffy pillow. I think I'll leave you alone so you can go get them. Up next will be a drawing post, followed by Children's Day and all that other jazz. Oh, and I have two drawings on the 2nd of December, so check back on the Wednesday for the winners' lists.

That is all. You may now lie down and breathe a sigh of relief. Nighty-night!

Bookfool, who is finally starting to get back to blog-hopping!!! Squeee!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

October Reads in Review - 2009

I just realized I'd better get around to posting my October reads because November is about to end! Because I casually participated in the Readathon without signing up, there were a few books I zipped through and only quoted, thinking it would be best not to knock myself out reviewing. I'll link to posts that contain mini-reviews or quotes, in those cases. I also read several episodes of Bone (graphic novels) without reviewing them because I have the huge volume that contains all 9 stories and planned to review the entire book when I finish. Of course, now I've forgotten a lot of what I read, so that may never happen.

Bookfool's October Reads in Review (links where applicable):

Key: CH = Children's
YA = Young Adult
NF = Nonfiction
GN = Graphic Novel
M = Memoir
HF = Historical Fiction

147. The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose (NF/M) - the memoir of a Brown University student who decided to go undercover for a semester at "America's Holiest University", aka Liberty University -- the university founded by Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell (who was still alive at the time). Surprisingly even-handed and skilled writing; I predict Roose will go far.

148. Breaking the Bank by Yona Zeldis McDonough - Mia's nearly at her wit's end when a miracle occurs. The automatic teller machine at her bank begins to give her extra money but it isn't deducted from her account. Each time she uses the machine, it gives her a little bit more; and, a mysterious message appears with the magical gift: "Use it well." I had trouble liking Mia, but I loved that touch of magic and the big-cast ending.

149. To Serve Them All My Days by R. F. Delderfield (HF) - A young Welshman returns from WWI France shell-shocked and is sent to a remote boys' school to teach as part of his therapy. He ends up finding his life's calling in teaching and makes himself a permanent home at Bamfyld. A beautifully-rendered saga.

150. Day by Day Armageddon by J. L. Bourne (Horror) - A young military man decides to disobey orders to return to base when a plague that turns people into zombies spreads world-wide. To save himself, he comes up with clever distractions. Eventually, he pairs up with his neighbor and they pick up a few stray survivors. Weird fun.

151. Crossing Myself by Greg Garrett (NF/M) - The true story of a Christian-turned-atheist (a professor at Baylor) who was on the verge of suicide when he had an epiphany and turned his life around, returning to his faith but at a different church. By the end of the book, he was studying at seminary in addition to writing and working as an English professor. Loved this book, which is full of his musings about religion, writing, loving each other, life and depression.

152. The Maze Runner by James Dashner (YA/Sci-fi) - A young boy awakens to find himself being pulled out of an elevator and into the center of a huge maze. He has no memory of his previous life but knows he wants to be one of the runners who look for an exit. Exciting, roller-coaster ride of a book. I hope they turn this one into a movie.

153. Cheating Death by Sanjay Gupta, M.D. (NF/Health) - The famous TV doctor talks about life-saving new discoveries and procedures that can save lives now, but which are not, in most cases, in widespread practice (at least in the U.S., where we have to overanalyze everything). An easy, breezy, fascinating read.

154. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (YA/Sci-fi) - The first in a series about a dystopian world where people are divided by looks. Tally wants to be a Pretty and catch up with her friend Peris, who is already living in New Pretty Town, but then she meets Shay and finds out about the Smoke, a place where people live off the land. Surprisingly deep social commentary and fun sci-fi.

155. Not Becoming My mother by Ruth Reichl (NF/Memoir) - a memoir about how unhappy Reichl's mother was being stuck at home when she desired to become a doctor. Beautiful writing, but thoroughly depressing because I'm pretty much her mother, tossed forward in time 30 years (except I have no interest in becoming a doctor).

156. The Sneeze by Anton Chekov (Plays) [Quote] - A series of hilarious plays. I knew Chekov was a comic genius but I've only read his short stories, in the past.

157. Bone, Vol. 1: Out from Boneville (GN) - The three Bones (annoying names, great characters) have been kicked out of their home because of one of Phoney Bone's schemes to make money. Separately, they stumble into a world where rat creatures chase them, a dragon helps them out, and they end up making friends with a tough old farm granny and her granddaughter. Hilarious, clean and adventurous.

158. Bone, Vol. 2: The Great Cow Race (GN) - More Bone fun. Can't remember the details.

159. Bone, Vol. 3: Eyes of the Storm (GN) - Uh-huh, total blank. I loved it, though; I remember that much.

160. PSmith in the City by P.G. Wodehouse (F) [Quote] - Psmith (a recurring character) and his friend Mike end up working in a city bank for differing reasons. Psmith is a witty, outspoken character who finds a way to make friends with almost everyone, but a banker who ruined Mike's cricket game is bent on making their lives miserable. I loved this book except for the cricket parts, which were a bit like trying to read a foreign language.

161. Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally Carter (YA/Spy) - The second in a series of spy novels with a young heroine who attends spy school, Gallagher Hall. In this entry, Gallagher is attended (or, maybe "invaded") by boys from another spy school. After an overheard conversation, Cammie and her friends go on a mission to figure out the real reason for their presence. Almost unbearably fun. I'll reread this one when I manage to find the first.

162. No Idea by Greg Garrett (NF/M) - The second of Garrett's memoirs, following Crossing Myself, tells about his experiences in seminary and why he has not managed to be ordained in spite of successful completion. I didn't like this one as much as Crossing Myself, but I love his writing and find his experiences fascinating.

163. Bone, Vol. 4: Dragonslayer (GN) - Yep. More of the same.

164. Christian the Lion by Anthony (Ace) Bourke & John Rendall (CH) - A children's version of the story about a lion raised by two young Australian men living in London, written in scrapbook style. Delightful story. Christian the lion remembered his friends a year after release into the wild. The video of their reunion went viral, last year.

165. The Bible Salesman by Clyde Edgerton [<--mini review w/in text of post] - A con artist sucks a young Bible salesman into his theft ring by telling him he'll be helping the FBI, but he's not banking on the young salesman finding love and figuring things out. Great ending; a bit of a yawn, though.

166. Constance & Tiny by Pierre Le Gall (CH) - Constance is a terrible brat. Together, she and her humongous cat Tiny get into all sorts of trouble. Adorable books with over-the-top rotten characters and cute artwork in black, red and pink.

167. Constance & the Great Escape by Pierre Le Gall (CH) - When Constance is sent to a special school for troublesome children, she turns the tables by playing nice.

That's 21 books read, in all, if you count children's books and graphic novels. It seems a bit like cheating but I read them so I'm counting them. I read a total of 4,527 pages. October was a hoopty fine month, regardless of how you look at it. I enjoyed almost everything I read and had fun dipping my toes into the Readathon pool. Next time, I'll actually dive in if my family doesn't thwart plans.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Into the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst

Into the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst
Copyright 2007
RazorBill (Penguin Young Readers) - Fiction/Fantasy
261 pages
Author's website

Love? He loved her? It was as if the trumpet girl had released a dam. More questions tumbled into Princess's swirling mind: How could he love her? He barely knew her. She barely knew him. She barely knew herself.

"Indeed," said his mother, the queen. "Your brother said the same about the girl from the last midnight, and she was little more than a scullery maid with high-quality shoes, when all was said and done." She fixed her gaze on Princess, and Princess felt like wilting. "Are you a true princess?"

Was she? She didn't know. If she wasn't a princess, what was she? This time, when Princess reached back for a memory, it felt as if she slammed into a wall inside her head.

A modern-day fairy tale, Into the Wild tells the story of Julie, daughter of Rapunzel, sister to Puss-in-Boots (he must be adopted) and granddaughter to a witch. All have escaped from the Wild, a place where fairy-tale characters are doomed to repeat the same stories over and over, again. The Wild lives under Julie's bed and it occasionally turns a shoe into a seven-league boot or steals a pair of jeans. But, the Wild is at least under control where it lives . . .

. . . until, one day, someone makes a wish in the magic wishing well and releases the Wild. Utter disaster rules as the Wild grows, sucking regular people into stories and dooming the characters who once escaped into returning to their old fairy-tale lives.

Julie has uncomfortably straddled the normal world and the world of fairy tales for her entire life. Now, with her mother locked inside a tower, her brother searching for his true love and granny on the verge of baking small children, Julie has no choice but to save the day. But, it's very important that she not allow herself to become one of the stories -- or, if she does, she absolutely must not reach an ending because then her memory will be lost and she will be doomed to repeat a story, as well.

As Julie ventures deep into the Wild, she faces all kinds of fairy-tale dangers. Can she outsmart the wicked witch she once knew as her grandmother, pass all of the necessary tests and save the world from the Wild? Or will she get caught in a story and never see her family, again?

Oh, my gosh, what a ridiculously fun book! I read this book two weeks ago and it's still as vivid as if I'd just closed the book. Sarah Beth Durst spins a marvelous tale and I absolutely can't wait to get my mitts on her next two books, Out of the Wild and Ice. Into the Wild has all the requisite features of a hero's journey. Julie is a reluctant heroine who goes on her quest with trepidation but gradually learns to trust her own instincts.

I did easily figure out who had wished for the Wild to grow, but that didn't bother me. It's a wildly imaginative, modern-day fairy tale that blends the old with some hilarious and often frightening new twists.

My thanks to Book Nut for the recommendation. Confidentially, I try not to visit Melissa's Book Nut blog too often because she can easily turn my wish brick into a wish mountain in under a month. Frightening. I'll keep working on all the books that are her fault and then, once I've hacked that pile down a bit, will go back for more ideas. If you love YA and aren't terrified of what Melissa can do to your wish list, visit her blog. Melissa's an awesome reviewer.

4.5/5 - Magical storytelling with a delightful modern twist, a heroine who is easy to love and a terrific cast of characters.

In other news: I've been so busy with family, chores and sick kitty that I haven't spent a great deal of time online and didn't bother to do a NaNoWriMo update but I stopped deliberately at just over 30,000 words because I wanted to take my time making sure I didn't write myself into a corner (which, unfortunately, I have done in the past). I love my setting, my characters and my idea, but the plot definitely needs work.

In case you're wondering, I'm very happy stopping at 30,000. Altogether, I wrote close to 44,000 words during November. If I could have lumped the two stories together and tossed in another 6,000 words to win, I probably would have because I had 10 days left when I chose to stop -- more than enough time to come up with 6,000 words and certainly enough to have won if I was willing to take the chance that I'd just end up throwing half of my work down the toilet. Since I've won twice, I didn't feel obligated to kill myself trying. I'd rather stop at a point that I feel gives me more room to maneuver; I do tend to write myself into a tangled mess when I write fast.

So, I consider NaNoWriMo a success. I like what I'm writing; I didn't burn out to the point that I can't even stand to look at my story, and I hammered out quite a bit of writing. Fractured or not, 44,000 words in 20 days is a decent output.

Kitty Update: We have found out our beloved Miss Spooky is terminally ill. She's got "a bone marrow disease," but the doctor said there are 10 different possibilities and the treatment is the same for each -- antibiotics and steroids to support a system that is no longer producing antibodies -- so we aren't going to put her through the stress of testing her bone marrow to determine which disease she's suffering from. We found this out when her good eye (she went blind in one eye after the first episode) began to bleed internally and pressure started to build.

Miss Spooky can apparently see a little light but she's functionally blind and has spent most of the day (since I brought her home from the kitty hospital, this morning) curled up on a fat blanket on the floor. She ran into a few walls before I finally got her to relax and settle down. She's a little freaked out. While Spooky had adjusted well to being blind in one eye, she seems to be pretty distraught about not being able to see much out of either eye. I can't say I blame her.

That's about all the news from the House of Bookfool. I haven't finished many books, but I hope to have a Children's Day, sometime soon, and I've got a couple of book tours coming up. If I can, I'll squeeze in my October Reads in Review, tomorrow.

Happy Saturday!


Friday, November 27, 2009

Dried Fruit Salad recipe from How to Roast a Lamb by Michael Psilakis

Dried Fruit Salad with Thyme-Honey Vinaigrette
(Salata Me Aproxiramena Frouta Kai Lodoxydo Me Thymarisio Meli)

from How to Roast a Lamb by Michael Psilakis

Serves 6

This is not a traditional Greek salad, but I love the interplay between the sweet fruits and the tart vinaigrette. Greece has a great tradition of fruit served with cheeses, and this salad plays right into this palate-tantalizing combination. I've chosen dried fruits to show their versatility and to create a salad that's wonderful during the cooler months. Of note also is the variety of fruit being used. Although not all are necessary, each provides its own unique flavor and texture, which allows the salad to evolve with each bite.

3/4 cup sliced almonds

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 cup raspberry vinegar

3 cloves garlic, smashed

1 clove shallot, thickly sliced

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 sprig picked thyme

1 teaspoon dry Greek oregano

1 teaspoon honey, preferably thyme honey

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/3 cup canola oil

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper

3/4 cup tart dried cherries

12 plump, dried apricots, slivered

6 dried pears, slivered lengthwise

6 dried figs, slivered

9 dates, slivered lengthwise

16 ounces baby arugula leaves

6 hearts frisee, coarsely chopped

5 ounces manouri cheese, coarsely grated

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and toast until golden, about 10 minutes.

In a blender or food processor, combine the vinegars, garlic, shallot, mustard, thyme, oregano and honey. Process until smooth. With motor running, slowly pour in the extra-virgin olive oil, followed by the blended oil. Season with kosher salt and pepper.

In a large serving bowl, combine all the dried fruits, arugula, and the frisee. Toss until lightly coated with the vinaigrette. Scatter the toasted almonds and manouri on top and grind a generous amount of cracked pepper over all.

Bookfool's notes on how we altered this recipe:

Frisee - unavailable here. We skipped this one and for the manouri (a semi-soft white cheese used most often in savory pastry dishes and desserts -- also unavailable) we substituted mozzarella because it's mild. That would probably make the chef blanch. I found the vinaigrette was so strong I couldn't bear to walk within 6 feet of it and husband didn't care for it, so we eat the salad dry. It's great dry, trust me. There are very few tart foods that I can handle, although my husband generally likes a combination of sweet and sour, so it's not surprising that the vinaigrette didn't work for me.


How to Roast a Lamb by Michael Psilakis

How to Roast a Lamb: New Greek Classic Cooking
by Michael Psilakis
Copyright 2009
Little Brown - Cookbook/Memoir

288 pages

First the review. I'll post our favorite recipe separately. The most important thing you need to know about How to Roast a Lamb is that it's not just about roasting lamb. It's a big, hardback book that combines recipes with the author's personal story about how his Greek/Cretan roots, large family gatherings, love of food and fortuitous entry into the restaurant business became a lifetime pursuit that led to owning a series of restaurants and becoming a chef.

Psilakis' story is fascinating. His parents left Crete after WWII, when conditions were terrible and there were severe food shortages. I've read a couple of books about Crete during WWII, so it was easy for me to visualize post-war conditions. When he left for New York, Michael's father brought along seeds from the family garden, which he used to begin a new garden in the U.S. During Michael's childhood, he was put to work in the family's huge garden, taught how to dry and save seeds from each year's crops and, at times, also helped his mother in the kitchen. His family sounded a lot like the family of My Big Fat Greek Wedding and I have to admit I was a little envious reading about their huge gatherings.

The recipes come from years of creating recipes in his restaurants, often using traditional recipes but with some updating. Psilakis makes an unfortunate assumption that people can acquire the ingredients he uses just about anywhere -- a pretty common assumption made by people who are accustomed to life in a big city. This is unfortunate for us because we have to drive 60 miles just to get some ingredients he considers basic and others would have to be either ordered online or substituted. And, even his substitute ingredients (mentioned in the opening of the book) are impossible, difficult or expensive to acquire. He frequently uses a confit, sauce or viniagrette that must be prepared separately.

So, we were a little limited as to what we could make but there is plenty of variety in How to Roast a Lamb. The author has separated the recipes into sections that indicate what they're all about - "My Father's Garden" has recipes made from ingredients in a backyard garden, for example. There are fish recipes, recipes from Psilakis' first menus, game recipes, spreads and other recipes specifically for celebrations and recipes designed to be cooked for large gatherings. Finally, there is a section on "The Aegean Pantry" in which the author shares recipes for confits, spice mix, several vinaigrettes and candied fruits to keep on hand.

My opinion of the book, in general, is that it's a gorgeous book that I love looking at and reading but which seems pretty impractical for our household. I can't say that would be true everywhere. If you live in or close to a city where you have access to a wide variety of herbs, cheeses, seafood and vegetables, you might really enjoy the book.

My husband's opinion: "Most of the recipes are too complex." I should qualify his statement with the comment that the author is of the opinion that if you're having a large gathering, there's nothing wrong with spending days -- literally, up to a week -- cooking in preparation. I think that's lovely if you can do it and if you have good reason, but we have almost no family at all and zippo "gatherings" or parties, at this point in time. And, in spite of his comment, we've found a few recipes we like. I'll share our favorite in my next post.

3.5/5 - Gorgeous book, great personal story packed with personal photos and beautiful photos of each of the recipes but impractical and a bit complex for the ordinary cook. Particularly recommended for those who enjoy cooking complicated menus for large parties and have easy access to a variety of fresh ingredients, including seafood and herbs.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to the Americans!! (a wee bit late, I know)

There were just three of us home for dinner, this year. We drank sparkling organic apple juice because Bookfool thinks all alcohol tastes like paint remover smells. So, we're a sparkling juice family.
We have a small living/dining area, so we ate surrounded by books and guitars:

That's not the entire meal and apparently the person who set the table was male because the female of the family learned table-setting in girl scouts. The fork goes on the left - the left! No, it didn't matter a bit. Note that we also couldn't get to the Thanksgiving-themed tablecloth so we had a Thanksgiving Fiesta look going.
Husband fixed our feast because, as he said, "I just love cooking a big holiday meal!" Hahaha. Married well, didn't I? He made our new favorite salad from How to Roast A Lamb by Michael Psilakis. I'll share that recipe soon. Doesn't it look great?

And, because I loaded the photos out of order, here's the appetizer platter we nibbled on while huzzybuns was cooking:

That's artichoke-crab dip in the glass bowl, along with the crudites, two cheeses, ranch dressing and toasted French bread drizzled with olive oil.

After dinner, we went for a walk in the Vicksburg National Military Park, where we met up with a white-tailed doe and her fawn. We had a lovely day, even without our cat (who is back in the kitty hospital but should be home, tomorrow). I hope you had a wonderful day, too, wherever you are!

Love from Bookfool

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Novel Idea by Various Best-Selling Authors (sneak peek & mini review at end)

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card authors are:

Various Best-Selling Authors
(contributions from best-selling authors including Jerry B. Jenkins, Francine Rivers, Karen Kingsbury, Randy Alcorn, Terri Blackstock, Robin Jones Gunn, Angela Hunt and more)

and the book:

A Novel Idea

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (November 1, 2009)

***Special thanks to Vicky Lynch of Tyndale House Publishers for sending me a review copy.***


Best-selling Christian fiction writers have teamed together to contribute articles on the craft of writing. A Novel Idea contains tips on brainstorming ideas and crafting and marketing a novel. It explains what makes a Christian novel “Christian” and offers tips on how to approach tough topics. Contributors include Jerry B. Jenkins, Karen Kingsbury, Francine Rivers, Angela Hunt, and many other beloved authors. All proceeds will benefit MAI, an organization that teaches writing internationally to help provide literature that is culturally relevant.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (November 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414329946
ISBN-13: 978-1414329949


Chapter 1: Plot

The Plot Skeleton

Angela Hunt

Imagine, if you will, that you and I are sitting in a room with one hundred other authors. If you were to ask each person present to describe their plotting process, you’d probably get a hundred different answers. Writers’ methods vary according to their personalities, and we are all different. Mentally. Emotionally. Physically.

If, however, those one hundred novelists were to pass behind an X-ray machine, you’d discover that we all possess remarkably similar skeletons. Beneath our disguising skin, hair, and clothing, our skeletons are pretty much identical.

In the same way, though writers vary in their methods, good stories are composed of remarkably comparable skeletons. Stories with “good bones” can be found in picture books and novels, plays and films.

Many fine writers tend to carefully outline their plots before they begin the first chapter. On the other hand, some novelists describe themselves as “seat-of-the-pants” writers. But when the story is finished, a seat-of-the-pants novel will (or should!) contain the same elements as a carefully plotted book. Why? Because whether you plan it from the beginning or find it at the end, novels need structure beneath the story.

After mulling several plot designs and boiling them down to their basic elements, I developed what I call the “plot skeleton.” It combines the spontaneity of seat-of-the-pants writing with the discipline of an outline. It requires a writer to know where he’s going, but it leaves room for lots of discovery on the journey.

When I sit down to plan a new book, the first thing I do is sketch my smiling little skeleton.

To illustrate the plot skeleton in this article, I’m going to refer frequently to The Wizard of Oz and a lovely foreign film you may never have seen, Mostly Martha.

The Skull: A Central Character
The skull represents the main character, the protagonist. A lot of beginning novelists have a hard time deciding who the main character is, so settle that question right away. Even in an ensemble cast, one character should be featured more than the others. Your readers want to place themselves into your story world, and it’s helpful if you can give them a sympathetic character to whom they can relate. Ask yourself, “Whose story is this?” That is your protagonist.

This main character should have two needs or problems—one obvious, one hidden—which I represent by two yawning eye sockets.

Here’s a tip: Hidden needs, which usually involve basic human emotions, are often solved or met by the end of the story. They are at the center of the protagonist’s “inner journey,” or character change, while the “outer journey” is concerned with the main events of the plot. Hidden needs often arise from wounds in a character’s past.

Consider The Wizard of Oz. At the beginning of the film, Dorothy needs to save her dog from Miss Gulch, who has arrived to take Toto because he bit her scrawny leg—a very straightforward and obvious problem. Dorothy’s hidden need is depicted but not directly emphasized when she stands by the pigpen and sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Do children live with Uncle Henry and Aunt Em if all is fine with Mom and Dad? No. Though we are not told what happened to Dorothy’s parents, it’s clear that something has splintered her family and Dorothy’s unhappy. Her hidden need, the object of her inner journey, is to find a place to call home.

Mostly Martha opens with the title character lying on her therapist’s couch and talking about all that is required to cook the perfect pigeon. Since she’s in a therapist’s office, we assume she has a problem, and the therapist addresses this directly: “Martha, why are you here?”

“Because,” she answers, “my boss will fire me if I don’t go to therapy.” Ah—obvious problem at work with the boss. Immediately we also know that Martha is high-strung. She is precise and politely controlling in her kitchen. This woman lives for food, but though she assures us in a voice-over that all a cook needs for a perfectly lovely dinner is “fish and sauce,” we see her venture downstairs to ask her new neighbor if he’d like to join her for dinner. He can’t, but we become aware that Martha needs company. She needs love in her life.

Connect the Skull to the Body: Inciting Action
Usually the first few chapters of a novel are involved with the business of establishing the protagonist in a specific time and place, his world, his needs, and his personality. The story doesn’t kick into gear, though, until you move from the skull to the spine, a connection known as the inciting incident.

Writers are often told to begin the story in medias res, or in the middle of the action. This is not the same as the Big Incident. Save the big event for a few chapters in, after you’ve given us some time to know and understand your character’s needs. Begin your story with an obvious problem—some action that shows how your character copes. In the first fifth of the story we learn that Dorothy loves Toto passionately and that Martha is a perfectionist chef. Yes, start in the middle of something active, but hold off on the big event for a while. Let us get to know your character first . . . because we won’t gasp about their dilemma until we know them.

In a picture book, the inciting incident is often signaled by two words: One day . . . Those two words are a natural way to move from setting the stage to the action. As you plot your novel, ask yourself, “One day, what happens to move my main character into the action of the story?” Your answer will be your inciting incident, the key that turns your story engine.

After Dorothy ran away, if she’d made it home to Uncle Henry and Aunt Em without incident, there would have been no story. The inciting incident? When the tornado picks Dorothy up and drops her, with her house, in the land of Oz.

The inciting incident in Mostly Martha is signaled by a ringing telephone. When Martha takes the call, she learns that her sister, who was a single mother to an eight-year-old girl, has been killed in an auto accident.

Think of your favorite stories—how many feature a hero who’s reluctant to enter the special world? Often—but not always—your protagonist doesn’t want to go where the inciting incident is pushing him or her. Obviously, Martha doesn’t want to hear that her sister is dead, and she certainly doesn’t want to be a mother. She takes Lina, her niece, and offers to cook for her (her way of showing love), but Lina wants her mother, not gourmet food.

Even if your protagonist has actively pursued a change, he or she may have moments of doubt as the entrance to the special world looms ahead. When your character retreats or doubts or refuses to leave the ordinary world, another character should step in to provide encouragement, advice, information, or a special tool. This will help your main character overcome those last-minute doubts and establish the next part of the skeleton: the goal.

The End of the Spine: The Goal
At some point after the inciting incident, your character will establish and state a goal. Shortly after stepping out of her transplanted house, Dorothy looks around Oz and wails, “I want to go back to Kansas!” She’s been transported over the rainbow, but she prefers the tried and true to the unfamiliar and strange. In order to go home, she’ll have to visit the wizard in the Emerald City. As she tries to meet an ever-shifting set of subordinate goals (follow the yellow brick road; overcome the poppies; get in to see the wizard; bring back a broomstick), her main goal keeps viewers glued to the screen.

This overriding concern—will she or won’t she make it home?—is known as the dramatic question. The dramatic question in every murder mystery is, Who committed the crime? The dramatic question in nearly every thriller is, Who will win the inevitable showdown between the hero and the villain? Along the way readers will worry about the subgoals (Will the villain kill his hostage? Will the hero figure out the clues?), but the dramatic question keeps them reading until the last page.

Tip: To keep the reader involved, the dramatic question should be directly related to the character’s ultimate goal. Martha finds herself trying to care for a grieving eight-year-old who doesn’t want another mother. So Martha promises to track down the girl’s father, who lives in Italy. She knows only that his name is Giuseppe, but she’s determined to find him.

The Rib Cage: Complications
Even my youngest students understand that a protagonist who accomplishes everything he or she attempts is a colorless character. As another friend of mine is fond of pointing out, as we tackle the mountain of life, it’s the bumps we climb on! If you’re diagramming, sketch at least three curving ribs over your spine. These represent the complications that must arise to prevent your protagonist from reaching his goal.

Why at least three ribs? Because even in the shortest of stories—in a picture book, for instance—three complications work better than two or four. I don’t know why three gives us such a feeling of completion, but it does. Maybe it’s because God is a Trinity and we’re hardwired to appreciate that number.

While a short story will have only three complications, a movie or novel may have hundreds. Complications can range from the mundane—John can’t find a pencil to write down Sarah’s number—to life-shattering. As you write down possible complications that could stand between your character and his ultimate goal, place the more serious problems at the bottom of the list.

The stakes—what your protagonist is risking—should increase in significance as the story progresses. In Mostly Martha, the complications center on this uptight woman’s ability to care for a child. Lina hates her babysitter, so Martha has to take Lina to work with her. But the late hours take their toll, and Lina is often late for school. Furthermore, Lina keeps refusing to eat anything Martha cooks for her.

I asked you to make the ribs curve because any character that runs into complication after complication without any breathing space is going to be a weary character . . . and you’ll weary your reader with this frenetic pace. One of the keys to good pacing is to alternate your plot complications with rewards. Like a pendulum that swings on an arc, let your character relax, if only briefly, between disasters.

Along the spiraling yellow brick road, Dorothy soon reaches an intersection (a complication). Fortunately, a friendly scarecrow is willing to help (a reward). They haven’t gone far before Dorothy becomes hungry (a complication). The scarecrow spots an apple orchard ahead (a reward). These apple trees, however, resent being picked (a complication), but the clever scarecrow taunts them until they begin to throw fruit at the hungry travelers (a reward).

See how it works? Every problem is followed by a reward that matches the seriousness of the complication. Let’s fast-forward to the scene where the balloon takes off without Dorothy. This is a severe complication—so severe it deserves a title of its own: the bleakest moment. This is the final rib in the rib cage, the moment when all hope is lost for your protagonist.

The Thighbone: Send in the Cavalry
At the bleakest moment, your character needs help, but be careful how you deliver it. The ancient Greek playwrights had actors representing the Greek gods literally descend from the structure above to bring their complicated plot knots to a satisfying conclusion. This sort of resolution is frowned upon in modern literature. Called deus ex machina (literally “god from the machine”), this device employs some unexpected and improbable incident to bring victory or success. If you find yourself whipping up a coincidence or a miracle after the bleakest moment, chances are you’ve employed deus ex machina. Back up and try again, please.

Avoid using deus ex machina by sending two types of help: external and internal. Your character obviously needs help from outside; if he could solve the problem alone, he would have done it long before the bleakest moment. Having him conveniently remember something or stumble across a hidden resource smacks of coincidence and will leave your reader feeling resentful and cheated.

So send in the cavalry, but remember that they can’t solve the protagonist’s problem. They can give the protagonist a push in the right direction; they can nudge; they can remind; they can inspire. But they shouldn’t wave a magic wand and make everything all right.

For Dorothy, help comes in the form of Glenda the Good Witch, who reveals a secret: The ruby slippers have the power to carry her back to Kansas. All Dorothy has to do is say, “There’s no place like home”—with feeling, mind you—and she’ll be back on the farm with Uncle Henry and Auntie Em. Dorothy’s problem isn’t resolved, however, until she applies this information internally. At the beginning of the story, she wanted to be anywhere but on the farm. Now she has to affirm that the farm is where she wants to be. Her hidden need—to find a place to call home—has been met.

In Mostly Martha, the bleakest moment arrives with Lina’s father, Giuseppe. He is a good man, and Lina seems to accept him. But after waving good-bye, Martha goes home to an empty apartment and realizes that she is not happy with her controlled, childless life. She goes to Marlo, the Italian chef she has also begun to love, and asks for his help.

The Kneecap and Lower Leg: Make a Decision, Learn a Lesson
Martha realizes that her old life was empty—she needs Lina in her life, and she needs Marlo. So she and Marlo drive from Germany to Italy to fetch Lina and bring her home.

You may be hard-pressed to cite the lesson you learned from the last novel you read, but your protagonist needs to learn something. This lesson is the epiphany, a sudden insight that speaks volumes to your character and brings them to the conclusion of their inner journey.

James Joyce popularized the word epiphany, literally the manifestation of a divine being. (Churches celebrate the festival of Epiphany on January 6 to commemorate the meeting of the Magi and the Christ child.) After receiving help from an outside source, your character should see something—a person, a situation, or an object—in a new light.

When the scarecrow asks why Glinda waited to explain the ruby slippers, the good witch smiles and says, “Because she wouldn’t have believed me. She had to learn it for herself.” The scarecrow then asks, “What’d you learn, Dorothy?” Without hesitation, Dorothy announces that she’s learned a lesson: “The next time I go looking for my heart’s desire, I won’t look any farther than my own backyard.” She has learned to appreciate her home, so even though she is surrounded by loving friends and an emerald city, Dorothy chooses to return to colorless Kansas. She hugs her friends once more, then grips Toto and clicks her heels.

The Foot: The Resolution
Every story needs the fairy-tale equivalent of “and they lived happily ever after.” Not every story ends happily, of course, though happy endings are undoubtedly popular. Some protagonists are sadder and wiser after the course of their adventure. But a novel should at least leave the reader with hope.

The resolution to Mostly Martha is portrayed during the closing of the film. As the credits roll, we see Marlo and Martha meeting Lina in Italy; we see Martha in a wedding gown (with her hair down!) and Marlo in a tuxedo; we see a wedding feast with Giuseppe, his family, and Martha’s German friends; we see Martha and Marlo and Lina exploring an abandoned restaurant—clearly, they are going to settle in Italy so Lina can be a part of both families. In the delightful final scene, we see Martha with her therapist again, but this time he has cooked for her and she is advising him.

Many movies end with a simple visual image—we see a couple walking away hand in hand, a mother cradling her long-lost son. That’s all we need to realize that our main character has struggled, learned, and come away a better (or wiser) person. As a writer, you’ll have to use words, but you can paint the same sort of reassuring picture without resorting to “and they lived happily ever after.”

Your story should end with a changed protagonist—he or she has gone through a profound experience and is different for it, hopefully for the better. Your protagonist has completed an outer journey (experienced the major plot events) and an inner journey that address some hurt from the past and result in a changed character.

What Next?
Now that we’ve reached the foot of our story skeleton, we’re finished outlining the basic structure. Take those major points and write them up in paragraph form. Once you’ve outlined your plot and written your synopsis, you’re ready to begin writing scenes. Take a deep breath, glance over your skeleton, and jump in.

Taken from A Novel Idea by ChiLibras. Copyright ©2009 by ChiLibras. Used with permission from Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.

I love what I've read of this book, although I've yet to finish. Because I'm pressed for time, with family home for the holiday, I'm not going to push myself to read and write a full review right away. I will tell you, though, that it already helped me through some problems I was having with my National Novel Writing Month work. I need to stop and rethink my plot. Hopefully, there will be something else in this book that will help me pinpoint how to go about fixing my problem. I have a plot problem, but I love my characters and settings. This is a book that I highly, enthusiastically recommend for budding writers and would make an excellent Christmas idea.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Foundling by Georgette Heyer

The Foundling by Georgette Heyer
Copyright 2009 - Originally published in 1948
Sourcebooks - Fiction/Historical
439 pages

Almost every time I read a book by Georgette Heyer, I find myself saying, "Ooooh, this is my new favorite!" and it's happened, again.

The Foundling tells the story of the cosseted Duke of Sale, who is tired of having loads of people attend to his needs and decides to sneak off to help his cousin out of a fix, in part so he can see what it's like to be "Mr. Dash, of Nowhere in Particular". First, though, he asks his childhood friend Harriet for her hand in marriage because it's expected of him. He doesn't think it will be the most exciting marriage, but he likes her and has been told marriage isn't supposed to be thrilling . . . and that he can always find himself a mistress.

The Duke calls himself "Mr. Rufford" (one of his titles is Baron Ware of Rufford) when he goes off to extract cousin Matthew from a breach of promise claim and then ends up with Matthew's former crush -- a stunningly beautiful airhead named Belinda (a "foundling", or orphan) -- and a teenage boy, who plans to sneak off to London for similar reasons to the Duke's, tagging along. The Duke gets into all sorts of tangles and has to eventually ask Harriet to help him deal with Belinda. In the process, the Duke realizes his own inner strength and resources are not lacking and discovers there's more to Harriet than meets the eye.

5/5 - A wonderful book. It's funny, adventurous and, toward the end, romantic in a tender and touching way that falls short of being gushy.

My thanks to Danielle at Sourcebooks for the review copy.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Baked Pork Chop recipe from How to Lower your Cholesterol with French Gourmet Food by Alain Braux

Here it is, finally! The recipe you've all been waiting for!! Pork chop image found here.

Baked Pork Chops with Apples and Cinnamon

from How to Lower your Cholesterol with French Gourmet Food by Chef Alain Braux

In France, cooking pork with apples is a wonderful way to add sweetness to an otherwise bland meat. It is a tasty and warming Autumn dish.
Servings: 4
Prep Time: 20 min.
Cooking time: 30 min.


4 medium pork chops
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 c. dry white wine
Sea salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 celery leaves
4 bay leaves
2 Granny Smith apples, cored and diced
2 celery stalks, chopped fine
1 Tbsp butter, cut in small pieces
1 Tbsp brown sugar
4 oz. grated Swiss cheese


- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.

- Butter an ovenproof enameled cast iron or glass pan.

- Place your pork chops in the pan, leaving a little space in between; pour wine over pork chops. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Top each chop with a celery leaf and a bay leaf.

- In a separate bowl, toss together the diced apples, the chopped celery, butter and brown sugar. Add this mix to the pan with the pork chops, placing some of the mix between the pork chops.

- Bake together for about 30 minutes (depending on the size of your chops). Check for doneness.

- Take the pan out of the oven. Set your oven on broiler. Take out the celery and bay leaves. Sprinkle the Swiss cheese over your pork chops. Put back in the oven and broil until the cheese is melted and turns golden brown.

Voila - c'est magnifique! (<------I wrote that part). Enjoy!

Friday, November 20, 2009

How to Lower Your Cholesterol with French Gourmet Food by Chef Alain Braux

How to Lower your Cholesterol with French Gourmet Food: A Practical Guide by Chef Alain Braux
Copyright 2009
Alain Braux International Publishing, LLC
266 pages
Link to Amazon that doesn't benefit me but which you need because this is a 5-star book

First the review, then the recipe! I'm going to post the pork chop recipe I've mentioned in previous posts separately because this post would be humongous if I threw a sample recipe and review together.

How to Lower your Cholesterol with French Gourmet Food has a title that screams "contrast", since French food has been known to be high-fat, although the cover shows very healthy foods. The French diet, says Chef Braux, was a healthy Mediterranean diet, heavy in fresh regional foods, until some time after WWII. Then, things changed and rich recipes became common fare. Eventually, the French returned to their old style of cooking. Chef Braux draws on the old, healthy style of French cooking and his study of nutrition to create recipes.

How to Lower your Cholesterol with French Gourmet Food is not just a cookbook, though. The first 166 pages are text. The author begins his book by talking about his own experience with high cholesterol and how he changed his diet in order to avoid the use of prescription medicine to lower his cholesterol.

Chef Braux is a classically trained French chef who worked in a variety of high-end restaurants for over 30 years. When he moved to Austin, Texas and started his own business, he was asked why he didn't serve vegetarian dishes. He realized he knew how to cook fabulous foods, but he didn't know a great deal about nutrition and that led to study at The Natural Epicurean Academy, followed by work to acquire a B. S. in Holistic Nutrition at the Clayton College of Holistic Health.

All that is just background, of course, to let you know that the author knows what he's talking about. In the text of the book, the author talks about such a broad variety of topics I can't list them all but the topics include foods to buy and avoid, info about fiber, grain, nuts, sugary drinks, fruits, and other foods, shopping tips, cooking tips, anecdotes from the author's life in France, and a lot more. He lists pantry, refrigerator and freezer staples and gives readers a sample week-long menu to get started if you want to dive right in and cook nothing but healthy food from his book, right away.

The best thing about the text of How to Lower your Cholesterol with French Gourmet Food is that it's all written in a tremendously accessible, chatty style. I've always found books on lowering cholesterol bored me to tears (although I love reading about nutrition) but this particular book is an absolute joy to read.

Some of his advice may horrify you a bit, as it did me. What? We're not supposed to reuse cooking oil, at all, ever? I spoke to my husband about that, after reading the author's advice on the best types of oil and how to cook with them. My husband said, "So, I can't reuse the oil from the last time I fried a turkey?" Of course, I told him he can't fry a turkey ever again, which pleases me greatly. Sorry, Huzzybuns. We'll have to leave the dangerous outdoor toys to someone else.

On to the recipes. I cannot even begin to tell you how much my family has been loving the recipes in this book. They're delicious but healthy, filling but light. We're actually finding that we're planning our meals ahead for the first time in a long time, simply because we're so eager to keep trying new recipes from the book and repeating the cooking of those we've already tried.

The only downfalls to this book are the lack of photos with the recipes (which, in this case, I can honestly say does not bother me, for once) and the fact that sometimes the author tells you to use a specific type of cookware that you may not own. Of course, you can look at his suggestions as "gift ideas" to hand to your relatives for the holidays. My husband detected one minor mistake in the pork chop recipe I'm about to post but it wasn't a problem and it's the only error he's found.

5+++++/5 - I added the plusses because I don't feel I can do this book justice. It's the best nutrition/cookbook I've ever found. Readable, useable nutrition, shopping and cooking advice paired with amazing recipes. How to Lower your Cholesterol with French Gourmet Food is not a book to be missed.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Updates on . . . things

I know I owe you guys a pork chop recipe and I swear I'm going to get to it, but between a head cold, a long night without sleep, helping Kiddo with a project I'd very much like to label "stupid and kindergartenish" (the assignment, not the end product) and National Novel Writing Month (see stunningly accurate visual of my storyline, at right, from Lambert/Hulton Archive Getty Images), Bookfool is a train wreck. I just don't feel like propping up a book to copy a recipe, today. I am too weak and weary.

So, you get an update, which is honestly just as much as I can handle.

Bookwise: I finished Against Medical Advice by James Patterson and Hal Friedman, last night. It was a really quick, very touching read (so quick, in fact, that I didn't manage to add it to my sidebar) but it left me with a few questions. I don't know if they can be answered; I just wonder if the subject of the book -- a young man who had a debilitating combination of Tourette's Syndrome with OCD and anxiety -- got better because of what he did to get control of his life or if it was at least in part because he grew out of his syndrome a bit. Does anyone have thoughts on that?

I won Against Medical Advice from Thoughtful Joy and it arrived pretty quickly, which leads me to a thought . . . Hatchette. Not to pick on them, but I have been on both ends of the giving and receiving love from Hatchette and sometimes the books won show up lightning fast; sometimes they just flat don't show up.

I don't want to nag drawing hosts (at least not more than once), so if they don't show up after a first mention, I let it go. I'm curious if anyone else has had a contest win never arrive. Never as in NEVER. Meaning months have passed, you've asked once, the nice blog drawing host said, "I'll remind them," and still nothing. Just curious. I've gotten a few complaints, myself, and that's one reason I've decided I'm about to stop hosting their drawings, at least for the time being.

There are other reasons, which are probably much better . . . one of which is the fact that I've preemptively declared 2010 a "Mostly No-ARC Year". I've already bungled that up by signing up to write a bunch of reviews in January, but I hope to gain strength as the year progresses. I've been working on writing a review policy to that end and, unfortunately, drawing a total blank. I'm reminded of the time we had a power outage and, just to be silly, I changed my answering-machine message to "Nyeh, go away," and then promptly forgot about it. A few hours later, someone I knew -- but not well enough to explain away that bit of madness -- called.

"Nyeh, go away," does not seem like the best of review policies. It's all I can come up with, right now, though. That's probably my head cold talking.

Nano-wise: Sometimes I love it; sometimes I hate it. My story, that is. I seem to alternate between good writing days and bad ones. Yesterday was good. Today, bad. My favorite really horrible excerpt:

In the Medical Restricted Zone, Kole awoke to find himself a little sore but feeling surprisingly well for a man who had been shot by some unknown kind of laser beam. He was also manacled to the bed. That sucked.

I just love to read that bit over and over, again. It makes me laugh. The awfulness of it tickles me so much that I'm leaving it in, for now. I'm not supposed to edit anyway, right? In case you're interested, my current word count is 27,467. I like meditating upon the fact that I have now passed the halfway point, if a bit late. I'm still behind but closing in on where I should be.

Other bookish things: Since I've decided to back away from reviewing advanced readers and read the ominous, glaring stacks of books before the infamous book rebellion in which the weak and seriously outnumbered are killed and eaten (say that aloud 5 times, fast), fewer books are arriving on my doorstep. I have, however, received two that I'm very anxious to read:

They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust by Tammeus and Cukierkorn, and

Custer Survivor: The End of a Myth, The Beginning of a Legend by John Koster

Also, I've just found out that my church is going to be doing a year-long study using the God Sightings Bible and its Companion Guide. I have this Bible and guide for review and I've been a little perplexed as to its purpose and what to say about it (although I'm enjoying reading it, whether I "get it" or not), so I'm hoping that joining the group will illuminate me a bit and enable me to babble about what I learn. Because that's what I'm good at. (<---Bad English, sorry.] Babbling, I mean. At left is an image of the God Sightings Companion Guide, which I feel compelled to share because I just love that picture. I am excessively fond of a sheep.

I'm still reading all those books in the sidebar, also. Nano has slowed down my reading significantly, but I'm about to give in to this nasty cold and go to bed early. A few nights of caving in early to read and maybe I'll be able to change out that boring old set of same old, same old. The French chef's cholesterol-lowering nutrition advice and recipe book is still a huge hit around here, by the way. Just don't kick me if it takes a few days to say something about it and type up that pork chop recipe. I need sleep. Lots of sleep. And, the old kind of Nyquil.


Bookfool, aka "Sickie-poo"

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Mosaic Bible Winner

I'll bet you thought I'd forgotten I had a drawing, today, right? Well, um, I did but fortunately I remembered just in time to draw a name before toddling off to bed and the winner is:


Cool, someone I know! I'll be in touch, Bellezza. Congratulations!

So You Want to be a Work-at-Home Mom by Hart & Ennen (sneak peek)

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card authors are:

and the book:

So You Want To Be A Work-At-Home Mom: A Christian's Guide To Starting a Home-Based Business

Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City (August 15, 2009)

***Special thanks to Jill Hart for sending me a review copy.***


Jill Hart is the founder of Christian Work at Home Moms, Jill is a co-author of the upcoming book So You Want To Be a Work-at-Home Mom (Beacon Hill, Sept. 2009). Jill welcomes work-at-home questions at

Visit the author's website.

Diana Ennen is the President of Virtual Word Publishing. Diana has worked from home for over 25 years and is passionate about PR, Publicity and Marketing & helping others Start their Own Virtual Assistant Business. Follow Diana on twitter at

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $15.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City (August 15, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0834124661
ISBN-13: 978-0834124660


Making the Choice to Stay Home

Today’s moms are passionate women who want both careers and families without having to give up precious time with their children. They’re searching for ways to have it all, and they’re finding that it’s possible to work from home and at the same time balance a family.

It may sound like a dream, but it’s not. It does start with a dream, though.

A few fortunate women fall into a job or business that allows them to work at home, but it isn’t that easy for most women. To find a way to stay at home while still contributing to their family financially is something that many women long for but few know how to achieve. We hope to make it easier for you.

Being Content at Home

You might have expected us to immediately launch into a chapter about how wonderful life can be if you work at home. However, with the authors having worked from home many years, we realized that you first need to be content in your home life to make it work. The focus of your mind is where true happiness lies. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

Before beginning your search for a career that will allow you to work from home, it’s important to remember that God has put you where you are for a reason. It may be for a season of your life, or it could possibly be long-term. Either way, trust that God will provide what’s best for you, and that may look a little different than what you think is best.

Being a mom and working outside the home can be incredibly challenging. Coordinating schedules, running kids to and fro, and being so tired by evening that you don’t have the energy to enjoy your kids take their toll. However, being a work-at-home mom every day, all day, presents its own unique challenges. It can become monotonous, even tedious. The kids, the house, the responsibilities—the list goes on and on. In either case, it can feel downright impossible to have an attitude of gratitude. The road can be hard, but in the end, your life will be less stressful and more satisfying if you can overcome discontentment. Following are some ideas for building contentment.

Be Grateful

One of the hardest attitudes to achieve is that of gratefulness. It’s easy to get caught up in the negatives that happen each day. However, it’s important to be grateful for each and every blessing that God gives.

Make a list of things in your life that you’re grateful for. You can start your list with your family and the opportunity to work from home, and continue from there. Take the time to thank God for each of the things on your list. As you begin to develop a grateful attitude, you’ll begin to notice more and more things each day you can add to your list.

Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that (1 Timothy 6:6-8).

Give Back

Changing your attitude is the first step to finding contentment. Reaching out and helping others is a proven way to change your attitude. When you extend help and graciousness to others, it can’t help but benefit you as well.

Find someone who needs a friend, and make a conscious effort to reach out to him or her every week or every month. Or find a ministry that you admire, and get involved. You’ll be surprised what investing something of yourself in others will do for your attitude. If you’re running a business from home, you may be able to bless others with a product they can’t afford or a special discount that will brighten their day. Maybe you can mentor someone. Be careful, though, that you don’t get so involved in helping others that you neglect your own business.

Choose to Accept Your Situation

A key component of contentment is acceptance. Acceptance doesn’t mean you don’t strive to better your life. It simply means that you make peace with where you are in life at this time.

There will always be more to attain—more money, more prestige. If you spend your life focused on what you don’t have or what you haven’t attained in life, you’ll be sad indeed. Celebrate each and every success, no matter how big or how small.

Examine your life and see all that is good in it. Each good thing is a gift from God. Accept that He is with you at this point in time. He’ll be with you in every success and every setback. Nothing you do will make Him love you more, and there’s nothing you can do that will make Him love you less.

We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

Focus on Christ

This may sound like a cliché, but it’s easy to allow focus to move from the Lord to self. When moms work at home, the needs of family, business, and self can sometimes be all-consuming, leaving little time to meet spiritual needs. But focusing on your relationship with the Lord is what should come first. If your relationship with Christ is weak, all other relationships will be affected.

Here are practices that will help keep you focused on Him:

1. Read your Bible every day. Make the commitment to read at least one verse every day. The Book of Proverbs is a good place to start, or start with verses from the Gospel of John for a close look at the life of Christ. As you progress to reading more each day, consider purchasing a Bible that will guide you through reading the whole Bible in a year. There are also versions available that will lead you through the Bible in ninety days.

Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful (Joshua 1:8).

2. Cultivate an active prayer life. You can pray anytime and anywhere—when you’re driving, putting on your makeup, cooking, even as you drift off to sleep at night. Take advantage of these precious moments to spend them with your Heavenly Father.

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

3. Meditate on the Word of God. When you find a verse or verses that have deep meaning for you, allow your mind to dwell on them, and let them soak into your spirit. A good starting point might be Romans 8:38-39—“I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Make note of the verses you’ve chosen, and jot down thoughts or ideas that they bring to mind. Keep your mind focused on Him, and be in prayer that He will open your eyes to what He would have you learn from the verses.

4. Wait. Contentment will not be attained overnight. Feelings of discontentment will push their way in. When they do, look through your life to bring to mind the ways God has changed you, the things He’s done to bring you closer to an attitude of contentment. Contentment comes in His timing, so allow Him the time to work in your life.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him

(Psalm 37:7).

If the temptation to wallow in discontentment continues to present itself, find someone who will hold you accountable—someone you can trust to be kind but firm who will speak the truth to you lovingly.

When you’re feeling dissatisfied or frustrated, give your accountability partner a call, and be honest about your feelings. Every mom gets frustrated; you’re certainly not alone. When you find someone you can talk with honestly, it will be an excellent help in overcoming negative thoughts and feelings. Accountability partners know each other on a very real and honest level and still accept and love each other. This allows both of you the opportunity to be supported as well as supportive.

Contentment may seem elusive, but with prayerful deliberation it can be achieved and will bring you more joy and peace than you can imagine. Start working toward an attitude of contentment today.

When your mind and heart are in a good place, it’s time to begin thinking about the choices that are available to you. Can you work from home? Should you work at home? And how in the world do you begin your search for success?

Setting Priorities in Business and at Home

Working from home, particularly if you’re running your own business, is a time-consuming endeavor—especially for moms. You’re responsible not only for the success of the business but for your family as well. You must be self-reliant, self-motivated, and self-disciplined in order to attain success in both areas.

When you work at home, it’s easy to let phone calls, e-mail, and paperwork keep you tied down and cause you to feel you don’t have time to take a break or choose to spend top-quality time with your family. Maybe you’ve noticed that you spend more time in front of your computer or on the phone than you expected to when you made the decision to work at home. Maybe you see your kids acting up and trying to get your attention. Maybe the work-at-home dream you envisioned isn’t happening.

You started out with noble intentions, but now the excitement of success in your business has caused you to lose sight of the primary reason you chose this path. It happens to many of us who work at home, so don’t worry. Help is on the way.

She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard (Proverbs 31:16).

Here are five tips for setting priorities in your life and business:

First, be honest. You probably didn’t start your work-at-home career to climb the corporate ladder. Spend some time in prayer, and ask the Lord to show you the things you need to change.

Take a few minutes to answer the following questions about how you’ve been handling the time commitment of owning a business.

• Are you spending too much time on the phone with clients?

• Do you think about business to the point that you’re distracted when you’re doing family activities?

• Is television getting more top-quality time with your children than you are?

• Do you snap at your children because of the stresses of your business?

Second, make a list. Sit down and write out a list of things you see that you would like to change. This can be a list of tasks you can do differently, such as limiting the time you spend on your business or ways you can reduce stress so you can deal kindly with your family.

Third, log your time. Buy a notebook or create a spreadsheet to log the time you spend on business. Make a column for each day across the top and a row of half-hour increments down the side. Time yourself every time you sit down at your desk by writing “in” in the box that corresponds to the time and day. Every time you leave your desk or complete a task, write “out” in the appropriate box.

At the end of the week, total up the hours you’ve spent each day on business tasks. Take special note of how much time you spend on e-mail and things that aren’t billable. Are you surprised, or is it about where you thought it would be? This can be a real eye-opener and show you in black and white if your priorities have gotten off track.

Fourth, take a break. If you’re in shock after examining your time log, it’s time to take a break. If you normally work during the weekend, make it a point to take this weekend off. Shut down your e-mail, turn off the ringer on your business phone, and shut the door to your office.

Plan ahead and schedule your time. Prioritize your workload, and have the work that will require the most effort and concentration scheduled for your peak time. Try not to get sidetracked; stay on task and focus on what you need to do. For example, you’ll be amazed by how much more you can accomplish by changing the way you handle e-mail. If you answer it only at scheduled times, you’ll find you have more time to do the tasks at hand.

Reevaluate the ways you’re spending your time. Try to plan when you can work on your business without losing time with your children. If your children are in school, make it a point to stop working when they get home. If your children are still small, try to plan your time accordingly. Perhaps a babysitter for several hours or days a week is necessary. Another possibility would be to have a grandparent or neighbor watch them once or twice a week to allow you time to work without interruptions.

Fifth, plan an activity. Now that you’re ready to make a change in your routine, why not plan an activity once a week? This can be an outing with your children or something simple, like setting aside time to make cookies together. You’ll notice that when you plan for these times, they actually happen.

If possible, find another work-at-home mom, and hold one another accountable to keep to your new schedules. Make a weekly play date for your children to spend time together. You and your friend can talk business if necessary, or you may decide to make it a “no business talk allowed” time.

Remember that the years you can work at home and have time with your children are a gift; your business is a gift also. How that will work for you and your family will take a little time to determine and will be different for each family. Take the time to find what works for you, and set your schedule accordingly. Reevaluate your priorities every few months to make sure that you’re making the best use of your time. The rewards will be well worth it. Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him (Psalm 127:3).

So You Want to be a Work-at-Home Mom, by Jill Hart and Diana Ennen © 2009 by Jill Hart, Diana Ennen, and Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, Kansas City, MO. Used by permission of Publisher. All rights reserved. Visit purchase this title.

Bookfool's comments: I neglected to put the review date for this book on my calendar, so I haven't even opened it, yet, but I thought this one looked like a good book for me and I hope to read it soon. In the meantime, I hope those of you who are interested enjoy the preview chapter!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Church of Facebook by Jesse Rice

The Church of Facebook: How the Hyperconnected are Redefining Community by Jesse Rice
Copyright 2009
David C. Cook - Nonfiction/Psychology/Religion
231 pages, including references

I don't know if I can do justice to this book, which I loved so much I plan to reread it and share with my husband, but I'll do my darndest.

"The world is shrinking, one profile at a time," it says in bold lettering on the back of The Church of Facebook. Don't worry, though. Like $20 Per Gallon (so nice of me to provide a link to keep you from paging down a whopping 6 inches, isn't it?), The Church of Facebook isn't depressing. It's a little scary, however, the way Rice describes our shift in social lives, how our worlds have been, yes, shrinking down to little social communities on the Internet.

The Church of Facebook opens with the story of the opening of the Millenium Bridge in London, England -- by all accounts a disaster of engineering that, fortunately, did no harm to those who walked across it on opening day. The author talks about how the people walking across the wobbling bridge altered their steps into a synchronized rhythm and then describes how this story fits into the physics concept of spontaneous order, which oddly can be applied to psychology, as well.

I don't know that I can explain the concept, unfortunately, but the story of how we fall into sync with each other is one heck of a grabber opening. I had to restrain myself to keep from reading because I'm in a discussion group (the quietest discussion group on the planet - only two of us have said a thing) and wanted to hold back. Eventually, I figured nobody was talking, might as well read on.

The first chapter of The Church of Facebook describes our need for connection with other humans and the second describes why we have need to feel a sense of control over our own lives. Facebook and other social networking sites, he says, are not enough. The author describes the history of Facebook, how it and other such networks have changed the way we interact with each other, why we need connection with real-life people and a bit of debate about whether or not such social networks can be a substitute for in-person relationships. He doesn't downplay the usefulness of internet connections; he simply clarifies how they've caused us to become more isolated and indicates that social networking should supplement our interaction with other people, not supplant it.

The author concludes by doling out some advice on how to use Facebook in a positive way, "mindfully" rather than just in "look at me" sound bites.

The word "church" in the title gives you an idea that The Church of Facebook is a book that dips into religion. Yes, there's a bit of a religious aspect and it's Christian. But, Jesse Rice is both a psychologist and a minister and the book veers heavily toward psychology. In order to get his points across, Rice drags you around the world to show specific examples. He is apparently a natural raconteur. I was absolutely engrossed and, in particular, enamored with his sense of humor.

4.5/5 - While the church aspect lost me a bit, for a while, I thought this book was just fabulous - beautifully written, fascinating, revealing, thought-provoking, entertaining. Do yourself a favor -- don't skip this book because of the word "Christian". I'd hate for you to miss out.

In case you found yourself blinking repeatedly, wondering whether a massive number of book reviews (sans chatter) showed up on my blog overnight, you're right. I was going to skip right on over the reason, which I mentioned in the first of the five reviews. But, nah. I'll just tell you. I couldn't sleep because the neighbor's driveway spotlight shines directly through our blinds and into the master bedroom. Nine times out of ten, the neighbors remember to turn that darned light off, but on the rare occasions that they don't . . . no sleep. None. I gave up at around 2:15 and I've been hammering out quickie reviews, ever since. I cannot see straight, but at least I was productive, right?

Many thanks to Audra of B & B Media for the review copy of this book.