Posted in Books, childhood, First Friday Five, Lists, parenting

First Friday 5 lessons of #Motherhood

Being a parent has taught me myriad lessons. For one thing, I learned I needed to apologize to my mother as in this post from the past. In honor of Mother’s Day, here are five other lessons motherhood has taught me.

  1. Humility. Kids are terrific at pointing out all your flaws. If I misspeak, I will be corrected. If I come home after a work-out or a long bike ride, my kiddos will point out how bad I stink. If dinner is not delicious and merely okay, I will know. Forget tough to please reviewers, my harshest critics are tied to my daily life.
  2. The mundane can be amazing. I never thought much about drawers until my daughter was 3 months old and I laid her on the bathmat while I got ready for the day. I pulled open the drawer to get out my hair brush. The action was nothing to me until I noticed how big her eyes grew. She had never seen a drawer in motion before and her little mind was blown. Since then, I’ve tried to be more appreciative of small moments. Wonder is a state of mind.
  3. Bananas are tasty. I did not eat them until I had to set a good example to my children.
  4. Listen and ask questions before giving advice. Respect what they have to say, and they will respect what you have to teach them, unless it is a mispronunciation in which case, see #1.
  5. Nothing beats a snuggle and a book. At the end of a long day, I love to sit with each child and talk books. At first, I read picture books, then we moved on to new challenges. My son and I read the classics. He decides if the language is too tricky for him to read half or not. We stop and talk about ideas, word meaning and make predictions. Sometimes my daughter listens in. More often she and I snuggle and she tells me about what she is reading at the moment. Because it’s a comforting ritual for all of us, we turn to it when not feeling well or simply having a rough day. Of course, if you read this, chances are high you are already a book lover and know exactly what I mean.
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Posted in Books, childhood, Christmas, Family life, First Friday Five, Lists, parenting, Reading

First Friday Five: Picture Book Bonus

The last two weeks, I’ve treated you to book recommendations for Middle School readers and for Elementary aged readers. This week, I’m sharing five terrific picture books.  I’ve given priority to books that have been released this year. As before, I’m including buy links to Amazon and Barnes & Noble for your convenience. I do not benefit financially in these recommendations, I just want to share books I love to help those who are looking for a book to give to a child.

  1. The Book with no Pictures by B.J. Novak. Yup, I’m starting a list of picture books with a book that has no pictures. Trust me on this one. B.J. Novak, previously a writer for The Office, has a tremendous way with words and a wicked sense of fun. This is the book the kids in your life will want to spring on unsuspecting parents, grandparents, babysitters, aunts, uncles and well, anyone as a bedtime story. The sense of mischief and fun appeals to kids all ages, including those of us experienced kids who have the gray hair to prove it.  Amazon and Barnes&Noble 
  2. The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers Have you ever looked at a child’s box of crayons and wondered what on earth happened to those once pristine pieces of wax? Jeffers’ playful illustrations are spot on and new readers will be surprised at the emotional depths Daywalt finds in the crayons. This is a terrific gateway for talking about emotions.  Amazon and Barnes&Noble 
  3. I Will Take a Nap! by Mo Willems. Mo Willelms is the mastermind behind Knufflebunny, the Pigeon and Elephant and Piggie, stars of I Will Take a Nap. Elephant and Piggie don’t look alike and possess many opposite traits (cautious versus impulsive) that can cause some conflict between the two, but friendship always prevails. Amazon and Barnes&Noble 
  4. Ninja Red Riding Hood by Corey Rosen Schwartz, illustrated by Dan Santat. This came out last year, but it didn’t cross my radar until my ninja loving son brought it home from the library. As I’ve said before, I think Dan Santat is a terrific illustrator and his vibrant images bring this twisted fairy tale to life. This is a fun book to read alongside an original version of Little Red Riding Hood and can lead to great conversation about empowerment and bullying. Amazon and Barnes&Noble 
  5. What Pet Should I Get? by Dr. Seuss.  It’s not every year you get a new Dr. Seuss Book! For me, it’s no Fox in Sox (my favorite Dr. Seuss), but it is a fun book to read aloud and share with the children in your life. A lot of children will relate to the problem of picking a dream pet and in this book, there are no real life consequences, so bring on the silliness and help kids spark their creativity. Amazon and Barnes&Noble    

 

Kids that are read to from day one are kids who grow up to be readers. Study after study shows the benefit of reading with children. From building vocabulary to creative problem solving, to building empathy, to creating a passion for knowledge, few tools on this earth are more powerful than a book. Please share the joy of reading this holiday season, whether with a special child in your life or by donating a book to a school, shelter, library or program like First Book.

I hope you have enjoyed this extended Friday Five series. If you have books to recommend, or thoughts on this list, please share in the comments.

Posted in Books, childhood, First Friday Five, parenting, Reading, tween

First Friday Five: Great Books for Middle School Readers

I’ve invited a special guest to share some of her favorite books for Middle School and Teen readers. Four of the Five are series specially selected by one of the loveliest young ladies I know. Without further ado, my twelve-year-old daughter is here to share her recommended reads for Middle Schoolers.  As with last week’s bonus post, “Great Books for Elementary Schoolers,” I’m including buy links to Amazon and Barnes&Noble for your gift-giving convenience, but don’t overlook other sources too. I make no money on any of these sales. My daughter and I want to help you find great reads for tweens and teens in your life.

  1. The Unwanteds by Lisa Mcmann, fantasy series- This is a great series for anyone creative or magic-loving. It is a struggle as two brothers face the real world and its challenges.  Amazon  and  Barnes&Noble 
  2. Warriors series by Erin Hunter- This series tells the story of house cats struggling to survive in the wild from their point of view. Leaves the reader thinking, “is that what my cat does?” Amazon and Barnes&Noble  
  3. Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull- What would it be like to live in a world of dragons, danger, and magic? Read to find out. Amazon and Barnes&Noble 
  4. Wings of fire series by Tui T. Sutherland- A war has been raging in a land for many years. This is the story of five dragonlets and how their actions affect their world. Available at Amazon and Barnes&Noble Box sets are great for voracious readers.
  5. The Candymakers – from  Wendy Mass- the story of four young kids in a candy factory trying to make the best new candy of the year. Each have their own secrets and story to share. There are five parts. Amazon and Barnes&Noble

There are multiple other books that did not make it onto this list. My daughter hopes that if one liked these recommendations, you’ll might explore other books and series by the author. Erin Hunter and Brandon Mull have multiple series she recommends. Erin Hunter also writes the Seekers and Survivors series. Brandon Mull also writes The Five Kingdoms, Beyonders, and The Candy Shop War Series. Sequel series to Fablehaven and The Unwanteds are coming out soon.

Quick – now that she’s out of the room, if you have any recommendations, please list them in the comments. I can hardly keep up with all her reading and as a parent, that’s a wonderful problem to have.

Posted in Books, Reading

Does size matter?

Some romance writing friends and I recently tackled the question, does size matter?

Get your mind out of the gutter – we were discussing books and  reading preferences.  I consider myself an equal opportunity reader.  Shorter books help me feel more productive as a reader and fit easier in my purse.  I tend to buy more short works as ebooks.

I prefer a paper book for longer works. For one thing, I can flip back pages easier if I’ve lost track of the narrative thread. When a book takes me over 8 days to read, this can happen. Also, I can use post it flags to mark passages I love, maps or casts of characters.

There is a real artistry in both forms. As much as I love Stephen King and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, well written short novels loom large in my mind.  James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Jennifer Johnston’s haunting and hard to find Fool’s Sanctuary, and anything Ray Bradbury. I could go on, but I won’t. Short books have taught me the value of brevity.

What do you prefer reading? Why? Any suggestions?

Posted in Christmas, Crimson Romance, Guests, Talking with

Book Spotlight: Christmas Dinner by Robyn Neeley

Today I’m featuring my favorite Christmas book this year–Robyn Neeley’s Christmas Dinner.  The cover alone makes me crave eggnog and the inside is even better.  Curious? Read on!

About Christmas Dinner

News anchor Amanda Turner used to love everything about the holidays—the eggnog sugar cookies, the tacky family Christmas sweaters, and a lawn decorated with so many multi-colored lights that 747s could land safely. That is until her boyfriend dumped her in front of the whole town on Christmas Eve. Humiliated, she fled her small town start a new life. Two years later, she’s finally ready to return to the scene of the emotional crime, until she learns that her ex is engaged. Now, the only thing worse than going home is going home single.

Tate Ryan, her tall, dark, and arrogant co-anchor, offers to pose as her boyfriend. There’s one problem, though: they barely like each other, and he recently scooped her story on live TV. But she needs a ride home and a boyfriend fast, so Tate will have to do.

As she watches Tate interact with her family and town residents, fully embracing the spirit of the holiday season, she starts to see his kindhearted side. She can’t help but wonder if she was wrong about him. Perhaps he isn’t the conniving co-worker that she once thought. And her new feelings for him would definitely put her on the naughty list.

Tate has his own agenda for the weekend that includes telling Amanda he’s been in love with her since the first time they met. He’s ready to reveal all during Christmas dinner but fate has other plans.

Purchase on Amazon or Barnes & Noble

Robyn Neeley is an East Coaster who loves to explore new places; watches way 050813-RNmore reality TV than she cares to admit; can’t live without Dunkin Donuts coffee and has never met a cookie she didn’t like. (No wonder I like her so much.)  If you have a must read romance suggestion or a fabulous cookie recipe, she wants to know. Visit her at www.robynneeley.com.

Robyn and I are running off to Dunkin Donuts together with a plate full of fudge.  Lucky you, she’s sharing the recipe.

Delicious Holiday Fudge!

2/3 cups evaporated milk

2 cups sugar

1 square of baker’s chocolate

1 stick margarine or butter

4 Hershey candy bars

½ cup of nuts

1tsp.vanilla

Stir first three ingredients well and bring to a boil.

Boil for three minutes. Add margarine or butter the last 1 1/2 minutes stirring all the time

Take fudge from heat and stir in Hershey bars (broken up) and nuts. Beat until thick, add vanilla and pour in an 8 x 8 buttered pan. Add nuts to the top if you’d like. Put in the refrigerator until set, then cut into squares.

***YUM***

Now that you have a snack, enjoy this excerpt from Christmas Dinner

         “I’ll have another, please.” Amanda waved her empty wine glass and glanced up at the mounted television. Their explosive local story had made national news. “I really need to get out of this town,” she muttered.

“Excuse me?” The bartender picked up her glass. He was wearing a Santa hat.

“Oh, nothing.” She pointed at his head, changing the subject. “Do they make you wear that?”

“Nah, I just like to get into the Christmas spirit.” He grabbed a bottle of wine, refilling her glass.

“Christmas spirit,” she echoed dryly. She remembered that feeling. It was only two years ago that it was her favorite time of year-two heartbreaking years. “Thanks.”

She took a long gulp and went back to brooding over Brad’s status update. What if she ran into him and his fiancée this weekend? Oh, God. What if she knew her?

“Hey, Santa, think you could bring me a boyfriend to take home this weekend?” she asked sarcastically. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a flicker of a man in a suit. She knew its owner immediately.

“Why, Ace, are you taking resumes?”

She spun around and shook her head. Tate had taken the empty seat next to her. Her knees briefly touched his. “What the- where did you come from? Are you following me now?” She drank her wine. “I hate you,” she mumbled.

“I’ll take that as a no.” He pointed to her fresh glass. “I see you’re celebrating. Mind if I join you?”             

She pushed off her seat. “Sorry, I was just leaving.” Her legs wobbled, and she felt a little tipsy. When had she become such a lightweight? She sat down to regain her equilibrium. “On second thought, I was here first.”

The bartender came over. “Sir, can I get you anything?”

“A stocking full of coal would be appropriate,” Amanda interjected sweetly. She glared at Tate and raised her finger directly at a group of women on the other side of the bar who were looking their way. She suspected they were gushing over Tate. Most women did.

“See that cougar in the tight sequined silver top and black hooker stilettos? I’m sure she’s one of your fans. I’d bet my paycheck she’d love to have the great Tate Ryan make her night.”

Tate nodded to the woman and pulled Amanda’s arm down. She felt his hand linger.

“I think I’ll pass.” He signaled the bartender and said, “Hey, buddy, could I get a Manhattan?” Then he turned back to Amanda. “Okay, talk to me, Mandy. Why so glum?”

“Don’t call me that. My brother calls me Mandy, and I’m angry with him right now, too.” She stood once again and reached for her purse, determined this time to get away from her co-anchor. “I think I’ll get a table-for one. Merry Christmas, Tate,” she said flatly.

She walked over to the dining area and scanned the room for an empty table. There was one near the window. She plopped down in a chair.

Tate sauntered over.

“Oh, no. No, no.” She raised her hand in protest. “You are not sitting here.”

“Look, you can’t still be angry with me for what happened earlier.”

“Why can’t I?”

“Ace, you know I didn’t sabotage you.” He pulled out a chair and took a seat.

Amanda sighed. “I know.”

“Listen, let’s order some dinner. My treat. I’m starving, and I’ll bet you are, too. We’ll eat, and you can tell me why you’re here drowning your sorrows because this can’t all be my fault. Start from the beginning. I’m a great listener.” He scrolled through his iPhone. “Was it really that bad of a day?” he asked, glancing up.

“You can’t be serious. You did not just ask me that.”

Tate shrugged. “It’s one story. There will be others.”

“Not like this one.”

“You really believe that?”

Amanda shrugged. “I don’t know what I think anymore. Let’s just order. Will you promise to leave me alone after we eat?”

“Deal. Okay, where to begin? All right, why do you hate me? No. Wait.” Tate jerked his hand up in the air in a halt. “Don’t answer that. Let’s start with a softball question. Why do you hate the holidays?” He grabbed the other menu on the table.

“I don’t hate the holidays.”

Tate smirked. “Amanda, you pretty much tell anyone who wishes you a Merry Christmas to go to hell.”

“That’s not true.”

“Not to mention I had to twist your arm for you to do the kick-off story on this year’s toy drive.”

“That hardly makes me a scrooge. I agreed to it, didn’t I?”

He pointed at the window. “Speaking of toys, did you see that huge Santa and sleigh on the flatbed truck in the parking lot? It’s filled with all kinds of fun things. What do you think they’re doing with all those toys?”

Amanda followed his gaze out the window. In the darkness, she could just make out a life-size Santa and sleigh. God, she hated sleighs.

She could also see Tate’s reflection in the glass. The man certainly knew how to wear a suit. Why did he have to be so incredibly good looking? His eyes met hers, causing her cheeks to warm. She glanced away and reached for the breadbasket. “Does it really matter?”

“I’m just trying to lighten the mood.” He flipped his menu to the other side.

She sighed. He was right. It was common knowledge around the station that she wasn’t a big fan of the holidays.

“You’re right. I do get somewhat uptight this time of year,” she admitted. “I was planning on going home tomorrow, but now I don’t know-”

Tate looked up and interrupted. “You’re not going home for Christmas? Why?”

“I don’t know what to do. My mother will kill me if I don’t. My older sister’s about to have a baby.”

“Everything okay?”

“With her, yes. It’s just I received some unsettling news about my ghost from Christmas past.”

“Huh?”

“Never mind.” She slid back in her chair and took a drink. “It’s just hard to be single during the holidays, I guess.”

Tate studied her. “I wouldn’t have pegged you as the type of woman who gets down in the dumps for being single this time of year.”

“I’m not.” She paused. “Well, maybe I am a little. You think you’re headed down this precise path to achieving all of your carefully planned out goals-good grades, great college, solid career, the guy, perfect marriage, great sex-”

“Why, Ace, I could help you with that last goal.”

Amanda rolled her eyes. Of course he could. She continued, “Adorable kids and a nice house.” She sat up in her chair. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy in Wilmington. I’ve got a wonderful career, good friends, and my beautiful beachside condo bought and paid for. It’s just . . . I don’t know. You think everything is on track and then a-”

“Teleprompter jams,” he finished.

Her eyes started to water. “Something like that.” She immediately looked out the window to hide the evidence. Tate could not see her cry.

“So how long has it been since you’ve been home?”

“Two years.” Amanda grabbed a piece of bread and broke it apart.

“That’s nothing. What’s kept you away?”

“Long story.” Amanda grimaced and shoved the bread in her mouth.

“Might help to talk about it.”

She swallowed. “If you must know, my boyfriend of five years dumped me two years ago on Christmas Eve in front of all my family and friends.”

“Ouch.”

“Tell me about it.” She picked up her glass and swung it up in the air. “Then I get a text tonight telling me to check my Facebook, and guess what?” she asked, her voice rising. She didn’t wait for Tate to respond. “The bastard’s getting married!” She slammed her glass down. “Freakin’ engaged.”

“Is it really the end of the world?” Tate motioned for the waiter to bring Amanda a glass of water.

“Clearly you’ve never been in a relationship.”

“You just said you were happy here.”

“I am.”

“Are you still in love with him?”

“No.” She shook her head. “He might have broken up with me, but I realized we really weren’t meant to be. It’s just . . .”

“Just what?”

Amanda stared at Tate. Why was he so interested in her love life? “I guess I don’t understand why Brad gets to have his happy ending before me. Two years ago he didn’t want it.” Her eyes watered. This time she couldn’t hide the evidence as one tear slid down her cheek. “At least not with me.”

Tate grabbed a napkin from the table dispenser and handed it to Amanda. “Let’s turn this around.”

“How?” She sniffed, dabbing her eyes.

“Okay, here’s how I see it. Your sister is radiantly pregnant and about to pop out your mother’s first grandchild. Is your brother in a relationship?”

“Yes, with my best friend from high school.”

“I see.  It’s all making sense. There you will be at Christmas dinner, sandwiched between both couples. You have a great career and some would say a pretty good life here down south, but the humiliation of what happened with Brad will be the unspoken elephant in the room all weekend. Am I painting an accurate picture?”

With each stroke of his verbal brush, he certainly was. “I think you should order your dinner to go,” she said icily. It had obviously been a bad idea to share her love life with Tate.

“I think I can help-no, I know I can help you.”

“Help me? How?”

“If you brought a new man home, it would show everyone that you’ve moved on.”

“Maybe, but it’s not like I can rent one.” She thought for a second-could she?

“No need.” Tate reached for his drink and took a sip. “You can take me-free of charge.”

Amanda studied Tate. Was she hearing things?

“Take me home with you and introduce me as your boyfriend. I’ll fill that seat at Christmas dinner this year.”

“I was kidding with the bartender.” Amanda scoffed. The idea of bringing home a handsome boyfriend was intriguing. It would prove to everyone she was over Brad and past the humiliating breakup. But this was Tate. Handsome, yes. Her boyfriend? She didn’t think so. He rattled her on most days. They’d never pull it off.

***

Want to read more?  Purchase Christmas Dinner on Amazon or Barnes & Noble  and while you’re shopping, be sure to check out Destination Wedding also by Robyn Neeley.

Posted in Conference, For Writers, On Writing, Reading, South, Writing

RWA13

RWA13 in Atlanta was a wonderful experience.  I find I learn so much in the company of other writers, and not just in the formal workshops.  In case you couldn’t attend, here are 13 things  I learned at RWA13.

1.  Romance readers are generous and passionate about good books.  I worked as Cashier at the Literacy Signing.  One woman drove across two states to get to the signing.  She had more books than she could hold and her husband rounded to the closest hundred to benefit literacy programs.  I don’t know her name, but she is why we write.

2.  The publishing industry is in flux.  As more authors take charge of their own career, publishing houses and agents need authors more than authors need the traditional publishing world.  It’s a scary but exciting time.  As the author you are more empowered if you take the time to figure out what you and your rights are worth.  (Discussion with Dorien Kelly and Courney Milan)

3. Independent press does not necessarily mean small press. (Indie press panel)

4. A great hook taps into the reader’s curiosity and gets at a deep emotional response (from Elizabeth Boyle)

5. Publishing a book is not a solitary activity.  It takes a team. (from Simone Elkeles)

6. Don’t be afraid to ask a question of authority. The powers that be may not want to answer the question, but you’ll never get an answer unless you try.

7. Interested in trying a stand up desk?  Before you spend $1,500 on a fancy work station, try the ironing board.  I always wondered what those things were for…..  (from Bruce Kelly, CIH,CSP)

8. A workshop on finances may not sound exciting, but Laura Alford, Diane Kelly and Donna MacMeans made taxes and record keeping a conference highlight.

9. Michael Hauge is an amazing public speaker.   The goal of any story-teller is to solicit an emotional response in the reader.

10. If there is an open chair at your lunch table, you might make a new friend.

11. The best presenters were the most prepared and organized speakers.

12. We need more euphemisms for “lady parts.”  (Stephanie Doyle, Elizabeth Hoyt and Molly O’Keefe)

13. When you get over two thousand writers in one place, the energy is amazing.  I’m fortunate to be part of this terrific writing community and I can’t wait until San Antonio #RWA14

Did you go to the conference?  What stood out for you?

Posted in On Writing, Reading

On writing

There is a joke, although not a particularly funny one, floating around that everyone in Starbucks is busy working on the next Great American Novel.  I admit to working there too sometimes.

My ambitions are far less lofty. I just want to entertain you.  I am grateful for authors who challenge me and I genuinely enjoy literary fiction, but I’m glad the market place allows for variety of writers, genres and moods.  Sometimes, I want a mystery, other times to walk in the shoes of someone whose life is dramatically different than my experiences. (Here, I’m thinking of the heart wrenching Push by Sapphire). One thing I’m always in the mood for is a good laugh, or at least a smile.

I suspect we forget to laugh when we are teenagers and expected to be sullen and moody unless we are with close friends. As adults, we’ve seen and experienced so much that we fail to belly laugh in appreciation at the opening and closing of a drawer, as my daughter did at three months.  A good story can reignite our sense of wonder by helping us see our world anew. Perhaps, we’ll smile, but if we’re really lucky, we’ll laugh. And if we’re really, really lucky, that joy will spread to those around us.

I hope that as you explore this site and eventually my other writings, you’ll find yourself smiling and you’ll share the joy.