Monday, November 28, 2011

Give Books for Christmas Blog Hop

I'm participating in the Give Books for Christmas Giveaway Hop, hosted by Inksplasher.

What's a Give Books for Christmas Giveaway Hop? It's a group of bloggers who are giving away books as prizes!

The hop runs from December 1st through the 15th. All books will be shipped on December 16th. We can't guarantee books will arrive in time for Christmas, but we're going to give it a good try!

I'll be giving away four books:

Pride and Popularity by Jenni James,

Cold River by Liz Adair,

Crossed by Ally Condie,

and Variant by Robison Wells. I'll be posting my reviews of each of these books between December 1st and 15th.

At the end of this post, you'll see a long list of the participating blogs. Just click the links and go check out the contests.

Deadline to enter: Thursday, December 15, 2011.

To enter to win one of these books:

Become a follower of my blog. If you are already a follower, just say so. (That's good for one entry.) Tweet or Facebook (or Google+ if you're one of those progressive people) about this giveaway or my Musical Advent Calendar to spread the word. (One entry per post.) Comment to let me know what you have done. You will get one entry per day for leaving a comment on my blog. That is a possible 61 entries. Theoretically, with so many entries possible, one person could win all four books, so I'm going to limit it to one prize per person. Every entry will be placed in order on a spreadsheet, and on December 15 at midnight, I will use a random number generator to pick the winners.

That's it! The winner will be posted and notified at the end of the hop.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

100 Things For Which I Am Thankful

I posted this last year, and decided it was worth revisiting this year.

1. The gospel of Jesus Christ.
2. My mother, who didn't just read to me. She showed me that she loved to read.
3. My father, who told me I could have anything I wanted, if I worked hard enough.
4. My husband, who tells me I look pretty even when I am at my worst.
5. My son, the genius.
6. My daughter, the other genius.
7. I live in an area some people dream of visiting at least once in their lives.
8. Chocolate. Duh!
9. Seven sisters.
10. One brother (poor, long-suffering guy).
11. The spouses of numbers 9 (most of the time) and 10 (always).
12. My 48 nieces and nephews.
13. My numerous great nieces and nephews, who are multiplying exponentially. I've lost count lately.
14. 5 great-great nieces and nephews. No, I'm not that old. My niece Vai is.
15. Attention deficit disorder. I am a master of brainstorming.
16. ADD meds, so I can get something done once in a while.
17. My day planner (which keeps me sort of organized, when I remember to use it).
18. Electricity.
19. Smooth pens.
20. Mechanical pencils.
21. LDS General Conference.
22. The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ.
23. The Holy Bible.
24. Genealogy.
25. Yak Tracks.
26. Modern medicine, without which I would not have a day job.
27. The internet, also without which I would not have a day job.
28. Personal computers, which are very useful when accessing the internet, and writing.
29. Blogging, wherein I give everyone my opinion, whether they want it or not.
30. Castle.
31. The new Hawaii 5-0.
32. The right to vote.
34. LDStorymakers annual writers conference, my right brain spa vacation.
35. David Farland's Daily Kick in the Pants.
36. Wood stoves and radiant heat.
37. Four seasons.
38. Especially summer.
39. Books.
40. Libraries.
41. Bookstores.
42. Internal combustion engines.
43. Words. They are so fun to play with.
44. The English language. It is so versatile. If you can't find a word to express what you mean, make up a new one (or just steal it from another language).
45. The French language. Vous ne pouvez pas inventer de nouveaux mots, mais qui s'en soucie. Parce que même le plus laid des mots sonnent si beau en français.
46. Vicks Nyquil.
47. Vicks Dayquil.
48. Puffs facial tissues with aloe and Vicks Vaporub. (Why yes, I recently had a bad cold. Why do you ask?)
49. Ibuprofen.
50. Excedrine.
51. A good night's sleep.
52. Facebook. It's a love/hate relationship.
53. Farmers.
54. Supermarkets.
55. Duct tape.
56. Macaroni and cheese.
57. Lasagna.
58. Pizza.
59. Edited movies.
60. Good friends I may not see for ages, but when we get together again it's like we were never apart.
61. Shadow the Cat.
62. Scoopable cat litter.
63. A decent WiFi connection.
64. Good music.
65. Specifically Journey (old incarnation).
66. And Mozart.
67. Dancing.
68. Zumba!
69. Holidays.
70. Snow days.
71. Cell phones. How did we survive without them?
72. MP3 players. Remember vinyl records? 8-track tapes? cassettes? CDs?
73. Jump drives. Remember floppy disks when they really were floppy?
74. Old Faithful.
75. Waterfalls.
76. Lavender aromatherapy.
77. Yerba mate.
78. Blue Delft.
79. Pretty much anything blue.
80. Big chunky sweaters.
81. Family reunions.
82. Meeting cousins I didn't know I had.
83. Automatic washings machines.
84. Peaches.
85. Wildflowers.
86. I can breathe without thinking about it.
87. Mostly good vision.
88. Reading glasses.
89. Other people who are willing to do the icky jobs.
90. Talents, mine and other people's.
91. Good neighbors.
92. Unbiased journalism. (That could be an oxymoron.)
93. A really good story.
94. Snow tires.
95. 100 watt incandescent light bulbs.
96. Daffodils.
97. Teachers who really care about their students.
98. Clean humor (like Ryan Hamilton and Humor U).
99. Digital cameras.
100. Indoor plumbing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Martha Stewart Won't Be Coming for Thanksgiving

Disclaimer: I did not write this. It was sent to me in an email. I do not know who the author is. If you know, please tell me.

To All Our Family and Friends:
Just a note to let you know we are hoping to see you Thanksgiving Day, but . . .
Martha Stewart will not be dining with us this Thanksgiving. I’m telling you in
advance so don’t act surprised. Since Ms. Stewart won’t be coming, I’ve made a few small changes:

Our sidewalk will not be lined with homemade, paper bag luminaries. After a trial run, it was decided that no matter how cleverly done, rows of flaming lunch sacks do not have the desired welcoming effect.

Once inside, our guests will note that the entry hall is not decorated with the swags of Indian corn and fall foliage I had planned to make. Instead, I’ve gotten the kids involved in the decorating by having them track in colorful autumn leaves from the front yard. The mud was their idea.

The dining room table will not be covered with expensive linens, fancy china, or crystal goblets. If possible, we will use dishes that match and everyone will get a fork. Since this IS Thanksgiving, we will refrain from using the plastic Peter Rabbit plate and the Santa napkins from last Christmas.

Our centerpiece will not be the tower of fresh fruit and flowers that I promised. Instead we will be displaying a hedgehog-like decoration hand-crafted from the finest construction paper. The artist assures me it is a turkey.

We will be dining fashionably late. The children will entertain you while you wait. I’m sure they will be happy to share every choice comment I have made regarding Thanksgiving, pilgrims and the turkey hotline. Please remember that most of these comments were made at 5:00 a.m. upon discovering that the turkey was still hard enough to cut diamonds.

As accompaniment to the children’s recital, I will play a recording of tribal drumming. If the children should mention that I don’t own a recording of tribal drumming, or that tribal drumming sounds suspiciously like a frozen turkey in a clothes dryer, ignore them. They are lying.

We toyed with the idea of ringing a dainty silver bell to announce the start of our feast. In the end, we chose to keep our traditional method. We’ve also decided against a formal seating arrangement. When the smoke alarm sounds, please gather around the table and sit where you like. In the spirit of harmony, we will ask the children to sit at a separate table. In a separate room. Next door.

Now, I know you have all seen pictures of one person carving a turkey in front of a crowd of appreciative onlookers. This will not be happening at our dinner. For safety reasons, the turkey will be carved in a private ceremony. I stress “private” meaning: Do not, under any circumstances, enter the kitchen to laugh at me. Do not send small, unsuspecting children to check on my progress. I have an electric knife. The turkey is unarmed. It stands to reason that I will eventually win. When I do, we will eat.

I would like to take this opportunity to remind my young diners that “passing the rolls” is not a football play. Nor is it a request to bean your sister in the head with warm tasty bread.

Oh, and one reminder for the adults: For the duration of the meal, and especially while in the presence of young diners, we will refer to the giblet gravy by its lesser-known name: Cheese Sauce. If a young diner questions you regarding the origins or type of Cheese Sauce, plead ignorance.

Before I forget, there is one last change. Instead of offering a choice between 12 different scrumptious desserts, we will be serving the traditional pumpkin pie garnished with whipped cream and small fingerprints. You will still have a choice - take it or leave it. I hope you aren’t too disappointed that Martha Stewart will not be dining with us this Thanksgiving. She probably won’t come next year either.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanks to the U.S. Military

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the U.S. Military. I just saw this performance from the WVU Marching Band, and it's just too good not to share. (Pay close attention at 2:34.)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I Can Only Imagine

I've been gearing up for my annual musical advent calendar, which gives me a good excuse to hang out on YouTube and watch a lot of videos. I stumbled across this one last night.

This song, "I Can Only Imagine" by Mercy Me, has been one of my favorites since the first time I heard it. It gives me goosebumps every time I hear it, but I've never heard this version with Mercy Me and the London Symphony Orchestra. Combine THAT sound with THESE pictures and . . . it leaves me breathless.

So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, here is music in praise of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and in celebration of the beautiful world He created for us. Try to remember to breathe.

Monday, November 14, 2011

NaNoWriMo or Why My Nails Are Blue

I'm participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year. The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. In accordance, in a total departure from my personal style, I have painted my fingernails a bright blue and they will stay that way until I hit the goal.

This is not as completely random as you might think.

Several years ago, I participated in a writing workshop where the instructor talked about transference. You can take some small object, hold it and concentrate on the feeling or emotion you want it to represent. In this case it had something to do with motivation to write. I chose a round, flattened blue glass rock, about an inch in diameter, the kind you might use in the bottom of an aquarium. It was a deep blue color, somewhere in the spectrum around sapphire, cobalt, and ultramarine. There's a paint color for the Ford Mustang called Kona Blue Metallic.

(On a side note, we also tried this technique in a weight loss group meeting once. The leader passed out some pretty rocks and told us they were to represent willpower. Unfortunately, my rock was the color of milk chocolate. Epic fail.)

I left the little blue rock sitting on the base of my computer monitor, and every time I looked at it, I felt guilty that I was not spending more time writing. At that time, I was working full time from home doing medical transcription. It's a job that requires sitting for 8 hours a day in front of a computer, listing to doctors' dictations, and typing as fast as you possibly can, with 100% accuracy. It was both mind-numbing and complex. Most days, by the time I finished my regular hours, the last thing I wanted to do was keep typing. I barely had enough functioning brain matter left to decided what to make for dinner. Sometimes I could scrawl a few hand-written pages in the evening.

I felt the talent I had been given was a "use it or lose it" kind of thing, and it was slowly slipping away. Sometimes I would try to write and nothing happened. Finally, I reached a crisis point. I was driving myself nuts. Something had to change and I was afraid it meant giving up writing. I knelt at my desk chair and prayed for something, anything, that would help me know what I was supposed to do. When I looked up, there was my little blue rock. But the impression that came into my mind was different this time. It was, "It's okay. Don't worry. You've still got your talent. It may take a while, but it will happen."

But that wasn't the end of it. Suddenly, wherever I went, I saw that color blue, or something close enough to it to remind me of the answer to my prayer. A highway sign, a box of Band-Aids, somebody's dress at church, a Christmas ornament, the tarp covering a pile of firewood, a sign at the grocery store. "It will happen."

The whole section from teal to blue to purple has always been my favorite part of the color spectrum, but now I have a special affinity for MY blue. I've even started collecting cobalt glassware and Blue Delft figurines.

So that's why, when I decided to do NaNoWriMo this year, I painted my fingernails with the closest match I could find to Kona Blue Metallic. "It may take a while, but it will happen."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Buy This Book on November 10!

The other day, I bought some books on Amazon. They are supposed to be here tomorrow. At least that's what the confirmation email said. I'm feeling a little impatient because I actually read three sample chapters of one of the books and I'm hooked and I just have to see what happens. Aauugh! I should have just bought it on Kindle. I like instant gratification.

The book is Variant by Robison Wells. It's published by Harper Teen, and Publisher's Weekly says it's one of the best books of 2011. While the Publisher's Weekly thing is kind of impressive, what really made me want to read this book was the great word of mouth I've been hearing, things like "couldn't put it down," "stayed up too late reading it," and "up there with Hunger Games." I've also heard it is a clean read, suitable for everyone from tweens to adults.

I wish I could give a full review, but I've only read those first three sample chapters that you can download on Kindle. But here are a couple of reviews I found.

Benson Foster will try anything to escape the foster care system, but when he enrolls in Maxfield Academy, he finds that he is escaping one type of hell only to be trapped in another, truly deadly, one. There are no adults at the academy; the students do everything from teaching to preparing meals and security. There are four main rules: no sex, no violent fighting, no refusing punishments, and no trying to escape. Students who break the rules are sent to detention, and they never come back. Benson is trying to find a way to escape, and along the way he finds some devastating secrets: some of the students are not who they seem to be.

Variant is an exciting, edge-of-your-seat read that combines psychological themes from works like Lord of the Flies, The Hunger Games and Ender’s Game in a truly unique way. There are a couple of twists that are truly surprising and up the emotional ante of the story. From the moment Benson enters the academy until the very end, readers are caught in a tight, tense thriller. What is the academy and why are the students there? Wells does a good job of both universebuilding and character development, as the rules unfold and character roles become clearer. There is a slow unfolding of academy secrets that proves to be just the right pacing. In the end, Benson may escape the walls of the school but he stumbles upon an even bigger mystery. Variant should join the ranks of today’s must-read science fiction and fantasy series . This is a highly recommended addition to any collection for teens.

—Karen Jensen. VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates, magazine for YA librarians)

Lots of YA novels begin with a character arriving at new boarding school, but it is safe to say there has never been a boarding school like this. Perennial foster kid Benson arrives at Maxfield Academy armed with an unexpected scholarship and some cautious optimism, but within minutes of arriving he realizes something is terribly wrong. There are no adults. There are towering walls topped with barbed wire. Messages are sent by computer to instruct the teens in both academic pursuits and paintball war games. Most immediately worrisome is that the student body has split itself into three warring factions: the Society (tasked with keeping order), Havoc (food preparation as well as serious attitude), and the V’s (whose chief shared trait is a desire to escape). This is good old-fashioned paranoia taken to giddy extremes, especially when a totally implausible—but nonetheless enjoyably insane—twist upends the plot in the final act. Take Veronica Roth’s Divergent (2011), strip out the angst, add a Michael Grant–level storytelling pace, and you have this very satisfying series starter.

— Daniel Kraus, Booklist

So here I am breaking my blogging silence in the middle of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), posting a review of a book I haven't even read yet (dang snail mail). It's for a very good cause. The author, Robison Wells, has been going through a pretty tough time lately. I would not want to switch places with him right now, even if it involved being published in the national YA market and getting great reviews. He explains what is going on here, and here, on his own blog. His friend, fellow author Larry Corea (Monster Hunter International) decided to start a book bomb for Variant.

Here's how Larry explains it: What many people don’t realize about writers is that we keep our day jobs until we have about five or six books in circulation, and sometimes longer depending on how well they are selling. Writing isn’t the most steady of paychecks. (I’m doing well enough now that I could just be a writer, but I happen to love my day job, so I plan on doing it for probably another year). You’ve got to earn back the advance and even then you only get paid every six months. Variant is Rob’s first book on the national market. He had a ways to go before he would be able to quit the day job, but his illness totally wrecked that plan.

So I want to book bomb the HELL out of Variant. I want to shove that thing up the bestseller lists on Amazon and I want to give my friend a hand.

What is a book bomb? Well, Amazon has its own bestseller list. It is calculated hourly and you are given a sales rank based up on how you stack up against the other six million books on there. It is some sort of strange rolling average algorhythm, but what it comes down to is, the more books that are purchased during that particular time frame, the higher you rank. The higher you rank, the more of their top 50 or top 10 lists you show up on. The more of those you show up on, the higher you go, the more attention you get, the more books you sell.

By getting as many people as possible to purchase the book on a single day, it really kicks a book up the rankings.

So if you want a really good book to read, and wouldn't mind helping out a really nice, deserving guy, buy Variant by Robison Wells on Amazon, November 10.