Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Welcome Guest Author Tamara LeBlanc!


Thank you so much for having me on your wonderful blog, Pam! I’m thrilled to be here today in order to let your followers know a little about myself and my new book available now in print and e-book formats.

I'm a fiction writer and author of contemporary, paranormal and historical romances layered with eroticism that builds into a satisfyingly happy ending…in more ways than one.
I've been writing all my life, creating characters, fashioning plots, researching ideas. But about eleven years ago I met my critique group and with their help I moved forward in my career by joining Georgia Romance Writers and Romance Writers of America. I owe much of my success to these three phenomenal groups.

My newly released novel The Mayor’s Bride; A Match in Magnolia Falls Romance is the first in a series set in the fictional town of Magnolia Falls, Georgia. Though the books in this series are linked by family they are completely stand alone as well and all end with a happily ever after.

Here is the blurb:
When Alex York, the Mayor of Magnolia Falls, hears his young son speak for the first time in two years, he immediately hires the woman responsible to be the boy’s live-in nanny. Though Alex never intends to seduce her into his bed, Ella Slipper’s endearing eccentricities, rebellious nature and startling blue eyes are impossible to resist.   Ella wants to keep things professional, but she can’t help melting in Alex’s arms.  He might help her forget the pain of her past, but can she let the sexy single dad into her heart?

Excerpt:
Pinning her gently against the wall he cupped her face in both hands. “Ella.” The way he said her name, hardly more than a whisper, made it seem like the air itself held its breath in anticipation. Raw emotion darkened his green eyes. He leaned in and pressed his lips against hers.
Their first kiss had been rough and hungry. They’d fallen into bed in a frenzy and he’d wasted no time separating her from her towel. 
This was different. 
He took his time, like he wanted to savor every second. The softness of his lips, the gentle pressure against her mouth, the warmth of his fingers sliding into her hair, spun the butterflies into a vortex of frantic fluttering in her core.
This kiss was different, but just as thrilling and sexually intoxicating as it had been last night. 
Her lips parted beneath his, inviting his tongue to caress the recess of her mouth. Her brain and knees were made of bubbles. She held on tight so she wouldn’t float away.

I truly enjoyed writing this story. The relationship between Ella, Alex and his little boy, Eric, is not a complicated one, but I believe its emotional appeal is relevant enough to ring true.
Love does not always come easily. Sometimes it eludes us, frustrates us, makes us want to pull our hair out, but to me, crafting a happily ever after in the wake of turmoil and despair can be very satisfying, both as an author and a reader.
Love is worthwhile. Love is necessary. Love is as important as air.
So is a good book.
I hope you feel the same way about The Mayor's Bride that I do.

I love hearing from you.
To connect with me,
Twitter
Facebook

Happy reading and best wishes,

Tamara LeBlanc
Award Winning Author
The Mayor's Bride; A Match in Magnolia Falls Romance
Available: CLICK HERE

NOTE: Tamara is giving a FREE DOWNLOAD of The Mayor's Bride to one lucky reader! Just leave a comment below to be entered into the drawing. Comments will close at midnight on Friday, November 20th. Good luck!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

THE HUNDRED GIFTS by Jennifer Scott and GIVEAWAY!


From the back cover:
With the holidays around the corner, empty nester Bren Epperson realizes that for the first time in decades, she has no large family to cook for and no celebration to create. Her daughter has moved to Thailand, her son has ditched college to backpack around the world, and her husband has disappeared into the basement to indulge his midlife crisis.

So Bren starts teaching a holiday cooking class, and it's a hit - until Virginia Mash, the old lady living upstairs, bursts in, complaining of the noise, the smells, and the mess. Rather than retaliate, Bren suggests that the class shower Virginia with kindness. So they embark on a plan to lift a heart.

As much as Bren Epperson, would like to turn back the hands of time, she has no choice but to deal with the fact that this Christmas isn't going to be like the happy Christmases of the past. Everyone else seems to have moved on without her - her grown children, independent and living far away; her self-indulgent husband, too preoccupied with his own affairs to pay her any attention; even her widowed mother and aunt making plans to spend the holidays in Las Vegas. When she agrees to teach holiday cooking classes at the new kitchen shop, Bren hopes to find new meaning and purpose for the month of December.

But things don't go according to plan. Recipes fail, cookies burn, the noise level rises. Finally, Virginia Mash, whose apartment is situated directly above the busy classroom, decides she has had enough of the whole business and does everything in her power - even involving law enforcement - to stop the mayhem. And she doesn't make it easy for Bren and her students to execute their plan to "kill her with happiness," showering her with one hundred gifts. But as the reasons for Virginia's anger and bitterness are revealed, Bren and her students become even more determined to see their plan through to the end.

This is a great holiday read, an exploration of the challenges many midlife women face as they attempt to create "the perfect Christmas" for their families while floating in a sea of restlessness and self-doubt. I very much enjoyed spending time with Bren and her new friends and cannot help but wonder if there might be someone in my own life who might benefit from a hundred gifts - or maybe just one. Five warm and fuzzy stars! Very highly recommended!

And now I have an early Christmas gift for my readers! Just leave a comment below and you will be entered in a drawing for your own copy of The Hundred Gifts. Comments will close at midnight on Saturday, November 14th and the winner will be announced the following Monday. Good luck!

NOTE: I received a copy of this book for FREE in exchange for a written review. There was no expectation that this review be either positive or negative, and I was not given any financial compensation to read the book or write the review. This information is disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Best-Laid Plans

It was amazing how you could get so far from where you'd planned, and yet find it was exactly were you needed to be.
~ Sarah Dessen

It started out as a tickle in my throat, a bit of a headache, some minor head congestion. Three days later it was all I could do to drag myself out of bed on a Saturday morning - feverish, swallowing glass, coughing uncontrollably - and show up for a out-of-town job adjudicating a piano festival. Knowing I was beaten, I paid the doctor a visit on the way home. He diagnosed a sinus infection and prescribed antibiotics, a steroid, and some strong cough medicine. I picked up my prescriptions, changed into my pajamas, and crawled into bed. You just need some time to rest, I assured myself. You'll be back to your healthy, energetic self by Monday. 

Except I wasn't. Last Monday morning I canceled my first several piano lessons so I could sleep just a little while longer. And even though I somehow managed to keep up with what I absolutely HAD to do - teach most of my students, attend a piano ensemble rehearsal Monday night and a music teachers association meeting Wednesday morning, fill a random custom Etsy order that came in - all I could think about was what I WASN'T getting done as the days ticked by. Practicing the piano and the clarinet. Polishing my presentation for the upcoming Georgia Music Teachers Association state conference. Plotting this year's NaNoWriMo novel. I didn't even have the energy to read. All I really wanted to do was sleep.

Now it's a whole week later and I am happy to report I am feeling much, much better. I am not totally symptom-free but at least I can get through a day without Hydrocodone; I am running at about sixty-five percent capacity but that's a tremendous improvement. Yesterday I felt well enough to start strong with NaNoWriMo (1676 words!) and to attend my first rehearsal with the newly-formed Gwinnett Symphony Wind Orchestra - my first time playing the clarinet in an ensemble since May 1981. (Turns out my stand-mate hadn't even been born yet, ha!) Now I have until Friday morning to polish up my conference presentation. And the piano is always there waiting patiently for me, now matter how sorely I neglect it.

So despite my occasional moments of despair over the past ten days, it appears I am now right where I need to be, with a renewed gratitude for the abundant health I am generally blessed with and a strong determination to take better care of myself and prevent future illness.

Do you NaNo? If so, I would love to be your writing buddy. Just search for pamasberry. And all my local followers are warmly invited to attend the GSWO's first-ever concert, to be held this Saturday evening at 7PM at the First Christian Church of Atlanta. Click HERE for details.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Celebrating Fall


Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own.
~ Charles Dickens


As hard as I have tried, I haven't been able find a way to hold onto summer. Despite my penchant for sundresses and flip-flops, the days of long sleeves and fleece-lined boots have arrived. Might as well stop the resistance and make the best of them, I decided.

So I have replaced the worn-out summer annuals with mums and pansies


and bundled up in sweats to enjoy long walks in my sunny neighborhood.


I am back to work on the granny square afghan I started months ago,


 baking,


putting the finishing touches on my presentation for the Georgia Music Teachers Association fall conference in November,


and gearing up for NaNoWriMo.

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month
So what if autumn isn't my favorite season of the year? I really don't have to look very hard to find plenty of reasons to celebrate it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

THE BEST OF ENEMIES by Jen Lancaster


From inside the dust jacket:
Bridesmaids meets Big Little Lies in a novel told from the alternating perspectives of two women who define the term frenemies - from New York Times bestselling author Jen Lancaster.

The central characters of this story are Jacqueline Jordan, a hardcore journalist who has been in the Middle East for the past ten years, and Kitty Carricoe, soccer mom extraordinaire. The only thing these two women have in common is their mutual best friend Sarabeth Chandler, and their differences turned into mutual hatred back in college when Jack "accidently" hooked up with Kitty's boyfriend.

But their love of Sarabeth is greater than their differences, so both women drop everything to be with their friend when they learn that her wealthy and powerful husband has died in a suspicious plane crash. Eventually, they decide to put aside their differences and go on a road trip together in order to solve the mystery.

I will admit that I had a bit of a hard time getting started with this book. I found the prologue to be a bit confusing (albeit hilarious) and the first chapter was written from the point of view of the shallow and snobbish Kitty Carricoe. I wouldn't choose to spend time with her in real life and wasn't sure I would be able to stomach her personality in fiction. But I'm glad I stuck it out. This turned out to be a great women's friendship story, with the author using both humor and sarcasm to portray the challenges of a three-way friendship. In the end, this book was highly entertaining, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and enough plot twists to keep me up until the wee hours to find out the truth about the plane crash. Turns out Jen Lancaster is as gifted a fiction writer as she is a memoir writer. I can hardly wait to dig into her backlist!

NOTE: I received a copy of this book for FREE in exchange for a written review. There was no expectation that this review be either positive or negative, and I was not given any financial compensation to read the book or write the review. This information is disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

LOSING ME by Sue Margolis


From the back cover:

Knocking on sixty, Barbara is too busy to find herself. But when she loses her job, everything changes. Exhausted, lonely, and unemployed, Barbara is forced to face her feelings and doubts. Then a troubled, vulnerable little boy walks into her life and changes it forever...

Her grandchildren's babysitter, financially and emotionally supporting her grown children, caring for her elderly mother, teaching disadvantaged kids, 58-year old Barbara Stirling is many things to many people. But she completely loses her equilibrium when she is let go from her job due to budget cuts. Finances are already tight; Barbara's husband Frank films documentaries and he is too busy trying to save the world to pay much attention to his wife and her needs, even when she begins to suffer panic attacks. Her hypercritical mother makes things worse and her best friend isn't much help either; she has chosen to deal with her own sexless marriage by cheating on her husband with a gigolo.

Barbara finds purpose and direction by intervening in the life of Troy, one of her former students. His single mother, Tiffany, is impoverished and trying to raise Troy and his baby sister in the shadow of fear of an abusive ex-boyfriend. Barbara discovers strengths she did not know she possessed; by speaking up not for others she learns to speak up for herself and eventually she finds her life - albeit a different life - again. Alternately lighthearted and serious in tone, this book is highly relatable, especially those "women of a certain age" who find themselves caring for aging parents while helping adult children get established. Five stars! Highly recommended!

NOTE: I received a copy of this book for FREE in exchange for a written review. There was no expectation that this review be either positive or negative, and I was not given any financial compensation to read the book or write the review. This information is disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Monday, October 5, 2015

What I've Been Up To

Sometimes things just fall off your plate.
~ V. K. Springs

My academic year began on Monday, August 3rd and the weeks since have been hectic. With 61 students on my fall teaching schedule and hours of practice in preparation for a recital on Saturday, September 19th, there hasn't been time for much of anything besides the piano. In case you missed our performance, here is a sample.

Asberry & Hardy Piano Duo's rendition of Debussy's Petite Suite

I am more excited about the piano than ever and consistent daily practice, along with teaching and all that entails, will remain a constant in my life. But despite the joy and fulfillment I receive from music, I cannot seem to let go of the dream of being a published author. Toward that end, I have renewed my memberships in Romance Writers of America and Georgia Romance Writers. I missed this year's Moonlight & Magnolias conference but look forward to seeing all my writer friends at GRW's November meeting. And yesterday I attended a fabulous workshop with local writer Janice Hardy, author of Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, that proved to be the kick starter I needed to get back to work. This afternoon I spent a couple of very satisfying hours immersed in her book, actually "a series of self-guided workshops designed to lead you through developing a novel idea, drafting a summary line, creating a summary blurb, and finally writing a working synopsis" (p. 3). The goal by the end of the book is to have a solid plan from which to craft a novel. My goal is to be ready to start a new project in time for NaNoWriMo.

In the same vein, some of my readers have said that they miss reading blog; I know I have missed posting. So I am going to do my best to show up here three times a week, including a book review every Wednesday. Please note that comments are moderated for the time being, but I hope that won't stop you from becoming part of the conversation. I love connecting with my readers!

I'm not quite sure how I'm going to squeeze one more thing into my busy days. But it's important to me. So I'll find a way.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

THE SUMMERTIME GIRLS by Laura Hankin


Synopsis:

Ally Morris and Beth Abbott were beyond inseparable. From the very first time they met, the girls knew they’d found a once-in-a-lifetime friendship. But sometimes, life can’t help but get in the way.

As time goes by, disappointments and petty resentments begin to alter what they once thought was forever. Ally’s boho lifestyle leaves her drowning in confusion and cheap whiskey, while a terrible secret threatens to shatter Beth’s carefully controlled world. By the time they need each other most, Ally and Beth are nearly strangers to each other.

When a family crisis prompts Beth to contact Ally for help out of the blue, the girls reunite in Maine. But the distance between them is overwhelming. To save their friendship, Ally and Beth will have to confront painful moments in their past and redefine who they are—before their incredible connection fades away for good…

We've all been through it. Jobs, relationships, marriage, children  - any major life change can be a threat to friendship. The next thing you know, that person from whom you were once inseparable begins to feel like a stranger. That's what happened to Ally and Beth. Ally throws herself into a romantic relationship and becomes so caught up in it that she doesn't have time for much of anything or anyone else. So on the darkest day of Beth's life, Ally is too busy and distracted to be there for her friend. In response, Beth withdraws, but Ally is completely clueless as to why. Time passes and the pain of loss deepens. A summer reunion at Beth's grandmother's home in Maine offers the women one last chance at reconciliation but it turns out things CAN get worse. You'll have to read the book for yourself to find out if they ever get better.

This book is a powerful reminder that true friends are hard to come by, even harder to keep, but well worth fighting for. Great summertime read! Very highly recommended!

NOTE: I received a copy of this book for FREE in exchange for a written review. There was no expectation that this review be either positive or negative, and I was not given any financial compensation to read the book or write the review. This information is disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Friday, July 31, 2015

MY GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME TO TELL YOU SHE'S SORRY by Fredrik Backman


From the dust jacket:

Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy - as in standing-on-the-balcony-firing paintball-guns-at-men-who-want-to-talk-about-Jesus crazy. She is also Elsa's best, and only, friend. At night Elsa takes refuge in her grandmother's stories, in the Land-of-Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal. 

When Elsa's grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa's greatest adventure begins. Her grandmother's letters lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and old crones, but also to the truth about fairy tales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

Elsa is not your typical seven year old. Wise beyond her years, precocious and widely read, she is bullied by her peers and misunderstood by almost everyone in her world. Her parents are divorced. She lives with her mother and stepfather and isn't at all sure about the new baby who soon will be joining their family; her father is remarried and too busy with his new family to spend much time with his daughter. Her world revolves around her eccentric grandmother, who loves her more than anything and regales her with stories designed to help her make sense of the world and forget about its cares.

So when her grandmother dies, she loses her best friend and only protector. Anticipating this, her grandmother sends Elsa on a mission to deliver letters of apology to all the people Granny needs to apologize to, all of whom turn out to be characters she recognizes from their imaginary worlds. This helps her to cope with her grandmother's death and reconcile with her life's harsher realities.

This is a story like no other - comically accurate and heart wrenching, with a delightful cast of unique characters, great dialogue, and a powerful lesson: people are often so much more than they first appear to be. Five deeply satisfied stars!

NOTE: I received a copy of this book for FREE in exchange for a written review. There was no expectation that this review be either positive or negative, and I was not given any financial compensation to read the book or write the review. This information is disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

THE LAKE SEASON by Hannah McKinnon


From the back cover:

Iris Standish has always been the responsible older sibling: the one with the steady marriage, loving family, and sensible job. But all of a sudden, her carefully constructed life spins out of control, and a cryptic postcard from her beautiful, estranged sister Leah arrives at the perfect time: Please Come. Iris seizes her chance to escape to her childhood lakeside home where Leah is planning her summer wedding to a man their New Hampshire clan has never met.

Against a backdrop of dress fittings, floral arrangements, and rehearsal dinners, Leah hides secrets of her own. And while her sister faces a past that has finally caught up to her, Iris prepares to say goodbye to a future that is suddenly far from certain. As new love beckons and Hampstead Lake shimmers in the background, Iris must decide when to wade in cautiously and when to dive - and, ultimately, how to ferry herself to safe harbors in this enticing novel of second chances and the ties that bind.

Making use of a gorgeous lake setting and serious themes, this book is not your typical light beach read. Comfortable if not exactly happy with her middle class suburban life, Iris, mother of three, is caught completely off guard when her husband announces he wants a divorce - providing her with the perfect opportunity to flee to the beach house in which she grew up. Her parents distant and her sister flighty and self-centered, the going isn't always easy. At least her best friend Trish has a good head on her shoulders. As Iris struggles to come to terms with a future that is no longer certain, complications arise when Cooper Woods, Iris's high school crush, comes on the scene. As Leah's wedding date draws nearer and Iris's children join her at the lake house, hard choices must be made. Does Iris continue to put her needs last, as she always has? Or can she find a way to do what is best for herself as well as her family?

All in all, this book is a delight, exploring family dynamics, forgiveness, love, friendship, and the challenges of moving on with life following setbacks. Five stars! Highly recommended!

NOTE: I received a copy of this book for FREE in exchange for a written review. There was no expectation that this review be either positive or negative, and I was not given any financial compensation to read the book or write the review. This information is disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

EENY MEENY by M. J. Arlidge


From the publisher:
EENY MEENY opens with a compelling and terrifying premise. A young couple wakes up trapped in an abandoned diving pool without food or water. There's no escape. Instead there is a loaded gun with a single bullet, and a phone with enough battery life to receive one message: to walk free, one of them must kill the other. When other pairs are given the same orders in increasingly twisted ways, the brilliant but damaged Detective Inspector Helen Grace finds herself racing against time and confronting dark chapters of her own past.

I must begin by saying this isn't my usual reading fare. When I want a good story, I tend to gravitate towards women's fiction or romance. But I am grateful I took advantage of the opportunity to read and review this psychological thriller/murder mystery, the first in the new series featuring Detective Inspector Helen Grace

Kawasaki-riding Helen Grace is a hardcore heroine, complex and flawed. Cool as a cucumber and one hundred percent dedicated to her job, she is fascinating if not exactly lovable. Over the course of the story, it becomes apparent to her that the serial killer's victims are all linked to her in some way. And once she realizes this, she is willing to sacrifice everything to bring the murderer to justice. 

Filled with graphic descriptions and heartbreaking outcomes, this book is not for the squeamish. At times I had to set my Kindle down just to give my mind a rest from the horror of it all. But I couldn't stay away long and sat up late the night I started the book because I couldn't wait to find out the ending, which caught me completely by surprise - and left me hungry for the next installment of the series.

Five stars. Recommended especially to fans of the genre!

NOTE: I received a copy of this book for FREE in exchange for a written review. There was no expectation that this review be either positive or negative, and I was not given any financial compensation to read the book or write the review. This information is disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

IT'S YOU by Jane Porter


In IT’S YOU, Dr. Alison McAdams has lost her way after a terrible tragedy. So when she’s summoned to Napa to care for her ailing father, she’s not sure she has anything to offer him—or anyone else.

What Ali finds in Northern California wine country is a gift—an opportunity to rest, and distance from her painful memories. Most unexpectedly, she finds people who aren’t afraid of her grief or desperate for her to hurry up and move on.

As Ali becomes part of her father’s community, makes new friends of her own, and hears the stories of a generation who survived the Second World War, she begins to find hope again. In a quest to discover the truth about another woman’s lost love, she sets off on a journey across oceans and deep into history. And in making sense of that long-ago tragedy, Ali is able to put together the broken pieces of her heart and make new choices that are right for her.

I loaded this book onto my Kindle just prior to boarding a plane headed from Atlanta to LaGuardia with a connecting flight onto Bangor, Maine. I find it difficult to read while I'm sitting in a moving vehicle, whether auto or an airplane, but with a couple of hours in between flights, I looked forward to getting started on the latest from Jane Porter.

Then weather happened, and what was supposed to be a two-hour layover turned into a twelve-hour ordeal. I am convinced that this page-turner kept me from losing my mind, or worse. This seamlessly woven tale spans several decades, from World War II until the present. Told from the points of view of Ali and her father's crusty friend, Edie, the book explores themes of friendship, love and loss. As in real life, terrible tragedies occurred, leaving the victims reeling and questioning their reasons to go on. But time, family and friends have healing powers, and in the end they - and we - are left with hope.

I couldn't have had a better traveling companion during that long day in New York City. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Five extremely satisfied stars.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book for FREE in exchange for a written review. There was no expectation that this review be either positive or negative, and I was not given any financial compensation to read the book or write the review. This information is disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

THE SOUND OF GLASS by Karen White


From the dust jacket:

It has been two years since the death of Merritt Heyward's husband, Cal, when she receives unexpected news - Cal's family home in Beaufort, South Carolina, bequeathed by Cal's reclusive grandmother, now belongs to Merritt.

Charting the course of an uncertain life - and feeling guilt from her husband's tragic death - Merritt travels from her home in Maine to Beaufort, where the secrets of Cal's unspoken-of past reside among the pluff mud and jasmine of the ancestral Heyward home on the Bluff. This unknown legacy, now Merritt's, will change and define her as she navigates her new life - a new life complicated by the arrival of her too young stepmother and ten-year old half brother.

Soon, in this house of strangers, Merritt is forced into unraveling the Heyward family past as she faces her own fears and finds the healing she needs in the salt air of the Lowcountry.

Author Karen White has done it again. Intrigued by the true story of Jack Gilbert Graham, perpetrator in the 1955 bombing of United Airlines Flight 629 which killed all 30 passengers and 5 crew members on board, Karen did extensive aviation research and wove this knowledge into her compelling tale of a broken woman who learns to face her fears and find healing in unexpected ways. I loved everything about this beautifully written, emotionally charged story - from its quirky cast of characters to its themes of love, family, and forgiveness, all woven with just enough mystery to keep me turning the pages all the way until the very end. Five stars! Highly recommended!

NOTE: I received a copy of this book for FREE in exchange for a written review. There was no expectation that this review be either positive or negative, and I was not given any financial compensation to read the book or write the review. This information is disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.




Tuesday, May 5, 2015

I REGRET NOTHING by Jen Lancaster


From the dust jacket:
Mistakes are one thing; regrets are another. After a girls' weekend in Savannah makes her realize that she is - yikes! - middle-aged, Jen decides to make a bucket list and seize the day, even if that means having her tattoo removed at one hundred times the cost of putting it in.

Middle-aged myself, with a bucket list that has gone through several incarnations, I found the premise irresistible. And this book did not disappoint. Jen's list ran the gamut: personal health ("run a 5K"), self-improvement ("learn to speak a new language"), work ("start a new line of business"), even pie-in-the-sky ("have a conversation with an icon"). With infectious enthusiasm and a sense of humor that kept me laughing out loud as a I read, Jen worked her way through her list, describing her experiences in a way that managed to be both poignant and hilarious, even adding items as she went along just so she could experience the pleasure of checking them off. Along with charming her husband, her supportive friends, and her menagerie of pets, we journey with Jen as she learns to ride a bike, refinish furniture, brush up on her high school Italian, even travel to Italy. What a trip!

Inspired by Jen's success, I think it's time for me to brush off my own bucket list - and to dig into Jen Lancaster's backlist. Highly recommended!

NOTE: I received a copy of this book for FREE in exchange for a written review. There was no expectation that this review be either positive or negative, and I was not given any financial compensation to read the book or write the review. This information is disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

How does my garden grow?

But each spring...a gardening instinct, sure as the sap rising in the trees, stirs within us. We look about and decide to tame another little bit of ground.
~Lewis Gantt

I'm not really much of a gardener. My backyard is small and slopes dramatically into a creek where vegetable-loving deer abide in large numbers. Besides, my indoor pursuits consistently fill the daytime hours; I am not beckoned by the great outdoors the way some people are. But I do enjoy ripe-from-the-vine tomatoes, fresh herbs, and the pop of color that summer flowers offer. So every year about this time I find myself at Home Depot filling a cart with flower pots, potting soil, and plants of all kinds. 

Last Saturday, I started with some house plants to fill the colorful pots I purchased at IKEA several months ago. 



I also bought some tiny pots and saucers that just fit on the little white stepladder my children used when they were small and filled them with chives, lemon thyme and parsley. 


Then I ventured outdoors. I set a bright pink geranium on the porch next to the front door


and filled the two large planters on my deck with more flowers in my favorite colors, pink and purple.



Here is my black cherry tomato plant with a pot of marigolds next to it for pest control.


The jalapeno pepper plant is sharing its pot with cilantro, just as I hope they will combine flavors in a bowl of homemade salsa one day. Last but not least are the rosemary and basil, culinary essentials.


I look forward to nurturing my little deck garden through the spring and summer, feeding and watering the plants regularly, speaking kindly to them and encouraging them in their growth.

What kind of gardener are you?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Myth of Balance


We begin to find and become ourselves when we notice how we are already found, already truly, entirely, wildly, messily, marvelously who we were born to be.
― Anne Lamott

I wear a lot of hats in this life. I am mom, daughter, sister, aunt, friend. I am business owner, pianist, teacher, adjudicator, speaker, colleague. I am reader, writer, blogger, walker, knitter, seamstress, jewelry designer. I am cook, housekeeper, laundress, house painter, home decorator.

Some of these are technically non-essential. Reading a book or knitting a scarf doesn't help pay the bills. For that matter, neither does making a piece of jewelry, because while I do sell my wares on Etsy, I spend far more money buying jewelry-making supplies than I earn selling the occasional bracelet or pair of earrings. But reading books and making things with my hands satisfy needs that bubble up from deep inside me. In this respect they are, in fact, quite essential.

There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life. 
― Alain de Botton

I have spent hours creating daily schedules, planning my weeks, writing down short-term goals and long-term goals and pushing myself to meet my self-imposed deadlines. I will even admit to occasionally making a list of things I have already done just so that I can experience the satisfaction of checking them off. But then life happens and my carefully drawn plans fall completely by the wayside. I get sick or one of my kids is in crisis or my dog gets sick or a tumultuous relationship ends or the car breaks down or the lawn mower won't start. What choice is there? I take a deep breath, deal with the situation, and regroup.

Then I make a new list.

I want to caution you against the idea that balance has to be a routine that looks the same week in and week out.
― Kevin Thoman

Last weekend I accompanied a number of home schooled students in a musical theater vocal competition. During the two weeks prior to the event, I spent every minute I wasn't teaching, eating or sleeping learning the music, making recordings of the piano parts so the students could practice with them, and attending rehearsals with the students. The competition itself was a two-day event. Reading, writing, crafting, even my personal piano practice were necessarily shoved to the back burner. Now the competition is over and next week I will have a greatly reduced teaching load on the heels of the piano festival most of my students are performing in this weekend. I will take advantage of the downtime to clean up the mess I made in my craft room over the holidays, pack away the Christmas tree, scrub the bathrooms and mop the kitchen floor. Never-ending circumstances such as these result in the complex meters and syncopated rhythms of my days, weeks and months.

There is no point in fighting. So I might as well give up striving for balance in my life. It might be possible to achieve it if I were content with less, if I could just take care of my daily business and let go of my dreams. But I can't. I won't. And while I remain convinced I can do it all, I understand I cannot do it all at once. Instead, I will focus on one thing at a time. While I am practicing piano, I will not stop to check text messages on my phone. When I go outside to walk, I will leave the ear buds behind and pay attention to the sights, sounds and smells around me. As I eat my lunch, I will focus on the tastes and textures of the food in front of me instead of checking out the latest on Facebook and Pinterest.

Nothing worth having comes easy, but I am willing to work hard. I will play the piano on many stages, I will see my fiction writing traditionally published, I will build wishing towers on beaches all over the world.

But I won't waste another moment of my precious life in pursuit of balance.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Dreaming of Books Giveaway Blog Hop


I am participating in the Dreaming of Books Giveaway Blog Hop, hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer. This hop is scheduled to run January 16th-26th . To enter, all you have to do is follow my blog and leave a comment at the end of this post letting me know you are a follower and sharing a little bit about the last book you read: title, author, and a brief synopsis. I am looking forward to a great list! For additional entries, you can follow me on Twitter (click HERE), "like" my Facebook fan page (click HERE) or friend me on Goodreads (click HERE). Leave an additional comment for each additional entry. At the end of the week, one lucky winner will be chosen by a random number generator to receive a $10 Amazon gift card. Be sure to leave your email address with your comment so that I will know how to contact you should your name be selected. Click HERE for the links to the 150+ other blogs that are also doing book-related giveaways. All contests begin at midnight Eastern time tonight (Thursday); any entries received prior to that time will not be included in the drawing.

Happy blog hopping!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

One Zentangle A Day

There are no mistakes in Zentangle.
~ Beckah Krahula

As much as I enjoyed the Zentangle class I took in September, I was so busy making music in November and getting ready for Christmas in December that there was no time to tangle. Besides, I was getting frustrated. It didn't seem that my skill was improving and tangling began to feel more like a tiresome chore than a creative outlet. But one of my Christmas gifts, the book One Zentangle A Day, has me excited all over again.

Described as "a beautiful interactive book teaching the principles of Zentangles as well as offering fun, related drawing exercises," this book is perfect for beginners but offers me a good review of the basics while helping me build on my previous knowledge and take it to the next level. On Day 1, I practiced the patterns above; on Day 2, I learned three new patterns and combined several to create a "tile," or small square drawing.
Sometimes it takes me more than one day to master the new patterns and complete a tile, but that's okay.
Looking ahead, I see the book also covers more advanced techniques like shading and working with color.
If you would like to give tangling a whirl, this book is a great place to start. The only other things you need are a sketch pad and a fine point marker. Ready, set, tangle!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Enough is enough

Credit buying is much like being drunk. The buzz happens immediately, and it gives you a lift. The hangover comes the day after.
~ Joyce Brothers
Over the past ten years or so, I have accumulated so much credit card and student loan debt that fully acknowledging it throws me into mild state of panic. But enough is enough. And 2015 is the year I am going to actually DO something about it.

I discussed all this with my eighteen year old son several weeks ago and together we got the ball rolling. In December we researched internet, television and cell phone options and made changes to our current plans that will save us several hundred dollars a year. I also put together a budget that I implemented on January first and intend to stick with, no matter what. Then I cut up a pile of credit cards and determined that, moving forward, I will buy only things I absolutely NEED and not merely WANT and will pay CASH for it all. I will confess that I did hang onto a couple of credit cards, one that I use for groceries and gas and pay off each month and one that I can use in case of genuine EMERGENCY, at least until I am able to get an emergency fund in place. (Note to self: seeing a cute handbag at Tuesday Morning does not constitute an emergency.)

Rather than entertain myself with shopping, I will spend time with my piano, my beloved book and music collection, and the roomful of yarn and craft supplies I have accumulated over the years. I will not pay people people to cook food for me; rather, I will shop wisely for quality ingredients and cook healthy, affordable meals for my family and friends. I will get back to work on my fiction writing; I will diligent about listing new pieces in my Etsy store. If I keep my head on straight, I will be too busy making good use of things I already have to feel deprived.

I didn't get in this mess overnight, and it will take me several years to get out of it. But I am willing to do whatever it takes to achieve financial peace.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Make the Family Cookbook


I spent most of my Thanksgiving vacation putting together a family cookbook. It was hard not to blog about what I was working but since the cookbook was a Christmas surprise I had to wait until after December 25th. Now, finally, I can tell you all about it.

I started out with a boxful of loose recipes, a lifetime of photos, and no idea how to proceed. After spending several hours researching templates and websites to facilitate my project, I finally settled on this software (click HERE). It turned out to be perfect for my needs.

The process really was as simple as the website promised: I downloaded the software, chose my cover and section dividers, and began entering my recipes and adding photos. It turned out there were some compatibility issues with the Word for Mac version (and apparently that version has since been discontinued), but all it took was a few minutes on the phone with the company's great technical support person and I was back to work.

My cookbook ended up being 150 pages long and includes a heartfelt introduction and sections for appetizers, soups and stews, side dishes and salads, meat and main dishes, breads and muffins, cookies and candy, desserts, and breakfast along with pictures of everyone from great-grandparents my children barely remember to my brothers and me when we were small. When I thought it was finally finished, I printed a black and white copy and proofread and corrected it several times before accepting the fact that it would never be perfect. In the end, I submitted my Word document to the same company I purchased the cookbook software from; they sent me a PDF copy for approval before doing the final printing.

The finished cookbook appears in the photo at the top of this blog post. I gave copies to my parents, my brother and his wife, my children, and my niece. I even gave a copy to my ex-husband; peace on earth, goodwill to men, and all that. My sincere wish is that everyone who owns this little piece of family history will use it often and that it will become one of the most battered, soiled and stained cookbooks in his or her collection.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Welcome, 2015

Santa Pam wishes you a Happy New Year!
The last few weeks of 2014 were cluttered with worries and cares. Every time I thought nothing else could possibly go wrong, something did. I wanted to scream and cry and punch through walls and sleep until spring. None of these were options but something had to give. Finally, I threw my daily to-do list out the window. Beginning the week of Thanksgiving, I did only what I absolutely had to do and spent every other moment squeezing what joy I could from the holiday season. Some might call it denial but I called it survival. I decorated my house, made gifts for loved ones, wrote cards to faraway friends. I shopped online and baked snickerdoodles and listened to Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker and watched It's A Wonderful Life. I spent Christmas Eve with my children in metro Atlanta and Christmas night with my mom and dad and brother and sister in southern Illinois. Then I came home and hosted a dinner party on New Year's Eve, screaming "good riddance" to 2014 with friends, old and new, at midnight.

Welcome, 2015, and not a moment too soon.

***

This morning, I printed myself a new monthly checklist and revisited my bucket list, tweaked it a bit, and picked up where I left off in November. Although I am disappointed in the lack of progress on the bucket list - meeting, falling in love with, and becoming engaged to Mr. Wrong proved to be a huge setback - I am ready to let go of the past and get on with my life. 

First, though, I should myself credit where credit is due. I performed the first movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto in G minor in public (#24). I started 2015 ten pounds lighter than I started 2014 (#31). I updated my home and made a big dent in getting rid of everything I don't need or love (#33). I made a family cookbook (#45) and memory quilts (#46) and gave them as Christmas gifts. More on those two projects later. And yesterday I cut up most of my credit cards, put together a budget, and put together a plan for paying off all my debt (#63). It will take a few years but I plan to reward myself with that coast-to-coast drive across the United States (#14).

Time to get serious about making all those unfulfilled dreams come true.

***

I haven't decided upon my One Word for 2015 yet but I do have a motto.

All will be well.

It already is.