Thursday, December 31, 2015

Books of the Year ~ Gold Medal Winner

DISCLAIMER: True, I write fiction. Fiction is what I devour, love, breathe. But you should know that this year's winner is a non-fiction book. Why? Because the writing is so stellar, the prose so weepingly beautiful, that it just had to be in first place.

One Thousand Gifts
By Ann VoskampZondervan


It's only in this expressing of gratitude for the life we already have, we discover the 
life we've always wanted...a life we can take, give thanks for, and break for others. We come to feel and know the impossible right down in our bones: we are wildly loved--by God.


Awesome. With a side of awesome sauce. Ann Voskamp rocks. Not only does she have fantastic, insightful, inspirational things to say, but she says them in ways that make this writer's jaw drop. Her prose is a-freaking-mazing. Do yourself a favor and snatch up a copy of this book. You will NOT be sorry.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Books of the Year ~ Silver Medal Winner

By Travis Thrasher
TH1NK Books


Brandon Jeffery’s summer started out with a bang―as in, a friend crashed his car and now he has to work two jobs to pay it off. It’s at Fascination Street Records that he’s introduced to a beautiful but quiet girl named Marvel. She’s new to Hidden Cove and looking for a summer job, so Brandon secretly strikes a deal with their boss to work for free so she can be hired.

When a classmate is found murdered, however, their summer takes a turn for the mysterious. Brandon’s friend Devon is sure he knows just who’s to blame: the creepy recluse of the town quarry. But the police have few leads, and Brandon has the sneaking suspicion he’s being watched.

That’s not what’s in the forefront of on his mind, though. More than trying to pay off his car to his unemployed, alcoholic father and protecting Seth Belcher from the school bullies, he’s determined to date Marvel. He doesn’t understand why they seem so close and she refuses to date him, but as the mystery behind her tragic past begins to unravel, Marvel finally confesses her reason: God has revealed she’s destined to die saving others―and it’s going to be soon.


Thrasher knocks this one out of the park. Loved it. The thunderstorms. The lurking danger. The complete lack of safety anywhere. Marvelous is one creepy read, but not too creepalicious. I seriously expected one of the characters I cared about to die by the end of the book. Yeah, there are two deaths, but none that wigged me out. Whew. Dodged the bullet this time, but I seriously need the next book NOW. As in why am I typing a review when I should be over at Amazon buying WONDER, the next book in the series?

My favorite character is Brandon, the hero. He's not perfect, which makes him totally believable, but his heart is big. He's got a lot of questions about God that go unanswered. Again, just like real life, eh? I have hope for him, but there's also a certain amount of dread because there's lots of foreshadowing that goes on in this book. I have high expectations for the next one, but I'm pretty confident Travis Thrasher can pull it off.

If you know a teen that likes scary, I heartily recommend this book.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Books of the Year ~ Bronze Medal Winner

Mist of Midnight
Sandra Byrd
Howard Books


Rebecca Ravenshaw, daughter of missionaries, spent most of her life in India. Following the death of her family in the Indian Mutiny, Rebecca returns to claim her family estate in Hampshire, England. Upon her return, people are surprised to see her… and highly suspicious. Less than a year earlier, an imposter had arrived with an Indian servant and assumed not only Rebecca’s name, but her home and incomes.

That pretender died within months of her arrival; the servant fled to London as the young woman was hastily buried at midnight. The locals believe that perhaps she, Rebecca, is the real imposter. Her home and her father’s investments reverted to a distant relative, the darkly charming Captain Luke Whitfield, who quickly took over. Against her best intentions, Rebecca begins to fall in love with Luke, but she is forced to question his motives–does he love her or does he just want Headbourne House? If Luke is simply after the property, as everyone suspects, would she suffer a similar fate as the first “Rebecca”?

A captivating Gothic love story set against a backdrop of intrigue and danger, Mist of Midnight will leave you breathless.


Hot dang! I'm a jaded reader, so it's a rare occurrence when I find a new author that I actually like. Sandra Byrd is the lucky winner this year. In her book, MIST OF MIDNIGHT, I discovered some sweet turns of phrases in a setting that I wouldn't mind packing my bags and moving into right now.

What's not to love about a manor home in England? A handsome captain who may or may not be a bad boy? Lots of intrigue and a French maid that you kind of want to slap? All these ingredients make for a fine read to cozy up with this winter.

I loved heroine Rebecca Ravenshaw. She's brave, with just enough fear to make her believable. The entire story is told in her point of view. Honestly, I would've liked to have been in Captain Luke Whitfield's head a time or two to know his reactions and feelings to situations.

There's a twist at the very end that I didn't see coming. An interesting one -- that I won't give away. Just know there's a "Surprise" after the credits, so to speak.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Book Vending Machine

I scored pretty good from Santa this year. Three CS Lewis books, a one-hundred-year-old book on rural England, and a pair of socks. Hey. Don't judge me. They were Smart Wools. So guess I won't be standing in the ol' return line this week.

And if you lived in Germany, you wouldn't have to either, because instead you could simply stop at a vending machine.

Here's the dealio . . . book retailer Hugendubel teamed up with Bastei Lübbe (a German trade publisher) and came up with a brilliant idea. All you do is bring your unwanted gift to their vending machine, pop it in, then choose from one of seven bestselling titles and voila! You get a book that you want instead of some stupid brick of fruitcake from your great-aunt-once-removed.

Win. Win.

Did you get anything under the tree this year that you'd like to trade-in for a book?

Friday, December 25, 2015

Wise Words for Christmas

Santa sure knows how to shop.
Here's what I found in my Christmas stocking this morning . . .

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

~ C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Author Behind 'God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen'

Today I'm featuring my number one Christmas carol because . . . well . . . it's Christmas Eve and I can. So there.

I don't actually know who the author of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen is. No one does, really. It's believed to have been written more than 500 years ago. That's old. So instead of featuring the for-real author of this song, here are a few fun facts about it.

This is the only song mentioned in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Because of its singularity, it is -- for all intents and purposes -- the Christmas carol of the title.

Speaking of titles, let's talk about the comma, shall we? It's not between Ye and Merry, where many grammar rookies place it. The comma goes between Merry and Gentlemen. I know, right? What the heck?

The heck is that words change meanings over the centuries. Rest may have meant "to keep" and merry meant "strong" or "mighty" (such as in Robin Hood's "merry" men). Keeping that in mind, the title is not about happy fellows being urged to rest, which is what we might think today. The title may, in fact, be seen as a reassurance that God will keep these men safe and strong through Christ because Christ has been born on Christmas Day. Savvy?

But more important than pondering the placement of a punctuation mark is pondering the meaning of the words. Think on this stanza (circa 1760) today and tomorrow as you celebrate Jesus's birthday:

God rest you merry, Gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
For Jesus Christ our Saviour
Was born upon this Day
To save poor souls from Satan's power
Which long time had gone astray
Which brings tidings of comfort and joy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Author Behind 'O Little Town of Bethlehem'

Phillips Brooks
Phillips Brooks, an American rector at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Philadelphia, visited the Holy Land in 1865. He did all the usual schlocky tourist things: bought a tee-shirt that said 'I was Here' with an X in the middle of Israel, purchased one of those stupid tiny silver spoons to hang on a rack, and yes, wrote, stamped, and mailed at least twenty-five postcards.

None of that will be remembered, though. What was immortalized by his visit was a simple horseback ride from Jerusalem to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. He wrote about that experience three years later, the words of which are found in a song he put together for his church's children's choir. He never expected anything to come of it, other than music for that particular service. But in 1874, the song was published in Huntington's Sunday School hymn book, The Church Porch.

And the rest really is history.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Author Behind 'Silent Night'

Like Jesus, the author of Silent Night had a very humble beginning. The author of this carol, Josef Mohr, was the illegitimate son of an Austrian embroideress and a mercenary soldier who deserted her before the birth. Josef even lucked out in the Godparent department because his godfather was the local executioner.

But he grew up to be a pretty good egg.

After special papal permission, he was allowed to train for the Catholic priesthood. He was sent to Oberndorf, a remote Alpine parish. Because it was way out in the middle of nowhere, it wasn't the richest of churches. Even the stupid organ didn't work. And Christmas was coming. Plus the zombie apocalypse.

Okay, so I made up that last part, but the point is that the dude had serious problems with Christmas coming and no organ to sing along with. He had plenty of experience, though, with problems. So, he penned the words to Silent Night with a tune that could be sung without accompaniment. December 25th was not silent in Oberndorf that year . . . or any others.

The tune we sing today, however, was composed by Franz Gruber.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Author Behind 'Good King Wenceslas'

In honor of Christmas, this week at Writer Off the Leash we'll be learning about the authors who wrote some of the carols we still sing today. Kicking off the week, meet James Mason Neale. His most famous carol is Good King Wenceslas, but my favorite of his is O Come, O Come Emmanuel. I've always been a sucker for anything written in a minor key.

James was an English vicar and kind of a rabblerouser. He led the Oxford Movement, which basically tried to incorporate Catholic practices into Anglicanism during the early nineteenth century. Yeah. That didn't go over so well. He ticked off his congregation, so much that they accused him of being a secret agent for the Vatican . . . ticked off as in when he was attending a nun's funeral, those people beat the bejeebers out of him. Another time he was stoned, and many times he was threatened to be burned out of of his house.

Let's just say the fella wasn't too popular.

Even so, he was a dang good hymn writer. Grab a mug of tea and ponder of these lyrics from the second stanza of O Come, O Come Emmanual.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Friday, December 18, 2015

So Many Blogs, So Little Time

post by Michelle Griep
As if finding time to read a book isn't battle enough, how is one to shoehorn in a few minutes to read favorite blogs? And who even knows what a shoehorn is nowadays?

But that's where I find myself, shoehorning, that is. And since misery loves company, I'll share my favorite blogs with you so that you can try to cram a few more blogs to read into your crazy schedule.

Blog and Mablog
Author Doug Wilson is the king of snark. Not only that, he's a freaking genius. This man's brain ought to be showcased beneath of glass dome for all to marvel at . . . after he's dead, of course. I love the variety on this blog. Sometimes he's hard hitting at theology, other days at politics, and sometimes just does a book review. But he's always, always, entertaining and educational.

Interested in current trends and news in the publishing world? This is the site for you. Their information ranges from new book deals to fun infographics pertaining to books and reading.

Seth Godin
I think that perhaps in a former life Seth was a cheerleader. This dude rocks when it comes to encouraging you to follow your dreams. He's got a lot of insight into marketing and time management as well.

Terrible Minds
This is my guilty pleasure. Be forewarned: if profanity annoys, angers, or makes you feel dirty inside and out, this is NOT the site for you. The author, Chuck Wendig, mainly talks about writing in ways that are outside-the-box and hilarious.

Reading History
Okay, so technically this isn't a blog, but it's a community for those that love reading and writing history. It's got new posts every day by many people. You just click on the link.

There you have it. I suppose this could qualify as a Best Of List for 2015. What's on your list? What are some of your favorite blogs? Feel free to share in the comment section and spread the love.

Thursday, December 17, 2015


post by Michelle Griep
There are no spelling errors in today's title. It's not a silly, made-up word, nor am I whacked out on eggnog and candy canes. Okay, so I admit to a bit of a sugar high from all the cookies around my house, and there was a rogue doughnut I ate yesterday. But no. Jólabókaflóð is a real deal and you know it's true because it's on Wikipedia.

So, what is it? Jolabokaflod is the Christmas Book Flood in Iceland. It begins with the bókatíðindi, a catalogue that lists the titles of all the books for purchase in Iceland during the Christmas season. 80-90% of all books come out in Iceland during this period because that's when sales are highest. Why? Because Icelanders don't give stupid toasters or light-up ties as gifts. They give books. Most people spend Christmas Eve reading instead of fighting with relatives.

Now there's a concept.

The tradition dates back to WWII. Strict currency restrictions limited the amount of imported gifts brought into Iceland. However, restrictions in imported paper weren't as constrictive. So what do you do if you've got a lot of paper and not much else? Either make paper planes or books. Books won. The tradition stuck.

So this Christmas I propose we all go Icelandic with our gift giving. Besides, if you give out books that you'd like to read yourself, you can always borrow them later, eh?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Looking For a Career Change?

post by Michelle Griep
Ever wished for a better career than the one you're slogging through right now? Sure, you could switch and become a neurosurgeon, but that's a whole lot of school debt and who really wants to poke around in squishy gray matter anyway? Instead, here are some jobs taken from the realm of fiction that perhaps might interest you more . . .

Care of Magical Creatures Professor
(Harry Potter)
If education is something that makes your heart pitter patter, then this might be the position for you. Educate wizards and witches in all aspects of magical creatures.

Dream Blower
(The BFG)
So maybe you like kids better when they're sleeping, eh? Yeah. Who doesn't? A Dream Blower blends and delivers pleasant dreams to children.

(The Hunger Games)
For those of you who can't stand the thought of a nine-to-five desk job, perhaps this role would fit you better. A Gamemaker plans and stages the violent and bloody annual hunger games.

Ministry of Truth Clerk
Rewrite historical documents to reflect party policy. Actually, there just might be an opening in this department in the Obama administration. Oops. Did I say that out loud?

Double O Agent
(James Bond)
This one comes with sweet rides and the possibility of death. You in?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

All I Want For Christmas is New Years

Yeah, I know it's not even Christmas yet, but hot dang . . . I'm super pumped for New Years! That's when the new Sherlock airs. Here's a teaser:

Monday, December 14, 2015

How Would Jane Austen Celebrate Christmas?

post by Michelle Griep
Moi with author JULIE KLASSEN.
What do historical author nerds do for Christmas entertainment? Go to a Jane Austen luncheon, of course, complete with books, Regency gowns, plenty of food, and of course a Jane Austen silhouette cake for dessert. Mmm. Mmm. Mmm. But it wasn't just all calories and book buying. I learned a ton of stuff about Regency Christmas traditions, and you're in luck because I'll save you the trouble of an expanding waist band or shrinking wallet by sharing the info . . .


Caroling wasn't the sweet Go-Tell-It-On-The-Mountain harmonious event. It usually ended in a riot. Singers would gather near a church or town square. So would peddlers, who sold sheet music so everyone could join in singing. That's not all they sold, though. We're talking booze here, folks. And excessive drinking leads to excessive brawling. Sure, not every caroler was out for a sailor-of-a-good time. There were those who went door to door, but only to homes with a candle in the window. Otherwise you'd get the boot.
It was carrot cake, BTW.


Entertaining back in this era wasn't just a party and then goodbye guests. Nope. Friends and family usually stayed at your house at the very least for the entire twelve days of Christmas, but most often started partying way back on Dec. 6th. It was difficult to travel in the Regency period, so when you made the effort to go somewhere, you stayed a long time.


Goose was the meat of choice, but not many had an oven large enough to roast one because those puppies--or fowl--are big. So orders were put in at the baker who would "cook your goose."
I didn't wear a Regency gown but I did
clean up nice.


Don't worry if you don't have your house decorated yet. Regency folks didn't put up their greenery until December 24th . . . and it was greenery. They brought the outside inside, and they didn't overdo it, either. Just a mantle piece or table decor, and maybe some on the front posts of the house or possibly the bannister. Big, fancy decor didn't start coming in until the Victorian era.

12th NIGHT

This was the big celebration, bigger than Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. If gifts were given, this was the day to pass them out. This was also the night all your decorations would be taken down and burned, because if you didn't, a goblin might get you.

This year I'm not even remotely ready for Christmas but I'm not sweating it too much. It's not like I've got a houseful of guests staying for nearly two weeks.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Word Game Gift Ideas

Christmas shopping. Traffic jams. Screaming kids at the mall. Angry slap fights in the aisles at Walmart. Yeah . . . gotta love it. Or not. If you're of the latter persuasion, we are kindred spirits, and I'm here to help you accomplish gift buying without killing anyone (or yourself). Here are my top 3 picks for super fun word games that make great presents and great entertainment . . .

Word Around

This one is so easy to play, it's almost ridiculously hard. All you do is read a word. The tricky part is that everyone playing is reading the same word and whoever shouts it out first wins the card. Oh yeah, did I mention the word is in a circle so that you don't know which letter is the beginning? Big fun!


Want to sharpen your spelling skills while increasing your vocabulary and critical thinking? This is the game for you! All you do is use all the letters in your hand of cards to form a word, leaving one card to discard. But of course there's a ticking time bomb -- the other players are trying to do the same thing before you.

A little pandemonium is good, especially amongst family and friends. Tapple is a "Hot Potato" kind of slap a letter to guess a word without saying a repeat. Example? Say the category is candy. You might slap the letter S and shout Skittles, the person next to you slaps the K and yells Kit-Kat, the next person can't think of a darn thing and loses that round. It's pretty fast-paced and fun.

These games are all family friendly and simple to learn, so kids can play them too. Have yourself a merrier Christmas by doing some of your shopping online instead of stressing at the mall.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

At the Corner of Beautiful and Are You Freaking Kidding Me

post by Michelle Griep
I teach a few writing classes. One is for 7th graders and the other for high schoolers. Trust me on this . . . I've pretty much seen it all. Sentences so bad that it scars my writerly soul, and fresh words put together in ways that make me weep. And that's a whole lot of emotion for a stoic like me.

So I thought I'd share the rollercoaster ride with you. Here are some horrific/hilarious similes from high school students (not mine, to protect the innocent) . . .

1. She had him like a toenail stuck in a shag carpet.

2. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

3. Her eyes were like the stars, not because they twinkle, but because they were so far apart.

4. The sun was below the watery horizon, like a diabetic grandma easing into a warm salt bath.

5. Their love burned with the fiery intensity of a urinary tract infection.

This is what writing teachers have to deal with. But now that I've put you through that torture, here are some beautiful sentences as an antidote.

1. “Sometimes I can feel my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.”
—Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

2. “She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.”
—J. D. Salinger, “A Girl I Knew”

3. “Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.”
—Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

4. “I would always rather be happy than dignified.”
—Charlotte Brontë , Jane Eyre

5. "One must be careful of books, and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.”
—Cassandra Clare, The Infernal Devices

So, which ones were your favorites? Of the horribly/hilarious bunch, I loved number one. In the beautiful batch, tough call. It's a tie between 3 and 1. How about you?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

On Hating Haters

posted by Michelle Griep
It happens to everyone eventually. The one-star review, the one that slashes you to the bone and leaves you bleeding out in an unseemly mess right there on the sidewalk for everyone to walk by and go, "Eew!" And even if you're not a writer, criticism comes in other ways, shapes and forms. It's never easy to hear that you're a loser, and it's even harder to not respond.

But that's exactly what you must do, little cowboy.

Do not write a rebuttal.

One of the worst things you can do is fire off a snarky comment as a counter attack, getting all defensive and angry. Less is more, and in this case, nothing is more. Why? Because you'll simply draw even more attention to the negative review.

Same is true for non-writers dealing with any kind of up-in-your-face rejection. The best response is Biblical: turn the other cheek. Of course that's not easy to do, because a little piece of you is bruised and leaking ego-juice. It's called dying to self, folks. But that's what adults do.

The question is who is the adult . . . the attacker or the one who grants mercy and grace?

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Free Yourself From the Fear of Failure

Post by Michelle Griep
It's okay to mess up. No, really. Not only am I giving you permission to crash and burn in spectacular glory, but you need to give yourself permission as well. Why? Because studies show when you feel you are allowed to make mistakes, you are less likely to make any. (info from 99U)

Sure, that's easy to say, but how does it play out in the real world of writing? What exactly does it look like to write in a manner that is free from the fear of failure?

3 Steps Toward Writing Fearlessly

1. Give yourself some time.
When you start a new writing project, don't expect to whiz-bang it out in a manner of weeks, especially if you're taking some new risks in your writing (and you should always be taking some kind of risk). Don't constrain yourself by expecting to create within a certain timeframe. This gets a bit more tricky if you've got an actual deadline, but even so, build some wiggle time into that looming date. That gives you space to correct mistakes that you will undoubtedly make.

Example: I need to turn my next manuscript in by Feb. 1st. But I made myself a personal deadline of Nov. 30th. That way I can go back in and fix up the bugaboos without shifting into panic gear.

2. Ask for help.
Nobody likes to admit they need help. It's humbling . . . especially if you've made a mess of something. But don't hide your mistakes. Share them with others who can help. Sometimes it really does take a village.

Example: The novel I'm working on is set in South Carolina. What the heck do I know about Colonial America? Sure, I've researched, but I've also got a few historical fiction buddies who are experts in this area. I'm not only asking them for help, I'm batting my eyelashes and adding a "pretty please with sugar on top."

3. Quit the comparison game.
There are always going to be faster writers out there than you. But if you compare yourself to them, you'll get all snarled up in feeling worthless. If comparison is a horrible habit you just can't break, then compare yourself to yourself. Look at your performance this year and compare it to where you were at five years ago, or even a year ago. You might still be making mistakes, but are you making less? Are you improving?

Example: I used to beat myself up for not being able to write more than a page a day. That count is in the rear view mirror. Now I can easily do 1500 in a day. That number still doesn't compare to some of the rockstar authors I know, but I see growth and that frees me up to quit worrying about it.

Don't stagnate in playing it safe to avoid making mistakes. Successful people take risks, even if it means they fail.

Monday, December 7, 2015

A Writerly Lesson From Preschool

post by Michelle Griep
Life is about doing stuff you don't want to do. Don't want to sweep up the dang pine needles that got dragged in when the Christmas tree was hauled in this weekend? Then don't. But don't be surprised when you get up in the morning and sharp little pokies pierce the meat on the bottom of your feet.

But that's exactly what happens when you're a slacker.

Don't want to re-read your manuscript for the bajillionth time to make sure all your T's are crossed and I's are dotted before you send it in to your publisher? Then don't. But don't be surprised when nasty one-star reviews pop up on Amazon expounding on the crappy editing job.

But that's exactly what happens when you're a slacker.

If you didn't already learn to take the time to pick up your toys in preschool even when you didn't feel like it, guess what? You can still learn. You're not dead yet. Perfection is about taking the time to do what is necessary instead of labeling something "good enough."

Friday, December 4, 2015

How to Read More

post by Michelle Griep
“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” 
~ Stephen King

If you spend any amount of time online you'll not only notice sales galore, but "Best Of" lists for 2015, most notably the Best Books of 2015. Everyone's got their list, from Amazon to Goodreads to pretty much every blogger on the face of the earth. There's no question that reading is good for you in so many ways: educationally, as a stress reliever, inspirationally, and as Stephen King notes it makes for a better writer.

But how can you shoehorn into your schedule more books than you're currently reading? Never fear, folks. Have I got a list for you . . .

5 Ways to Read More Books

Quit Reading
I know. Sounds counterintuitive, right? But here's the deal. If you want to read more you have to read what you love. If you start a book and it doesn't grab you, quit reading it. The more you read what you love, the more you'll read.

Schedule Time
Face it. Nobody has time to read. There's dishes to wash and laundry to fold and the back forty to plow. But if reading is important to you, schedule it. Even a simple 15-20 minutes a day will help you plow through more titles than you currently have on your docket.

Track It
Keeping a list of what you read is a big motivator. This can be as easy as jotting titles down on your calendar or something more elaborate such as Goodreads or Shelfari. Just seeing a list makes you want to add one more by the end of the year. It's like a competition with yourself.

Audiobooks Count
Commuting to and from work or going on a family vacation is a great time to pop in the ol' ear plugs and make some progress on your TBR pile. Even short spurts such as when you're mowing the lawn or going for a bike ride can rack up some pages. Audiobooks are a great way to multi-task reading with other activities.

Turn off the TV. Shut down the wifi. Going old school, especially right before bed, is the best way to get some reading done.

There you have it. Try one. Try all. But do try something to increase your reading even if it's simply fitting in one more book than you would have normally consumed.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Literary Christmas Gifts

Got your Christmas shopping done yet? Yeah. I didn't think so. Never fear. I'm here to help. For all your bookish friends and family, why not buy them a book and something else that goes along with the story?

GIFT: Jewellry (a pair of earrings or a necklace)
BOOK: Great Expectations
AUTHOR: Charles Dickens

Miss Havisham creates a beauty out of Estella, and part of that creation is her gift of jewelry. Estella is merely a pawn in the game of Miss Havisham’s revenge. This is a story of duty, honor, and yes, ugly bitterness.

GIFT: Bread (something artisanal or sweet)
BOOK: The Hunger Games
AUTHOR: Suzanne Collins

Peeta once gave Katniss a loaf of bread because she was starving. This small act of kindness plays a bigger part in the relationship between the two Hunger Games victors. What? You’ll have to read the first book to find out, so a copy of it should go along with the loaf of bread.

GIFT: Chocolate (truffles or bars or anything, really)
BOOK: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
AUTHOR: Roald Dahl

Charlie Bucket is the winner of a golden ticket into Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory . . . but he never would’ve won had he not bought a chocolate bar. Not that anyone needs an excuse to buy chocolate, mind you. ’Nuff said.

GIFT: Cologne (Bath & Body Works has an affordable collection)
BOOK: Little Women
AUTHOR: Louisa May Alcott

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.” That’s straight from the mouth of Jo March, who chips in with her sisters to buy their mom some presents, one of which is some sweet perfume.

GIFT: Socks (Smartwools are my faves)
BOOK: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
AUTHOR: J.K. Rowling

Okay, so yeah, this one is a stretch. Technically in the book it’s a dirty sock that’s given to set Dobby free from his life of serving the Malfoys. No one wants a dirty sock, though, so spring for a new pair along with this book.

GIFT: Coffee (beans / mug / gift card)
BOOK: Brentwood’s Ward
AUTHOR: Michelle Griep

Hero Nicholas Brentwood takes heroine Emily Payne out for coffee. Sure, it’s a manipulation on her part, but he gets a great cup of coffee out of the deal.

You didn't seriously think I'd miss a shameless promo opportunity, did you?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Launch of The Painter's Daughter

post by Michelle Griep
Author Julie Klassen
There's something special about December . . . and I don't just mean a fat man in a red velvet suit, stepping on pine needles in the living room, or Christmas cookies. Every December author Julie Klassen launches a new book. This year's fare is The Painter's Daughter. Her launch party was at a local Barnes & Noble, and indeed, a good time was had by all.

My Review

Love a dark and brooding hero who’s really all heart on the inside? Captain Stephen Overtree is the man for you! He comes to the rescue time and time again in The Painter’s Daughter, another deliciously intriguing Regency by author Julie Klassen.

This tale of a marriage of convenience is sure to keep you up late into the wee hours of the morning. The heroine, Sophie Dupont, is between a rock and a hard place when she finds out she’s pregnant. Her lover leaves her behind for a painting trip to Italy.

Enter hero Stephen Overtree, a hulking captain in the army, and the brother of the man who ruined Sophie. He does the right thing by asking her to marry him, giving legitimacy to the unborn babe. But should she? She hardly knows him. She does, and ooh-la-la, what a heated relationship begins.

And therein begins The Painter’s Daughter. There’s intrigue, romance, and plenty of secrets to go around. Stock up on frozen pizzas before you crack open this one, folks. Your family will starve otherwise, because there’s no way you’ll stop until you read The End.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

5 Types of Rough Drafts

post by Michelle Griep
Last week I finished a rough draft of my newest novel. You think you know what I mean, right? Well, apparently not, Hoss. What a rough draft means to me might mean something totally different to you, and sure as heck is not the same as what Great Aunt Martha thinks it is. So today we're going to do some defining . . .

5 Types of Rough Drafts

Word Vomit
Sorry for the visual. Think of this one as stream of consciousness type of writing. An amplified version. A type-anything-and-everything-because-hot-dang-something-might-be-great-in-this-mess kind of mindset.

Tighty Whitey
Bare bones. Tight writing. So tight, in fact, that there's lots of white space because this is only the essence of a story. There will have to be lots of additional information added.

Practically Perfect
This puppy takes a long time to write because plot flow, words, and characters are well thought out, not just slapped down willy-nilly. Sure, there will be a few nits to comb out, but overall this rough draft is about as rough as a baby's behind.

Some writers pen only dialogue on their first pass of a book. They simply put their characters on stage and let them talk. Settings and character descriptions will be added in later.

Outline on Steroids
This is the opposite of the screenplay approach. Basically it's a this-happens-then-that-happens live-action play for the entire story.

As for me, I'm of the Practically Perfect persuasion, and not just because it's fun to say. I'm just a little OCD that way.

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