Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Book Review: "Close to Destiny" (Adria J. Cimino)

Fate or free will? Destiny or decision?

These are the questions that hound Kat when she finds herself ensnared, during her slow recovery from anorexia, in increasingly strange circumstances that seem to have no rational explanation. Late-night visitors from strangers, weird dreams from which she wakens with literal proof of having been wherever the dream took place, bizarre encounters in the day time with people she's known for a while but is only just beginning to realize that she doesn't really know ...

Then she meets Will, prompted by a bright, eccentric young woman named Destiny, and against everything her rational mind believes, the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place. Kat puts her investigative skills to work and uncovers a decades-old story about a young couple very much in love, and the old hotel where all these things keep happening.

What will Kat choose to believe?

Velvet Morning Press presents Close to Destiny by Adria J. Cimino a work of romantic suspense made unique by an otherworldly supernatural twist.

The story is told from Kat's first-person perspective throughout, narrated through her detail-oriented and observant investigative reporting background and relayed in successive journal entries that span much of a year in her life, from psychological breakdown to another kind of breakdown, this one a restructure of her understanding of the world.

Kat herself is tremendously sympathetic. She feels trapped in a life that she both helped and did not help to create, stuck in a relationship that's going nowhere, weighed down by her physical challenges and anxiety, surrounded by people who are no longer sure how to handle her, since her breakdown and suicide attempt. When Destiny arrives on her doorstep, practically on page two of her journal, Kat can't help but get caught up in the possibilities that Destiny's presence seems to engender.

Another character calls Destiny herself more of a catalyst than anything else, someone who causes things to happen to others, and as the story unfurls, readers will come to understand Destiny and her abilities more completely. Destiny is vibrant and carefree, almost precisely Kat's opposite and therefore her foil: their characteristics, respectively, underscore and even enhance the other's.

Cimino explores themes like loss, love, the influence of the past, the temptation to cling to a comfort zone, personal growth, risk, and what we perceive as reality, whether it is real or not. Her work is a well-written, compelling, and heartwarming one from beginning to end.

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Author: Adria J. Cimino
Title: Close to Destiny
Publisher: Velvet Morning Press
ISBN: 978-0-69234-694-5
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the author via Library Thing in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from September 21-25

5. "10 Desirable Reader Reactions to Your Book #Amwriting #Writers" on The Blonde Writer (Lucy)


So what are you looking for when a reader picks up your book? Here's a comprehensive list (only slightly tongue-in-cheek) of ten different reactions that you really want to hear from your readers ... everything from "the earth moved" to inspiration for the reader to go out and try their own hand at writing!

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4. "5 Lies You've Been Told About Marketing to Millennials" on iMedia Connection (Greg Kihlstrom)


Those of us born between (roughly) the 1980s and the 2000s are considered millennials, and lately, a lot of marketing talk has been about how to cater to that specific age group. We're the up and coming generation, the young professionals, and what appealed to the baby boomers of a previous generation won't always work with us. Still, too many companies have bought in to five lies about marketing to millennials that have to be corrected. See if you've somehow internalized one of these falsehoods, too.

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3. "Research Suggests That Neuroticism Could Lead to Greater Creativity" on (Natalie Clarkson)


If your temperament runs to intensity, obsessive thoughts, anxiety, even to the point of being called neurotic (like, okay, yours truly) ... don't worry about it, work with it. It's possible that your temperament also lends itself to being more creative than others. Check out this brief but insightful article to find out more.

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2. "What Defines Writing Success?" on (Melissa Eskue Ousley)


There are many ways to define success: a certain amount of money, a certain degree of prestige or power, happiness, and more. How do you, personally, define success for yourself in your writing? What's the benchmark --- that literal, concrete result --- toward which you're working, the one that you'll reach and know without a doubt that you've achieved writing success?

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1. "11 Writers Share Their Writing Inspiration" on Now Novel (Martha Alderson)


Personally, I enjoy taking a five-minute break from the daily grind to reread what inspires other writers. You never know what you, too, might find motivational. This post includes creative input from Elizabeth Spann Craig, C.S. Lakin, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and eight others. I hope you'll find even one tidbit to take away.

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What inspires you to write? What goal do you work toward in your writing that will define success for you? Do you have a neurotic temperament, and do you find that you're more creative as a result?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Book Review: "The Blender Girl Smoothies" (Tess Masters)

I'd wager that there is almost no health condition in the world that a smoothie could not aid in its being overcome or managed, and almost no diet in existence that the addition of a smoothie could not also be beneficial.

All I have to do to reach that conclusion, indeed, is read a well-researched cookbook like The Blender Girl Smoothies: 100 Gluten-Free, Vegan & Paleo-Friendly Recipes, by Tess Masters. Heck, right there in the book's subtitle, there are even listed three of the most common diets in society today. It doesn't get much more applicable than that.

Let there be no confusion. Masters's work is no ordinary cookbook with dull, everyday recipes for the same old smoothies you can buy pre-made or pre-mixed anywhere (not that you'd want to ... it's always, always better to make and mix your own).

Featuring a fabulous array of fresh, unique recipes with interchangeable add-ins and mix-ins so you can tailor each smoothie to your individual preferences and specific health needs, The Blender Girl Smoothies has a recipe for every single reader, no matter what your dietary restrictions or health goals are.

With unexpected combinations like almond milk, baby spinach, and frozen mango, or red grapefruit and fennel bulb, each of these smoothies is guaranteed to take your meal from mundane to an occasion to which to look forward. And each smoothie recipe also features a gorgeous photograph that will make even the most ... different ... combination of fruits and veggies sound mouth-watering and worth a try.

Another gem in the book are the resources contained in the front and back matter, from insider tips on how to make the best smoothie possible from your available ingredients to an easy-to-follow and -understand in-depth survey of all the different ingredients you can use, including fruits, vegetables, liquids, spices and herbs, and more.

If you're looking for a excellent all-in-one smoothie book to add to your cookbook, I cannot recommend The Blender Girl Smoothies highly enough for your consideration.

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Author: Tess Masters
Title: The Blender Girl Smoothies
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
ISBN: 978-1-60774-893-9
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the publisher via the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Book Review: "Every Valley: Advent with the Scriptures of Handel's Messiah" (Handel and Albert L. Blackwell)

Who hasn't heard the lovely musical strains of Handel's Messiah (or a movement thereof) piped overhead in stores during the holiday season? At times haunting and celebratory, and always evocative, blessedly familiar yet refreshingly new, the Baroque composition, which Jonathan Kandell of Smithsonian Magazine calls "a musical rite of the holiday season," is undoubtedly one of the most popular oratorios of all time.

Now, prepare for the Christmas season and celebrate the whole way through with the nonfiction forty-day devotional Every Valley: Advent with the Scriptures of Handel's Messiah by Albert L. Blackwell (with due credit, of course, given to Handel himself).

Advent is a Roman Catholic tradition in which the four Sundays before Christmas Day, along with the days between, are treated as reminders of what led up to the birth of Christ (from the Old Testament in the Bible) and, even further, reminders of the death and resurrection of Christ (Easter) and of His second coming (recounted in the New Testament Book of Revelation).

This engaging work walks the reader through forty days' worth of Scripture and devotional readings, each expertly culled from the Scriptures that Handel chose as his inspirations for his spectacular oratorio. Blackwell includes references to the different movements of the oratorio with each devotional, so that the reader can (if he or she chooses) take time to listen to the designated movement before, during, or after reading the related Scripture.

Blackwell's writings expound with exegetical clarity and accuracy upon the verses cited, drawing from other well-known Christian commentators like John Calvin; seasonally appropriate hymns; and other Scriptures, especially where Handel used prophetic words by Isaiah, Haggai, and others in the Old Testament to foretell the coming of Christ. Themes explored throughout include the Christian life and disciplines, the doctrine of grace, redemption, forgiveness, sanctification, light against darkness, and many, many more.

You needn't be Catholic to participate in Advent. Simply commit to recognizing that the Christmas season isn't about Santa Claus, snowmen, and commercialism, and take time to remember the real reason for the season (to use a phrase that has admittedly become quite cliche in the modern world).

An excellent way to keep your faith engaged and growing during Advent is to pick up a devotional like Every Valley, which work in particular I cannot recommend highly enough. You'll find your faith stretched, your relationship with God more intimate than ever.

As for me, I will certainly participate in the forty-day plan set forth in Every Valley, and I'd like to invite you along. Join me for the journey to prepare for Christmas a little differently, this year.

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Author: George Frederic Handel and Albert L. Blackwell
Title: Every Valley: Advent with the Scriptures of Handel's Messiah
ISBN: 978-0-66425-998-3
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Book Review: "Blood Tears" (Denise K. Rago)

In Blood Tears, the second installment of her vampire novels, author Denise K. Rago revisits Christian, Michel, and Amanda, whose relationship triangle --- while not exactly love --- grows ever closer in the face of an even more dangerous threat than before. (Read my review of Immortal Obsession, her first book.)

With the immediate threat vanquished, Amanda and Christian settle down to date quite peacefully ... except that there are still darker forces at work behind the scenes. Over in Europe, a coven of vampires so old and powerful that they are unknown to all but a select few have settled on Amanda as a threat to their ways. Suddenly, no one is trustworthy.

Rago is to be credited with sufficiently upping the ante in this sequel. Too often, a series of books --- even just two or three, total --- falls flat after the first excellent offering, with authors scrambling to find something even more important to put at stake. In this case, Christian and Amanda find themselves torn between their feelings for one another and their growing realization that perhaps, because of forces beyond their control, they are not meant to be together, after all.

Themes explored in the work include betrayal, love, passion, hatred, bitterness, commitment and fidelity, and the age-old question about whether tradition preserved is more important than change accommodated (or even welcomed).

Christian, in particular, becomes an even more complicated character than in the first novel, if that were possible. His centuries-old devotion to a former lover --- from whom Amanda herself is descended --- shakes to the core everything he thought he had figured out about himself, his friend Michel, and Amanda. His torment is a large part of what compels the reader onward through the pages as suspense builds to a climax that I, for one, did not foresee.

As in the first novel, a future edition of Blood Tears could use a close edit to eliminate things like head-hopping, errors in grammar and punctuation, and inconsistencies. Much of the first several chapters is summary of the first novel, which slowed the pace of the current story considerably, to my dismay; I prefer that even novels in a series can sufficiently stand alone from one another that a reader need not have to be told (rather than shown) what happened previously.

Further, Blood Tears is more philosophical and, perhaps, emotionally weightier than the first in the series, which translates to more internal monologues and long paragraphs of reminiscent thoughts for more than one character. Finally, the flashbacks to another time and place, while to be praised for "showing" rather than "telling" what happened, are often difficult to keep arranged in some semblance of chronological order in the reader's mind.

Nevertheless, an admirable second offering by an author who clearly loves her closely researched French Revolution and the paranormals she has chosen to populate her stories.

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Author: Denise K. Rago
Title: Blood Tears
ISBN: 978-1-49298-583-9
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the author in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from September 14-18

5. "Ten Twitter Hacks for Bloggers" on A Little Bit of Life (Julie Cohn)


Hacks are everywhere today: hacks to be productive, hacks to stay focused and motivated, hacks to cook faster meals and get places faster and be prepared for everything from a nuclear attack to a new baby. How about hacks for bloggers, specifically about Twitter? Do you know as much about Twitter as you should? And what should you do with that knowledge? Find out here.

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4. "WordPress: 10 Creative Add-Ons" on Listly (Soumya Nair)


A lot of people use WordPress for blogs and websites alike. I'm not one of them (yet) but may be moving in that direction eventually. Everyone who likes WordPress, though, loves it passionately ... no middling opinions here, which means that posts like these proliferate on what you can do to improve and get the most out of your WordPress account. This list, though, is very thorough, and worth a look.

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3. "21 Pieces of Advice from Stephen King" on (Maggie Zhang)


Stephen King is undoubtedly one of the most famous writers in the world, known to almost every household and certainly to everyone who likes horror or fantasy or, simply, well-written fiction. His writing tips are practical, down-to-earth, and easy to put into practice. Don't hesitate to take ten minutes out of your day with a cup of coffee and read through!

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2. "Super Niching: The Dirty Little Secret of Successful Bloggers Everywhere" on ProBlogger (Michaela Clark, guest blogger)


You can blog about everything in the world, or you can blog about a narrower field of things, or you can blog ... really, really well ... about a single topic. That's "super niching," when you narrow your field of interest to such an extent that your personal brand is pretty much defined for you: you're the woman who blogs not just about literary magazines but about literary magazines that publish poetry ... or the man who blogs not just about real estate but about real estate in downtown Denver, Colorado. You might benefit from narrowing your blog's focus right down. Think about it.

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1. "10 Tech Tools for Writers" on Publishers Weekly (Amy Stewart)


Everybody loves technology. Or hates it. Again, no middle ground (see #4 above). If you're a writer, unless you go old-school and long-hand with No. 2 pencils and moleskin notebooks (which is fine, no judgment here!) then you're probably familiar with technology to some extent. Do you know, in fact, how many forms of technology exist out there designed to make your life easier? Here are ten excellent tools for writers that you'll really, really want to add to your routines.

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BONUS: "Five Myths About William Shakespeare" on The Washington Post (Ari Friedlander)


Just for the sake of entertainment, how much do you actually know about William Shakespeare? How often were you exposed to him, aside from in high school when you (along with everybody else) had to slog through (or were excited to experience!) MacBeth or Hamlet? Check out this list of five common myths about the Bard, and see how many of them you've believed up until now.

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What weird thing do you know about Shakespeare, or about another well-known writer, that others might not know? What's your favorite WordPress add-on? What tech tools do you reach for automatically to help with your writing?

Friday, September 18, 2015

Networking: Six Things to Do to Take Your Writing Seriously

A few weeks ago, I cited a guest post by Noelle Sterne on Writer's Digest about acting like a writer if you want to be or call yourself a writer. The post is fantastic, and I highly recommend that you read through it for inspiration and motivation, if you have a few minutes.

The best posts start people thinking, and Sterne's take has been on my mind lately. What steps can I take --- could anybody take, really --- to ensure that you're taking your writing as seriously as it deserves?

Here are some of my ideas. Feel free to contribute, or disagree, or proffer feedback or input in other forms!

6. Stay hydrated.

If you're not at your best, there's no way your writing will be at its best. When I'm dehydrated, which happens way more than it should, I have a hard time concentrating on even the simplest things, and as anybody who takes writing seriously knows, writing is anything but simple. Do yourself a favor and make sure you're drinking enough water throughout the day.

5. Move around.

Writing can be a very sedentary business. You're chained to a desk, conducting phone interviews, sending emails, drafting your novel, editing a client's project, compiling a chapbook. But the more you sit, experts say, the more at risk you can be for a lot of health issues. Try getting up and moving around for five minutes out of every half hour or so. Run up and down the stairs. Stand while making phone calls. You'll find your focus improved, too.

4. Get organized.

You know your writing style and your personality. (Trust me, the two go hand in hand.) How do you best stay organized and on top of all your writing goals? Need a huge desk calendar and brightly colored pens and highlighters? Or a particular filing system? Something online or on your computer that sends you reminders? Do you prefer to leave all your papers and notebooks laying all over so you can see them at all times? Whatever your style is, make sure it's effective for you and that it's aiding your efforts, not detracting from them.

3. Make space.

Do you work best in an office setting, whether home or corporate? Perhaps you like a lot of white noise around you, so you need to work in a coffee shop or restaurant that offers WiFi access. Maybe you need a weekend getaway to a hotel room where you can shut the door, unplug the TV and phone, set up your laptop, and get to work. Do you need a lot of light? Music? Silence? A plush chair? An overhead reading lamp? A corner desk with shelves in reach? A lap desk? Make it happen to encourage as much writing as possible. 

2. Dress for success.

I don't know about you, but when I show up at my desk, I can't get to work unless I've dressed the part. Sure, if you work from home, it feels a little weird to dress up in slacks, a color-coordinated blouse, cute shoes, and pearls with your hair twisted up, but trust me, it makes all the difference in the world. Suddenly, you feel more focused, better able to concentrate and get actual work done. If you've found a way to accomplish the same amount of work in your slippers and sweatpants, I admire you. For the rest of us, business casual may be the formula for success.

1. Create routine.

A routine, consistently performed, can serve to get you into the right mindset for focused work in a hurry. If you need lit candles, a fresh pot of coffee, a carafe of water and a clean glass, or five minutes first to check your email, make that part of your routine. Structure into your morning a walk, a light breakfast, a browse through your favorite blogs, and ten minutes to warm up with a random writing prompt, if that's what it takes. Consistency will be your friend. I promise!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Book Review: "Immortal Obsession" (Denise K. Rago)

What happens when a centuries-old threat follows you from one continent to another and threatens to take from you what you love most?

Now you know what vampire Christian Du Maure is facing. In the modern world, he and his friend and fellow vampire Michel Baptiste own and operate a trendy bar where humans flock, hoping to be chosen as donors. One such donor, though, is more than he seems. When he gets himself killed and his sister Amanda is endangered by powers beyond her wildest imagination, Christian vows that he will keep her safe, no matter what happens.

The paranormal novel Immortal Obsession, by Denise K. Rago, is a compelling read, full of twists and turns and populated with a truly engrossing cast of characters ... vampires and humans, alike.

In something of the style of the vampires in Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series, Rago's vampires, for the most part, are born and bred in France, lending them (even in the contemporary setting) an historic gallantry and mystery that makes them highly intriguing. Christian and Michel are as opposite as they might be in personality and personal tastes, and yet their camaraderie and closeness is obvious.

Meanwhile, Amanda and her hapless brother Ryan are equally three-dimensional and encourage both sympathy and concern as they face down the otherworldly powers-that-be against which they find themselves fighting. Amanda, who works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is personable, inquisitive, and loyal to a fault, making her a worthy heroine.

A future edition of the work could stand a close proofread for repetitive words and phrases and the periodic error in grammar and punctuation. I was distracted a couple of times by instances of head-hopping (in which a scene is portrayed through the eyes of more than one character at a time) and found it difficult, at times, to follow the large cast of characters and keep track of all their different relationships with one another, especially among the vampires.

Nonetheless, Immortal Obsession was a read that I enjoyed very much and would recommend to anyone who prefers their suspense and thriller fiction laced with something paranormal.

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Author: Denise K. Rago
Title: Immortal Obsession
ISBN: 978-1-45287-753-2
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the author in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Book Review: "The Black Sea" (Elm Bryant)

Boston, 1850. Hundreds of young Irish immigrants fleeing starvation in their own country arrive in America determined to find a better life for themselves. But the young, the innocent, and especially the orphaned are usually swept up in the treachery and abuse perpetrated by those who enslave girls to line their own pockets with coin.

Byron Drake is such a man, trolling the docks for incoming ships of lovely, forlorn cargo who need a place to stay, food to eat, and a way to make a living. He promises them everything and leaves them with nothing ... especially a particularly beautiful young lady to whom he forms an unexpected attachment, evil as he is.

Then she vanishes, like many of the other young women he's conscripted into the Black Sea, the seamy district of Boston. He has no idea where the women are going and who is costing him profits, but his rage multiplies, especially against a vivacious young socialite, Josephine Dunham nee Hamilton, who seems involved in some way.

Indeed, Josephine's arranged and loveless marriage to William Dunham to shore up his father's failing financial situation places them both in jeopardy, along with all her friends and associates. Will Josephine's faith be enough to keep them safe?

It's with abject pleasure and nothing short of delight that I introduce to you Elm Bryant's historical Christian novel, The Black Sea, the first book in the Dunham Saga series.

Too often, Christian fiction errs heavily on the side of patronizing sermons, flat characters, and unsatisfactory, predictable, or dull plot, or some unfortunate combination of all of the above. However, Bryant's work is beautifully written, incorporating elements of suspense, mystery, and romance against a well-researched and lovingly detailed historical backdrop.

That setting by itself --- nineteenth-century Boston, from high society to the darkest slums --- is nearly three-dimensional and prevalent enough to be counted a character right alongside the rest. It's quite clear that Bryant took time to conduct extensive research, against which is seamlessly presented a plot whose unexpected twists and turns will leave you wondering what on earth is going to happen next.

Josephine Dunham (nee Hamilton) in particular is an absolutely fascinating character, and someone whom I can only liken to a female version of Sir Percival Blakeney, the Scarlet Pimpernel whose daring escapades during the French Revolution feature so prominently in the series of books by Baroness Orczy.

Unbeknownst to many of her friends and family, Josephine leads a double life, working to maintain her estate as a newly married lady of society while working to maintain her cover as she tirelessly coordinates the efforts of a select few trusted individuals to rescue hapless girls from their slavery, many at the hands of the villain Byron Drake.

For an expertly written, gripping page-turner beautifully set in a captivating era of United States history, look no further than The Black Sea.

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Author: Elm Bryant
Title: The Black Sea
Series: The Dunham Saga (#1)
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the author in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from September 7-11

5. "Black List Writers on the Craft" on Go Into the Story (Scott Myers)


The feedback of others in the writing industry is invaluable. You never know what you'll hear (possibly for the second, third, or thirty-second time) that will jog your memory, rejuvenate your creativity, invigorate your imagination, or give you the million-dollar idea for a new series. In that spirit, check out this compilation of interviews with black list writers on their best writing tips.

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4. "Can Journaling Help You Craft Your Next Personal Essay?" on The Write Life (Amy Paturel)


The personal essay is becoming more and more popular in publications as an opportunity for a writer (freelance or not) to break in. Just look at the "Modern Love" essays in The New York Times. But how do you craft a personal essay to begin with? Perhaps, as this post suggests, you could start with your journal. Most of the best personal essays revisit the absolute depths of the writer's soul.

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3. "9 Productivity-Boosting Gmail Tools (That Are Actually Useful)" on (David Ly Khim)


Email eats a huge chunk out of the average day. Think about it ... reading, figuring out how to respond, attaching documents, incorporating links, making sure the links work, compressing files that were too big to send ... Good grief. What if you had tools that enabled you to streamline your time with email? This post gives you an excellent list of resources with which to start.

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2. "How to Write Brilliant Blog Posts: 5 Tips from Psychology" on ProBlogger (Stacey Roberts)


You remember psychology class in high school or college, learning about motivation and Maslow's hierarchy of needs and all that. Maybe not all of it has turned out to be useful, but here's an article that details five writing tips taken straight out of psychology and its more universally applicable principles. Apply psychology to blogging and see what happens!

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1. "3 People Every Writer Needs in Their Creative Collective" on Goins, Writer (Todd Henry, guest writer)


Building a support network is something that a lot of successful people have learned to do to get ahead. You need people to hold you accountable, people to motivate you, people who inspire you to greatness. Why shouldn't it be the same with your writing? Here are three types you need to add to your support network.

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There's the lineup for last week. What do you remember from college or high school psychology class that you've applied to your career? What other types of people do you have in your writing support network? Have you ever submitted a personal essay? If not, what's stopping you?

Friday, September 11, 2015

Remembering September 11, 2001

Today is the fourteenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the aborted attack that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

Your political affiliations aside, today is the day to remember that when it counts, in the face of terrible evil and devastation, we are Americans before we are anything else.

Take time today to remember the attacks on 9/11. Where were you? Where were your loved ones? If you lost someone in the attacks, please know that they will not be forgotten.

Photo credit: / Foter / CC BY

Today I encourage you also to remember those who lost their lives working to rescue and protect others during and after the attacks, whether in the military, law enforcement, fire department, or bystanders, and whether stateside at home or overseas abroad, deployed.

Visit the 9/11 Memorial website for more guidance on commemorating the day, and God be with you.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Book Review: "Organ Reapers" (Shay West)

How far would you go to rescue your people from dying too soon?

And, on the other hand, what would you be willing to sacrifice, even up to and including your grasp of reality, to stop a killer?

Tani and Keena are Harvesters from another world, taxed with traveling to earth to find the human match for an ill person on their own planet and killing the human to obtain the necessary organs, then returning home before anyone sees them. When they are sent to kill a child and develop a conscience in the face of such an atrocity, their journey to stop the forces that be at the monastery will take them back to a world that isn't their own.

Eli Robins and Ava Aguilar are detectives (from planet earth) taxed with finding and stopping whoever has been killing people and desecrating the bodies for their organs. After weeks of legwork with no answers, a chance break-through finally promises a solution ... but only if the detectives are willing to set aside their preconceived notions of reality and think way, way outside the box.

Allow me to present, with great pleasure and enthusiasm, Organ Reapers, fiction by talented Colorado author Dr. Shay West.

Part science fiction, part suspense thriller, Organ Reapers is all intrigue and tension from the very first page, complete with three-dimensional characters, some human and some as otherworldly as aliens or vampires in other books. West explores themes of life and death, obedience and betrayal, free will and fate, and the very definition of a life worth saving, all seamlessly intertwined with the story.

The plot itself is compelling and will keep readers turning pages, racing from one world to the other to follow the respective character pairs (Tani and Keena, versus Eli and Ava) to their final inevitable meeting. And as satisfying plot twists go, let's just say that you won't see the climax or its aftermath coming until it's too late.

A fascinating, refreshing, and wholly gratifying take on the age-old debate on the value of life, Organ Reapers is a work for anyone who enjoys science fiction, world-building, fantastical premises, mystery, and unexpected suspense in the most unusual places.

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Author: Shay West
Title: Organ Reapers
ISBN: 978-1-62015-565-3
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the author in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Book Review: "Success: 30 Interviews with Entrepreneurs & Executives" (Jason Navallo)

What does it take to achieve success? Is it something you'll chase forever? Something you can achieve once you've hit a certain milestone?

What does success look like for you?

Here to answer that question are thirty different executives and entrepreneurs from as many industries and corporations as you can imagine. These are interviews conducted and compiled by Jason Navallo into his nonfiction book Success: 30 Interviews with Entrepreneurs & Executives.

Success is such an intangible thing to achieve, for some of us, that sometimes it helps to read the perspectives and experiences of others, perhaps for inspiration, or motivation, or even just a place to start our own journey to success.

That's where these interviews, with experts from Colin Day to Jane Wales to John McAfee to Scott Cohen, come in handy. You'll read an extensive background and bio on each individual and then launch directly into the same eight questions Navallo crafted for all the interviews, to ensure continuity, consistency, and the chance for readers to draw comparisons between the interviewees' answers.

And what you'll find may surprise you. As successful as these experts may appear, not all of them will claim to have achieved greatness. Some will continue to search for success, as if it were more elusive than anything we could really quantify. Some contend that success has nothing to do with business and everything to do with your personal brand, your integrity, or what you give back to the world.

Other questions asked and answered include lessons learned, advice for college students entering the work force for the first time, motivations, and the qualities of a great leader, all of which play together to provide a seamless and thought-provoking read for the person looking to define success in his or her own life.

A highly recommended read for your professional and personal libraries.

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Author: Jason Navallo
Title: Success: 30 Interviews with Entrepreneurs & Executives
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the author in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from August 31 - September 4

5. "How to Write a Sequel That's BETTER Than the First Book" on Helping Writers Become Authors (K.M. Weiland)


How many series (books or movies) can you name in which the sequel was as good as or even better than the first book in the series? Take a minute and just think about it. Not as many as there should be, perhaps? Especially given how many series of books (and movies) there are in the world today? Here's some expert insight on making your sequel at least as brilliant and entertaining as the first book in the series.

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4. "9 'Cheats' to Make Your Content Go Viral" on (Carol Roth)


You're maintaining a blog to keep your readers interested and your platform growing, but somehow, your content doesn't seem to be getting anywhere. It happens to all of us. Try one of these nine tips (or "cheats," if you like, though I think you're just using every available resource at your disposal) to make your content that much more attractive to your followers.

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3. "7 Exercises to Transform Your Blog from Sloppy to Savvy" on Pro Blogging Success


How do you know for sure that your blog is the best it can be? I invite you to check out these seven exercises, from building a community to growing discipline, that you can apply to your blogging and writing routines to improve both, over the long haul. 

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2. "How to Find an Hour a Day for Your Freelance Side Hustle" on The Write Life (Melissa Chu)


Freelancing is often not a full-time endeavor, at least not at first. Maybe you're a full-time student and want to add freelancing to make some money on the side. Maybe you've got a full-time job that pays the bills, but your freelancing feeds your soul. Where on earth do you find time in your day to devote to freelancing? Start here for guidance.

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1. "How to Become a Successful Writer: 5 Habits to Practice Daily" on The Write Life (Johnson Kee)


One word universally describes the routines and tendencies of successful writers: discipline. Perhaps there are other words, but there's something about discipline (self-control, dedication) that makes things happen, that inspires excellence and improvement. To become a successful writer, incorporate these five practices into your life.

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What do you do to become a successful writer? Where do you find time to incorporate freelancing into your crazy schedule? What steps have you taken in the last week to make your blog the best it can be? The last month? The last year? If you're writing a series, what are you going to do to make the sequel as good as or better than your first book?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Book Review: "Two Ways to Sunday" (Tom Starita)

If you reached the end of your life and were given the opportunity to go back and do things differently ... sort of the butterfly effect idea ... would you accept the chance? And if you did, would you live your life differently?

Now you understand the conundrum in which Chris Marcum finds himself. Readers meet him near the end of his life, in the year 2052, ridden with illness so terrible he can't do anything for himself anymore, can't even write, which has been almost his sole purpose up to now. He's married to Jen, a beautiful woman he loves very deeply, and he's on a rapid decline.

Then, an angel meets him in his hospital room, and everything changes.

What would you do if you could do everything over again?

Author Tom Starita presents Two Ways to Sunday, Christian fiction in which Chris lives out his life story and comes to terms with his faith, regardless of his changing (and often chaotic) circumstances.

As a writer myself, it was easy to relate to Chris from the start, being unable to imagine how I would feel if I were in his situation: physically unable to write any more, when writing had been so much his life; having to rely on others when he had previously been so independent and self-sufficient. My heart broke for his losses, everything he suffered.

The premise of the work is also intriguing. Given the opportunity to go back and take the other "road less traveled," with no memory of your previous life and its choices and direction, what would happen? What would you learn? Would it prove worthwhile? These questions, and many others, are among those with which Chris wrestles in the work, along with timeless themes of love, betrayal, trust, hope, loss, despair, and second chances.

That having been said, I struggled with the work in a number of ways. A future edition would benefit enormously from a close edit and proofread to catch the errors and inconsistencies that kept distracting me. Some of the characters and the dialogue fell flat and felt less than genuine. The leaps from one decade to another, jumping back and forth along the continuum of Chris's life, left me reeling, trying to keep everything straight in my mind.

Further, a lot of the story was "telling" rather than "showing" (see here and here for resources) --- a great deal of summary, which left me skimming paragraphs, hoping for more forward momentum. There's always a time for telling rather than showing in fiction, of course, but a lot of back story and summary tend not to benefit a novel.

Finally, I didn't realize the novel was supposed to be set in the 2050s, and I think much more could have been made of the futuristic place where Chris and his loved ones were purported to exist. Except for a couple of nods to futuristic science and technological development, the work might have been set just as easily in the current year, or ten years ago.

The Christian message --- that God is ever-present and deserving of trust and worship, even in confusion or uncertainty or suffering --- is true enough, and one as old as the Book of Job (and then some) in the Old Testament. I would simply have preferred to see a more active, three-dimensional work encompassing that message for delivery.

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Author: Tom Starita
Title: Two Ways to Sunday
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Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the author in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Book Review: "Your Sacred Yes" (Susie Larson)

How many of these things do you say to yourself each day?

I should be able to get everything on my to-do list done.

I ought to volunteer for the kids' school again.

I should make time to meet my cousin weekly for coffee.

I can't believe I thought about saying "no" to the volunteer coordinator at church.

And ... perhaps as a direct correlation of how many of those things you say to yourself and how often ... how do you feel? Energized, excited, delighted by life and everything you're undertaking? Or exhausted, worn out, dragging, reluctant, and maybe even (heaven forbid) a little resentful?

Author Susie Larson knows precisely what you're going through. I invite you to pick up a copy of her Christian nonfiction book, Your Sacred Yes, from Bethany House Publishers.

With care, compassion, patience, and many personal stories and anecdotes about her own experiences running the proverbial rat race and saying "yes" to every request and demand that came her way, Larson proposes a premise that may be life-changing for some readers: that the word "yes" is one of the most sacred words in your vocabulary, and that you owe it to the God you worship to use extreme care how often and in what contexts you use it.

Consider: even Jesus Christ, in the New Testament, gave guidance about saying yes and no (see Matthew chapter 5).

There are three ways to say yes, according to Larson's premise. First, our "yes" can be given sloppily, in haste, without thought as to what we're committing ourselves to or whether God would have us commit to that in the first place.

Second, our "yes" can be shackled, according to which we feel compelled into agreeing to something to stave off guilt or shame, but really feel angry, frustrated, impatient, and/or resentful while doing so.

Third, our "yes" can be sacred, whereby we remember that we are called by God to undertake His plans for us, and to join Him in His work, and so we say yes with care, deliberately waiting on God's timing and leading as to whether we should get involved or pass the opportunity by for a better one.

If your life is overrun with stress, busyness, panic, shame, guilt, and anger, it sounds like you could use a reminder that your "yes" is sacred to God, and that you owe it to no one else. Pick up a copy of Larson's work today and join the journey.

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Author: Susie Larson
Title: Your Sacred Yes
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
ISBN: 978-0-7642-1331-1
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the publisher in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.