Thursday, February 28, 2013

Whitney Finalists, Divine Instruction, and Venetian Nuns

My head's in a whirl. 

On the one hand, I'm having to pour through all the Whitney Finalists so that I can, at least, vote for the category I'm in...and, hopefully, vote for the Best Novel of the Year. I've completed Historical and just about finished General (I'm in the middle of the last book, Dancing on Broken Glass). I'll be moving on then to Romance and Mystery/Suspense for the rest of March. After Speculative, IF I have any time left over, I hope to read the Middle Grade category. I doubt very much that I'll get through YA General and Speculative in time. So far, I've been very impressed with The Rent Collector and My Loving Vigil Keeping (though it takes a while for both stories to really get going).

Just before the Finalists were announced, I had begun reading The Beginning of Better Days: Divine Instruction to Women From the Prophet Joseph Smith (with introductory essays by Sheri Dew and Virginia H. Pearce) because it was a gift from my new Visiting Teacher. It was better than I'd expected, but I'm afraid it's had to go on the back burner for now (except on Sundays when, and if, I can sneak some reading time in).

The book I miss most, however, was one I'd begun only a few weeks ago for research purposes. Winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, Virgins of Venice: Broken Vows and Cloistered Lives in the Renaissance Convent by Mary Laven had already proven eye-opening. Nothing really scandalous...yet. Just some surprises. I can't wait to get back to it.

In the meantime, the clock's ticking and I've got to get back to Dancing on Broken Glass. :D

Monday, February 25, 2013

Review of A Timeless Romance Anthology: Winter Collection

This February was colder than I remember and all I wanted to do was curl up in a fuzzy blanket with a good book. While everyone else is feeling romantic for Valentine's Day, I'm feeling rather alone in my empty next. So, a good romance was what I needed and I found six in one book. What a deal! Get a box of tissues, a cup of hot cocoa and enjoy: A Timeless Romance Anthology: Winter Collection

The Road to Cavan Town by Sarah M. Eden, set in 1864 Ireland, combines Eden’s sense of humor with her signature sweet romance and fetching characters.  Alice Wheatley walks twelve miles each weekend from her work into town, accompanied by Isaac Dancy. While Alice finds herself falling in love with the gentleman, unfortunately he has set a goal to woo and marry the wealthy belle of the town, Miss Sophia Kilchrest. Alice must find a way to turn Isaac’s eyes toward herSarah weaves the story so well I saw myself walking the long cold trek and wanting to reach out and open Isaac’s blind eyes. 
After tasting Sarah M. Eden's style you will want to check out her latest title: An Unlikely Match. I  enjoyed this romantic Welsh ghost story last month. 
Regency author Heidi Ashworth’s delightful story, It Happened Twelfth Night, set in England 1812, follows Luisa Darlington who discovers the man of her dreams, Percy Brooksby, isn’t in love with her as much as she thought he was. When Percy’s friend, the mysterious foreigner, Mr. Flynn, visits for the twelfth night holiday, he promptly sweeps Luisa off her feet, quite literally. Luisa is left catching her breath in more ways than one. Heidi’s craft had me swirling the dance floor, clapping the rhythm and cheering for the hero.
Annette Lyon wrote a captivating romantic novella, set in remote Wood Camp, the snowy canyon of Logan, Utah, 1880: An Unexpected Proposal. I was entranced by the vivid descriptions and the predicament of  Caroline Simpson. She is a single women working midst twenty men and is forced to thwart the aggressive advances of Mr. Butch Larson. Through this trial she discovers that her long-time friend, James, has genuine affection for her. But as stubborn as Caroline is, she minimizes the feelings he’s awakened in her, and it takes almost losing James to admit her true feelings for him.
In Joyce Di Pastena’s charming medieval story, Caroles on the Green, we enter England of 1151, in which Lady Isabel has a dilemma. She promises herself that she’ll marry the man who sent a ring hidden in her pastry since the man she truly loves, Sir Lucian de Warrene, has proved to be impossible and exasperating. To forget him, Isabel sets her eyes on other eligible men, only to face another confrontation with Lucian—who isn’t about to back off and leave her to her newest plot. The tug-of-war between these strong-willed characters immerses the reader in a fascinating descriptions and a setting so real you can hear, touch, see, taste and smell it. 
Joyce DiPastena is an expert in medieval history and creates scrumptious romances like: Dangerous Favor
Donna Hatch’s enchanting novella, A Winter’s Knight, begins when Clarissa Fairchild’s coach just happens to break down in front of the most forbidding estate in the county, that of Wyckburg Castle, a place where young brides have been murdered for generations by their husbands. Clarissa is horrified yet curious all in the same breath. When she meets widower Christopher de Champs, Earl of Wyckburg, she must decide if she should flee or uncover the greatest secret in the county about her handsome rescuer. This Regency Romance set in England during 1813 captivates the reader with sympathy and longing for family and joyous holiday remembrances.
Donna Hatch brings regency to life full of intrigue in her Novel The Stranger She Married.
In Heather B. Moore’s exciting turn-of-the-century story, A Fortunate Exile, Lila Townsend finds herself the victim of a broken heart—broken by the most notorious bachelor in 1901 New York City. If that isn’t bad enough, her father sends her to Aunt Eugenia’s remote farm where Lila must wait for her father’s anger to subside and the gossip columns to find new fodder. When Lila meets her aunt’s boarder, Peter Weathers, she discovers a man who isn’t afraid to stand up to her formidable family and take a chance on a woman with a sullied reputation. For me this was the first time I've read something by Heather that was not based on a religious theme. It was a pleasant read that demonstrates her skill to bring history to life. 
I am looking forward to reading more books from the authors I have not read yet and more romantic stories by these wonderfully talented writers like the Timeless Romance Anthology: Spring Collection.

Monday, February 18, 2013

"Me Time"

My husband and I don’t have children yet, but we’ve been watching my cousins (9 and 12) for the last couple of days. We also have a kitten--the neediest cat I’ve ever met in my life—and so I’m starting to get a very small glimpse of what it will be like to be a “Mommy Author.”

When the time comes for Josh and I to start welcoming kids of our own into our family, life is going to get even crazier, and I know it will be hard to find a moment alone (and time to focus on my writing). I want to turn to all the experts out there, so I can prepare myself before the storm, and ask, how do you find “me time” in the insane world of child-rearing?

The particular two cousins who have been staying with us are boys. Boys who both play football and wrestle. Even when they don’t require my immediate attention, they are yelling, slamming each other to the ground, and laughing. They aren’t doing any harm, but they are very distracting (besides the noise, I don’t want to tune out entirely, in case one of them gets hurt). So, how do you find “me time” when there is so much noise in your house?

Yesterday night, we were all driving home together, and the 12 year-old pulled out his tablet so we could listen to music. Now, my parents really liked the Monkees, and all other British invasion, 60’s kind of music, so that’s what I like. But, it got me thinking: What if my children like music that I don’t particularly care for? I’m going to let them listen to what they want (as long as it’s appropriate), because being selfless is part of parenting. But, how do you find “me time” to listen to the music you want to listen to (and watch the movies that you want to, and consume the other kinds of entertainment and media that you want to, etc)?

I’ve also found that over the last couple of days, I feel like I need to be alert and available at all times. Is there a way to be totally relaxed, not worrying about the kids, when you need to spend some time alone—or some time alone with your husband—but still have to be on call, in case something happens? How do you find “me time” and still be a full-time mother?

I can’t wait to have kids, and I know that being a mother is my true calling in life. I want to be an author too, but that will come second to my responsibilities as a parent. But, through the last couple of days, I’ve been pondering what it will be like to fill that role, and I'm also starting to understand the importance of “me time.” The two seem a little mutually exclusive.

So, I turn to you, the mothers and fathers (and aunts, and uncles, and grandparents…) of the internet world, and ask this question: How do you make the two (“me time” and total devotion to your children) co-exist? How do YOU find “me time?” 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Books of Wonder

Certain books are very special to me, not only for the story they tell, but for the feelings they evoke within me. I love otherworldly stories that transport me from the here-and-now into a magical realm where anything is possible. I call them "Books of Wonder," and my rarefied list includes Ysabeau Wilce's Flora Segunda, Jane Langton's The Diamond in the Window, and Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

I read a lot of books, and I love a lot of books, but not many qualify as Books of Wonder. But I recently read one that definitely made my list--Catherynne M. Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. It's fantastic, in every sense of the word--and due to the delightful but unwieldy title, I'll refer to it as The Girl for the rest of this post.

I met Valente years ago at Readercon; she's a smart and articulate speaker. The origins of The Girl fascinate me. Valente first referred to it in an earlier novel called Palimpsest, in which a character mentions having read The Girl as a child. Valente then went on to serialize and crowd-fund The Girl online. It won the Nebula/Andre Norton award in 2009 and was published traditionally by Feiwel & Friends (an imprint of Macmillan) in 2011. 

I've known about this book for quite awhile, but just hadn't gotten around to reading it. I was a little afraid; I'd heard such great things about it, and I liked the author as a person. I didn't want to be disappointed! Far from it, it turns out. The Girl exceeded my expectations in every way. I am thrilled at the sequel, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, has already come out; Valente plans a five-book series, and I'll happily read more of the adventures of her intrepid heroine, September.

My husband and I have a book group with two of our teenagers (our oldest is away at college). Every month, one of us chooses a book and writes out discussion questions about it. The four of us read it and then discuss it over lunch on the last Saturday of the month. This month, it's my turn, and I've chosen The Girl. I can't wait to talk about it with my family!

What about you? Do you have a "Books of Wonder" list?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Of all the books. . .

Our fearless leader has suggested that we spend this month’s blog post discussing our recent reading adventures. In years past I have been a voracious reader, consuming anywhere from 50-80 books a year. You can imagine with numbers like that there would be a fair few stinkers in that group, a hefty number of average reads, and a handful of delicious and worthy stories that I simply had to add to my bookshelves to be consumed again later. Unfortunately those numbers are things of days past. My Goodreads account is woefully inaccurate and neglected. But this last year has been a whirlwind of adjusting, stretching, and growing to meet the changing needs of my family and my career.
Yes, I can now say career because Xychler publishing has picked up a short story of mine for publication in their spring anthology (look for it April 30th). I am an author!! It is the biggest baby step I have ever taken; putting myself out on the limbs where the published leap about. It feels effervescently good, and totally unnerving at the same time.
All this new territory, and I’m mostly talking about the changes in my family not my writing, has hampered my reading time. I’m lucky if I get through my book club selection every month. When I am unlucky I manage to find the time to pick up something I have been looking at for a while, only to find it lackluster at best. Of the last five books I’ve read, only two where worth their ink, and one of them was Charles Dicken’s, A Christmas Carol.  To own the truth, I think all the writing, reading about writing, learning about writing I have done in the last few years has made me a finicky reader.
It used to be that even when I found something that wasn’t great I could still read through it and embrace the bits that were good while acknowledging that it wasn’t high literature. Now if there are more than two typographical errors anywhere in the first five chapters I have to walk away. I am hyper aware of anything that feels stilted, muddle, or contrived, and more often than not I end up putting the books aside rather than getting angry at the authors for wasting the English language.
I genuinely hope that this is a phase, because I miss reading with that na├»ve bliss of just following the story where it takes me. Of course, there are a few benefits to my new palette. In my pickiness I am no longer spending time finishing books that just aren’t worth the read. And though this is a new phenomenon, I have found myself being more judicious about what I even pick up, what I put on my computer’s kindle app, what I suggest for my book club’s reading list. I’m not saying everything I read needs to be high literature, certainly what I write wouldn’t be considered such, but it does need to have worth. It needs to show awareness of its craft. It needs to have something to say.
I’m not sure that everything I write meets all or most of those qualifications, but I hope that my evolution as a reader will continue to bring those elements into focus with each new WIP. And maybe next time I pick up a tome to pass the time with I can say something better than, “Of all the books I’ve ever read, this was one of them.”
So what are y’all reading these days? Anything good?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Get Organized Like Real Women

With the arrival of sunshine, many of us are feeling the need, and finally the desire, to organize. But if you hate that very word, stop trying to be Martha Stewart, and instead try one of these quick tips to jumpstart change.

1. Accept some chaos. Understand that no matter how many great tips or fabulous formulas you use, if you have a family, there will be mess. It doesn’t mean you have to accept it everywhere, but simply not to stress when the garage is untidy AGAIN (not that this happens at our house, every other week). Or that your children don’t remember their dishwasher day AGAIN (every Monday and Tuesday). Or that the boys’ bathroom continually smells like, well, a boys’ bathroom (again and again and again…)

2. Bite off chewable chunks. You don’t need endless hours to complete a task, but you do have to be content with a little here, a little there. A few weeks ago my goal was to declutter the kitchen cabinets. So I did one drawer, A DAY. Can someone say excruciating? But that’s all I could do with my baby, my other six kids’ schedules, and Back to Basics. But it’s paid off. Tonight, at the last minute, the kids wanted to make s’mores, and in a moment I was able to quickly say, “The crackers are up above the fridge, the candy bars and marshmallows are in the kids’ cabinet, and the metal skewers are in the bottom specialty drawer.” Can someone say Stellar Mother Moment (that no one appreciated but me)?

3. Stop making so many lists. I could probably start a support group on this. My BFF is generally a large sticky pad in a bright color. Very sad. So a few months ago I had an epiphany—stop rewriting the same things and like Nike, just do them. So I did. I made one list for the week then went through it daily. When something new needed to be added, I opted first to just do it. It was utterly amazing how many of the “yucky” things (i.e., filing, sorting, tracking) I got done that kept getting bumped to the next week’s list. This works for quick cleaning too. One day I noticed that the silverware tray was full of crumbs. I went to write it down, then realized that it would take me just as long to empty the silverware, wipe out the tray, and put it back in. Within minutes it was done and I avoided an additional “to do” pulsating in the background. So next time you’re tempted to write something down, ask yourself—can it be done now?

Remember, getting organized isn’t about white-knuckling your way through several months of work, and then breathing a sigh of relief. It’s changing a little here, a little there, and making it work for you.

Connie Sokol is a mother of seven, and a sought-after speaker. She is a monthly contributor on KSL TV’s “Studio 5” and regular blogger for KSL’s "Motherhood Matters" blog. She is a former columnist for Deseret News and Utah Valley Magazine. Mrs. Sokol is the author of several books including the award-nominated romance Caribbean Crossroads, Faithful, Fit & Fabulous, Life is Too Short for One Hair Color Series, Create a Powerful Life Plan, and her soon-to-be released 40 Days with the Savior. Mrs. Sokol marinates in time spent with her family and eating decadent treats. Visit for more.