Saturday, October 31, 2009

Check out my new blog!


Hi Everyone!


thank you so much for following me these past several years, and now I have a new blog! Follow me and comment here at



There'll be book reviews, creativity, networking, and writing articles and much, much more!


See you there!

Alice

Friday, October 30, 2009

Flash of Freedom Book Review

Flash of Freedom Flash of Freedom by Dakota Lee


My rating: 3 of 5 stars
An impressive first novel by twelve-year-old Dakota Lee, Flash of Freedom is the story of a lonely, introverted teenager whose life is changed forever when she meets Freedom, a damaged, spirited horse.

Tara Chandler has been on the move most of her young life, her parents are house designers and always relocating the family for their work. Moving so often means that Tara rarely has the opportunity to make friends or, if she does, she has to say goodbye to them all too soon. So Tara has decided that in Green River, Tennessee - her latest new home - she doesn’t need friends, she won't try to belong to one of the groups at school; she will be fine just by herself. Until, that is, Tara meets Nicky.

Nicky, a friendly, horse-loving girl who never stops talking, breaks the mold of the "unfriendly local"; she is interested in Tara and welcoming on Tara's first day at school, introducing her to friends Amber, Casey and Lea, and including Tara in their get-togethers. Tara is confused and initially wary of this interest. Why are Nicky and her friends being so friendly? Is this a trick? It must be a fluke, they can’t really enjoy Tara’s company. But their shared love of horses and Nicky’s sunny, open nature disarms Tara and she starts to relax, enjoying the time she spends with her new friends.

Tara is particularly happy to be involved with Nicky’s latest project - helping Nicky's Aunt Fauna settle three horses into the barn on her parents’ property by clearing the barn and paddock of debris and getting everything clean and tidy. The horses arrive and Tara meets Freedom, the spirited eponymous ‘hero’ of the book. Like Tara, Freedom has moved around a lot and like Tara he is slow to trust people. He has been classed untrainable by Aunt Fauna but she unwillingly allows Tara the opportunity to attempt the training of Freedom herself. With patience and love, Tara teaches Freedom to trust again. And with the confidence this mutual trust brings, Tara finally starts to come out of her shell and show a new happiness to her friends and family.

But then the unthinkable happens. Freedom is stolen. And Tara almost loses faith ... until she finds Freedom again in the most unlikely place, and uses the support of her friends and her newfound inner strength and confidence to face down the thief, take back her horse and regain her happiness.

Dakota Lee’s writing in Flash of Freedom is fresh and engaging, the main character sympathetic not saccharine. Tara isn’t a goody-goody, or a cardboard cut-out; she bickers with her brother, is sometimes flippant to her parents and gets caught not concentrating in class. The opening chapter describing Tara's analysis of the boys and girls on the bus with her, allocating them their place in the school "monarchy"- the school nerd, the jock, the "populars" and the "groupies" - is well-written and amusing and introduces the main theme of the book. The dialogue is realistic; the slang and local dialect are introduced subtly without caricature. For example, Nicky “...[has:] so got it in the bag.” Lee's adult characters in the book are perhaps not as convincingly drawn, and their dialogue does not quite ring true at times, but that is a minor quibble.

A moving portrait of a young girl trying to find her place in life, Flash of Freedom is recommended reading for any young adult, not just for girls who love horses.

View all my reviews >>

Thursday, October 15, 2009

You Can be Sustainable This Holiday Season


Being sustainable means that we all do our part to reuse our natural resources such as light, water, wind and trees, by making sure we consider the impact of not turning off the lights when we leave a room, or of not running the water while we brush our teeth. It’s even more important that we remind ourselves and our families to practice sustainability during the holidays, since this is the time more trash is generated, more food is cooked and we’ll host house guests, who will consume more energy than we’re used to.

Steps to Save Energy around the Home

With the holidays, come the holiday guests. You don’t want to inconvenience your guests by setting the thermostat too low or too high, or by telling them to take three-minute showers, but you should have a family conference to make sure everyone knows that you believe in leaving a small carbon footprint.

• Set your thermostat for 68 degrees for the day, but at night, turn it down to 60 degrees. Use a radiator in your bedroom.
• Replace all of your air filters to maximize efficiency.
• Turn off your lights when you’re away from your room and replace your light bulbs with fluorescents.
• Try to flush one less time a day and turn off the water while soaping hands and while brushing teeth.
• Disconnect the phone charger when you’re done charging your cell phone and disconnect the power strip when it’s not in use. If your out-of-town guests use your computer, remind them about turning everything off and unplugging protocols.
• After dinner, fill up the dishwasher and run it using cold water. Also use cold water for your clothes washing as much as possible, too.
• Open and close the refrigerator minimally. Your fridge is your kitchen’s biggest energy hog. Use the right size pan for the stove burner and use the toaster oven instead of turning on the regular oven.
• Encourage your guests to carpool, to take public transportation or to walk or cycle! Convince them that giving up your car for a day is a great way to see your town.
• If you’re leaving on a holiday vacation, be sure to turn all of your appliances off, stop the paper and the mail (you’ll save on the mail carrier or your friend from making an extra trip).
• Commute to work with well-inflated tires and pack a lunch with a reusable lunch and drink container.

Keep Your Holiday Food Sustainable

• When cooking and baking, measure carefully to avoid food waste and use perishable foods before they spoil.
• For those big holiday meals, buy bread that’s fresh from the bakery and not packaged in double plastic wrapping. Be sure to recycle the paper wrapping that it comes in.
• For grocery shopping, take your own bags instead of using the store’s plastic ones.
• Buy the largest can pumpkin filling you can for your pies; same goes for your cranberries, corn and peas. Buying the larger canned item will not only save you money than buying two smaller cans, but will save energy and resources.
• Buy coffee for your guests that’s organic or Fair Trade. Doing so will help sustainable agriculture and will protect the rain forests. Also, don’t use stirrers for your morning coffee; place your milk and sugar in the mug first and then pour your coffee.
• Buy one gallon jugs of milk instead of three separate milk cartons. Take a poll of what milk variety everyone likes and go with the majority or compromise (two people want skim and two people want whole – so buy 1% milk).

Tips on Holiday Giving and Traditions

• Make it easy on yourself and save the environment by giving gift cards, restaurant/concert/theater certificates, movie passes, services like for spa treatments, or a class. You’ll have your giftee deal with less packaging and you’ll buy just what they want.
• Buy toys that aren’t made with plastic, which are petroleum-based and contain toxins. Instead, buy wooden toys that can be passed down to younger siblings. Also don’t buy toys that have a lot of packaging.
• Use real china or porcelain plates at meal times, along with cloth napkins, instead of paper products.
• Use and/or give soy or beeswax candles instead of paraffin wax candles, which are made from petroleum and damage your indoor air quality.
• Buy a living Christmas tree instead of an artificial one. You can recycle the living instead of having the artificial one emit trace amounts of lead into the environment
• Recycle gift bags, ribbons, bows and wrap when possible. Use the Sunday comics for gift wrapping, or better yet, place your gifts in reusable baskets or bags. If you must wrap, find a brand that uses recycled paper. And instead of using new ribbons or bows, use a scarf, dried flowers or natural-fiber raffia.
• Decorate using reused, borrowed, or vintage-shop items. Keep your d├ęcor natural, so that it doesn’t involve a lot of paper and waste.
• Buy greeting cards made from recycled or tree-free materials.
• When using holiday lights, opt for the LED (light-emitting diode) lights.
• Entertain the family with DVDs that were swapped using DVD Swap (www.swapadvd.com). Membership is free and all members pay for is postage.
• Instead of buying that new holiday album, download it. If you throw away a CD, it will end up in a landfill. Or better yet, you can swap your CD using CD Swap (www.swapacd.com).
• When dining out, choose tap water instead of bottled water.
• Buy rechargeable batteries for toys and personal electronics.
• Buy a GPS so you know where you’re going and you’re not wasting fuel going in the wrong direction.

Any one of these tips can be tweaked into your life and pretty soon you’ll have formed a sustainable habit that will take you successfully into the New Year!

Tell me your energy saving tips that you use with your families!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Seven Steps on the Writers' Path Book Review

Seven Steps on the Writer's Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment Seven Steps on the Writer's Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment by Nancy Pickard


My rating: 4 of 5 stars
You know you're going to get inspired with any book having lucky number "seven" in the title (seven days of the week, seven wonders of the world and even seven deadly sins!). An inspiring and candid read, "Seven Steps On the Writer's Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment" by Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott delivers wisdom, tips and support for writers at all levels and at all experiences. This book is detailed, funny and unconventional. Right away Pickard and Lott let us know that, "Writing is a path as full of darkness as it is of light, and so the way ahead is hard to see."

The authors not only interviewed successfully published authors and got their insights into creating and publishing, but the authors themseleves shared a great deal of their writing frustrations, their regrets and their successes. This book is not for the faint-of-heart writer who is not sure she wants to put in the time and energy to make the writing happen and that's what I loved about this book. They tell us often, "We warned you -- writing is hard." Nancy and Lynn spared no punches about what the writing life is like. Their bottom line: write because you love it and you find joy in it, not because you want to get published. They offer up seven steps (listed below) but the authors emphasize that one size doesn't fit all: all writers have different styles and different methods of getting their writing done. Writers also have different meanings for success. Success for one writer could be a three-book deal of a mystery series, while for another it could mean privately journaling every night.

There were many memorable quotes along the margins from such greats as Henry David Thoreau, Julia Child, Ophrah, Sophocles and Anne Lamott, as well as from the authors and from John Wesley Powell. Powell successfully navigated the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon in 1869. He had to have faith because he couldn't see up ahead -- just like the writer's journey. Here's a good example of a Powell quote: "We know not where we are going...at first this causes us great alarm, but we soon find there is little danger, and that there is a general movement of progression down the river...and it is the merry mood of the river to dance through this deep, dark gorge; and right gaily do we join the sport."

The Seven Steps on the Writers Path compiled by Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott:
Step 1 Unhappiness -- we're not happy and know we need to write!
Step 2 Wanting -- we really want to write!
Step 3 Commitment -- we're willing to put other things aside
Step 4 Wavering -- we feel paralysis as well as compulsion
Step 5 Letting Go -- it's all about having faith
Step 6 Immersion -- only the writing matters
Step 7 Fulfillment -- you did it!

The Wavering chapter was hard to read because we've all wavered. Wavering is described as being very compulsive as well as experiencing paralysis. Intermediate writers are most susceptible to wavering because they know they can write but they lack a lot of confidence and experience. The authors described one scenario where a woman got into to debt to pay for this conference and her manuscript was harshly critiqued by a prominent author who's workshop she had signed up for. The woman stopped writing for six months, but then got back on the saddle and found great success. The woman didn't have enough experience at the writing game to tell that egotistical fellow to go *&#@ himself.

This book is wonderful for writers who have been on the writing journey for at least a few years. I feel that novice writers might find it intimidating and may quit their writing careers as soon as they read the first few pages. But if you're not a newbie writer read this book if you want fresh insights into why you write and why you're not crazy to have chosen this career.


View all my reviews >>

Thursday, October 01, 2009

How To Have a Fantastic Book Club Discussion


I love reading books and after I finish a good one I love doing my Internet research to find out all I can about the author, his/her creative process and perhaps the historical background of the book. What’s even better is taking this analysis to a book club meeting. Here there are other people who are just as passionate about the book as I am. For the next 90 to 120 minutes, we discuss a single piece of artistic work and really try to drill down the layers of why the author did this and that or why she chose to make her character act like an idiot or a hero. (I also need to mention that I can analyze anything I like to death, which made me a perfect candidate for grad school, and leading book clubs.

In the last decade many people (mostly women) have flocked to book clubs to enjoy camaraderie with other book lovers. I joined a book club soon seven years ago soon after my son was born because I had more time on my hands and I wanted to escape the tedium of diapers, feedings and nightly temper tantrums. This was also the same time that I wanted to get serious about my writing and knew that better readers made better writers.

Now seven years later, I have led two book club groups and have compiled this guide to help you lead a fantastic book club meeting!

• Distribute the reading discussion questions (most books have a reading guide found in the book itself or via Google) a week prior to the book club members so everyone has a chance to prepare
• Offer some kind of food and beverage at every meeting. You can keep it simple and everyone will appreciate the water and cookies. Sugar makes you think better!
• Appoint yourself as the facilitator to keep things moving or appoint the host if you rotate locations every month
• Pick paperback books that are easily found in the library, at used book stores or via friends who let you borrow their books
• Plan out the books for the entire year at a December or January meeting so there everyone knows what the schedule is
• Have everyone introduce themselves at the beginning of the meeting for 30 seconds to a minute. Also provide name tags.
• Do everything in your power to finish the book before the meeting. If you finish the book and encourage others that it’s a good idea to finish, then most folks will comply. No one wants to stay up late, finish the darn book and then show up to the meeting to find out that half of the people there didn’t finish. Can we say, ARGHHH! Now, I haven’t finished every book we’ve read this year in Wonderland Book Club, but I did let my members know and I did finish the book soon after the meeting so the momentum was still there.
• Go around the room or table and let everyone have a turn to share their thoughts on the book. As facilitator, you also have to make sure no one interrupts each other and have personal discussions kept to a minimum. (Ex. “This book reminds of the time when my husband and I decided to sell our house back in the 60s….”)
• Keep an open mind and learn from others who have differing opinions. Listen! Also, try not to repeat what someone else has said – offer a new tidbit!


Here are a few book club conversation Starters from Reading Group Choices (www. Readinggroupchoices.com) if you don’t have the reading group guide on hand.

• Do one or more characters tell the story? Are these characters believable?
• What are the book’s themes? What the main conflicts in the story?
• How does the setting and the time period affect the story?
• Did the story change your opinion of a place, event, time period, etc?
• What do you think will happen to the characters next?

So what did I leave out? Tell me what has worked in your book club to make members come back again and again?