Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Review: Christmas Novels!

Oh the Christmas novels!

I have to read at least one every year. It seems the cheesier, sappier, etc. they are, the better when it comes to Christmas novels! Bring on the romance and sentimentality!

So this Christmas I am sharing some titles that are on my "to be read" list for December. Maybe you'll pick up one or two for yourself... or a friend:

The Christmas Shoppe by Melody Carlson
The small town of Parrish Springs is not ready for Matilda Honeycutt. A strange older woman with scraggly gray hair and jewelry that jangles as she walks, Matilda is certainly not the most likely person to buy the old Barton Building on the town's quaint main street. When it becomes apparent that her new shop doesn't fit the expectations of Parrish Springs residents, a brouhaha erupts. After all, Christmas is approaching, and the last thing the town needs is a junky shop run by someone who looks and acts like a gypsy. But as townsfolk venture into the strange store, they discover that old memories can bring new life and healing.

Once again, Melody Carlson delivers a Christmas story that will touch hearts and delight the senses. Sure to be a classic, The Christmas Shoppe is filled with the special magic the best Christmas stories share--that intangible mixture of nostalgia, joy, and a little bit of magic.

Paper Angels by Billy Coffey
Andy Sommerville seems no different than others in his rural Virginia community, but what sets him apart is that his best friend is an angel. The angel is God's answer to a childhood prayer Andy offered to a twinkling star that his deceased mother once called "the door to heaven." The first angelic proclamation instructs Andy to find the wooden keepsake box in his grandparents' attic. Over the years, he directs Andy to fill it with apparently meaningless objects from twelve people with who Andy randomly crosses paths.

Andy's world is turned upside down when a brutal attack leaves Andy burned and the boy he loved as a son dead. At this crucial juncture, the angel abandons him to loneliness and pain. All that remains is the wooden box Andy has always kept safe, and a new angel, who will use its contents to reveal truth to him as a result, he discovers the defining truth of his life, new hope in the community he loves, and greater trust in the God who sustains him.

The story is told from Andy's hospital bed, where he awakes feeling God has abandoned him. Without being preachy or saccharine, the author brings the small town to life and reveals a spiritual secret--the presence of angels--that helps a wounded man discover the defining truth of his life, place new hope in the community he loves, and trust totally in the God who sustains him.

Remembering Christmas by Dan Walsh
Rick Denton lives his life on his terms. He works hard, plays hard, and answers to no one. So when his mother calls on Thanksgiving weekend begging him to come home after his stepfather has a stroke, Rick is more than a little reluctant. He's never liked Art and resents the man's presence in his life, despite the fact that his own father abandoned the family when Rick was just twelve. When what was supposed to be just a couple days helping out at the family bookstore turns into weeks of cashing out old ladies and running off the homeless man who keep hanging about, Rick's attitude sours even more. Still, slowly but surely, the little bookstore and its quirky patrons--as well as the lovely young woman who works at his side each day--work their magic on him, revealing to Rick the truth about his family, his own life, and the true meaning of Christmas. With skillful storytelling, Dan Walsh creates a Christmas story will have readers remembering every good and perfect gift of Christmas.

My hope is that one day I'll be sharing a Christmas novel (or more) that I wrote. I'll keep ya posted!
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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Favorite Bible Giveaway!

With the vibrant illustrations and engaging text in this Bible storybook, you can enjoy sharing the best-loved stories of the Bible with the children in your life and encourage a life-long love for the Word of God. My Favorite Bible is a book of exciting Bible stories and activity pages that guide children through the foundational truths of Scripture.

Each story is fully illustrated and includes a simple narrative full of things kids love: repetition, rhythm, and energy, along with a key biblical theme, a key Bible verse, and discussion questions to help adults introduce children to the Bible.

The colorful illustrations will capture the imaginations of children ages 4–8, and the stories will help adults to pass along the most important truth in life—the Gospel. Families will cherish this time as they read, listen, learn, and love, growing closer to one another even as they grow closer to God.

Marybeth's Note: This Bible will be waiting for my youngest on Christmas morning. Shhh! She's going to love it, especially since she's in that magical time of learning to read and discovering the world that reading unlocks. There's no better world for her to unlock-- no greater story for her to discover-- than the Bible. This version's friendly, gentle format provides a wonderful introduction just for her age (6). She can read it to herself, or we can read it to her and incorporate the Family Fun activities at the end of each story.

The best news is, I am giving away a copy! Leave a comment telling me who you're trying to win it for and you'll be entered. I will post the name of the winner at the end of the week here on this post. Make sure I have a way to contact you to let you know you won!

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Review Week!

It's review week at my blog all this week-- just in time for Christmas you can find out about great books for the folks on your list. I LOVE getting books for Christmas. Nothing makes me happier than a gift card to a bookstore. (And if you have an indie bookstore in your area, patronize them! I love the small stores. Sure you might pay a bit more, but your money is going back into your community and supporting the kind of bookstores we grew up on. Plus you can't beat the personal attention and customer service.) Ok, stepping off my soapbox...

Anyway, for the rest of this week please come back as I am going to have a giveaway or two and recommend some great products for the kids, women, and writers on your list. Yay!
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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Muppet Movie Review

A few days ago, my kids and I got the chance to preview this movie. I will admit, I did it for my kids and didn't have a huge desire to see it myself. The surprising part was how much I enjoyed it. The movie is silly and fun, and I left the theater feeling happy. Watching it brought back memories of being a little kid in front of the tv with my brother watching The Muppet Show, waiting for my favorite characters to come on the screen. (Personally I loved Beaker and Chef.) I'd forgotten how much I loved The Muppets... and that's really what this movie is about. It also asks a question: Is this generation of kids too cynical, too jaded to love what our generation loved? I liked the question-- and I liked the answer too. It's definitely worth taking your kids to. You just might find yourself leaving with a smile on your face like I did. Anything that makes me smile and takes me back to a simpler time is a good thing in my book!

Just for fun, here's a quiz for you:

What Muppet Are You?

Question 1: What do your co-workers often find in your e-mails?

A) Hi ho! A simple and friendly greeting.
B) A joke. They may not need it, but they’re going to read it!
C) A demand, a self-flattering remark, and a reference to yourself in the third person.
E) An insult.

Question 2: It’s Friday night! What are you up to?
A) Getting together with friends. (Hoping, just this once, they don’t get too out of hand.)
B) Knock-knocking on the comedy club’s door.
C) Making a scene, with a paparazzi entourage.
E) In the balcony, hurling overripe produce.

Question 3: What brightens your day?
A) When you can get your friends to agree on something.
B) When someone laughs at your joke!
C) A mirror.
E) Getting annoyed at bright days.

Question 4: How many Facebook friends do you have?
A) You like to hang out with your friends in person. You’re not so sure about this Facebook thing.
B) Well, if you count the guy who likes your weekly Funny Friday posts. (Kermit, is that you?)
C) They don’t have numbers that go that high, sweetie.
E) One. (Sits next to you.)

Question 5: What is your favorite color?
A) Swamp green
B) Custard Pie White
C) Pink is the perfect color. But gold and diamonds are close.
D) Any color, as long as it’s… LOUD!
E) Red. As in “after we watched that last act, we’re seeing red!”

Question 6: Which film is the diamond of your DVD collection?
A) Disney’s “The Muppets” (Even if You Say So Yourself)
B) “A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To This Question”
C) “Breakfast (Lunch and Dinner) at Tiffany’s”
D) “Rock & Roll High School!”
E) What’s a DVD?

Question 7: If you could switch lives with anybody for one day, who would it be?
A) Prince William. What you would give for a kiss from Kate! (And great security from lurking pigs.)
B) Jason Segel. A funny man. People actually laugh at his jokes.
C) Yourself. (By the way, most A-list actresses pick you in response to this question.)
D) Keith Richards.
E) Don Rickles

Now count up all of your answers for each letter.
· If you got the most As, you’re KERMIT! You’re loyal, professional and humble. Your friends mean the world to you – even if they sometimes drive you crazy.

· If you got the most Bs, you’re FOZZIE BEAR! You live to make others laugh. Or chuckle. Or at least chortle and maybe smile a little.

· If you got the most Cs, you’re MISS PIGGY! You are self-confident A diva who is not afraid to shine. You enjoy being admired. Actually, you demand it!

· If you got the most Ds, you’re ANIMAL! You live for Rock & Roll, big loud parties and bigger louder drums. You’re also fond of bunny rabbits.

· If you got the most Es, you’re STATLER AND WALDORF, those two old hecklers in the balcony. You have strong opinions which you share at every opportunity.

On vacation in Los Angeles, Walter, the world's biggest Muppet fan, his brother Gary (Jason Segel) and Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) from Smalltown, USA, discover the nefarious plan of oilman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to raze the Muppet Theater and drill for the oil recently discovered beneath the Muppets' former stomping grounds. To stage a telethon and raise the $10 million needed to save the theater, Walter, Mary and Gary help Kermit reunite the Muppets, who have all gone their separate ways: Fozzie now performs with a Reno casino tribute band called the Moopets, Miss Piggy is a plus-size fashion editor at Vogue Paris, Animal is in a Santa Barbara clinic for anger management, and Gonzo is a high-powered plumbing magnate. With signature celebrity cameos, Disney’s “The Muppets” hits the big screen Nov. 23, 2011.
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Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Week

I'm taking some time off this week to prepare for Thanksgiving and spend time with my family. (Although I am posting a review of a movie on Wednesday so stop by then to see what movie it is and what I thought of it.)

Hope you all have a wonderful time with family, eat lots of good food, and get some rest. That's what I plan to do! I'll see you back here next week with some great reviews and giveaways that might just help you with your Christmas buying!
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Friday, November 18, 2011

Fiction Friday: Your Dream Is Not Dead, It's Nesting (A Guest Post)

Today's post is a guest post by my friend Mary DeMuth, who has shared her wisdom with us here before. She has lots of writerly resources over at her site This article was in her newsletter and I loved it so much, I asked her to share it here. I think many writers can empathize with that feeling of having a dream that has died. But Mary shares here that your dream might not be dead-- it might just be nesting. How could seeing your dream that way change your outlook? Read on...

The other day my husband came into the house and said, "I don't know what to do about the dead bird in the gutter."

"There's a dead bird in our gutter?"

"Yeah, I think so. I'm not sure if I need to go up there with a ladder, or call someone in case it died of a disease."

An hour or so later, Aidan saw the bird's wing jutting at a strange angle from the gutter. "Dad," he said. "It's not dead. It's moving."

After some investigation, we realized that the bird wasn't dead or dying. It was nesting. And its husband often kept vigil nearby. (The birds are doves; I like to think of them as husband and wife.)

I thought about our misconception, and then the Lord zinged me. "Your dream isn't dead. It may look dead. But it's nesting."

His words to me are His words to you.

Do you have a dream?

Do you think it's dead?

Have you thought of the possibility that your dream isn't dead after all, but in a period of waiting and watching before it hatches?

So many of us give up too quickly on the dreams God plants inside us. Consider Oswald Chambers' important words:

"God gives us the vision {dream}, then He takes us down to the valley to batter us into the shape of the vision, and it is in the valley that so many of us faint and give way. Every vision will be made real if we have patience."

So you may feel battered and frustrated and bewildered. But there is life yet in that dream, a twitch of a wing, the waiting of a patient mama bird. You need to sit and rest and wait and trust. Everything will be made clear in God's perfect time. The hatching will come. Rest in Philippians 1:6: "And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns."
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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thursday Thought: Dealing With Disappointment

Today instead of writing a Thursday thought, I'm going to share a link to a post that really touched on some personal things I've been dealing with. Courtney Walsh shared what I've been feeling myself lately in her post When Disappointment Moonlights As An Answer To Prayer. Perhaps some of you will identify with the thoughts she expresses on dealing with disappointment like I did. Sometimes it's just good to know you're not the only one...
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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Psalms For Moms: Beautiful Transparency

"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." Psalm 51:17

"There is a beautiful transparency to honest disciples who never wear a false face and do not pretend to be anything but who they are." Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

Be who you are-- before God and before man. He knows the truth anyway. You're not fooling Him. And why would you want to go around trying to fool others anyway? As my friend Lisa Whittle says, be brave and others will feel brave. Go first. Tell the ugly stuff and watch others relax and say, "Oh you too? I thought I was the only one!" That kind of transparency is really beautiful.
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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Two For Tuesday: The Davids and the The Chrises

I have two names that recur in my music preferences: David and Chris

Under David you got David Gray, David Baerwald, and Dave Matthews

Under the Chrises you got Chris Botti, Chris Rea, and Chris Daughtry

Ahh. I've had such fun writing this particular post and finding songs to share with you! Hope you enjoy listening/watching. (Especially that Dave Matthews one featuring Julia Roberts-- it was part of the inspiration for a piece of fiction I'm playing with right now.)
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Monday, November 14, 2011

The Simple Woman's Daybook

Outside my window . . . 70 and sunny.

I am thinking . . . about how much I look forward to attending the Southern Christmas Show each year with my mom. It's a fun tradition.

I am thankful for . . . only being asked to have the faith of a child. We make it so much bigger and harder than it has to be.

From the kitchen . . . time to start thinking about Thanksgiving menus.

I am wearing . . . black fleece pants from Old Navy, a gray long sleeved tee shirt that says "Brewery Vivant," a unique restaurant I ate at while in Grand Rapids last week.

I am creating . . . a few days of blog posts and always, a novel.

I am going . . . to the Southern Christmas Show today!! This is the official start of the Christmas season for me. The smells, the gifts, the food!

I am wondering . . . if I should buy the new Nook Tablet. It looks pretty good. Now if it just did the laundry...

I am reading . . . The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. Why am I just now reading this amazing book?? But of course, it comes at the perfect time.

I am hoping . . . to get through my edits on my current book quickly. Next weekend I'm planning to slip away to a hotel for the night and work, work, work. That's the best way to tackle edits, I'm finding-- to immerse myself in them.

I am looking forward to . . . Thanksgiving with family. And turkey. And dressing. And mashed potatoes and... you get the idea.

I am hearing . . . pounding feet over my head-- kids are playing in the bonus room.

Around the house . . . the Thanksgiving things are out-- cornucopias and pilgrims and indians and pumpkins everywhere there's a spare surface.

One of my favorite things . . . my writing friends.

A few plans for the rest of the week . . . planning Thanksgiving menu and starting to pick up some items (I say this every year and never seem to do it, always ending up at the grocery the day before with the hordes of other last minute shoppers. But not this year, I say. Not this year!), dinner out with extended family that are coming in town, writing, cleaning, playing a lot of Chris Botti while I do all of the above.

Pondering these words . . . come back Thursday and I'll share what I'm pondering. (That's what they call a teaser.)
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Friday, November 11, 2011

Fiction Friday: 25 Insights on Becoming A Better Writer

I read this post and had to share it with you. It might take you awhile to read all the way through, but it'll be worth it-- a collection of quotes from famous writers about their best writing advice? I'll take it!
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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thursday Thought: Your Past Does Not Determine Your Future

This meant a lot to me when I read it. I hope it means a lot to some of you, too:

Your Past Does Not Determine Your Future

“Isn’t that the carpenters son? “Did she not have five husbands?” “Did we not catch her in the act of adultery?” Wasn’t that man a drug addict?” God is a redeemer to the rejected of this world, a restorer of all that has been lost, and a bridge to all that can be gained through Him. What is your story? Everybody has a story, but in the hands of our God, your previous story matters very little. Your past does not determine your future, and our God can make the end of any matter greater than the beginning.

Have you been letting your past story be a hindrance to your future?
Will you let go of your past and embrace tomorrow in the freedom you have in Christ?

You are not alone, and the Lord will never leave you nor forsake you. Go forward in the power and assurance of your God.

(Source: Robert Ricciardelli
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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Psalms For Moms

“Once again I’ll go over what God has done,

lay out on the table the ancient wonders;

I’ll ponder all the things you’ve accomplished,

and give a long, loving look at your acts.”

~Ps. 77: 11-12 MSG

Ann Voskamp sent this out as her weekend post, and I wanted to share it here with those who might've missed it. This verse expresses where I'm trying to live right now, reflecting on God's faithfulness in the past as I look towards an uncertain future.
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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Two For Tuesday

Two ways to motivate yourself:

Give yourself a deadline. Or ask a friend to give you one and hold you accountable.

Withhold a reward from yourself until you do something.

People ask me all the time how I make myself write. Since I don't have a direct boss or even a specific timetable most of the time a lot of what I do has to be self-directed. But the problem with self direction is that you are apt to let yourself off the hook with excuses like it's that time of the month, I have a headache, I need to clean the house, I need to go shopping, I'm tired, I'd rather watch a movie, etc.

So I have found that I have to motivate myself or else I'll never get anything done. Giving myself assignments and a deadline to complete them as if an authority figure gave it to me has been extremely motivating. I've reached a place where I can't stand to let myself down. The more you do it, the more normal that will feel.

And for the times when I'm tempted to quit and go do something fun, I tell myself that if I just do (fill in the blank) I can do that fun thing. Ie, write one more scene and you can have dinner. Write this blog post and you can get a coffee. Finish this devotion and you can watch that movie. Etc.

It's not easy to hold your own feet to the fire, but it's definitely possible. Find what works on you and use it against yourself.
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Monday, November 07, 2011

Stir It Up

Today I've got a devotion running over at P31. This one's called Stir It Up and it's about the time I forgot to stir my sweetener into my coffee and then wondered what happened when I took a sip and it wasn't sweet. Yes, everything is fodder for writing! Even goof-ups! (Especially goof-ups!)

In honor of today's devotion I'm offering a ten dollar Starbucks gift card to one winner. Leave a comment here and share how God's stirring you up right now for your chance to win.

I'll start. God's stirring me up with my writing. And learning to balance it all. And dealing with this passle of kids we've got. Oh, and with trusting Him with our financial future. As we face having two in college next year I can start hyperventilating when I try to control it all. He's teaching me to let go, and-- sorry for the cliche-- let Him.

Your turn!
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Friday, November 04, 2011

Fiction Friday: Suspense

Every novel must have suspense whether it would be billed as a thriller or a mystery or a love story or a friendship novel. You've got to have an element that keeps your reader guessing, "What's going to happen next?"

I've been reading Noah Lukeman's The Plot Thickens and especially liked his chapter on creating suspense and how to do it. He outlines 12 ways that I can't tell you because I doubt he'd like me giving that info away. He'd probably prefer you to get the book. If you're a fiction writer, I'd say it's worth the purchase if for nothing than to read through his chapters on suspense and conflict.

But I did want to share his definition of what suspense is because I thought it was a good explanation:

Suspense, ultimately, is about anticipation. It is about what we do not
have, what has not happened. It is about the process of
watching events unfold. Once the victim is murdered, the woman wooed, the
suspense disappears. But while the victim is stalked, the girl courted, suspense
looms. Suspense, simply, is about creating and prolonging anticipation.

If you're writing fiction, how can you add suspense to the page? How can you prolong something for your characters-- and hence, your reader-- thereby building suspense? Add that element, and you will keep readers turning the pages all the way to the end.

My favorite reader letter to get isn't the one from the person who tells me they bought the book... but that they finished it. That is when I know I did my job.
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Thursday, November 03, 2011

Thursday Thought: I Could Care Less

Warning: honest post ahead.

The other day my 17yo daughter and I were talking about driving. She told me a story about how someone behind her in traffic got mad and beeped their horn because she wasn't pulling out fast enough for them. I told her not to worry about what that driver thought-- to take her time until she felt comfortable. That some random stranger's opinion about her driving isn't worth risking her life for. After all, I told her, you'll most likely never see that person again.

This started a series of thoughts for me personally as I thought of the things I do so that some total stranger doesn't think badly of me-- when chances are I'll never see that person again. And yet, in that moment, their opinion matters too much. Whether it's the hesitance to dance to a song I love lest someone see me, or the freedom to dress in what I want to wear lest someone judge my fashion sense, or the courage to attempt something I want to do lest someone make fun of me-- I let other people's opinions weigh heavily on the decisions I make. People who shouldn't make any difference to me. How absurd is it that we might make a risky driving decision just because the stranger behind us might be miffed about our pause?

I wish I had an answer for this dilemma. I'm working on it. Trying to live like I don't care-- being true to what I know I've been called to do, without focusing on what other people think. I don't want to live in fear of embarrassment or exposure. I want to take my time, take risks, and take care of myself and those I love. Do I care about other people? Absolutely. But I've got to answer to God and to my husband and family-- and that's where my concern should end. And yet, I let it extend outwards and outwards and outwards. I could care less. In this case, it wouldn't be a bad thing.
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Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Psalms For Moms: Grace For The Good Girl

The lovely and gracious Emily Freeman has granted me permission to share excerpts from her book Grace For The Good Girl as my Psalms For Moms posts throughout the month of October. October is officially over but I wanted to share one last thought with you. Thanks Emily for sharing with us!

Psalm 46:10, "Be still and know that I am God."

My favorite version of this verse is "Cease striving and know that I am God." What a reminder for me. I can stop striving-- for money, for success, for attention, for favor, for... fill in the blanks. Instead I can simply know that He is God. When I rest in that fact-- when I simply trust Him and His perfect plans-- I find rest. Stillness. Don't know about you, but I crave rest. I crave the simplicity of just trusting and not striving. It's... freeing.

Here's what Emily had to say:

"Along with the Psalmist I can sing of stillness and of knowing that the Lord, He is God. God does not say "be still and feel like I am God." He says be still, cease striving, make space... and know. Know it as sure as oxygen and gravity. We have a fortress, a refuge, a safe place. His name is Jesus."
What do you need to stop striving for today? Your children's security? Your financial future? Your marriage? Your position or acceptance? How can you be still and know?
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