Book Reviews

Perfect Books For All Ages This Holiday Season

Happy December 1st! This is a quick little list of some wonderful books for every reader in your life.

Picture Book

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Middle Grade

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Young Adult

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Adult fiction 

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Romance 

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Book Reviews, Spotlight on Writing

Interview~Author Debbie Burns

Image result for love at first bark debbie burnsYou have two rescue dogs and a cat, how was introducing them to make sure they got along?

Thankfully, our dogs seemed to know from the start that cats aren’t the same as rabbits or squirrels, which I don’t think they’d ever stop chasing if given a chance. However, we made sure to introduce the dogs to our cat on leash at first and made sure to feed them in separate locations. For the first few weeks, we kept them apart unless we were in the room to supervise the dogs’ behavior. In very little time, the dogs seemed to understand the cat was “off-limits.”

The cat, however, is a toughie at heart and never seemed to care. He’s half Maine Coon and has zero fear of dogs. In fact, if we don’t feed him first, he will force one of the dogs away from her dinner and take first dibs. They’ve all three been together over three years now, and they’re buddies—sometimes they even sleep cuddled together—though they definitely follow a “leader” hierarchy: Hazel (the border collie mix) is in charge, Owen (the cat) is next, and Nala (the pit-bull mix) is at the bottom of the totem pole but too happy and playful to notice.

Follow Debbie on Instagram to see her pets! @_debbieburns

I read you love to garden, what are you growing in Missouri?

I do love to garden! No pun intended, but there’s something very “grounding” about digging in the soil and watching something you’ve started from a seedling grow into a fruit (or veggie)-bearing plant. For years it was something I wanted to do but couldn’t find the time. A few years ago, at the encouragement of my daughter, we dove in and created a fairly large garden and made lots of mistakes along the way. One of the big ones was planting too many similar vegetables too close together, which resulted in some crazy hybrids like watermelon/zucchini crosses. In my few years of gardening, I’ve learned just enough about it to know that I have much more to learn before considering myself a knowledgeable gardener.

My favorite things to grow are tomatoes and pumpkins, though I moved houses last year and now live in the city of St. Louis. I love my gingerbread house and neighborhood, but I do miss having a large garden. This year I’ve been experimenting with container gardening only, and my go-tos have been tomatoes, herbs, and peppers. This fall, my teenage son is going to help build a large raised bed in the side of our yard. I’m also excited to start a native plant flower garden this fall.

Image result for sit stay love debbie burnsDid you have a lot of animal rescue knowledge before writing the Rescue Me series, or was it something you gained during those stories?

This question reminds me of a mug I saw the other day: “Please don’t confuse your Google search with my medical degree.” I almost bought it as a reminder to keep by my desk while I’m writing, but I wasn’t ready to replace my current favorite mug: “Writers Block: When your imaginary friends stop talking to you.”

In all seriousness, every time I write a book, I try to do it with reverence for all that I don’t know about the subject matter portrayed in the story. The truth is no amount of research can ever really make up for hours in the field. I’m an animal lover at heart and have acquired a good amount of volunteer, conservation, and nonprofit experience. Over the years, I’ve worked or volunteered with shelter dogs, abused horses, and certain endangered species like wolves and birds of prey, and I was quite comfortable writing about the non-profit, shelter world.

On the other hand, I am not (by any sense of the means) a professional dog trainer. My two rescue dogs are well behaved enough to fit right into my chaotic life with teens in the house. My dogs know (and perform for treats) basic commands but can be a touch forgetful of them when they want to be, especially Nala, my three-year-old pit-bull mix. But her obnoxious works for us. She likes to sit on laps, shove herself into conversations, beg for food, and hog attention. So…yes, while I have the experience, when writing scenes from characters’ points of view who are great trainers like Kurt Crawford in Sit, Stay Love and Tess Grasso in My Forever Home, I feel like just a touch of an imposter.

What drove you to be a writer?

As a kid, I had an active imagination and was always daydreaming and making up stories. I also loved to read and was hardly without a book. It wasn’t until I was graduating college with a BS in Biology and minors in Chemistry and Conservation that I had the idea to write down one the stories that was going through my mind. After so much science and math in college, the idea of creative writing was appealing, but I had no idea how to do it. My first manuscript took years to complete, but I learned a lot about writing in the process. I also fell in love with creative writing. That first novel wasn’t sellable (by any measure), but I enjoyed the writing process enough that I kept on writing in my free time while raising my kids and, at times, managing a full-time job.

By the time I got serious enough about writing for publication and had learned what I needed to learn to produce something publishable, I had quite a few roughly completed manuscripts and had been writing for over a decade—not a quick or easy path to publication by any measure. But I have no regrets. Over the years, I honed certain skills that make writing at the pace I’ve been maintaining for the last few years easier. I also took long enough getting published that I had become very sure that it was what I most want to do with my life.

Image result for love at first bark debbie burnsDo you watch four-legged movies if you know they will tug at your heart, or do you simply avoid them?

I definitely watch them, and try to read the books beforehand, though sometimes I put off doing so until I’m in the mood for a good cry. Old Yeller was the first movie I saw as a kid that made me really bawl (who didn’t?) and a story I never forgot. I wanted that dog to live forever. Same with My Dog Skip. More recently, I loved reading Art of Racing in the Rain and can’t wait to see the movie, though Marley and Me is a personal favorite.

I love Marley and Me (both the book and movie!

You recently had an amazing announcement in Publisher’s Weekly! How exciting, but a lot of work. How will you tackle such a large project?

My recent four-book deal with Sourcebooks was split between two in the Rescue Me series (which was extended from the previously contracted six books to eight) and two stand-alone Women’s Fiction novels. I’m excited and thankful and a touch daunted! Over the last three and a half years, I’ve completed five Rescue Me manuscripts, and I now have writing contracts for five more that extend just beyond when my youngest child graduates high school in three years from now. And I have day job!

Gosh! I have a day job too! It makes our plates very full!

This pace has only been manageable because I love to write. I love to create fictional characters, create havoc in their world, and watch them muddle through to their happily ever afters. Writing at this pace can be a challenge, but not only is writing my passion, I also recognize it’s a tough business. I’ve been at it long enough to have seen several writers’ ups and downs in their careers, and I’m thankful to have this opportunity. I’m also energized by so many great fans who have been loving the series and are so supportive and encouraging as they await the next release.

Image result for love at first bark debbie burnsThen, too, I have other hobbies like gardening, hiking, and hanging out with my teens, friends, and dogs. Making time for things like this that don’t involve sitting at a desk or the use of a keyboard or monitor is essential for keeping burnout at bay. I’ve also gotten into the habit of meditating (almost) daily. Through this practice and a yoga class or two each week, I feel like my creativity and energy are refreshed enough after a day of work to be able to write a few hours several nights a week and the majority of one weekend day as well. I try to take a full day off from the computer each weekend, though when I’m tight on a deadline that’s not always possible. When it’s all said and done, the only way I meet deadlines is because, in each and every manuscript, I fall in love with my characters (two and four-legged) and get great satisfaction in completing the project.

Thank you, Debbie, it’s been a pleasure to learn more about you and your stories.

Be sure to add Debbie’s Rescue Me series to your Goodreads list. The fourth book in the series, Love at First Bark is available on Tuesday! (July 30th). Love at First Bark is a second-chance romance for humans and dogs alike that celebrates the beauty of love that’s meant to last forever.

 

Book Reviews, Spotlight on Writing

Interview with Cassidy Carter, Author of LOVE ON LOCATION

20190228_092505Please welcome author, Cassidy Carter to the blog!!! Her newest book, Love on Location releases tomorrow, March 12th from Hallmark Publishing!! Yet, Ms. Carter is not new to Hallmark Publishing. She also wrote The Perfect Catch (based on an original Hallmark movie). Please enjoy her interview!

You live far from any place like Cabins in the Pines, what brought you to write this specific story?

I grew up in the country, and I love the outdoors. And you’ll be familiar with the other inspiration for the setting, Savannah—Flagstaff, Arizona!

I struggled a bit with Love on Location at the start of the process, because I originally envisioned this tale of two best friends (who don’t realize that they’re meant for each other) set in a family-owned factory.  But there wasn’t much fun in that “location,” so the setting was switched to the Cabins in the Pines, a place that I hope the reader will find as engaging as the love story.

How much research did you have to do between the camping and TV production aspects of the story?

My family and I camp quite frequently, so the camp aspect of it is very familiar to me. I used some actual camp layout maps from places we’ve been to plan out what the Cabins in the Pines looked like. As far as the TV aspect, my husband and I watch quite a few business-makeover shows like The Profit and Hotel Hell and, of course, the business-investment show Shark Tank, so that inspired some aspects of Love on Location. And then I did do some research on these shows, but I also tried to keep the technical stuff pretty light in case I got anything wrong!

You are a professional editor, does that make writing easier?

In a way it does, but there are ways it makes things harder. It helps me write (hopefully) pretty clean first drafts, but it also makes me mortified when I miss something obvious. More on that below! That said, when I write, I try to put the words down as quickly as possible, without overthinking or being too critical. During my second draft is when I tend to catch things I wrote incorrectly. And I cringe! But on the other hand, it makes me very understanding of those whom I edit.

When you submit a manuscript and it’s accepted, do they send back edits? (Can an editor be edited??)

There are two types of edits you’ll see back as an author: story-level edits (some call these developmental or content edits) that basically critique and coach on the craft, plot, theme, details, all the nongrammatical aspects of a book; and copy edits, which come after revisions to clean up spelling, grammar, punctuation, and the like. And everyone can be edited. Sometimes, story-wise, you get too close to what you’re writing, and you don’t see a plot hole or a too-vague explanation or a comma splice. I love editors, and I love being edited. I am always grateful for a fresh pair of eyes. Stacey Donovan, the head of Hallmark Publishing, is really a master at this. She gives great notes, pointing out things I hadn’t considered or that I’d missed, and I really feel like she made this story much better than it would have been. (Thanks, Stacey!).

I must mention how jealous I am that you have the privilege of working with Ms. Donovan! Her blog posts are super helpful on many levels. Not to mention she is a joy to interact with on Twitter, and I loved her book, Sunset Cabin!!!

In your opinion, does being an editor make the odds of acceptance higher?

Really good one! I think it helps, because a clean-as-possible first draft is something that will stand out in a submissions pile, and having a publisher know that I have a background in helping others better their books might give me a slight edge, but anyone can have a similar chance. By that, I mean that any author submitting to a publisher can find something to set their query apart. For instance, if you’ve researched really well what a particular publisher is looking for, and you have knowledge or experience that helped you develop a character or write in a setting that fits what they want perfectly, use that! Let’s say you write a book about a plucky lumberjack in an all-woman lumberjack crew, and your book is about the heroine falling in love with the head of the competing all-male lumberjack team at the state logging competition. Adorable premise. But if this is the fictionalized version of how you actually met your husband in the same exact manner? That beats the rules that I can quote from the Chicago Manual of Style any day.

Tell us what drove you to write Love on Location?

Image result for the perfect catchI love Hallmark, and I love sweet romance. After I did the novelization of The Perfect Catch, I wanted to show readers a little more of my style, so I was so thrilled about Hallmark’s move to original fiction. I like exploring the emotional aspects of how two people can come together in the middle of life happening; not always perfect, not always on time, not always without friction—but just when it’s needed.

What has been your favorite place to see/visit?

So far, I’ve only ever traveled within the United States. But I’m so crazy about Northern Arizona in the summer, I’d have to say it’s my current favorite.

What place are you excited to visit but have yet to?

A lot of the big state parks that I haven’t been to yet! I want to hook up the camper and go see Yellowstone, Yosemite, Redwood National.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I don’t think you have the space for me to include everything! I typically get up early, try to wrangle a reluctant kindergartener to school, and entertain a very cheeky three-year old while I juggle editing and writing. I try to split my day between editing, usually during the day because that’s when clients are easiest to communicate with, and writing, which I do in the evenings and at night. I’m a definite night owl, so my day is fueled by lots of caffeine.

Are you the chef in the family? If so what is your favorite dish to make, if not what is your favorite dish to enjoy?

I do nearly all of the cooking. I love to cook, and my husband is not that keen on cooking himself, so we have an arrangement. I cook, and he does the dishes. It’s a great deal. And I cook a ton of different things! I make a pretty killer coconut curry chicken, but I also love to whip up a full-on Southern breakfast (biscuits, gravy, grits, eggs, and bacon).20190228_092521

What is your favorite Hallmark movie?

Edge of the Garden! Have you seen it? Oh my gosh. I don’t want to give the ending away, but I cried.

I have seen it! It is great. My personal favorite is the Vineyard series Hallmark Channel does!)

What’s next for you?

So much. I really want to continue the story of the Cabins in the Pines family, and I’m dying to start a cozy mystery series. I’ll update you when there’s anything new to report!

I’ll be looking forward to new news!! 

Visit Cassidy’s website

Purchase Love on Location from Barnes & Noble and Amazon

Book Reviews

Picture Books to Warm Your Heart this Winter

Groundhug Day

Groundhug Day – I enjoyed this unique take on not only Groundhog’s Day, but Valentine’s Day. Illustrations were super cute too.

Click, Clack, Moo I Love You!

Click, Clack, I Love You! – This series never disappoints, another fun story with detailed illustrations.

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When an Elephant Falls in Love – This story is simply beautiful, because it’s simply written.

Love

Love

I found my new favorite picture book. This book is not just for children, but adults. Dare I say I teared up reading it?! (I was not a fan of the author’s other popular book, I know, shame, so I didn’t expect to like this one). I LOVED THIS ONE!

Love, Mama

Love, Mama

Cute story about Mamas that have to leave for a bit. Teaching children that it’s okay to miss them and that they always return.

Image result for ollies valentinesOllie’s Valentine – Poor Ollie, young readers will enjoy this quick story and be able to relate Ollie feeling left out.

Book Reviews

A Good Book

difdfI first “got” into books once I was actually able to read them, much later than my peers (okay, way, way, way later than my peers). The R.L Stine series and The Boxcar Children when I was younger. Then, once again when I became a nanny and couldn’t find anything worth watching on TV when the baby was sleeping.

I would pull books from the family’s bookshelf, read the back cover blurb, and then if it sounded good, would dive right in. The family that had these books was an Oprah book club member. Every book had the OPRAH sticker on the cover.

I believe the first one I read was:

Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts

Followed by:

She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb

Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons

Vinegar Hill by A Manette Ansay

Gap Creek by Robert Morgan

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian

I found these books to be the center of my day, and my joy the following day (these books were so well written!!!!). I never let them (the family) know I was reading them, so I would stick them back on the shelf and make a mental note of the chapter I was on.fdfdfdf

The weekends were especially long since I didn’t work, and had to wait until Monday to get back to reading. I was at the time, and still am, a slow reader, so it would take me a good month to finish one book.

I worked as a nanny for this family just over 2 years, and when the mom stopped buying new books for the shelves I stopped reading. I was not aware of libraries and how to use them (I didn’t know they had them outside of school!!), however immature that sounds. So my reading time faded into nothing for many years, until I picked it back up again, and started reading and (funny as it is) writing and learning about libraries.

Nowadays – many years later – I am well versed in library knowledge (thank goodness). My reading taste have turned rather…pig-headed, so to speak. Most books I read, I find sub-par. The hook is weak or the hook fades off after chapter 2, or sentences go by without much connection to moving the story forward. It’s hard to please me as a reader. Even children’s literature I have grown rather picky over since becoming a writer.

So, basically the thing to note about me is this, if I recommend a book, that means a lot coming from me.