Friday, January 28, 2011

Lego Outpost Attack

My son Isaac L-O-V-E-S Legos. Here's a fun video of him demonstrating the Lego Outpost Attack #7948.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Book Review: Bumpy Landings by Donald J. Carey

Across the field, a couple of small planes cast long shadows as the sun inched its way toward the western horizon. 

Then Jordan heard the sound he was hoping for. He looked out into the sky above the ocean where a small white plane with a red tail buzzed over the waves, flying parallel to the runway. As the plane flew past, Jordan imagined he was the one at the controls, with one eye on the airport and the other on the altimeter, waiting for just the right moment to turn into the base leg of the landing pattern.

All his life, Jordan MacDonald has dreamed of taking flight and soaring above the majestic mountains of his native Hawaii, but he doesn’t dare disobey his mother, who has absolutely forbidden him from flying. Suddenly everything changes when, spurred by the pain of a failed relationship, Jordan begins working toward the coveted pilot’s license. Just as he finds love again, Jordan’s lies start to close in around him, and he soon learns that a life full of dishonesty attracts more turbulence than he’s ever faced in the air.

Set against the exotic backdrop of the Hawaiian islands, this thrilling tale of romance and self-discovery is a perfect vacation from the average love story. Join Jordan as he tests the limits of friendship and finds out just how far his dreams can carry him. Entertaining and engaging, Bumpy Landings will take you to new heights with each turn of the page.

*****


My Review

Hawaii? Tell me one person who doesn't want to go there to escape some winter blues and sink into a land of paradise. I've been hankering to go to Hawaii - even just recently tried to convince my hubby it was time for a trip. But to no avail. Not enough money for plane tickets, blah, blah, blah. So I was excited when my copy of Bumpy Landings by Donald J. Carey arrived in the mail. I couldn't wait to pick it up and absorb some of what life is like on a Hawaiian island. Sigh. Note to self: Must start saving for a trip (even if it means hubby must stay behind as the babysitter!)

Okay, let's jump into the story. Everyone who read my blog knows I'm a romance book chick. Bumpy Landings is not a straight romance type book - it's not marketed as such either. But of course, I really like the romantic elements the author added. I actually think the back cover blurb does a great job describing the book.

Bumpy Landings is about a young man named Jordan, who is home from his mission and entering his first post-mission year of college at BYU-Hawaii, where his mother is a professor. He falls in love, is thwarted in love, falls in lust, out of lust, and maybe, just maybe, if he's a good boy, will fall back into love before the end of the book (I'm not telling what happens!).

Some of the elements I really liked about Bumpy Landings:

1. Find Yourself

I often tell my daughters and the Young Women I'm good friends with, that it's important for them to leave home for at least a year of college. Go live in the dorms or share an apartment with friends. That year is essential for them to figure out who they are inside, what they believe in and stand for, how to budget and manage their time, and get a taste - just a little one - of what the real world is like. It's important for them to have this experience, most especially before they get married.

I love that Jordan goes through this same thing. He has issues at home with a controlling mother, but not only that, he realizes once he's moved out, that he needs to figure out who HE is and what he wants in life. This is by far my favorite message in this book. I don't know if the author intended it to come across or not, but it's one I'm sensitive to because I firmly believe in its importance.

2. Love vs. Lust

We've all been there - multiple times through high school and college. You meet someone who's attractive and give you goose bumps just to think about . . . and you fall in love. But is it love? Or is it just lust? How do you tell the difference? Some pretty complicated questions, eh?

So, another part of the book that I really liked is that Jordan does fall in love, but doesn't get much further than the second date cause the chickie becomes interested in Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome she recently met. Jordan is heart-broken. But eventually he meets another girl, who makes him laugh and who likes to kiss - a lot. Oh yeah, he's in love! Or is he? (You'll have to read the book to find out).

This is another theme I'm not sure if the author meant to send out as a message or not, but one I really liked. What is real love and how do you recognize it? Very well done, Mr. Carey.


3. Airplanes

I'm terrified of heights and hate flying, but I love to watch airplanes take off, fly, and land. That probably has to do with the fact that I grew up in Lock Haven, PA - home of the Piper Cubs. I loved to go to our little Piper Airport and just watch the planes. They are really the only planes I'm attached to. I still remember how excited I was when my son got to fly a Piper Cub for the Challenger Air program. I was terrified about him actually being in the plane and up in the sky - but how totally cool to see him hanging out with the Cubs.

There are a few times when Jordan is flying that my feet tingled. Like I said, I'm sensitive about heights - even imagined heights. But I enjoyed Jordan's response to his love of flying and how it made him feel.


4. Honesty and Integrity

Another theme in the book is figuring out the whole honesty and integrity thing. Which I kind of associate with the first element I talked about - finding yourself. But in Bumpy Landings, Jordan hides his flying lessons and plans to become a pilot from his mom and girlfriend - both of whom have particular reasons for not wanting him to fly.

This actually made me sit back and think. I reviewed my life and could pick out times that I've said or embellished something so it was mostly true . . . but tweaked just right and to my advantage. It's interesting how those things tend to eventually come back and catch up with you, isn't it? Well, Jordan certainly gets caught in his web and has to make some very difficult decisions about his life. But are they the right choices? And will he get it right on the first try? (You'll have to read the book to find out!)


Bumpy Landings has some fun and humorous scenes in it, but also parts that make you sit back and think. It was an engaging book and one that I think teens and adults would all enjoy.

You can find out more about Donald J. Carey on his website.

Bumpy Landings is available at your local book store and also on Amazon.com

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My Writing Life

The life of a writer is so much more complicated than I ever expected it to be. As a reader, I just thought of the finished product - the book in my hands. As a writer and published author, I've discovered the printed book is just a tiny portion of what a writers life is like. Finding a way to balance everything a writer needs to do takes some serious organizational skills. Here are some updates of what's happening in my writing life right now . . .

(dis)Abilities and the Gospel: A Guide for Parents and Teachers

Lynn and I were just contacted by our publisher at the end of last week, asking for feedback about our book cover. We are so thrilled and excited to work with our designer (who still remains nameless cause I was so excited, I totally forgot to ask who was creating the cover!). Lynn and I emailed our thoughts and suggestions in, and now wait to see the results.

We also found out our book is being going to press (sent to the printer) in March. Booyah! We should soon hear from our editor and once I'm done reading for the Whitney Awards, Lynn and I will jump in with both feet to start planning our publicity, book tours, and speaking engagements. Book Release Date: May 2011.


Rebound

This is my romantic suspense novel which I completed during NaNoWriMo 2010. I'm now rewriting to smooth everything out before sending the manuscript out for freelance editing. In May, I'm meeting with Sara Megibow from The Nelson Literary Agency to pitch the book (while I attend the LDS Storymakers Writers conference). Yeah, can you say "Danyelle's SUPER excited?" Oh yeah! My goal for Rebound is to have edits and rewrites completed in May and start agent submissions in early June.


Dawn's Morning Light

This is my next work-in-progress. I have the first chapter ready, and another document filled with my initial info dump. I signed up for the Publication Primer class at The LDS Storymakers Writers Conference. This is basically a mega intense boot camp style class that whips your writing, query letters, and everything about the submission/agent hunt process into shape. I'm looking forward to it! But first, I need to get the first ten pages written for Dawn's Morning Light. The first chapter is only four pages long, but they are packed with emotion that just rips your heart out. Seriously. You need a box of tissues, preferably Puffs Plus so your nose doesn't get all dried out and sore. So I need to do a bit of plotting, character development, and writing this week. The material submission for my class is due by the end of this month. Which means I'm temporarily setting aside Rebound to get this done. Then I'll be right back to rewrites.


Do you see what I mean about the balancing act? And this is just for my writing alone. Once I throw in family, church, and my volunteer committees, life just explodes all around me and my BlackBerry becomes my best friend. Sometimes I think I live my life around its little alarm dings.

My husband once overheard a conversation between one of his friend's mom and her friend. The friend was telling the friend's mom that she was so busy, she was burning her candle from both ends and needed to slow down. The friend's mom replied, "But I don't want to get to the end of my life and find out I still had candle left to burn."

I love that quote. Sometimes my life is super busy and I have to rearrange my priorities to make sure everything is in order and that I'm spending my time where it's really supposed to be. But like my hubby's friend's mom, I don't want to look back on my life and regret that I didn't burn my candle a little more to try to accomplish my heart's desire.

Finding balance isn't easy. It takes a lot of re-evaluation and making careful decisions. But the effort and the rewards are most certainly worth it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Maddy, Personal Progress, and Autism



Okay, my friends. Get the tissue box out. This video truly touched my heart because it hits so close to home. Autism. I've wondered so many times how far my son will be able to progress and understand the priesthood or if he'll one day earn his Eagle in Boy Scouts. There are so many different concerns that we parents have tumbling around in our heads that it's hard to keep them straight - or even prioritized sometimes.

It's so beautiful and touching to see a group of young women who reached out and did something truly remarkable for Maddy, a young woman with autism who did not have the ability to do her Young Women's personal progress on her own. I am so grateful for youth who are willing to reach out to their peers with special needs and just love them for who they are. What a blessing they are to our world.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Three Fun New Children's Picture Books

I've recently been accepted to be a new reviewer for a company called netGalley. One of the genres I'm reviewing is Children's Picture Books. My four munchkins (ages 11, 10, 6, and 3) and I read picture books together almost every day. And yes, my older kids still enjoy picture books just as much as the younger two. Their reactions tend to be a little different - noticing funny phrases, made-up words, or pointing out artwork they particularly enjoy. Hey, even as an adult, I love to go to the book store and browse through the picture books. So I guess the love of picture books is in our blood.  =) Now, on to the reviews!

Ruby Valentine Saves the Day by Laurie Friedman

It's Valentine's Day and Ruby won't let anything spoil the celebration! In this follow-up to the popular Love, Ruby Valentine, Ruby's favorite day of the year rolls around again, and she and Lovebird work feverishly to plan the perfect party for everyone in Heartland. But when Valentine's Day arrives, an unexpected snowstorm threatens to ruin all of Ruby's plans. Will Ruby find a way to save the day, or will everyone in Heartland have to wait until next year to celebrate? 

Ruby Valentine Saves the Day is a totally cute book! My kids loved the illustrations. They especially enjoyed Lovebird and thought it was so funny that Ruby's best friend was a fluffy white bird. We're a "read and chat" kind of family. Some fun parts my kids talked about included:
  • The cleaning scene. Ruby cleans her house in preparation for her party. My munchkins talked about how we clean our house as a family every Saturday morning. Also, because we have a birthday coming up, we talked about that things we do to prepare for parties at our house and why it's important to clean our home.
  • The sled ride. As you can see from the front cover, Ruby and Lovebird go on a sledding adventure. My kids laughed in delight during this scene, then started talking about their favorite memories of playing in the snow and their own sledding mishaps.
  • Celebrating with the ones we love. As a parent, I really appreciated the ending of the book and that it focused on how a celebration isn't necessarily the party supplies and preparations, but it's being with people you love that's really what counts.

Ruby Valentine Saves the Day was released in November 2010. It's available for purchase through Amazon.com or your local bookstore.





Mudkin by Stephen Gammell

"Rain's gone! Time to play!" commands the queen. Well, she's not really a queen—just an ordinary girl who has an extraordinary day. She meets Mudkin, a friendly creature who whips up a robe and crown for her. Away they go to meet Her Majesty's subjects. Even if the kingdom lasts only until the next rain shower, the crown Mudkin gives her is forever.

In his unmistakable style, Caldecott-winning artist Stephen Gammell creates an ode to the most potent of childhood mixtures: mud and imagination.



At first, my kids were a bit confused by Mudkin and where the story was going. This book has few words, but beautiful illustrations. It's definitely a book that was created to spark a kid's imagination - although they may need a bit of prompting to get started. Once I asked my munchkins to tell me what they thought was happening, what the little girl and Mudkin were planning, doing, or saying - the imagination pool opened up and just flowed from there. My 6 year old's impression of Mudkin was rather funny in itself. He thought the character looked like an onion head - but he loved the pages that showed his belly button. For some reason, that just made him laugh and laugh. Some fun "read and chat" points we had included:
  • What if? I asked my kids what they would think if a creature suddenly formed out of a mud puddle and wanted to play with them. What would he look like? Where would they go? What would they do?
  • Imaginary friends. Each of my kids have different types of imaginary play, but my 6 year old has real imaginary friends with names. We talked about his imaginary friends and what they like to do together.
  • Artwork. My 10 year old daughter is quite the little artist. She devoured the pages, wondering if the artist put each mud fleck on the pages in their spot on purpose or if he flung specks of paint onto the canvas to create the muddy splotch effects.
 
Mudkin will be released in March 2011 and is available to order through Amazon.com or your local bookstore.




Big Bouffant by Kate Hosford

"Ponytails and braids! Ponytails and braids! I don't see anything but ponytails and braids! This class needs some fashion. This class needs some fun. I'll find a hairdo to impress everyone." Annabelle doesn't want the same boring hairstyle that all the other girls have. When she spies a picture of her grandma, she has the perfect idea: a big bouffant! But how can she make her style stand up? And will her classmates really be impressed with her daring 'do?


Big Bouffant is the story of a precocious little girl who doesn't want to look like the other girls in her class. Annabelle wants to be an original, a one-of-a-kind. Having two daughters - and being quite the girly-girl myself - I found this story delightful. Even my two boys laughed at some of Annabelle's antics as she tried to get just the hairstyle she wanted. We loved the illustrations and rhymes. The story had a very natural flow and voice that made it easy to add fun voice inflections. Some of our "read and chat" point for this book were:
  • Hair styles: We talked about what different hair styles the people in our family had, which ones were our favorites, as well as the ones we didn't like so much. We also talked about different hair styles the kids see at school, church, and when we go shopping.
  • Hair styling products: At one point in the book, Annabelle uses food to try to get her hair to stay in the bouffant. So I took the opportunity to talk to my munchkins about what types of hair styling products are actually okay to use in their hair and which ones they needed either mom or dad to help them use.
  • One-of-a-kind: I asked my kids what talents and traits make them each unique. We had a fun discussion and shared what things we liked about each other, too.

Big Bouffant will be released in April 2011. It can be ordered through Amazon.com or your local bookstore.





My family enjoyed each of the three books above. I'd love to hear from my readers which of the three books look most interesting for the children in your life.

*Review copies of these books were provided through netGalley and related publishers.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Supporting the Case for Video Games

I grew up with a brother who played video games non-stop. In fact, his Nintendo set-up was just on the other side my bedroom wall. He'd stay up late, playing video games, while the annoying theme music kept me from falling asleep. For that reason alone, I have always hated video games and at the beginning of my marriage, I swore I'd never, ever buy a Nintendo or other such stupid video game machine for any of my kids. We had a computer and that was enough.

Have you ever heard the saying Never Say Never?

We resisted purchasing any electronic game devices until Comcast sent us a free Nintendo DS four years ago. Even then, we kept it in our closet for over a year and even tried to sell it a few times to friends. Finally we broke down and gave it to our oldest son for his 9th birthday.

At first I cringed and felt like I was breaking one of my personal favorite rules. But then, I started to grin. My oldest son - and three younger kids - loved the NintenDogs game. It was fun to see how they each interacted with their dogs and how they took care of them. From there, we gradually branched out into other games - our favorites are Lego and Mario themed games.

What I had not anticipated though, was how playing video games helped our oldest son (who has autism) socially. Video games were a link to something he had in common with the other kids in his school classes. Soon, kids started asking our son to bring his DS to school on their special electronics games so they could play together. He was invited to play games at friends' houses. He even started asking for friends to come play at our house. That had never happened before!

Other benefits that came with playing games included:
  • asking how-to questions
  • actually listening to answers
  • reading instructions
  • learning to control frustration
  • recognizing when to take a break
  • following video game time rules
  • develop gross and fine motor skills
  • enhance eye-hand co-ordination

Something I hated so much growing up became a key component for our autistic son's development.

As I reluctantly jumped into the video game world (and even purchased a Wii), I learned a few important things every parent with video games in the house should know.
 
  1.  Choose your family standards. Each family is different in what they feel is okay to play in their home. With our son's autism, he doesn't decipher the difference between pretend and reality. So we choose not to have games they shoot guns or have any type of bloody violence. Now, he is a boy, and every boy loves a good fight sequence. We've found that the Lego games are a good compromise. They're fun and high quality. The best part is that when someone gets blasted with a light saber (Star Wars) instead of blood, they fall apart into Lego bricks, then get rebuilt. Some other fun games that involve competition are the Wii sports games. We have fun playing tennis, bowling, and golf. Our favorite is watching our three year old daughter swing her arms all around and "beat up" her eleven year old brother in boxing.
  2. Research video games before purchasing. There are a few good websites my hubby always check out to see their reviews. His favorite is GameSpy. Their site not only reviews a game, but they also link to other reviews of the game as well. It's kind of a one stop destination to find a good variety of reviews and appropriateness.
  3. Set time limits. At our house, electronic time starts at 3 pm. During the week, each of the kids has the opportunity to play on the computer or Nintendo for thirty minutes, after they finish their homework. We even set a timer in the kitchen (a nice loud one that everyone hears when it goes off). On the weekends, they each get up to one hour of electronics time. Our other house rule is that once dinner is set on the table, all electronics (tv, computer, and Nintendo) are shut off for the remainder of the night. So if someone was pokey and didn't do his homework during the 3-6 pm time frame, then he lost the opportunity to play for the day. Remember, video games are not a necessity of life. They are a priviledge to be earned.


As an adult, I've learned to set aside my youthful negative feelings towards video games, and instead accept them for the good they can provide. Are they the end-all, be-all cure for a kid's development? Heck no! But they sure can have more pros than you may originally give them credit for. I'd love to hear your feedback, video game recommendations, or tips on electronics house rules in the comment section.
Review Disclaimer: Sometimes a book I review has been sent to me for free by a publisher or an author. This in no way effects my review, which is my own opinion about whether the book was a good read for me, fit my tastes, and if I would recommend it to others. Other than possibly a free book, I am not compensated in any way for posting a review.