Tuesday, March 27, 2012


I received a copy of SIMON AND THE EASTER MIRACLE: A TRADITIONAL TALE FOR EASTER by Mary Joslin and Anna Luraschi, from Kregel Publications. This is a picture book, perfect to be read around Easter to expand religious discussions with children. It tells a different side of Easter – the point of view of a farmer, who helped Jesus during his crucifixion.

The farmer went to market to sell his wares, but the guards forced him to abandon his goods in order to help a man who was about to be crucified. The farmer helped Jesus carry his cross to the hill. When the farmer returned to the market, his produce had been ruined. Saddened, he returned home. However, a miracle occurred and his eggs turned into doves. Maybe. I didn’t really understand the ending. The last page explains that spring came quickly, but I never got the sense that the farmer learned anything. Yes, he was helpful, and the doves rewarded him for that. I assume that is the message.

The book assumes you know enough about Easter to connect the man with the cross to Jesus. I would prefer the story be more straightforward. The pictures are very colorful, and there are many details you can point out with your child. I am passing the book on to my cousin, that she may enjoy it with her daughter at Easter.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


I received a copy of SIXTY ACRES AND A BRIDE by Regina Jennings, from Bethany House. As I read, my feeling kept shifting. At first, I outright disliked this book. Halfway through, I began to like it, and by the end, I enjoyed the pages and wished for more.

The main character, Rosa, is a young Mexican woman who travels to Texas with her mother-in-law. Rosa’s husband, who she was never close with, died in a mining accident and his mother now seeks their old ranch. The ranch, however, has fallen into heavy taxes. Rosa turns to her late husband’s cousin, Weston, for help. A compromising situation forces them to get married, and they must learn to love each other.

While I enjoyed reading about a Mexican heroine, I would have liked to see more about her culture. The author did touch on a few aspects, such as Mexican dancing, and Rosa used a few Spanish words, but they felt contrived. Rosa also felt too passive. Things happened to her, rather than her making them happen – even when she catches Weston in the barn, the scheme had been hatched by the mother-in-law. The plot moved slowly, and at the beginning, I had trouble staying focused. The prologue felt forced and gimmicky. There wasn’t enough for a solid grasp. However, the scene is repeated at the end, which tied the prologue in well.

I was pleased to see a mixture of people who were good and bad to her, rather than a bunch of characters all acting the same. I never sensed much chemistry between her and Weston, though. Despite never getting a strong feel for any of the characters, I grew to like them by the ending. I also had no strong sense of the setting. Essentially, the story could have happened anywhere, in any place. All you would have to do is substitute Texas and Mexico. I enjoy stories that really ground me in the time.

Overall, the book made for an enjoyable read during my lunchtime breaks. If a sequel comes out, I will read it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


I received a copy of SIMPLE SECRETS TO A HAPPY LIFE by Lucy Swindoll, from Thomas Nelson via BookSneeze. I was excited, as I love self-help books. They always have interesting stories and helpful tips for living better – this book was no exception. The chapters, fifty total, are short enough that you can read them in one sitting, and then ponder the message throughout the rest of the day. My favorite chapter is Forty-Six: Invite People to Your Home. It reminded me that I really do not have company over very often, but when I do, it is always a special moment.

I was a little disappointed, however. Many of the “secrets” were obvious things I do every day, such as being kind to others and learn to organize your stuff. Do people really not know that they should treat others with kindness? Despite the obviousness of the chapter subjects, I still enjoyed reading the tidbits within.

This makes an excellent gift for someone hoping to improve his or her life, or someone who needs a boost. I recommended it to my friend, who is a high school English teacher, and she reads a chapter a day to her students before class. They then write a summary about how to incorporate that into their lives.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


I received a copy of KNITS FOR NERDS by Tony Carr from Andrews McMeel Publishing. The knitting book is divided into three sections: Science Fiction, Comic Books, and Fantasy, for thirty projects. From the first page, I was addicted. As a huge fantasy lover, these were projects that made me “ooh” and run to my craft closet to see how much yarn I already had. They run from easy to advanced, so knitters of all abilities can find something they enjoy.

Mixed with stunning photography and easy-to-follow instructions, this is a must-have book. My favorite projects have been the Horrible Gloves, Cunning Scarf, Padme’s Battle Cape, Time Traveler Scarf, Aim to Misbehave Sweater (I love all things Firefly), and Top This Fascinator.

There are also some projects a bit above my level – for example, the Hobbit Feet slippers. I am horrible with double-pointed needles, so I’ll have to wait on those until I’ve had more practice. For some of those more advanced projects, such as the Space Princess Hat, I altered the pattern a little. There were also projects for little kids, such as the Baby Elf Beanie.

All of these items go great with my styles, and many will make great gifts for my friends. This is one of my new favorite knitting books.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


I received a copy of THE MINISTRY OF CHRIST: 1000 DAYS by Jonathan Falwell, from Thomas Nelson via BookSneeze. This book follows the life of Jesus, mainly during his final one thousand days. It really brought the Bible to life in a very personable way. Jesus becomes a real person, rather than a powerful figure in history and religion.

The writing is very smooth. It flows well from one page to the next, and feels more like a novel than religious nonfiction. It also works well in a group setting. The chapters end with questions for individual reflection and small group discussion. This way, when my family and I read it separately, we can come together by analyzing these thought-provoking questions.

My favorite section involved Jesus’ messages from the cross. This line, from page 160, stands out to me the most: “People don’t always manage to speak profound words as their last, but Jesus’ dying words were highly important.” The messages are breathtaking.

I recommend this to anyone who wants to connect with Jesus on a more personal level. It is great for self-help and for groups. Since the chapters are short, it also works well for a daily morning read: read a chapter every morning so that you can ponder the message throughout the day.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


I love used book sales. Last summer, I discovered a real winner: BLACK SHIPS by Jo Graham. I just got to read it now, and discovered a surprise halfway through. Someone had tucked a postcard there. It proclaimed the book to be an advanced copy, and the reviewer was supposed to send the card back to Hachette Book Group with his/her comments. Well, they didn’t…so I will. Since I already review books for numerous publishers, I decided to do the same for BLACK SHIPS.

The novel takes place around 1200 B. C., and is a retelling of the Trojan Wars. Fantasy and history mingle for a tantalizing ride across the ancient world. A girl named Gull is born to a slave mother, but when a cart rolls over her foot, she becomes too crippled to work. To give her a place in life, her mother gives her to Pythia, the Lady of the Dead. Gull is renamed Linnea. Pythia realizes that Gull/Linnea has the sight, and so Gull becomes the new Pythia years later. When her mother’s people come to the lands seeking revenge for the wars that destroyed their home, Gull goes with them. The rest of the story involves her journey with Prince Aeneas.

I highly recommend this book to lovers of history, fantasy, and the ancient world.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Writing Contest

I hope my fellow writers are as excited as I am, because…

The Utica Writers Club is constantly seeking ways to help writers expand on their craft and to help authors reach a greater audience. So, may I present the club’s first Critique Contest! For those of you interested in learning more about the Utica Writers Club, you can reach us via our website at: http://uticawritersclub.org/index.html.

The first pages of your story of your manuscript are the most important – you need to hook your readers! Wouldn’t you love professional help on your first five pages? Five awesome authors have agreed to offer just that.

To enter the Utica Writers Club’s Critique Contest, email your query and first 250 words to me, the club’s co-vice president, at PrincessJaylia@aol.com. The contest closes on May 20th, so make sure to get your entry in before that. Only three entries per person, though! In the subject line, write: Critique Contest – your name – genre. (For example, I would write Critique Contest – Jordan Mierek – Young Adult if I were entering) I will send you a confirmation email so you know I received your entry.

Your email should look like:





First 250 words:

The Utica Writers Club will select a winner from each genre. I will email the winner to request his or her first five pages. Then, the corresponding author will critique the pages (Dennis will critique the mystery winner, etc).

Let’s make this helpful and fun. Email me if you have any questions.

Happy Reading!


The winner of the Fantasy category will be critiqued by L. M. Preston. LM. Preston has worked in the IT field as a Techie and Educator for over sixteen years. She started writing science fiction under the encouragement of her husband who was a Sci-Fi buff and her four kids. Her first published novel, Explorer X - Alpha was the beginning of her obsessive desire to write and create stories of young people who overcome unbelievable odds. She loves to write while on the porch watching her kids play or when she is traveling, which is another passion that encouraged her writing.

The winner of the Middle Grade Fiction category will be critiqued by Dorothy Stacy. Dorothy Stacy is the author of the Erie Canal Cousins Series (Erie Canal Cousins, Three Weeks in Utica-Book 2, Albany Homecoming-Book 3, Canal Town Christmas-Book 4, and Stars Over Buffalo-Book 5). They are available at www.barnesandnoble.com , her website: www.dorothystacy.com and from her distributor, www.northcountrybooks.com . Barnes and Nobel store in New Hartford has them in stock. Readers have told her that the stories make them feel excited, happy, like they are part of the story, and many times, make them laugh. She loves researching her books since they involve local history, a subject very dear to her heart. She was born in Utica and now resides in Sauquoit. Stacy is now researching Town of Paris history for a new series to come out in 2013.

The winner of the Young Adult category will be critiqued by Sherry Soule. Indie author, Sherry Soule is a writer blessed with a vivid imagination and lives in San Francisco, California. Sherry is a former Acquisitions Editor for Crescent Moon Press. She also briefly owned an online publishing company, and has a blog devoted to encouraging unpublished writers to find success. In her spare time, Sherry writes supernatural tales of romance, magick, and demon slaying. Her debut novel, Beautifully Broken [www.sherrysoule.com] was published August 2011 and is nominated for best paranormal romance (Wizard and Witch 2011) by The Romance Reviews (TRR).

The winner of the Young Adult Dystopian category will be critiqued by Oliver Neubert. Oliver Neubert is the author of the "Chantel's Quest" series and "The Wind of Life" trilogy, available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Nobles, and all bookstores. "The Wind of Life" trilogy is also available as e-book. The stories are written for middle grade and YA readers, but even adults have commented positively about the fast paced, highly entertaining fantasy stories. The author tries to combine real life issues and tangible events in a world of fantasy with unusual characters and heroes. His thought provoking topics and ideas allow the reader to engage with the characters. He draws his inspiration from his own experiences and his wonderful surroundings. Readers have told him that his characters are fabulous, his stories are action-packed and very refreshing without a lot of teenage drama or romantic triangles.

The winner of the adult dystopian category is Paul Nandzik. Paul Nandzik, a born and bred upstate New Yorker, was drawn to the brutal and twisted soap opera style drama inherent in Greek and Norse mythology from an early age, where he was fascinated by the pillars of dystopia in Olympus and Asgard, where so-called higher beings bickered and fought, often vain and petty, while calling their macabre and savage homes paradise. Twombly McGreen vs. The Mean Steam Machine, a poetry anthology with many verses adapted as lyrics for American and European bands, was Paul's first serious publication, which came in 2004, just one month after earning his B.A. in English from SUNY College at Fredonia. Later, Paul became a journalist for In Good Health newspaper and M.D. News magazine. In 2009, he contributed a short story to the compilation, Adirondack Mysteries and Other Mountain Tales, as well as to its sequel, due out in Summer 2012. Currently, Paul is in the pre-production phase of his graphic novel, Gods and Devils: The Riddle of Mortality, and is developing several screen and teleplays. In what little spare time Paul has between his writing and his family, he is also a non-union film stunt performer, and has worked on such independent and Hollywood films as Razor Days, One Shot, and The Dark Knight Rises. Paul has also proudly served as member, webmaster, and president for the Utica Writers Club, which is easily the best writing club he has ever had the pleasure of being part of.

The winner of the Adult Fiction category will be critiqued by Joan Oblinsky Sharf. Joan Oblinsky Scharf is the author of "Hanging on a Twisted Line", a book of snappy, sassy, short shorts. She writes in a variety of genres, mystery, humor, ghost, romance, literary, all with unexpected twists and turns, in the style of O. Henry. "Hanging on a Twisted Line" is available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com, and through other bookstores. Some of her stories also appear in anthologies: "Slices of Life" published last year, and "Fandamonium" to be released this April. Her short stories and/or poetry have been published in: The College Crier; The Waterville Times; Village Walk Life; The Queen of All Hearts, and more. Her shorts are entertaining satisfying reads for today's busy lifestyle, leaving readers asking for more....

The winner of the Paranormal/Urban Fantasy category will be critiqued by Darke Contour. Darke Conteur is the author of The Watchtower and Under the Cover of Wicca (the first two books of a paranormal series), available at Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, and BN. http://darkeconteur.wordpress.com/novels/ Her short stories have been published with Bewildering Stories, Aphelion, and Brave Blue Mice and she was a member of the Online Writers Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror for three years. She loves to write and read about things that go bump in the night, but nothing too scary, as she also likes her sleep.

The winner of the historical fiction category will be critiqued by Donna Fletcher Crow. Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 38 books, mostly novels dealing with British history. The award-winning Glastonbury, an Arthurian grail search epic covering 15 centuries of English history, is her best-known work. Donna and her husband live in Boise, Idaho. They have 4 adult children and 11 grandchildren. She is an enthusiastic gardener. Her newest release is A Darkly Hidden Truth, book 2 in her clerical mystery series The Monastery Murders. She also writes the Lord Danvers series of Victorian true-crime novels and the romantic suspense series The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries. To read more about these books and to see book videos for A Darkly Hidden Truth and for A Very Private Grave, Monastery Murders 1, as well as pictures from Donna’s garden and research trips go to: www.DonnaFletcherCrow.com.

The winner of the romance category will be critiqued by Nicole Green. Nicole Green lives in Virginia. She published three novels with Genesis Press: Love Out of Order (February 2010), The Davis Years (February 2011), and Holding Her Breath (July 2011). She recently self-published a novella entitled Pink Champagne. She is hard at work on her next two novels, and she hopes and plans to write many more. She most enjoys reading and writing love stories. She also writes young adult stories, and she hope to publish those one day as well. For more info, please visit her website: http://nicolegreen.webs.com or her blog: http://lisezvous.blogspot.com. She also blogs at: http://sevennightwriters.blogspot.com. Links to the books: Love Out of Order http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005OKPGDW ; The Davis Years http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004L62K9I ; Holding Her Breath http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00598KJFO ; Pink Champagne http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0078XH8RU

The winner of the mystery category will be critiqued by Dennis Webster. Dennis Webster is a paranormal investigator with the Ghost Seekers of Central New York and is the author of Haunted Mohawk Valley, Wicked Mohawk Valley and Daisy Daring. He's the editor and story contributor of the Tommy Award Honorable mention Adirondack Mysteries Volumes 1 & 2.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Congratulations to the Winners!

Today, being March 1st, means I get to announce the two winners from Oliver Neubert's contest. He offered us a surprise, though - he chose 6 winners!

Congratulations to Amanda Borenstadt, Amy Brooks, Msumrall, "Me", Donna, and Adam! You'll be getting your copies through the mail soon.

Exciting things are waiting in the future. I have interviewed Donna Fletcher Crow and she's agreed to give away a copy of her book, A DARKLY HIDDEN TRUTH. Make sure to post your comment and include your email address if you want a chance to win. She will select a lucky reader on April 1st.

A writing contest will arrive on my blog this weekend. Woohoo! You'll have the chance to submit your query and first 250 words to different genre categories. The Utica Writers Club will select a winner from each category, and those winners will have their first 5 pages critiqued by published authors! (Psst, Oliver Neubert and Donna Fletcher Crow will be two of those amazing authors)