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Archive for the ‘Authors’ Category

Christmas is coming, and for those who still love the tradition of sending real, 3-dimensional cards, I have something special for you – my newest Frenchie Christmas card. This is one of the holiday cards now available with complete details in my Etsy shop – JBalsamFrenchieArt – plus sets of blank notecards which would make great gifts. All the artwork and design are my own, the illustrations drawn in colored pencil, occasionally with watercolor, and printed right here in the U.S.A.

If you have a Frenchie, a friend with one, or just want something cute featuring the breed as a gift, stop by and visit my shop. And please, spread the word!

Thanks so much!

 

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This will not be a long post – just a share of the fabulous finds I collected at the county library’s huge annual book sale.

For a half hour’s drive and $24.00, I picked up the amazing selections you see here, hardbound and paperback. I do go with a list, and am happy to find anything on it, but don’t expect my top picks, especially from 2018. But I did bring home some selections from favorite authors – Lisa See, Alice Hoffman, Jodi Picoult, Barbara Kingsolver, E. Annie Proulx, and more. I also picked up a number of middle grade/YA novels including Jacqueline Woodson, Jerry Spinelli – and amazingly, the exact book by Linda Sue Park, A Long Walk to Water, that will help me in a drawing project for a client!

There are also authors I am not yet familiar with but had been hoping to find, and some I don’t know at all. There are a couple psychological thrillers, some historical fiction, science fiction, and mysteries – enough to keep me happily reading for quite some time.

In addition, I found something special for one of my doctors who is a huge reader; a hardbound replacement for a paperback version of a wonderful novel whose type is so small, it hurts my eyes —   a book I will read again; and a small volume in brand new condition that might be a little surprise for someone.

As I drove down the lovely backroads to the book sale, I couldn’t help but think that a good book and a warm and fuzzy friend to curl up with can get us through a lot of stuff in life – both good times and bad. And $24.00 isn’t much to pay to have one of those pleasures at my fingertips.

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Though I cannot take credit for them. We all experience times in our lives when people are acting badly, situations hover and sway as if on the edge of a precipice, and everything is moving too slow … or fast … or in the wrong direction. It’s just life, but from time to time it can leave us spinning.

On one such recent occasion, I removed the previous day’s page from my wonderful Wayne Dyer desk calendar, and found these wise words.

Sometimes you just have to laugh. They couldn’t have been more perfect.

It doesn’t mean that things will always be that way, or that we can’t change them, or that we can’t intend to change them. It just means that right now, it is the way they are. Point taken. And just in case it may be one of those times in your life, I figured I’d share them with you.

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Are you familiar with Little Free Library? I learned about them about 5 years or so ago, and thought it was just the most amazing idea. The concept is to have a little “house” or box of some sort which provides for the free exchange of books of any kind – sometimes these are located in areas where it’s hard for readers to get to a library; sometimes it’s a convenience for neighbors. It always promotes social exchange wherever they appear. (Pictured here, a LFL in Traverse City, Michigan.)

LFL (Little Free Library) is a non-profit organization founded in 2009 byTodd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin whose aim was to inspire a love of reading, build community, and spark creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world. And that he did! Since it’s beginnings, the LFL has grown to 80,000 little libraries around the world in a total of 90 countries, (as of 2019), all providing access to our most treasured possessions, books. (Second photo in Mount Martha, Victoria, Australia.)

Bol started out with a simple idea – and built a model of a one room schoolhouse, filled it with books, and put it on a post in his front yard. The idea really caught on, so he built some more and gave them away to neighbors and friends for free. While discussing potential social enterprises with UW-Madison’s Rick Brooks, who had seen Bol’s DIY project, the pair saw potential to expand and advance the common good. They were inspired by a number of things, among them the homegrown “take a book, leave a book” concept found in coffee shops and other public places. They were also inspired by the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who had set a goal around the turn of the century to fund the creation of 2,508 free public libraries across the English-speaking world.

With Carnegie in mind, Brooks and Bol set their own goal of surpassing 2,508 Little Free Libraries by the end of 2013, and exceeded it a year and a half before their target date.

The above LFL is located in Sandy Springs, Georgia.

What’s even more exciting is that this concept inspired people everywhere to apply to be stewards of a LFL where they lived, and who then designed and built this vastly creative array of structures to house the neighborhood book exchanges. (There’s a whole gallery of LFLs on their website to check out.) Perhaps one of the most truly amazing is a jaw-dropping LFL that was built by a librarian inside a dead cottonwood tree in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho – you must take a look at this!

Please visit the Little Free Library website – it’s exhaustive and illuminating and inspiring, and hey … maybe you’ll start thinking about creating and hosting a LFL in your neighborhood! One of the best concepts ever … free access to books.

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On to the books … Atonement by Ian McEwan. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from this, but knew it was a story whose initial chapters take place in London at the beginning of World War II and carries through the war, and then to the end of the century. It’s of a romance between the older sister in a very wealthy family, Cecilia, and the son of their housemaid, Robbie, their gardener. He’s a very bright young man, for whose education Cecelia’s father has been paying, with plans for Robbie going to medical school. But the story begins with the youngest sibling and third major character, Briony, a thirteen year old, who spends a great deal of her time writing. She is a very intellectual child, sheltered, and rather controlling. Early on in the story, she sees a flirtation between Cecilia and Robbie which she does not understand. When she witnesses another interaction in the library, she makes an assumption that will change the lives of these three characters forever. Her misinterpretation of what she saw and an incorrect confirmation of Robbie’s involvement in a separate incident results in his being sent to prison, and later, war. The story follows how the lives of these three were affected by Briony’s decision. It is a story about war, of love, and innocence. I did like the book – Robbie’s time in the war in northern France was remarkably and painfully well told – but the beginning was a bit difficult to get through, especially as Briony is not your most likable character. The writing was not in a style I usually read; the author was likened on the book jacket to Jane Austen. I did still enjoy it, and there is a wonderful twist at the very end.

After finishing the book, I watched the movie, which won a Golden Globe and was Oscar nominated for best picture, among others. My feeling about the movie is that I would not have really understood a lot of what was going on had I not read the book. And as is so often the case with books made to movies, there were so, so many critical, meaningful, and heart-wrenching details missing. I’d stick with the book.

Going from soup to nuts, I then turned to something completely different – a fast-paced psychological thriller, The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn. I read this in three days – it was hard to put down, as in you look at the clock and it’s 2 in the morning. It has been compared to two other books, Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. The comparison is made in that the main characters are all unreliable narrators, but this book soon differentiates itself in many ways. Anna Fox, our MC, lives a secluded life; you soon find she’s an agoraphobic as a result of an unknown, horrible tragedy that occurred in her life. She’s on multiple medications, and against doctor’s orders, also drinks. She also spends a great deal of time watching her neighbors. Early on in the story, she witnesses a murder, she’s sure of it. But did she? Let me say this – The Woman in the Window reads like a house on fire, and Finn is an outstanding writer in more than one way. He (yes, it’s a `he’) spoon feeds you pieces of information, layering the suspense and all but turns the pages for you. Just when you think you know what’s going on, he throws in a major twist. Moreover, he has an exquisite use of language, not something you might expect in a thriller. I highly recommend this book. You’ll be at the (very satisfying) end in no time. Promise.

 

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Ahhhh …. two of my favorite subjects. Something delicious to eat and something delicious to read. First, the cookies. As mentioned in an earlier post, my friend Laurie had her book launch at our little local Indie bookstore, The Book Garden. What I had not mentioned, was that Laurie and I had a cookie baking marathon the weekend before, whipping up sugar cookies for both this launch and her launch in NYC a few days earlier.

The sugar cookie recipe is a very basic and really good one – simple ingredients with predictably delicious results. As Hedy was an inventor, we made what are now Laurie’s signature gear cookies, but as Hedy was also a star, we made star-shaped cookies. To catch the glamour that was Hedy, I’d suggested using edible glitter, so Laurie and I made a trip out to a specialty baking shop where they must have had 100 possible color choices. We picked the gold and a light aqua. You can see the results – they came out really pretty. I’ve never worked with edible glitter in baking before, so this was quite fun.

Because I generally have a pretty full schedule, I tend not to bake much these days. When I do, I bake only from scratch, and I’ve gotten this idea in my head that it will take forever. I believe that’s called a distortion. After having those yummy from-scratch sugar cookies, I really wanted more homemade, so I searched my many saved recipes and found one for chocolate chip cookies with about 10 variations. Perfect!

I went shopping and bought the ingredients to make an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie with dark chocolate and dried cranberries. Yum, right? I got all my ingredients together and prepped my baking sheets. (Whatever did we do before parchment paper?) I was in such a good mood, and much to my surprise, it didn’t take that long at all! Another idea I can banish from my head!

And did they taste good? Absolutely fabulous (if I say so myself.) In fact I had to freeze half to insure that I would not eat them too fast! Stay tuned for Part II of Cookies and Books, the book reviews – Atonement and The Woman in the Window.

 

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We are surrounded by a lot of noise – endless advertising and marketing, “news” that is really a recount of the violence and misfortunes suffered by our neighbors, and so on.

It’s why it’s so very important that we provide the positivity of books and reading to our children to help them find their way and to tune out the noise. There is so much beauty and love in the world, and what better way to “grow” a child than with the wonder that is found in books, and starting early, in picture books?

One book that is sure to bring love and a message of hope and self-confidence to kids is Myrtle the Purple Turtle by Cynthia Reyes and illustrated by Jo Robinson. Myrtle wasn’t always a book, but it was a story. It was written quite some time ago to help a child – Cynthia’s own child, Lauren – overcome the heartbreak of being rejected as she began school. When Lauren brought her Cabbage Patch doll to school, she was shunned because her doll wasn’t “the right color”. To help her daughter understand how being different is not only OK, but a good thing, Cynthia wrote this story and read it to Lauren at bedtime.

Myrtle is a purple turtle and comes from a family of purple turtles. When made fun of and told she couldn’t possibly even be a turtle in that color, Myrtle first stands up for herself, but then becomes crushed by the ridicule. Her Mom tries to bolster her up, but Myrtle can see that no other turtles at the pond are purple. She tries making herself green to fit in, but encounters yet another problem. With the help of her friends, Myrtle comes to realize that being different is the way things are in the world. And that is something to be happy about.

What a great message for kids. You cannot help but love Myrtle and her sweet personality, and admire the confidence that she really does have inside as she feels safe enough in the world to fall asleep when she gets stuck upside down.

But Cynthia wasn’t done yet, and neither was Myrtle. In late 2018 Cynthia brought Myrtle’s sequel into the world, again accompanied by Jo Robinson, but this time, also joined by her daughter, Lauren Reyes-Grange. In Myrtle’s Game, Myrtle and her friends, skilled at playing a game that looks just like soccer in the water, ask the woodland animals if they can play soccer with them. Told that turtles can’t play soccer (everyone knows that!), squirrel tells them to come back when they can move faster. Daunted at first, the turtles hatch a plan where Myrtle finds a way to use her talent to succeed on land. How does she do it? You’ll have to read the book!

Read more about Myrtle the Purple Turtle and Myrtle’s Game, including where you can order, at Cynthia’s blog. You just might know a child (or two) who could be inspired and heartened by Myrtle’s growing belief in herself, and her knowledge that being different is something special indeed.

 

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The saying is true … so many books, so little time, but in this case, I’m referring to books published by friends and which all deserve a shout-out. However, one dilemma is who do I write about in what order, so no one feels slighted. The other dilemma is simply finding time when I’m struggling to find time to keep up with blogging at all. Now I know that each of these people will assure me that whenever – and IF ever – I get to writing about their book, they are fine with it. But I really do want to bring some good books to your attention.

That said, I’m introducing you to a wonderful picture book for older children, written by a very dear friend of mine who just happens to be having her book launch in a couple weeks. Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life is written by Laurie Wallmark, and the third she’s published about her passion, and I quote, “dead women in STEM.” What I like so much about this book is that it brings to light a side of a famous figure, Hedy Lamarr, who was known as an actress, but almost completely unknown as an inventor.

Long before some inventions were even a twinkling in anyone’s mind, Hedy had come up with ideas for the 3-color traffic light, a reflective dog collar, a way for people to safely get in and out of the tub, and more. But those were not developed, for Hedy’s real dedication was to inventing the technology known as frequency hopping, a major scientific breakthrough at the time. The modern day application of this technology is what keeps our devices, computers or cell phones, safe from hacking, but Hedy originally designed it as a way to preserve the security of communications during World War II.

So well-written by Laurie and charmingly illustrated by Katy Wu, Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life is enlightening to us all, but also a great inspiration for girls. Hedy’s a great role model who, while she had a full life in one field as an actress, had a strong passion in another and  made wonderful achievements in science. Read more at Laurie’s website, or just come to her book launch Sunday afternoon, Feb. 10th, 2-4 p.m., at The Book Garden in Frenchtown.

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My last few posts have featured different aspects of my businesses because, truly, that is where my energies have been flowing. However, I have been reading books constantly all the same (you just haven’t heard about them yet.) I started this post Thursday in the afternoon and it had been snowing (!) for nearly 3 hours, the white sky starting to turn that dusky cloud grey. It was a great time to divert myself from the work on my desk and dwell on words … beautifully written, elegantly connected, come-hither words.

Where to start? Books and movies, or in this case, books and television. It seems fairly well-established among anyone I speak to that movies/television rarely live up to the quality of the books they’re based on, and are often disappointing. Two programs I have watched recently – one series on DVD and another of three episodes on Masterpiece Theater/PBS – were outstanding, easily the best things I’ve watched on TV all year and I highly recommend them – Big Little Lies and The Miniaturist. Each inspired me to read the books.

I must say, I was not as drawn in by Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty as I’d hoped to be. Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman optioned the series and made it into something riveting, but as to the book? For me, not so much. I decided to try another of Moriarity’s books, The Husband’s Secret, and it was significantly better.

But ah, The Miniaturist … absolutely fantastic. The story by Jessie Burton is written in the present tense from Petronella Oortman’s POV and takes place in Amsterdam in the late 1700’s. She is a young bride from another part of Holland. She has a respected family name but no money, and is married by a wealthy merchant, Johannes Brandt. While often absent, he buys her a cabinet as a wedding gift to help keep her occupied, a large and expensive dollhouse built and designed to look exactly like the house Petronella is now living in. The Miniaturist is a story about relationships, secrets, about the forbidden, prejudice, and very much, mystery. Although Nella orders miniatures to be made for her dollhouse, the miniaturist sends more, unrequested, that start to reveal a life unexpected in which the young bride finds herself inexorably tangled. Seeing the series on TV first was actually a great advantage – the settings, dress, morals, and attitudes of the Dutch at that time in history added much to the reading.  Take a peek at Petronella’s world; it will not give away the story. And then get the book. You won’t be disappointed.

Another book that I could not put down is Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. This novel is also historical fiction; one part of the story takes place in Memphis, TN in 1939, the other in present day South Carolina where a young lawyer begins to research her grandmother’s buried and seemingly disturbing past. We are taken to a shantyboat on the river where the oldest child, Rill, and her four younger siblings are kidnapped and brought to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage. They soon discover they will not be reunited with their parents as promised, but will be adopted to wealthy people willing to pay handsomely for children to adopt. The stolen youngsters at the orphanage are often starved, abused, and neglected at the hands of the cruel director and her lecherous brother; a large number of children disappeared entirely. In part what makes this book so riveting is that it is based on the very real adoption operations of Georgia Tann, a notorious felon who kidnapped and sold children for decades. Excellent in every way.

While on the topic of books not to be missed, I read Snow in August by Pete Hamill. Hamill is famously known for being the publisher of major newspapers in NYC, plus a journalist and novelist. The story takes place in Brooklyn  in 1947, a tale about friendship, faith, and trust, about an 11 year-old Irish Catholic boy, Michael Devlin, and a refugee from Prague, Rabbi Hirsch. Struggling through a snowstorm to serve mass a few blocks away, Michael, though fearful, gives in to the Rabbi’s repeated calls for help and enters the synagogue. It is the sabbath, and the rabbi needs the lights turned on. It is the beginning of a remarkable friendship, set against a backdrop of ignorance of and prejudice against the Jewish people in a community of Irish, Italian and Polish Catholics. A violent act is committed against a Jewish candy store owner by the leader of a local group of thugs; Michael was in the shop as a witness, and so the story unfolds. The prose is exquisite and the story moves along quickly. Snow in August is immensely compelling.

In my journey with excellent mystery writer Louise Penny, I read the seventh book in her Chief Inspector Gamache series – A Trick of the Light. While of course there is a murder to be solved, Penny writes each novel with a new frame of reference, this time the highly competitive art scene in Montreal. The cast of characters, always perfectly drawn, and the home of the story’s activities, Three Pines, are the setting for this novel. Louise Penny has made me a fan of her superb writing and for engaging me in reading a mystery series, something I never thought I would do.

I just finished another murder mystery I spotted on the shelf in my local library, The Day of the Dead by Nicci French, actually a collaboration between a husband and wife team. The book seemed interesting and a good read while I waited for another book through inter-library loan. I was surprised to find how really good it was. Fast moving, tight writing, great plot – I could not believe how quickly I devoured this book! It may not be my usual fare, but I enjoyed every moment of this story about a renowned psychologist, Frieda Klein, whose life had been entangled with a serial killer, Dean Reeves, for a decade. She has suddenly dropped off the map and at the same time, seemingly unrelated murders  are appearing at various locations around London. These are later revealed to be at pre-determined intervals and at locations which would have meaning for Freida, clearly to draw her in and be his final victim. In the mix, and another main character, is Lola, a college student to whom it was suggested that she study Frieda Klein for her major college paper. This is apparently the last/latest in a series about Freida Klein, but worked effortlessly as a standalone.

I am now beginning  to read Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein. I already read The Art of the Racing in the Rain, now one of my top 5 favorite books of all time, and another excellent novel of his, Sudden Light. I would probably read anything this man writes. Quite simply, he is a brilliant and gifted writer.

Hope I’ve inspired you if you’re looking for a good read. The weather is becoming that kind of chilly that has us curling up with a good book, and if you’re lucky, in front of a warm fire.

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As a graphic designer, I work on a wide variety of projects – ads, booklet, flyers, magazines, fund-raising pieces, websites, etc – which I love, because it keeps me interested and challenged. I have been expanding my involvement in children’s books, helping authors get self-published through my design work. Up to this point, I have focused exclusively on picture books … until now.

Approached by a children’s writer I know to do a chapter book, I hesitated. I do love working on picture books, and wondered if maybe I should stay with what I know best. Well, I took the challenge and the result is the first chapter book I designed, The Last Rhino, by Deb Stevenson. Deb, illustrator Morgan Spicer, and I couldn’t be happier with the final product.

If interested in reading more on my initial journey with chapter books, please visit my graphics blog. To learn more about The Last Rhino, just click on the image above, or watch Deb’s outstanding trailer.

 

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This morning when I went out to the mailbox to retrieve my mail, I spied something at my front door. It was sitting quite nicely in front of my little children’s bench which holds a flower box filled with overflowing pink and white Impatiens. What could that be? I thought. I didn’t order anything. And because I was feeling a tad under the weather, I immediately wondered if it was a misdelivery, something from a company I didn’t order, etc. Whatever it was, it did get my curiosity going.

I brought it inside and looked at the label. Sure enough, it was addressed to me, and from a company I’d never heard of. More and more curious. I opened it up to find no note or identifying information, but when I brought out the one item inside, it brought tears to my eyes.

Someone had sent me one of the most meaningful and thoughtful gifts I could receive at this moment in time. Something that affirms my strength as a woman and as a writer, from someone who obviously knows the challenges I’ve faced over the last 5 or so years.

We all have our challenges; there is no doubt about that. I was joyfully on my journey of writing and illustrating children’s books, and had been for a while. It was a long-awaited return after I had studied under the renowned children’s book author and illustrator Uri Shulevitz at the New School in NY so many years ago. And then things happened. It doesn’t really matter what they were, but they had the effect of disrupting many aspects of my life, among them my children’s book journey. This was my dream. And although it had to sit on the sidelines for a while, it never sat alone. I did everything I could, however tiny, to keep it alive even though it could hardly take my full attention.

As time passed and I worked to regain my balance in all aspects of my life, I have – little by little – returned to my writing for children, to my dream of being published. I don’t have the luxury of writing full time, as most writers do not, but more and more, it is in my thoughts and in my daily plans. I know I’m back on track – maybe not sprinting yet, but I am out there and picking up speed.

And whoever sent me this mug knows that, and I thank you deeply for acknowledging it. I will find you and I will thank you.

For the rest of you women writers out there, especially those who face challenges and proceed in spite of them, tomorrow morning I am going to toast you all with my first cup of coffee in this mug. Cheers to you and your writing dreams.

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