I’m so pleased to introduce Monica McCann to you all. She’s one of the contributing authors in  A Hill Country Christmas- Truths for Troubled Trails. A former teacher, she’s helped introduce writing to many students, and now gets to GO FOR IT herself! I appreciated her thoughts here, since I’ve also written notes for a novel on many an unworthy scrap of paper. We’ll be hearing more from Monica, I’m sure of it!

Monica says…

I always imagined when I “became a real writer” that my writing would be this organized, linear, easy telling of a story on paper. After all, I have been telling stories to myself, to my pets, to my best friend my whole life.  Ha! Silly me. 

I have two novels and two short stories that I am in the middle of and none of them just flow from my fingers to my laptop. I have sticky notes and legal pads and 30 tabs open on my computer screen for research (yes,30, I just counted them).  I am not claiming this is the best way, this is just my way. 

What I have found to be true is that “writing” happens at all hours, in inconvenient places and not always on paper. It can be messy.  Stories appear as we go about our day. Inspiration will dawn suddenly and as my daddy always said, “Gotta make hay while the sun shines.”  

Sometimes that happens while you are on a plane dutifully reading a book to help you with your fear of the editing process. The exercise in this book shed light on one of my unfinished novels that lays waiting in the dark. I knew my aging brain would remember only part of the idea if I wrote it later, so I wanted to get it down.

 I hadn’t brought my laptop or a notebook, and the tiny napkin from my airline refreshment would handle very little of my swoopy cursive. What did I find? The airsick bag! My whole row’s air-sick bags. Yep, I am a real writer.

One of my short story ideas started with a person and a geographical location. That led me to his sister, who authored a book about the place, which led me to another historical website, and there was my story waiting for me. 

 Driving to town yesterday, a song on the radio made me think about what it would be like to look someone in the eye that you had thought was lost to you in time. Suddenly my idea became two living, breathing people. I get horribly carsick so writing while sitting in the car is not my favorite, but I grabbed my new notebook out of my bag (My husband, appalled at my behavior on the airplane, bought me two.) I wrote feverishly, and oh so messy, in my notebook for the entire hour drive. 

Today I am back at the computer, translating my scribbles from yesterday, and the voice memo I made for myself while walking this morning. A few more tabs of research will be opened.  The husband or the dogs will interrupt me a dozen or more times, so the “writing” continues in my head.

 I will continue to gather sticky notes and other pieces of my story here and there. None of this disqualifies me as a “real writer.” I am so thankful for people that encourage me to just tell the stories. 

I think the truth I have been learning is the same truth the Velveteen Rabbit learned.

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

 Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit

         Becoming a real writer is something that happens as you write. It is sometimes painful, often messy, and in the end, wonderfully real.

Tools of the trade

Monica McCann is one of the contributing authors in 

A Hill Country Christmas- Truths for Troubled Trails.

A Christmas Gift

I’ve gotten to know my Words With Friends partner, Erma Ullrey, a bit better. She’s a writer, too, and it’s fun to banter as we endeavor to beat each other at the Scrabble-like game.

Just recently I learned more about the story she her husband have lived for the past six years–what a challenge they’ve faced! During this time Erma has written a children’s book…here’s the cover. Don’t you love the concept of a snowflake afraid to fall because it knows it’ll melt?

You can read all about it as we reflect on Christmas 2023 and the New Year. May Erma’s words increase our appreciation for every breath we take.


CHRISTMAS IS…God’s Breath of Life

By eMarie

More than six years ago, my husband Bert and I reeled when he received the staggering diagnosis of stage 4 cancer. No signs or symptoms, and never a history of cancer in his family. From that moment on, when he fell on his knees, I knelt beside him. When he rose up in faith, I cheered him on. When he felt well, we celebrated. 

I wore an impenetrable stoic face all day, every day. Although I believed God and took Him at His word, in my quiet moments I felt and acted more like Jacob. I didn’t have a visible wrestling match with the Lord, but an intense spiritual battle raged. Especially after reading the statistical prognosis for Bert’s disease. “Hopeless” fit the percentage. The doctors had already told us as much. But faith said these outcomes and statistics hadn’t met our God. Faith said nothing is impossible with Him.

The Lord invites us in Hebrews to come and reason with Him.

I came, but I was beyond reason. I didn’t have the peace of an overcomer, the peace that insured the battle had been won. I cried out to the Lord asking, wanting, needing something personal from Him. Something to demonstrate that even though I didn’t see it, He was at work, able to heal sicknesses of every kind, including cancer. That He cared about what was happening to Bert. That every promise in His word was still true and still ours. Jehovah would continue to be faithful, able, and in control of every aspect of our lives.

A snapshot flashed across my mind. I glimpsed the crossroads in Sacramento, CA where I first became a believer at age 19. Then, as if He needed it, I reminded the Lord of His covenant, His many promises throughout all generations. And that one of His names is Emmanuel—God with us. I prayed – Lord, if you’re still with us, show me that you are.




I got in the car that day to go to lunch with a group of Bible study friends. As I pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant, I again asked for some revelation that He was the same miracle-working God.

Beyond frustrated with this unanswered prayer, I walked up to the restaurant and released a deep exhale. As I watched, my breath formed a vapor, lingering in the frosty air. 

God’s word awakened my spirit.

“Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life…” (Gen. 2:7)

I stood stunned at the answer He’d shown me!

Every breath was, is, and always will be proof of God’s existence, love, faithfulness. He graciously made visible to me what He’d provided all along. Life! For, from, by, and in Him!

My wrestling ended there and then, and a deeper sense of wonder was birthed. That afternoon, in an effort to capture what God graciously demonstrated in that spine-tingling moment, I penned the first words to A Snowflake’s Adventure.

…six years later, by God’s grace and strength, my husband praises the Lord for each new day he’s been given to live for Him.

A Snowflake’s Adventure is a story of God’s breath of life to every child He’s ever created. Unique. Purposeful. We are His one-of-a-kind design. Each. And. Every. One.


 (To the glory of God, we have donated A Snowflake’s Adventure, a #1 Amazon children’s book to more than 500 children around the world through OCC/Samaritan’s Purse. For every book sold, one is donated!)

I appreciate your purchases, and please leave a review on Amazon. Thank you! www.amazon.com/Snowflakes-Adventure-eMarie/dp/B09HFXX3N

A Fallen Sparrow

I just finished reading this novel, and if you want to get RIGHT INTO the heart of the Revolutionary War, this book will do the trick! What a tumultuous time in our nation’s history, full of intrigue and complicated choices. Lynn has a great eye for detail…I learned a lot.

A Fallen Sparrow By Lynne Basham Tagawa

Writing a story set during the American Revolution was a great adventure for me. I knew certain things—and I’m sure y’all do too—but there was so much I had yet to learn!

Book Cover

I loved learning about some of the people. Like Benjamin Rush. I knew he was a doctor, and a signer of the Declaration, but not much more than that. Turns out, he was a Christian and a very interesting man. 

Another fascinating man was Daniel Morgan, the rough-and-ready teamster turned general. I stumbled upon a letter he wrote to a friend. In it, he was making a theological point. I’m like, wait a minute, this guy’s faith is not in the bio I have. Secular writers don’t care about this stuff. So I included a quote from that letter somewhere at the top of a chapter—every chapter has a quote.

The battles were kind of interesting, but I had a harder time with all of that. I had to figure out who was where and when and so forth. Bernard Cornwell’s book Redcoat inspired me a little. He’s good with battle scenes. I loved finding out the little things, like the aurora borealis which weirdly was visible very far south during the war.

Characters were my biggest struggle. Some kind of wrote themselves. I liked writing Robert the British spy. But I had to work on the others. At first, Jonathan, my hero, was a big fat zero. Uninteresting. I thought, I need to make him interesting, so I gave him a secret. Something bad he had done. Ruth, my heroine, was a little easier, because she likes to write—just like me. 

Men like George Whitefield and Samuel Rutherford have no lines in the story, but their influence is critical. Americans in 1776 didn’t just engage in riots and killing for the mere sake of rebellion. They had ideals. They had to do it right. They had to do it according to law and honor and a sense of justice—and not just justice for themselves, but for all. They weren’t always successful, but they gave us a good start. I wanted to dive into what all of it meant.

I hope I was successful.

A Fallen Sparrow Summary:

Ruth Haynes uses the pen name Honorius when she writes for her father’s newspaper. Boston has changed beyond recognition, and her Loyalist views soon get her in trouble. With war looming, what will their family do?

Jonathan Russell hides a guilty secret. The Battle of Bunker’s Hill sweeps him and his Shenandoah Valley family into the war. The unthinkable happens, and he’s forced to deal with both his grief—and his guilt.

Lieutenant Robert Shirley is summoned by his godmother and introduced to the Earl of Dartmouth, who charges him to gather intelligence in Boston. He is horrified but must obey.

Gritty, realistic, and rich with scriptural truth, this story features Dr. Joseph Warren, Major John André, Henry Knox, and Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton.


Robert’s mind whirled. He was being ripped from his duty here with the Fifth Regiment and inserted into the melee of Boston political intrigue, a totally unknown world. The parlor itself seemed to waver. 

“But General Gage? Does he have his own sp—sources?” 

Dartmouth paused while the countess handed him another cup of tea. “General Gage uses his own judgment. We have given him considerable leeway in his command. After all, we are three thousand miles away. But consider this, lieutenant. It is clear the inhabitants of Boston hate the soldiers stationed there. How is Gage to gather intelligence? How is he to discover the thinking of the ordinary man? Worse, he will have difficulties discovering the plots of the rebels.”

Discovering the plots of the rebels. This was a serious task. He had only one more card to play, a weak one. “I have a cousin who might be willing to serve in this capacity.”

Lord Dartmouth studied him.

His godmother arched an eyebrow. “Nonsense. Lord Rawdon is too young.” Her voice dripped with what she would not say, that her grandson’s character was deficient. Robert’s cousin was a scapegrace and a follower of the rakehell Banastre Tarleton. Both had been behind him several years at both Harrow and Oxford, and they were notorious for bullying the youngest students. Rawdon’s father had washed his hands of him, and his uncle had purchased him a commission.

She was right. There was no escape. “My lord, I am honored to serve King and country.”

A little about Lynne:

Lynne Tagawa is a mom and a grandma to six. Coffee and chocolate, in that order. She loves to include gospel truth in her stories. She lives with her husband in Texas.

Sign up for her newsletter at www.lynnetagawa.com Twitter: @LynneTagawa

Buy link: https://amzn.to/3uO6Y0t Coming soon: audiobook!

Wooing Gertrude By Jodie Wolfe

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hi! I’m Jodie Wolfe. It’s great to be here. Thank you, Gail, for having me. I live in south central PA with my husband. This December we’ll celebrate our 36th anniversary. I have two sons and six grandchildren. I’ve always had an interest in writing since I was a little girl.

What genre do you write?

I write Christian historical romance. My stories usually revolve around a theme. Usually, it’s something either God is in the process of teaching me, or He’s recently taught me. 🙂 Most times I’m learning along with my characters.

What is your least favorite aspect of writing?

Editing and marketing. I’d rather be creating a story and interacting with my characters – going with them on their adventures and seeing where they lead.

How is faith interwoven in your books?

It’s an intrinsic part of each of my books. My characters are often struggling in their faith walk, but they’re striving to be better.

What things do you like to do outside of writing?

I enjoy walking, birdwatching, and spending time with my hero husband.

Did you always want to be a writer?

I did. Ever since I wrote my first poem and stories while in grade school, I dreamed about becoming a writer.

What’s the title of your new book, and is it part of a series?

My new book is Wooing Gertrude, and it’s book three in my Burrton Springs Brides Series. All this month, Amazon has a discount on the first book in the series, Taming Julia. It’s only $1.99 for the ebook.

Tell us about Gertrude’s story, please.

Enoch Valentine has given up finding peace for his past mistakes. He throws everything he has into being the new part-time deputy in Burrton Springs, Kansas while maintaining the foreman position at a local horse ranch. But when trouble stirs on the ranch, he questions whether he’s the right man for either job.

Peace has been elusive for most of Gertrude Miller’s life, especially under the oppressiveness of an overbearing mother. She takes matters into her own hands and sends for a potential husband, while also opening her own dress shop. Gertrude hopes to build a future where she’ll find peace and happiness.

Will either of them ever be able to find peace?

Sounds so interesting, and the cover really draws me in.

Where can readers find you online?

Website: https://www.jodiewolfe.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Jodie-Wolfe-553400191384913

BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/jodie-wolfe

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/JodieAWolfe

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15220520.Jodie_Wolfe

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Jodie-Wolfe/e/B01EAWOHXO/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

MeWe: https://mewe.com/jodiewolfe

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jodie-wolfe-3955b2bb/

Thank you for having me, Gail. I hope readers will enjoy Wooing Gertrude.

Confession – Good For The Soul

Patti Shene Gonzales has always been such an encouragement to me and other writers, but I had no idea she had the PROBLEM she shares about here. I’ve always admired people who share their struggles, so here she is, and she’s offering a free e-book of her debut novella to a commenter. Enjoy!

What I Learned From My First Published Novella

All my life, I have been a procrastinator. Lately, I have passed off the flaw with the statement, “why do today what can be done tomorrow? After all, Jesus might return tonight!” Although this thought brings a chuckle, it does not lead to a productive lifestyle.

More than once, I have found myself in situations where I lack some important food ingredient, household product, or whatever, because I failed to write it down on my shopping list.

I can’t count the number of events I have missed in town or online because I put off entering said event in my calendar at the time I read about it. I am always thinking, “I’ll do it later.”

I believe it was way back in April that I was invited to participate in a multi author Christmas novella series. I was so excited, but in my mind, April was a long way away from a November release date. HA!

The months in between flew by faster than an airliner in blue sky, and before I knew it, summer was drawing to a close. I had not written one word of the  story. Oh, yes, ideas churned in my mind all the time, but I had nothing concrete to show for it.

I am a member of an excellent critique group who have offered me so much valuable advice about my writing over the past couple of years. By the time I settled down to write Cathy’s Christmas Confession, there was not enough time to send all of my chapters to my critique buddies.

In retrospect, this first novella would have been so much better if I had taken the time to write, get critiques, edit, and hone the finished product. As it turned out, I spent a very rushed eight weeks writing this story.

Many days and nights I was literally in a panic, fearful I would not fulfill my commitment to God and my fellow authors. I could not face another defeat in my writing career. I had told too many people about this novella. No way was I going to back out on the project.

God intervened at this point and gave me some solid ideas to help me craft a story worth reading. He brought scenes to mind that I had not even thought of. He spoke to me through my main characters and their shared experience of loss. He enabled me to demonstrate the theme that Christmas is not always joyful for the hurting, but there are ways to recognize the true meaning of Christmas through our pain.

Writing is hard. It takes time, patience, perseverance, skill, encouragement, creativity and guidance. I learned a valuable lesson while writing this novella. Procrastination is not a positive trait for an author.

There are hundreds of Christmas stories available to readers every year. Cathy’s Christmas Confession is not a story for all audiences. However, if this story appeals to you, my prayer is that it will bless you and bring joy to your heart.

Happy Jesus’s birthday!

Christmas is not a time of joy for the hurting.

During a snowstorm, widow Cathy Fischer creams a stop sign on her way to work at the Christmas Ridge Community Church. Acquaintance David Martin stops to help. Cathy sees signs of deep grief in David, a recent widower. She reaches out with support in an attempt to help David through this most difficult first Christmas without his beloved wife. 

David Martin struggles with grief over the death of his wife. He blames God for her rapid demise after her cancer diagnosis. Cathy reaches out to him with compassion and support and soon enlists him in her mission to bring joy to others at Christmas. Will their joint quest restore David’s faith?

David needs to turn loose of the past and embrace his future. Cathy has a confession to make to the entire community that may give David a different perspective of who she really is. Will her confession set her free? 

Does God have plans in mind for the two of them they did not anticipate?

Buy link:         https://tinyurl.com/mr26ekaj

Available now on Amazon Kindle and Kindle Unlimited

Check out our Amazon Christmas Ridge Romance page (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BLCJ9P9J) to learn about other books in the series and receive updates!


Patti Shene Gonzales hosts Step Into the Light, a weekly interview style podcast, where guests share their journey out of darkness or ways they lead others back to light. She hosts writers on her two blogs, Patti’s Porch and The Over 50 Writer. Patti is published in two anthologies and local publications and has three novels in progress. She enjoys writing, reading, critiquing, and spending time with family and friends. Patti lives in Colorado with her devoted feline companion, Duncan. Cathy’s Christmas Confession is her first novella.

Visit Patti at her website         www.pattishene.com

Facebook                                https://www.facebook.com/pattishene/

Twitter                                    https://twitter.com/PattiShene

Unintended Hero–a debut historical novel!

A hearty welcome to Becky Van Vleet, whose first novel tells her father’s WWII story and honors his sacrifice. Becky’s offering a signed hardback copy of Unintended Hero to one commenter–for yourself, or would make a great gift!

The Story Behind the Story

As a baby boomer, I grew up in a household hearing stories from my parents about the Great Depression and WWII. I don’t recall being all that interested as a youngster, yet I never forgot the firsthand stories my parents shared. Fast forward a few years, and I marry a baby boomer, who also recalled similar stories. As an educator with four children, the call to preserve these stories in some fashion or form came to me. Not knowing how long our parents would live to share their firsthand accounts with our children, I decided I’d better not let the stories perish in oblivion. 

I’d always been fascinated with my father’s stories he shared about the USS Denver, the light cruiser he was a gunner on in the South Pacific in WWII. So I whipped out my dated cassette recorder on March 19, 1990, corralled my father to our kitchen table, and asked him to recount his WWII adventures, experiences, and battles so I could save his stories for our children, his grandchildren. 

For the next two hours, his stories tumbled out with pride and a remarkable remembrance. I sat spellbound, taking it all in. At the time, my plan was to simply save the cassettes as historical keepsakes for my family.

Fast forward again, thirty years later. Covid hits, and I’m homebound with a worldwide shutdown. My children are grown up with children of their own. Time is on my hands. Another call to write a book to preserve my father’s WWII stories came loud and clear. 

Google and search engines became my friends, working in tandem with my fingers on my keyboard. I had a big puzzle on my hands to fit all the pieces together—my dad’s stories on the cassettes, the USS Denver deck logs, tedious research for the whole Pacific Theater for WWII, researching ammunition and guns (remember I said my father was a gunner), all the battles, hundreds of other Navy ships, and the . . . well, I had a lot of pieces to fit together to formulate a story. And a well-written story. I wouldn’t settle for less than the best.

This was a story, after all, about my father.

He was no longer living, and my book must honor not only him, but the other sixteen million Americans who also answered the call of duty to fight for our country. They had sacrificed school, jobs, families, homes, personal aspirations, and their very lives. My book would represent them as well.

Tap, tap, tap. My fingers flew over my keyboard faster than armor piercing shells flying from WWII battleships for more than a year as a manuscript immerged. Help came from everywhere–my husband, editors, WWII veterans, and friends. Family cheered me on. 

Unintended Hero, my debut historical novel, finally made an inaugural appearance on Amazon in August, 2022. For Gail’s readers, if you know of any WWII buffs in your circle, or, if you have young people in your circle who could benefit from a good story about patriotism, sacrifice for a cause beyond self, and teamwork for America, I’d like to recommend this book to you. This is not about self-promotion nor sales. That was never my intention when I set out to write my father’s story. This book is about preserving a firsthand story from Walter Troyan, my father, who came from The Greatest Generation, to use Tom Brokaw’s term. A story about sacrifice and freedom which impersonates Thomas Paine’s “The American Crisis” which he wrote in 1776.

Becky Van Vleet

Becky Van Vleet is a wife, mother, grandmother, swimmer, gardener, oil painter, power walker, and a writer who loves God. She especially enjoys getting together with friends and family, eating cotton candy, asking Alexa hundreds of questions, and reading books to her grandchildren. An award-winning author of children’s picture books, she’s over the moon about her debut novel, Unintended Hero, a true story about her father’s experiences on the USS Denver in WWII.  Her website is devoted to preserving family stories and memories, believing it’s important to tell our stories to the next generations. Check out her website at www.beckyvanvleet.com





Bringing the Book Baby Home

Nothing like welcoming a debut author with her new release! Cheri Dargan, an IOWA author, is offering a paperback copy of THE GIFT to a commenter. (It’s a WWII story…and the beginning of a saga…you’ll like it!)

Cherie, here you go!

I’ve been waiting for the past six months for my novel to be published. There’s no nursery to paint or stacks of onesies to wash and arrange neatly in a bureau. No need to stock the freezer, buy several boxes of disposable diapers, arrange stuffed animals in a room, or assemble a new crib. However, the experience feels familiar from two pregnancies. 

When I got the word that I could order books, I was excited, but it didn’t seem real. I developed several presentations to give at book talks and put together my first newsletter. I was running errands when the baby arrived on Oct. 21st. My husband sent me a text with a picture of four medium-sized boxes stacked up on our bench outside the front door. 

When I got home, I brought the boxes in and opened one, my heart beating fast. I lifted out a book and examined it, smiling. My husband took pictures of me holding the book. I sent them out to friends and family in a text and my sister said, “it’s beautiful!” I agreed. It’s a girl! The Gift, born October 21st at 8 ½ by 5 ½ inches and weighing 12.83 ounces. A week later, the hardbound edition arrived, and we admired its beautiful cover like adoring parents.  

One of my daughter’s friends read the book and posted a review. “I just finished reading your book and I just thought it was wonderful! I loved all the Iowa and Midwest references, and I really enjoyed the characters and the story. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series! Congratulations!”

And I thought, “She likes it! She likes our book baby. She wants to read Book Two!” Book Two is ready for Beta readers, and I have a few lined up. Then, as I juggle book events for book One, and get Book Two ready for publication, I need to get back to Book Three, which needs more development. 

Suddenly, I feel like a busy young mother, wiping her hands on the apron from doing dishes, checking on the baby, refereeing a squabble between the twins, and patting her pregnant belly. So far, I’ve written Books one through Five for the Grandmother’s Treasures series. It’s going to be fun to bring home all the babies!

Stay in touch with Cherie here:

Cherie Dargan


www.cheriedargan.com  Author’s Site.



Susan Thogerson Maas joins us today with her two Middle-Grade Fiction novels. Growing up in the rainy, green state of Oregon, she loved to wander through the woods, discovering new wildflowers and birds. Her second favorite place was lying on the front lawn, lost in a book about nature or faraway lands. She still loves camping, hiking, and photography, as well as traveling to places she’s never seen before–life should always be an adventure!

Susan is offering a copy of each of her books, readers’ choice of paperback or e-book, to two different commenters.

Why Adults Can Enjoy Middle Grade Fiction

By Susan Thogerson Maas

What books did you most love as an elementary child? Older folks like me might remember classics like Anne of Green Gablesby L.M. Montgomery or The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis or perhaps A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. For me, that list would also include the complete list of Black Stallion books by Walter Farley—even though they are not exactly classics.

More recent books liable to become classics might be Wonder by R.J. Palacio, The Giver by Lois Lowry, or Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. While these books vary greatly in subject matter, they all have thought-provoking situations and themes that run deep. And that makes them just as meaningful for adults as for children.

Reasons to Read Middle Grade Books

Why not just stick to adult books? Why should adults bother to read middle grade (MG) novels? Here are a few reasons.

1. They are faster reads. Usually MG books are shorter than books meant for adults. Some can be read in a day or two, perfect for a short vacation, a long plane ride, or a couple of days in bed with the flu. And the language level will be a bit lower so you can understand it easily, even in a noisy airplane or with illness-induced brain fog. It won’t require as much concentrated effort as, say, a James Michener saga.

2. They can help you see things from a kid’s point of view. MG books cover a wide range of topics and issues. Divorce, sibling rivalry, bullying, low self-image, disabilities, conservation, war and peace—the list goes on. My first book, Picture Imperfect, is about a girl trying to find her God-given gift while dealing with a difficult aunt. And the heroine of Abbie’s Woods: Defending the Nest struggles against a bully and has parents who constantly bicker. Reading about such issues in a middle grade book may help parents (or grandparents) understand how children feel when caught up in difficult situations. 

3. They can make you feel like a kid again. Childhood has its problems, to be sure, but it is also a time of innocence and wonder. Remember what it felt like to lie on your back on the grass and watch the stars come out overhead? Or to catch the season’s first snowflakes on your tongue? Anne of Green Gables is a great example of a book with joy and wonder—mixed in with other emotions, of course. When you feel depressed and jaded from life, pick up a children’s book and return to that time in your mind. Reread your childhood favorites and try out some new children’s authors, as well.

Actually, writing Abbie’s Woods took me back to my childhood. Although the book is fiction, the woods are real. We lived next to them when I was growing up. There I learned to identify birds and wildflowers and came to appreciate the wonder of God’s creation. I hope I captured a little of that magic in the book.

4. They can take you to new worlds. MG books, especially today, are incredibly diverse. They cover every time period, including the future, as well as varied cultures and countries.  Books by Jacqueline  Woodson show what it’s like to be a black child growing up in America. Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman shows an example of people from many cultures working together to improve their neighborhood. In All the Ways Home by Elsie Chapman, a boy is sent to live with his father in Japan and ponders the meaning of family. And of course, books like A Wrinkle in Time or the The Chronicles of Narnia take us to imaginary worlds—but with a Christian message.

5. They can rekindle hope. Books written for adults can sometimes be discouraging. They may have depressing or ambiguous endings. While that may be true to life—things certainly don’t always go as we would like, and our best-laid plans can fail—reading such a book may leave a bad taste in our mouth. Most middle grade books, however—even those that cover difficult subjects—end in hope. There will be a lesson learned, perhaps a new friend made, and a feeling that things will be okay. Bird, Horse, and Muffin by Susan D. Hill is an example of a book where everything possible goes wrong for the main character. And yet God works through her uncle to restore her faith and hope. 

My own books will always end in hope. In Picture Imperfect, JJ may not win the photo contest and her dream camera, but she begins to understand the faith of her great-grandmother and make it her own. In Abbie’s Woods, Abbie faces her parents’ possible divorce and the destruction in her wooded sanctuary. However, with the help of an older neighbor, she draws closer to God and learns the power of forgiveness.

So why not take a break from your usual genre and try something new—or revisit something from your childhood? Read some good middle grade books and share them with children you love. You will all be richer for the experience


Website: Adventures in Wonder:  http://www.susanmaas.com/

Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/authorsusanmaas/

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Link to buy books: http://www.susanmaas.com/book-table/

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My Brother Javi

Tracy Stopler’s story brought up lots of questions for me. Dog lovers out there may have already thought these through, but ponder is good. Here, she shares with us her perspective on human-animal relationships. If you love animals, you will really enjoy this book!

And what a unique giveaway she’s offering–your puppy could become famous! Read all about it!

If you are a book reader, dog lover, and interested in reading about dogs, I can add your puppy (or someone else’s) to My Brother Javi before you purchase the book. If interested, please send me (via Facebook PM) your puppy’s headshot photo, name and age, I will add him/her to the updated Thanksgiving paperback edition of My Brother Javi. It also makes a great gift for someone else’s pup. ???

Have to add that Tracy’s a nutritionist…and here’s a photo of a cookie from her culinary creations.

The depth of “human” emotions in canines…do they have a sense of humor? I would swear that my dogs laugh. Only a dog parent would understand. I can throw my little Bella up in the air, catch her, and believe I hear her say, “More, more.” With Binah, a bit older and a bit heavier, I play, “tickle, tickle,” and again, I hear her saying something like, “Oh, Mommy, you are so silly, ha, ha, ha!”  
The degree to which a human-pet relationship can bring healing? I can share first-hand that Javi was my first dog, and since then I have learned to take life less seriously. I have laughed more and cried less. I now share space with Binah (who is a ten-year-old Havanese) and Bella (who is a rambunctious two-year-old Aussie doodle) and I no longer look for material things to bring me joy, unless it’s toys or treats for my fur-kids. 
What motivated you to write this story? When Javi passed away in 2011 I didn’t know how to channel my grief. At the time I was writing my debut novel, The Ropes That Bind  and decided to weave Javi into the story. Doing that actually empowered me. After that book was published in 2016, I immediately started writing My Brother Javi: A Dog’s Tale. I wanted to tell this story in Javi’s voice. By this time Binah had joined the family and it felt right. I absolutley loved being in their heads, or at least pretending to be. I’m smiling now just thinking about that writing process. I had so much fun. 
Any obstacles encountered along the way?  I don’t know if I would call them obstacles, but there was that difficult-to-write-section where I couldn’t stop crying and then the ending, oh, geez. But I truly feel that my emotions made the editing process better. It made me feel connected to Javi, and write with him rather than about him.  
Do you see Javi/Binah making a difference in this old hurting world?   Well, for starters, Binah was a gift from Java. The dream in the story was true, but what was too unbelievable to write was that someone (a stranger) brought Binah (her name was Oreo at the time) to my home asking if I can rescue her. She was black and white the way she appeared in my dream. I took that as a sign. I changed her name to Binah because Binah means understanding in Hebrew, and that was exactly what I had been searching for.

So, Binah provided some understanding and immediately changed my life. Soon after Binah made herself at home, the two of us started visiting senior citizens. Any dog lover will tell you that dogs have the gift of magically erasing lonliness. During COVID I was fostering Bella. It was supposed to be a foster, I mean I was actively seeking a home for her, but, I, huh, guess I failed.

That little one has kept me on my toes, not to mention, contributed to my torn ACL two years ago, and my broken toe two days ago. She is lucky that she is so cute. LOL! Everyone in the neighborhood loves them and, so yes, my girls, and dog (pets) in general are here to help people heal so people can become their best and make their contribution to beautify this world. 

TRACY STOPLER, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, with a Master of Science in Nutrition from New York University, and the nutrition director at NUTRITION E.T.C. in Plainview, Long Island. Tracy has been an adjunct nutrition professor at Adelphi University for 25 years and teaches workshops on Mind/Body Medicine. Tracy is the author of two award-winning novels: The Ropes that Bind and My Brother Javi: A Dogs Tale. Look for her next novel, We All Fall Down in 2023. 

To watch the one-minute book trailer for My Brother Javi: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4G0DeLhx2AYou are invited to watch the two-minute book trailer for The Ropes That Bind https://youtu.be/bXDSlQOUWIU
Tracy’s 14-minute TEDx talkhttps://youtu.be/IowLwYXdhR4

Connect with Tracy:

Tracy Stopler TracyStopler@gmail.com
Amazon Author Linkhttps://amazon.com/author/tracystopler

GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/list/15633962.Tracy_Stopler

Facebook Author/Baker link https://www.facebook.com/Tracy-Stopler-Author-and-Baker-108944818574934/

Tracy Stopler, M.S.,R.D.President, NUTRITION ETC, Inc. Plainview, New York
Nutrition Professor, Adelphi UniversityGarden City, New York
Award-winning author, The Ropes That Bindwww.TheRopesThatBind.com

Award-winning author, My Brother Javi: A Dog’s Tale

<Javi Book Award Feathered Quill.jpg><Tracy and Binah.jpg>

Writing Reviews and Poems and Novels, oh MY!

Authors love receiving reviews, that’s for sure! During the past two weeks, we’ve been delighted that so many of our ARC readers really enjoyed our new HILL COUNTRY CHRISTMAS.

One of our reviewers, Cathy Fiorello, came to my attention through an online writers’ workshop last summer and we kept corresponding. Since then, I’ve read some of her work, and recently, Cathy’s review of A H ill Country Christmas/Hope for Hardscrabble Times caught my attention, perhaps because I can relate to being an “outsider” and finding Texas history so intriguing.

See what you think:

A Hill Country Christmas – Amazon review

I’m not a Texan, y’all. I’m an East Coast, New England, city girl. I’m not a history buff, and I never knew what a topsy-turvy doll was. But I was sent a copy of A Hill Country Christmas – Hope for Hardscrabble Times, with the possibility of writing a review of it. Here’s my personal opinion of this book: it’s lovely. It made me feel wistful for something I’ve never known.

Most of the stories were written about a simpler time when people worked harder than I do and went through more random sorrow than I’ve gone through. But there was a dignity to their lives, their faith, and the way they loved. 

The book contains seventeen stories about happenings in the great land of Texas, arranged chronologically from 1835 to 2021. Reading them gave me a respite from the disillusionment of the post-modern age of information I live in.  I said respite instead of escape because a respite can produce growth instead of numb avoidance. The book made me want to change – slow down, appreciate nature, my family, savor a slow cup of coffee. It made me want to really listen to people – something that doesn’t always happen in my break-neck life. 

Favorite stories: A Castroville Christmas Eve, The Made-over Christmas, Christmas Conundrum, The Deer Hunters’ Ball, and Lo Nuestro.Read it for Christmas, or when it’s hot out. It will help you lean into kindness and simplicity.

Putting extra thought into these phrases…wistful for something I’ve never known…lean into kindness and simplicity…shows a literary writer at work. That word “literary” means delving a bit deeper by seeking unique phrases to clarify or define one’s meaning, thus creating vivid images for the reader.

Cathy also writes novels and poetry–a traditional publisher recently requested the full manuscript of her debut novel. I expect we’ll soon be hearing more from this Northeastern girl!

Connect with Cathy on FaceBook or at cathyfiorello.com.