Friday, March 25, 2016

How Can Books Be More Exciting??? Here's How...

I've recently discovered the world of subscription boxes.  It all started with Nerd Block.  Then I tried out Loot Crate.  I have previously posted about these boxes on my website.  While somewhat satisfying my nerd tendencies, I found myself more often than not skipping a month due to the themes.  For April, I will only be getting the SciFi Nerd Block and the Loot Crate Accessories subscriptions (and look forward to some magically themed socks that Loot Crate has hinted at).   

While wondering and checking Google if there were better themed nerd subsriptions for me, particularly with more Harry Potter and Star Trek themes (Of note, Nerd Block has done great with Star Wars items), I saw a reference to "Owl Crate."  My mind instantly went to HP.  A Potter-themed box, I asked?  Perhaps a way to receive post via owl??  I had to explore! 

What I found was even more tantalizing.  A YA book/swag box!  Holy smokes.  However, "Owl Crate" was sold out for the month of February. *sigh*

Further searching revealed other book-themed subscription boxes!  Ditto holy smokes!  After doing some research, I decided to invest in "Fantasy and Sci-fi Books."  When searching through the past boxes of some subscription boxes of various companies and comparing the costs, I decided the surprise books from this company would best fit my tastes.  It hit two of my three favorite genres (unfortunately, I have not found a satisfying historical fiction box quite for me - they need to be more ancient fictional stories).  My first box would be March.

Shortly thereafter, I got an email that "Owl Crate" was accepting new subscriptions.  So, since there was still some tax return money in our account, I decided to also give this one a try.  My first box would be March!

I received the "Fantasy and Sci-fi Books" box earlier than I expected.  Learn more at   These boxes are shipped the 1st of each month, so I got this surprise early in the month!  Most subscription boxes I've had so far ship mid-way through the month.  Yay for early surprises!  This is a big plus for this company.

This was my first book: "Unhooked" by Lisa Maxwell.  I also got the nautical-themed bracelet on my wrist, an autographed bookmark from Ms. Maxwell, a Neverland (NVR) bumper sticker and a map for "Unhooked," PLUS a second book with autographed bookmark.  Two books and swag!  Be still my pounding heart! 

I finished "Unhooked" within 3 days.  I could not put it down!  Very well written fantasy novel.  You can check out my review here:

I have not made it to "Dreamer" yet, but its on my to-read list.  I was quite satisfied with this first box.  If I had to be critical, I found the map of Neverland a little lacking in detail and sturdiness (its made of paper), but I am a big fan of maps in books or about book worlds.  So I'm still happy with it!

Then, in the second half of the month, I received my owl crate.  They are themed boxes, and this one was "Writer's Block."  I was slightly unsure about this box, but I'm glad I gave it a try because I got some great swag!

Here is what I saw when I first opened the box.  The feather instantly intrigued me.

The pen, with its white "feather" tip and fine point, is one of my favorite items.  It also perfectly complements another box item: "642 Tiny Things to Write About."  This 'tiny' book has been on my wish list for a while now.  I kept seeing it and other versions of writing prompts at Barnes and Noble but could not decide what would work best.  I almost started jumping up and down when I unboxed this item.  Thus far, I've had a lot of fun exploring the journal with my super awesome pen (it writes really nice too).

Another fun item was a pair of socks themed for banned book.  There were some cute book-lover buttons.  And then the book, "The Serpent King" by Jeff Zentner.  I had no idea what YA book would be the subject for a "Writer's Block" theme, so I did not have any expectations of what was coming.  Overall, I was pleasantly surprised.  You can learn more about "Owl Crate" here:

"The Serpent King" was another book I read within a couple days.  It was very good with excellent main characters.  Its typically not one I would have picked up, so I'm glad this book was put into my hands.  My review can be found here:

April's "Owl Crate" theme is "Dystopia."  I chose to skip the month.  While a fan of "Hunger Games," the other series that will have featured swag in the April box ("Maze Runner" and "Shatter Me") I have not read and would not be able to read beforehand.  I have also found that many dystopian YA books are too similar to "Hunger Games," and I do not enjoy them as much.  So I decided to skip it for the month.  I'm actually going to try a different subscription book box called "Uppercase." 

I saw an "Uppercase" ad on Facebook (thanks, internet, for your product placement and further feeding my addiction - not).  When I saw their past boxes, I discovered the past couple boxes were ones I would have LOVED with featured books high on my to-read list.  Their facebook page also advertised swag for fans of "Harry Potter."  I was hooked. 

I look forward to getting my "Uppercase" subscription for April.  I will also be getting a "Fantasy and Sci-fi Books" box.  I look forward to writing up more posts about my discoveries.  Oh, and if you want to check out "Uppercase," you can find them here:

So what do you think?  Would you have enjoyed these boxes?  Do you have other suggestions?  At this point, I've been very happily surprised.  The worst part is waiting for the next month's box.  A month apart??  Its SO LONG

Sorry for my over dramatics.  I was a theater major in college after all.

Be warned, these boxes are addicting!  Subscribe at your own risk.  They are quite awesome though... More to come!  In the meantime, happy reading!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

What's in a Family Name?

I think I can safely say that almost everyone has heard of King Tut.  He's been researched and debated since his tomb's discovery in 1922.  The way he died has been explored.  Who his parents are has been discovered.  Now his tomb is being re-explored.  Its exciting to think hidden rooms may be hiding within the walls.  King Tut may still hold a few secrets! 

One theory presented is that because of his early death, he may have been rushed into an outer chamber of what was originally Nefertiti’s tomb.  British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves presented his case after high-resolution images discovered what he said were straight lines in King Tut’s tomb. These lines, previously camouflaged by color and stone textures, indicate the presence of a sealed chamber.  Wow.  I eagerly await more information.  And if you have read my book, secret chambers hidden in tombs was something I briefly explored in my narrative.  I was feeling pretty awesome when I heard about this new theory!  This was something not discovered at the time my book was published.

However, not everything ran smoothly in terms of keeping my historical accuracy.  Being King Tut, he's a subject that's widely researched.  Thus, new discoveries are made.  Here are a few of my researching highs and lows:

Yeah, that was a bummer.  However, I decided to re-review my book and release a second edition.  In addition to fixing some grammatical errors missed in the first release, I also added a small conversation which helped align events in the book with this latest discovery. 

Being historically accurate is important to me.  In a recent interview, I was asked the question: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just seeing where an idea takes you?  My answer was this: With historical fiction, I try to keep the big events aligned with the documented time line. I know some authors who fudge dates a little to better fit their storyline and then make a note in the book’s Afterward. I prefer to keep historical events as accurate as possible. However, when it comes to everyday life and decision making, I let the plot take me on a journey. I research what I can and work with my character to decide on what to do. It’s a mutual journey. (You can find more of the interview here:

If I read a book and then later discover events were fudged to make a more dramatic story, it really ruins things for me.  I want to create plausible choices within a setting which my readers feel transported back to.  I hope you feel that when you page through my book.  If you want suggestions for other wonderful historical fiction books, check out my "Books I'd Recommend" page. 

If you want to explore on your own, I find a lot of interesting information at  They have a wonderful historical database.  What will you uncover? 

Friday, March 4, 2016

If you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your path - Buddha

I was extremely blessed and grateful to have been lucky enough to be chosen via a lottery for a seat to hear the Dalai Lama speak at my place of work. His talk, 'Compassion in Health Care,' was held on February 29, 2016. Contained within a beautiful chapel on the hospital campus, I waited eagerly for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the spiritual leader of Tibet. The Dalai Lamas are believed to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron saint of Tibet. Bodhisattvas are believed to be enlightened beings who have postponed their own nirvana and chosen to take rebirth in order to serve humanity.

On that February day, stillness flowed down the center aisle like a soft breeze, and our eyes turned to the chapel’s back entrance. From there, the Dalai Lama entered, walking with a smile, eyes open, hands folded in greeting. He swept his eyes to all those in attendance. When his eyes met mine, for just a second, his smile was genuine and peaceful. He is a small man, but a powerful gentleness emanated around him. You could feel it as he walked by.

(Dalai Lama walking to the front and occasionally stopping to shake a person's hand)

As he spoke, his message of understanding and sameness between all people was truly inspirational. While at the same time he realizes that he is just one individual person, he noted that if that one person touches another person who touches another person, etc., then great changes towards a more compassionate world can be made.

So on that note, I thought I’d share some wisdom from his talk in hopes that it touches your heart and connects with you as it did me.

In his words (bolded words my own addition):

• Basically, we are the same, human beings, whether different faith, nationality, fate, rich, poor, educated, uneducated.

• If we put the emphasis on the sameness of 7 billion people (instead of differences), we can reduce problems across the world.

• When someone calls me 'brother,' I feel touched on a basic level of humanness. Otherwise, we're creating barriers. If I put too much emphasis on being His Holiness, I create a barrier... If I consider my secondary differences as important, I create a wall. In that wall, I am a lonely person.

• Destructive emotions are linked with ignorance; not knowing the reality and focusing on just one aspect of our emotions. The only remedy is to look at it from a wider perspective. Some part of our curriculum should be to study the map of our emotions and the vast interconnectedness.

• Each of us, part of the 7 billion, should share a clear goal of a happy humanity, a peaceful humanity, through awareness and through education. Practice as individuals, and be an example to others. Each of us has a possibility to make a contribution.

• Basic human nature is loving kindness. Once we understand that, there is hope.

(Dalai Lama shares his thoughts on compassionate care)

• Without love between us, how can families and communities be happy? We are social animals, and what brings us together is love. No one can survive entirely alone, we depend on one another. Whether you believe in religion or not, as a human being, happiness is related to your state of mind not just to your various sensory experiences, what you see, hear, taste and touch.

• We are all formed the same way, in the womb. A newborn child and mother are naturally drawn to each other. This is the same for all of us. We are also all the same in wanting to live a happy life. It's on such a basis that we can treat each other with respect.

• Remembering that all 7 billion of us belong to one human family is very important in today's world. It's how we can ensure harmony among humanity. But we need to make an effort to educate people about this reality.

But this one is my favorite:

• Ninety percent of negativeness is your own perception. We should utilize our wonderful brains and analyze and look for wider perspectives. The same person from one angle may appear irritating, from another angle they may be neutral, and from a different angle they may be positive … When you develop anger, try to look at them from a different angle, from different dimensions.

Isn’t that beautiful? Simply find a different angle to see things from (be it inside, outside, or upside-down as the children’s book would say). He encouraged finding a new angle and training yourself to seek peace instead of anger towards our “brothers and sisters” of humanity. Anger is not fixed or absolute. He said that many of our destructive emotions are mixed with exaggeration. Thus, anger changes based on our personal perceptions.

(Dalai Lama waves goodbye)

What makes these messages so much stronger was the humbleness the Dalai Lama had when speaking to us all.  He offered up so much gratitude to his own care providers.  He also has the most delightful little chuckle.  Yes, he laughs at himself!  While many conversations had a serious message, he made time for laughter as well.

Recently, I asked myself what so interests me in historical fiction, particularly ancient history. Do I read historical fiction solely to catch glimpses into lives of the past (is curiosity driving me)? Perhaps I’m looking for something to relate with (how long have people been dealing with this parenting issue??). Do I seek answers to personal struggles, scouring the past to find new paths to cross today? Truly great historical-fiction storytellers seem to wave magical wands to enchant and beguile their readers. Books written by the likes of Mitch Albom or Ted Dekker can reach into a reader’s spiritual and emotional depths and draw out beautiful new discoveries like miners pulling out precious gems.

I think part of why I love ancient Egypt so much is because of the humanness in how they lived. They lived for thousands of years without the need to develop technology like computers, cars, phones, whatever it may be. They lived and thrived for so long (we’re talking thousands of years). This is what fascinates me. Their lives were happy and purposeful. Nature and humanity were more peacefully interconnected in daily life.

So what made us modern people develop such technologies? What basic need were we seeking to fill that these ancient peoples did not require? What questions required answers for us? Knowledge is very powerful, yes, but it can also be very dangerous if used in the wrong context.

I think our technologies, like smartphones and email, has taken away a lot of human connections. What is it you see when you walk down a street without your cell phone turned on? Very little in terms of connecting on a basic human level. How many eyes do yours meet?

When was the last time you turned off technology and really looked out at the world?  Go out and absorb the beauty of a sunrise, watch laughter light up a child’s face, listen to the birds sing to one another without worry who hears them. Find peace in your heart; find peace in your mind. Then find the similarities out there. Look past the fences dividing neighbors and find ways to connect. As the Dalai Lama said, Change starts from the individual. On that belief, one individual's belief will not change the world, but we must start as individuals.”

Individually, I’d like to start looking at things via different angles. It will not be easy, because anger can be powerful and easy to succumb to (just ask Anakin Skywalker), but it’s something to start with. Disagreement with a coworker? What other angles can I approach this problem from? My book gets a bad review? Let’s review the reasons from a different angle. Argument with my kid? Let’s explore the points of contention from a new dimension.

So I’ll use my (as the Dalai Lama calls it) “wonderful brain” to uncover new points of view. That’s my springboard. What’s yours?