Sunday, December 20, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: Beautiful Beast by E.J. Hill (Young Adult)




When I started reading this retelling of the original fairytale, I couldn’t help focusing on the similarities and differences to the original story and Disney version, the main difference being the beast is female. But author, E.J. Hill’s beautiful writing soon carried me into her unique version of the story. Her intricate plot details wove together with vivid descriptions to create something new and unexpected and drew me into her mysterious world.

 Kalista was cursed by a powerful sorceress with a spell that keeps her trapped within her castle and the enchanted forest. She only has some invisible servants to keep her company. When Arawn charges through the forest seeking revenge for his brother’s death, he becomes the last hope for breaking the curse. Told from alternating perspectives, Kalista and Arawn gradually reveal their developing feelings for one another. Everyone wants to break the curse, but the answer is not as simple as being kissed by the prince. They will have to fight the complicated elements of the evil spell before time runs out. 

In her suspenseful story, Hill brought depth to her characters. I think sharing both viewpoints brought me closer to their thoughts and was a good choice to separate Hill’s version from others. I’m glad this is a clean read because I would recommend it to teens twelve and up who enjoy fantasy novels. I look forward to reading more from E.J. Hill.


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Thursday, November 5, 2020

Remembering Tall Steve


Steve and Samaritan's Purse volunteers surprising my daughter with her finished room.

October 29th is the anniversary I never forget. Not my wedding day, but the day of the biggest storm to pummel our city of Long Beach in 2012. Stepping on crunching leaves and smelling the crisp fall air sweeps up memories of all the days that followed Superstorm Sandy. We lost a lot in one day. Flooding destroyed our home. We had to rip up floors and gut the walls to prevent mold growth, and we tossed out everything wet, from furniture to photos and paintings and clothes. Our boiler was submerged, so we didn’t have heat or hot water. Gene and I had five kids and my mother-in-law to worry about. Hopelessness felt endless as if our home would never be the same. 

One year later as we still walked on plywood floors, Tall Steve showed up with Samaritan’s Purse volunteers and his huge smile. He was one of the team leaders whose mission was not only to help people rebuild their homes, but to repair hearts as he shared God’s love. He towered over most people at a height over seven feet and was probably asked if he played basketball by someone every day. He didn’t but welcomed the opportunity to talk about someone bigger than he, his wonderful Savior. 

Samaritan’s Purse Ministries set up their base at our church. Volunteers traveled from other states across the US and slept in sleeping bags in the children’s Sunday School classrooms. They stayed for a week until the next group came. Volunteers cooked meals with donated food and held a “share” time every evening during dinner. Steve and the other leaders often invited the families of the homes they were fixing to be the dinner guests. They wanted to hear the stories of how God was working in people’s lives. Sounds great, but not to our family made of mostly introverts. We were thankful but didn’t care to speak in front of a huge group of people we just met. 

One night, as we drove to the church dinner, my husband said, “I hope Steve doesn’t ask me to say something. I am exhausted. Someone else can share tonight.” 

My mother-in-law, Clementine, and I agreed. There are other families that can say something. We planned to avoid eye contact with Steve as we ate, so we wouldn’t get called on like students who didn’t know the answer.

 But I think from Steve’s bird’s eye view of us, he could see us hiding our faces in the baked ziti. While our mouths were still full, he said, “Clementine, would you like to share any experience you had this week with the volunteers?” 

My mother-in-law answered, “No, but I think my son, Gene, does.”

My daughter and I nearly burst out laughing at the surprised look on Gene’s face. My husband knew if he started to speak of how he felt receiving their help he would choke up. And he did. My eyes watered too as we thought about the kindness of these people. I think Steve wanted to see tears, to see hearts open. He knew the joy that would follow. He thrived on bringing people out of their comfort zone. 

My mother-in-law was so impressed by Steve, she painted a scene of the ocean with him glowing in the rosy sunset and standing on the shore next to a lady. He is pointing to the water as if amazed by the awesome view of God’s presence. She captured his size and his heart in the painting. 

Years later, Tall Steve asked if we could make a short family video sharing something to bless his upcoming marriage and be added to a montage, he would give his fiancĂ© on their wedding day. It was an honor to be included, but once again, he dragged us out of our comfort zone. I think we created the most awkward video, but our hearts were in it. 

One year after his wedding, at the beginning of the pandemic, we heard Tall Steve went home to be with the Lord. His beautiful memorial was shared on YouTube to be viewed by people around the world. Even in his death, he was able to share God’s light in a huge way. 

Clementine’s painting hangs in our living room. Sometimes I stare at the cerulean blue ocean as Steve points from his God’s eye view. And my heart fills with joy. This anniversary reminds me what we lost can’t compare with what we gained from God’s love.


                             Painting by Clementine Judge (my mother-in-law)                             


 * First written for Faithwriter's Weekly Contest. Received an Honorable Mention Award.

* Check out my other blog at Doodle Stories & Oodles of Art

and my author/illustrator website:


Monday, October 12, 2020

Book Review: Roam by C.H. Armstrong


Abby Lunde appears to be an average teen at her new school since moving to Minnesota with her family, but she has secrets. Since her mother’s scandal, they lost everything—jobs, friends, and even their home. Aside from handling the typical teenage mood swings and fears, Abby must deal with living in her family’s van in a Walmart parking lot. She is humiliated, having to sponge bathe in public restrooms and depend on soup kitchens for meals. Abby is angry and blames her mother for ruining their lives. Throughout the story, she learns to forgive and appreciate thoughtful, generous people, but she is most anxious about exposing the truth. 

Abby’s life at her new school may seem a bit unrealistic and Cinderella-ish. Though early in the story, she finds popularity, good friends, the best-looking boyfriend, and her talent for singing, it does provide a stark contrast to her hidden life outside school, where nothing seems right.

C. H. Armstrong’s writing shines in how she captures the emotional and physical struggles Abby experiences as her life turns upside down. I was there, routing for her and relieved when circumstances worked out in unexpected ways. Many endearing moments in the story brought on my tears.

Without preaching, this story teaches the value of compassion, empathy, and kindness. This would be an excellent read for high school students as well as adults who enjoy reading young adult books on a topic that affects everyone. A memorable and heart-tugging story filled with hope.

 Amazon / Roam

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Book Review: Fade to White by Tara K. Ross



Fade to White is an exceptional young adult novel. Author, Tara K. Ross has a beautiful writing style that drew me in from the first page. I love her character’s humor and honesty in relating the difficult topic of living with a mental illness.

Aside from the typical teenage insecurities, Thea has severe anxiety issues, panic attacks, and pulls her hair out to release stress. Her anxious thoughts multiply after reading about the death and suicide of a classmate. Thea deals with irrational fears, anticipating the worst and causing unnecessary inner turmoil. She struggles to feel normal, but she also has a gift of empathy and compassion for anyone hurting.

Thea is a regular at her favorite coffee shop where she gets her usual, two London Fog teas. One for her, and one to give to someone who could use some cheering up that day. She is someone I would want as a friend.

Through the support and understanding of her friends, especially Khi who met at her at just the right time, Thea comes to accept who she is and see the light in her gift to help others. This story inspires hope—even if life isn’t perfect, there is always a way to get through tough times, especially when holding onto faith.

I highly recommend this book for teens and adults too.

 Amazon / Fade to White

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

24th Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Awards ... Book Review


(On sale at Amazon)
Amazon / Randi's Steps

Randi's Steps did not win the Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Awards,

BUT...the judges wrote a wonderful review that I'm thrilled to share.

"Randi’s Steps is a beautiful, bittersweet story told by Francie, the little girl neighbor who befriends Randi when she moves in next door. Judge captures a wonderful narrative voice, real and warm and very human. Francie loves having a best friend like Randi, who is different in seemingly tiny ways, like being Jewish, but who loves enough of the same things that Francie loves to make her the best of best friends. I liked the description of Randi’s Tinker Bell laugh with the occasional snort (13). Right away, Randi is described as being subject to headaches, which of course adults will understand. I think Judge conveys a progress of Randi’s illness perfectly. For all that Francie loves Randi, Francie is healthy and in need of healthy friends. She reacts with joy to happy playtime and reluctance to having to endure hardship. When she is called upon to accompany Randi to the hospital, her deepest thoughts reveal she is not having a great time. Judge uses wry humor and perception, on her narrator’s part, to demonstrate the misery suffered by children with cancer. She also uses deft strokes to show that Francie, being healthy, needs to live, and is in many ways as doomed as Randi to experience weakness insofar as Randi’s illness is concerned. Francie tries to be the best of best friends and fails, just as Randi fails to survive. This is a brilliant story told by a talented author. The cover art is simple and fetching, revealing a sub title that doesn’t show up as much as it might. Red letters might have been better, as in the title itself!"

In their judging system, 1 = Needs improvement; 5 = Outstanding 

*Note: I redid my book cover since this review

Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 5

Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 5

Production Quality and Cover Design: 4

Plot and Story Appeal: 5

Character Appeal and Development: 5

Voice and Writing Style: 5

(Judge, 24th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards.)

Friday, August 14, 2020

What Shall I Wear? (3rd place short story)


Line up guys. You know the routine.  

Toes meet toes in my full-length mirror, turned horizontally and angled for best viewing. At least fifteen pairs of designer dress shoes are arranged from lightest pair to darkest. Heavy on the Christian Louboutin with a handful of Jimmy Choos and a dash of Chanel. Judging me by my collection, anyone might think I’m a rich snob, a superficial diva. Anyone would be wrong. I’m not rich. But I do have impeccable taste and know the value of optimal footwear. 

I admit to having a smidgen of a purchasing addiction, but these guys are my first step toward getting a job as a fashion designer’s assistant. Everyone knows the sayings: "best foot forward” and “no second chances at first impressions.” I spend a tad extra for quality. But if you could smell that strong leather scent I’m enjoying right now, you would understand my obsession. Brand new Louboutins smell of importance. 

Lord, please, please help me pick the right ones. Okay, shoes, do your thing. And no, I’m not crazy. I’m single and have the right to talk to my shoes out loud. Only God can hear me unless I forget to close the windows. 

I pull out classy yet stylish black pumps with striped three-inch heels. When Ms. Rolen-something catches sight of these babies, I’ll get the job. Good thing no one heard me say this on my first ten interviews. But those managers had good reason not to hire me after I faulted with amateur mistakes. I should never have picked the fancy glittered pair with flowers for a tailored suit designer or wore the cute Mary-Jane style patent leathers to a sportswear company. The worst choice was rain galoshes to a couture dress designer, but the sky dumped ponds in the street that day. Ms. Dubois shook her head and arched one eyebrow when she heard them squeak across her office. I could barely answer her questions since I knew my fate. 

I slip into my classic fit and flare black dress with chiffon sleeves and a silk scarf. A safe choice. I spin around singing my favorite Mandisa song. “Cause if He started this work in your life, He will be faithful to complete it, if only you believe it…this is gonna make you stronger.” Got my shoes, song, and resume. I’m ready. 

My heels tap, tap, tap with my heartbeat as I navigate my way through the gleaming hallways around marble tiles, indoor waterfalls, and tropical plants to the elevator. Interview number eleven, here we go. Jesus, I could use a few more seeds of faith. Help me make a good impression. The old lady in the jogging suit is looking at me. I have got to stop talking to myself.  

The elevator dings and slides its doors open. The lady steps out first and falls on her face. 

I crouch to the ground. “Are you okay? Can you get up?” She doesn’t answer, so I yell, “Help, someone!” I call 911 and wrap my scarf around her bleeding forehead. Within seconds, a group gathers around us. 

Someone asks, “Mrs. Bee, can you hear me?” She finally sits up and holds her head. 

“Look at this pretty scarf someone gave me.” She rubs the fringes with her fingertips and drapes the blood-stained fabric across her shoulders. 

When the paramedics arrive, I rush off to my interview. Instead of fifteen minutes early, I’m three minutes late.  

Ms. Rolen-Beacon is stunning with long braided black hair and natural looking with pale pink lipstick. She shakes my hand. “You’re late. Trisha, is it?” 

“Tasha. I’m sorry. You see as I was coming out of the elevator…” 

She holds up her right hand like a crossing guard and stops me from explaining. “May I see your resume?” 

My hand leaves a sweat mark on the crisp paper. Lord, help me.  

“Did you say something?” 

My face must be a nice shade of strawberry. “No, I mean a little prayer slipped out.” 

She smiles. “I saw you helping Mrs. Bee. She comes here every month for clothes donations to bring to her church. Sweet lady. So, when can you start?” 

I click my heels together as I leave her office. Thank you, God. I knew this was the right pair. 



1 Timothy 4:12 “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”

Note: I wrote the first draft of this story for the Faithwriter's Weekly Contest for the theme "Put your best foot forward." It won third place, but I rushed to submit it on time. This is my edited version.

I encourage writers to check out this website. It's fun and easy to submit faith-based stories. 

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Friday, July 24, 2020

Children's Book Illustrator's Showcase

As a graduate of FIT for Illustration, I know how much illustrators need to show off their work to get work. I want to give children's book illustrators another place where they can display their artwork and have it shared. 

* On my children's book blog "Doodle Stories & Oodles of Art" illustrators can submit two example of their work for free. 

* From the gallery, I will share a different illustration on social media each day.

* It's easy. Subscribe for free exposure and you will also receive a monthly newsletter, sharing favorites, upcoming contests, and relevant links to encourage children's book authors and illustrators. 

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Book Review: Taste Your Words

Taste Your Words
Written by Bonnie Clark

A Delightful and Delicious Story

Taste Your Words is a delightful story with hilarious illustrations. After Amera and her friend argue and share some mean words, Amera’s mom suggests she tastes her words before letting them out of her mouth. From that moment, Amera tastes everything she says. Her mean words fill her mouth with yucky flavors like pickle juice and rotten eggs. But when she realizes nice words taste yummy like chocolate or sweet oranges, she is encouraged to be kinder and think before she speaks. 

What kid wouldn’t want to imagine words tasting like their favorite foods? This book delivers the perfect combination of a wonderful message shared with humor and imagery kids will remember. Everybody should read this!

Amazon / Taste Your Words

For more reviews, visit my children's book blog: Doodle Stories & Oodles of Art


Sunday, June 28, 2020

Introducing Doodle Stories (& oodles of art)

Against all odds, being computer technologically challenged, I created another website / blog. Welcome my latest: Doodle Stories (& oodles of art) to the World Wide Web. This site celebrates the art and stories of children's literature. I review mostly picture books and middle-grade novels and will try to post at least one new review each week. (We'll see how that goes.) 

Each month I will showcase the books I think are best illustrated. In addition to checking out the books, parents can submit their children's artwork to go in the monthly gallery. Each month has a new theme to inspire young artists. I hope to get enough submissions to provide contests, so kids can win prizes for entering. I would love this to become a fun, favorite place for parents and children. 

Please check it out and let me know what you think. 

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Passing Through the Waters

Someone says:
It’s beginning to drizzle.
Is drizzle past the point of beginning
after one minute or five?
After how many raindrops
is rain past the point of beginning?
Pearls of water
trickle down a window;
It’s raining.

 Like everyone, we blinked, and our plans were changed. We went from telling our son he could take the train home for spring break to texting him we were on our way to pick him up. New York colleges had closed for the rest of the semester. 

When Gene and I drove upstate to New Paltz University, we had no idea Elijah was sick until we called him to tell him we were there.  

“He-ll-o.” Elijah’s voice sounded stuffy and sleepy as if he just woke up. 

“Are you sick? You sound sick.” We expected him to say no, he just fell asleep for a while. Blame it on dorm life. 

 His answer couldn’t have been worse. “Nah, just a little achy. All my suite mates have the same thing.” 

I looked at Gene wearing the same shocked expression, his mouth wide open like mine. “Seriously?” 

We were doing everything we could to not catch the COVID 19 virus, to not bring it into our home and give it to Gene’s mom who had pneumonia a few months ago. We all but panicked thinking we were about to drive home for two and a half hours with Elijah coughing the coronavirus all over us. We hated seeing Elijah sick, but come on…some warning would have been nice.  

He did mention celebrating with friends the night before, and this could be a hangover. I have never wished or prayed one of my sons drank enough to have a hangover, so this was a first. “Please God—a hangover and not the virus.” 

When we got home, Elijah went straight to his room so I could take his temperature. He had a fever close to 101 degrees, so this day, March 14, 2020, began our quarantine. Elijah was only allowed to leave his room to use the bathroom if he wore a mask and gloves. We put a sign on Gene’s mother’s door to remind her to stay there since Elijah was sick.

Because we weren’t sure if he had it or if we had been exposed to the virus, we stayed home from work, and had our other sons and daughter stay home too. We were a week ahead of the stay-at-home order for New York. And we are grateful. Elijah tested positive for the flu and negative for the Corona virus. And we had a head start at staying safe. 

What we thought was horrible at first, may have saved us. Maybe God used Elijah’s sickness to protect us from something worse. At the time, we didn’t know what we were fighting—COVID 19, the flu, or just our own fears. We worried and imagined the worst scenarios. My husband and I are pros at bouncing worries back and forth like a sport. It takes us a while to listen to God’s word and let Him in on our game.  

Since staying home, my daily emotions and mood cartwheel up and down hills. Mornings begin optimistic, motivated, and busy with writing and plans for the day. By midday—what am I rushing for with nothing to do and nowhere to go? Time to pour a few cups of worry about the future. Evenings end frustrated and depressed that I haven’t accomplished my morning goals. I forget to be thankful that we are healthy and have food even if I can’t get my favorite Trader Joes yogurt. I forget to be thankful that God loves us and doesn’t give up on us even when our faith wilts. I need to reread my favorite comforting verses. 

Many of you are suffering in different ways and my heart aches for you as I pray God meets your needs. I hope these verses bring you comfort and peace in whatever you are going through. 

  • “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” 1Peter 5:7  

  • When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. Isaiah 43:2   

  • “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Matthew 6:27 

  •  “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18  

  •  “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 35:18    
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