Tuesday, July 29, 2008

NOW What Is Joyce Up To?

This week, Joyce—I mean, I am participating in a virtual book tour for the very first time. What is a virtual book tour? It’s where a number of blog hosts agree to read, then review the same book, each on a different day to help generate publicity for authors and their works.

Although I am generally a fiction reader, and definitely a fiction writer, I have agreed to read/review three non-fiction books for this virtual tour:

TODAY: Preparedness Principles, by Barbara Salsbury and Sandi Simmons
AUGUST 4: Room for Two, by Abel Keogh
AUGUST 11: Caught in the Headlights, by Barry K. Phillips

Preparedness Principles is subtitled, The Complete Personal Preparedness Resource Guide For Any Emergency Situation.

Here’s a description of the book from the back cover blurb:

News of calamity, disaster, and war got you down? Afraid of how you'll survive if you lose your job? Wondering what to do when the big one hits? Wonder no more. Personal preparedness expert Barbara Salsbury brings together years of research and experience, giving you the know-how to set up an organized, practical, personal preparedness program that will provide for most wants and needs in any emergency situation. Preparedness Principles, the most comprehensive preparedness guide ever published, offers exclusive details about: • Four new categories of preparedness • New bare-bones basics • The Pantry Principle • Storm shelters, safe rooms, and safe havens • And much more! If you're serious about a personalized preparedness action plan, this quintessential reference book is for you!

Now, I’m not one to promote the “panic principle”, trying to scare people with visions of potential disasters to frighten them into stocking their cellars with ten or twenty years’-worth of food, etc. Thankfully, this book is not about “panic”, but simply about “preparedness”. Preparedness for what? Do we really need to ask in this day and age? Let me sum it up with two words: Hurricane Katrina. Yes, many of us do not live anywhere near a hurricane zone. I live in a dessert (I mean, a desert—don’t I wish I could live “in a dessert”!). Droughts, fires, and yes, even floods are the natural threats most faced by my state. Each state in the Union has its own challenges to cope with. And natural disasters may not actually be the “threats” most of us need to worry about. Loss of employment and health setbacks surely make having at least a few months’ worth of supplies—both food and money—quite simply the “sensible” thing to do.

Preparedness Principles is designed to help us understand how to implement a sensible plan of approach to the unpredictable nature of life.

To be honest, the biggest mistake I made with this book was to sit down and attempt to read it straight through all at once. I found myself overwhelmed and discouraged in less time than I could say, “The monsoons just knocked the power out again!” (“Monsoons” are what we call our Arizona summer thunderstorms.) Unless you are already deeply involved with food storage, this is a book best read and incorporated in small bites. Don’t try to read it like a novel. Use it as a resource, which is exactly what it is!

Some of the suggestions will be beyond your immediate means to implement. That’s okay. One of my favorite quotes in the book is: “Preparedness is not an all-or-nothing thing. Something is much better than nothing, even if the something is just a little bit of something.” In other words, if assembling a year’s supply of food is overwhelming, then start with something smaller. Two weeks worth of food. A month’s worth. Three months’ worth.

One of my favorite sections of this book was the suggestion of building “mini-pantries” spread throughout your house, rather than throwing in the towel with the exclamation, “But I don’t have any room to store anything!” As Salsbury points out, a few fruit bottles stashed in the linen closet, a few cans of food under the bed, will eventually add up.

Another chapter that intrigued me had to do with indoor mini-gardens. Now, I can kill just about any plant you can throw at me, but I remember one summer when my green-thumbed dad grew the most delicious baby carrots in our backyard. I’ve often thought longingly of those carrots, but I’m not an outdoor gardener. Too many weeds, too many bugs. It never occurred to me that I might actually be able to grow small carrots right inside my house—weed and bug free! That’s an idea I might actually try, just to taste those baby carrots again! (Salsbury describes many more vegetables you can grow inside your house, but carrots will definitely be my first choice!)

Salsbury covers much, much more than mini-pantries and mini-gardens, of course. She has sections on provident living, dealing with disasters, emergency evacuations, and many helpful appendices. In this unpredictable day and age, this is a book that should be on everyone’s shelf. It is a book that should be studied before the “unexpected” happens. But do so in small bites.

About the author: Best-selling author Barbara Salsbury, a nationally recognized personal-preparedness expert, is one of America’s leading authorities on self-reliance. For more than twenty-five years, she has been teaching self-reliance and showing people how to get more for their money. In November 2002, Family Circle Magazine named her one of the “Top Five Penny-Pinchers in America.” She has produced two national newsletters and three videos. In addition, she is the author of seven books, including Just Add Water, Just in Case, and Plan, not Panic. Active in church and community, Barbara serves as a personal preparedness consultant for Sandy, Utah, and has served as assistant director for San Francisco Key Cities Area Public Affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She and her husband, Larry, live in Sandy, Utah. They have two children, seven grandchildren, and two spoiled dogs.

Preparedness Principles is available at Amazon.com.

Visit Barbara Salsbury’s website at http://solutionsforpreparedness.com/ and read her blog at http://barbarasalsbury.blogspot.com.

You can contact Barbara Salsbury at salsburybg@msn.com.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


It’s been a very busy couple of weeks for me! Last Tuesday through Thursday (July 15-17), I attended my first writers retreat in (surprisingly hot!) Pinetop, Arizona, and had the most wonderful and inspiring time! There were excellent workshops on how to improve our writing, delicious food (especially the “snacks” brought by all), and I even started work on a new Medieval Vignette, though I haven’t been able to get back to it since I returned home. I hope to do so and finish and post it soon, though! If you’d like to read some of my reflections about the retreat, you can do so on my latest post at ANWA Founder & Friends.

I’ve been a busy little blogger since I’ve been back. In addition to my post on the ANWA site, I have also written a book review for my Summer Book Trek 2008 reading challenge (scroll to entry below), and for those of you interested in medieval research, I posted an interview with G.G. Vandagriff, author of The Arthurian Omen, dealing with Welsh research, on my medieval research with joyce blog.

As for drawings, first let me remind you about my ongoing website drawing at www.joyce-dipastena.com. You’ll find all the instructions you need on my Comments page, even though, sadly, you can’t actually leave me a comment there. But you can email it to me, with the answer to my drawing question, and if you do so before July 31, you’ll be in the running to receive a $15 gift certificate to Amazon!

Now, saving the best for last, here’s a REALLY BIG DRAWING for all of you to check out! As it’s being sponsored by AuthorIsland.com, I’ll let AuthorIsland speak for itself:

AuthorIsland.com is turning TWO this month and to celebrate, forty three AuthorIsland.com authors and one of our publisher members got together to offer up one heck of a prize!

They're giving away TWO - are you ready for this? - TWO AMAZON KINDLES!!!

But you're going to have to work for it, each of the forty four sponsors has a question for you to answer - the answers can be found somewhere on each of the author's websites. Once you have all the answers, email them to AuthorIsland at yahoo.com, numbered, along with your name and address, with AuthorIsland Kindle Contest in the subject line. TWO winners will be drawn on August 1st from all the correct entries to receive their very own - AMAZON KINDLE!!!

Head over to AuthorIsland.com's Contests page and get started! Good luck!

Yes, I’m one of the 44 sponsors, and no, you don’t have to be an AuthorIsland.com member to enter. You do, however, have to go on the AuthorIsland question/answer treasure hunt and send in your entry by July 31st, so don’t delay!

That’s it for this update. I’m off to see the new Batman movie tomorrow. And I should have more exciting news for you next week…the revealing of my new cover art for Loyalty’s Web!

See you then!

Review of The Great and the Terrible: The Second Sun, by Chris Stewart

My review of The Great and the Terrible: The Second Sun for my Summer Book Trek 2008 reading challenge:

From the back cover of The Great and the Terrible: The Second Sun:

A world poised at the brink of a disastrous war is unaware of the evil forces that will stop at nothing to achieve their aims. But in the midst of turmoil and impending doom, some of the Father's most valiant servants are in place--sons and daughters who may have the power to change the course of history. The third volume in The Great and Terrible series, The Second Sun, is a fast-paced, thrilling, action-packed story of war and intrigue by nationally bestselling author Chris Stewart.

For those who are unacquainted with The Great and the Terrible series, Chris Stewart has written a sort of Left Behind series with an LDS slant for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The subtitle, The Second Sun, is the third volume in what, so far, is a five volume yet-to-be-finished saga.

The first volume in the series, The Brothers, had a particularly unique twist in that the entire story (or prologue) was set in the Pre-Earth life. Whether or not you agreed with Stewart’s version of a period of our existence which none of us can remember, he certainly deserved credit for courage and imagination in sharing with his readers a fascinating vision of what it might have been like for us there. The novelty of the premise offset a slight bit of annoyance and confusion caused by what felt like indiscriminate head-hopping between the characters. However, since my Trek “assignment” is not to review the first book in the series, all I can say is, go find yourself a copy and read it for yourself, if you want to know more!

I had some difficulty with the second volume in the series, When Angels Fall, mostly because I personally found it quite jarring to go from the first book where the characters all formed one “family”, to the second book where the family, having received their mortal bodies and assignments on earth, became split up, along with a number of new characters I was suddenly expected to “bond with” (whether for good or bad), not knowing what role anyone was yet meant to play in this volume. Combined with the continued head-hopping, sticking with the second volume became a bit of a challenge for me. However, my Trek “assignment” is not to review the second book, either, so after you read The Brothers, check out When Angels Fall to see whether you have the same reaction as I, or if I was the only one who stumbled with it.

Now, my Trek “assignment” is to review the third book in the series, The Second Sun, which I just finished reading a few nights ago. This book ran much smoother for me, since I now had all the characters in place from the second book, and thankfully, Stewart considerably reined in his head-hopping style to allow the reader more time in one character’s head at a time. I have no objection to using multiple viewpoints in a book—I do it myself— but the more time I can spend in a single character’s head (for a chapter, or at least an entire scene), the more deeply I begin to identify with him/her, and the deeper I fall into the story.

Stewart’s “last days” take is certainly an intriguing one, though however “possible”, or even occasionally “plausible” certain plot points may be, I believe it’s important to remember that this series is, after all, a work of fiction and not a “prophecy” for the future. (Note to those who like to “preach” from this series over the pulpit sometimes on Sundays.)

Stewart clearly has a firm grasp of military lingo (having served as an Air Force pilot), and whenever he uses a military acronym, he always follows up by spelling out what the acronym stands for and what it actually means. (With memories of the undefined Italian of Dante’s Daughter still haunting me, all I can say is, “Thank you, Chris!”)

And speaking of “haunting”, some of the scenes I most enjoyed in The Second Sun were the ones of Lucifer and Balaam, particularly when they are whispering in people’s ears. Not that I mean to imply that I actually like Lucifer or Balaam. Only that something I’ve always “known” (i.e., that Lucifer/Satan and his angels are real and tempt us every day) has taken on a more “immediate” aspect by seeing the way Stewart actively portrays them in his series. It is as though Stewart has stripped away their masks and laid them open to the daylight for all around to see, if we will only open our eyes to do so.

Occasionally Stewart does have a tendency to “tell” or “explain” things to the reader, which stops the story in its tracks. And (warning: spoiler alert here!), I had a little difficulty accepting the part about the United Nations throwing the United States off the Security Council, without the U.S. being able to do anything about it. Considering that the U.N. has its headquarters in New York City, I can’t imagine that there wouldn’t have been a hue and cry to “throw the bums out!” of the U.S., in return. (At least, I know that’s what I would have been screaming. But maybe that’s just me?)

All in all, Stewart is weaving a very interesting last days “scenario”. Now I’m off to the fourth book in the series, Fury and Light, which I may or may not review for the book trek. (Since I also committed to review three non-fiction books for an upcoming virtual book tour, I may not finish book four of The Great and the Terrible by the end of the Summer Book Trek, so all things considered, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for a review.

Monday, July 14, 2008

July Website Drawing and other news

My new website is finally up and running! Some of you helped me with a trial run with a mini-drawing on AuthorIsland.com’s July 1st email chat. Now I’d like to celebrate my new site with everyone! And once again, how better to do so than with a new drawing?

To participate, go to www.joyce-dipastena.com, then click on my Comments page, where you will find all the details you need for entering under “Leave a Comment, Win a Prize”. The Prize? A $15 Amazon gift certificate. Deadline? July 31. Yes, this is a shorter drawing than most, but that just means an August drawing will be rolling around that much sooner!


MEDIEVAL RESEARCH WITH JOYCE: Nothing new yet (except for my “Medieval Kings Poll”—why don’t you skip on over there and cast a vote?), but coming soon…an interview with GG Vandagriff, author of The Arthurian Omen, focusing on medieval Welsh research. I’ll update you as soon as the interview appears online!

One more bit of news…. I’ve finally had a sneak peek at the new cover art for Loyalty’s Web, and I must say, I’m very, very pleased. I hope you will be too! As soon as I get the official “go ahead”, I’ll share it with all of you!

Now, I’m off to enjoy a few days of cool air and relaxation at the American Night Writers Association’s Writers Retreat in Pinetop, Arizona. This is my first writers retreat, so it should be an adventure! I hope to come back relaxed and reinvigorated to write-write-write!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Review of Dante’s Daughter, by Kimberley Heuston

My review of Dante's Daughter for my Summer Book Trek 2008 reading challenge:

Book jacket description of Dante's Daughter:

“When the adventure gets too strong, lean into it.” When political upheavals forces her family to flee and separate, Antonia takes her brother’s advice to heart as she journeys through Italy and France with her father, the poet Dante Alighieri. She becomes a pilgrim who also embraces interior journeys: she struggles with her difficult, inattentive father; with her heart’s desire to paint as her father writes; and with her first tastes of young love. All the while Antonia harbors dreams that others tell her women are not entitled to dream. Dante’s Daughter portrays a life in full, one that beautifully answers Antonia’s own questions: “Had my journey made me wise? Had my secret griefs made me strong?”

This highly imagined story—based on the few known facts of Antonia’s life—is set against the dramatic background of pre-Renaissance Europe, rendered in rich detail by storyteller and historian, Kimberly Heuston.

As someone who loves history and historical fiction and who was eager to learn more about the great poet, Dante, I find my feelings after reading this book, at best, ambivalent. The book description was certainly right about the author’s richly detailed rendering of the story of Antonia Alighieri. Stylistically, Heuston’s writing is beautifully artful and fluid, so fluid that, regrettably, I found myself jarred on more than one occasion when an un-artfully modernized phrase unexpectedly leapt off the page at me just when I was most entranced. She also had a tendency, particularly in the early chapters of the book, of scattering Italian words in the text without definition or even sufficient context to hazard a guess at their meaning. I found this a bit annoying and pretentious, but thankfully as the story wove on, this happened with a good deal less frequency and more sympathy for the reader in adding definitions and contexts.

Dante’s daughter, Antonia, tells the story of her life in a first person account. Despite the book cover’s description of Dante as an “inattentive, difficult father”, for me, the book glowed most sympathetically whenever Dante appeared on the scene. Though frequently forced away from his family by unwisely chosen political allegiances, he always came across to me as a man who loved his family, treating them all with great kindness and tolerance, more than I felt was reciprocated by his wife, sons, and daughter, Antonia. (Though his sons appear briefly in the book, they are never prominent enough to capture a reader’s attention in any true depth.) Admittedly, for much of the book, Antonia is a child and young woman who might be forgiven for being so focused on her own feelings that she only rarely seems able to reach beyond them to empathize in any form with a “difficult father” who nevertheless displayed touching instances of love, attention, and encouragement for her in return. If others tried to turn her from her heart’s desire to paint, Dante, in this book, was not one of them.

The amount of detailed research that went into this book, while to be admired, ultimately threatened to overwhelm the story for me. I felt the last few chapters particularly began to drag, as I began to wonder if we would ever reach the end of Antonia’s “life’s journey”. (And please, don’t even get me started on the touches of LDS doctrine that began to pop up at the end. I’ll be sharing some of my thoughts on that in another forum. If interested, you can check out my blog for July 7th on ANWA Founder & Friends.)

A “life lived in full” became, for me, a life lived much too full, nearly to the point of unbelievability (and sadly, knocking on the door of boredom) to me by the end of the book. In my opinion, the story would have benefited by a less broad, and more focused, approach in the telling. And ultimately, I found small evidence that the answer to the questions posed by Antonia at the beginning: “Had my journey made me wise? Had my secret griefs made me strong?” were “Yes”.

To her credit, Heuston did successfully stir my interest to learn more about the “real” Dante. After reading a few of her chapters one night, I stayed up till 3 AM, researching him in some of my medieval encyclopedias. I suspect I will be buying a non-fiction biography of him soon.

Dante’s Daughter is billed as a Young Adult book for grades 10-12. As a way to acquaint high school readers with pre-Renaissance Europe, this would probably be less painful than a dry old school textbook. But for entertainment, it will take a serious young reader to read such a seriously earnest book all the way to the end.