Between Hope and the Highway – by Charissa Stastny

I recently finished reading a fun contemporary romance by Charissa Stastny called Between Hope & the Highway.

cover-between-hope-and-the-highwaySometimes things get so messed up you have to pick up and get the heck out of Dodge. That’s what Liz Ruthersford does. Memories can be weapons, and hers have become incoming missiles. Fleeing home and her parents’ pity, she seeks refuge on a remote ranch in Montana where no one knows her tragic past. When she meets Bentley and Rawson Law, brothers with wounds of their own, life veers off course. Embers of hope flicker to life, but will bias, bitterness, and misunderstanding smother them before they burn bright enough to warm her heart? Or will she hit the highway and run once again? For readers who crave a clean, yet heart-pounding romance and redemption story, this one’s for you. 


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MBM: How Book Clubs Can Help Authors by @CharityBradford

Welcome to the eighth day of MARCH BOOK MADNESS! (Full explanation and schedule here.)

  • Side note: my book LIFE is free this weekend on Kindle. 

LIFE by Rebecca Belliston

Today my friend Charity Bradford is here to discuss book clubs. Charity and I have met a few times at the Midwest Storymakers Conference. She’s a fun, talented, sweet person, and she writes great scifi and fantasy (check out her books below her bio). So here she is:

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MBM: The Importance of Writing Book Reviews by Charissa Stastny

March Book Madness by Rebecca Belliston

HAPPY ST. PATRICKS DAY (notice the green apple?) and welcome to the fifth day of March BOOK Madness. (For a complete schedule and explanation, see below this post. If you’ve missed any days, make sure to catch up! It’s been awesome!)

Today my friend, Charissa Stastny, is here discussing the importance of writing book reviews. Charissa and I have been online writing friends for a few years. She is a sweetheart, a successful blogger, and the talented author of three novels. Check out her info/books below. I’ve followed Charissa’s book reviews for some time now, and have found new favorite authors based on her suggestions, so I really appreciate her sharing this topic with us today.

Here she is.

Importance of Book Reviews by Charissa Stastny


The Importance of Reviews by Charissa Stastny

Have you ever thought about purchasing a book, yet you’re not quite sure whether the story will be a right fit for you or not? What do you do?

I go straight to reviews on Amazon or Goodreads and start skimming. After reading some good ones, a few bad ones, and some middle-of-the-line reviews, I get a fair idea of whether I want to buy the book. Books with few reviews make people wonder what’s wrong with it. There might be nothing wrong with the novel; it could be brand new or it might not be marketed well enough by the author or publisher to get into the hands of the right readership. But when consumers see few reviews, a red flag goes up in their mind. Without reviews to judge by, it’s hard to get a glimpse of whether a book is good or not.

That’s why EVERY review is important, whether it’s short or long, super funny or very basic.

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Book Review: Jacob T. Marley

Finished another great book in the carpool line this morning. I have a goal to read 24 books this year and I’m to two already. Thank you long lines. Not really, but anyway, this book is called Jacob T. Marley, and it’s by R. William Bennett.


The premise is based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, only instead of being from Scrooge’s point of view, it’s based on the life and death of his nasty old partner, Jacob Marley (think Goofy in chains). Here’s the official synopsis:

Marley was dead to begin with . . . These chillingly familiar words begin the classic Christmas tale of remorse and redemption in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Now R. William Bennett rewinds the story and focuses the spotlight on Scrooge s miserly business partner, Jacob T. Marley, who was allowed to return as a ghost to warn Scrooge away from his ill-fated path. Why was Marley allowed to return? And why hadn t he been given the same chance as Ebenezer Scrooge? Or had he? Written with a voice reminiscent of Dickens, Jacob T. Marley is to A Christmas Carol as the world-famous Wicked is to The Wizard of Oz as this masterfully crafted story teaches of choices, consequences, and of the power of accountability. It is sure to become a Christmas favorite.


My thoughts as I finished this book were greatly influenced by circumstances in my life right now. Without going into any particulars, I will simply say that the message of this book greatly touched me. The gist is that we can never truly know the effect of things we do on other people, for good or bad. Like dominoes falling or ripples in a pond, it’s beyond our knowledge in this life to know the full extent of our reach. What William Bennett hints to, and I happen to agree, is that in the next life we’ll be given the opportunity to see exactly what consequences came from our actions (or lack of actions) here on earth.
The older I get, the more I realize that opportunities to help people come in very small windows. Those windows open rapidly and usually at inconvenient times, but they also close rapidly too. When a situation comes up, my first thought is, “Wow. They could use some help.” But sadly, my second thought is usually, “I’m really busy now. I’ll them later today.” But I rarely do. I’ve found that if I don’t jump on the opportunity right when I see it, more often than not, it’s gone before I think to go back—if I go back. And then I’m stuck living in an awful place: 

Many people believe Hell is a place of fire and brimstone, and maybe it is, but I kind of think that it will be a place where we get to see every last person we hurt or didn’t help, over and over again. I personally believe–the gospel according to me–that we’ll get to see the true effect of all our decisions, right down to the very last ripple. And sadly, I think those ripples reach much farther than we care to know. 
Today I’m stuck thinking about a situation that has left a pit in my stomach. I keep wondering if I could have done more, acted more kindly, more Christlike, would it have made a difference? I don’t know, but it’s not a happy place to be.
This is exactly what happens to Jacob T. Marley though. After his death, he’s taken back to the exact moments where he could have done something to help Ebenezer Scrooge, or the woman in the apartment, or his sister, and on and on. He gets to see that by not acting in those small windows of time, not only did he hurt those people, but they in turn, hurt others.  
Would it have changed Scrooge if Jacob had treated him better? Maybe. Maybe not. I like that William Bennett doesn’t make any assumptions that way, because really, we can only be responsible for our own actions. But still, the premise is a warning to all of us—or at least, it was to me. 
On the other hand, we have no idea the power behind a simple act of kindness, or how far reaching our a good deed may be. The human race is like a giant spider web. You can’t pull on one string without affecting the others. 
The really amazing thing is that I have met the author. My very first book signing ever was with William Bennett. I don’t think he had any idea how nervous and idiotic I felt walking into that bookstore. I was SO out of my element. And over my head. I’m an idiot by nature—and awkward—and clumsy—etc, and in that moment, I’d never felt more so. And yet he was warm and welcoming. He talked to me, made me feel at ease, gave me a few pointers, and just that fast, turned my first book signing into a great experience—which then led to four more great book signing experiences.
I’m sure William Bennett has no idea how his quick little “service” helped put me at ease. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t even think of it as a service, but it was. And after reading his book, I feel even more grateful to him.
Okay. Enough gushing. It was just an interesting read on an already interesting day. Well timed.
To quote from the book: “If we do nothing but to remove a rock upon which someone might have tripped, though they may never know we did it, is this not our cause, our reason for life?”
Go read it. Then go move some rocks.




Goodreads: Letters in a Jade Dragon Box

It’s January 5th and not only have I stuck to my 2012 goals (five whole days, shocking!), I have added another goal to my list (not so shocking. So much for KISSing). But really, this goal I was planning on doing anyway in 2012, I just want credit for it. Heehee. So what is this goal?

Read 24 books this year.
Hmmm, that was a little anti-climatic. Sorry. And kind of makes me look like a nerd. Which I am, but still…even sorrier. Twenty-four books isn’t even that many compared to how much others read (or how much I want to read), it’s only two a month. But I have a lot on my plate right now. And no, I won’t be counting children’s picture books, although come December 31, if I’m short, you’re all invited to my Dr. Seuss marathon. “That Sam I am, that Sam I am. I do not like that Sam I am.” Gotta love it.
Back to goals.
I’m happy to report that I’ve already I’ve read one book this year. Yay! I probably shouldn’t mention that I cheated. Oh wait, I just did. Well, I started this book in early December, but I didn’t finish it until today so I’m countin’ it. It’s a great historical novel called Letters in the Jade Dragon Box by Gale Sears.

Here’s the official synopsis:

From the bestselling author of The Silence of Godcomes a new LDS historical novel that reveals the harrowing true story of a former general in the Chinese army who became one of the first converts to the Church (of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) in Hong Kong. This compelling drama unfolds through the eyes of a teenage girl, Wen-shan, who was taken from her family home in mainland China during the Cultural Revolution to live with her great-uncle—the former general. For ten years, Wen-shan has carried the sorrow of abandonment in her heart, with few memories of her life before. But at the death of Chairman Mao, Wen-shan receives a mysterious wooden box that reveals the fate of the family she has not heard from in more than a decade. Through the letters in the jade dragon box, Wen-shan and her great-uncle discover a bond between each other, their family, and the gospel of Jesus Christ.  
I posted a review on, but wanted to share my thoughts here.
This book takes a fascinating look into mainland China during the reign of Mao Tse-tung (1970s). While I have heard of the ruthless leader before, I had no idea just how brutal and narcissistic he truly was. The Hitler of the East. It’s always chilling to read about the human capacity for cruelty. It makes me feel very blessed to live when, where, and how I do.
This book also shows the interesting position of Hong Kong, the Chinese city that was under British rule until 1997. While Hong Kong was becoming more westernized, Mao was sinking his claws into the Chinese people. This book also touches on the early beginnings of the LDS church in Hong Kong. If you have any interest in China, I highly recommend this book. It’s a very enjoyable, educational read.
As a side note, I had the privilege of doing two book signings with Gale Sears. She was so kind and nice to me, the rookie, and I was thrilled to be able to finish this new book of hers. When I have time, I’m going to read her earlier novel set in Russia next. It sounds just as intriguing.
So one book down. Twenty-three more to go.
Doesn’t sound too daunting. I think I’m reading seven different things at the moment—well, now six. And by moment, I don’t mean right at this very moment in time. I’m typing at this very moment, if you must know. And listening to an electric toy train roll pointlessly down the hallway. My four-year-old has long since moved on. I meant before that I’m partway through these six wonderful pieces of literature and at any moment, could pick up any one of them.
“How do you keep all those books straight?” someone has asked me. The same way people keep six TV shows straight. I don’t watch any TV, or at least very little. Troy and I were recently converted to Psych—which is awesomely funny—but before that, I rarely watched TV. I’d much rather read. And every book is SO different, it’s a joy. (Does that word make me sound 80 years old or what?)
Here’s a quick sampling of what I’m reading right now, not that I expect you to care, but it’s more for my own journaling purposes:

Jacob T. Marley by William Bennett—adult Christmas fiction (another amazingly nice author I signed with)
Fablehavenby Brandon Mull–YA fantasy

How We Got the Book of Mormon by Richard Turley and William Slaughter—non-fiction (unless you’re anti-Mormon and then you’ll probably classify it as fiction. Just kidding. Sorry. My sarcastic side has a way of surfacing when I write.)
I’m also reading three manuscripts that will hopefully be novels soon:
Sarah, my sister-in-law’s YA manuscript
Cassie, my friend’s MG manuscript
And my own manuscript. No link on this one–at least not yet :)
Whew! So much fun but so much to read. Normally I don’t read so many books at once (or manuscripts for that matter), it’s just the timing of this blog. But my list of to-reads is much longer. Have I mentioned before that I love my Kindle? I spend hours every week in the car waiting for some kid, somewhere. It’s so great to be able to read. I actually finished Letters in the Jade Dragon Box in front of my kids’ school this morning. 
Plus…my library lets me check out ebooks for free! Love the Kindle.

One last thought. (Sorry, this was supposed to be a quick post, but I am a novelist after all. And apparently a long-winded one.) If you aren’t on, but you love to read, you should join. It’s free, and no, I don’t get paid to do their advertising. I just know that as a reader who’s constantly looking for the next great read, it’s nice to be able to see what my friends have read and liked. It works like this: people rate books they’ve read on a scale of 1 to 5, and then others can see those ratings. Almost every book is listed.

For example, Twilightby Stephenie Meyer has 793, 705 ratings, with the average rating at 3.68. And you can read every single rating if you want. Don’t, though. That would be weird. I mean, I know some die-hard  Twilight fans, but seriously…find something better to do than read what 793,705 people think of it.

Oh man, now I’m thinking about what it would be like to have 793,705 people read my book. Wow. Sadie only has 18 ratings and I’m grateful for every one! And since I’m on an unexpected Twilight kick, it deserves a higher rating. Much higher. I love Stephenie Meyer. She’s awesome. Awesome enough that when I just clicked on the Twilight link to make sure it worked still, the number was up already up at 793,814. So cool!
Okay. Back on topic.
Goodreads.comis pretty awesome, too. I’m still waiting for them to add a function that lets you rate a book’s moral content, namely violence, profanity, and sexual content. Maybe someday. Until then, give it a try. And if you join (or are already a member) look me up and add me as a friend. I’d love to see what you love to read. My profile is here.
So what will you read this year? What have you read recently? Any good ideas for me?