23 June 2017

Take Your Dog to Work Day

I take Sascha Marie to work with me every day.  She also oversees my writing and herds me into my writing cave.

Sometimes, she stares out the window while gathering her thoughts. It's helpful when working out the details of writing a difficult scene or killing off a character.

She's my design partner at Star elearning. She has lots of experience in creating interactive eLearning modules for our clients.

When she's not herding me into the office, she's stealing my chair so she can post on her Facebook page.

Sascha Marie says: "Give us a shout if you need your costly instructor led training courses converted into money-saving eLearning modules!"

Did you take your dog to work today? Post in the comments and let us know!

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20 June 2017

*GIVEAWAY & Author Interview* UNDER A SUMMER SKY by Melody Carleson

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Follow Your Heart, Book 3
Melody Carlson
  Genre: Contemporary Romance / Christian / Inspirational
Publisher: Revell
Date of Publication: June 6, 2017
Number of Pages: 320
Scroll down for Giveaway!

High school art teacher Nicole Anderson is looking forward to a relaxing summer in Savannah, house-sitting and managing an art gallery for a family friend. The house is luxurious in a way that only old money could make it, and the gallery promises interesting days in a gorgeous setting. Yet it isn’t long before her ideal summer turns into more than she bargained for: a snooty gallery employee who’s determined to force her out, a displaced adolescent roosting in the attic, and two of her childhood friends—who also happen to be brothers—vying for her attention.
With the backdrop of a gorgeous historical city, incredible architecture, and even an alleged ghost or two, combined with the opportunity for romance . . . anything can happen! 
Bestselling and award-winning author Melody Carlson invites you to spend the summer surrounded by splendor . . . and tantalizing possibilities.


“Heartwarming and uplifting.”Library Journal on Once Upon a Summertime 
“Sweet, romantic, and endlessly entertaining.”Radiant Lit on Once Upon a Summertime

“This winsome romance [is] a perfect summer read.”Publishers Weekly on All Summer Long


Where did your love of writing come from? 
I’ve always loved a good story—whether I was telling it myself or hearing it from another source. From an early age I was both an avid reader and eager writer. Although writing came easily to me (gifts are like that) I never took my storytelling skills seriously. I believed that an ‘author’ was someone else, someone important and brilliant with leather patches on their wool tweed jacket—not an ordinary person like me. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I decided to get serious about writing and publishing my stories. 

How long have you been writing? 
As mentioned in the previous question, I’ve been writing for most of my life. As soon as I could write words, I was creating stories and making them into little homemade books. Every time I got the opportunity to write, I’d eagerly take it. I was the editor of my grade-school newspaper; wrote and directed plays in junior high; and took as many writing classes in high school and college as I could cram in. In my adult life I continued to journal, write letters, contribute opinion newspaper pieces, create poetry . . . and just generally write whenever I could. It was simply part of who I was, but I still didn’t consider myself an ‘author.’ 

What do you think most characterizes your writing? 
I’d like to think it’s creating realistic characters with realistic problems that pull in a reader and compel them to come along. I also like to toss in a dollop of grace along the way—people facing challenges and troubles usually need that. Stories are such a great vehicle for exploring “real” life from the comfort of an easy chair. I like showing why people do the things they do—whether good or bad. And I love inviting the reader to ‘ride along’ with me and hopefully glean some fresh insight during the trip. 

What did you enjoy about writing this book? 
I always love a story where my heroine gets a chance to reinvent herself and get a fresh start at a different sort of life. And I love transporting character to a new and interesting locale—a place where they can explore and discover all the delights of their new habitat. Savannah Georgia offered a beautiful setting to ‘play’ in. I loved researching all the many interests this beautiful old city had to offer. 

What did you find most useful in learning to write for publication? What was least useful or most destructive? 
When I first started to write, I really didn’t understand the publishing world. Why would they contract certain books (that I might not have liked so well) but they would decline others (that I felt were good). It made no sense to me. So when I got the opportunity to work at a publishing house, I gladly dove in. I worked there for less than three years, but it was an ‘education’ that even twenty years later, I’m still truly grateful for. The least useful ‘advice’ I ever got in regard to publishing was well-meaning friends who told me (early on) that it was ‘impossible to publish a book.’ After publishing more than 200 books, I think I proved them wrong. 

Are you a full-time or part-time writer? How does that affect your writing? 
I’ve been a full-time writer for the past twenty years. I’d have to be in order to produce so many books! Although my writing schedule has lightened some these past couple of years (something I’m thankful for) I still consider writing to be my ‘full-time’ job—and I have a private studio where I go to work. And because I’m write on such a regular basis, I think it forces me to be more disciplined and hopefully it’s helped me to improve my craft.  

What are some day jobs that you have held? Have any of them impacted your writing? 
I’ve had some pretty varied jobs and life experiences. I taught pre-school for a number of years. I ran my own daycare business for a few years. I worked for an interior design firm for a short while—which made me realize that although I love design, I would not want that for a fulltime job. I also had an interesting job with an international adoption agency. My last job was as a senior editor for a major Christian publishing company. I feel that all these occupations have added to my writing

Melody Carlson is the award-winning author of over two hundred books with sales of more than 6.5 million, including many bestselling Christmas novellas, young adult titles, and the contemporary romances Once Upon a Summertime and All Summer Long. She received a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award in the inspirational market for her many books, including Finding Alice. She and her husband live in central Oregon.


Grand Prize:
Print copies of the three books in the Follow Your Heart series, Thanks You’re A Peach Tea Gift Tin,12x18 Savannah travel poster, & Georgia Peach Cookies Tin

1st Runner-UpFull series + $15 Barnes & Noble Gift Card

2nd Runner-UpFull Series + $10 Starbucks Gift Card
June 17-26, 2017
(U.S. Only)

Excerpt 1
Guest Post
Author Interview
Excerpt 2
Excerpt 3


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17 June 2017

Read my Review & Enter to Win THE SWIMMING HOLES OF TEXAS by Julie Wernersback & Carolyn Tracy

Julie Wernersbach & Carolyn Tracy
  Genre: Travel / Outdoors / Swimming
Publisher: The University of Texas Press
Date of Publication: May 16, 2017
Number of Pages: 240, 100 color photos

Scroll down for Giveaway!

Nothing beats a natural swimming hole for cooling off on a scorching summer day in Texas. Cold, clear spring water, big old shade trees, and a quiet stretch of beach or lawn offer the perfect excuse to pack a cooler and head out with family and friends to the nearest natural oasis. Whether you’re looking for a quick getaway or an unforgettable summer vacation, let The Swimming Holes of Texas be your guide. 

Julie Wernersbach and Carolyn Tracy highlight one hundred natural swimming spots across the entire state. The book is organized by geographic regions, so you can quickly find local places to swim—or plan a trip to a more distant spot you’d like to explore. 

Each swimming hole is illustrated with an inviting color photo and a description of what it’s like to swim there, as well as the site’s history, ecology, and conservation. The authors include all the pertinent info about admission fees and hours, parking, and on-site amenities such as showers and restrooms. They also offer tips for planning your trips and lists of the swimming holes that are most welcoming to families and pets.

So when the temperature tops 100 and there’s nothing but traffic in sight, take a detour down the backroads and swim, sunbathe, revel, and relax in the swimming holes of Texas.


Growing up in Nacogdoches, the oldest town in Texas, afforded my siblings, childhood friends, and me long lazy days of exploring the Texas Piney Woods and splashing in hidden swimming holes that were tucked beneath the shady reaches of our corner of the Great Piney Woods of East Texas.

Summertime in Nacogdoches is magic. So, when I was offered the chance to review a book titled SWIMMING HOLES OF TEXAS, I dove at the chance. After all, the title itself sends my imagination back a few years (I won’t say how many) to my childhood.

SWIMMING HOLES OF TEXAS is number forty-four in the Jack and Doris Smothers Series in Texas History, Life, and Culture. Since I only received a digital version for review, I cannot comment on the tactile experience of holding this book. I can, however, comment on the gorgeous color photographs that greet the reader and beckon him/her to come take a dip in the cooling swimming holes of the great state of Texas within the covers of this book.

But this book isn’t just a picture book. There are sections of helpful information for those wishing to explore the swimming holes of Texas. Readers will be obliged to find information on such topics as planning a trip, swimmer’s etiquette, history and conservation, and park rules and regulations. I remember my father instructing us on the importance of such things when he’d take us exploring the local national parks.

When I was in the fifth grade, the school planned a “father-son/daughter” camp out for our grade to go to Lake Ratcliff in the Davy Crockett National Forest. I have such great memories of that weekend for many reasons. One of which is that my father was the only daddy who attended the trip. And I had a fantastic time with him and my friends. He was a nature buff, and I was and still am sure that he knew everything about Mother Nature. But I digress. Revisiting Lake Ratcliff in this book brought back those happy memories.

This book gave me the chance to virtually visit parks and swimming holes in other parts of Texas with the mere switch of a page. That was really fun! The book is organized so that each region of Texas is represented and then national parks and swimming holes in those areas are included under corresponding section.  Each section begins with the section title and then a brief introduction of the region.

Truthfully, I found the East Texas introduction a bit off-mark and there was even mention that one might somehow transport oneself to the Pacific Northwest while exploring the back roads of East Texas. I must warn you that this is wrong. There simply is no likeness between the summertime forests of East Texas to the forests of the Pacific Northwest. The forests and back roads of East Texas are very unique to this region and very unlike the Pacific Northwest in every way imaginable.

As you know, however, Texas is HUGE, so a book like this can be quite helpful! 

And since the Lone Star State is so large, I cannot vouch for the information contained under regions I’ve never lived in. I can, however, vouch for East Texas. And that is where I found this book falling a bit short for a couple of reasons. Number one being that Lake Nacogdoches, located in the oldest town in Texas, was not represented in this book at all. In fact, I cannot understand how any book about Texas has no mention of one of the most important towns in Texas history within its pages aside from a small dot on a map.

Of course, Lake Nacogdoches is a swimming hole from my childhood. But it’s not the only important swimming hole missing from this book. The current swimming hole in my life, Lake Conroe, is not mentioned in the book, either. And given the size, location, and importance of Lake Conroe, I find that shocking and disappointing.

As a child of Texas, I find myself scratching my head and wondering how these two sites managed to be left out of a book about touring the swimming holes of Texas. Alas, that’s just me. I’m sure these two omissions would go unnoticed by many other readers, and so I don’t discourage anyone from picking up a copy of SWIMMING HOLES OF TEXAS and planning a tour. Just don’t forget to pencil in the swimming hole from my past and the one in my present. They are both certainly worthy of a visit!

Though there were a few things that I found lacking in this book, I confess that I really did enjoy reading through it and perusing the beautiful color pictures. This book would make a great gift for anyone who loves Texas. Or for someone who loves the long magic days of summer and memories of childhood dips in the cool watering holes of Texas.

And so, I hereby grant SWIMMING HOLES OF TEXAS 3 ½ glorious summertime brooms!

Julie Wernersbach, Austin, is the literary director of the Texas Book Festival and a former marketing director at BookPeople, Austin’s largest independent bookstore. Carolyn Tracy, Austin, is a freelance photographer who works for an animal welfare nonprofit. They are the authors of Vegan Survival Guide to Austin.

Connect with The University of Texas Press:
  June 8-June 22, 2017


Book Trailer
Sneak Peek 1
Guest Post
Sneak Peek 2
Sneak Peek 3

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