Monday, January 30, 2012

Book Review: Family by Design by Heather Justesen

Confident, talented interior decorator Rena has everything she could possibly want - a fantastic career, a bright future, and a very pleasant boyfriend. If she pretends hard enough, she can believe herself to be happy, but she wants more. She wants someone to fall madly in love with her and sweep her off her feet, but she's over thirty, and it just seems that such things will never happen. The most exciting thing that ever happens to her is helping her best friend, Tucker, redecorate his flip home.

Tucker, a Marine home until his next deployment, is hit with the surprise of his life when his brother and sister-in-law are killed in a car accident, leaving their two young children without parents. The young father's dying wish is for Tucker to raise the children, and Tucker wholeheartedly agrees. He loves his niece and nephew, and would do anything to keep from losing them. Anything.

When a social worker expresses her concern that Tucker could get called up again at any moment, leaving the children without a guardian, Tucker stumbles upon a plan. He and Rena have always been good friends. If they were to get married, they could raise the children together, and then if he got called up, Rena could watch over everything for him. Approaching her in a somewhat less-than-romantic way, he proposes.

Rena doesn't know what to think. She's had feelings for Tucker off and on throughout their ten-year friendship, but she never expected it to culminate in a marriage proposal. And it's not a marriage for love, anyway ... but rather, a marriage of convenience.

As we read the story, we see Rena and Tucker move through the emotional stages from best friend, to reluctant fiance, to committed spouse, and then finally, falling in love. We see character growth in both of them, and we can see how they each struggle in some ways to leave their single life behind and embrace their instant family. We also see how deeply they care about these children and are determined to create a solid foundation for them as they grow up.

The themes of the story are familiar. We've all heard of two best friends getting married, of the need for a marriage in order to gain custody of children, and people falling in love unexpectedly. What makes this story unique is Heather Justesen's own writing style. She has a unique turn of phrase and the ability to describe things in a way that makes her books unlike anyone else's. It's distinctive and a pleasure to read. And, if I were to be totally honest, I would have to say that I did rather appreciate the moments of sweet romance throughout the story. Perhaps I might even go so far as to say that it sounds to me like Tucker is a pretty good kisser.

If you're looking for a family drama with romantic elements and plenty of tear-jerking moments, I daresay you would enjoy Family by Design by Heather Justesen.

Help Heather celebrate the release of this new novel! Also, as a special promotion for anyone who buys a book from this tour, you can get a free ebook for her companion novella, “Shear Luck.” Once you buy a copy of her book go here to get your free copy.

Here's a blurb about "Shear Luck:"

Chelsea Robison has never forgotten the older boy next door whom she crushed on as a teen, so when she runs into him at the restaurant he’s preparing to open, it’s a delightful shock. And learning he’s available again is more than a little tantalizing.

Vaughn Krenshaw had never seen his neighbor as more than a nice kid—but Chelsea had definitely grown up in the decade since they saw each other last. He’s attracted to the feisty red head, but still struggles over his wife’s death the previous year. And then there’s his five-year-old daughter, Molly, who really liked Chelsea—until she realized the woman was dating her dad.

As Chelsea starts to wonder if their love for each other will be enough to make things work, a specter from Vaughn’s past rises, making her question whether she really knew him at all.

As if that weren’t enough, Heather’s holding a host of giveaways on her blog throughout the next few weeks. Enter to win below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

It's Time for a Secret Sisters Fiesta!

My newest Secret Sisters mystery, Targets in Ties, will be launched on Thursday, February 2nd, and you are invited to the fiesta!

When: Thursday, February 2nd, 5 - 7 p.m.
Where: Pioneer Book, 858 S. State Street, Orem

After two long years, Ren’s mission is finally over, and it’s time for Ida Mae, Arlette, and Tansy to travel to Mexico to pick him up. They have their itinerary all planned out—visiting the ruins in the Yucatan, shopping, playing in the sand and surf—and then they’ll head to Ren’s mission home and be reunited with that dear boy. But a wanted antiquities thief crosses their path, and soon the ladies find themselves tangled up in a web of lies, intrigue, and costly jewelry. Held hostage by men desperate for riches, they do what only they can do—keep their heads about them, plan their escape, and discuss the proper making of tortillas. Will they survive their most harrowing adventure yet?

I'm celebrating this book's release in a very bright, colorful, hot-and-spicy way!

First, everyone who comes can enter a drawing for a Grand Basket of Goodies, containing:

Secrets After Dark by Marie Higgins
Just Shy of Paradise by Carole Thayne Warburton
Nourish and Strengthen by Maria Hoagland
Sadie by Rebecca Belliston
Alma the Younger by H. B. Moore
Compass of God by David G. Woolley
Advanced Readers Copy of Jacob T. Marley by R. William Bennett

And if you're reading, you need snacks, so I'm including:

M & Ms

Second, if you come and purchase Secret Sisters, Dearly Departed, Hang 'Em High, or Targets in Ties, you will receive a free download for my novel Season of Sacrifice!

Both of these are available at the launch only, and yes, you must be present at the time of the drawing (7 p.m.) to win the basket, because there's really no way I can ship it.

If you can't make it to the launch, but still want to get in on the book launch fun ... check this out! I'm holding a Targets in Ties Online Launch Contest. All you have to do is tell your friends about the book, about the launch party, and spread the love! Then e-mail me at and tell me what you did. Each thing you do will get you one point in a drawing to win the Awesome Envelope of Prizes, which will be shipped to you. So tell a friend about the book, tell a local friend about the launch, tweet about it, Facebook it - and each time, you'll get one point. Please put Targets in Ties in the subject line of your e-mail. The drawing will take place on Thursday, February 2nd, at midnight, so turn in all your points by then ... starting now!

What can you win?

No Angel by Theresa Sneed
Cold River by Liz Adair
The DVD Cinderella Man starring Russell Crowe and Renee Zellweiger

Now, not only that ... not only that ... which is cool and awesome all by itself ... but if you come to the launch, you will also get to meet ...

D.N. Giles, author of The Sharp Edge of the Knife
and Mormon Mishaps and Mischief

Heather Justesen, author of Family By Design,
Blank Slate, and others

Andrea Pearson, author of the Kilenya series

Tell your friends!

Bring your family!

Forgive your enemies and invite them, too!

It's a Secret Sisters Fiesta, and you won't want to miss it!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Announcing ... Targets in Ties!

My ninth published book, Targets in Ties, went to press yesterday. How cool is that?

And how cool is this cover?

Stay tuned ... I will shortly be announcing my plans for my launch party, and the blog contest that will run in conjunction with it. You will definitely, most definitely want to participate!

Guest Blogger: Jessica Foster on Finishing What You Start

Today I'm joined by Jessica Foster, a very talented fledgling writer who is destined for greatness. I met her several years ago at the LDStorymakers Writers Conference and was immediately impressed by her enthusiasm and zest for life. She continues to inspire me today. I have also blogged for her today, and you can read it here. Take it away, Jessica!

Finishing What You Start

As a writer, there is no greater feeling than a shiny new story idea. There is a thrill in the moment when the characters come alive and the plot pieces puzzle together. As the story progresses, however, the excitement sometimes wanes. What begins as zipping through a draft like a fish swimming through water quickly becomes the same fish, slogging through mud.

One of the first lessons I learned in writing was not to give up.

An unfinished novel will sit for years in your sock drawer or on your hard-drive.

Unfinished novels don't get read.

Finish it.

It doesn't matter if you're tired of the plot or hate the characters.

Just finish it.

This is essential for first novels. Writing to the end of that very first book can be harrowing and nearly impossible. It is too easy to develop the habit of jumping ship when the writing becomes muddy. In my earlier years as a writer (fourth grade, sneaking a notebook under my desk during math tests or history lessons). I left a string of unfinished stories. I'd start one and think it was the greatest idea ever . . . until a hit a snag in the plot or with a character. I'd abandon it for my next new idea hit. I never wrote more than a few chapters for each story.

A time will come when you dislike your book. Characters become obnoxious. You will fall into impossible plot holes. There will be days when you'll look at your story and wonder why you thought it was a good idea. It has happened with every book I've ever written. I reach a point where I want to give up.

Just finish it.

Sometimes, you'll get to the end and find that it really isn't great. Learn from it. Other times, more often than not, you'll discover the story wasn't as bad as you thought. The only way to know is to finish it.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Guest Blog: Susan Dayley on Where's the Beef?

I've blogged quite a bit about the diet that has finally allowed me to start losing weight - 76 pounds since June. My diet is comprised of meat, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, and no grain. It's the only thing I've ever found that works for me.

Our guest blogger today is Susan Dayley, who has found that she feels best when she limits her meat intake. That's different from what I'm doing, but the cool thing is that every person's body is different, and every person will find success in different ways. The important thing is to listen to your body and give it what it uniquely needs.

Take it away, Susan!

Where’s the Beef?

Thank goodness, you don’t have to be a singer to sing, and you don’t have to be a vegetarian to eat vegetables. At my house we eat pretty much everything (except gross things like Spam or Brussel spouts). We also eat lots of vegetarian meals. I try to limit our meat to no more than once per day (that includes a sandwich for lunch or sausage with breakfast). (Not exactly “sparingly,” but we’re working on it. Some days we go the whole day without meat! Close your mouth, I know!)

Most people ask, “What about protein!” I usually refrain from pointing out that the Great Apes that reign with terror in the jungle are vegetarians, as are the well-fed cows that become the source of “protein style” at In and Out Burger. Instead I hedge with a mumbled answer that sounds like “been lagoon in rain and smut.” [Translation: “beans, legumes, grains and nuts.”]

“But my kids won’t eat it!” And it’s true they may not. At least not every dish you offer. My children were raised as vegans until they became sassy, know-it-all teens. [Love ya!] Now, in their mid-twenties they are returning to healthier eating habits again. But during our meat-less, dairy-less, whole grain years, some meals they loved, some not so much. They still tease their parents about our experiment with “rejuvelac.” (Don’t worry, you really don’t want to know.)

What we found though was that in the beginning when we adjusted a known recipe, it was an easier adjustment than just jumping in with quinoa and tofu. For example, pizza with “veggie” pepperoni from the health food store was a small step. Later, they ate whole grain pizza with grilled peppers, caramelized onions and artichoke hearts. But that came after a couple of years. I have included below a favorite recipe for 3-bean pizza that puts a southwest twist on a favorite meal.

Vegetable soups are a great way to take your family away from “meat at every meal.” Barbeque flavored black bean and rice wraps with jicama, sunflower seeds and cheese are delicious. Many vegetarians enjoy omelets with sautéed mushrooms and peppers, but kids may prefer them with just cheese. Or better yet, make crepes. My children loved crepes.

Give it a try. Incorporate some vegetarian meals into your menus. Get some fun cookbooks, and simply experiment. Some of our best successes were from my own attempts to adjust an old favorite entrée into a vegetarian or vegan option.

Here’s that Pizza:

Three-Bean Pizza

1 T. olive oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 can (15 oz.) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (8 oz.) red kidney beans, drained and rinsed.
1 can (8 oz.) chick-peas (garbanzo) beans, drained and rinsed
1 jar (12oz.) chunky salsa
¼ C. chopped cilantro or parsley
1 pizza crust (unbaked)
4 oz. shredded Monterey Jack cheese (or try almond cheese for a vegan option)

1. Preheat oven to hot (425º).
2. Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onions; sauté 3 minutes or until translucent. Add garlic; sauté 2 minutes. Add beans, salsa and cilantro; cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through—about 5 minutes.
3. Sprinkle pizza dough (stretched in a pan) with half the cheese.
4. Spread bean mixture over surface. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.
5. Bake in preheated oven for 10-15 minutes. Serve with forks and a green vegetable on the side.

From The Family Circle Cookbook New tastes for New Times

Susan Dayley blogs about vegetarian meals on most Mondays at Looking Out My Backdoor.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Guest Blogger: JoLyn Brown on The Power of a Story

Today I'm joined by JoLyn Brown the Awesome, who is sharing with us her feelings on the power of stories. I am also featured on JoLyn's blog, here.  Take it away, Jolyn!

It's strange, how sometimes you don't know what you want to say until you tell a story. Sometimes, the unfolding of that story, the time you take to re-write it from a new perspective, is how you find a little bit of something your memory was trying to tell you. You just didn't understand until you wrote it out.

I've been seeing us, my brothers and me, walking to the edge of our lawn. When we were inches from the gravel road, we cupped our hands around our mouths and yelled through the rows of peach trees to my cousin's house. We had a code word we'd yell that meant "Can you come and play?"

Two of my dad's siblings raised their families in our town. My cousins and I grew up and most of us are still here. I don't stand outside and yell to get their attention, but I could, if I wanted to.

My husband's dad was in the military and they moved a lot. I don't have to say for you know how different his story is from mine. A package came last week, a late Christmas from his parents who live on the East Coast. My little boy opened up a Hallmark recordable story, and with a push of a button, they were in the room. 

My in-laws never do anything halfway. They told the story together, repeating whatever lines they wanted, inserting my son's name at random, and using the word "indubitably" the end of every page. My husband rolled his eyes when they began an impromptu song mid-way through the book, making up a tune to the words, and singing with more gusto than even most people manage in the shower. I laughed along, but honestly, thought I might cry. Not a sad cry, but one of those happy cries husbands like to tease about.

For a girl who once stood at the edge of her lawn to get her cousin, learning about distance has been hard. But I have learned something. 

I can count on my fingers the number of times I've seen my husband's parents. There are stories there. The first time they held my son. The way she sneaked into the baby's room and got him before he woke me. The tire swing and my father-in-law laughing at the round legged baby smiling up at him. I didn't teach my son to walk. They did. Indubitably, the word they think would be just hilarious to hear him say. 

I hear them in my living room, now. My son dances to them singing. Some stories are worth telling. Across an entire country, there are people who love us. I am thankful for all the stories that we keep, just waiting to re-tale. A story, a simple voice, a few words on paper, and I remember all the love I've felt, years ago on a dirt road, to a few days ago in my living room. And that is the power of a story.


JoLyn Brown is a wife and mother turned author. She writes Contemporary YA and is currently working on a LDS collection of short stories about the Relief Society. To learn more about her or her current project, check out her blog at

Friday, January 13, 2012

Guest Blogger: Carolyn Frank on Super 8: Bad Luck or Bad Story Question?

It's time for a guest blogger - today I welcome Carolyn Frank. She is hosting me on her blog as well - go check it out! Carolyn, take it away.

Today being Friday the 13th, I felt "luck" would be a fitting topic.

My husband and I watched the movie Super 8 over the holidays, hoping for the typical Steven Spielberg type of entertainment. We were disappointed. After reading some reviews, we found that the movie had done relatively poorly for a Spielberg film, confirming our sentiments.

Was Super 8’s lack of success merely a case of bad luck for Spielberg? I don’t think so. I think it was a matter of why a lot of books flop—it lacked a story question. (A story question is: what does the protagonist want; what is his goal. Jordan McCollum has an awesome post about this on her website about this.)

My husband isn’t even a writer, or a reader of fiction, but he recognized the lack of “story” in the movie. “What was the movie really about?” he asked. “Was it a story about a boy losing his mother, a story about kids making movies, a story about a kid experiencing his first love, or a story about an alien wanting to go home?”

It could have been about any one of those and been a good story. But unfortunately, it was about all of them, yet none of them. It was like trying to make a meal out of the free samples at Sam’s Club; they’re all tasty, but you come away wanting a real meal, one that works together to satisfy your hunger and your nutritional needs.

Having a strong story question is essential to the success of any story, whether on the page or on the screen. And just knowing what the protagonist wants is not enough. The entire focus of the story must work around it—not special effects or interesting side characters. What he wants must be in jeopardy, not some alien that we haven’t even come to care about. And the resolution needs to pertain to what he wanted, not the cool destruction of an entire town so some alien’s spaceship can mysteriously (I didn’t understand this part), come together and fly him out of there.

Super 8 is prime example of how even the most polished of artists can lose sight of what makes a story tick. A famous name alone cannot ensure the success of a production or a book. In one aspect we are on a level playing field with the big name authors/producers—it’s not a matter of luck that will make our works successful, it’s a matter of following the time tested rules of story.

Carolyn Frank’s first book, Hattie’s Promise, will be coming out this spring. It is a Middle Grade historical fiction set in the shadow of Bryce Canyon before it became a national park. Before she started writing seriously, Carolyn created and owned her own company, Puppet Partners Inc. She designed puppets and wrote and produced numerous puppet plays for the educational market.

Monday, January 09, 2012

iWriteNetwork Winter Conference

Hey, everyone - there's a new game in town! iWriteNetwork is excited to announce their first Winter Workshop, being held on Saturday, January 21st, in Provo, Utah. The classes are:

Killer Hooks by Greg Park
Head Hunting for POV by Canda Mortensen
I Have a Feeling - Writing Emotion and Making It Stick by Tristi Pinkston
Taxes and You - Figuring it Out by Rebecca Shelley
Savvy about Story Structure by Cindy Hogan

The conference will begin at 9:00 and go until 2:00, with a break for lunch (provided). The cost for the day is $30. You can sign up by clicking here.

Now here's something fun ... if you are one of the first 25 to register, you will be entered in a drawing for a free manuscript evaluation* by Tristi Pinkston Author Services. 250 pages maximum. We only have a few slots left for this contest, so hurry on over and register - you'll have a great time, eat a good lunch, associate with awesome people ... does it get any better than that? I think not!

*Evaluation, not edit.

Sunday, January 01, 2012


We all have circumstances that arise in our lives. Some we can control, and some we can't. When we learn the difference, we'll be much happier.

In the things we control, we can choose light, life, joy, and happiness.

In the things we can't control, we can choose faith, endurance, and a positive attitude.

No one can make us miserable - they can choose to do things that are mean, unkind, thoughtless, and cruel, but we can choose our reactions to them.

We may feel stuck in our situation. We may feel that we will never get out of where we are. The answers may be a long time in coming, but we can decide how we live while we wait for those answers. We can choose to make every day something special, or we can curl up in a ball and whimper. What will you choose while you wait for your answer? It will be just as long in coming no matter which path you take - being miserable does not bring it about any faster, so why put yourself through that?

The last two years have been the hardest of my life, but I have also felt the most blessed, loved, protected, and guided. 2012 is my year - not because everything is going to go my way, but because I will face what does come with dignity and faith. Of all the goals or resolutions I could make this year, that is the biggest one.

Happy New Year!
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