Holiday Gift Ideas

My favorite gifts to give are books. If you’re like me (and also haven’t finished your gift buying yet), I have some books to recommend. Many of these I have already given as gifts, or would happily give, and some are current favorites of mine.* Of course, you can always give them to yourself anytime of year!

Covers of several books
A Small and Varied Selection

As a gift to your community, buy books from your local bookstore if you can! If you can’t visit a store in person, you can order online from many independent bookstores as well as Barnes & Noble.

Some of these books are e-books – and yes, you can give e-books as gifts! Here’s how for Barnes and Noble Nook books and for Amazon Kindle books.

For picture book lovers and readers:
Imagine! by Raúl Colón. A story told in the luminous illustrations of Raúl Colón, about a boy who goes to a museum where people from the artwork leap out to interact with him.

Stretchy McHandsome by Judy Schachner. A delightful book for fans of Skippyjon Jones, and cat-lovers of all stripes.

For Middle-graders and above, especially fans of sci-fi:

My Best Friend Runs Venus by Katrina Forest. A fun interplanetary journey undertaken by kids in robot avatars trying to save the solar system.

 

A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity by Nicole Valentine. The poignant story of a boy who discovers the mind-boggling fact that his family are time-travelers, while dealing with the loss of family members. It’s about family, friends, adventure, grief, and the love that changes everything; it truly touched me.

For fans of fantasy, young adult and older:


Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine. A captivating take on Romeo and Juliet’s story, as seen from the characters in the shadows, with magical underpinnings.

Ink and Bone, The Great Library Book One by Rachel Caine. For those who prefer a steampunk flavor over Shakespeare, this is the story of a book smuggler in a world where owning books can get you attacked by automaton lions.

 

For adults:


Accessing the Future  ed. by Kathryn Allan & Djibril al-Ayad. An inclusive anthology of speculative fiction, featuring a favorite of mine, “A Sense All its Own.”

 

The All-You-Can-Read Buffet by Stephen L. Thompson. An eclectic collection of short stories for varied tastes, from horror to humor, the everyday to the fantastical.

 

The Easy Road by Alexandra Scott-Coulter. For fans of rock ‘n’ roll, especially anyone who’s dreamed of being a rock star, this is the story of a man who becomes just that.

 

Running Wild Novella Anthology Volume 3 edited by Lisa Diane Kastner. I’d buy this for the story “Broken Soul to Broken Soul” alone; a story about ‘Two souls, two traumas, one path to healing … love.’ [Full disclosure: I haven’t read all the other stories yet – it just came out this month!]

 

cover art for Season of Hope novella

Season of Hope by Laura Nelson Selinsky. Can two new adults with big responsibilities find holiday happiness at the end of their struggles? Find out in this heartwarming Romance novella.

 

Strife and Harmony  ed. by Dixianne Hallaj and D.J. Stevenson. Strife, doubt, & suspicion — heroic (and not-so-heroic) characters search for harmony in this international anthology. Especially read the exploits of Sippy and Algernon Moynihan, two characters I’ve met and am quite fond of.

Legendary by Amelia Kibbie. I fell in love with the short story that predates this novel – about two boys in England, struggling with bullies and the perils of WWII England; Kirkus Review calls the novel (set years after the short story) “A rousing story of love and sacrifice.”

 

And in honor of the very soul and heart of Christmas,
A Vine-Ripened Life by Stanly D. Gale, a thoughtful and thought-provoking meditation on and exploration of the great fruits of grace.

 

However you observe this season, may you celebrate the light, and share it.

 

 

* where the picture quality is questionable, it’s because it’s of my own treasured copies.

Guest Blog by Laura Selinsky: Holiday Reading Break

picture of Laura Selinsky
Laura Selinsky, Author and Teacher

Today is St. Nicholas’ Day, a traditional time of gift-giving, and in honor of the occasion I offer you this gift: a blog by my friend Laura Nelson Selinsky.  It is particularly fitting for this day – please read on to find out why!

Candles, a cup of tea, and…a Christmas story. Sure, there are television specials by the score, but nothing compares to cocoa or tea and a heartwarming story after a busy day. I’m here to share my favorite way to step back from my too-busy life and prepare for the holidays.

In my family, we often shared reading breaks before Christmas…our quiet little respite in the hallowed chaos of the season. Until my kids left home, we read aloud regularly. For the holidays, we read everything from Luke’s sublime nativity story to the nonsense of Vip’s Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher. We read our copy of Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever to tatters. I owe the Christmas reading tradition to my high school drama teacher who read Dylan Thomas’s* A Child’s Christmas In Wales to us each year, a practice I continue in my own classroom.

Perhaps you’d enjoy a holiday reading break of your own. The best place to start is Charles Dickens’* A Christmas Carol, with its happiest of happy endings. Be prepared for a little social justice tucked between the candles and figgy puddings of the Dickens. There are many shortened versions of his novella available, and reading a condensation is not an insult to the author. Dickens himself recited a condensed version on his lecture tours. Christmas Carol always awakens a little holiday spirit. If you are one of Gemma’s writer friends, visiting Scrooge is a good way to review Dickens’ mastery of playing his reader’s heartstrings.

If heartstring tugging is your pleasure, then holiday romances make a perfect break between wrapping and baking. My own little romance Season of Hope** was released by Anaiah Press on November 1. Can two new adults with big responsibilities find holiday happiness at the end of their struggles? Of course! That’s why romance is the perfect genre for a relaxed holiday reading break.

cover art for Season of Hope novella

Gemma’s note: And the hero of this story is a pastor named Nick! Happy Namesake Day, Nick.  

Thank you for sharing your lovely way of calming this hectic season, Laura! I invite readers to connect with you on your Twitter and Facebook. They can also find you on Amazon.

*Thomas’ and Dickens’ works are in the public domain and can easily be obtained online, but reading from a screen is less relaxing than from paper, (blue light, social media, yadda, yadda…). Your public library certainly has A Christmas Carol on paper. {And likewise your local bookstore! Gemma.}

**Season of Hope is available from Anaiah Press  {Gemma’s note: see coupon code for 30% off , then scroll down just a little to see their Seasonal Titles on sale!} or from Amazon. My publisher Anaiah Press has a Santa’s pack  full of charming novels and novellas being released for the holidays. They might be just what your reading break requires.

Banner of Season of Hope cover art

 

 

A Day’s Trip into History

One of the pleasures of living in Pennsylvania is the rich history woven deep into the fabric of the land. There are many celebrations of such history, and I’ll gladly travel quite a distance to take part. One occasion in late September commemorates the Battle of Paoli.

Though the battle was bloody, Paoli Heritage Day is a happy celebration of history in general, and the Colonial and Revolutionary War periods especially. On a sunny, sloping field, inventors, soldiers, crafts-men and women, and artists pitched tents and shared their talents and passions.

Encampment

One I sought out in particular was Dr. Franklin. I had met him earlier at a previous Exhibition and Demonstration held in a public library.

Franklin’s Exhibit

He was extremely affable, and demonstrated for me his recently-built re-creation of a small vacuum pump, made from a design invented in the mid-17th C. He also pointed out the handsome flag beside him.

Mr. Franklin and His Inventions

He designed it for the Associators of southeastern PA, a volunteer militia group (which was, he told me, the roots of the Pennsylvania National Guard).

The sound of music drew me to a tent aswirl in color, where a group of men, women, and children were dancing: the Heritage Dancers.

Country Dancers

I delighted in watching them, and then they invited me to take part! The learned lady who talked us through the steps later told me that the English Country Dances, like those we were doing, were very popular in the Colonies. A Briton had made written record of many of them, and that is our sole surviving record of most of them. (That record now is protected in a British museum).

Next door was another musical sound: the blacksmith.

He was making various kinds of useful hooks out of iron, and when his hammer hit the hot metal just so, it rang with a bright, clear, penetrating sound that resounded – I could feel it in my body! I’ve watched blacksmiths before, but never heard or felt quite that musical a sound; maybe this man had particular skill. A gentleman who came up to buy some of the blacksmith’s handsome hardware said that he had dug up a number of just such hooks while restoring a historic house. History relives!

Nearby to the blacksmith, a woman was churning ice cream – yes, an authentic Colonial treat! Thomas Jefferson, in fact, had imported from France the receipt (recipe) she was using for – what else? – French Vanilla.

The woman was Susan McLellan Plaisted of Heart to Hearth Cookery. She was using what looked a great deal like the ice-cream maker my family had when I was a kid (ours was a replica – I’m not quite that old!). It was a rather narrow, wooden-staved bucket holding a metal canister in a bed of crushed ice and salt.  Unlike ours, hers had no crank; she turned the tall pewter cylinder with her hands. Anyone who helped churn could get a taste of ice cream; it was chilly work. I would have liked to get a picture of her, but she was always surrounded by an audience eager to try her ice cream! (It was delicious).

There were more fun things for children. Another booth had a spread of Colonial toys and games.

Two ladies there were making corn husk dolls, one for a child who waited with delightful eagerness.

I visited a number of tents with information from a wealth of historic sites nearby, like Historic Waynesborough, home of “Mad” Anthony Wayne. Did you know that General Wayne was the “ancestor” of Bruce (the Batman) Wayne? I’m enough of a comic book geek that I did! And Historic Waynesborough did, too: their tent had a poster with a comic book panel of Bruce Wayne researching and musing about his ancestor!

The sun was powerful on that open field, so it was a relief to go down to the tree-line, where a woman was surrounded by a small audience seated on straw bales. The woman was Molly Pitcher.

Story Telling

She had a warm accent that sounded like it came from the British Isles – but then, many of the Colonials did, too! She talked of how she supported her husband and showed us the gear she carried. Sometimes in the heat of summer, a soldier discarded his hot and heavy blanket, but if a woman traveled with a soldier, she kept hold of that blanket!

Molly told us how she braved cannon balls and musket fire to fetch water and carry ammunition during the famous battle of Monmouth. In the act of passing a cartridge, she got her petticoat shot off!

While Molly recounted her story, a Patriot soldier nearby enlisted children volunteers to come into the woods to scout for Redcoats.

Several minutes later, we heard gunshots! But the children came running out of the woods chasing the Redcoats – it was a rout!

Around the field was a veritable timeline of American Military History: the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, Mexican-American War, The Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II. All had re-enactors in historical dress, many with camps and arms. I gravitated toward the Colonial period…but sometimes, time warps appeared on the field.

Wrinkled Time

The celebration was a commemoration of history both local and national, and a fine way to Remember Paoli.

Guest Blog by Laura Selinsky: Writing By the Numbers

picture of Laura Selinsky
Laura Selinsky, Author and Teacher

{From Gemma: I am deeply pleased to welcome my friend and colleague Laura Nelson Selinsky as a guest on my blog to celebrate the release day of her new novella, Season of Hope. Please read on for Laura’s post.}

Banner of Season of Hope cover art
Release Day Nov. 1 2019

If you are a reader of a certain age, your childhood included “paint by numbers,” an allegedly artistic activity. It was the sort of gift you received at Christmas from childless and unimaginative relations. Paint by numbers sets attempted to quantify beauty and force it into the chubby fingers of eight-year olds. At best, painting by numbers represented a quixotic and foolish quest.

As a fantasy writer, I do love a foolish quest. Today, I’m on a quest to quantify my writing by numbers, starting with zero.

Zero: For much of my life, I wasn’t a fiction writer. That doesn’t mean I didn’t write, but that my writing wasn’t a passionate creative process. In college and seminary, I wrote essays, analyses, and research. As a pastor and ministry leader, I wrote sermons, scripts, and curriculum. For teaching, I wrote reports, emails, and even a few letters. But I wrote zero words of fiction from the day I graduated from grammar school to the day I turned fifty.

Fifty: On my fiftieth birthday, I started a novel. A host of fictional people live in my head, and I wanted to let them out to play. Two months later, I had completed a draft of the still unpublished Daughter of Fire. By the time I was fifty-two, another novel was complete. I began to write query letters, seeking print homes for my books.

300,000: The next decade of writing meant watching my wordcount tick toward the stratosphere. 300,000 is roughly the number of words in A Game of Thrones or Bleak House, depending on how classy you like your wordcounts. And that’s only if I think of each story as a single draft. Some of my projects have been through five drafts; one has been revised nine times. If I consider the number of words deleted, supplemented, or revised? Yikes, that’s a lot of writing. 300,000 is easier to imagine.

Ten: By my sixtieth birthday, I had published a couple of short stories and a nonfiction piece about teaching students with learning differences. My birthday gift was an email from the wonderful editor Kara Leigh Miller, saying that she was taking my Christmas novella before the purchasing committee at Anaiah Press. I had sold Season of Hope by the end of the following week—ten years after I began writing seriously. Through Kara’s editorial guidance Season of Hope grew to 50,000 words, treading the line between an overgrown novella and a wee little novel. Ten is also the number of years that I have spent in a priceless critique group sponsored by Pennwriters and marshalled by Gemma Brook, mistress of this blog.

cover art for Season of Hope novella

One: Season of Hope is being released today, November 1, 2019. It will be followed in ten days by Beach Dreams. I entered my first writing competition this summer, and my short story Shells won second place. That story, a meditation on the ways we measure the children we love, will be featured in Beach Dreams, published by Cat and Mouse Press.

cover art for Beach Dreams anthology
Release Day Nov 10 2019

Winning a writing contest in one try seems absurdly, undeservedly easy if you ignore ten and 300,000. But writers aren’t paint by numbers automatons. If you want to write, ten and 300,000, and the perseverance they represent, are the only numbers that matter.

From Gemma: Thank you for sharing a bit of your writing history, Laura, and the inspiring perseverance encapsulated within. Congratulations on the excellent news of your imminent publications! I invite my readers to connect with you through these links for Facebook and  Twitter or by searching Laura Nelson Selinsky. Readers, you can also find Laura on her Amazon page. And you can meet her in person at the Beach Dreams launch party! If you can’t make the party, you can read new interviews with Laura by Melinda Dozier, by Sara Beth Williams,  and at Batya’s Bits

Wizard Faire Revisited

The black dragon guarded the gate, and visitors who entered there were met by stirring music. Hedwig perched on the other side of the gate to greet incomers. But we came via a secret passage through a stone tunnel. There was no mistaking where we ended up: Professor Snape was once again teaching spells to eager (if somewhat nervous) students. Sweetlords was offering delectable delicacies. And witches and wizards in their school uniforms and robes were everywhere.

If there was any doubt, we encountered the Goblet of Fire. We had returned to the Wizard Faire!

For Wizard Champions

The sweet trolley came around, pushed by an affable ginger-haired young wizard; I couldn’t resist, and bought Scottish shortbread. There were also sugar quills and House badge biscuits on offer, and Butterbeer just across the Alley for thirsty muggles and wizards alike, not to mention house-elves. Dobby seemed to quite enjoy his.

A Free Elf

A canopy circled by floating keys caught my eye.


Beneath it were so many intriguing things to buy: Hermione’s bag (did it include an Undetectable Extension Charm?), other colorful Hogwarts Houses bags…

One for every house

Grimm teacups, and lockets holding everything from Polyjuice Potion to Amortentia.

For portable potions

Nearby, a wand maker had a display of truly beautiful wands that he had carved by hand. There was dragon artwork, too. My favorite merchant was the glass-maker, who made all sorts of potion ingredient bottles!

For all the best ingredients

That was where, to my awed delight, I met my favorite professor, Minerva McGonagall. She kindly deigned to pose for her portrait (I’m a mere muggle, so alas, it does not move).

Minerva herself

She was keeping questionable company; I swear I saw her conversing with Fenrir Greyback and Bellatrix Lestrange, but I do believe she was trying to talk sense to them.

A perfect place for wizards to meet for refreshment and companionship was the Hop’s Head.


We ate lunch in the shade there, surrounded by House banners. I spied a Ford Anglia lurking nearby – were the Weasleys about?


Just across the alley from the Hop’s Head was Octorara Wizard Academy. At Quills and Ink, you could buy all your necessary school supplies.


From there, you could make your own wand. With wand in hand, you could proceed to classes. Transfiguration and Care of Magical Creature were taught by learned wizards and witches. In Herbology, one could learn about Bowtruckles. Brave students could attempt Potions.

Is Snape lurking?

And under a brightly festooned canopy, there were tea tables where a Seer undertook teaching gifted witches and wizards how to divine the future.

Deep in Divination

I’m so glad we made the sojourn. All of this was to benefit the local library. A more noble quest is hard to imagine. For libraries truly are magic.

Our Book is Released!

Today is the day – our book is released into the wild!

Cover of Running Wild Anthology of Stories Vol. 3

I have read all the stories (benefits of getting an author’s copy), and I am truly honored that my story is amidst such excellent writing. And such an eclectic mix. There are stories with an eerie or supernatural bent; there is suspense and horror; humor from the whimsical to the macabre; love lost and reclaimed.

You can order our book in trade paperback from your local bookstore, or find it at Barnes and Noble and Amazon (print and e-book)* and Kobo (e-book).*

Kudos to my fellow authors! I look forward to seeing what you write next.

*Update 9/26/19: I was alerted by a reader that the ebook is not yet available on Amazon. Here’s the availability as of today:
Ebook (Nook) available now at Barnes & Noble for $9.49 (cheaper than Amazon!)
Paperback available now at Amazon for $20.97**
Paperback can be pre-ordered now on Barnes & Noble for $21.99**, available 9/29
Ebook can be pre-ordered now on Amazon for $9.99, and on Kobo for $8.69, available 9/29 for both.

I apologize for any confusion!

** paperback prices don’t include shipping, if any

 

The Lingering Joys of Summer

Adult Summer Reading Program

August is over, Labor Day is past, and kids are back at school – there’s no denying it, summer is over. But many of the pleasures of summer linger, like summer reading, and I am not yet ready to let them go!

Last year I waxed nostalgic about summer reading when I was a kid, and lamented (and yes, vented) over schools’ required reading lists. I also celebrated some of the cool things libraries do to help make reading fun instead.

This year, libraries brought fresh fun to summer reading, for kids and adults alike. The theme was “A Universe of Stories,” and a bit of research revealed it spans many states through the Collaborative Summer Library Program . Their mission: “librarians sharing ideas, expertise, and costs to produce a high-quality summer reading program for children, teens, and adults.”

What a great idea. My local library took part. For the younger kids, there was the “Patch Power” quest.

Kids' Patch Summer Reading Program

Kids kept track of when they read, great library programs they took part in, and fun, creative things they did at home. All of it added up to earning patches. Here are two of many choices.

Kids' Summer Reading Badges

(I have to admit, my inner kid is kind of envious of those patches, especially the Epic Wizard…)

They had a separate program for young adults.

Teen Summer Reading Program

Teens kept track on a game board of reading, listening to music, taking part in cool library programs, and other fun things. They could go to an ice cream party, a potato chip taste-off, or an afternoon movie; they could also try out yoga, make crafts, or make cards for wounded veterans. A really excellent array of things to participate in.

Teen Summer Reading Gameboard

I took part in the adult program. Lots of cool things to do and try, and there are stickers for achieving a set of things.

Adult Summer Reading Checklist

(Okay, my inner kid is unexpectedly strong: I wanted one of those stickers!)

By taking part, adults earned raffle tickets for gift certificates to things like stores, sporting events, local museums and public gardens, and theater tickets. I may not have earned one of the stickers, but the real joy was in expanding my horizons and trying some things I might not have otherwise. (And of course, reading some excellent books.)

Libraries weren’t the only ones finding ways to encourage reading. Bookstores big and small took part. Wellington Square Bookshop is a gem of a bookstore to stumble upon and worth traveling a distance to return to.

Wellington Square Bookshop Logo

They had a special offer to help kids get the books they needed and wanted for summer reading. And to encourage reading all year long, they have book clubs and storytimes.

Barnes & Noble  had a summer reading program, too. Up through August 31st, kids could keep track of any eight books they read in a journal and what their favorite parts were.

Barnes and Noble Summer Reading Journal

Then they could choose a free book from a nice selection B&N provided.

Even banks got into the program!

Bank Summer Reading Offer

So summer and these neat programs are over. But the joy of reading goes on. I confess, I am still reading one of my favorite summer books! When I’m done, I hope to post a review of it on Goodreads. Stay tuned.

Happy Reading to All!

Our Anthology Up for Pre-Order

I got this exciting news in my inbox: our anthology is now available for pre-order!

Find it at  Mysterious Galaxy and Barnes and Noble.

Cover of Running Wild Anthology of Stories Vol. 3
Coming mid-September!

That young woman’s expression is pretty much my face when I get my hands on a much-wanted book!

Here’s the news from our publisher:

“For a third year in a row, Running Wild Press brings you eclectic and exciting stories that will make your imagination run wild!

Featuring these magical tales:

“Clara Came to St. Mary’s” by Hailey Piper

“Los Sueños” by Dawn DeAnna Wilson

“Hada” by Magaly Garcia

“Where Dead Men Are Buried” by Susan Breall

“Under the Eye of the Crow” by VT Dorchester

“From Trina to T” by Susan Breall

“Madam Ursa’s Performing Bears” by Robert Allen Lupton

“Old Tony’s Smashing Chair” by Paul Attmore

“Visit to the Cralnaw Estate” by Anthony Peters

“Free Money” by Andrew Adams

“Creach” by Monique Gagnon German

“Inglorious Carnage” by Jason Zeitler

“The One that Got Away” by Gemma L. Brook

“Monkey in the Middle” by Audra Supplee

“Le Bouquiniste” by Lorna Walsh

“Toby” by Debby Huvaere

“Running Man” by Desiree Kannel

“The Lucky Ones” by Molly Byrne

“A Friend’s Text” by Jenn Powers

“Desert Rats” by Gary Kidney

“One Between” by Sarah Kaminski

“MAIA’S CALL” by Ed Burke

“Faith Healing for Pessimists” by Anastasia Jill

“Final Exit” by Abdullah Aljumah

“On the Hassawi Sparrow” by Abdullah Aljumah

“Exposed” by Abdullah Aljumah

Get your imagination running today!”

I’m excited to be in the midst of so many intriguing stories and right beside my friend Aud! And I can’t wait to get my hands on that physical book!

My Publication News

I have exciting news – my next publication is coming out soon! My fiction is included in Running Wild Anthology of Stories Vol. 3, due on or around Sept. 15th, 2019. My contribution is a bit of flash fiction, “The One that Got Away,” which won an award at a recent Pennwriters Conference. It’s about a bunch of fisherman swapping stories and the tale that tops them all.

My story joins Aud Supplee’s “Monkey in the Middle.” I’ve read a lot of Aud’s fine fiction, but not this one and I’m excited to read it.

This collection is a follow-up to Running Wild Anthology of Stories Vol. 2 , which features two of my pieces. That collection is packed with excellent stories; you can read interviews with several of the authors (and others) on my site.

cover of Running Wild Anthology of Stories Vot. 2
Volume Two

I can’t wait to see what Volume 3 holds! Check back for updates and the cover reveal.

Meanwhile, I’ll be hard at work on my fantasy novel.

Desk of Gemma Brook

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