Do you love Christmas enough to celebrate it year round?

A good and dear friend of mine has a blog entitled Yuletide Blessings, which aims to do so. Discussions and blog posts are about traditions, recipes, crafts, books, and more. Please visit the link below to read her review of a Christmas-themed novel and view the website further. My thoughts on Christmas books are also below:

I tend to read Richard Paul Evans’s annual Christmas novels. He has been pretty regular about putting one out every year for several years now. While I have read other novels centered about this time of year, his dominate my reading repertoire. I would have to say that most of his books and other Christmas novels I’ve read rely more on the timeline of Christmas. The decorations are up, the baking is happening, the shopping is going on, the parties are in full-swing, but that is the extent of the holiday backdrop. As for Christmas as a setting, the only real story I’ve read (and many times, mind you) that follows this is Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Maybe it’s because that story has survived the test of time and has become a staple in holiday history and meaning, but that whole story revolves around the deeper meaning of Christmas and keeping it in our hearts year round, so much so that it changes a man’s life. Few stories have that effect, I feel.

Visit Yuletide Blessings

The Year in Review…and Looking Forward

In 2017, I…

  • finished two manuscripts (third and fourth)
  • began working on my fifth manuscript
  • edited my second manuscript with the help of my writers group
  • published my second book
  • attended a writers conference
  • got feedback from an agent on 10 pages of my writing
  • wrote my first short story in a new genre for me: horror
  • educated myself on branding and marketing
  • began blogging weekly
  • created a weekly plan for my website of posting a poem, a blog, and an excerpt from one of my stories
  • created accounts across social media for author branding
  • followed other bloggers
  • created my author site (www.cynthiahilston.com)
  • used buffer.com for active posting on my social media sites
  • became friends with several people from my writers group
  • contributed guest posts to Writer’s Path
  • entered a few online writing contests
  • began reviewing indie author’s books on my blog
  • read 52 books

In 2018, I plan to…

  • finish my fifth manuscript in January
  • focus on marketing and branding for a while
  • promote my published books
  • edit my third manuscript
  • publish my third book
  • begin editing my fourth manuscript
  • begin writing my sixth (and possibly seventh) book
  • work on more short stories
  • enter more online contests
  • continue to actively engage on social media
  • continue to make guest posts
  • continue to find new bloggers to follow
  • continue book-blogging
  • enrich my friendship with fellow writers and authors
  • keep readingpablo (16)

Happy New Year! Here’s to a productive 2018! Thanks for your support in 2017.

Review of NEST: Retribution: An Alivia Morgan Story by David Antocci

antocciWhile I am not normally one to pick up a thriller, this novel turned out to be one of those pleasant surprises.  From the very first word of this page-turner, I couldn’t stop reading.  I was reminded of watching a fast-paced action movie.  The scenes in this well-written novel certainly kept me wanting to know what would happen next!

David Antocci’s novel opens with an Islamic extremist suicide bomber standing in a crowd in Boston, where a Congresswoman is about to speak.  You know it’s not going to end well.  NEST, New England Special Terrorist Division, of Homeland Security is on it, but they have the wrong suspect.  As imagined, the bomb goes off, killing and injuring several people, including two NEST officers.

We shift to a heartwarming scene of a young woman named Alivia Morgan playing football with her nephew outside her parents’ home.  She has finally been given a break from serving her country, but after the Boston atrocity, she is called in.

It turns out the terrorists set off the bomb to get back at Alivia.  It’s personal because Alivia led a mission to find and kill an Islamic extremist leader.  Being a female that high in position went viral back home for her heroism, so with her name and face all over the media, there was no hiding from the world what she did…even though she didn’t want the recognition and hoped to return to a more peaceful life of serving her country back home instead of across the sea.

Now it’s become a game for the terrorists.  They demand the U.S. government hand over Alivia to them or more bombs will go off.  While Homeland Security doesn’t wish to give in, Alivia insists on playing along, in the hopes that the U.S. will prevail by saving her and taking down her captors.

It’s certainly a scary situation to imagine yourself in Alivia’s shoes.  What’s to say the terrorists won’t set off more bombs anyway?  What’s to stop them from killing her right away?  The stakes drive higher and higher as the story advances, so you can see why this novel is a real page-turner.

In addition to the gripping plot, the characters’ dialogue is spot-on for what I would imagine soldiers talking like when working under pressure.  There’s no sugar-coating things, yet there is an underlying tenderness between Alivia and her boss, Luis, as well as her secret boyfriend, fellow solider JJ, who has been injured by the terrorists.

Antocci certainly did his research for this novel.  When the team who is tracking Alivia is busy at work with computers and maps, the detail of their work is amazing.  I would believe the author has actually worked in such a facility because these scenes are written so well.

So, how high to the stakes go?  To tell you more would ruin this great novel, so I highly recommend you get a copy of this newly released book and give it a read!

5 out of 5 stars

Purchase David Antocci’s book here.

Visit his website and learn more about his other books here.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.  Please note: I will be taking a break from posting blogs until January 2018, due to the holidays and time constraints.  Poetry and excerpts from my novels will still post weekly.  My apologies for any inconvenience.  Thank you for your support!

My new novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My first novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful,  is available for $3.99 here.

Review of The Austrian: A War Criminal’s Story (Book 1) by Ellie Midwood

theautrianThe title of this book alone is a hook, at least for me.  World War II is, after all, one of the most important events in recent history, filled with some of the greatest atrocities ever committed against our fellow humans.

It’s easy to root for those who were persecuted and the Allies who ended the war, but what about the Axis powers?  They were people, too.

After the fall of the Nazi Reich, many of the former leaders were brought to trial and convicted of war crimes.  What would be going through a war criminal’s head?  Regret for what he’d done to others, regret for getting caught?  Anger and hatred toward those judging him?  Fear that the end of his own life was coming?  Or something more?

The Austrian: A War Criminal’s Story explores such questions with vivid, often heartbreaking detail, so much so that I sympathized with the man who this story is about.  In the end, he is still just a man who has known love and hate, happiness and sadness, good times and bad times.

Ellie Midwood’s well researched, well crafted World War II novel follows the life of Ernst Kaltenbrunner, a high-ranking SS official from Austria. While based on a real historical figure of this name, the character of Ernst is fictionalized. The story swaps effortlessly back and forth between the novel’s current day of 1946 of his imprisonment while he awaits trial for his war crimes and his past–from his boyhood and first love with a Jewish girl to how he would up serving in the Nazi party.

The novel opens with Ernst in Nuremburg Prison on the day of his execution.  We know his life is at the end, so this might seem like a strange place to start, but how did this man wind up in the gallows?  

Ernst comes from a family where he’s the oldest son, so the expectation is that he will follow in his father’s footsteps of becoming a lawyer, marrying, and having a family of his own.  Ernst is also a big, strong boy for his age, and his father encourages him to beat up those who deserve it.  As a young man, Ernst stands up for those who the bullies pick on at school, including Dalia, who is a little older than him and Jewish.

He even has to act as the head of his household when his father is drafted during World War I.  He seems to grow up before his time, even proposing to Dalia when he’s not old enough to marry.  Dalia, however, knows they could never be together because of their backgrounds.  The young Ernst doesn’t understand this, as both of their fathers are lawyers, and if Dalia and he love each other, what’s the problem?

Feeling bitter and heartbroken, Ernst leaves Dalia.  He begins attending secret political meetings with his father, where people get together who oppose the current government.  He meets a young woman named Melita afterward and begins hanging out with some college students, and from there, Ernst’s connections to the “right people” grow.

As he gets older, he moves up in the ranks of the Austrian SS.  He’s a mixture of a man who stands up for the underdog and who can easily beat someone to a pulp, sensitive and aggressive.  Before he knows it, he’s the damned leader, all the while wondering how he got into this position.

The story continues in the second book, including how Ernst falls in love with a woman who is the only beckon of hope he has as he awaits his end in prison.  I look forward to reading the rest of his story.

Ellie Midwood is an expert of World War II history, and it shows in his book. The historical facts check out, yet flow flawlessly with the fictionalized story of Ernst.

Her writing is lovely and at times heart-wrenching. Ernst is a good man who got caught up in the wrong world. His one true love is what gives him hope during his last days in prison, where he is left wondering if he did right by his life.

For anyone who is a fan of historical fiction and a complicated romance, I recommend this novel. It’s top-notch!

5 of out 5 stars!

Purchase The Austrian (Book 1) here.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

My new novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My first novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful,  is available for $3.99 here.

Book Review of Production Values by Liv Bartlet

Never mix business and pleasure.  It’s a phrase we’ve all heard, and there’s a reason for this.  The consequences can be disastrous.

This is the premise of Liv Bartlet’s debut women’s fiction novel, Production Values.  This edgy, contemporary, sometimes cut-throat story takes the reader on an emotional ride through the throes of best friends, Kat Porter and Bea Douglas, in Hollywood and the film industry beyond.  Kat and Bea are as different as night and day — the dreaming artist versus the level-headed realist — but their friendship and their partnership as Monkey & Me in the business of making TV shows thrives because of their contrasts.

I couldn’t help but be drawn in from page one to Kat’s desire for her dream to come true — for her vision to become reality.  She’s an art prodigy.  She’s ambitious.  And she’s also a hopeless romantic.  

Everything seems to be working well for Kat and Bea with their highly-rated BBC show, 21 Things.  Kat pushes the limits of the show by hiring heart-throb and heart-breaker Ian Graham, the GQ-esque actor from Scotland with the sex body and voice.  Having a star like Ian on the show is sure to give the story-line that extra oomph to get a Golden Globe.  

Bea is skeptical.  She has dreams of her own of stepping down from the world of producing shows and becoming a nurse and mother.  She comes from a family-oriented background that values close bonds, but she is ever-supportive of Kat’s dreams and goes the extra mile to make those dreams come to fruition.

But Bea sees Ian as a problem, a distraction.

But then golden statues become a reality for the whole team behind 21 Things, and it’s off to Hollywood from London.  With a Golden Globe under her belt, Kat is flying high.  She runs off with Ian while flying over Cloud Nine, leaving Bea to keep the rest of the team together.20448924_1970798226535004_702796297789596401_o

From there, Kat’s dreams grow.  More ideas for more shows means stretching herself too thin, and she relies on Bea even more to pick up the slack.  With growing reluctance, Bea does so.  

But Kat’s dream-bubble pops.  Ian and her next show aren’t in the limelight, but Bea’s hard work is paying off.  The women struggle to keep their friendship afloat as Kat continues to chase a dream (and Ian), and Bea keeps wondering when she’s going to get off the bus that’s taking her to the wrong destination.

Can their friendship survive the sometimes brutal business of making shows?  Can they overcome their differences to each find their true happiness?  Or will a guy or a movie come between them, irreversibly damaging the Monkey & Me partnership?

The story keeps the reader pulled in, needing to know the answers, from page one.  The writing is poetry in the form of prose, metaphorical and entertaining at the same time.  The characters step off the page with their witty, cutting, cunning, and lovely dialogue.  Liv Bartlet doesn’t disappoint.

Liv Bartlet clearly did her research on the inner-workings of the film industry.  The story is clear-cut and renders writing that would appear beautiful on screen.

At the core of this amazing novel is the struggle we all must face — head versus heart.  We live in a world of relationships and choices — often decisions that aren’t easy to make without hurting someone.  

I highly recommend this novel and applaud Liv Bartlet for delivering such an action-packed, punch-in-the-gut, heart-twisting story.

5 out of 5 stars

Visit Liv Bartlet’s Website

Purchase Production Values

Why Reading Matters: From a Little Girl Who Hated Reading

The second hand seemed to take an eternity to make one lousy rotation.  Tick.  The minute hand moved the slightest fraction.  A minute is forever to a seven-year-old sitting on the living room couch next to her mother, the simple supposed easy-reader book between them.

“Go ahead.  Sound it out.”

The mom’s words could have been encouraging.  Should have been.  Maybe they had been the first, second, or even the third night of this routine, but after weeks of spending what Mom insisted was “important quality time,” the girl heard only impatience in those words.

Trips to the library to pick up books for these evening readings were boring.  The little girl only marvelled at the graffiti-riddled bathroom walls while she stood in the stalls.  Talk of renovating the library in an otherwise nice suburban city had begun.

Reading “x” number of books to get enough stars on that huge poster board chart the teacher had at the front of the classroom with every student’s name and progress on it was perhaps the only motivator.  It was a race to see who could get enough stars to earn another free personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut for the Book-It program.

Mmm.  The thought of a pepperoni pizza just the right size with that melting cheese, on a rare occasion when the family actually went out for dinner…

“Cyndi, please pay attention.”

The little girl sighed.  Too many exceptions to the rules of long vowel sounds and words like “thought” and “rough” and soft and hard “c” sounds… Why did reading have to be so difficult?

So, she trudged through another ten page book with a few words on every page, perhaps taking fifteen minutes that felt like fifteen hours.  All the while, the clock…tick…an eternal minute… tick…tick…

pablo (1)At the end, the girl rather thought these reading sessions were almost as bad at the numerous times she’d fallen while learning to ride a bike without training wheels.  The neighborhood had wooden fences lining the sidewalk in every yard, and going down from the bike, hands out in defense, meant a hundred splinters in the palms…then the painful hour or two of sitting on the bathroom floor while Mom removed them with the tweezers…one by agonizing one.  Yep.  That was what reading was like for this girl.

This girl was me.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t read.  I just didn’t want to.  This general dislike of reading continued as I grew older, and although I managed to usually get a B in English, it was the subject I struggled with.  I was the kid who would rather watch the movie instead of read the book.  In fourth grade, we were assigned C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  I remember trying to read, only to find myself bored after a couple of pages.  I watched an old cartoon movie version from the 70s, which lacked much of the detail of the book…which plainly showed when test time came.

Interestingly enough, when the class was assigned The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, I loved that book.  Although I’m not sure what it was about this book that captured my interest, to the point that I was reading ahead, I think it might have been the intrigue of a swan who wrote on a chalkboard he wore around his name to communicate with a little boy.  I remember very little about that book all these years later, but it was probably the first book that I enjoyed reading.

By fifth grade, I still wasn’t much into reading.  Then at the class gift exchange for Christmas, I got a Babysitters Club book (by Ann M. Martin).  I was at the age where the prospect of babysitting appealed to me, and the thought of a bunch of girls my age or a little older having a club for babysitting sounded super cool.  I could relate to the characters in the story.  Maybe that was my first indication of a love for reading: needing to find something I related to.

I read that book quicker than anything and for pleasure.  The Babysitters Club series would become my first books I actually read for pleasure.  I spent that next three or four years engrossed in them, anxiously waiting for the next book to come out.  I spent my hard-earned allowance money on them and got them out of the library.  Suddenly, library visits were exciting.  I was seeing that there was a difference between reading what I wanted and having to read for school.

Still, the reading for school didn’t sit well with me.  As I progressed through junior high and had to do summer reading, I remember groaning over it.  I had a whole summer to read a lousy book, which seemed plenty of time.  As you can well imagine, I put off most of the reading until the last minute.  Reading Jurassic Park during the same summer when the movie was out was kind of neat, however, because I felt like I was reading something current.  Perhaps part of my dislike of reading stemmed from the fact that most of the stuff we were forced to read in school was historical.  I remember how deeply it struck me when reading Jurassic Park that there was a time before humans walked the earth and there would be time after.  At 13, such a thought was beyond my world.  It got me thinking.  It was also the first time I heard about DNA.

Once I was in high school, I read the assigned books and did well in English class, although it was never my favorite subject.  I was writing poetry since I was 10 or 11 and short stories, but writing for English class was a different matter.  By this time, my homework load was so large that I really didn’t have time to read for pleasure.  I worked part time at a movie theatre, was in marching band, did Aikido, and, of course, had a full course load at school.

My tenth grade English teacher didn’t like that I thought outside of the proverbial box on the test on symbolism in The Scarlet Letter.  I barely managed to pass that test.  Looking back, being forced to conform, to read what only was assigned, to write the answers that we’d been lectured on were the “right answers”….well, I didn’t like that.  Only my eleventh grade teacher (a laid-back guy who seemed like an older hippie and more like a college prof with the messy office, beard, and just-got-outta-bed hair) seemed cool.  He was unconventional.  He told us it was okay to use “I” when writing our papers.  We read a lot of poetry and just talked about it as a class.  Our individuality was encouraged.

As strict at my twelfth grade English teacher was, she was a little spit-fire.  We studied world literature that year, and it was the first time I learned about many of those cultures.  My eyes were being opened to a world much larger than American and British lit.  It was amazing.  And she challenged us.  She was the type of teacher you loved and hated and would always remember, always appreciate, always respect.

I suppose this bigger-world picture is what first got me interested in reading nonfiction, most specifically Egyptology.  I spent the better part of my late teens and early twenties reading about ancient Egypt for fun.

Once in college, I was pleasantly surprised by English 101.  We read current stuff.  Again, much of my beef with reading in English class in high school was that everything was so old.  I didn’t relate to it.  Reading Tuesdays with Morrie, which had only been written two years earlier at the time, was a love-affair with a book for me at age nineteen.  I breezed through the pages, finishing it way before schedule.  Life and death.  Living life to the fullest.  Appreciating every moment.  That was what I took away from that gem of a book.  Current affair topics like racism and sexism and such were what we read about and discussed.  This stuff felt relevant.  It was like someone had opened the window after spending years in a stuffy room.pablo (2)

College was another time in my life where I spent much time reading textbooks, so my time to read for pleasure was limited.  I’d taken more to writing fan fiction, engrossed with meeting people online who had common interests as me.  I read a lot of fan fiction as well, so since I was reading in my favorite genres, it was the escape I needed at times.  I got that escape from writing, too.

Fast forward a few years.  I was 23 and done with college, working as a research technologist.  A good friend encouraged me to pick up the Harry Potter series, of which four books were written at that time.  I’d seen the movies and enjoyed them, so I thought, “Why not?”

I devoured those books, all four of them, in two weeks, which was record time for me.  The fifth book was scheduled to be released that summer, and I joined thousands of others in anticipation.  I.  Could.  Not.  Wait.

So began my love of reading that I never would have imagined possible when I was seven.  Even as I got older, I didn’t love reading most things.  My reading for pleasure was severely limited to fan fiction, not actual books.  But hey, it was something.

I couldn’t tell you all the books I’ve read since 2003 (when I was 23).  According to Goodreads, it’s something like 400.  Most have been fiction, but some have been nonfiction.  I spent a few years diving into the classics, like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, and discovering a love for the way the authors could paint a picture with their worlds and melt or stab my heart at the same time.  I marvelled at the beautiful poetry of the prose of older books and came to appreciate them deeply, relating to the characters in a way I never imagined when I was younger.

Then I read Jane Eyre in 2006 and loved it so much, I mourned the fact that Charlotte Bronte had been dead for a hundred and fifty years.  She felt so alive through her words.  It was like her breath was on every page.  I longed to discuss her masterpiece with her, what I felt was her heart’s song.  That was the first time I’d felt that passionately about a book.  Those dead authors we’d studied in school suddenly seemed very much alive.

And so I have continued on this love affair with books.  Reading matters as deeply to me as writing now, and it’s thanks to those books I mentioned above (and some great teachers and friends who encouraged my reading) that I love to read.  I am constantly reading something, usually many books simultaneously.

Reading matters because we can lose ourselves for a few hours to another world.  We can be Frodo on a quest to destroy The Ring or Harry Potter in search of the Horcruxes.  

Reading matters because it makes me a better writer.  Even if you’re not a writer, you can appreciate the art of a well-crafted book.

Reading matters because of stories.  Story is the essence of life.  People have shared stories since language existed, long before the written word.  We want to explore the human condition in all its forms, its beautiful messiness.

And guess what?  I’ve recently reread some of the books I “had to read” in school: The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird.  Twenty years later, my perspective is different.  I can see those characters through the lense of a mature woman instead of a child.  I also revisited Jane Eyre and felt just as much in love as the first time.  

Reading matters because those books are like old friends, always there to comfort us and bring us home.  That’s quite something coming from a little girl who hated reading

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday and a book review the second Friday.

Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, available for $2.99 any other time on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful