Wednesday, December 30, 2015

End of the Year Book Review

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go. - Dr. Seuss

Reading helps you become a better speller
Reading helps you understand different points of view
Reading helps you see how to adapt your own writing to your audience
Just READ because it makes you more AWESOME!

I am going to give my opinion on the last few books I have read. Comment below and tell me if you agree. What is your favorite YA book of the year? Who was your Favorite Fictional Character of 2015?

#5 Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver   

This book is best described as Groundhog’s Day and Mean Girls mashed together. Samantha Kingston, popular high schooler, best friend of the resident mean girl dies the night of “Cupid’s Day.” She is left to relive the last day of her life 7 times changing things and learning lessons along the way.

I didn't care for the whole Mean Girls vibe. It made me feel like an awkward adolescent girl all over again. Her friends were just terrible and I hope that isn’t the reality of high school. I feel extremely bad for my two daughters and might consider home schooling them if that is the case. But that ending, earned a star in its own right. It was well thought out and unexpected but left me thinking too deeply about how time was affected by her reliving the day.

"Things change after you die, though I guess because dying is about the loneliest thing you can do."-Sam Kingston

"How is it possible, I think, to change so much and not be able to change anything at all?"

Add Before I Fall on GoodReads      

Buy Before I Fall on Amazon

#4 Things We Know By Heart by Jessi Kirby

I chose this book because after listening to Carrie Underwood’s “Just a Dream” I thought of writing a story just like this one. Quinn’s boyfriend who was an organ donor, dies in a tragic accident. Unable to move on from her grief, she goes in search of the boy who received his heart. When she meets the donor they have an instant connection and he helps her move on.

It was a heart wrenching story that seriously pulled at my heart strings. I read this book all in one sitting because I couldn’t put it down. It was very descriptive and I could see the ocean scene vividly in my head. The reason why I didn’t write this story myself is because it is very cliché. They have a connection because it’s her boyfriend’s “heart.” But Heart as in where love is stored, not the physical blood pumping organ. 

"For so long, I was the one with his heart, I just need to see where it is now." -Quinn

"It's too much, this. Life, and love and how fragile it all is."

"...we found our synchronicity together, his heart thumping out slow, steady beats and mine filling the spaces between."

#3 Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

I received this book in my Uppercase box (Subscribe to Uppercase-its like Christmas every month). It is a story about a girl named Maddy who suffers from SCID "Bubble Baby Syndrome", which essential means she is allergic to the world. She has been secluded in her white house, confined within white walls while wearing white clothes. Her only friends are her mother and the nurse that cares for her. Then one day a boy named Olly moves in next door and she is instantly infatuated. She knows she is going to fall in love with him but can’t leave the house or have human contact. BIG PROBLEM!

First I would like to applaud the author for her diverse characters. Now let’s take a moment to admire that cover, BEAUTIFUL! The story was compelling and this was another book I couldn’t put down. It was simple, clean, and enjoyable writing. As an adult reading YA Lit, the doodles were eye catching but gave the book somewhat of a childish vibe. The ending was WOW and left me with a bad case of the feels for days.

"Maybe growing up means disappointing the people we love."-Maddy

"You are not living if you're not regretting." 

#2 My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

This story is about a physics nerd Aysel who is planning her own death. Her father killed the town hero and she is desperately trying to escapes the dark shadow that her father’s crime cast onto her. She doesn’t have the courage to take her life alone, so she goes to a website to find a “suicide partner.” She meets FrozenRobot who is also haunted by his own family tragedy and together they plan their deaths. They forge a relationship that goes beyond suicide partners and Aysel is left to choose whether she wants to die with him or convince him to live with her.   

I bought this book on Amazon and anxiously awaited its arrival. When doing research for my own novel I extensively researched suicide pacts (I know, I’m weird). I wanted to tell a story that had never been told before and Jasmine Warga does just that. Most stories we have already heard but we read the author’s variation, but I can honestly say I haven’t heard this one. Aysel is my favorite character out of all of the ones I’ve met this year. She is an extremely smart, caring girl who just needed someone to see past her family’s dark past. It did seem slightly too coincidental that FrozenRobot, her suicide partner, just happened to be an attractive boy her same age, but I guess you can’t question fate.

"You're like a grey sky. You're beautiful even when you don't want to be." -Roman aka FrozenRobot

"Maybe we all have darkness inside us and some of us are just better at dealing with it than others."
-Aysel aka ALS0109

#1 All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

I think it almost goes without saying that this was one of the biggest YA hits of the year. Jennifer Niven topped all of the best of the best lists. Finch is a mentally ill, misunderstood boy who is consumed with thoughts of death. Violet lives for the future because her sister’s life was taken from her prematurely. Both meet on a fateful day on top of the school’s bell tower and seemingly change each other’s lives forever.

I have so many thoughts on this book but will try and keep it short. I love that the story switches between Violet and Finch's point of view, it makes this story even more engaging. I reference this book every day, several times a day. Every single person I run into, I throw in a sales pitch for Jennifer Niven. Bravo to her for shedding light on mental illness. I have struggled with depression and anxiety my whole life and I felt like this book was written for me. It brought me to tears more times that I would like to admit. This quote particularly spoke to me

“I get these headaches sometimes. No big deal. This isn’t an out-and out lie, because the headaches are part of it. It’s like my brain is firing so fast that it can’t keep up with itself. Words. Colors. Sounds. Sometimes everything else fades into the background and all I’m left with is sound. I can hear everything, but not just hear it- I can feel it too. But then it can come all at once- the sound turns into light, and the light goes too bright, and it’s like its slicing me in two, and then comes the headache.” – Finch

Body Count: 7 – I realized YA authors are obsessed with death.

Want to win one of these books? Head over to my over Instagram to find out how.  @CherylAMonty23

To Say THANK YOU and to start the New Year right I am giving away 1 month of Owl Crate.

Happy New Year!!! May 2016 be filled with love, laughter and inspiration. See you next Wednesday.

"May your coming year be filled with magic & dreams & good madness. I hope you read some fine books & kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful & don't forget to make some art (write or draw or build or sing or live only as you can) & somewhere in the next year, I hope you surprise yourself." - Neil Gaiman 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Give the Gift of Hope

“Those who are happiest are those who give the most to others.” – Booker T. Washington

Since Christmas is about giving, I am dedicating my blog page to helping others. These are a few causes that are near and dear to my heart. All donations are tax deductible and you will be helping give people the best gift of all, HOPE!

Every year over 12,000 people in the US are diagnosed with Leukemia or Lymphoma for which a bone marrow transplant from an unrelated donor may be their best or only hope for a cure. Over 70% don’t have a matching donor in their family. The likelihood of finding a donor on Be The Match is 66-93% based on race and ethnicity. I am a registered Bone Marrow donor with this site and will be honored to donate if asked to.

“We only have what we give.” – Isabel Allende

My life changed forever when my grandma was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 1995 when she was just 57 years old and battled it 6 times within the next 18 years. She would want me to continue to kick Cancer's ass everyday. I am a proud advocate for the LLS. Remember each dollar brings us closer to a cure. 

Donate to the Leukemia Lymphoma Society -

“There is no exercise better for the heart than to reach down and lift people up.” – John Holmes

Thank you for reading and for your charitable donations. May your holidays be merry and bright. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa from my family to yours!

Midnight to 4am Phenomenon

William Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying was written from midnight to 4am over a 6 week period with absolutely no editing. It was ranked one of the greatest novels of 20th century literature.

My Muse does have strict hours!
I think Faulkner was onto something. I find that my best writing is done between those hours as well. Maybe it’s because my 3 kids are in bed and my husband is playing Fallout 4 or maybe because my muse has strict hours. But as the night goes on and I become increasingly tired, I get more emotionally raw and unfiltered. Then I finally begin to bleed onto the page. When I say bleed onto paper, I mean it’s uncontrollable and words spill out of my mind onto the page. I wake up the next morning and think to myself, “Did I write that and do I really feel that way?” I now understand Faulkner’s gutsy decision not to edit.

I Love Death Parade!
Decim and Chiyuki in the Quindecim
Last year, I had a pretty inspired period when my word count soared. If you are a writer, you know creativity is not like a faucet, it cannot be turned off and on at will. When you have a flow, you need to go with it because you never know how long it will last and when it will return. The midnight - 4am phenomenon was my life. During this writing binge, I had to have something playing on the TV in the background to break the silence (which doesn't happen very often in my house), so I chose my favorite anime, Death Parade (Watch Death Parade - my gift to you). My computer streaming started to act up after a couple of episodes so I just put on the cable, not even bothering to change the channel to anything in particular. I put my ear buds in and continued to write an intense scene in my novel. My main character Faye is given an eerie message of impending doom by her best friend’s psychic mother. Writing it gave me chills, supernatural stuff really gets to me. I am on the fence when it comes to the otherworldly, neither a believer nor a non-believer.

 After I was satisfied with the scene, I decided it was a good stopping point. I was going to go join my husband who had gone to bed at least 5 hours prior. I removed my ear buds and immediately regretted it because the 700 club was on and a man was speaking in tongues . I was so incredibly freaked out as I fumbled for the remote. When I managed to find the right button, it was silent, but too silent. I got up from the couch and jumped when I heard the branches screeching up against the window. I walked down the hallway scared out of my mind, and when I caught a glimpse of my own reflection in the sliding glass door, I swear I almost pissed my pants. This is one of the downfalls of this late night phenomenon- its too quiet, you’re tired, easily spookable, and your senses are on overload. And not only is 3am a creative hour, it is also the bewitching hour. This is why after all, it is the midnight to FOUR am phenomenon. There is no way in hell you are falling asleep after all the weird shit that happens at 3am. 

Do you experience the Midnight to 4am Phenomenon?

-2 pounds of tenderized stewing meat
-2 cups of beef stock (or 1 cup beef stock and 1 cup wine)
This is the stew I made and it was a big hit with  my family.
We have #SoupSundays in our house.
-1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
-1 medium onion, chopped
-2 stalks celery, chopped
-2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
-3 to 5 small red potatoes, cubed
-1 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
-1 tablespoon Paprika
-1 tablespoon Cayenne Pepper
-3 Bay Leaves
-1/2 tablespoon of salt
-1/2 tablespoon of black pepper
-1 teaspoon of dried oregano, basil and rosemary

Cooking Directions
·         Place Meat into crock pot
·         Add liquids then place all other ingredients 
·         Cover and cook on low for 8 hours
·         ENJOY!

            HAPPY HANUKKAH!
                        HAPPY KWANZAA!
                                    HAPPY BELATED WINTER SOLSTICE!
                                                HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO YOU AND YOURS!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Do Things Happen for a Reason?

Nurse Writer 

I stepped through the door of the nursing home with my tan scrubs, gait belt and hand sanitizer eager for my first day of clinicals. Immediately, all of the different smells in the air made their way up my nose all at once and my stomach turned. This was the first, but definitely not the last time I made a mad dash to the bathroom.  I spent a good amount of time there huddled over the toilet gagging from either seeing or smelling something unforgettably disgusting or from a migraine caused by lack of sleep and food.

The CNA program was 6 weeks of pure unadulterated hell. I didn’t see my family, or sleep or eat. My diet mostly consisted of stale vending machine Kit Kats, Pepsi, Tylenol, and Coffee…lots and lots of coffee. I spent my summer going to class at 5:30am where I was greeted by a teacher that I swear was out to get me. I was 6 seconds late one day and was lectured on the importance of promptness in front of the class then written up. During instruction, if Ms. D was in a good mood we could sit on the beds but if she was mad (which was most of the time) we had to stand for 2 to 3 hours without a break. I tried desperately not to fall over. I wasn’t sure how long it was humanly possible to go without sleep, but I am pretty sure that my buddies and I were close to the cusp. Our study groups would sometimes run up until 2am to finish our 16 chapters.   

1st Day of Class
The day of the final had finally arrived, I repeated the steps over and over the whole way to school. I took a deep breath, opened the door and whispered to myself, “I’ve got this.” My instructor stood in front of the class with 26 little pieces of papers. We all took turns picking a little purple paper of doom and when I flipped mine over it read 24. My partner and I would be the second to last to take our final skills test. Out of the whole class, there were only 2 people that I didn’t want to get stuck with. A 17 year old know it all and a neurotic middle aged woman who cried all the time. Any of the other 23 would have been just fine. But of course, my partner was the crier. We practiced a few times and her uneasiness was as contagious as the C.diff that ran rampant through the nursing home. I ran outside to catch my breath because she had completely psyched me out.

My classmates filed out of the room two by two all in tears, either of joy or sadness. I took brief catnaps while I watched Grey’s Anatomy in the hallway. Finally it was 5:15pm and I had been there for almost 12 hours waiting anxiously. I was exhausted but confident as I walked into the testing room with Sarah* (name has been changed to protect her identity LOL!). She got into the bed and immediately started bawling. I could feel her anxiety radiating off of her body onto mine.I pulled my card with the set of skills I was to perform. I knew I could do 2 of the 3 while blind folded but for the last one I needed her to calm down. I had to change the sheets with her in the bed. Making a bed with a person in it is no easy feat, but when the person is 5’7” and hysterical, it was close to impossible. When the buzzer rang, I knew my summer had been wasted. I passed the first two and received a 78% on the last, only 2% from passing. If I would have simply put the sheet in the hamper before time ran out, I would have passed...but I didn’t.

For me, a perfectionist, it was an embarrassment, as well as a huge blow to my ego. I gave it my all and it still wasn’t good enough. I had sacrificed my whole summer away from my children, had at least gained 5 pounds from my poor diet, and the bags under my eyes rivaled Uncle Fester’s.  I was always taught crying was a sign of weakness but honestly, at that moment I was weak.
6 books, 3 classes and a New Dream
 I went home and spent the next 2 months depressed, like the “I can’t get out of bed because life is so cruel” kind. One day, I picked up a pencil and wrote it all down in the form of a fictional short story. It amazed me how much better I felt. I loved the feeling of escaping reality just for a little while. My pencil had the ability to take me wherever I wanted to go and let me be whoever I wanted to be in that moment. I had always wanted to be a writer but knew that wouldn’t pay the bills, which I why I thought I had to pick a “practical” profession.

Retrospectively, I am thankful for this experience because it taught me so much more than it was intended to. I learned that despite my best efforts I am but an imperfect person. My time at the nursing home gave me more compassion for others. I met my best friend who was there to talk me off the metaphorical ledge. I also came to the realization that life has bigger plans, it may seem disastrous at the time (which it did) but after the storm, there is always a rainbow. It led me to my true passion, WRITING. I might not be saving others like I would be if I was a nurse, but I save myself everyday by following my dreams, no regrets!

Allow me to Introduce Myself...

On our way to YumaCon 2015
Noah is not happy about that. 
My name is Cheryl. I am a mommy of 3 with an overactive imagination and lots of stories to tell. I have an overwhelming love/obsession with books but deeply despise e-books. I love the feeling of holding a book in my hands and turning the pages. I am an anime watching, Harry Potter loving, geeky girl who is a sucker for a good love story.

After Nursing didn’t work out (You can read about it- Do Things Happen for a Reason?), I decided to reevaluate my life and do what I have always wanted to do, WRITE. Growing up, books were my best friends. It was my way of escaping into other worlds and being other people, just for a little while. I have been seriously writing for about 2 years. I have written a collection of short stories but have mostly concentrated on my YA novel which is a story very close to my heart. I am hoping to finish it within the next couple months and then try to figure out what comes next (Editor, Traditional vs. Indie Publishing). 

I love
Best day of my life 3-4-06
My beautiful kiddos Rylie, Noah, and Emma
My incredibly Sexy and Talented husband, Tanner
My kitty Gryffindor
Emma Watson
1st Edition Books
Death Parade (my favorite Anime)
Seth Rogan
The feeling you get when you write something AMAZING
Random Acts of Kindness
The Smell of Books
Sylvia Plath
Binge watching Netflix
Chocolate Chip Cookies

Halloween 2015
 Favorite Writers: Sylvia Plath, William  Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, J.K. Rowling,    Emily Bronte, Jane Austen 

 Favorite Book: Every time I finish a good  book, it becomes my favorite until I read the  next one. Just finished Everything, Everything  by Nicola Yoon and it was AMAZING. All  the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven was also  really great and both highly recommended. (You can read my Book Reviews - End of the Year Book Review)

 Favorite Literary Heroine: Hermione Granger  (fictional), Mary Wollstonecraft (Non-  fictional)

Fictional Doppelganger: I was told I look like Margaery Tyrell. I am not a Game of Thrones Fan so I wasn’t sure if it was a compliment or an insult at the time, so I just nodded and smiled.

Fictional boyfriend: Jess Mariano from Gilmore Girls

Fictional Best Friend: Piper Halliwell from Charmed

Things I Keep at my Desk: A Lava Lamp, Lots of Purple legal note pads, different colored pens because I get tired of looking at the same colored ink (I don’t know if that is weird), a bonsai tree, and picture of my family. My most recent addition is a REY Funko Pop. 

Secret Talents: I am some kind of dream sorceress! I don’t think it is a talent per se but I am blessed with having amazing, elaborate dreams that I can actually recall in the morning. This is the hugest blessing as a writer and many of my short stories are based on dreams. My novel Questioning the Universe is based on a series of dreams I had when an angel from my past visited me when I needed it the most. As a child I had lucid dreams, so when the monsters and bad guys chased me, I wouldn’t run but instead say, “Just kill me, it’s just a dream.”

If I wasn't a writer, I would be: A Private Investigator. I am nosy and good at it!

Comment below and introduce yourself!