Reading Challenges – Love ‘Em & Hate ‘Em

Blog Header - Reading Challenges

I confess:  I am a perpetual reading challenge loser.

I have started no less than a dozen (probably way more) reading challenges and I can only think of one I’ve successfully completed. One. Yet I keep signing up for them. Why? Well, I love books. I love checklists. It makes sense that having a list of books I need to read should be something I enjoy and rock at. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case.

So recently I’ve been wondering why I can’t seem to ever complete the reading challenges I sign up for.

Then it struck me:  I’m fickle.

I never thought I would say that about myself. In general, I am one of the most loyal people you’ll ever meet. Seriously, when people are asked to describe me, “loyal” is nearly always on the list.

It turns out there is an exception to my loyalty, and that exception is books.

What?! I know. But hear me out. My loyalty to books in general has never wavered. My loyalty to what I’ve said I’m going to read next … weeeellll.

Unless someone is counting on me to write a review in a specific amount of time, what I read is entirely dependent on the mood I’m in. That’s just the truth of it.

Right now, today, I might think reading that particular historical romantic suspense novel next week sounds like a fantastic plan and I am sincerely looking forward to next week so I can read that book. Then next week arrives and it turns out to be just a little more stressful than I expected, or I get my fill of suspense through the television series I watched Monday night and you know what? Now I’m not really in the mood for a historical romantic suspense novel. Now I’m in the mood for a contemporary romantic comedy. So I read that instead, telling myself I’ll read the historical romantic suspense novel next week. And so on and so on until next thing I know, months have gone by and that book I was supposed to read as part of that reading challenge is still sitting on my TBR list loooong past the deadline for the reading challenge.  *sigh*

I know this about myself. This always happens. So can somebody please tell me why I just spent the last twenty minutes picking out which books I want to read as part of the Author of the Month 2018 Challenge hosted by the Christian Fiction Devourers group on Goodreads?

Well, whatever the reason, here I am again, making a list of the books I want to read and giving myself rough deadlines for when I want to have finished reading them.

To further complicate matters (and make my chances of success that much less likely) I already have a very long list of books from my TBR pile that I plan to read this year. I’m hoping that by assigning each book a month, I’ll actually follow through on reading it and clear out some of these books from my backlog. (That makes it sound very negative, but let’s be clear:  these are books I’ve been dying to read and just haven’t found the time to get to them.)

Below is what I have so far on my list of books to read this year. Everything is listed by author name first, then title.

Christian Fiction Novels To Be Read in 2018

January

February

March 

April

May 

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

Release date unknown:  Pepper D. Basham Next Door and Forevermore 

So as I was typing this and mentally mocking my undying optimism, I figured:

“Why fail quietly and alone in the privacy of my own home when I can fail publicly and, hopefully, drag some of you along to fail with me?”

What do you think? Anyone interested in joining me? You don’t have to read the same books or even aim for as many books. Just share your progress with me.

I’ve set up a special page here on my website just for this purpose.

By the way, that list up there? Yeah, that’ll change. I know I’m forgetting books I’ve been meaning to read and I’m always learning about new books I want to read so this list will probably grow. I’m going to try really hard to limit myself to only listing 5 per month, though, because these are only the Christian fiction books I am planning to read. (You can see I’ve already failed in March – just too many exciting new releases!) I also read general market and nonfiction books, but since that is not the intended audience for this blog, I won’t list those here (although I am listing some of those on my TBR page). I will keep my TBR page updated with changes so you can follow along with me to see which months I hit my goals and which I fail at miserably.

Please, leave me a comment!

Speaking of growing the list:  If there are any books you think I should add to my list, please let me know! Also, since there is just no way I can review all of these books and continue working on my own writing, I’d love to know which of these books you would be most interested in reading reviews about. 

I May Kill You

Blog Post - I may kill you

Like today’s title? Well, it’s true. I may kill you. Or at least part of you. In the very least, if I know you well enough to know your flaws, there is a very good chance I may steal them, magnify them, mix them in with someone else’s struggles, and make you part of my next antagonist (or any character, really, since they all have flaws). Whom I may or may not kill off in my next book. Consider yourself warned.

If you think that truth is frightening, you should probably stop reading now, because the even scarier truth is that all of my villains contain at least a small part of me. In order to write any character well, I have to be able to relate to them on some level. I have to understand their psyche, what motivates them, and why they feel and do what they do. This means that some part of who I am now or who I once was at some point in my life is very likely to be reflected in some part of each of my characters . . . including the philanderers, thieves, con-artists, and murderers.

So… who still wants to be my friend?

Please do not annoy the writer Mug photo
Today’s blog post was inspired by this photo of Elena Dillon’s mug which she shared on Twitter. (used here with permission) Elena writes teenage romance full of sass, suspense and swoon. For those interested: there is infrequent mild cursing in a couple of her books, but they are otherwise clean. Elena is a Christian and says her books have a faith basis but don’t meet CBA standards. You can learn more about Elena and her books HERE.

 

2017 – A Blog in Review

A Blog in Review 2017

At the beginning of this new year, I think it only appropriate to take a look back at what the past year has produced.

THE STATS

I wrote and shared exactly 100 blog posts (not including this one).

I wrote 30 book reviews, including 3 shared exclusively with my KRC members.

I shared 4 Author Interviews.

I wrote 4 posts on American History – including 1 shared exclusively with my KRC members.

I posted my first ever vlog.

I posted my first Mama’s Storytime video with my review of two children’s books.

I shared 10 giveaways. Of those 10, I personally provided the prize for 8 of them and of those 8 giveaways, 4 were open exclusively to my KRC members.

Through those 10 giveaways, I was blessed to giveaway 16 books (7 exclusively to KRC members) along with other prizes.

MOST POPULAR

My top ten most popular blog posts of this year were:

Top Ten MUST READ Historical Romance Novels for 2017

My Review & GIVEAWAY! – The Patriot & the Loyalist

Name That Book! – Win a Prize!

Summer Reading Roundup 2017 +GIVEAWAY!

My Review – A Lady In Disguise +GIVEAWAY!

First Line Friday – 11.17.17

My top ten most popular book reviews of this year were:

My Review & GIVEAWAY! – The Patriot & the Loyalist

My Review – A Lady In Disguise +GIVEAWAY!

My Review – Love at First Laugh

My Review – Such A Hope

My Review – The Thorn Healer

Rave Review! – Turtles in the Road

My Review – Heart on the Line

Mama’s Storytime – Made For A Purpose

My Review – The Scarlet Coat

My Review – Long Time Gone

MY GOALS AND GRATTITUDE

I started this year with the goal of being more consistent with my blog posts and finding new ways to connect to both my readers and fellow bloggers. I am blessed to say that I have accomplished these goals.

I think most blog readers underestimate the impact their comments and likes have on the blog author.  I know I smile each and every time I see a “like” added to one of my posts and it just makes my day when someone leaves a comment. Honestly. It lets me know I’m not just writing to stroke my own ego, but actually providing something you find value in. That is, after all, the goal of all my writing:  to encourage, entertain, and inspire my readers.

Blogging can be a lonely, somewhat confusing activity, in which I put words out into the world on the hope and prayer that someone benefits from them in some way. It’s a bit like the cliche of throwing spaghetti at a wall and waiting to see which bits stick. Your likes and comments are the only concrete encouragement I have to tell me I am on the right track. So I want to take this moment to thank each and every one of you who has ever “liked” or commented on any of my posts. You are truly appreciated. 

I’d like to take this moment to invite you to join my Kathleen’s Readers’ Club, if you haven’t already. Through my quarterly KRC emails I share the highlights of my writing journey, exclusive content, book deals, exclusive giveaways, and more. Click HERE for more information.

Whether you are a KRC member, a regular visitor to my blog, or this is your very first time here, thank you for reading and Happy New Year!

Happy New Year - Numbers Scripture Image

I’d love to read about the goals you accomplished and the milestones you crossed this past year! Please share them with me in the comments below or by emailing me at writeKathleenDenly @ gmail .com.

First Line Friday – 12.15.17

first-line-friday-3

Welcome to a very special First Line Friday! Each Friday I pick a book and share the first line with you. In return, I hope you’ll share with me a first line from whatever book you have at hand!

What makes this week so special? Well, I had mentioned in a post last month that one of my manuscripts was a finalist in the the Historical Romance category in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s First Impressions Contest, along with manuscripts by Dawne Beckel  & Savanna Kaiser. (If anyone knows of a better link to Dawne, please let me know! You can bet I’ll be following along with their careers and looking forward to their first published novels.)

So . . . I just found out that my manuscript has WON ! Aaaaaaahhhhhhhh! (Be grateful you weren’t here after I concluded my conversation with the person who called to inform me. My children have lost a bit of hearing, poor dears.)

I wish I knew how to convey in writing how stunned and honored I am. A bit ironic that I have no words, I suppose, but it’s true. I’m a bit speechless. Mostly, though, I am grateful. So incredibly grateful for the encouragement and the honor. I’m also deeply grateful for those who have sacrificed their time and efforts helping me to improve my craft. (I would list them here, but that could take all day to read and well, you know who you are. I couldn’t do what I do without you!)

 

As my way of paying forward the kindnesses shown to me, I’ll be celebrating this win with a very special giveaway open only to my Kathleen’s Readers’ Club members, so if you haven’t already joined, now is the time to do so! For those who are already members, keep an eye on your inbox this week for an extra special email.

The list of previous winners of the First Impressions Contest in this genre includes:

Abigail Wilson

Deb Garland (who apparently won 2 years in a row!)

Betty Woods

I’ll be keeping my eye out for books published by these ladies.

Now, on to the business of the day.

In keeping with the theme of new authors, I thought I’d share the first line from the prologue of Beneath the Heavens, Lindsey Barlow‘s debut novel which just released in October of this year.

Beneath the Heavens cover image

New Hampshire 1891

Esther looked down at the letter for what must have been the hundredth time.

This book was randomly stumbled upon while I was googling one day and is now on my TBR. I started reading the prologue and found myself all the way in and starting the first chapter before I knew what had happened.

about-the-book-2

A heart guarded, a secret revealed, a love discovered – When the beautiful and coddled Abigail Silvers is sent from her parents’ lush Texas ranch to the untamed wilds of Tall Pine, Colorado, her mother is hoping that Abigail will learn independence and self-reliance. What Abigail finds among the Colorado mountain people is a community built on hard work, faith, and family––she also finds the handsome Pastor Will who, much to her dismay, seems only to have eyes for Esther, the community’s midwife hiding from a dark past. Fiercely protective of her young son Michael, Esther’s determined not to let anyone ­close enough to hurt them––even if that means sacrificing true love. But when the Texas Ranger Joseph Silver, Abigail’s brother, shows up, Esther’s past is unearthed and her heart is exposed. Abigail and Joseph’s brash Texas manners rattle the people of Tall Pine, but ultimately the brother and sister may be an answer to prayer the townspeople didn’t know they needed.

Now it’s your turn to grab the book nearest to you and leave a comment with the first (or your favorite) line!

Then head over to Hoarding Books to see who else is participating:

ACFW First Impressions 2017 FINALIST!

Exciting News

Every year American Christian Fiction Writers holds the First Impressions contest for unpublished writers. For the first time, this year I decided to enter one of my manuscripts and I am over the moon to announce that I am one of three finalists in the historical romance category!

I wish I could do a vlog so you could see just how excited I am, but I have a cold with a sore throat and you all don’t deserve the torture that is my voice right now.

Suffice to say, this:  I got the call yesterday afternoon as I was leaving my children’s dentist’s office (walking to our van) and the second I hung up the phone I was doing such a big happy dance my kids busted up laughing and said I was bouncing our van. This, despite having been on the verge of falling asleep in the lobby minutes before. Nothing like awesome news to brighten an otherwise miserable day and bring energy to the virus weary.

I also want to add a big congratulations to all my fellow finalists, especially those in the Historical Romance category:

Dawne Beckel  & Savanna Kaiser

You can read the names of the finalists in each category HERE.

The winners of the 2017 First Impressions contest will be announced on December 15th.

5 Ways I Handle Burnout

Burnout Blog Title Image

Burnout . . .

According to Google, burnout is

  1. the reduction of a fuel or substance to nothing through use or combustion.
  2. physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.

For me, that looks like exhaustion, impatience, productive procrastination, and – when it gets really bad – my impression of an ostrich. (Yes, I know the head in the sand thing is a myth, but the analogy still works.)

waiting for problems to go away

Burnout has been triggered by different things throughout my life, but the common factor is always that somehow I have wound up with more on my to-do list than I believe is possible to accomplish in the amount of time I have to accomplish it, combined with a sense of one or more factors relating to that list being out of control – and this has continued for an extended period of time.

For example, in addition to being a mother and author, I am also a homeschool teacher. I can spend weeks planning my children’s education and hours teaching them, but at some point it is up to them to actually do the work. Like all children, there are phases in their life when they “just don’t want to” and nothing I say or do will make them budge. You know that saying:  “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink”? I am intimately acquainted with the full meaning of that idea.

Human to Knowledge

Now, if their “just don’t want to” phase happens to occur at the same time I am trying to meet an ambitious number of writing related goals, have an unusually high frequency of medical appointments scheduled (for me or my kids), I am not getting enough sleep for one reason or another, and I am in the process of planning another child’s birthday celebration … well, this can sometimes lead me to burnout.

I have learned to recognize the signs of my impending burnout, but I am still working on nipping it in the bud. Some of the things I have tried which worked are:

1. Start saying, “No.”  I don’t know about you, but I find it difficult to say, “No” to awesome opportunities or friends who need help. I want to do it all and I want to be there for all the people I care about. The trouble is, if I try to do it all, something always suffers – everything is done poorly or a few things are done well while something else gets forgotten or simply doesn’t get accomplished on time. Trying to do it all never works out well. If I try to be there for everyone all the time, it leaves me nothing left to give to those most important to me:  my family. As much as I fight it, my time and energy are not infinite. Learning to say no is a constant life struggle.

just-say-no_o_1665245

2. Reprioritize my to-do list.  When I feel myself spiraling toward burnout I am normally moving at the speed of light, running from one task to the next, going to bed late, getting up early, and trying to solve every problem at the same time. So I try to take a step back and reevaluate where I’m putting my energy. Are the things I am trying to accomplish really that important or urgent? The best questions I have found to help me with deciding how to reorganize or even trim my to-do list are:  What will happen if this doesn’t get done? Can someone else do this?

3. Try to delegate. This is a tough one. Most of the items on my list are things only I can do or things only I can do well. That last part is where I usually fight with myself to let go. I grew up with a grandmother who asked me to handpick pieces of lint from the carpet and from whose bathroom floor I would have happily eaten from dinner. Perfectionism runs in my family. Letting someone else do something, *knowing* they can’t do it as well as I can (and that’s not ego, that’s just fact with certain tasks), but that they can accomplish the task “well enough”, is tough. Very tough. However, I have learned that the consequences of full-blown burnout are far greater than a mediocre job.

Sorry I'm late I had to stare at the ceiling and question all my life choices.

 

4. Take a break. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how important the to-do list tasks are. I need to step back, set my list down, and take a break. I need to switch gears and get my mind off the things that are bothering me. Since taking a week-long vacation from life isn’t typically practical, this is when I will go see a movie, or read a book just for fun (not to review), or even spend two hours listening to a friend’s problems. Nothing gets your mind off your own trouble like listening to someone else’s trouble – especially if they’re in a tougher spot than you are. And there is always someone in a tougher spot than you are.

I need a time out Image

5. Rejuvenate. I find a way to re-energize myself. This always involves worship and Bible study. Nothing puts things into perspective faster and calms my worries more thoroughly than reminding myself of Who is truly in control. When I find myself entering burnout, I almost always have let my Bible study slip. After all, there is no deadline by which I have to “finish studying the Bible.” No one ever “finishes” studying the Bible. And then there is the lie that “no one else is affected if I don’t read the Bible today.” It’s easy to see that if I don’t take my daughter to her medical appointment that she will suffer. It is more difficult to see that she will also suffer if I let my relationship with my Lord fall to the bottom of my to-do list. Yet it remains true that everything in my life suffers when I don’t prioritize spending time with God.

In addition to Bible study and worship, I will do what I can to catch up on sleep, spend some time alone with my thoughts, and find a creative outlet that is just for fun. I love being an author, but taking it seriously means it sometimes feels no different than any other job – there are days I can’t wait to start working and days I’d rather do anything but. So I make a point to find alternate ways to express my creativity without the pressure of public scrutiny or deadlines. These things re-energize me and fill that emotional cup so that I have something to give.

These are the 5 major things which I have found to help me avoid and recover from burnout.

What about you? What situations lead you to experience burnout? Have you found ways to get yourself out of it? Please share your thoughts with me in the comments below!

A Special Announcement

A Special Announcement

Hello! If you are new to my blog, please bear with me as this post is out of the norm for me. I am typically a very private person, but something very special has recently come to fruition for my family which I feel compelled to share with you all.

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may have noticed my lowered rate of interaction with your comments in recent weeks. Here is why:

Our family has grown! 

Our family officially began the adoption process in 2012. We began by pursuing the adoption of a special needs girl in Russia. Unfortunately, Russia closed to adoptions by U.S. parents in December of 2012 while we were in mid-process. After a grieving period and much prayer, we worked for more than a year to become a resource family for our county. When our foster placement didn’t work out, the loss was too much for our three boys so we turned our focus back to international adoption. In 2015 we began the process of adopting a child in China. On August 15, 2017, we flew to China to meet our daughter. On August 21, 2017, she officially became a member of our family. When we returned to the U.S. on September 3, she became a citizen of the United States of America.

Public Photo of Ava

While we are over the moon to have this little girl join our family, adoption isn’t easy on anyone involved. Today, we are settling in and working toward a new normal.  This means I will be skipping next week’s Monday post as we work through the various appointments our girl needs to attend now that she is home and spend time bonding as a family. It also means that I may continue to be a bit slower in responding to comments for the next couple weeks, but I hope to play catch-up soon on what I missed while I was out of the country. I also hope to be back at my typical reply speed soon.

NOTE:  I fully understand that adoption is a controversial topic. However, this is not the place to get into debates on the issue. There are many other sites available online for those discussions. Any negative or politically oriented comments will be deleted. Thank you for understanding.