Monday, November 24, 2014

November 2014 Movie Wrap-Up

By Andrea Renee Cox

Between NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and a couple of proofreading jobs, it was almost impossible to squeeze in time to watch movies. If I wasn’t multitasking, I wouldn’t have been able to watch the Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Stars games, either. But I wrote while I had them on. Some pretty good games this month, from what I picked up between chapters, especially for the Mavs.

Early in the month, though, a couple of friends and I took time out of a Saturday to see a movie at the theater. When I suggested the movie, I knew they might not be huge fans of the idea. But they agreed it looked cute. What we weren’t expecting was for it to carry weight for adults as well as children. Once it was over, we all looked at each other, shocked expressions all around, and said, “Whoa. That. Was. Awesome.”

So, if you’re looking for a movie to take the entire family to see over the Thanksgiving break, check out:

Big Hero 6

When prodigy Hiro Hamada loses someone close to him, he teams up with a large, inflatable robot named Baymax. Though their mission starts out as a battle for revenge, with Hiro’s brains and Baymax’s programmed heart, both of them learn that balance is needed when it comes to dealing with complicated situations.

What surprised me the most about this animated feature is that it dove right in to difficult themes. Grief, revenge, “nerd school,” genius/prodigy, and superheroes. Also, there wasn’t a single bad word that I remember, which might have shocked me more than anything. Such a pleasant surprise! This movie is really clean and family friendly. It lets kids know that being really smart is super cool, and that grief is a normal process that takes time and connection with friends and family to overcome. I’m so glad the filmmakers chose to tackle deep topics in a way that will touch the hearts of all types of people from all different age groups. Honestly, it’s probably the favorite of all the movies I’ve seen this year, and I’ve seen quite a few, as you know from my other monthly wrap-ups. At least it’s in the top five, anyway. A definite must-see. Take the kids, your parents, friends … everyone will love it for one reason or another.

And have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Readers, what are some of your favorite Thanksgiving traditions? What are YOU thankful for this year?

Thanks for stopping by today! I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comment section below. And don’t forget to drop by next Monday for my latest article.

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Monday, November 17, 2014

*100th article* Be My Guest - Hillary Manton Lodge

This is the 100th blog article here at Writing to Inspire. I can't believe I've finally hit triple digits! And, to top that off, I've got a guest on my blog today. Please welcome Hillary Manton Lodge, the fabulous author of A Table by the Window. (See my review of A Table by the Window here.)

Kitchen Inspirations

I realized that autumn is my favorite time of year last week, while stirring a pot of soup. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy winter’s holiday season, the return of leaves in spring, and the abundance of summer produce, but there’s something about fall that I love.

For one thing, I can finally turn my oven on! Standing over the stove and feeling warm and toasty is a good thing. While I miss the summer stone fruits and berries, I love roasting vegetables and having my pick of apple varietals at the grocery store. And the abundance of squash is the perfect way to celebrate the balance between sweet and savory. A single trip to the grocery store gives me a head full of ideas.
photograph provided by Hillary Manton Lodge

This fall soup is a favorite of mine because it’s so iconically fall – pumpkin, apple, and spices. The lentils give it substance and the curry makes it the perfect warming soup on a cold day. If you’ve got a food processor and immersion blender, this soup comes together quickly. It’s based off of this recipe, but – like most recipes – I’ve toyed with it a bit. More spices, more fruit, and pureeing it at the end takes it from rustic to elegant.

Curried Pumpkin, Apple, and Lentil Soup

2 tablespoon butter
3-4 shallots, minced fine (about one cup)
1 tart apple, such as a granny smith, or two sweet apples, minced fine.
48 ounces chicken or vegetable broth
2 (15 ounce) cans pure pumpkin
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 cups red lentils, rinsed and picked through
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
1-2 tablespoons honey
Plain Greek yogurt, for garnish
1 tablespoon pepitas (pumpkin seeds), for garnish (optional)
½-1 tsp salt
Cracked black pepper to taste

1.       Heat the butter over medium heat in a large soup pot or dutch oven, and add the minced shallots. Sauté the shallots until soft and golden, about 6-8 minutes.  Add the apple and sauté for another 5-10 minutes, until the apples are very soft. 

2.       Add the spices, including lots of cracked black pepper.

3.       Pour in the broth, add the lentils and the pumpkin. Allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes, until the lentils are very soft.

4.       Add the honey and coconut milk, stir, and remove from heat.

5.       To blend the soup, either use an immersion blender or puree the soup in a standard blender, in batches. If you use a standard blender, be very careful to let the soup cool a bit before blending, and don’t overfill. You may want to reheat the soup over the stove once blended.

6.       Taste the seasonings, and add more salt, pepper, or honey as needed.

7.       Serve hot with a dollop of Greek yogurt on top. Delicious with pepitas sprinkled on top, with whole wheat naan or pita bread for dipping.

Makes a LOT. Freeze any extras for another cold, blustery day.

Hillary Manton Lodge

Hillary Manton Lodge is the author of A Table by the Window Her latest novel, Reservations for Two, will release in April of 2015. She and her husband make their home in Portland, Oregon.

Ooh, that recipe sounds delicious! Of course, being allergic to cinnamon, I'll have to drop that ingredient and double up the nutmeg, if my taste buds deem it necessary. Thanks so much for being the guest for my 100th article, Hillary! It's such a pleasure to host you here at Writing to Inspire.

Readers, make sure to mark your calendars. Hillary's next book, Reservations for Two, will release in April 2015, from WaterBrook Publishing Group.

Readers, thank you for sticking with me through 100 articles. It's been fun sharing my life, favorite books and movies, and author interviews/guest articles with you. I look forward to sharing many more on upcoming Mondays.

What is your favorite season of the year? Do you have particular recipes you use for each season? What's your favorite recipe? Mind sharing them in the comments?

Thanks for stopping by today! I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comment section below. And don’t forget to drop by next Monday for my latest article.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Cowboys and NaNoWriMo

By Andrea Renee Cox

Since the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is going on this month, my schedule is quite packed, especially with a couple of proofreading jobs squeezed in along with my regular tutoring students. Not that I’m complaining; I love staying busy and challenging myself. But being so busy does have its drawbacks, one of which is less time to read books from my to-be-read basket. So, during November, I’m reading a couple of novellas, that way I can still read a book for fun in the evenings but it won’t be so lengthy as to pull me away from my other obligations for a substantial amount of time.

One such shorter-length book, which I just finished, is A Cowboy for Katie. I was excited when I received an electronic galley copy through NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review, because I love reading about cowboys. I like everything about cowboys. The hats, jeans, and boots. The hat-tipping, let ladies go through the door first, show respect to women kind of chivalry that is hard to come by these days. Ooh, I’m getting chills just thinking about it.

In A Cowboy for Katie, Katie Pearl is known as a crazy woman. With a threat on her lips and a gun on her hip—if it’s not in her hand—Katie Pearl will stop at nothing to protect her land from the squirrelly cowpokes trying to steal it from her by way of marriage. Treb Rayburn doesn’t know what he’s in for when he hires on to rebuild Katie Pearl’s house after a tornado destroyed it, killing her Pa. The only question is, will he have the gumption to love an unlovable crazy lady?

Don’t let this story’s small size fool you. Like its main character, Katie Pearl, it carries a whirlwind of spunk in a small package. I found myself chuckling many times through many of the chapters, thanks to Debra Clopton’s creative humor woven through the plot. The essence of cowboys was captured perfectly in Treb, and I couldn’t help but hope he could somehow find a way through Katie Pearl’s defenses. All in all, I discovered a new-to-me author I’ll be keeping my eye on.

Since I need to work on my word count for NaNoWriMo tonight, I’m keeping this fairly short. I hope you have a chance to read A Cowboy for Katie soon. I’m sure you’ll get a laugh or two out of it. Happy reading!

Readers, it’s your turn. What is your favorite type of character to read about? What qualities do you like about them? Do you see any similarities between them and the people you interact with in your daily life?

Thanks for stopping by today! I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comment section below. And don’t forget to drop by next Monday for my latest article.

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Monday, November 3, 2014

Full Steam Ahead

By Andrea Renee Cox

If you’re looking for a delightful read that will keep you riveted from beginning to end, look no further than Karen Witemeyer’s latest offering, Full Steam Ahead. Even though I’ve read two of Karen’s previous novels and knew enough to expect her spunky storytelling, I was quite surprised to see an even greater depth of character and history than usual from her hand. I especially admired the way she meticulously wove the truth about steamboats and boilers into the storyline in such a way that I didn’t even question whether or not she’d checked her facts. Such easy-to-read fiction isn’t an easy accomplishment, but rather speaks of a very talented author who dares to put in long, tough hours, tweaking and honing each chapter until they leap off the page.

During the Facebook book banter in which I won a copy of this book, I asked Karen how many drafts she goes through in the writing of her books. Her reply? Since she edits what she wrote the day before, she really only has one draft. One draft! Can you imagine? I can only dream of that ability at this young stage in my writing endeavors. (Thank you so much for answering a few of my questions during that chat, Karen. Thank you and Bethany House for the complimentary copy of Full Steam Ahead. I hope my review inspires others to pick up a copy next time they visit their favorite book vendor.)

Even though Full Steam Ahead takes place mostly on land, it has the feel of a pirate story. Perhaps that’s due, in part, to the fact that the lead female, Nicole Renard, carries a dagger in her garter. Or maybe it’s because the lead male, Darius Thornton, calls her his “little pirate.” Somehow I think it’s more to do with the adventure style of the tale. With plot twists, witty dialogue, and peculiar characters, it really isn’t much of a wonder why it has that high-seas feel to it.
Karen Witemeyer

In Full Steam Ahead, Nicole Renard faces a dangerous journey, with a couple of brutish men on her trail, to protect her family’s legacy and find a husband—who would become her father’s heir, as she is his only child. When circumstances cause her to cut her trip much shorter than she’d planned, she ends up working for a madman. Will she be able to see past his unkempt appearance and exploding experiments to the heart of this out-of-the-ordinary man? When trouble searches her out, will she trust the odd scientist with the truth of her identity and mission? Can she place her safety in God’s capable hands?

My favorite line in this book came in chapter five:
“She’d managed to wring an address out of the postmaster, now all she needed to do was convince a madman to hire a female secretary before he blew her to bits.”

That brought a burst of chuckles to my lips immediately. Many times throughout this book I found myself laughing and smiling. Definitely a keeper that I’ll be reading over and over again. Five stars, for certain.

Readers, what book have you read lately that found a spot on your bookcase for keeps? What was it about the story that stood out as fantastic? Was it a new-to-you author or a tried-and-true favorite?

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