In case you haven't noticed, I've been pretty silent on the blog front, particularly when it comes to Modern Jo March. I've already published a post discussing some of the reasons why MJM has been dark for most of this year, but I wanted to take some time and discuss the other reason now.
I have been suffering from chronic migraines for about 2 or 3 years now that have been progressively getting worse. As part of the treatment and attempts to relieve and reduce them, I was told to limit my screen time, because obviously staring at a screen for long periods of time isn't good for you (in more ways than one). As a result, the last several months has found me putting down the kindle and other devices, and picking up physical books, and it's actually been really great!
As a book blogger, beta reader, and proofreader, I am often sent far more digital copies of books than physical ones, with good reason, digital copies are easier and cheaper to share for authors and publishers. The problem I've come up against is the fact that in order to read and review, or read and give feedback, I find myself spending a lot of time staring at my kindle screen (or laptop, depending on what kind of work each book requires of me). That's not good for my brain and is a prominent trigger for my migraines.
So what to do?
As of February, I started cutting back on my screen time all around, not only putting down my kindle, but also cutting back on my time scrolling through social media and staring at screens as a whole. I have requested a physical copy when I can, explaining my issues with migraines, while cutting back on the digital copies I accept. This has done two things for me: 1) I am much better (and pickier) at choosing the books (digital copies) that I cover, as I only have a limited amount of screen time to devote to them these days (and a limited budget to buy physical copies!), and 2) I've also gotten much better at making the most of my screen time.
As a freelance writer and blogger, I do have to maintain not only a social media presence (though it's not a large one), but also keep up the content for both my blogs. I've learned to use social media management platforms (I use Hootsuite and Buffer) which helps me cut down my daily screen time as they allow me to schedule posts in bulk for the week as well as see all of my social feeds in one place (organized into columns). They've been a huge help!
NOTE: A few other helpful things for me are to check the time whenever I open an App to be more mindful about how much time I spend on it (I only allow myself about 5 minutes at a time on my socials) and to dim my screens when I do use my devices. Both have made a huge difference in my migraine frequency.
While navigating this journey to better brain health, I have come to learn a few things. I realized that I tend to retain a book better when I'm looking at a physical page, rather than a screen. For some reason, I have a much better, deeper experience with books when I'm reading physical copies as opposed to digital. This doesn't surprise me too much, as I have always preferred physical books to digital anyway, I just didn't realize how much more I got out of a physical book versus a digital.
I've also learned how much more productive I can be when I cut out time spent on social media and scrolling the internet. It's truly a marvel the amount of work you can get done when you're not tied to a device. ;) Also, it's amazing how much happier I am when I don't spend a lot of time staring at a screen!
These days, my screen time is about 85% devoted to writing, researching for my books and projects, the upkeep of my website and blogs, and freelance work for other authors. It's a simpler and more organized way to conduct your day, and I for one am happy with the outcome.
Who knew migraines could end up being helpful?! ;) (But make no mistake, they are also a really trying and painful aspect of life)
I would challenge others to be more mindful of your screen time and how it impacts your life. I believe you'll be surprised. ;)
As some of you may have noticed... ok, ok, let's be real, no one noticed.... Modern Jo March has been quiet for the better part of this year. I've had such a hard time figuring out how to make everything work, particularly how to make this blog work. Last year I rebranded and tried a few different approaches, this year, mainly due to illness, I've just neglected it completely.
For the last 6 months, every time I thought of the blog, I would feel frustrated with myself for not being able to make it all work and be the top-notch blogger who has loads of content, who's at the head of the game and schedules posts so that they are evenly dispersed throughout the weeks and months, etc. Last year I got so caught up in "content" and trying to stay ahead, I actually got to the point where reading felt more like a chore than the pure joy it has been for me all these years. That's when I put the blog on hiatus last summer. I came back in the Fall refreshed and ready to go...…… only to burnout yet again come the middle of Winter.
Part of my burnout issues is the fact that I suffer from a chronic illness and as a result, am often dealing with periods of illness, pain, and fatigue, which doesn't help productivity. I've come to learn over the last year or so, that I really only have a certain amount of energy per day, and therefore need to be very mindful about how I spend that energy. That's the hard part...
There are so many things I want to do. Every. Single. Day. I'm a creative and want to do all the things all the time. I'm also an Enneagram 5, which means that I constantly want to be learning something and often have multiple projects going at one time...… but it also means that I have limited emotional energy to give each day, couple that with an illness that brings chronic fatigue and you get yourself a complete mess.
So what do I do? That's an excellent question, one I've been asking for a little over a year or so now. Thankfully, I think I've found the answer.... FINALLY. I've come to realize that while I enjoy running this blog, I don't really have the inclination or the energy to turn it into a brand/money-maker. That's just not what I want to do. I don't want that to be my profession. I started this because it was fun and I enjoyed it, so that's the way it's going to stay. I realized I have no interest in keeping up "content" and further more don't have the energy or the time to do so.
I've learned that I can do a couple of things really well, or a bunch of things subpar. So I've decided to focus on my writing in the form of Writing Just In Case (where I share my poetry and such) and my book, and to move forward with Modern Jo March as a hobby project, fun and breezy, posting when I want. Less stress, more fun.
I hope you'll stick with me along the way.
Karen Witemeyer's second novel in her wonderful Patchwork Family series, More Than Words Can Say, releases June 4th, and you will not want to miss it!
I was privileged to work on Karen's promo team for both More Than Meets The Eye (the 1st book in the series) and More Than Words Can Say, and have greatly enjoyed the experience and the books. Though I received this book in advance and am on Karen's team, it was with the understanding that I would give an HONEST review of the book. I am in no way obligated to give a good review if I don't feel it deserves one. Thankfully for me, Karen never disappoints with her stories. She continues to produce superbly woven tales with earthy characters, interesting plots, and a beautiful message weaved throughout the story.
In More Than Words Can Say, the reader gets a front row seat to Zacharias "Zach" Hamilton's deeper story. We first met Zach in More Than Meets The Eye, but he was on the fringes, the dark, mysterious character within the story. More Than Words Can Say brings him front and center and really helps the readers that have been following this series gain a fuller understanding of his past and what drives him.
I found Zach such an interesting character right from the beginning when we met him in the Prologue of More Than Meets The Eye as a 13 year old boy on an orphan train, on through to the end as a full grown man who has done the best he could in raising his adoptive siblings and keeping them safe, albeit making mistakes and a few questionable decisions along the way. Those very mistakes and decisions haunt him like ghosts on through to More Than Words Can Say. The question is: Will he be able to come to terms with them and accept the forgiveness that God has already given him?
More Than Words Can Say also introduces a set of new characters and a new town, though Evangeline, Seth (Zach's siblings), and Logan (Evie's husband and a reminder of Zach's greatest ghost) all make a brief appearance as well. The heroine of this story is Abigail Kemp, owner of the town's bakery. Faced with losing the bakery, which is Abigail's means to provide a home and future for her sister and herself, she turns to drastic measures to hold onto her beloved business. But will she succeed? And more importantly, will she find something more important to her than her business?
I love the way Karen weaves her stories, creating characters that are earthy, real, and flawed. In More Than Words Can Say, we have a man who is far out of his depth with communication, particularly when it comes to how he feels, and a woman who see's herself as fat and undesirable, rather than a "fearfully and wonderfully" made young woman who deserves love and admiration. Witemeyer gives the reader the enjoyable experience of watching these two learn and grow, while banding together to help one another. And Spoil Alert! There is a happy ending. ;)
I'd highly recommend this book. It's well written, keeps you interested until the very end, and is a joy to read. Karen never disappoints.
I give it an 8/10.
Once again, Linda Ellen has crafted a wonderful piece of writing. Creating delightfully realistic, loveable characters and a plot that will keep you turning the page, Linda expertly weaves a tale worth savoring in A Bride for Sam. In a genre that often produces quick reads that tend to follow the same old formula over and over again, Linda Ellen breezes in with her refreshingly creative plots. Come for the superb story, stay to drool over Sam the lumberjack.
A Bride for Sam is a standout in the Proxy Brides series. It is a tale filled with gallantry and romance, featuring a hunky lumberjack, a daring escape, devoted friends, and a happily ever after all wrapped into one delightful package. This is a sweet read you won't want to miss, out just in time for Valentine's Day! ;)
Grab the book here.
Hope By The Book is a brand new magazine geared towards all of those bookish souls out there. I first learned of this magazine through Anne Bogel's post about its launch on Instagram, in November. I immediately subscribed and patiently awaited the first issue..... I was not disappointed. Hope By The Book is absolutely superb, so much so, that I just HAD to talk to its creator, Carrie Schmidt. Below is our conversation:
MJM: First off, I absolutely love this magazine. Who came up with the concept of a magazine for book lovers and readers?
Carrie: Oh thank you! I had been a reviewer for RT Book Reviews and when it closed in 2018 I felt like it left such a void. Particularly for readers of ‘clean fiction’ and inspirational fiction. As the idea brewed in my head, I wanted it also to be something fun that anyone who loved books could pick up and find kindred spirits on the pages. I didn’t want it to be stuffy or highbrow, but intelligent all the same. My goal was a magazine that celebrated the reading life as well as providing professional reviews of exceptionally written clean fiction in genres from fiction to children’s to non-fiction, too. I couldn’t think of any other magazine that quite did all of these things, so I decided to give it a try!
MJM: That's wonderful. What does the process of starting a magazine look like? Can you walk us through it a bit?
Carrie: I’ve learned that it takes a special sort of crazy to do this LOL. About the time that the idea for this magazine began really taking form in my mind and heart, Angelia Stone invited me to join the Hope For Women magazine team as the ‘book girl’. I quickly became overwhelmed with all the books publishers wanted me to feature – considering I could really only include about 5 at a time in each quarterly issue of HFW. So I broached my idea of a book-focused magazine to Angie and she caught the vision, handed me the reins and said “go for it”. And after I panicked (lol) I gathered a team of my favorite bookish people to be on my editorial team – and compiled a group of reviewers, many of whom had also reviewed for RT with me before it closed. Then, of course, since we’re starting from scratch, we had to come up with our vision, our mission statement… and a title! We did a call-out for ideas on social media, decided on our three favorites and then put the vote back on social media. Hope By the Book was a clear winner, and I loved that because it tied in so nicely to our sister magazine as well. Next were tasks like: find a designer, decide on our style, plan the articles, gather books to review, etc. It’s a much more involved process than I ever dreamed!
MJM: The current issue out now is actually your launch issue. I would imagine that putting together a launch issue would be particularly daunting because you’re tasked with using that issue to introduce the magazine’s concept to the public. Was this something that was front and center in your mind?
Carrie: YES. It never left my mind. And then once the magazines left my control and went out to the masses, there was this agonizing hold-your-breath span while we waited to see if people loved it or hated it. Fortunately, everyone loves it so far!
MJM: It is such a beautiful magazine. One of my favorite bookish souls, Anne Bogel is on the cover of this issue. Tell me, how did that come about? Did you know Anne previously or did you meet through this issue?
Carrie: I am a huge fan of her blog and, as I looked at our mission statement (We love books. We live books.) and our goals for the magazine, I couldn’t think of another person who embodies those concepts better than Anne does. Even though we live in the same state, I had never had the privilege of meeting her or chatting with her. It was such an honor to talk with her for the cover feature.
MJM: What can we expect from future issues?
Carrie: More décor ideas that incorporate, organize, and style books. More reviews. More book recommendations from our editors. More interviews with favorite authors. More celebrating what it means to be bookish & all the quirks and joys and sorrows that go along with that. More pages (we’re increasing each issue).
We’re also including a short story with each issue, starting with our Spring 2019 issue (February), and we’ll be trying out some other fun stuff in future issues as well!
MJM: That sounds awesome! I look forward to the future issues. I just recently saw the cover of the upcoming spring issue and I'm so excited! Any details you'd like to spill on the new issue? ;)
Carrie: Well, I can’t give too much away. :) But we’ve got an exclusive short story from Rachel Hauck, an interview with Debbie Macomber, writing tips from Jerry Jenkins, ways to embrace those stacks of books proudly, and a couple of great articles for reading moms and introverts! You’ll have to grab a copy of the issue for the rest lol!
I'm so sad to see this series come to an end. I've thoroughly enjoyed Anne's memoirs. She has left me wanting even more. Anne LaBastille is a true inspiration to this young woman. Smart, independent, strong, admitted her fears and weaknesses, and tackled her life and career head on. I've been absorbed in LaBastille's writing for the last year, and now I'm left wondering what could possibly top her books.
Woodswoman IIII is the last installment of LaBastille's wonderful memoirs. Unlike the first three books in the series, which each cover a decade of Anne's life, Woodswoman IIII only covers five years. Another thing that sets this book apart from the others is the fact that it has a Forward written by Christopher Angus, author of The Extraordinary Adirondack Journey of Clarence Petty. Readers will know Petty by the pseudonym "Albert" from Anne's memoirs. He was a very dear friend of Anne's. Fun fact: Anne actually wrote the Forward to Angus' book on Petty's life.
In Woodswoman IIII, LaBastille continues to write about her extraordinary life, detailing her experience as a self-publishing author and book seller, a harrowing night while teaching down South, the death of her beloved German Shepherd Chekika, and the pleasure of good friends. An excellent mixture of conversational and informative, Anne's writing is a delight to read. She has quickly become one of my favorite writers, a status she'll no doubt hold for the rest of my life.
I've said this numerous times, but it bears repeating, I love the way Anne writes about her dogs. She writes with love, respect, and admiration about her beloved German Shepherds. One of the chapters I enjoyed the most in this book was where Anne gave thoughtful, helpful tips on how to help the grieving process along after detailing the death of Chekika. She treats the death of a dog with respect and sensitivity, giving the love you felt for your beloved pet the dignity and understanding it deserves.
Another aspect of Anne's writing that I thoroughly enjoy is the fact that she makes sure she celebrates her friendships. She makes it quite clear that though she is a strong, independent woodswoman, she hasn't come all this way on her own. She has had the help of many devoted friends. I find her willingness to address the importance of friendships in one's life admirable. Too often people dismiss the importance of friendships in order to either build up an image of self sufficiency or to highlight the importance of marriage. Anne manages to show how one can lead an independent, self sufficient life all the while enjoying deep friendships that are mutually beneficial.
Overall, the Woodswoman series is a superb group of memoirs. I would highly recommend reading through these wonderful books, soak them up and savor them.
I give it a 9/10.
I have been slowly making my way through Anne LaBastille's excellent Woodswoman series, having read the first book in January 2018 and the second book in January 2019. The first two books in the series, Woodswoman and Woodswoman II: Beyond Black Bear Lake are available on Amazon, and I'd highly recommend them. Unfortunately, the third and fourth books in the series, Woodswoman III and Woodswoman IIII, are currently out of print and therefore hard to come by. Thankfully I was able to acquire both, though for a rather hefty price, but when it comes to books, I'm definitely willing to make the spurge (usually).
This series gets better with each book, in my opinion, because you learn more and go deeper and deeper into Anne's life and career. With each book, it seems that Anne gets more confident in being more open and vulnerable. Woodswoman III covers Anne's third decade living in the Adirondacks. Among the subjects discussed in this book are her beloved dogs, peddling her books, her farm, changing life at her cabin n the lake, and growing environmental concerns.
As with the first two books, my favorite chapters are the ones where Anne talks about her dogs, though sadly, because each book covers roughly a decade, they all contain a sad chapter covering the death of a dog. This one features the decline and death of Condor. The way Anne writes about the decline and death of her beloved dogs is absolutely heart-wrenchingly beautiful. She brings me to tears every single time. Though I cried my eyes out through these chapters, my heart is always quickly soothed by the following chapters that detail the arrival of a new puppy, in this book's case it is Xandor who joins LaBastille's pack. I admire LaBastille all the more for these chapters, her love and devotion for her dogs is palpable, admirable, and moving.
I also enjoyed the chapters in which LaBastille writes about finding, buying, and settling into her farm, Kestrel Crest Farm. At the current stage of life Anne was in while the writing of this book, she found the hard Adirondack winters increasingly difficult to live out in her cabin on the lake, especially while trying to conduct business. A million things could go wrong or keep her from meeting deadlines and fulfilling her business engagements. Therefore, she made a compromise: She'd live part time at the farm, and part time at the cabin. This allowed her a bit more freedom, and made life a bit easier, all the while providing more storage space, an important commodity for the business woman. The farm was still in the Adirondacks, but easier to get to, and provided different opportunities to observe the workings of nature and wildlife.
I thoroughly enjoy LaBastille's writing. Her willingness to share her vulnerability, particularly her fears concerning the arson of her barns on her Kestrel Crest Farm property and the break-in at her cabin. She built a life on an image of a strong, independent, brave woodswoman, yet she shows no qualms in sharing her fears, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. She shares how her fear from the arson incident left her cold and scared, and ultimately led her to resign as a commissioner in the Adirondack Park Agency. Her continued willingness to be real and honest is admirable.
Overall, this series is a superb bit of writing. It's among the best collection of memoirs that I have had the pleasure of reading. I'd highly recommend it.
I give it a 9/10.
The show M*A*S*H is among my top five favorite TV shows, so naturally I started searching for books written by the cast. I wanted to get to know the actors better. This is how I stumbled upon Gary Burghoff’s (who played Radar O’Reilly) delightful memoir, To M*A*S*H and Back: My Life in Poems and Songs (That Nobody Wanted To Publish). I read through this book in about two or three sittings. It’s a quick and very enjoyable read. I found myself truly impressed with not only Burghoff’s impressive and well-rounded life, but also the intelligent, humble, and witty way in which he writes about it.
I learned a great deal about the man behind the beloved, bespectacled M*A*S*H character. Gary Burghoff was a trained stage actor and jazz musician. His claim to fame was actually the originating role of Charlie Brown on stage in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. On top of that, Burghoff is a poet, a songwriter, an inventor, a wildlife artist, an environmentalist, and as of the writing of this book, a writer. Pretty impressive, eh?
To M*A*S*H and Back is well paced, delightfully honest, and generally cuts to the point of things without too much fluff. Each chapter opens with a poem or a song that Burghoff wrote, which sets the theme/mood for that chapter. I was impressed with Burghoff’s honesty and willingness to show his vulnerability and own his mistakes. Not many men (or people in general) are willing to do so in such a public way. I was also impressed with how Gary spoke about the people in his life, even those that did him wrong, he handled the retelling with dignity and grace.
One fact that interested me as I read through this wonderful memoir was the fact that Burghoff is a Christian. I appreciated his candor and openness in discussing his spiritual/faith journey, his struggles with coming to know and understand God, and all that it entailed. The man is a true inspiration, with a resilient yet kind spirit, Burghoff is even more lovable than his onscreen character, Radar. Honest, witty, humorous, and well worded, I highly recommend this memoir.
I give it an 8/10.
Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux - A Review
Anne Boyd Rioux's Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy is a thorough, thoughtful, and engaging examination of the lasting appeal and legacy of Louisa May Alcott's beloved classic Little Women. This is one of those rare books that teachers, scholars, and avid fans can all read and use, and more importantly enjoy. Released in August 2018, in time for Little Women's 150th Anniversary, this book had a great deal of buzz around it and six months later, it's still a book with a lot of buzz attached to it.
Rioux organizes the book into three parts: The Making of a Classic, The Life of a Classic, and A Classic for Today. Part I: The Making of a Classic details the history of Little Women. Rioux gives a thorough biography of Louisa May Alcott and how Little Women (and its sequels) came to be. I found the information on Alcott's father, Bronson Alcott, as well as Louisa's complicated relationship with him very interesting and enlightening. It explains why Mr. March is almost completely absent from the books. An avid Alcott fan, I found that I still learned a great deal from Part I of the book and found it an excellent way to open a fascinating study.
Part II: The Life of a Classic walks the reader through the many forms Little Women took as its popularity and legacy grew. Rioux dissects many of the adaptations of the book including movies, plays, and radio programs. She explains each adaptation's impact, its highlights, and its shortcomings. As an Old Hollywood film buff, I found the chapters covering the film adaptations most interesting. Among the film adaptations (all under the title of Little Women) discussed are the 1933's Cukor directed/Katharine Hepburn version, 1949's June Allyson/Liz Taylor version, and 1994's Winona Ryder version.
Part II also covers the lasting impact that Alcott's Little Women had on readers and ultimately future writers. I was amazed, but not surprised, by the amount of writers, both male and female, who claim to have been inspired by/impacted by the book. As a budding writer who was herself inspired by Little Women, and more particularly by Jo March, I found this part truly delightful, like a meeting of kindred spirits.
Part III: A Classic for Today examines the impact and relevance of Little Woman today. This part was particularly fascinating and eye-opening. I was both surprised and appalled at the fact that Little Woman, once seen as an important book to be taught in schools, was lacking pretty much any presence within our schools currently. The fact that the driving force behind the book's absence in our school seems to be a concern that the boys won't like reading it and that we shouldn't subject them to having to read a "girl's" book is absolutely ridiculous. Meanwhile, as the book expertly points out, girls are subjected to reading boy-oriented books like Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and The Lord of the Flies, and have to grin and bear it, but God forbid that boys read a couple of girl-oriented books such as Little Women or Anne of Green Gables. Double standard much?
Rioux's writing reflects thorough and dedicated research. It is both informative and enjoyable. I could not put the book down. I would HIGHLY recommend this book to all. Read, learn, remember the information within this book, and after you've done all of this, go read Alcott's Little Women for yourselves (or again). Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy is a superb and absolutely fabulous read, much like the book it discusses.
I give it a 9/10.
I first stumbled upon Anne LaBastille about a year ago (in 2017) when I found her first memoir, Woodswoman, in an amazon search. Having grown up in the foothills of and having camped in the Adirondack Mountains annually for years now, the fact that she both lived in and was a certified guide for the Adirondacks intrigued me. I quickly read her first book and absolutely loved it. I found LaBastille fascinating.
Fast forward to this past summer (2018), my father gave me LaBastille's second book in her Woodswoman series, Beyond Black Bear Lake. I had stacks of other books that I had to read through before this one, books from authors and publishers that had to take priority, so I didn't actually have a chance to read it until just recently. It was certainly worth the wait.
Continuing on where Woodswoman left off, in Beyond Black Bear Lake LaBastille takes the reader through more of her life. She details the life of a freelancer and how she manages such a demanding, busy schedule all the while living off the grid. She explains how she deals with calls, mail, and invasive fans. LaBastile also shares her quest and journey to retreat even more into the wilderness and live the way Thoreau did over a 100 years before her, detailing the construction of her second cabin, Thoreau II.
I found the chapters in which LaBastille discusses her research on acid rain and its effects on the environment, particularly the Adirondacks, and her fight to keep nuclear waste out of the Adirondacks both fascinating and eye-opening. Other chapters I found most interesting were where she wrote about her dogs, the loss of Pitzi, which moved me to tears, and the gain of Condor and Chekika, and the bonds that she shared with these beautiful shepherds.
I highly recommend this book. It is a superb memoir, that also serves to educate the public on environmental concerns and conservation. Excellently written, well researched, Beyond Black Bear Lake finds LaBastille writing from her head and her heart.
I give it a 9/10.
I'm officially hooked on LaBastille's writing and will continue on in her Woodswoman series. Next up: Woodswoman III. ;)
Liz Austin. Bibliophile. Writer. Book hoarder. I would rather be reading....