Saturday, March 27, 2010

Book Review: The Perfect Formula Diet, by Janice Stanger, Ph.D.

The Perfect Formula Diet

Paperback: 278 pages
Publisher: Perfect Planet Solutions (September 23, 2009)
ISBN-10: 0984106731
Rating (1 to 5 *): ****

The Perfect Formula Diet Review

Many people who struggle with their weight search for that perfect diet that is tasty, easy to follow and gets results. Some of these diets are extreme, promoting rapid weight loss in an unhealthy way, while others are more conservative. The Perfect Formula Diet is really not a diet at all, but a natural, healthy way of eating for life—one that will allow the dieter to coast to their perfect weight almost effortlessly—and stay there.

In The Perfect Formula Diet, Janet Stanger, Ph.D., discusses the merits of a plant-based diet. Citing study after study, scientific research and examples of people who thrive on vegetarian diets, Stanger gives a convincing argument that a plant-based diet is what humans are meant to eat and what they thrive on the most. At the same time, she makes her eating plan, which revolves around six kinds of whole foods, sound so delicious and satisfying that it becomes very attractive—if you don’t mind giving up meat. She also convincingly refutes the common thinking that humans need the large amounts of protein they get from animal products.

Stanger’s pleasing writing style is full of vibrant language that had this reader drooling and almost had me convinced to give up meat…well, perhaps I can give up just a little! In addition, the book is convenient to read, with summaries at the end of each chapter so the reader can get the most important points quickly, then go back and read the details later when there is more time.

The Perfect Formula Diet
is a loose, free-flowing way of looking at how we eat. Rather than focusing on meal plans like many other diets, Stanger suggests simply eating the suggested whole foods when you are hungry and stopping when you’re full. While there are some guidelines on how to balance the foods and suggestions for getting started, it is a fairly uncomplicated diet. Personally, being a person who likes eating meals, I would have liked a little more guidance on ways to prepare the whole foods into tasty meals to get me started. However, I am sure many people will enjoy the grazing nature of it, which is probably a more natural way to eat.

In addition to the healthful benefits of eating a plant-based diet, Stanger discusses economic, social and environmental reasons for switching off of food derived from animals. For me, some of these arguments fell flat and actually detracted from what is otherwise a very good diet book. She also goes on to discuss next steps in improving your health, such as getting proper exercise and sleep and making your home free of harmful chemicals.

If you are looking for a natural, healthy diet that will help you lose weight comfortably and pleasantly, check out The Perfect Formula Diet. You just might find the perfect answer.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Guest blog with Josi Kilpack

Get to know a little more about Josi Kilpack, author of Devil's Food Cake, and what she thinks is important in a story. Be sure to read my interview with the author and review of the book!

I believe that the most important element of any story is the characters it is about. Whether the character is a rock or a pig or a prince of nations, they have to be interesting and relatable. The Harry Potter series is not about magic, it’s about a boy. The Da Vinci Code is not about cryptography, it’s about a professor and a cryptographer trying to solve a murder. Even novels that are plot driven (suspense, horror, etc.) are only there because something is happening to someone, therefore every other element of a story is based upon the characters—they are, therefore, the foundation of every story and because of that they deserve a great deal of attention during the creation process.

The process of ‘making a character’ is called characterization, and it’s part of the story making process that I absolutely love because I find real people fascinating and therefore it’s a lot of fun to use what I see in real life and translate it into a fictional person.

First, you have physical characteristics, or the exterior character; tall, short, fat, skinny, broad chested, stooped, limping. Then there is colors for hair, eyes, skin, lips. You have wide set eyes, almond shaped eyes, hook noses, pointy chins, long necks, droopy shoulders, pot bellies etc. Are they young or old, do they look their age, or are they defying mother nature so far? Literally hundreds of characteristics you can mix and match together in such a way to MAKE a person. For inspiration, I can go to the mall, a PTA meeting, church, or just a family reunion and blend together physical traits until it fits what I want. TV is probably the worst place for inspiration in this way because so many celebrities look similar in body size, shape, etc. Real life is the place to go to find those physical traits that give a visual. Amid the physical description is often their ethnicity, level of activity, and personal hygiene—each of which says a lot about them.

Then I get to move inside and work on the interior character. One of the first questions I ask is how does the character feel about their physical selves. Do they love being tall, do they hate having blue eyes, do they look like their parents, do they look nothing like their parents? How do people perceive them physically, and how does that perception affect them? Are they kind, greedy, secretive, boisterous; how do they react to people? Are they introverted or extroverted—hiding in a corner or the life of the party? The interior character is as limitless as the external character and, again, real life is a great pool of information. I look at how different people react in a crisis, how they engage in conversation and then wonder why they act differently than someone else. While the exterior is all about how they look, the interior is all about who they are.

Once I’ve developed the exterior and the interior, I get to paste together their histories. The exterior and interior get to come together here as I decide where they are from, what kind of family they were born into, how they have made it to this point in their lives. Did he go to college? Did she break off an engagement? I like knowing what their zodiac sign is, what the world was like when they were a child and what their parents did for a living that then influenced their lives.

Finally, when I have created these parts I work on the part of the character that works closest with the story; goals. What does the character want? Every story basically comes down to the characters pursuit for that goal and what obstacles they face along the way. The exterior, interior, and historical part of the character add up to equal their goals and desires in life and it’s those very things that, through the course of the story are thwarted.

I’ve filled out employment applications in the past so as to keep track of the information because I know once the story starts, I’ll forget.

And then the final thing I add is the flaws. No one likes to read about perfect people, therefore as a writer it’s important to have our characters have weaknesses, imperfections, and now and then a down right annoying habit or two. One of the most important parts of a story is the growth of the character, which means they have to have some part of them in need of improvement. It makes them relatable and real, which is the entire goal of fiction; to make the unreal feel like reality.

And yet, despite all the work and imagination, it’s inevitable—at least for me—that many things will change through the course of the story. My character might get taller or fatter or ruder or less educated as needed, usually to increase a conflict they are facing the story, but since I am in charge, I get to make and break the rules all I wan.

In the words of Robert Cormier “The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, brain surgery.”

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Book Review: Devil's Food Cake, by Josi Kilpack

Here is my review of Devil's Food Cake: A Culinary Mystery, by Josi Kilpack. Don't forget to read my interview with the author!

Publisher: Deseret Book (January 1, 2009)
Rating (1 to 5 *): *****

Devil's Food Cake Review

Sadie Hoffmiller had worked hard to help the library fundraiser, featuring the town’s prodigal author Thom Mortenson, a great success—including baking up several of her signature devil’s food cakes for the occasion. However, Just when she is savoring her creation, Thom’s agent steps up to the podium on stage to introduce his client and the speaker of the evening—and is killed in front of everyone.

Sadie is already on thin ice with her boyfriend, who happens to be a detective and a guest at the affair, because her busy body nature landed her in the middle of murder investigations before. However, Sadie just can’t help herself in wanting to help. She runs across several critical pieces of evidence and odd behaviors from guests at the dinner, but is ignored and pushed aside when she tries to report them.

Sadie takes matters into her own hands, unwilling to let her hunches and questions go unanswered. She proceeds to try to solve the case, despite warnings not to, and soon finds herself in a deep dish of trouble.

Josi Kilpack’s novel, Devil’s Food Cake, is a fun and exciting adventure—a murder mystery that is so compelling it must be solved in one night, with a protagonist who loves food. The reader is treated to several recipes throughout the book to go with dishes mentioned in the chapter. While the main character is a little annoying in her persistent busy bodiness and obsession with food at all hours of the night, it is those very characteristics that make the story.

Devil's Food Cake is charming and intriguing all at once, with so many possibilities that this reader did not figure out the answer to the mystery before the characters did…always a plus in any murder mystery.

Author Interview: Josi Kilpack

Today at A Cup of Coffee and a Good Book, we have the opportunity to speak with author Josi Kilpack. I will be reviewing her book Devil's Food Cake tomorrow, March 17th, so come back to check it out!

Josi Kilpack Interview

Jennifer Walker: What inspired the story of Devil's Food Cake?

Josi Kilpack:
I already had Sadie and Garrison developed through the first two books in the series. My publisher had asked that this one be chocolate based and I had involved Sadie’s daughter in one of the previous books so I wanted to introduce her son. I also needed a different kind of murder to solve, I’d done two that happened off stage—which is typical of a cozy—so I wanted something a little different. Those were my starting ‘kernels’ of the story. The other details built around those things until I had a story in mind that I hoped would work. My 13 year old helped me come up with the first chapter, maybe that should worry me :-)

Jennifer Walker: Are any of the characters, situations or events based in reality?

Josi Kilpack:
Sadie is a combination of women I’ve known in my life, slightly exaggerated. Many of the other characters begin similar to a real life person too, but inevitably by the end of the book they have changed into someone very different—which is a good thing :-) As for the events of the story, I glean information I happen to know about here and there, but most of it just evolves with the story.

Jennifer Walker: Are mysteries your favorite type of book to read, as well as to write?

Josi Kilpack:
When it comes to reading, it’s actually suspense that gets most of my attention. I love Sue Graphton, John Grisham, and Mary Higgins Clark—plot driven novels with well written characters. That said, I read a little bit in a lot of genres and, for me, it all comes down to the story. I can ignore poor grammar (I’m not that good at it myself) and little plot issues here and there if the story can keep the dishes in the sink and the laundry in a pile on the floor. My family can tell when I’ve found a great book by what we’re having for dinner and how many chores are left undone at the end of the day. If it’s a good book, the house is a mess and it’s hot dogs for dinner again.

Jennifer Walker: Tell us about the recipes in Devil's Food Cake. Where did they come from, and have you prepared them all?

Josi Kilpack:
Yes, I’ve made all the recipes in the book. More importantly, a group of 7 other cooks make up Sadie’s Test Kitchen which is a private blog where I post recipes I’m considering for the books. These cooks make them, tweak them, help me clarify instructions, and give feedback on their family’s reaction. They are absolutely priceless to the process of getting things just right. The actual Devil’s Food Cake recipe is my mom’s, the one I grew up on. I tried a few other recipes when looking for the perfect one for the book, and none of them could top Mom’s. In addition to making the recipes I suggest, the Test Kitchen also volunteers recipes as well. In Devil’s Food Cake, the Sandra’s Chocolicious Frosting, Angel Snowball Cake, and Evil Chicken Dinner by Laree are all recipes from my Test Kitchen Bakers. Did I mention they’re priceless?

Jennifer Walker: How did you become an author, and how did your publishing journey begin?

Josi Kilpack:
Up until I wrote my first book I had never thought about becoming a writer, let alone an author. I’d never had a teacher tell me I was talented, I’d never really written for anything outside of what I needed to do. I’d gotten good grades in English through high school (which made up for the Ds in math) and taken just one year of college; during which I took all the writing classes I could. After that I got married and started a family and never thought about writing until, while on bedrest with a pregnancy, I started writing a short story because I had run out of other things to do and the idleness was making me neurotic. That story grew and grew and ignited something within me that I didn’t know was there. Even when I had this 300 page story I didn’t think about publishing—publishing was just SO big. I mean, to be a novelist? I was a mom, I was a homemaker. How could someone like me publish a book? However, I’d had a great time writing that book and after the encouragement from friends I jumped into it and a year and a half later I had my first published book. For me, writing was a bend in the road I didn’t see coming, but boy has it become a journey since then.

Jennifer Walker: Tell us about your family. Are they supportive of your writing?

Josi Kilpack:
I’ve been married to my high school sweetheart for nearly seventeen years, and we have four kids ages 16, 14, 11, & 8. They are incredibly supportive of my writing and I couldn’t make it work without them. They not only help me find the time to write, but they share their enthusiasm about my accomplishments and brag about my writing to people they meet. However, they also keep me firmly planted in reality. My husband helps keep me my priorities straight. I know many writers from many different family situations and consider myself very blessed to have the support of my family the way I do.

Jennifer Walker: Do you have a "day job", or do you support yourself through writing? If the former,how do you balance everything?

Josi Kilpack:
My husband and I are self-employed and I keep the books for our window covering business. We didn’t expect I would need to be involved, however the economy has required both of us to adjust our expectations. Balance, in my mind, is an illusion. Sometimes work demands my attention more than my writing, other times I can push things aside and make some significant progress on my current novel. I try very hard to keep my family at the top of my list, but they make sacrifices too. I’m constantly looking ahead in the day, the week, the month and seeing what is going to ‘demand’ my time and where the nooks and crannies will be where I can fit other things. It’s not easy, but it won’t last forever either and, as I said, my family is very supportive and makes it all possible. The hard part has been cutting out things I love to make room for my priorities. I don’t read the way I used to, I’m not involved in certain projects I would love to support, and the only hobby I really pursue is my writing, despite many other things that seem like a lot of fun. But I’m not complaining. I must enjoy being busy because I have structured my life to be that way.

Jennifer Walker: Are there any authors (or non-authors) who have influenced your writing and your career? How?

Josi Kilpack:
I think every author of every book I’ve ever loved has influenced my writing. Because I never pursued formal writing training, I learned through them and my education has been many years in the making. Since publishing my first novel ten years ago, I have met many other authors and they have had an equally powerful effect on my writing as we’ve shared common experiences and supported one another through our careers. Beyond that, I have to credit my husband with a great deal of influence. When I first started writing, and whispered the idea to him, he was all for it. He never doubted I could do it and that has been a powerful thing to hold on to as I’ve encountered people who did doubt me. Without his continual encouragement I’d have stopped a long time ago.

Jennifer Walker: What is your favorite dessert?

Josi Kilpack:
I’m trying to think if there’s any dessert I don’t really like—I’m not big on baked apples or rum cake, but other than that I can’t think of anything I wouldn’t eat if you put it down in front of me. As for my favorite, that changes all the time but currently pumpkin cheesecake is probably the top of my list.

Jennifer Walker: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Josi Kilpack:
I wanted to be everything—a police officer, a teacher, a mom, a ballerina (even though I’d never taken a dance class) and army-guy. The beauty of being a writer is that I can be all of those things through the characters I create, so I guess I got what I wanted in that regard.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Guest blog with Karina Fabian

Today, we have a guest blog from Karina Fabian, author of Magic, Mensa & Mayhem.This is a book I copy edited and enjoyed greatly! You can also read my interview with her here.

How I Started Writing Humorous Fantasy
by Karina Fabian

I sat in front of the panel, heart thumping, wanting to be Madame Vice for the ceremony. I'd done well in the interview—friendly, poised. Then the interviewer pulled out the big guns:

"Make me laugh."

...and I couldn't do it. I started with a funny story I'd been making up, and as I told it, it sounded dumb even to my ears, and I ended up apologizing and promising I could be funny, really. Needless to say, I did not get the job.

The sad part was, the interviewer had been throwing opportunities for one-liners all through the interview. He stuck his finger in his nose--and I thought, "Sir, if you want to pick a winner, I'm right here!" He stuck a huge bone on the table. "No bones about it sir, I'm the one for the job." But I froze, unsure of myself, too shy to be silly.

I'm older and wiser now--well, older, anyway. I've outgrown my shyness, and given the chance, I embrace the silly. I write humorous fantasy.

I didn't intend to. After experiences like my Madame Vice interview, I had decided that while my puns were good, my stories were not so funny. I started writing serious sci-fi and fantasy.

Then I decided to play in the noir genre with a down-and-out dragon stuck in the non-magical world and working as a private detective. I fell in love with the wise-cracking, cynical, justifiably-superior-than-thou dragon and the worlds he worked in. So, when a friend asked me to write a serial with the character for her newsletter, I was only too glad to oblige.

Trying to write punchy, interesting episodes in 1000-word increments proved a challenge, and I fell to humor I'd grown up with and loved. Puns in the style of Piers Anthony's XANTH novels, cliché's twisted like Terry' Pratchett's Discworld, and prat jokes worthy of the Airplane movies. I wasn't thinking about much of anything but having some fun doing a favor for a friend, but before it was done, I'd created the foundation for what would become my novel, Magic, Mensa and Mayhem. Even more, I'd created the foundation for a whole series of stories and novels.

My next foray into humorous fantasy started out in a similar way. A friend, Kim Robinson, was starting a new press, Damnation Books, and wanted to compile an anthology of zombie stories called The Zombie Cookbook. Once again, I wrote for a friend, a silly story with some puns and twisted cliché and a little bit of political satire. After all, what's a zombie story without a joke about dead people voting? I had a good time, and a lot of people liked "Wokking Dead"--enough that I'm writing a novel based on the main character, zombie exterminator Neeta Lyffe.

I've not always gotten fans. One critic said the title was the best part of "Wokking Dead;" another person said she felt my humor in Magic, Mensa and Mayhem lacked dignity. Not everyone has the same kind of humor, but unlike in my youth, I don't let it stop me. After all, I'm writing for myself and for friends--and for anyone else who wants to join in the fun.

For me, the key to humor was being comfortable enough with myself to let go and have fun. No bones about it.