Monday, June 29, 2015

BookLook June 2015
Debbie Balzotti
“Talk Like TED: The 9 public-speaking secrets of the world’s top minds” by Carmine Gallo
Author Carmine Gallo published this great book for TED talk addicts like myself. Talk like TED? I’d sure like to try. I also know some guys that have to speak once a month in church that could use some TED technique for their talks.
Gallo spent more than 150 hours analyzing more than 500 TED presentations and condensed his findings into nine common elements. He also interviewed speakers to discover what made their presentations so compelling.
If you haven’t ever watched a TED talk, you need to load the app on your phone immediately. While you wait in line at the DMV you will have time for several talks that are 18 minutes or less. There are hundreds to choose from on Big names like Steve Jobs and Al Gore are available, but the lesser known (at least to me) have been those most fascinating.
For example, Mark Bezos gave a talk titled “A life lesson from a volunteer firefighter.” If you get bored saving seats for graduation listen to his advice including this quote:  “Don't wait. Don't wait until you make your first million to make a difference in somebody's life. If you have something to give, give it now. Serve food at a soup kitchen. Clean up a neighborhood park. Be a mentor. Not every day is going to offer us a chance to save somebody's life, but every day offers us an opportunity to affect one. So get in the game. ”
Or how about watching beautiful CEO Stacey Kramer talk about “The best gift I ever survived” while you are in an office waiting room.  Kramer talks about a mysterious gift that changed her life for the better. As she flips her shoulder-length hair you see the scar left by her brain tumor.
The book explains the origins of the TED talks which began in 1984 and have now become an international phenomenon in more than 130 countries. It contains stories, photos and examples to inspire readers to become great speakers.
According to Gallo, the nine common elements that make a great talk are: Unleash the Master Within, Master the Art of Storytelling, Have a Conversation, Teach Me Something New, Deliver Jaw-Dropping Moments, Lighten Up, Stick to the 18-Minute Rule, Paint a Mental Picture with Multisensory Experiences, Stay in your Lane.
I really enjoyed reading Talk Like TED. I doubt I will be invited to give a TED talk, or give a talk that will be viewed 1.5 million times, but I did find several ways to make my next lesson or talk better.  

BookLook April 2015
Debbie Balzotti
“The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” by Gabrielle Zevin
Sometimes I choose a New York Times bestseller book because the reviews make it sound really, really good. Sometimes I get burned – but not this time. “Funny, tender, and moving, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry reminds us all exactly why we read…” That’s just one of the hooks that caught my attention.
A.J. Fikry is a lonely bookstore owner who has hit rock-bottom. He lives a solitary life after the death of his beloved wife above his little bookstore where his grumpy attitude and snobby book choices are about to put him out of business. And now his rare collection of Poe poems has been stolen while he lay passed out in a sad, drunken stupor. What’s left to live for?
Of course things suddenly change and A.J. discovers he has many reasons to continue living and selling books. An entertaining cast of supporting characters bring him back to life and love and he learns that not everything comes from books. Lessons about love and forgiveness and redemption have to be experienced in real life.
I loved the author’s narrative style and use of language. A wholesale book sales rep is desperately trying to find something he will buy for his store, but he rejects every suggestions. Finally, she asks him to tell her what he likes.
“Like,” he repeats with distaste, “How about I tell you what I don’t like? I do not like postmodernism, postapocalptic settings, postmortem narrators or magic realism. I find literary fiction about the Holocaust or any other major world tragedy to be distasteful – nonfiction only, please. Literary should be literary, and genre should be genre, and crossbreeding rarely results in anything satisfying. I do not like anything over four hundred pages or under one hundred fifty pages. I am repulsed by ghostwritten novels by reality television stars, celebrity picture books, sports memoirs, movie tie-in editions, novelty items, and I imagine this goes without saying – vampires.”

As his rant continues down the page I find my head nodding in agreement. This is a book for those who love reading and small independent book stores. I had to buy this book from a big bookstore, but I will continue to purchase as often as possible from book stores owned by characters like A.J. Fikry.
BookLook May 2015
By Debbie Balzotti
Review of “Contentment: Inspiring Insights for LDS Mothers” by Maria Covey Cole
Mother’s Day -it’s the hap-happiest day of the year – to twist a popular holiday song phrase. It really can be a day to show love and gratitude for the mothers in our lives.
After the flowers have wilted and candy wrappers are discarded, be sure mom has a good book to read. I chose “Contentment: Inspiring Insights for LDS Mothers” as my Mother’s Day gift for my three amazing daughter-in-laws this year. They deserve a week at an all-inclusive resort but this great little book will have to do.
“May we find contentment in motherhood as we come to understand and embrace our divine mission,” entreats author Maria Covey Cole. Even using the word contentment in the same sentence as motherhood seems like using it out of context.
Webster defines contentment as a state of happiness and satisfaction. Motherhood often seems more like a state of exhaustion and discouragement. How is contentment possible? Maybe by redefining the word and looking for those moments. 
Cole writes, “I have learned contentment is not complacency, mediocrity, smugness, or settling for something less.” She encourages mothers to cherish the ordinary moments of daily life. Holding a newborn baby, chasing a toddler around the house, and walks and talks with older children are a few of those simple but significant moments that can bring us feelings of contentment.
The book is filled with a collection of inspirational quotes and stories. One of my personal favorites from George Bernard Shaw was shared near the beginning of the book. “Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
Daniel Webster is responsible for defining contentment as a state of happiness and satisfaction. He also gave us this thought on gaining the necessary perspective for women to remember that what they do as mothers will be their greatest legacy.
“If we work upon marble, it will perish. If we work upon brass, time will efface it. If we rear temples, they will crumble into dust. But if we work upon immortal minds, and instill into them just principles, we are then engraving on that tablet that which no time will efface, but will brighten and brighten to all eternity.”
This Mother’s Day we can all show appreciation for the mothers we know. Let’s recognize their heroic efforts with more than a quick stop at the grocery store on Saturday night to purchase a card. Let’s write a letter of gratitude that will brighten their day and express our love. Of course you can tuck that letter in a good book, add flowers and chocolates and make it even better.
Contentment: Inspiring Insights for LDS Mothers by Maria Covey Cole is available at Cedar Fort Publishing in Springville and at

BookLook July 2015
Review of ”Finger Foods” by Joyce Tanner Whiting
Debbie Balzotti
June is the month of wedding receptions. Sometimes the food at a reception is really great – like the appetizers and desserts guests enjoy at receptions held in the Whiting’s garden in Springville.
 Joyce Whiting is not only a gardener, but a cookbook author who enjoys creating and sharing recipes in her book “Finger Foods: Elegant Treats and Bite-sized Eats for Every Occasion”.
The book is an affordable paperback edition featuring photos of her garden and tables laden with beautiful food. Whether you are a catering a wedding or serving your family, these are recipes worth having.
Some of the favorite recipes in the book include Lemon Tassies, Chocolate Bombes, Tomato/Olive Bruschetta and Reuben and Cucumber sandwiches. 
When Grandma Joyce, the name she used to sign my book, graciously catered the recent author’s night at the Springville Library, I was able to taste these dishes and more. Since they could all be eaten without a fork, we could hold our books and eat our treats.
Whiting shares her expertise on everything from serving plate sizes to menu combinations for any party you may be planning. The tips included with recipes to encourage inexperienced cooks to try dishes like Coconut Butterflied Shrimp and Cashew Chicken Rolls.
“I get concerned that so many folks think that cooking from scratch is hard or that you have to be a gourmet chef to make something wonderfully tasty. Scratch cooking isn't hard and it's so rewarding for those who need a creative outlet,” said Whiting in a recent interview.
She continued, “But don't discount pre-packaged time-savers either. I'm the first to admit that a brownie mix, and I have my favorite brand, is just as good as most scratch brownie recipes. It's what you do with the mix that makes the difference.”
Whiting wrote the 217 page book after being constantly asked for recipes and has been surprised by the response when it came out just a few months ago.
“The response has been positive”, she said. “But who is going to tell the author they don't like her cookbook? Many have expressed their delight at how easy most of the recipes are and most people comment on how great the book looks.”

“Finger Foods” is available from the author,, Barnes and Noble and other local bookstores carry it or can order it. The author’s website is

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Hope after Suicide: One Woman's Journey from Darkness to Light

February is the month we think of love and hearts – but if your heart is broken this is a difficult time of year. I read “Hope after Suicide” by Wendy Parmley to learn more about how to support and comfort those who are left behind after suicide and found it very helpful.

In the United States more than 40,000 people a year commit suicide. How can we support those that have experienced the tragic loss of losing a loved one? How can we get through this experience if it happens to us and heal those wounds?

“Don’t let anyone in the bathroom,” her father screamed as he ran out outside in pajamas. As 12-year-old Wendy sat holding her baby sister and keeping the other 3 young children away from the closed door, she was not prepared for the shocking news that her perfect mother had left them.

Most of us have had someone close to us, even in our own family, who has chosen to end their life. There are many reasons for suicide and as the author urges, we must never judge or condemn the person who makes that decision. She learned many years later to forgive her mother who shot herself in 1975 leaving a husband and 5 very young children to deal with her violent death.

She wrote, “How could I go on living when my mom, the woman who gave me life, was gone? How would I grow up and become a mom myself? How could I ever smile again when I felt like running away…?”

After many years of running away and burying the experience deep inside, she decided to open her heart and share her story.

The author hopes to encourage other survivors to forgive themselves and others, open their heart, seek help when needed, and draw closer to God. Her personal journey is painful to read at times, but her triumph will give courage to others who are on that same path. One step at a time through darkness and into the light.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

BookLook Column January 2015

“Softly Falling” by Carla Kelly

Snowed in after Christmas with a stack of new books is a wonderful problem. I’m glancing out the window as Mark shoots snow into the wind with the snow blower and listening to Buble and Menzel sing “Baby It’s Cold Outside”.

I just finished reading “Softly Falling” by Carla Kelly curled up on the couch under a warm blanket in front of the fireplace. It was the perfect choice for a snowy day. When I contacted Kelly and told her I was enjoying her book, she offered to send me a hot rock for my feet.

The historical romance is set on a cattle ranch in Wyoming Territory during the terrible winter of 1886. Lily Carteret has been sent away from her uncle’s wealthy home, to live with her wayward father.  Clarence Carteret married Lily’s mother, the daughter of a slave and a Spanish settler, during the first of several failed attempts to manage his family’s businesses in the Caribbean, India, and Australia.  

After the death of her mother, 5 year-old Lily was sent to boarding school in England where she encountered prejudice and rejection as a mixed-race child. Miss Tilton’s school taught Lily how to close her heart and keep her chin up, but it didn’t prepare her for life on the frontier as a young woman.

The illiterate cowboy Jack Sinclair is the perfect partner for the well-educated lady Lilly. Sinclair is the ranch foreman and becomes her knight in shining armor. They support and teach each other as the novel progresses, and we admire their qualities of bravery and determination.

There is much to respect and love in Jack, Lilly, and the tight-knit cast of characters. Ranch hands and townsfolk have to come to Wyoming Territory from foreign countries and across America for a fresh start.

Since Kelly is a careful researcher, I know her historical facts are accurate. As she weaves them into the story, the authenticity of language and setting helps readers slip easily back in time and place. And isn’t this one of the reasons we pick up a book?

The only downside to reading a Carla Kelly book is that she quickly puts you into the story as a sympathetic observer. I felt cold and hungry until I turned up the thermostat, grabbed a left-over Christmas cookie and went back to reading on the couch.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Make Every Day Meaningful

Make Every Day Meaningful
Realize, Record, and Remember Life’s Grand Lessons
Author: Randal A. Wright

“God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.” James M. Barrie (Peter Pan author)

I found it. A book that motivates me to improve my journal writing so I can have roses in December.

Writers are often too busy writing for deadlines to write their own story. We have perfected procrastination, harsh self-criticism, and we get writer’s block. Sound familiar? “I can’t write my personal history because I am too busy, I’m a terrible writer and I don’t know what to write.”

Make Every Day Meaningful is the book I found while searching for a book about gratitude to review for November. Sometimes a book chooses you.

The gratitude chapter titled, “Learn to Be Grateful Every Day” includes inspirational quotes, personal stories and encouraging words. Wright observes that less than ten percent of attendees express gratitude to speakers, teachers and musicians who serve them in Sunday church meetings.

In his travels as a speaker and author, he rarely sees those who have spent many hours in preparation and presentation thanked by those they serve. A Sunday School teacher told him that only a handful of people thanked her during her almost five years of teaching.

“Over the years, I’ve had the responsibility of asking hundreds of people to speak at forums held for LDS college students. During that time, I have watched on multiple occasions as not one person approached the speaker afterwards,” wrote Wright.

I recently received a letter from Springville Mayor Wilford W. Clyde thanking for the many years I have written news stories about the city. This brief expression of gratitude from a very busy man prompted me to send a note to someone I noticed quietly serving. Gratitude is contagious – it’s spread by mouth and hand to hand.

Each chapter in Randal Wright’s book encourages the reader to “realize, record and remember life’s grand lessons”. Many people do this with a gratitude journal or other small notebook they carry with them. Some spend a few minutes at the end of the day to record those observations and lessons.
“Journals are a way of counting our blessings and of leaving an inventory of these blessings for our posterity.” Spencer W. Kimball promised.

Many times I have wished my grandmothers had written their experiences and thoughts for me to read and share with my children. These fastidious little housekeepers even threw away precious letters from other family members and family photos! I have their jewelry and dishes but I don’t have their memories.

I appreciated the encouragement to write my autobiography - a work in progress, and keep a better journal, but what this book really gave me were some practical tools and suggestions. The list of 600 memory cues, and three word-word summary suggestions are more helpful to someone like me than quotes I've managed to ignore for decades.

 It’s not too late to start or start again. Your journal and your life story may not seem like a bouquet of roses but your memories and life lessons are priceless gifts to yourself and your family.