Monday, June 30, 2014

Interview with Patrick W. Carr


A Cast of Stones (The Staff and the Sword, #1)A Draw of Kings (The Staff and the Sword #3)The Hero's Lot (The Staff and the Sword, #2)


Today, I'm delighted to welcome a special guest, Patrick W. Carr, the author of the Staff and the Sword trilogy.  'A Cast of Stones', the first book in his trilogy, was a finalist in two categories of the 2014 Christy Awards. Both 'A Cast of Stones' and 'The Hero's Lot' are finalists in the Speculative category of the Carol Awards, which will be announced in September. He's also a High School Maths teacher and father of four sons. Thanks for coming to speak with us today, Patrick.

1) Your main character, Errol Stone, is one of my favourite heroes. His transformation from village drunk to national hero is phenomenal. But if you had to choose just one of his attributes you’d hope readers would take away from the series, which would it be? 

 I loved writing Errol. In more than a few ways, he becomes the man I’d always hoped I would be. I think if we could all display his grit for getting through difficulties without surrendering to despair, we would find that we’re capable of so much more than we ever dreamed. I see the same thing in my classroom. I’m fortunate to teach at an academic magnet, but there are always students who struggle with Geometry. The subject matter is so different from the Algebra => Calculus track. But each year there’s always a few students who capture my heart and it’s never the ones who breeze through the course. It’s those who never quit, who steadfastly refused to surrender despite struggling on every single quiz, test, or project. I admire them so much and they teach me the meaning of grit. That was one of the things I wanted to capture with Errol.

2) You’ve created a vast and complex fantasy world. The kingdom of Illustra is full of unique provinces, and surrounded by equally distinctive foreign nations. Did you take time to map all this out before you ever put pen to paper? If so, how long did it take? 

 I have to confess that I cheated a bit. I’ve had more than a few people complain that I didn’t include a map with the books. I actually had one drawn up, but the publisher thought it looked a bit too much like Europe. In reality, it was Europe. By the time I signed the contract for “A Cast of Stones” I’d already completed the manuscript and in its first incarnation it was written as an alternative history of Europe. So the provinces are very close to Europe’s countries and the surrounding nations are similar as well. With my new book series I’m creating a world from scratch. So one of the things I’ll be doing this summer while school is out is getting some map-making software and putting the ideas down in a publishable form. I hope the readers like it.

(Wow, that may explain why each province and nation seemed reminiscent of places I was familiar with. I'm guessing the Green Isle with its capital, Erinon, might have represented Great Britain and London. Now I wish I could ask another question. Whereabouts on the map was Callowford, the country village where Errol and Liam were born?)  

3) Your cast of characters is extensive and well-rounded. Apart from Errol, can you single out two or three as your personal favourites?

  I have an deep and abiding love for Cruk, Rokha, and Waterson. Every time I brought them into a scene, they had a way of stealing the dialogue with their dry, cynical wit and unencumbered view of life. I can’t tell you how many times I’d be in Starbuck’s and start to cackle when they would say something. They are so funny. And they’re intensely loyal as well, but it’s on their own terms.

(I loved those three too.)

4) The Church of Illustra relies hugely on the casting of lots as a main source of guidance from God (or Deas, as He’s known in the stories). This is a fascinating part of the plot. Can you tell us how you thought of it? 

I was reading a paraphrase version of the Bible and came across a verse that said “God is in the lot.” My mind started to turn that over and like I usually do, I started to play with the idea. What if lots were still in use past the Old Testament? What if the Church depended on them instead of the Holy Spirit to divine God’s will? What would be the limitations, political implications of having access to that much information? By the time I’d asked those questions I knew I had the makings of a very cool story. The challenge then became whether I  could do it justice on the printed page.

(You must be delighted with the result.)

5) I’m glad I was able to read the trilogy straight through without stopping. The series contains plenty of unfolding revelations, keeping us on the edges of our seats. Was it difficult to refrain from giving plot spoilers during those times between the release of each book of the trilogy? 

Horrendously difficult, especially during interviews. I had to keep in mind that a lot of people hadn’t read the first book yet. Even now I get emails asking me to explain some of the allegorical or symbolic references hidden in the story. I always respond, but I ask the recipient not to share it online because I know there are people who are re-reading the series trying to figure those things out for themselves. I wouldn’t want to spoil it for them. In a few years, I’ll probably put a page up on my website with a big “Spoiler Alert” and lay out everything that I placed into the trilogy. A lot of people have picked up quite a bit of it, but so far nobody has gotten it all. I think it makes for a fun read.

6) What was your favourite part of the writing of the trilogy, and what was most difficult? 

My favorite part was framing the characters and then just letting them run away with each scene. So many times they did or said something that caught me completely off-guard and only did I realize later that it was perfectly in character. That’s how life is. Husbands, wives, children, or friends will do something that surprises us, but we look back later and realize we should have seen it coming. The hardest part was keeping the story to the length the publisher required. I signed a contract that said each book would be 135,000 words and managed to come in close to that with the first two books. “A Draw of Kings” was another story. I knew it would be tough given the three different plot lines and I wasn’t wrong. I blew right through the word limit and had to spend three months cutting the manuscript to size. It felt like pulling porcupine needles out of my skin. In the end we settled on 142k, but I would have liked and fifty thousand words even so.

(I can imagine how hard that must have been. I admit I would have liked that story to go on and on.)

Patrick Carr was born on an Air Force base in West Germany at the height of the cold war. He has been told this was not his fault. As an Air Force brat, he experienced a change in locale every three years until his father retired to Tennessee. Patrick saw more of the world on his own through a varied and somewhat eclectic education and work history. He graduated from Georgia Tech in 1984 and has worked as a draftsman at a nuclear plant, did design work for the Air Force, worked for a printing company, and consulted as an engineer. Patrick’s day gig for the last five years has been teaching high school math in Nashville, TN. He currently makes his home in Nashville with his wonderfully patient wife, Mary, and four sons he thinks are amazing: Patrick, Connor, Daniel, and Ethan. Sometime in the future he would like to be a jazz pianist. Patrick thinks writing about himself in the third person is kind of weird.

Here is my review of A Cast of Stones
I've also written reviews of The Hero's Lot and A Draw of Kings but recommend that you don't read these until you finish the book which came before, as they contain plot spoilers from the prior stories. 


Cast of Stones, A (The Staff and the Sword) available from Amazon
 Hero's Lot, The (The Staff and the Sword) available from Amazon
  Draw of Kings, A (The Staff and the Sword) (Volume 3) available from Amazon

Sunday, June 29, 2014

'Forever Friday' by Timothy Lewis

Forever Friday: A Novel After a devastating divorce leaves Adam Colby heartbroken, he is not sure how he can put the pieces of his life back together. He wonders if even God can make sense of the mess that remains-until a package of mysterious postcards that direct Adam to the story of Gabe and Huck Alexander. Drawn by her desire to find a true soulmate, Pearl "Huck" Huckabee breaks a turbulent engagement with her fiancé to marry Gabe Alexander, a man she's known just a few short weeks. Wanting to celebrate and protect their love, Gabe mails her a meaningful postcard every week-beginning in 1926-for the next sixty years. Designed to arrive on Fridays, each postcard not only contains an original poem, but holds precious truths, the sum of which answer the universal question: what makes a marriage last? As Adam begins to uncover the Alexanders' secret, he records Gabe and Huck's extraordinary romance. It's a process that will change his life forever.

MY THOUGHTS:

This struck me as a very different novel from the norm, but at first I couldn't figure out why. After some thought, I decided it was because of the instant, intense 'love-at-first-sight' theme between Gabe and Huck, the two main characters. I'd just finished reading a string of novels in which the romantic duo were antagonistic toward each other until the plot drew warmer feelings out of them. As that scenario may be what we come to expect from romances, I was wondering why 'Forever Friday' seemed to work. I've heard stories of love at first sight in real life, but would have expected it to come across as a bit bland in a story context, without the emotional drive to keep us wondering how they will end up together. In a way, we had it handed to us on a platter. Boy meets girl when he serves her at a fish market, and wow, sparks fly. What's the fun in reading that?

It's very well written as a historical story. The details of life in that 1920s flapper/jazz period made me feel drawn straight into that decade, especially its colourful, fun aspects. In some ways, it's more like reading the fond biography of somebody's grandparents rather than a novel.

Perhaps our interest is maintained by the other main character, Adam, whose story takes place in a later time period. He's a recent divorcee, still caught up in sadness and regret, who discovers a pile of old postcards which reveal Gabe, Huck and their love story. The intrigue comes as we wonder what he's going to do with this historical find, and how he'll let it shape his life. I was definitely wondering what he was going to learn from this old couple.

I'm certainly glad I read it, as it challenges me to think outside of the box when it comes to the appealing factor without relying on normal story structures we may be accustomed to.

Thanks to Net Galley and Water Brook Multnomah Publishers for my review copy.

3.5 stars

Forever Friday: A Novel available from Amazon

Thursday, June 26, 2014

'The Book of not so common Prayer' by Linda McCullough Moore


Do you want to pray deeper, longer, more fervently? Do you want to move from the same old, same old prayer routine to a radical, challenging, and inspiring prayer life? Do you want to put more meaning and effort into your conversations with God?
The Book of Not-So Common Prayer is a handbook that combines spiritual insight with practical action steps you can take to change your prayer habits—and change your life. In describing her own transformation from a person who prayed on the run to a person who prays four times a day, Linda McCullough Moore builds a compelling case for a life founded on prayer. Drawing inspiration from the ancient practice of meditation, Moore shows how any time spent in prayer will transform the time you spend with your family, at work, or in play. She then delivers a well-supported methodical process you can follow to experience more depth, meaning, and joy in your prayers. A masterful blend of useful models and stories of transformation, this beautifully written, evocative, and intelligent handbook will inspire you to embark on a new adventure in faith . . . one step at a time.
MY THOUGHTS:
Linda McCullough Moore was inspired by the life and habits of Brother Lawrence to ramp up her prayer life, and shares the results in this interesting and varied book. None of us want to utter routine prayers. We all long for heart engagement, and she's full of ideas of how to achieve this.

I like her emphasis on the fact that God does not bless us based upon our personal efforts but completely because of who He is. It takes a burden off us that we shouldn't have ever taken on. She urges us to view prayer as a spiritual connection with our living God, rather than pulling teeth. For those who face prayer as a chore to get over and done with, she challenges us to see that it should be approached as natural, because it's the way human beings were wired.

Moore shares her creative ways of going about it. She collects prayers of the saints, she prays scripture, she sings, contemplates, meditates, and uses the written word, candles and charts.

Some of her advice will suit those searching for something practical, such as telling us to accept that our 'to do' lists will never be complete, so while we're whittling away at them, we'd do well to keep our main focus on our relationships with God and others. She recommends ways to make time for prayer and reflection, when it already seems to be full of other things.

Every so often she made statements which made me think, such as suggesting that instead of commiserating with people who tell us that they've been too busy to pray, we should encourage each other to keep pushing in. It should be the most important aspect of life, which she backs up by quoting 1 Samuel 12:25, 'I would never sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you.'

It's an easy, helpful read with moments of sudden conviction.

I received a copy from Net Galley and Abingdon Press in return for an honest review.

3.5 stars

The Book of Not So Common Prayer: A New Way to Pray, A New Way to Live available from Amazon

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

'Invisible' by Ginny Yttrup

Invisible: A Novel
Ellyn DeMoss -- chef, cafĂ© owner, and lover of butter -- is hiding behind her extra weight. But what is she hiding? While Ellyn sees the good in others, she has only condemnation for herself. So when a handsome widower claims he’s attracted to Ellyn, she’s certain there’s something wrong with him. Sabina Jackson -- tall, slender, and exotic -- left her husband, young adult daughters, and a thriving counseling practice to spend a year in Northern California where she says she’s come to heal. But it seems to Ellyn that Sabina’s doing more hiding than healing. What’s she hiding from? Is it God? Twila Boaz has come out of hiding and is working to gain back the pounds she lost when her only goal was to disappear. When her eating disorder is triggered again, though she longs to hide, she instead follows God and fights for her own survival. But will she succeed? As these women’s lives intertwine, their eyes open to the glory within each of them as they begin to recognize themselves as being created in God’s image. 
  
MY THOUGHTS: 

 I love it that the four main characters are instruments of healing to the others, even though they each battle with grief and shame in their own ways. Ellyn the chef loves her food, especially gorgeous globs of butter, and wonders whether she loves food more than she loves God. Sabina is dealing with depression, and even though staying in bed is no longer satisfactory, she can't muster a spark of energy for anything else. Twila is a young woman recovering from anorexia and trying to deal with the hurt that triggered it. Miles is a doctor who couldn't save his wife's life.

I found myself challenged by the notion of what it really takes to be a good friend. It may mean we need to behave in a way which annoys the other person. It is easy to choose the path of least resistance, wanting to come across as 'nice' by going along with our friends and letting them do what they claim they want to. But true friends risk objections, annoyance, rejection, and coming across as pushy. It takes intuitiveness and a willingness to be unpopular. This comes across in the friendship between Ellyn and Sabina especially.

Some readers may think this is a book about 'nothing', because each woman's heartache goes largely unseen by the wide world. Those who don't understand may think, 'Why don't they just snap out of it and use a bit of will power?', but although the characters' behaviour may seem trivial, their issues have the potential to ruin their lives. They may cause and prolong their problems by the patterns of their thoughts, but this makes it no easier to stop.

It's interesting to see how food is all tied up with the emotions. Hurting people, such as overweight Ellyn and anorexic Twila, may use it to try to control or help deal with their issues.

The overriding theme is that everyone is made in God's image (Imago Dei) and carries their own inner beauty which should not be concealed. For example, the story makes it clear that Ellyn's excess weight does not detract from her beauty at all, and is only a potential problem as far as her health and self-concept is concerned. It shows that part of being created in God's image is reflecting Him to others, yet it's hard to do this when you're mired in your own pain. Although we may have different manifestations of hurt, the underlying issues may be highly similar. For this reason alone, the book would probably strike a chord with every readers and deserves a high rating.

'He wants you for Himself. He wants to enjoy you, lavish you with His love, and complete the good work He's begun in you.' That goes for all of us who read the book.

4.5 stars

  Invisible: A Novel available from Amazon

Monday, June 23, 2014

Interview with Lynne Stringer




Today, it's my pleasure to introduce Lynne Stringer, the Australian author of an intriguing fantasy trilogy. The first of her trilogy, 'The Heir' has recently been awarded the literary classics seal of approval (see here). I asked Lynne the following questions.

1) The genre you write is enjoying lots of popularity – young adult fantasy series which may especially appeal to teenage girls and young women. What, in your opinion, sets your Verindon series apart?

The Verindon trilogy shares common elements with other stories in this genre, with themes such as forbidden love mixed in with sci-fi/fantasy and people who aren’t what they seem on the surface. I think every author faces the task of making their take on what are usually established elements and making them his or her own.
I think the nature of one particular group of people in my story gives it an edge that isn’t like anything I’ve seen in this scenario (I can’t go into specifics – spoilers!) and I have put plot twists in all three books to keep the audience guessing. The trilogy does seem to have a broad appeal; I have teenage fans and also some grandparents who are fans, so its reach is multigenerational. Hopefully that means I’ve done something right.

2) The three books in your trilogy were published reasonably close together. Did you have the entire plot determined in your head before you started work on the first? Or did some developments in ‘The Crown’ and ‘The Reign’ surprise you, even after the publication of ‘The Heir’?

I had the major plot development – the relationship between the two leads – sorted out before I sat down to write The Heir. However, other elements took me by surprise. While much of The Heir was worked out in my head before I wrote it, a great deal of The Crown was written off the cuff. The second half of The Reign was also a late development, to such an extent that I didn’t realise one particular character was going to die until I was writing that scene.

3) What was your inspiration for the trilogy?

My husband thinks cheesy pick-up lines are funny, not that he ever uses them on anybody. (Lucky for him!) One day when we were driving to the Sunshine Coast for a holiday, he was trying to make me laugh by telling me his favourites. I was trying to think of some too, but I’m not good at that kind of thing. The only one I could think of was the line where the guy says to the girl, ‘you are the only reason I was put on this planet’. As I thought about that, I started to think about what it might mean if someone said that to a girl and meant it literally. He really was only on that planet because of her. Before I knew what was happening, the story was swirling around in my head and I spent most of our holiday thinking about it.

(That's such a romantic inspiration. I love it.)

4) There have been many discussions about the benefits of using writing tools and programs such as Scrivener. Did you keep your stories filed tidily with the aid of something like this, or do you tend to store it all in your head or notebooks?

No, I don’t even like writing outlines! I usually create the majority of it in my head, at least as far as major plot developments go. Some of the minor stuff takes me by surprise, but I always know exactly who my characters are and what motivates them before I start writing. 

(Glad to hear I'm not the only one.)

5) Have you based the appearances or personalities of any of your characters on anybody living? Do you keep images of what you believe they look like?

Dan, the male protagonist, is entirely a work of fiction, but Sarah, the female protagonist, is based on myself. When I originally thought of the idea I enjoyed imagining how I would behave in that circumstance. This may be a major reason why I wrote the books in first person from Sarah’s point of view.

6) Your main character, Sarah, is introduced to readers as a fairly reserved person, even though her mind is always racing. It’s great to see characters like her, especially as introverts are getting more positive and empathetic exposure in the media than ever before. Is her personality one you can relate to personally? What strengths do you think introverts bring to the world?

Yes, she’s pretty much me, although I think she’s braver than me. She’s also been through a lot more trauma than I have, and still comes out strong in spite of that. I think it’s important that people see introverts in that light; as people who are brave, although perhaps not always in the conventional way we see bravery.

(I completely agree. She's an excellent heroine.)

7) Finally, I believe you are a prolific reader. How has reading impacted your life?

It has had a profound impact on my life. I’m a writer and my father is also a writer. My brother writes a little too. So where did this talent come from? Obviously, somewhere in my father’s line. However, his parents, who lived in England, were from a poor socio-economic background. They didn’t have the opportunities that I had or that my family now has. In fact, a little further back, we know for a fact that some of my ancestors were illiterate. More than likely, my talent for writing comes from one of them, and I mourn for the stories that they probably told, but I will never get to hear, because they spent their lives digging holes to earn enough to feed the little ones waiting at home and never learned to read and write.
Learning to read and write is of utmost importance. Not only does it allow communication and learning on a higher level, it also allows these stories to be captured so that future generations can enjoy them. It’s wonderful to think that, the more people learn to read and write, the less likely we are to lose their stories.  

(Several of my British ancestors from the 1800s were illiterate too. It's good to be reminded not to take the privilege of being able to read a good book for granted.)

Lynne is offering a free copy of 'The Heir' to one commenter, who will be chosen randomly.


Lynne Stringer has been passionate about writing all her life, beginning with short stories in her primary school days. She began writing professionally as a journalist and was the editor of a small newspaper (later magazine) for seven years, before turning her hand to screenplay writing and novels. Lynne currently works as a professional editor and proofreader. She lives in Australia with her husband and young son.
The Heir available from Amazon
 The Crown (Verindon Trilogy) available from Amazon
The Reign available from Amazon

Thursday, June 19, 2014

'Oath of the Brotherhood' by C.E. Laureano

Oath of the Brotherhood (Song of Seare, #1)
In a kingdom where the Old Ways hold fast and a man's worth lies entirely in his skill with the sword, Conor Mac Nir is a scholar, a musician, and a follower of the forbidden Balian faith: problematic for any man, but disastrous for the son of the king.When Conor is sent as a hostage to a neighboring kingdom, he never expects to fall in love with the rival king's sister, Aine. Nor does he suspect his gift with the harp (and Aine's ability to heal) touches on the realm of magic. Then his clan begins a campaign to eliminate all Balians from the isle of Seare, putting his newfound home in peril and entangling him in a plot for control of the island that has been unfolding since long before his birth.Only by committing himself to an ancient warrior brotherhood can Conor discover the part he's meant to play in Seare's future. But is he willing to sacrifice everything--even the woman he loves--to follow the path his God has laid before him?

MY THOUGHTS: 

Interestingly, I began this book shortly after reading a few articles by authors who claim to have observed a self-focused, entitled tendency among young people today. Conor, although brought up as Crown Prince, is the least entitled young man you could find. He knows very well that he must adapt to his circumstances rather than expecting them to cave in to him, and his circumstances get rough. Being raised in the school of hard knocks stands him in good stead for the Firein brotherhood, who certainly never mollycoddle anyone. He earns respect with his hardworking, diligent attitude, especially since, by nature, he'd prefer to be a scholar and musician.

Aine initially comes across as more sure of herself and confident than Conor; mature in her outlook for a teenager, but she has a lot of responsibility, being gifted as both a seer and a healer. She's celebrated as the Lady Healer of Lisdara. What I appreciated most about her story is her discovery of the balance she needs to find in her life, between exercising her special gifts and seeking the face and love of the Source of them. 'She needed to spend her time in prayer and study of Scripture, and quiet reflection, so that she could hear Comdiu's whispers among the cacophony of other demands.'

 This story is a good example of why fantasy can be the perfect vehicle to tell a Christian tale. The things that happen can paint a very vivid picture, such as the way in which Conor and Aine deal with the Sidhe (evil spirits) on different occasions. There are also several descriptive passages about how God (or Comdiu, as he is known), chooses to communicate with his followers. Lord Balus' words to Aine could be meant for us all. 'Have faith in me, seek my wisdom, accept my guidance, it is not for you to know what is to come.'

The huge cast of characters may be hard to keep track of, if you don't either keep referring to the glossary at the back of the book or write your own. New people are introduced thick and fast, sometimes every few pages, until well past the halfway mark. As many have similar, hard-to-pronounce names, you must keep a record somewhere. There are hundreds of members of the brotherhood alone, and sometimes I felt we were introduced to every single one of them. The same goes for the people back in the kingdoms.

There are lots of lyrical lines, such as Conor's reflection that calling both himself and Meallachan musicians was like classifying both a raindrop and an ocean as water. I like the respect paid to the arts, such as music and storytelling. "All good stories are true. Even if they were completely made up by the storyteller, there is something in them that resonates with us."

I received a copy from Net Galley and Tyndale House in return for an honest review

3.5 stars

Oath of the Brotherhood: A Novel (The Song of Seare) available from Amazon

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

'Sweet Mercy' by Ann Tatlock

Sweet Mercy
When Eve Marryat’s father is laid off from the Ford Motor Company in 1931, he is forced to support his family by leaving St. Paul, Minnesota, and moving back to his Ohio roots. Eve’s uncle Cyrus has invited the family to live and work at his Marryat Island Ballroom and Lodge.
St. Paul seemed like a haven for gangsters, and Eve had grown fearful of living there. At seventeen, she considers her family to be “good people.” They aren’t lawbreakers and criminals like so many people in her old neighborhood. Thrilled to be moving to a “safe haven,” Eve is blissfully unaware that her uncle’s lodge is a transfer station for illegal liquor smuggled from Canada.
Eve settles in to work and makes new friends, including an enigmatic but affecting young man. But when the reality of her situation finally becomes clear, Eve is faced with a dilemma. How can she ignore what is happening right under their very noses? Yet can she risk everything by condemning the man whose love and generosity is keeping her and her family from ruin?


MY THOUGHTS:

Eve Marryat is happy and relieved to be leaving a rough neighbourhood with her parents, to live at her uncle's lodge and guest house. She is idealistic bordering on judgmental. No, she's crossed that border without being aware. She sees life as a no-brainer. Good people do good things, bad people do bad things. If she tends to look down her nose at certain people, it's because their wrong decisions stand out so clearly to her. 

Her lofty attitude makes this story even more intriguing, when she finds out about the bootlegging business being run practically under her nose. It's hard for her to admit that the motives of some people for choosing to be involved are not only easy to understand but pretty hard to refuse. Could doing the wrong thing actually seem the more noble, no-brainer choice in some circumstances? Most shocking of all to Eve is the question of whether she herself could be convinced to turn a blind eye.

The time period is a perfect choice for examining moral dilemmas. The Great Depression was driving honest people to be desperate, while at the same time, many longed for a simple drink to drown their problems but the Prohibition prevented them. A 'silly' law brings out the best and worst in people.

I like the ups and downs in Eve's conscience, as she yo-yos between self-righteousness and overwhelming guilt. Although she hates to think her moral standards are failing her, the story makes us wonder whether she is, in fact, becoming a kinder and stronger person than she used to be when she thought she was a paragon. The town is aptly named Mercy, and the implicit question is whether Eve is behaving closer to God's heart when she lets mercy guide her instead of judgment.

I loved Eve's relationship with her parents, and the love and trust she knew she'd receive from them. Her father, Drew Marryat, was dyslexic, although that term wasn't used back then, and he felt over-shadowed by his two outwardly successful older brothers. He was a sympathetic character and I was surprised when it was revealed why the relationship wasn't as rosy in Eve's mind as it came across on paper. It gets us wondering whether our hang-ups may be based on reality or in our own heads.

What I liked least was the unsatisfactory wrap-up for my favourite character. Without revealing plot spoilers by naming him, he was the one person whose story I found even more compelling than Eve's. Having my heart touched so deeply by this character, I hated being left to wonder about his future from the vague hints we were given. It made me groan, because I wanted so much more for him, as his part of the story was pivotal to the plot.

However, it was a quick and compelling read which made me think.  

4 stars

Sweet Mercy available from Amazon

Monday, June 16, 2014

Guest Post with Susan Fish


 Today, I'd like to extend a warm welcome to Susan Fish, whose novel, 'Seeker of Stars', is a great historical Biblical read with living, believable characters which draw you right into the story. 

Susan Fish is a writer and editor living in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.  She is a wife and mother of three teenaged children. Her first novel Seeker of Stars was released by David C Cook Communications in 2013. She operates Storywell (storywell.ca), an editing business that helps writers tell their stories well. Susan has been recognized locally and nationally for fiction and poetry and has two published books of Bible study curriculum.

I offered Susan the opportunity to share one of her 'a-ha' moments, and she came up with this encouraging post which I think will speak to many of us on a deeper level. Here's Susan.


I’ve always been drawn to the story of the still, small voice. That story in I Kings 19 after Elijah has the encounter with the prophets of Baal and Ahaz and Jezebel and he’s terrified and exhausted on every level. I like that God tells him to eat and drink and lets him sleep, and then has him eat again. God takes really good care of this exhausted prophet. And then he presents his complaint to God and God invites him to stand at the edge of a cave on the mountain of God, Mount Horeb. And so, Elijah stands there through a strong wind and an earthquake and a fire. But God is not in any of those things. God is in what comes next: a still, small voice.
And so it was for me, although I hesitate to tell it. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in the mantle and was ready to answer God’s questions in a new way. When I heard it, I felt cared for rather than awed but I am afraid that if I tell this, I will give it away. Can we all agree to take off our sandals here as we stand on holy ground? To wrap our faces in our mantles?
It had been a year of earthquake and wind and fire. People I loved deeply on death’s door. A painful misunderstanding between siblings. Uprooting our family to move to a new home.
When you move into a new house, you need to find new places for your stuff. You need to find new stuff for your place. Or you think you do.
Over and over again, I sensed the still, small voice of God telling me: you have what you need. You already have what you need.
On the most basic level, that can mean taking a hard look at what’s in the refrigerator and creating dinner out of stray vegetables and lone sausages, instead of heading off to buy all the required ingredients for a meal. It meant hanging a rug on a wall instead of buying a new painting for a blank space. It meant repurposing and rethinking stuff we already had rather than always going to look for something new.
But it also meant something deeper: it meant that even in the wind and the earthquake and the fire, God was enough. I already had what I needed. Elijah felt like he was the only one on God’s team but in that moment, God showed him that there were many others who were faithful and that their faithfulness together with God’s unfailing faithfulness was indeed enough. It was already having what they needed.
It’s actually been transformative. To know that I already have what I need leads to calmness, gratitude and creative thinking. It makes me resourceful and watchful for what God might be up to. It makes me rest and it makes me ready for whatever God has in store for me next.


Susan, thanks so much for sharing with us, and encouraging us. I'm sorry to hear the last year has been difficult and heartbreaking for you in so many ways, but I wouldn't have missed this encouragement that we all have what we need.

Seeker of StarsA Seeker of Stars -  As a boy, Melchior is fascinated by stars but has rigid obligations to apprentice with his rug-making father. When his life is radically changed, he is propelled onto a new path full of danger and glory in pursuit of a special star. The journey leads Melchior to reflect on life and death, dreams and duty, and to find unusual reconciliation within his family and with the God he never knew he sought. Destined to become a classic, Seeker of Stars offers a fresh retelling of the story of the magi, and will appeal to people of all ages and faiths.

Susan has offered to give away copies of 'Seeker of Stars' to two blog visitors. Please leave a comment to be in the draw, including your email contact details so we can let you know if you win. Winners will be chosen randomly.


Seeker of Stars available from Amazon

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

'All for a Story' by Allison Pittman

All for a Story
Monica Brisbane loves being a modern girl in the Roaring Twenties. Her job writing a gossip column allows her access to all the local speakeasies in Washington, D.C., where she can dance the night away--and find fodder for her next article. But when the owner of the "Capitol Chatter" newspaper passes away, Monica wonders what will happen to her job, and the lifestyle she loves.Max Moore may hold the title of editor-in-chief for evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson's paper, "The Bridal Call," but Aimee calls all the shots. So when Max learns that his uncle has passed away, leaving him all his earthly possessions, Max resigns and heads to D.C. Determined to take over the "Capitol Chatter," infuse it with his values, and turn it into a respectable paper, Max is soon bumping up against the equally determined Monica Brisbane.Under Max's direction, Monica embarks on her most challenging assignment yet: infiltrating and reporting on the Anti-Flirt Society. Though reluctant at first, as Monica meets and mingles with the young women of the club, she begins to question the innocence of her flirtatious lifestyle. And when romance begins to blossom between Max and Monica, she must choose where her loyalties lie: with the young women of the society or the alluring pull of the speakeasy and its inhabitants.

MY THOUGHTS:

Max Moore's uncle died and left him his newspaper, which Max wants to spruce up with stories of virtue and heroism. Miss Monica's Bisbaine's column, Monkey Business, is all about the vice and sneakiness of the underworld, and she feels her position at the paper is threatened by his intentions.

I found it difficult to muster much sympathy for Monica. She had so much attitude, a stirrer and troublemaker all through. She was disrespectful of Max's position as boss and full of backchat. She put a huge emphasis on material luxuries, scorning honest, plainer girls like Anna and Zelda. And most annoying of all, she kept going out with that contemptible Charlie, even when she found out he was cheating on his wife. Apart from the moral implications, I was hoping she'd get tired of the patronising way he called her 'Mousie'.

I liked Max a lot more, but was puzzled that he'd fall head over heels in love with Monica so quickly. He kept mentioning his glimpses of a warmer, more vulnerable side to her, but I kept flipping back, wondering where he got them from. His attraction seemed to be based on her looks, her witty comeback lines and her small stature, none of which reveal much about character.

Even at the end, I'm not convinced theirs would be a match that would last the distance. She admits to herself that she flounders whenever she can't fall back on the flirting and sassy talk she's built as a way of life. She's not the sort of person I can imagine slipping easily into the role of devoted wife and later mother, making unwise, impulsive decisions until the very end. If you're into Jane Austen, it's like having a role reversal, with shallow Isabella Thorpe made heroine of Northanger Abbey, instead of Catherine Morland. 

My favourite bits were Monica's flashes of conscience, which made her squirm. I like the honest principles of Alice Reighley, the president of the anti-flirting society. It's revealed that other girls who live more simple lives envy the lavish and flamboyant lifestyle Monica presents in her column. The story reveals this to be a farce built on lies, glitzy possessions and exaggerations. In reality, Monica's lifestyle is lean and hungry at the best of times. 

This book is written in a cheerful tone, with some cute quotes such as 'His smile at their reaction produced a pair of dimples that might have been a pair of bullets, seeing how they brought the girls to clutch at their hearts.' If the novel had focused on Max's cleaning up of the paper (and we never get to see the public reception to that), and his relationship with his uncle, I might have enjoyed it more than focusing on the romance, which is a weird thing for a romance lover like me to say.

3 stars

   All for a Story available from Amazon

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Reading makes you a virtual traveller

I was reading a long essay by Anna Quindlen entitled, How Reading Changed my Life. She mentioned early on that when she was a child with no means of getting anywhere new or different, curling up in a chair with a good book made her feel like a world class traveller. Years later, when she became a successful writer, with many opportunities to travel widely, she figured out something surprising. It turns out she enjoyed the actual experience less than the virtual travel she took from her armchair when she was young.

My favourite quote from that essay is, "I went to Tara and Manderley and Thornfield Hall, all those great houses with their high ceilings and high drama, as I read Gone with the Wind, Rebecca and Jane Eyre."

I knew exactly what she meant. When I visited England in my teens, the sight of London's buildings from the air as we approached Heathrow deeply touched my heart. It felt like a homecoming, even though I'd never been there before. At the time, I wondered if the British blood of my ancestors was being stirred by the sight. In retrospect, I think it was more likely to be because I was familiar with the sights through reading books. They looked like the streets where Wendy and her brothers lived in Peter Pan, or Michael and Jane in Mary Poppins. And I was to find that boarding the underground tube trains was like entering a Monopoly game or classic novel.

That sense of recognition has happened at other times too, with places there is no way I could possibly have any blood ties with, such as America, Asia and Africa. They seem to got wedged into my psyche with just words upon a page. It's happened with the stories I've read within the last few months. There was a fantasy trilogy which struck chords with me, reminding me of places of earth such as Spain or the Middle East, which I've never visited. Next was a story about a brother and sister who travelled from New Jersey, on the east coast of the United States, to Portland on the west. Although I've never been there, I still recognised the changing features of different states they passed through, purely from reading, hearsay and television.

With all this in mind, I was interested to come across an article entitled, 'Your Brain on Books.' It tells us that reading about an experience is almost the same as living it. Our brains actually believe they have experienced the things we read about. They make no distinction between reading about an experience and actually living it. In fact, whether you are reading about a place or standing there in the flesh, the same neurological regions of the brain light up when examined. That seems like substantial proof that the worlds of novels can enter our thoughts and feelings to that extent.

Okay, I've got to admit that given the choice, I'd rather visit fantastic, exotic, far-away places than just read about them. I'd pack up a suitcase and go in flash if I could. However, I'm glad it's been shown that reading is a far, far better substitute than I'd imagined. They tell us to write about what we know. It turns out that each of us, especially if we're readers, may know a far lot more than what we ever thought.

The quote that says, "I read not because I don't have a life but because I choose to have many" may be truer than we think. And Emily Dickinson, who lived as a recluse in her own house, wrote, "There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away, nor any coursers like a page of prancing poetry."

Monday, June 9, 2014

'Let God Talk to You' by Becky Tirabassi

Let God Talk to You: When You Hear Him, You Will Never Be the Same
Becky Tirabassi, bestselling author of Let Prayer Change Your Life, shares that it really is possible to hear from God. Most Christians long for a closer connection with God--to talk to Him and hear His voice. They believe He wants to guide their lives, but get discouraged when He seems far away and silent. Becky Tirabassi encourages readers that God wants to talk to them, and shows them how to recognize His voice. She invites readers to connect with God in a two-way conversation that will satisfy the longing of their souls to know Him and be loved by Him.

MY THOUGHTS:
I've come across other books with similar titles that have been more intimdating, because they seem to have been written by spiritual giants who pray 5+ hours/day, have frequent out-of-body style visions, claim to have heard God's voice boom audibly and regularly deliver spot-on prophetic messages for people. This book is like a breath of fresh air for those of us who are passionate and sincere about receiving from God, but live more mundane lives.

I love Becky Tirabassi's emphasis that God really longs to speak to each of us, so we don't have to beg, plead or come up with the right 'Open Sesame' style phrase. She uses the phrase 'God Talks' which may appeal to those who find 'prayer' has become a more daunting word. She likens hearing God communicate to learning a foreign language, but rather than French, German or Korean, we may think of it as a language of spiritual impressions.

I'm sure many of us will be pleased to find that we've hearing from Him anyway, in sudden flashes of clarity or inspiration which we may have brushed off. Tirabassi expresses it this way. "I wait and listen for God to talk to me by impressing helpful or encouraging thoughts upon my heart and mind which always address my pending or present concerns." And the book is full of enough personal anecdotes that are bound to prompt memories when similar, subtle things have happened to us.

My only small gripe is when she spoke about our reading material, specifically telling us what to choose. She rattles off spiritual growth books, books on healing and biographies of missionaries and business persons, but doesn't mention fiction. I guess as both a reader and writer of fiction, the omission from such lists always makes me sad. A well-written novel has the power to produce the same results and deserves a spot on the lists. Although Becky Tirabassi isn't the only person who has ever left it off, I hope her omission won't inspire people to deliberately shun fiction as of no value.

On the whole, I loved this book and appreciate her warm, loving style. It's obvious that she has been involved in several divine appointments and I'm sure I'll be returning to this book over again.

To finish with a few quotes from it, "People who spend time with God have access to His power. People who don't, don't", "You'll never be greater than your prayer life" and "No-one but God can show you your 'stuff' and make it look so ugly, yet so conquerable at the same time."

4.5 stars

Let God Talk to You: When You Hear Him, You Will Never Be the Same available from Amazon

Monday, June 2, 2014

Interview with characters from 'Imogen's Chance'


Welcome to the final blog tour post for 'Imogen's Chance'. It's also the first interview/guest post for this blog. As I'm hoping to have more from now on, I thought it would be perfect to start them rolling with my own characters. I want to thank those who have sent questions for my characters to answer. For everybody who has sent one or enjoyed the book, I hope you'll sit back and enjoy this post to wrap up the blog tour.

Iola - Imogen, where did you fit into the American High School pecking order? We all know they are full of cliques. There are geeks, nerds, sporty guys, cheerleaders, chess and more.

Imogen - Hi Iola, that was the big question that drove me crazy for a long time. I've noticed, from talking to my brother-in-law who works as a High School chaplain, that school clubs are quite different in Australia. My school was full of exclusive clubs called sororities.

We students attended what they call 'sorority parties', which reminded me a bit of the job interviews I've done in latter years. The heads go off to whisper and write down their thoughts about you on pieces of paper. Then, if you impress them, they offer you a bid to join. We all knew that decisions were made based on who the sorority heads thought would make their group look good. Sometimes there were sorority 'legacies' in which girls whose mothers, aunts or sisters had been members received invitations based on nostalgia, keeping others out.

All I did, toward the end of my time at school, was try to keep a low profile. I did get invited to join the Chemistry club once, which pleased my dad, who's a doctor. It soon became clear to me that I didn't have the same passion or aptitude as the others, and they all knew it. Toward the end of my schooling, I ended up in the library reading books.

Jeanette - Imogen, who is your favourite author, and why?

Imogen - Hi Jeanette, I find it hard to single out one particular person, but visiting Australia in my past made me curious about your country's literature. I noticed that I couldn't find many Australian titles on the shelves of our bookstores in New York City, so I grew fascinated to look for Australian fiction. As my parents and brothers had gone off as missionaries to remote Alice Springs, I started with classics such as 'A Town Like Alice' and 'We of the Never Never'. It stimulated my appetite stories about your beautiful country, and my interest hasn't stopped.

More recently, I've discovered Australian Christian fiction authors. Somebody gave me 'The Greenfield Legacy' so I started with those four authors and branched off from there. I don't know what to think of Paula Vince's writing but her characters are so easy for me to relate to, it feels strange and even a bit bizarre.

Susan - Asher, now that you're well again, are you going to return to your old job, or look for something completely different?

Asher - Hey Susan, that's a good question. To be honest, I've been enjoying the break and haven't given that a lot of thought yet. Actually, it's only been a little while since my boss from Lewis and Thorne stopped sending me urgent assignments to do from home. It was a drag and I definitely don't want to go back. I'm wondering whether to do some further study and go for something entirely different. Dentistry, maybe. Anything but computer software engineering.

Seth - Yeah, dentistry would be perfect for my little bro. He'd have a captive audience. Go on, be a dentist. You could talk to your heart's content.

Asher - Very funny. I think my brother missed his own calling. He should have been a comedian instead of a chaplain.

Seth - Sometimes, in my job, you have to be both. Seriously though, Asher is the sort of person who can find a way to be anything he wants to be. We're all proud of him and will keep encouraging him to make sure that whatever it is will tick all the right boxes for him and inspire him.

Julia - Marian, how does it feel to have a new grandson named Hayden? I can see why they chose that name, but does it hurt a bit, after all that happened with your husband?

Marian - Hi Julia, wow, I'm flattered to have been asked a question. He's a gorgeous little baby, and I don't think it's just grand-parental bias. Seth and Jodie are wonderful parents, so I guess it's natural that he would be. We all love him, and he seems to enjoy being passed around from hand to hand for cuddles at every family gathering.

As for your question, no, I have no problem with them naming him Hayden. I always loved my husband and I'm sure it would have touched his heart very much. The more I think about it, the more it strikes me what a trendy, modern name it is with its English origins. Most of the people I counsel and attend church with seem to have named their children after people from the Bible. That gets a bit old after awhile, so I'm glad we have something different.

Asher - Mum, that sounds a bit rich coming from a lady who named her sons Seth and Asher.

Marian - That's enough cheek from you. Sorry, on second thoughts, keep it coming. You can joke as much as you like. I'm taking on Imogen's decision to never tell you to be quiet again.

Seth - Well, I think you'll both be sorry for speaking too soon, so I'm not making that decision.

Asher - Not that it matters if you do or not, because I'm not going to keep quiet anyway.

Dale - Imogen, what is your favourite daydream?

Imogen - Hi Dale, my favourite daydream has always been to have a husband and children of my own to care for. After growing up with hostile foster brothers and sisters who would come and go, I really want the experience of a close-knit family unit who will stay bonded through thick and thin. 

Now we're up to the part where we share some of Asher's Thank You notes which didn't make it into the novel.

Asher - Hey, this is a bit embarrassing. I was just mucking around and being silly. Nobody cares about all that.

Yes, some reviewers mentioned that the Thank You notes were one aspect of the book that they appreciated most of all. So here are the ones which were taken out, just for this interview post.

Dear Five o' clock Shadow,
Thanks for reminding me that even I've started losing hair fast, it's bound to grow back one day.
Cheers,
Ash

Dear Bananas,
Thanks for giving my left shoulder a challenge with your peels. I think it's feeling a bit less sore now. Not all that long ago, even holding you in my left hand while I peeled you with my right would have hurt. Thanks that I get to eat you as my reward for peeling you. And thanks for your peels. At the moment, I can ask family members to put them in the bin for me, and they don't say, "Do it Yourself." I can milk this for all it's worth. You're a pretty awesome fruit.
Cheers,
Ash
 
Dear America,
Thanks for all the stories Imogen is telling me about you, inspiring my desire to want to travel. You're giving me even more incentive to want to get well so I can visit you some day. Thanks for the places she used to hang out at in New York. Thanks for Central Park, Times Square and the Statue of Liberty. Thanks also that she's in Australia right now, because she's a really encouraging and fun person to have around. I suppose I could have made this a 'thanks Imogen' letter, but I find it easier to thank things and places rather than people.
Cheers,
Ash

Dear Imogen's Freckles,
Thanks for being so cool and subtle. Thanks for showing me that small things add great character to people. Thanks for being spread so evenly and perfectly across her nose, making me feel cheerful whenever I look at you guys. I suppose this is a really stupid letter but I have nothing better to mention today.
Cheers, 
Ash

Thanks again. I hope you enjoyed this post.

 

  Imogen's Chance available from Amazon

'The Road to Testament' by Eva Marie Everson

The Road to Testament
 Ashlynne Rothschild grew up with the proverbial silver spoon in her mouth. Smart and sassy, Ashlynne expects to inherit the "Park Avenues" magazine empire. But her family has other ideas. Feeling she needs to understand the world beyond, they ship her off to Testament, North Carolina, for a little learning about life." William Decker grew up in a small town with dreams of big-city success. But when the spoiled Ashlynne falls under his authority, her big city ways aren t so appealing. Ashlynne s attempt at learn normal ends with a wounded spirit, while William's reach for the stars attitude ends with a wounded heart. When these two journalists go head to head, the race is on to see if either will succeed in getting what they really want.

MY THOUGHTS:
Ashlynne is prodded out of her comfort zone and sent to work on a country town newspaper to develop some 'people' skills her grandma thinks she may be lacking. She accepts the challenge, although William Decker, the grandson of her grandma's old partners, is almost more than she can handle.

From the blurb, I'd half expected Ashlynne to be a stereotyped entitled princess type of character who looks down her nose at everyone and needs to be taken down a peg or two during the story. Was I wrong! I was really pleased to find that she was never stuck up at all. Rather than considering herself superior, she had her fair share of deep insecurities and scars from her past, and certainly didn't think of herself as better than anyone else.

It turns out the hero, Will, had the same expectations as my initial ones based on first impressions, but his were all wound up with personal reasons from his own unhappy past. Not having the benefit of seeing things from her point of view, it took longer to convince him of his mistake. And of course, his coming to see the light is part of the fun of this story.

What a character she was, proving that we all have own brands of knowledge gleaned from our unique experiences, and shouldn't judge each other for it. She can identity the brand of Will's aftershave from a whiff as he walks past, and she knows exactly what to do with her napkin on a silver service table and how to apply expensive make-up. Yet she doesn't know enough to take her pile of dirty clothes to a laundromat, and it took her awhile to figure out that her pork dish came from a pig.

I think reading about a woman like Ashlynne is good for those of us who need to see that we may all be pretty similar deep down, where it counts. She over thinks, sometimes tries too hard to fit in,  and goes through every email for impression management before sending it. I can relate to all that, although I consider myself nothing like her in most particulars. And best of all, the girl has a quick wit.

A highlight for me was every scene between Ashlynne and Will. Their dialogue is everything a romance novel should have. They start off trying to be civil to each other, then gradually warm up without wanting to admit it. They mask their flirting with semi-hostile attitudes, both knowing very well that the chemistry is there. It almost sizzles through the pages at times.

The other highlight was the serious nature of the themes. Both characters find themselves in situations where their moral fibre is tested, when the right thing to do isn't the easiest or that which will win them most friends. Even in the twenty-first century, acts of extreme courage are called for.

I received a copy from Net Galley and Abingdon Press in return for an honest review.

4.5 stars

The Road to Testament available from Amazon