Friday, August 29, 2014

'The Good Day Baking Company' by Adele Wyn Eddy

 22880926
Lorena Woods escapes the confines of an environment that's become harsh and oppressive. She's determined to search out a new and better life. She has a few unusual mindsets too that go along on her passage of discovery. Mindsets like the need to analyze people's teeth, taking ice cold showers, and a mild obsession with dreaming up new cookie creations.

Lorena's adventurous journey involves some strange job placements in which she meets some odd characters, most are friendly, a few dangerous. But, after a heartbreak in Texas and a bad accident force her to move back home, Lorena struggles to hold out hope for herself and her future.

This is when Lorena learns who she really is, when she finds a dear friend near death having been attacked by a savage maniac who then begins stalking Lorena too.

Lorena holds tightly to the lessons of her beloved father who died when she was still a child. She knows what she needs to do, but she questions her own strength and nerve? Will she have the courage and intelligence to face the dangerous situatuon head on? And, what about her past and her own inner hindrances that keep tripping her up? Lorena can't stop until the road is clear and until, hopefully, freedom is the essence of every breathe.

Come along on a wonderful, sometimes hilarious trip with a young resilient woman whose heart you'll see is bigger and almost stronger than all of the hurdles of life.


MY THOUGHTS:
Lorena Woods is a resilient young woman who lost her beloved Daddy when she was only seven, but always carried deep inside the stories he used to tell her to help guard her heart. One of her life mottoes was his advice, 'Always look where you're going and you'll be fine.'

She narrates her own story, taking us through a string of tedious jobs and tricky relationships until she finds her sweet spot. Although Lorena's life experiences are often less than desirable, she retains her sense of optimism and always shrugs off hassles with some droll, philosophical observation about the nature of life. Lorena worked at a dry cleaner's shop, an egg farm, an auto factory assembly line, as a trucker and a deliverer for a catering company, just to get by.

I loved this sweet, wise girl who sees work as the means to an end, and enjoys nothing more than staying home, fiddling around with cookie recipes, adapting them to make them her own. She also loves to read and deeply ponder the books. Her reflections about whatever is happening in her own story often lead into some fascinating contemplations. I looked forward to these little segues and asides. From any other character, they might have slowed a story down, but from Lorena, they add spice and character.

An unusual thing about this book is that, when you think about it, a big part of the plot had more to do with her best friend, Deb, than it did about Lorena. From other authors, Deb might have been the main character with Lorena as a quirky secondary character, but it works so well with Lorena as the central focus, with her fresh way of explaining things. There are some twists and action too, so get ready for it.

Lorena begins and ends the story by explaining that some strokes of good fortune don't have to be striven for but are just dropped in your lap. That's what happened with this book, which I didn't know about but found its way to me. It deserves full marks just because it's so easy to take a lot of good on board from Lorena's attitude.

I sometimes like to finish a book review with a quote or two from the book, and this one has an abundance to choose from, as Lorena collects quotes as I do, knowing that they may come from unexpected sources. I think I'll go with Aunt Ruby's, 'Gravy is like happiness. You can't store it up and put a label on it. You've got to learn to take it as it comes, moment by moment,' and Cousin LD's, 'I might not be a rich man, but I've got a millionaire's view. I'm no philosopher, but I've got time to think things over. And I may not be a preacher or saint, but I sure know every day how blessed I am right here.' Then, of course, there's her memory of her Daddy, saying, 'Self pity is something to be avoided at all costs, because it is closely related to fear and shame. You have to take the garbage out every day or the house will start to smell bad.'

Thanks to the author for a review copy. I was not required to write a positive review.

5 stars
   

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

'Too Pretty' by Andrea Grigg


 
Too Pretty
 
When being beautiful means you are constantly criticised, how would you react? Ellie Paxton has endured more than her fair share of criticism - simply because she's beautiful. Frustrated by a long string of empty relationships, Ellie makes a vow not to date for six months. The same day, she is rescued by the handsome but enigmatic Nathaniel. Thinking it's unlikely she'll ever see him again, Ellie unburdens herself to him and then they part. Wanting a fresh start, Ellie leaves her country town and moves to Sydney. An unexpected reunion with her best friend from high school leads her straight to Nathaniel. Appearing reserved and aloof, she discovers this is merely his way of dealing with his intense attraction for her. But what about her promise? Ellie has another pressing problem - no job. Frustrated, she gives in to an impulse which could jeopardise any hope of her having a relationship with Nathaniel. Will he be able to forgive her? And when will Ellie learn to 'let go and let God'?

 MY THOUGHTS:

I knew I was going to love this novel from the very first chapter. I suspect that if Jane Austen had lived in twenty-first century Australia, she might have written stories a bit like Andrea Grigg's. They both use sparkling, witty dialogue and wry observations to bring every character to life, the nice and the nasty. Even the minor characters are fully fleshed out and interesting. And like Austen novels, several significant moments in 'Too Pretty' take place at dances. It begins with a country, CWA party, there's a bush dance part of the way through, and a very formal fundraiser ball toward the end.

The heroine, Ellie Paxton, is stunningly pretty, but experiences misery which normal females wouldn't imagine. Men just value her for her looks, girls are hostile and jealous, and employers don't appreciate the distraction she causes. She's used to being accused of wanting to show other females up just by standing there. Can you imagine being on the verge of feeling sorry for somebody with such a 'problem'? Ellie's best friend, Annabel, pushed me over with her sympathy. 'People don't have a clue what you go through.' Hmmm, okay, it's good to see how the other side live with such drawbacks.

One day, Ellie meets handsome Nathaniel, who is cool and apparently unimpressed by the encounter, unlike most men she's used to facing each day. The parts told from his point of view show us never to assume that we may guess what our more reserved friends are thinking! His back story, revealed gradually, is heart stirring, causing me a few tears. It helps us to forgive his occasional silly-billy moments, especially as many women may imagine him as a young Colin Firth.

Having read several American novels recently, I liked being drawn back into my own country, with its jetties, pavlovas, banged-up old utes and winter in the middle of the year. And like Jane Austen novels, our own brand of Aussie etiquette helps shape the plot. It's a book that can't help us pondering about the insidious nature of the beauty industry. Even though we pretend somebody's looks don't matter, the subject looms huge. And even though it's caused Ellie such hassle, she still wants to apply her make-up carefully and doesn't want Nathaniel (or anyone) to catch her with frizzy hair or sleepy panda eyes.

The lengths she's prepared to take to solve her problem is bound to get a reaction from readers.

I had a fun interview with Ellie here on this blog.

5 stars

Monday, August 25, 2014

Interview with Lesley Turner



 I'm delighted to welcome this week's guest, my friend and fellow South Australian author, Lesley Turner. I'm sure her phenomenal story of how her writing career started will encourage and even amaze you.  You may have heard of some writers rising to the occasion to fill an obvious need. This is definitely one of those stories. Welcome, Lesley.
 
1)      Please tell us about the two biographies you worked on with your cousin, Ken.

I became involved with Ken’s story when he came to stay in my home in 1998.  His daughter had been murdered and it was five years before her accused killer was arrested and tried.  When he was acquitted of the murder because of a lack of evidence to convict, Ken felt that a grave injustice had occurred and was looking into a Civil Court action for wrongful death, much like the O J Simpson case in America. 

I became his sounding board and assisted him by writing letters to politicians, judges, lawyers etc. and researching legal matters pertaining to the case.  There had been no precedent in Australia at that time. ‘Halfway to Justice,’ released by New Holland Publishers Australia in March 2005, was written for the trade market.  Ken had publicly forgiven the killer and although not ignoring the forgiveness factor, we did not specifically focus on it.  It became evident that a Christian version needed to be written so, ‘The Power of Forgiveness,’ was released by the same publisher in February 2009.

‘Halfway to Justice’ didn’t end well, but we were not to know at the time that God was not finished with this story.  The first book ended after Ken, who had become very ill with chronic fatigue syndrome compounded by post-traumatic stress disorder, was forced to abort the civil action.  I started to write ‘The Power of Forgiveness’ a few weeks after the first book launch.  It was essentially the same story minus some of the not so nice content, plus a lot more about forgiveness; what that looks like in the context of a horrendous event.

I was having great difficulty ending the second book but God had the ending all planned out.  Without giving it away, in case anyone reading this would like to borrow it from the library, the final twist arrived.  

(I'd like to add that I have 'The Power of Forgiveness' on my bookshelf. It's a tremendous testimony, after all the hard work.)
 


2)      You were daunted, at the outset, when Ken asked you to consider helping. That’s easy to understand, for a project of such magnitude. Can you share any God-incidences along the path which confirmed that you were on the right track?

There were many more God-incidences than I have room for here but the following two instances confirmed it for me.

Firstly, I thought Ken had lost his mind asking me in the first place.  I’d never contemplated ever writing a book even though I had been an avid reader most of my life.  We were walking one day when he posed the question and asked me to pray about it.  I did that, all the while questioning God’s (and Ken’s) sanity in placing this challenge before me.  Early one morning, about 6 weeks later, I woke up with a splitting headache.  After swallowing too many headache pills to no effect, I was driven to my knees begging God to take the headache away.  I found myself yelling out, ‘Okay, okay, I’ll write the book.’  Instantly the headache was gone.  Later that morning, while out walking, Ken dragged me over to a bench, sat me down and asked me if I’d thought about whether I would write the book or not.  I said, ‘Funny about that,’ and proceeded to tell him what had happened earlier that day.  His response: ‘Oh good!  I was walking on the beach yesterday and He told me to ask you again.’  Ken had not said a word since he’d initially asked the question, giving me plenty of time and space.  Needless to say we were both gob-smacked.  God’s sense of humour never ceases to amaze me.

Secondly, the documents needed to research a story of this magnitude are notoriously difficult to get.  Ken discovered that the cost of photocopying the criminal trial transcript (809 pages) was so prohibitive, he couldn’t afford it.  He left the prosecutor’s office downhearted.  The following week a messenger service delivered a brown paper parcel to the unit where he was staying.  It contained the complete trial transcript, but no return address so he couldn’t even thank the sender.  This was before I became involved and was the first document I read (even before I’d agreed to write the book or knew anything about Ken’s desire to have his book written).  While I was researching and writing, it became obvious that I needed so much more.  Witness statements, police running sheets into the investigation, the committal trial transcript, the civil action transcript, the coroner’s report, photographs from the crime scene and the autopsy, letters to and fro from the legal eagles involved in all facets of the case and so much more became available without any cost to us.  Only God could have orchestrated these things and His timing was magnificent.

(All I can say is, "Wow")


3)      Are you able to share a bit about the biography you are working on at the moment? What tips do you have for writers who may love the idea of helping others share their true stories, but have cold feet?

My current WIP is about a friend who was writing her story when diagnosed with multiple melanomas which metastasized, taking over her whole body.  A divorced mother of four in her late forties she followed the call of God and became a missionary when doors opened for training.  She had no money, little or no education, and no idea what God had in store for her.   Literally on a wing and a prayer, she flew to Brazil with her youngest daughter where she set up an orphanage for girls who were consigned to the streets of Belo Horizonte because their parents (living in shanty towns or Brazilian ghettos) couldn’t afford to keep them.  Sixteen girls were rescued, fed, educated, given medical help and shown much love.  She also became an advocate in the Brazilian courts for children being adopted into families around the world. She returned to Australia after suffering a stroke and continued in ministry to the marginalised people of our society until she died in 2010.  She was a testimony of the extraordinary things that God can do with someone who loves Jesus and will say, ‘Here I am, send me.’

My advice for others who may feel like they want to write true stories but may have cold feet is that you will never know what God can do through you unless you give it a go.  People struggle with decisions which may just need someone’s story to help them make that decision.  If you feel God is calling you to write in this genre, He will equip and empower you if you trust in Him.  God won’t ask you to do something and then leave you alone.  Fix your eyes on Jesus and go for it and look for people or groups who can help you.


4)      You also feel called to encourage other writers, and you co-lead a writing support group. Do you have suggestions for others who may want to start similar groups? What works for you and what doesn’t?

I’d recommend that every writer becoming involved a group of like-minded people.  Our group runs from my church.  Two friends and I started it around 2007/2008 and we discuss reading, writing, editing and almost anything related to writing/reading.  We have guests periodically, whose stories encourage our members in their own journey.  Paula has spoken at our group.

One of our original members, who was on the verge of giving up her dream to become a published author was so encouraged by my story that she decided to give it one more shot.  With some assistance from members of the group she became a published author.  I’ve had the privilege of editing her second manuscript a few months ago. 

We meet for a couple of hours after church on the first Sunday of the month.  We’ve facilitated a couple of workshops and a four session course about the journey into writing.  It gives me such a buzz to be involved in helping others to experience the very best they can out of their God-given gift.  For me, it’s tithing the gift God has given me – paying it forward. 

(I loved my afternoon with this group. Their enthusiasm and support for each other shines out.)

5)      It goes without saying that you never would have agreed to Ken’s request if you hadn’t been a lifelong reader with love and respect for the power of the written word. Do you remember what first hooked you on reading?

I thank God for parents who encouraged me to read from a very young age.  I still have the book of Bible stories that Mum read from.  I’d decided to become a nurse when I grew up (which never happened) and I remember a series of about 12 books about a nurse that Mum, Dad and my grandparents gave to me for Christmas and birthdays until I had them all.  Later, as a teenager I graduated to forensic pathology and crime stories, both fiction and non-fiction.  Although I devoured almost any book I could get my hands on, true crime, fiction crime, biographies and autobiographies were particular favourites. 

When I discovered John Grisham I thought I’d died and gone to reading heaven. I own a copy of every book he has ever written and have read many of them several times.  I also enjoy Lynn Austin’s books amongst other authors too numerous to mention. 

Since becoming an author I have purposefully broadened my horizons to encompass other genres.  I’m loving the work of Aussie Christian authors that I’ve discovered through Christian Writers Downunder, Facebook and other groups.  My TBR pile never seems to reduce much but please keep writing my writer friends, so I won’t ever run out of reading material. 

(My the best thing about TBR piles. We never really want them to shrink. Thank you, Lesley, for coming and sharing your writing journey and encouragement ministry with us.)

Thank you Paula for some great questions and the opportunity to share my journey. 

Lesley is a single-again mother of two children and six grandchildren.  She volunteers at her local church as an administration assistant. Lesley has had two books published, both biographical and co-leads a writing support group at her church.  She is an avid reader and loves to help other writers by encouraging, editing, reviewing or using her experiences to assist where needed.  Her current WIP is another biography and she has plans to start writing a devotional in the near future.
 




Sunday, August 24, 2014

'The Butterfly and the Violin' by Kristy Cambron


18850688

 Today." Sera James spends most of her time arranging auctions for the art world's elite clientele. When her search to uncover an original portrait of an unknown Holocaust victim leads her to William Hanover III, they learn that this painting is much more than it seems.

"Vienna, 1942." Adele Von Bron has always known what was expected of her. As a prodigy of Vienna's vast musical heritage, this concert violinist intends to carry on her family's tradition and play with the Vienna Philharmonic. But when the Nazis learn that she helped smuggle Jews out of the city, Adele is taken from her promising future and thrust into the horrifying world of Auschwitz.

The veil of innocence is lifted to expose a shuddering presence of evil, and Adele realizes that her God-given gift is her only advantage; she must play. Becoming a member of the Women's Orchestra of Auschwitz, she fights for survival. Adele's barbed-wire walls begin to kill her hope as the months drag into nearly two years in the camp. With surprising courage against the backdrop of murder and despair, Adele finally confronts a question that has been tugging at her heart: Even in the midst of evil, can she find hope in worshipping God with her gift?

As Sera and William learn more about the subject of the mysterious portrait--Adele--they are reminded that whatever horrors one might face, God's faithfulness never falters.

MY THOUGHTS:

When I first saw that this book's theme is the atrocities of World War Two, I almost skipped it, thinking it would be too confronting and devastating. But positive reviews have been popping up so often that I got used to the sight of the beautiful cover and finally caved in. It turns out to be a story with two threads running through it; a historical and a modern.

Sera James is an emotionally frail art gallery owner with a passion for finding one particular painting since she was a little girl. It's the striking portrait of a beautiful young prisoner in a concentration camp. William Hanover is the oldest son of a family empire. His grandfather has bequeathed his entire estate to the painting's owner, and William has no clue who it is. Together, he and Sera strike up an unlikely alliance to find out, each for their own reasons.

Identifying the subject is the easy part. She was Adele Von Bron, whose story runs counterpoint to theirs. A talented violin player, Adele was toasted as 'Austria's Sweetheart' until she's discovered offering aid to a poor Jewish family and taken to Auschwitz for treason. Her musical ability saves her life, as she's assigned to an orchestra of female prisoners who are forced to play for the army.

I'm in two minds about this book. I found some of the dialogue and facial expressions were a bit heavy-handed, especially in Sera and William's part of the story. Oneliners, funny names and snide or snarky comments went flying as people were 'spitting out their words' or 'trying not to roll their eyes' (I've never thought of eye rolling as an involuntary response). Her skin often 'tingled with his touch' as she tried not to notice the cool scent of his cologne. And then there's the literary one tear 'rolling down her dimpled cheek.' Much as I found both Sera and William to be likeable characters, it was hard to draw myself into their whirlwind romance, fraught with its misunderstandings. Maybe I just wanted to get on with the mystery of what they were searching for.

I sometimes felt Adele just managed to miss being one of those stereotyped heroines who have everything; beauty, talent, courage and an innocence which never fades. Her relationship with Vladimir, her beloved, is very special though. There is so much heart in this novel to balance out the lapses in style and execution. The biggest pull to keep reading is definitely the mystery of who owns the painting, and how will Sera and William's story finally be connected to Adele's? Family and personal history sleuthing make some of the best plots. When all the links were finally revealed, I could see what a lot of planning and research went into it.

Overall, I think the author succeeded in bringing that heartbreaking time period back to life, making me shake my head to think that my parents were very young children while all these unimaginable, barbaric acts were being committed by people who never turned a hair.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and Net Galley for giving me a copy to review.

3.5 stars

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Electronic versus print books - which are better?

This is the question readers never seem to tire of discussing, so I thought I'd conduct my own personal road test. Some people get very passionate about the subject, especially the die hard traditionalists on the print book side. ('I will never, never, NEVER turn to the Dark Side and purchase one of those ... THINGS!) As I considered myself totally unbiased at the outset, I started with lists of pros and cons for both. Although I'm both a reader and an author, I've decided to write this just from the reader's point of view. The introduction of eBooks has meant huge changes for authors and publishers, (not to mention forests and the ecology) but those are subject for other reflections down the track.


PRINT BOOKS

1) Beautiful Covers
It may be true, when reading eBooks, I do miss the aesthetic value of being able to twist my wrist for a glimpse of a lovely cover, and being able to see the same waiting on my bedside table. I know we can click and see the cover image on some eBooks (black and white on my kindle) but it's not the same.

2) Lovely, heady smell of the pages.
I do like the printer's ink fix. Brand new, hot off the press books are the best, but even old antique books have a musty aroma of their own which I quite like. The basement of Adelaide University's Barr Smith Library is full of it, as are several second hand shops. It's the smell of fun escapes through the pages of books.

3) Far easier to lend to friends.
It's always a shame to say, 'You'll love this book, but it's on my kindle, so I can't lend it to you.'

4) It is easier to flip back to find previous references.
I know we can do this on kindle, by exploring various 'locations' but it's far more fiddly and takes about five times as long. In fact, I just bought the print version of a book I have on kindle, just because it's easier for the list of declarations and affirmations I like to keep close at hand.

5) You can treasure the handwriting of beloved previous owners in margins and inscriptions.
This is a fair point so I might as well put it forward. If you like that sort of thing, check out this post about marginalia.

6) If you're intending to rough it at some outdoor camping spot with no electricity for a long period of time, print books are a far better choice.
But I do have to say that charging the kindle isn't as big an issue as I'd expected it to be. The charge last for hours and a bar along the top always keeps us aware of how much time we have left. Then, if you're near a power point, you can read while it's charging anyway.

Okay, it's time to look at the other side.


E-BOOKS
1) You can purchase books instantly from your home and read them straight away.
I've been known to do this before even getting out of bed. To me, it's a definite advantage.

2) You can carry 1000+ books around in your handbag, all on the one light device.
 This has been a huge advantage on holidays, overnight stays and even day outings. No more filling valuable space with books. No more asking myself, 'What should I take to read?' I can decide when I get there.

3) You can arrange your virtual shelves and groups neatly, to the point of putting individual books on more than one shelf.
It's impossible for a print book to be on more than one shelf at the same time. No more searching for a particular book on real shelves and fishing around to see whether it's been crammed to the back behind others.

4) You can save lots of money! 
Even full priced kindle books are most often a fraction of the price of their hard copy counterparts. I've been given several freebies from book review programs, and there are always specials coming up in book groups such as Inspired Reads, Pixel of Ink, Book Bub or The Vessel Project, when excellent books are being sold for just a few dollars.

5) They are easier to read in bed.
My husband mentioned this one, so I thought I'd go with it. The kindle is easier to hold onto and turn pages with a click, all the while retaining a comfortable position. I guess we all know what it's like if we're finally settled cosily on our side, then have to move awkwardly to accommodate the turning of a page. Hey, this may seem like a minor consideration, but it's worth adding.



I considered whether on not to add the bath tub to either list. I've attempted to take my kindle in a ziplock bag to have a soak in the tub, but it doesn't feel right. As relaxing as reading in the bath is, neither a print book nor an e-book would stand the test of submerging. I decided not to add this on either side.


So those are the lists. It would appear that print books have won, six points to five. Last week, one of my rare trips down to Koorong Bookshop made me think again. I was amazed by what I saw while I was wandering around. There were hundreds of familiar titles and covers on display. They were all books I've read on kindle. As I said, several were free, while others cost me two dollars at the most. So I turned them over, just to see what I would have been paying had I bought them from Koorong at full price. The range was between $15 and $25 for each one.

There is no way in the world I could have bought them all!! In all honesty, that one point (#4 on the eBook list) clinches it for me. I am a reader. My electronic reading device has given me the opportunity to read far, far, far more books than I ever would have been able to read had I limited myself to print books. Some of them have been excellent and unmissable, yet I would have been forced to have missed most of them if not for my e-reader. I can't, in all good conscience, agree to put print books ahead of e-books. I am a reader. They enable me to read more. End of story.

Looking more closely at those lists, it strikes me that many of the points in favour of print books are merely aesthetic and sentimental anyway, while the points on the e-book list are more practical.  So I've learned a few lessons through this road test.

1) Never assume that one side is a worthy winner just because of numbers. You must weigh up the value of each of the pros and cons, as some may far outweigh others. Quality over quantity wins.
 2) Mr Kindle, you are a champion.


  


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

'Radically Normal' by Josh Kelley

Radically Normal: You Don't Have to Live Crazy to Follow JesusDo you feel that your life is pleasing to God--almost? When you hear about pastors, missionaries, and popular speakers, do you feel just a bit second-class, as if your life appears lukewarm and not as radical as theirs?

You're not alone. A vague sense of guilt is common in the church. We know God's grace is the key to eternal life, but it's so much more than that--it's the key to a joy-filled walk with Him every moment. Josh Kelley shows why you don't have to give away everything you own to be a fully committed follower of Jesus Christ. He demonstrates that...


God is crazy about you right where you are. You are just as important as any other member of Christ's body. The work you do every day can be pleasing to God.
Discover the joy of radical obedience to Christ in your normal, everyday life.


MY THOUGHTS:

This book wasn't exactly what I expected from the title and blurb, but still a good read. I'd expected something along the lines of considering our Average Joe status radical, in these days when everyone seems to strive to be special. However, its message turns out to be about not veering too far on either side of the 'spiritual' spectrum, complacency or obsessiveness. Normal may be well-balanced.

Josh Kelley describes how he'd grown up unconsciously classifying people as either 'normal' or 'super' Christians, and he used to strive to work his way to the top of the super Christians.  He examines the trap of being obsessive. It's easy to think we're zealously doing just what God would approve of, yet this may be based on guilt, obligation, legalism, living up to expectations or other ulterior motives. He challenges us to do our work just because it is our joy to serve God the way we do. 

He conducted an interesting study on joy, looking at joyful people in the Bible, deciding whether they were 'spiritual' or 'earthy' in their approach to life, and entering the results in a database. I'll leave his conclusion, as to whether either sacred or secular activities trump the other, to anybody who may choose to read this book. Other questions, such as whether spending money on ourselves is less holy than giving it away, are examined too. It's a great read for people who worry about how to balance legalism and worldliness.

The stand-out quote for me may be, "The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." This, of course, differs from one person to the next. I appreciate how he warns us that we may not be able to earn our living through our calling. He's had moments of finding that out himself (and so have I). Many books give the impression that if you follow your heart, money will follow. Not always the case.

Thanks to Net Galley and Harvest House for giving me a copy to review.

4 stars

Monday, August 18, 2014

Interview with Marcia Laycock

Today it's my pleasure to introduce one of my fellow authors from the International Christian Fiction Writers blog, Canadian fiction and devotional author, Marcia Laycock. As I'm very interested in international places and the people who live there, I was pleased to be able to ask her these questions. Welcome, Marcia.
 

Do you have a defining moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
I began writing when I was very young but when I was eleven years old an aunt gave me a copy of Emily of New Moon by Lucy Maude Montgomery. That’s when I discovered you could call yourself a writer and I decided that’s what I’d be some day.

(I love Emily of New Moon too. I can understand that for you, being a fellow Canadian, it would have been a very significant book.) 

You’ve written devotionals and fiction. Which, in your opinion, is the easier of the two to write? Do you have a favourite genre which you prefer to write and read?

I don’t really think either fiction or devotionals are easy. No writing is easy to me. Though there have been times when something has come to me so clearly it flows onto my computer like water, those times are rare.

I love reading a good mystery or suspense story and also enjoy fantasy and sometimes sci/fi.  I also love what is called literary fiction – I like work that is deeper than a quick read with some scripture thrown in. I’m writing my third fantasy novel now and am loving it. :)



Your weekly devotional column goes out to over 4000 subscribers. How long have you been working on it for? Do you have any favourite or more common themes? How can people sign up to receive it?

I began writing the faith column, which I named The Spur (from Hebrews 10:24) in 1989 when my husband and I moved to Alberta and he took on his first pastorate. He was told he had to write a weekly column for the newspaper and it was due the next day! He was quite overwhelmed with it all so asked if I could write something. I took my first devotional to the editor, he said it was fine and that was the beginning. Wish it was always that easy!

I don’t really have a common theme, though there are strong threads of grace, mercy, forgiveness – all those wonderful themes that are so foundational to the Christian faith.

You can sign up by clicking here




You’ve always lived in a climate far colder than mine. Could you describe your part of the world to blog readers? Does it come forth in your writing at all?

The cold is almost like a character in some of my work. It is such a core piece of life lived in the north, especially places like the Yukon. I wrote a short piece called Yukon Rituals once so will just give you a short excerpt from it –

When I ventured out I knew I risked frozen lungs if I removed my scarf, but I could breathe out heavily through its wool and hear my breath crackle. I listened to the chortling ravens, their raucous voices punctuating the thin stillness with incongruities, tropical noises mocking the cold. I watched their movements, their black bodies slipping through ice fog, their ragged-edged wings pulsing like whispers from a nether-world. They seemed the only creatures able to survive with comfort in the midst of these harshest of elements. The Huskies appear to only tolerate the cold. Sleeping it out, curled in their mass of fur, noses tucked under tails, the dogs’ only distraction was a curled-lipped gnawing at chunks of frozen fish. No other creatures stirred.

Each day I chopped wood. Choosing the biggest stumps gave me the illusion of strength. At –60, every molecule of water in wood is crystallized. The blow of my axe splintered the fibres instantly. Tossing the brittle pieces into a pile, I expected them to shatter, like bits of fragile glass but they fell, not with the thud of wood, but with the clack, clack, clack of castanets. 

(That's a very revealing excerpt. I love it. Those of us in the Southern Hemisphere may only imagine coldness of that calibre!)



You’ve had an illustrious career. What advice would you give to anybody who feels called to write, yet is finding it difficult to get started or push through?

If it is truly a calling you will not be able to resist it. Just begin. Don’t worry about genre or format or audience. Just write. The rest will fall into place. Writing is meant to change you, not just your readers. Ted Dekker said something at this year’s Write!Canada conference that I think is wise – “We’re like kids playing at making sand castles that will be swept away – we are left with what happened in us.”

(Terrific answer, Marcia. I'm sure that many people have either found it to be true, myself included, or will find it true. Thank you for coming to share your thoughts and wisdom with us here.)


Saturday, August 16, 2014

'A Table by the Window' by Hillary Manton Lodge

A Table by the Window: A Novel of Family Secrets and Heirloom Recipes The youngest heir to a French-Italian restaurant dynasty, food writer Juliette D’Alisa has spent her life negotiating her skill with words and her restaurant aspirations. When her brother Nico offers her a chance to open a restaurant together, she feels torn—does she really have what it takes? Should she risk leaving her journalism career?

After the death of her grandmother, Juliette discovers an antique photograph of a man who looks strikingly like her brother. As the truth behind the picture reveals romance and dark secrets, Juliette struggles to keep the mystery away from her nosy family until she can uncover the whole story.

Inspired by her grandmother’s evolving story, Juliette resolves to explore the world of online dating. To her surprise, she finds a kindred spirit in Neil McLaren, a handsome immunologist based in Memphis, Tennessee. With a long-distance relationship simmering, Juliette faces life-shifting decisions. How can she possibly choose between a promising culinary life and Neil, a man a world away in more ways than one? And is it possible her Grandmother’s story can help show the way?


MY THOUGHTS:
Juliette D'Alisa is in her late twenties and destined to be a foodie in some capacity, coming from a family such as hers. She's trying to figure out whether she should grasp the opportunity to help her brother set up a new restaurant, or keep her job as a food writer with the opportunity to branch out into morning TV segments. She also faces the sudden challenge of trying to keep up a long-distance relationship with a man who seems to tick all her boxes. To thicken the plot, a mysterious old photo has shown up in her recently deceased grandmother's possessions, of a man who looked the image of one of Juliette's brothers.

The D'Alisa family is fun to read about. With their French and Italian gourmet heritage, they really do live to eat, instead of eating to live. I love how they give their full attention to food, appreciating every subtle flavour and texture of what goes into their mouths. The recipes at the end of several chapters make a nice touch. We see the characters enjoying something delicious during the story, then get the opportunity to cook it for ourselves if we wish to. How's that for a multi-dimensional novel? The only thing I could think to add would be scratch and smell pages.

I like the way books with foodie themes challenge me to get enthusiastic about cooking. I was impressed by Juliette's habit of caring for herself by cooking good, yummy food, even during the parts when she lived alone. I was reading on my kindle, and have several locations recorded for risotto, French chocolate cake, lemon scented polenta cookies and lavender honey pound cake. The D'Alisa family came across as so suave and svelte, but I'm sure I'd be extra pudgy if I ate the way they did.

The story shows the food business, although a labour of love, may be particularly hard on relationships, requiring its own type of sacrifice. Juliette's experiences can't help making us think about the pros and cons of working at jobs we dread facing, just because of the apparent prestige and esteem. I like the decision she came to. Her story got me thinking about how our positions in the family may impact our personalities, simply because each sibling has different treatment and expectations according to their birth order. Like Juliette, I share the experience of being the youngest sibling.

The story seems to end at a sudden spot, where we don't know what will happen to her and her loved-ones next, but as it's meandered gently along, just like life itself, it's not that big a surprise. I think the second book in the series is soon to be released, and I can't help being curious.

Thanks to Water Brook Multnomah and Blogging for Books for giving me a review copy.

4 stars. 


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

10 Top Books I'm not sure I want to read for various reasons

I'm going with this week's topic from The Broke and the Bookish, which took me by surprise. I'm used to talking about books I have read, not ones I haven't. I'll go for those which I've fully intended to read, because they are modern, raved about and sure to be well-written. But for reasons I'll try to explain, I've just putting off getting stuck into each of these.

1) The Casual Vacancy

The Casual Vacancy I adore the Harry Potter series but it's sure to be an impossible act to follow. As an admirer of JKR, I don't want to be one of those readers who grumble, 'I don't think it's as good as her earlier work.' To judge from comments and rumours I've heard about the different style she's taken on, and the bleakness in this story, I wouldn't be surprised if I was disappointed.

2) The Book Thief

The Book Thief I'm fascinated by the concept of this book and am certain that Marcus Zusak probably deserves his astronomical rise to fame. What puts me off is anticipating the grief and sadness, when Liesel, the young heroine, inevitably loses the people who have become dear to her. Rumour tells me there are quite a lot of those. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if she's the last character left standing. (I don't know, so don't take it as a plot spoiler.) I'm getting more tender-hearted lately, and when I get emotionally involved with people, I prefer them to live.

3) The Fault in our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars Same as above. I know this has wowed so many people, not only teenage girls, but a story of young love under such tragic circumstances is something I think I can do without. Sorry, Hazel and Augustus, I'm sure you're both lovable and brilliant, but that's the problem.

4) The Help

The Help At the moment, I've had my fill of stories of ill-fated friendships and relationships which are doomed just because of some topical, racial issue such as the colour of a person's skin. I'd expect something in the same ilk as 'The Colour Purple' or 'To Kill a Mockingbird', and I'm not sure I want to face another.

5) Angels and Demons

Angels & Demons  (Robert Langdon, #1) I read 'The DaVinci Code' with illustrated photos and thought it was quite a fast-paced, exciting read, although I think Dan Brown took major liberties with his interpretations of history. I think one novel with a plot based around a mysterious symbol with Robert Langdon as the hero is enough for me.

6) The Other Boleyn Girl

The Other Boleyn Girl (The Tudor Court, #2) I'm sure this would be extremely evocative of the Middle Ages, but as we all know the sort of man Henry VIII was, I don't think I can muster the heart to share the romantic thoughts and expectations of Mary, Anne or Catherine, as they anticipate a mutually satisfying relationship with him.

7) The Thorn Birds

The Thorn Birds I was curious to read this when I was a little girl but my mum kept telling me I was too young. When I'd grown old enough, I found my curiosity to read 'The Thorn Birds' had dissipated, and it never returned. There had been other books to read in the meantime, which led me down different literary paths. Maybe that happens when we are put off for long enough.

8) Myrren's Gift

Myrren's Gift (The Quickening, #1) This has been recommended to me by several different people, but I've kept putting it off because I know I'd be committing myself to not just one book but a whole series of thick books which I'm not sure I want to put aside the time for when I always have a long TBR list. Ironically, I've stumbled across other books on my own which have got me hooked on long series of thick books, but as it was accidental, I just went with the flow. Maybe that's one problem with taking recommendations.

9) Caleb's Crossing

Caleb's Crossing I probably shy away from this one for similar reasons as 'The Help.' The blurb sounds fascinating, but it also gives me the impression of a young, meaningful friendship which has to be dashed on the rocks because some outside authorities tell the hero and heroine, 'This isn't supposed to be what happens between the two of you.' I may be wrong, but I keep wanting to delay facing it in case I'm right.

10) The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency  (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #1)
I'm not sure why I keep avoiding this one. It's just that I've seen it and read the blurb several times and thought, 'I'll have to read that one day. Alexander McCall Smith sounds like a witty, intriguing author.' Then, for whatever reason, I find something else to read instead.

You might like to share some books you keep putting off reading yourself, or try to convince me to read one or more of those on my list.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Interview with Cecily Thew Paterson

As many of you know, I am a fiction author and homeschooling mother. For this reason, it's especially good to welcome another hardworking Aussie mum who juggles her writing with caring for her family, and has such a lot of good to show for both. Cecily Thew Paterson has written a variety of fiction and non-fiction, including a 3rd prize winner for Australian Christian Book of the Year and another which recently came within a cat's whisker of winning the Amazon Break Through novel award.


Welcome Cecily. It's lovely to have you on my blog.

How do you juggle your working life with looking after your four children? What does a typical week day in your household look like?
 
It’s a tricky thing. My children span 11 years so they all have very different needs, plus I have one with autism who has more needs than most, so I have to be very disciplined with using the available time that I have. Basically, I can’t afford to get writers block. And if I get 15 minutes, I have to use it. For example, I started answering these questions at 9.45. I’m going out at 10. We’ll see if I can beat the clock.
Our days run to a pretty standard schedule. We’re not that ‘flexible’ family that does whatever it feels like, mostly because autism doesn’t really work that way. I get ready for school, go to school, do the morning jobs with the preschooler, have some afternoon writing time, get afternoon tea, cook dinner, supervise homework, get people to bed, and all the while make sure everyone is emotionally looked after while at the same time figure out the next plot point in my novel.

(Wow, that's making the most of a day.)


You've chosen teenage girls as the target audience for your fiction novels so far. What is it about this age and gender which moves your heart to write for them?
 
It’s not just teenage girls, but young teenage girls I write for. I went to boarding school at the age of 11 and was bullied for a whole year. I remember the age and the feelings and the horribleness so clearly that I almost feel I have a calling to write for kids who go through the same thing.
I knew I’d be an author the day I won the White Essay Cup at the British Overseas School in Karachi, Pakistan, in 1981. I was eight, in Year Three, and I beat kids in Years 4 and 5 to the prize. It was life-changing.

Great answer. So anybody with girls in the tweenie years, keep a look out for these stories.)

 
You are a prolific author of several genres. Do you have a favourite? How did you come to decide that writing is your calling? 

I don’t have a favourite. Or if I do, it’s probably the book which isn’t selling as well as the others at any given time. I love me an underdog, I do. I do love my girl characters in my novels, although the two of them are vastly different. Jazmine is quiet and stands on the outside, looking at life. Coco is in there, tearing it up but embarrassing herself badly along the way. I see myself in both of them.

Writing can be a recipe for mental exhaustion and parenting for physical exhaustion. What do you recommend for winding down and relaxing?
 
Sorry. I don’t understand the question. [Insert smiley sarcastic face here.] I’m not very good at relaxation. Writing is what I do to feel like I’ve achieved something. Parenting is an ongoing, unfinished marathon of hardness with occasional bursts of sunshine. Once you’ve written a book, on the other hand, it stays written! In a real answer to your question, though, I like to watch TV with my hubby and I’ve just taken up the cello at the age of 40. Which is Awesome!

(Good for you, Cecily.)


You lived in Pakistan until you were 16 years old. Growing up in a different culture must have helped mold you into the person you are today. Do you believe your earliest experiences have any bearing on the books you've written?
 
 Pakistan has had a huge effect on me, as of course, it should have, but only in the same way that everyone’s bringing up affects and molds them. I do tend to write from the perspective of the person who doesn’t quite fit in, because that has been my experience my whole life as a ‘third culture kid’, never really being part of the dominant culture or in-crowd. I love Pakistan so much, but strangely, I don’t think I could really write about it because I don’t feel that I understand it enough. All I could do would be to write about the experiences of someone living in a culture that isn’t their own.
Hey, look at that. It’s 10 am. The questions are answered. My fifteen minutes has been used to good purpose. And I didn’t get distracted by facebook once!  Thanks Paula for your time.

Thanks, Cecily. I've got to admit, I wouldn't have been able to fit so much into fifteen minutes, so I think there's another secret to your productivity. Readers, Cecily is offering an eBook of your choice to one commenter, who will be chosen randomly. To get another good look at the range, please visit her website, www.cecilypaterson.com

Saturday, August 9, 2014

'My Life in Middlemarch' by Rebecca Mead

17883928 

A New Yorker writer revisits the seminal book of her youth--Middlemarch--and fashions a singular, involving story of how a passionate attachment to a great work of literature can shape our lives and help us to read our own histories.

Rebecca Mead was a young woman in an English coastal town when she first read George Eliot's Middlemarch, regarded by many as the greatest English novel. After gaining admission to Oxford, and moving to the United States to become a journalist, through several love affairs, then marriage and family, Mead read and reread Middlemarch. The novel, which Virginia Woolf famously described as "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people," offered Mead something that modern life and literature did not.

In this wise and revealing work of biography, reporting, and memoir, Rebecca Mead leads us into the life that the book made for her, as well as the many lives the novel has led since it was written. Employing a structure that deftly mirrors that of the novel, My Life in Middlemarch takes the themes of Eliot's masterpiece--the complexity of love, the meaning of marriage, the foundations of morality, and the drama of aspiration and failure--and brings them into our world. Offering both a fascinating reading of Eliot's biography and an exploration of the way aspects of Mead's life uncannily echo that of Eliot herself, My Life in Middlemarch is for every ardent lover of literature who cares about why we read books, and how they read us.


MY THOUGHTS:
Many of us have one or two formative books which have influenced how we've shaped our lives. For Rebecca Mead, it was George Eliot's 'Middlemarch' which she kept returning to ever since first reading it in her teens, discovering new significance for different phases of her own life's journey. As I loved reading MM during my English classics phase as a young adult, I enjoyed reading this reflective memoir about how Mead decided to trace the footsteps of her former idol, George Eliot, visiting all the places where she lived and worked.

George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans as she was born) is revealed as an intellectual who demanded a lot of herself (you only need to look at the size of her books) but had a generous heart and a sense of humour. It was interesting seeing the changes a century and a bit have wrought on Eliot's familiar landscape. Mead even caught up with descendents of Eliot through her stepson, which I thought were fascinating. Rebecca Mead made the detailed pilgrimage because she believes that although she lives more than a century later, George Eliot was one person who helped turn her into the person she became.

Even when we delve into an author's past and realise how human they were in their frailties and hang-ups, if we're bookworms, we still tend to idolise them. Rebecca Mead saw Eliot's pen in the home of a great-great-great grandson and asked if she could hold it, bringing forth all sorts of excited thoughts that she might be holding the very pen which wrote MM.

George Eliot is shown to be a fairly plain looking person in paintings, and in this book, we get the opinions of her contemporaries. Apparently, Henry James referred to Eliot as a 'great, horse-faced bluestocking', then went on to describe the beauty of her character. By far the best part of Eliot's life is her relationship with her husband, George Henry Lewes, who encouraged her to take up writing fiction in the first place. A neighbour of theirs described what an unattractive sight they made, as they walked their little dog around town. I agree with Mead, when she says, 'I derive delicious pleasure from the two Georges' carelessness about the judgment delivered by smaller hearts and smaller minds than their own.'

Now that I've read this, I might pick up MM and remember characters such as Dorothea Brooke, Will Ladislaw, Tertius Lydgate, Fred Vincy and Mary Garth, who I remember enjoying so long ago.

Thanks to Water Brook Multnomah and Blogging for Books for giving me a review copy.

4 stars

Here I am beside George Eliot's grave, at Highgate Cemetery in London. It was back in 1990, when I was a 20-year-old Uni student. What a great pilgrimage to make while I was busy studying these classic old British authors. It has both her pseudonym, George Eliot, and Mary Ann Cross, her real name at her time of death. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

'Miracle in a Dry Season' by Sarah Loudin Thomas

Miracle in a Dry Season (Appalachian Blessings, #1)
It's 1954 and Perla Long's arrival in the small town of Wise, West Virginia, was supposed to go unnoticed. She just wants a quiet, safe place for her and her daughter, Sadie, where the mistakes of her past can stay hidden. But then drought comes to Wise, and Perla is pulled into the turmoil of a town desperately in need of a miracle.
Casewell Phillips has resigned himself to life as a bachelor...until he meets Perla. She's everything he's sought in a woman, but he can't get past the sense that she's hiding something. As the drought worsens, Perla's unique way with food brings both gratitude and condemnation, placing the pair in the middle of a maelstrom of anger and forgiveness, fear and faith.


MY THOUGHTS:

Newcomer, Perla Long has two things which make her suspicious to the townsfolk; a child born out of wedlock and a special 'knack' with food. Whatever she cooks always stretches enough to feed everybody, no matter how little she starts with. Some regard it as a miraculous gift, like Jesus with the loaves and fish, but most are inclined to call it witchcraft and chicanery. Young bachelor, Casewell Phillips feels drawn to Perla, but has his own misgivings to work through and doesn't want to jeopardise his position as a pillar of the community. Finally, nobody can deny how useful Perla's 'gift' proves to be in a time of severe drought.

The romance was restrained but very heartfelt and sweet nonetheless. The main characters are easy to take to straight away. Perla is a girl who was swept into a mistake and Casewell is just a lovely guy trying to do the right thing. Little Sadie, one of the main causes of Perla's loneliness, is a delightful character, quick to love everyone and immediately look for the best. I also liked the elderly Talbot twins, who looked alike but were different in their outlooks.

The book reminded me a little of another story, 'Chocolat'. Both introduce a single mother and child who are sources of scandal, both women have a gift with food, and both towns have bigoted, intolerant pastors. But whereas the priest in 'Chocolat' might have made all Christians appear bad, Pastor Longbourne in this story certainly doesn't. There are many people (including the hero) who show him up in their genuine desire to seek God's heart. That makes me prefer 'Miracle in a Dry Season.'

The other main theme is bereavement. I love Casewell's relationship with his father, John, who was one of my favourite characters. I often shy away from books which deal with people facing such loss, but this one was great. I would recommend it to anybody who may find themselves in the same position as Casewell and his mother, Emily. Their healthy way of dealing with their grief is an excellent example.

The most thought-provoking part of this book for me is Perla's attitude toward her gift. Because of people's treatment, she regards it as an embarrassment and liability rather than a gift, or 'love in the form of nourishment.' We see how people may take a blessing or gift, and twist it until they believe it's evil. As Casewell tells Perla, 'Sometimes the gifts God gives us feel like burdens, but we have to trust that He knows what He's doing.' That's something readers with far less spectacular gifts than Perla's can take away to encourage us, when the drawbacks seem greater than the benefits.

I'm sure many of us would like Perla's particular gift. I love the description of how she transforms raw ingredients into something delicious and life-sustaining, and I'm sure we'll all agree that Casewell ends the story as a lucky man.

Thanks to Net Galley and Bethany House for giving me a copy to review.

5 stars

Miracle in a Dry Season available from Amazon

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

'With Every Breath' by Elizabeth Camden

With Every Breath
 In the shadow of the nation's capital, Kate Livingston holds a respectable position as a government statistician when she encounters a rival from her past, the insufferable Trevor McDonough. A Harvard-trained physician, Trevor never showed the tiniest flicker of interest in Kate, and she's bewildered at the way he suddenly seeks her out. Surprising even herself, Kate agrees to Trevor's entirely unexpected and risky proposal to work side-by-side with him in his quest to rid the world of tuberculosis, a contagious and deadly disease.

As Kate begins to unlock the mysteries of Trevor's past, she realizes there is much more to him than she could have imagined. His hidden depths may fascinate her, but his most closely guarded secrets and a shadowy enemy lurking in the background carry a serious threat to their future.

When the truth of the past comes out, threatening to destroy everything they hold dear, how will Trevor and Kate ever overcome all that stands in their way?


MY THOUGHTS:

As teenagers, Trevor and Kate were intellectual rivals, competing for the only college scholarship their school was offering. Twelve years later, Kate accepts a job offer collecting statistics for a tuberculosis research clinic, to find that it's headed by her old nemesis, Trevor.

These are the late 1800s, the days when weird health sanitariums were all the rage. Doctors who were willing to go out on a limb in their experiments with new theories risked appearing like quacks. In this climate, Trevor is determined to give all he has to find a cure for tuberculosis, a terrible scourge of its time. The mercury sabotage was interesting, as it struck terror in their hearts, yet my own dad used to play with the little balls as a child in the 1940s without thinking it would do him any harm. The face masks which the staff in this story wear are often all that stand between them and possible horrible death. 

Trevor isn't really the sort of fellow I'd find myself falling for, perhaps because I've had experience with dour medical specialists. But I'm sure many readers who are fans of Mr Darcy from 'Pride and Prejudice' will love Trevor's brusque and grouchy ways. At first I thought Kate's falling for him showed more about her good character and generous heart than any lovable traits of Trevor's, but I came to see that he really is a true hero. He sticks to a daunting calling without a clue as to whether or not he'll ever make any headway, standing to lose all that he values most. Yet he plugs on anyway, with faith and empathy as his only guides. We can't ask for a better example than that.

I completely understand Kate's dilemmas too. Having seen too much heartache, her control-freak tendencies stem from a desire to keep her loved-ones safe, but being men, Trevor and Tick (her brother) have minds of their own. It's a good read for any of us who have struggled with fear, and I appreciate the conclusion she comes to.

Several baffling mysteries keep the plot rolling along. For Kate, Trevor himself is a mystery. Where was he for two, unaccounted for years of his life? Why did he even feel the need to battle with her for the scholarship when his father was loaded with money? But more urgently, who is trying to sabotage him, and shoot his career down in flames? (I actually figured about three quarters of this out.)

I liked the story ending with a New Year's celebration, as the nineteenth century ticked into the twentieth. What an eventful century it turned out to be, and I clearly remember one hundred years later, when we welcomed the twenty-first.

The memorable lines in this book include Kate telling Trevor, 'You are the most cold blooded person I've ever met. I'll bet you need to sun yourself on a rock to generate body heat.' Then, there's also his thought-provoking challenge to her, 'You only love when it's easy.'

Thanks to Net Galley and Bethany House for giving me a review copy.

4 stars

With Every Breath available from Amazon

Monday, August 4, 2014

Interview with Ellie Paxton, the heroine of 'Too Pretty' by Andrea Grigg

Today it's my pleasure to have a chat with the lovely heroine of "Too Pretty", the new romance novel by Andrea Grigg. As Andrea also wrote "A Simple Mistake", I'm sure fans who loved Lainey and Nick will enjoy meeting Gabrielle (Ellie) Paxton too. As you can imagine, interviewing somebody like Ellie is somewhat daunting, as she initially comes across to anybody who meets her with a 'Wow! What do you say to someone so stunning?' However, there is obviously more to this young lady beneath the surface.


It’s lovely to meet you, Ellie. My first impression is that I must be interviewing a supermodel. It must be wonderful to have such natural beauty while so many other girls feel insecure about their looks, for whatever reason. Have you found your prettiness an advantage? 

Hi Paula – it’s great to meet you too! Thank you for having me as a guest.

Your question is a good one because I think the first part of my answer will be unexpected. My brother and sister and I were brought up on the mission field in Papua New Guinea. All three of us were a novelty – my being pretty didn’t make any difference at all.

It wasn’t until I was thirteen and we moved back to Silverdene, the country town my parents came from, that I noticed how others reacted to my looks. I received a lot of attention from the boys. I wasn’t used to that, but I adapted.

Some of the girls were jealous and gave me a hard time, including my cousin Suzanne. Others wanted me to be their friend because I was a drawcard for the boys. My best friend back then, Annabel, she wasn’t like that. She was a gem.

Being pretty has its advantages, but it also has its drawbacks. For example, because I’m a blonde, some people assume I don’t have a brain. Crazy, hey? I’m not as clever as the rest of my family (they’re all medical professionals) but I’m smart enough.

The worst part about being pretty is guys are attracted to me because of how I look rather than who I am. I’ve had enough of shallow relationships and I’ve made an important decision just recently.

I'm sorry to hear about the drawbacks and the crazy assumptions people make. Yes, I heard that you made a promise to yourself not to date anybody for six months. Is this a personal decision or a move you’d recommend for every young woman?

I’ve received loads of compliments from the men I’ve dated. (I know – it sounds big-headed but I’m just stating a fact.) Now, while compliments are very nice, all of them have been about how I look. Like I said before – what about the girl on the inside? Even I don’t know the real me anymore and that’s why I’m taking the time to find out. God made me so He’ll know, right? Not everyone would need to stop dating to do it, but I need to.

Well, good for you. A nice appearance is a gift, but when you think about, it is prone to change over time, unlike the person within. But not all men are shallow and focused on physical attraction, are they? It would be sad if this has been your overwhelming experience. Have you come across any men with more depth of character? I guess what I’m trying to ask is do you try not to judge men on surface values, the way you feel they’ve often judged you?

Unfortunately it has been my overwhelming experience, but I’m the eternal optimist and always hope the next guy might be the one interested in the real me. And yes, I do know men who have great depth of character – my father and my brother are great examples. And then there’s a guy I’ve just met who seems to be … oops, I’m not supposed to be even thinking about Nathaniel! Next question please.

Sure, I understand. On the bright side, you’ve just left country town life for the big city, which must be exciting. What are your first impressions of Sydney? 

Actually, I’ve lived in Sydney before when I ran away with … um … I won’t go into that just now. Let’s just say I’m much happier being here this time around. I love walking around Circular Quay with its cafes and views of the harbour bridge. And of course the Opera House is amazing. Sydney is a beautiful city and a lot bigger and brighter than Silverdene!

Making such a big move is often fraught with anxiety, especially with the higher cost of living. Have you managed to find any work in Sydney yet? What experience do you bring from home, and what sort of job are you looking for?

I adore living here, but I still don’t have a job. I’ve had a few offers, but not the kind I was after, if you know what I mean.

I love office work and have a Certificate IV in Business Administration. I’m sure God has a job for me. Waiting for it to appear is a test of faith that’s for sure. I really believe I’m meant to be here in Sydney so it’ll happen. I just need to be patient and let God work it all out. In the meantime, I’ll just keep walking my landlady’s dogs and do some volunteer work. I’ll be fine.

Oh dear, I'm sure many of us understand the anxiety of being somewhere new without any immediate means of supporting ourselves. I hope something perfect for you comes along soon, because as you said, God surely must have a plan. Waiting sure can be a test though. I'm hoping for you though, and looking forward to reading what happens in 'Too Pretty'.

Thanks Ellie, for being a guest on my blog. 

My review of this novel is here

'Too Pretty' is published August 2014 by Rhiza Press and Andrea is offering a free signed copy to anybody who would like to comment on this blog post below. Please leave your contact details for us to contact you if you are the winner.


 Andrea Grigg grew up in Auckland, New Zealand, but has lived more than half her life in Australia. She lives with her husband on Queensland’s Gold Coast, where they have raised their three adult children.
Recently retired from teaching ten-year-olds, if she isn’t being a domestic executive or socialising, Andrea can be found in her cave, writing stories. Andrea is the author of Too Pretty to be released in August 2014. You can visit Andrea at her website

Saturday, August 2, 2014

'A Constant Heart' by Siri Mitchell

A Constant Heart
Marget Barnardsen has always been fortunate. She was born with the face of an angel. Her father is a knight, and a small fortune has been lavished upon her. And now she is to be married to an earl. Her security is fixed, her destiny guaranteed. At least, she hopes.

The Earl of Lytham has already been married once. But the beautiful woman only left him with a broken heart and the bitter taste of betrayal. Now, his only demand of Marget is that she help him win favor with the Queen.

But when Marget's introduction to court is met with the jealous queen's wrath, the young bride fears she's lost her husband forever. Desperate to honor him, she'll risk everything by doing whatever it takes to recapture the heart of a man bound to the Queen in a world where love is the only forbidden luxury.


MY THOUGHTS:

This authentic story set in the court of Queen Elizabeth I shows up this era as one of the most undesirable times to be alive, not just for destitute peasants but for the gentry too. Marget, the daughter of a knight, finds herself in an arranged marriage with the Earl of Lytham. I found it heartbreaking to see her coerced into doing things as fashionable society dictated, to her detriment and harm. She was just a good-intentioned, kind-hearted girl compelled to ruin her spirits and health in the name of fashion, beauty and being accepted. The worst part was, it didn't take much reading between the lines to deduce that the lead based, pale face paint was responsible for the death of her three babies. I would have loved to have seen her carry a healthy one to full term at the end of the story, when they'd left the courtiers' lifestyle behind, but we're left to imagine that this might have been the case.

As for Lytham, I couldn't stand him for the first third of the book, but then he began to grow on me. I reminded myself that he was a product of his times. We can't judge people from past times with our 21st century mindsets. All that kowtowing to the queen was intended to keep him from being taken to the Tower, among other things. I did admire the way he knew that he finally had to turn his back on all that he'd been taught to hold important. And he must have been a hot guy, by Elizabethan standards, as it turned out three women were madly in love with him.

Queen Elizabeth was not portrayed in a very flattering light, but she still seemed like a reasonable person compared to Lady de Winter, who was a real piece of work. In fact, she'd have to be up there among the most evil literary villainesses for me. I did like Joan, and was glad Marget had her to lean on.

I had a few issues with the story. After the rocky start of their marriage, the main couple suddenly fell deeply in love without any apparent reason. Like other reviewers, I honestly couldn't see anything either of them had done to explain the sudden change. And also, the frequent first person point of view changes stopped the flow. It meant that we often had to read a few paragraphs to figure out whether we were in Marget's head or Lytham's.

But on the whole, if you're looking for a romance set in the times of Shakespeare, this may very well fit the bill.


3.5 stars

  A Constant Heart available from Amazon