Tuesday, September 30, 2014

'Home to Chicory Lane' by Deborah Raney

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Audrey Whitman s dreams are coming true. Now that their five kids are grown, she and her husband, Grant, are turning their beloved family home into a cozy bed and breakfast just a mile outside of Langhorne, Missouri. Opening weekend makes Audrey anxious, with family and friends coming from all over to help celebrate the occasion. But when Audrey s daughter, Landyn, arrives, the U-Haul she s pulling makes it clear she s not just here for a few days. Audrey immediately has questions. What happened in New York that sent Landyn running home? Where was Landyn s husband, Chase? And what else was her daughter not telling her? One thing was for sure, the Chicory Inn was off to a rocky start. Can Audrey still realize her dream and at the same time provide the comfort of home her daughter so desperately needs?"

MY THOUGHTS:

This is an entertaining story about the subtleties of extended family relationships. Audrey and Grant have recently seen their fifth and last child, Landyn, married. Now they are focusing on Audrey's deferred dream of turning their lovely old home into a guest house. On opening day, Landyn turns up towing a whole lot of furniture. She's left her husband, Chase, after six months, because he made a spur-of-the-moment decision about where they were to live without waiting to ask her input. And Landyn has never taken kindly to being told what to do.

The story turns into a comedy of errors at times, as they all try to work things out. There are four main characters; the father, the mother, the daughter and the son-in-law. What I like about this book is the realism, showing that nobody's life will ever look picture perfect. Even when you're living your best dream, there will always be a certain amount of messiness, mundane and less than ideal situations to contend with, so we might as well get used to it. Marriage, raising families and working weren't designed to be a piece of cake, and we get along best when we don't expect them to be.

The characters match the plot with their mixtures of great and annoying personality traits. Audrey may place making a good impression on strangers above being a caring parent and easy-going grandparent at times, but she still gives her daughter the wise advice that when you allow your spouse to pursue their dreams, you must do it with no strings attached. Grant has some prejudices and fixed ideas about how the younger generation should behave, but to his credit, he bites his tongue and lets Chase and Landyn make their own decisions. Landyn has a headstrong and secretive streak, making trouble for herself by asking her parents to keep things from her husband and vice versa, but she genuinely loves the significant people in her life.

It was harder to come up with Chase's bad points, as he was my favourite character. If anything, it would have to be insecurity and lack of confidence. I love the way he reasons that God made him an artist, and it's not his fault if society makes it almost impossible to make a living as one. Like many of us, a lot of Chase's anxiety comes from financial burdens, reminding me of the saying, 'The best things in life are free, but the second best things are very expensive.' 

I appreciated his depressed musing that he wasn't hearing from God while he made an important decision, even though he was certain he was. The answer given to him (and us) to ponder comes from a minor character, Grandma Cece, who reasons that God's ways rarely make sense to us while they're happening, but we may see their significance some time down the track.

Although this book was a quick and easy read on the surface, the undercurrents kept me thinking for a while.

Thanks to Net Galley and Abingdon Press for my review copy.

4 stars

Monday, September 29, 2014

Interview with Jenny Glazebrook

I'm so pleased to welcome my guest this week. Jenny Glazebrook is now publishing her Aussie Sky Series, which includes six novels about an unusual and lovable ex-circus family. Each novel focuses on a different member of the horse-crazy Clements family, their struggle to fit into everyday Aussie life and their relationship with God.

I had the opportunity to read each of these novels a few years ago, when they were still manuscripts, and I was hooked! Each of the Clements siblings is so distinct from the others, with their own unique challenges. One evening, I even chose to miss a social night with friends because Jenny had just emailed me the next installment of the Aussie Sky series that afternoon. Having already read a few of the earlier ones, I knew I had to get my priorities right. I'm so happy to see these wonderful stories coming out in print, and enjoyed asking Jenny these questions. 

1) How long did it take you to write the series from start to finish? Did you have a concept of each sibling’s story from the outset, or get fresh ideas as you worked?

Am I allowed to be difficult? I could say 20 years or I could say a couple of months. It was 20 years from when I started the first story to when I wrote the final chapter of the last one; but a couple of months of time snatched whenever possible over those twenty years to actually sit there and type the
books.
The idea for the first book began when I was a teenager. I began jotting down scenes and ideas in my high school study. But after school, study and work and another story I was writing took precedence. It wasn't until I stopped work and was expecting my first child that I found 3 weeks to put together all my ideas and write Blaze in the Storm from start to finish. My son Micah was then born and had special needs so I focused on him. After my daughter Merridy was born a few years later, also with special needs, I wrote the next four books (along with four in another series) over a year, in whatever spare moment I could find. It was life-saving to have that outlet. Returning to the books was like returning to old friends who had continued to grow and develop in our time apart. Once my daughter Clarity arrived, and then Amelia, I had no spare time at all and the children became my only focus. I wrote the last book in the series when Amelia began pre-school. I write very quickly and ideas just flow once I start, so it's a matter of having time to write. And with Amelia beginning school next year, I now have time to finally get these books out there!
Cover of Blaze in the Storm
I didn't have a concept of the stories from the outset. Each story began with a character becoming alive in my mind. Once I started writing, the stories took on a life of their own. First I wrote about Blaze and Bonnie, then began wondering why Blaze's sister was so spiteful and contrary. As I wrote Beauty's story, I wondered what would make her brother Prince abandon his own child, and whether there was anything of significance behind Misty's clumsiness ... and so the stories developed. I never have a plan or a plot worked out before I begin writing. This is probably against all the rules, but I love the adventure and being surprised by my characters and the things that happen to them.

(I agree that writing is a wonderful outlet and love your 'pantser' approach. It's a clear sign that the characters lived and breathed for you, as things simply happened to them, and you were the one with the pen catching up.)

2) I love the circus theme running through your series. The nomadic and unusual lifestyle of this talented family shines through. Is this something you already knew about, or did you research? If so, how did you begin to know where to start?

I have to admit I'm a bit slack with research. Research takes time and I don't have a lot of that so I work mostly on imagination. I went to the circus once as a child and I loved it. I saw the circus people and the caravans they lived in and my imagination sprang to life. This particular circus was looking for a handyman and I asked my Dad if he could take the job so we could join the circus. We didn't as Dad already had a business and was very involved in the church he and Mum planted in town, but being an animal lover I daydreamed about it. I also became aware of an ex-circus family who became Christians and this fueled my imagination. This, and reading Enid Blyton's 'Galliano's Circus' stories as a child was my most extensive 'research' on the subject.

(A lady after my own heart. The aspect you mentioned is one of my favourite parts of contemporary fiction.)
 
3) What can you share about your main characters, Blaze and Bonnie, in the first book, ‘Blaze in the Storm?’

Bonnie is based on a girl I went to school with. She was very talented and seemed to have it all together. She was very likeable but openly challenged me about my beliefs if they didn't make sense to her. It got me thinking, what would it take for her to believe there was a need for God in her life when her life seemed so perfect? (Incidentally, we are very good friends now and she believes in God after having lived longer in this broken world – she feels honoured that I dedicated this book to her.)
Cover of Heart of ThunderBlaze is another 'What if?' character. I was thinking about how God chooses to use us, but certainly doesn't need us. And I thought, what if God revealed Himself to someone who had no Christian background, no real opportunity for discipleship through a church, and no one but God to teach them?

Blaze is a result of that line of wondering. However, I was kind enough to allow him some theology books to help him along the way : ) His circus background is in there to make him exotic and a bit quirky just to add to the mix.

4) I have to ask, do you have a favourite character overall? They are all so well rounded, not only the Clements siblings but also each of their romantic interests.

Glad you like them – I'm quite fond of them myself : ) Whichever character I am writing about at the time is my favourite. However, Rachel in 'Clouds of Prayer' is the one I relate to the most. She is quiet and thoughtful with self-esteem issues – very much like I was as a teenager and young adult. Like me, she was brought up in a Christian family but came to a point of realising that no matter what she had done, no matter what her background or how 'good' she tried to be, it was only God's grace and forgiveness through Christ that could make her worthy of a friendship with Him.

5) What gives you a heart for young adult females and makes them your target audience?

It was in my teen/young adult years that I went through the most heartache but also the most joy. It was when God revealed Himself and His love to me. In my experience, young adults are at a point where they can make decisions they will regret for the rest of their lives, or choices that will lead them into a life full of purpose and hope. They are developing a sense of identity and looking for direction. I long to see them come to know Jesus as their Saviour and closest friend so that they can live their lives to the full and be whole. It's also a very exciting time of life, going through so many changes and with so many choices to make... so many opportunities!

6) To write such a good series, you must have a love of books and stories. Is this something you’ve grown up with or did you acquire it? Can you mention a few authors who have inspired you?

I had a fascination for words from as young as I can remember. I still remember my first school reader, 'The Flea'. I loved the flow of the words, the clever idea of it and the way the words came to life. I grew up without a television and so reading was what I did. Mum had over 200 Enid Blyton books, the Trixie Beldon series, Anne of Green Gables series, Laura Ingall's Wilder's books, most of Janet Oke's books, and many many more. We had a room of books we called our Library.
Jane Austen is one of my favourite authors and I loved studying her work in High School. In my late teens I discovered Lori Wick and admired her imagination and ability to bring characters to life.
However, I found her very American, so in my early 20's I started looking for Aussie Christian writers.

I found Meredith Resce, Mary Hawkins and .... you! I love how real your characters are, the clever plots, the humour in them and most of all the profound thoughts and ideas. Finding Meredith, Mary and yourself and the fact that you were Australians writing quality Christian fiction gave me hope that one day I could also be published as an Australian Christian author. This inspired me more than anything else. So to now be invited to share about my books on your blog is an absolute honour and dream come true. Thank you.

(Wow, I've got to say that if finding us was a catalyst to keep you writing these books which I enjoyed so much, the benefit was definitely returned. I love the thought that writers may keep inspiring each other with our stories. Jenny, it's been great talking to you, and learning more of the insight which went into this series.)

Jenny is offering a copy of 'Blaze in the Storm', the first novel in the series, to one randomly chosen visitor who may care to leave a comment on this post. If you are anything like I was, you will find it impossible to stop at the first.


Jenny Glazebrook is the published author of Stilling the Storm and Nobody Hugs Rod Green. Jenny was a finalist in the 2013 Caleb Awards and has her own website. She has a passion for Australian Christian writing and a desire to encourage other writers.
Jenny studied at Tahlee Bible College and now lives with her husband and four children in Gundagai.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

'Cambodian Harvest' by Rhonda Pooley

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A single woman in her sixties travels to Cambodia to set up a dried fruit factory - a project to provide landmine survivors with an income and hope for the future. Overcoming official corruption, cultural prejudice and minimal financial support, her inspirational story will challenge everyone who thinks they are too broken or too old to make an impact for God in this world.

MY THOUGHTS:

Marion Fromm was on a short term mission trip to Cambodia when she noticed that many beggars were missing limbs. She was shocked to find out they were all victims of landmines which were planted in the war between the Khmer Rouge and nationalists forces, designed to cripple their victims. Shunned by almost everyone, these people found it impossible to earn a living without relying on charitable gestures, which were not often forthcoming.

What follows is one woman's true story of being the change she wanted to see in the world. At an age when many Australians are thinking of retiring, Marion relocated to Cambodia and set up the Cambodian Harvest Dried Fruit Factory, to employ landmine victims. She learned the finer points of running a business as she went.

It's clear that it wasn't smooth sailing. Marion faced and overcame many setbacks during her life. She's revealed in this book as a lady sensitive to God's prompting, with a 'powerful' personality, which sometimes caused friction but served her well. I like the aspect of how some character traits which may rub others up the wrong way are also strengths. Marion comes across as a person who would make up her mind and not budge an inch, but perhaps she needed that measure of firm-mindedness, as she had such a remarkable calling. For example, she drew up the architectural plans of her factory from a detailed vision God gave her. People who aren't easily swayed are definitely needed in the world.

Between each chapter are true stories and testimonies from several of the employees of how hopeless their lives used to look before joining Marion's staff, compared to how well they are going now. Not everybody gets to see the direct difference their own work is making in several lives, and it's a great tribute from Marion's friend, Rhonda Pooley, who made it her own mission to write this book, to bless and encourage us all to not give up on God given dreams.

You may also read my interview with Rhonda Pooley, about the writing of this book, here

Saturday, September 20, 2014

'Making Marion' by Beth Moran

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Marion Miller came to Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire to discover her father's mysterious past, but all she has to go on is a picture of her father dressed up, it would seem, as Robin Hood. It takes Marion all she's got to come out of her shell and get to grips with life on a busy campsite, where the chickens seem determined to thwart her and an unfortunate incident with a runaway bike throws her into the arms of the beautiful, but deeply unimpressed, Reuben. Marion's would-be boyfriend Jake, and Reuben's stunning fiancee Erica, conspire to leave little room for Marion to daydream about the twinkling eyes of her rescuer, nevertheless. Can Marion really find peace, and perhaps even love, among the pigs?
 
MY THOUGHTS:

Marion Miller's father was the only good part of her traumatised childhood, but he died long ago. Armed with a youthful photo of him dressed as Robin Hood, she goes to seek other people's memories of him in Sherwood Forest, where he used to live. Getting a job at the Peace and Pigs Holiday Park gives her a good home base for her detective work, but Marion becomes the target of an anonymous vandal. It seems the photo of her father has shaken up a can of worms for some local who feels threatened.

There is a lot of excellent writing compressed into this story, making me not want to put it down. Marion's journey from a painfully shy girl with selective mutism to a young woman who learns to appreciate herself unfolds gradually in flashbacks. The mystery she discovers about her father's earlier life is intriguing. Descriptions are humorous and colourful. The supporting characters are multi-dimensional, including heart-throb Reuben, whose glamorous girlfriend, Erica, seems Marion's antithesis in every way.

Using a holiday setting for a novel has always appealed to me. How I wish I'd come across a caravan park like 'Peace and Pigs' when I visited Great Britain years ago, because to be honest, I found most of them to be more like Morris Middleton's house (you'll know what I'm talking about when you get there). Maybe this novel is a hopeful sign that things have changed since I visited in the early nineties.

It's great to see some British Christian fiction, which I found different to the American Christian fiction which is so abundant. In fact, some wouldn't consider this novel Christian fiction at all. Several readers would call it far edgier, which I didn't think a bad thing, being an Aussie. It reminds me more of the Australian Christian fiction which I and some of my friends have written. Questions are always raised as to whether we should choose to write for a fixed audience with definite bans regarding certain language and possibly immodest scenes, or do we reach out to a wider group of readers, with the gentle message that God is present and active behind the scenes? I love the way this book did just that.

 This book contains one of the most powerful forgiveness scenes to be found, as Marion grapples with the problem of how to forgive somebody who has destroyed her childhood, when that person seems to have found peace and forgiveness of their own! The story weaves so effortlessly from slapstick to raw heartaching drama and back again with ease. The bit of back story which described Marion's first fumbling attempt in finding her voice again is one which will stay with me for a long time.

Thanks to Net Galley and Lion Hudson Publishing for my review copy.

5 stars

Friday, September 19, 2014

'Almost Heaven' by Chris Fabry

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2011 ECPA Christian Book Award winner for fiction! 2011 Christy Award Winner for contemporary standalone novel.Billy Allman is a hillbilly genius. People in Dogwood, West Virginia, say he was born with a second helping of brains and a gift for playing the mandolin but was cut short on social skills. Though he'd gladly give you the shirt off his back, they were right. Billy longs to use his life as an ode to God, a lyrical, beautiful bluegrass song played with a finely tuned heart. So with spare parts from a lifetime of collecting, he builds a radio station in his own home. People in town laugh. But Billy carries a brutal secret that keeps him from significance and purpose. Things always seem to go wrong for him. However small his life seems, from a different perspective Billy's song reaches far beyond the hills and hollers he calls home. Malachi is an angel sent to observe Billy. Though it is not his dream assignment, Malachi follows the man and begins to see the bigger picture of how each painful step Billy takes is a note added to a beautiful symphony that will forever change the lives of those who hear it.

MY THOUGHTS:
Billy Allman is the sort of hero we should see more of in novels - plain on the surface, the sort of man many may even find mildly repellent. That is what makes the glimpses into his past and present so powerful. If the author's aim is partly to encourage readers to regard all potential 'Billys' in their lives as people with dignity, noble inner lives and deep wisdom to impart, I think he's succeeded.

One of my favourite characters was Billy's counselor. The man's name was not even mentioned, which is probably appropriate as it enhances one of the main themes, that true heroes who make incredible positive differences in the lives of others are often those behind the scenes who are faithful and effective but unacknowledged by the world at large.

Mr Fabry's writing style often brought tears to my eyes and I found myself wanting to record several wise and beautiful quotes to ponder later. These, in my opinion, are two marks of an excellent novel. Now, the reason why I wouldn't give it five stars is to do with the angelic protection aspect. Although Billy had Malachi faithfully watching over him, poor Callie didn't seem to have a celestial guardian too. She was only protected by Malachi by default, because his own charge, Billy, cared deeply for her. As she was such a sweet and caring person, that did disturb me. I hate to think of people like her being angel-less.


4.5 stars

Monday, September 15, 2014

Guest Post by children's author Penny Reeve

Today, I'm delighted to welcome my friend and fellow Australian author, Penny Reeve. She has worked diligently in the field of children's writing for several years. My family has enjoyed the benefit of her hard work. We've purchased Penny's picture books, novels and devotionals for fun and homeschooling. I thought it would be interesting to ask her why writing for this audience has been such a joy to her, despite the many challenges.

Here is Penny's answer. 

When Paula first approached me to write a guest post for this blog I asked if there was anything in particular she’d like me to write about. She immediately suggested the ‘perks and challenges of writing for children’ and I thought ‘Hmm... interesting topic.’
You see, in many ways writing for children is much the same writing for anyone else. The routines, the discipline, the writers’ block, the solitude, the rejection letters, the acceptances and so forth are all aspects of the craft that any writer can relate to. But there are a few elements about writing for children that are unique, and within these are definitely a few things I’d consider perks or challenges.
The most obvious distinction, and the one I consider the biggest perk of all, is the audience. Children are wonderful to write for. They have an open expectation about them and an almost inbuilt eagerness for imagination. They can be incredibly loyal readers, but also terribly blunt. They are passionate fans and eager cheerleaders, while at the same time are often disempowered in terms of their ability to purchase their own books.
One thing I love about writing for children is the opportunity to step again into their way of viewing the world. The children’s writer must never belittle the child’s view of things, but must always honour and respect the genuine struggles that take place at each stage. As adults we think we have all the answers, and sometimes we do, but if we are going to story about these issues we must begin at a place of understanding and remember what it was like to be a child grappling with these things. As a children’s writer I sometimes feel I am just offering a tool by which a child can grow in their understanding of the world. This is an incredible privilege and something I hope never to take for granted or exploit.


Another serious perk about being a children’s writer is the opportunity to be involved in author visits. I love swapping my writer/mum/house-keeper hat for my author hat and visiting schools! Librarians are such enthusiastic hosts and the audience when a children’s writer arrives is always keen. I love reading my books to the audience I imagined when I was writing it and seeing mouths drop open, or faces grinning at the humour in the stories. To be able to engage children in their love of reading, encouraging them to write, to dream and to story is so exciting!
But writing for children also comes with some challenges. On one hand it’s such an incredibly competitive field for writers to break into, so although I now have more than 15 books in print, it’s been a  long hard journey to get here. This is something any published author could relate to.
There are some technical aspects of writing for children that are a challenge in themselves as children’s genres often require adherence to certain, and quite tight, rules. Picture books, for example, are expected to be approximately 600 words in length. To tell a story, complete with conflict, resolution, repetition, word play and genuine emotion in such a small word count is a considerable challenge – though I must admit, it’s also fun!


Slightly older readers have longer attention spans, but not that much. So stories have to be fast paced. Writers may need to ditch that long and beautiful descriptive prose and narrow in on strong stories and gripping characters, always being careful not to water anything down. In my own work I often add the extra challenge of trying to explore some fairly complex faith issues without blowing out the word count or slowing the story down. It’s tight, it’s tough and there is no room for lazy writing. Strangely, I think the difficulty of all this is also one of the reasons I enjoy writing for children!
But for me the biggest challenge in being a children’s author would probably come after the book is in print. Authors these days, regardless of who they write for, are expected to take on some of the marketing and book promotional burden required to find a book its home. As a result I find I am continually struggling with how to market my books to people who may never actually read them: ie the parents/grandparents/aunties/uncles. Even when doing a school visit, which can promote an incredible amount of enthusiasm and potential readers, it’s the parent at the other end of the order form who holds all the power. There is almost a double publicity that needs to be done, to both convince the child reader they’d love my book, and the adult that the book is worth their investment.
But occasionally I receive a comment, or a piece of ‘fan mail’, or a parent will send me an email. Someone somewhere will let me know how much their children have enjoyed my books and grown as a result of something I have written. And that’s when the challenges, even of marketing (which is NOT my favourite thing), all seem worth it. Ups and downs, challenges and perks, I LOVE writing for children. There is nothing I’d rather do.
Penny Reeve 

Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Penny. I take my hat off to anybody who can tell an engaging and thought-provoking story in such a small amount of page space. The hard work which goes into the crafting and shaping must be immense, and I'm certain you've shared a lot of information which others who aspire to write for children will appreciate.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

10 characters we know without even reading the book

I'm going with a list of my own today. These people have names which are bywords for their characters. I suppose you could say they may be typecast, but if you're the author who invented them, you should be congratulated for an excellent job at timeless characterisation. Characters from Dickens, Shakespeare and folklore have made it on my list, and also a couple of Bible anti-heroes.  As I said in the title, these folk are such epitomes of their names, we don't even need to read about them, in many cases, to know just what the person is like.
 
1) Pollyanna


If somebody calls you a Pollyanna, you know that they're saying you're a sunny optimist who always looks on the bright side, searches for the silver lining in every cloud and makes lemonade out of every bushel of sour lemons you're given. That is, unless they're being sarcastic, in which case you're really being accused of a gloomy, pessimistic outlook. This might happen most often, come to think of it. 'Yeah, thanks a lot, Pollyanna. Go and cheer someone else up, why don't you?'

2) Ebenezer Scrooge

When somebody is called a Scrooge, we instantly know they're being accused of stinginess and tight-fistedness. I'd heard my dad call a relative a Scrooge, (or Long Pockets, Short Arms) years before I'd ever read 'A Christmas Carol.' Another lesson we learn from poor old Ebenezer is that, even when he turned over a new leaf at the end and became a generous philanthropist, we remember him as mean and crotchety as he used to be. It seems it's possible to set your bad reputation in stone and he's a lesson to beware.

3) Casanova

When you hear a young man called a Casanova, it's a compliment in a way, but also carries connotations of womanisers and heart-breakers. So if you're a young woman and someone tells you, 'He's a bit of a Casanova', you have to make up your mind whether or not to take it as a warning. He may be a philanderer, beneath his smouldering good looks.

4) Romeo

This young man, on the other hand, is the perfect lover, sensitive, loyal and true to his woman. A young man may react to being called a Romeo depending on who says it. I'd say if it's a girl who has a serious crush on you, all may be good. However, if it comes from the mates in your peer group, they might be calling you sappy and making you the butt of jokes.

5) King Midas

'He has a Midas touch.' That's something we'd all love to be true about us. It's easy to forget the real agony poor King Midas went through in the story, when he was accidentally swamped by gold, including precious possessions and family members he'd rather not have touched. But when we hear somebody called this, we instantly form the picture of a person who is rich and skilful in their business dealings, without thinking about the bitter end of the story.

6) Goliath

When our first son was born weighing 10lb 13oz, one of the young dads from our circle of friends who was in the hospital for his own baby's birth, remarked, 'I hear you had a bit of a Goliath.' We knew that he was referring to the size of our cute baby, and his remark had nothing to do with Goliath's defeat at the hands of David. (Our second son's weight was 10lb 14oz. Being beaten by just one ounce made his brother heartbroken. Apparently he'd spent nine years regarding his birth size as a bit of a special feature which made him unique. Our daughter, at 9lb 5oz, was tiny.)

7) Frankenstein

This one gets serious literary buffs hopping mad. Many people are talking about the monster when they call somebody Frankenstein, but really, he was the doctor. So if somebody says, 'You're as ugly as Frankenstein,' you have the right to say, 'You have no idea what you're talking about. Frankenstein was quite a normal looking man.'

8) Robin Hood

You can always be pretty sure people are talking about a generous hearted outlaw. I even came across this name in the world of birds. During a walk at our local wetlands, somebody was telling us about a Robin Hood bird. It steals the eggs of those whose nests seem to be full, and drops them into empty ones of those who have lost their babies. A bit like the cuckoo I suppose, but I thought Robin Hood was a good name for this bird.

9) The Lone Ranger

'He's a bit like the lone ranger.' We don't need to hear any more. The person being described is a solitary type of person who enjoys his own company, doesn't seem to feel the need to seek company and confide in others, and may have an interesting mystique.

10) Judas

This is a name you don't want to be called. The ultimate traitor, who is capable of behaving like a friend to the end, not letting his duplicitous mask slip, and betraying a friend with a kiss.

I hope you enjoyed my list. There are bound to be plenty more, so please feel free to mention any in the comments or take this challenge on yourself. This has left me thinking how nice it would be to have a name which is synonymous with all the best qualities, such as faithfulness, fun, creativity and love.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

'Unrivaled' by Siri Mitchell

Unrivaled
Lucy Kendall returns from a tour of the Continent, her luggage filled with the latest fashions and a mind fired by inspiration. After tasting Europe's best confections, she's sure she'll come up with a recipe that will save her father's struggling candy business and reverse their fortunes. But she soon discovers that their biggest competitor, the cheat who swindled her father out of his prize recipe, has now hired a promotions manager--a cocky, handsome out-of-towner who gets under Lucy's skin.

Charlie Clarke's new role at Standard Manufacturing is the chance of a lifetime. He can put some rough times behind him and reconnect with the father he's never known. The one thing he never counted on, however, was tenacious Lucy Kendall. She's making his work life miserable...and making herself impossible for him to forget.


MY THOUGHTS:
 
Lucy Kendall's father has recently suffered a heart attack and money is tight, so her mother is determined to sell his candy making business, City Confectionery. Lucy is equally determined to do all she can to save it, even if she needs to stoop to an advantageous marriage to take the pressure off. She decides maybe sabotaging their rival company, Standard Manufacturing, may yield the best results.

Charlie Clarke is a young man with a seedy past who is coerced into working for his father's lucrative candy business, even though his father deserted him when he was a child. It's hard for him to shake off the feelings of betrayal and regret he'd held onto for so long. Charlie's fond memories of eating Royal Taffy when he was small and destitute remind me of another Charlie and his attitude to sweets, but his father is certainly no good-natured Willy Wonka, in the way he chooses to operate his factory to maximise profits.

This is a fun, comic romance with underlying depth. Both protagonists have their own separate reasons for shunning God; Charlie for the seven-year-old boy he used to be who wasn't rescued, and Lucy because He'd given her a talent and passion for something she seemed to have no outlet for. The public reaction to some of her early attempts to save the company were interesting. I can't help wondering whether it really tasted so bad, or if Lucy was simply a trendsetter in the world of confectionery way ahead of her time.

The other characters are funny. Lucy's father keeps spouting his wisdom in candy analogies whenever he opens his mouth, such as, 'You can't save spun sugar once it begins to melt but you can turn it into something else.' I could understand her poor mother, old before her time, having poured so much of her life into somebody else's dream, with the feeling she has nothing to show for it. And I love Winnie Compton, who has the gift of being frank and seeing through people's ruses. (Sometimes I wished Charlie would fall for her instead of Lucy.)

Some of Lucy's reactions come across as way over the top. She's a pretty immature heroine, but being only 19, and brought up the way she was, it's easy to understand. Lucky for her, the man who wins her heart turns out to be Mr. Right. Some young girls are not so fortunate. I get the feeling she still has a lot of growing up to do, but she has a good heart and the love of man who, although not much older, is more stable because of his hard early years. Charlie will surely still have issues with her, but he knows what he's getting in for and won't mind. And she definitely learns her lesson, that sometimes her actions backfire, when the people she intends to hurt aren't really the people who end up getting hurt.

As for Charlie, I can't keep wondering whether he'll keep burying the rakish Charlie beneath the mask of the well-dressed, stuffy 'Charles' his father and step mother want him to be. I was hoping he'd tell his old man a thing or two, and although he did in a way, I can't help wondering whether Warren still got off far too lightly. Maybe Charlie's rebellious little woman will be equally good for him after all.

4 stars

Monday, September 8, 2014

Interview with Marion Ueckermann

Today, it's my pleasure to welcome my friend and fellow author from the International Christian Fiction Writers blog, Marion Ueckermann. This post is part of her blog tour for her brand new novelette, 'Helsinki Sunrise.'
 

AUTHOR INTERVIEW
by Paula Vince

Helsinki Sunrise, a Passport to Romance, blog tour follows on from Saturday spent in Louisiana, USA where readers were invited to stop and smell the Finnish flowers with Pamela Thibodeaux.
Today’s the last stop on Marion Ueckermann’s worldwide blog tour of Helsinki Sunrise. It’s Facebook party time next on Friday, 3 October. Search for Meet the Pelican Book Group Authors on Facebook. Marion will be one of the four featured authors.

Marion, you left South Africa with your husband and sons to live in Ireland for a period of time in 2000. It sounds like a huge change, and you felt your calling to write at the same time. What was it about the Emerald Isle that sparked your muse?

Leaving South Africa was a bigger challenge than I could’ve imagined. With a country in political upheaval and an uncertain future, we didn’t have plans to come back. But we missed home terribly and decided if God ever opened the door, we would return. That happened eighteen months later. It was a life-changing experience though, and one I’ll never regret.
During our time in Ireland, I began to write poetry. For several years I’d yearned to write a book. Penning poetry at that time was my way of dealing with the heartache I experienced living overseas. An Emigrant’s Lament was the first poem that sparked my muse. I poured out my heart in those 811 words (yes, it was a long poem, and I had a lot to get off my chest), but the last line summed up everything: Africa will always be in my blood!
Homesickness aside, how could a place like the Emerald Isle not spark anyone’s muse?
Rolling green hills blanketed in mist
Beauty so rare created only by God’s hand
As dawns first light the earth has kissed
Awakening the sights and sounds of a land
Where dwells a people of such different culture
With strange quirks they’ve managed through ages to nurture

Misty mornings down narrow lanes
Winding roads lined with majestic old trees
Rain falling softly on window panes
These are the images one frequently sees
In this land that has so much beauty to show
If you know where to look, know where to go

Bold bodhráns drumming, melancholy flutes playing
Haunting music stirring the soul so deep
Feet tapping and dancers swaying
The Celtic Song is Ireland’s beat
A sound to which one cannot sit down
Where your hands and your feet find a will of their own

These three verses from a longer poem I wrote capture the sights and sounds I experienced while living in Ireland.


Your sons both married in 2012. I’ve heard the empty nest time has its challenges, although perhaps you may now have more time for writing. My elder children are now in their upper teens and I sense that time is coming. Can you recommend some tips to help us survive the transition?

Paula, I’m not sure there are any tips. I think for each person, the experience is different.
Both my sons had periods of living in Cape Town, a two hour flight (or seventeen hour drive) away from home, so we slowly got used to the house getting quieter—kind of like the lobster in the pot, I guess. By the time the boys married, within three days of each other, we’d been alone for a while (although for Kyle that particular wedding was his third…to the same girl: a Finnish court wedding in the April to sort out the legalities of Kyle’s move to Finland; a July wedding beside a Finnish lake and forest…their actual wedding; and an August South African wedding for the family back home). Ryan had been living in Cape Town again for over a year, and Kyle had been bouncing between missionary training and overseas missions trips for eighteen months.

I dreaded the final empty nest, but when it came, much as I love my two boys, I found it strangely enjoyable. Does that make me a bad mother? My husband and I could eat when we wanted, what we wanted, and suddenly we had no responsibilities. I found it rather liberating and finally I could really immerse myself in my writing.

Your novelette, Helsinki Sunrise, was recently published in late August. Without plot spoilers, will you please give us a hint of what readers may expect?

One of my critiquers likened it to ‘How to Lose a Guy in 14 Days’ (although I think in the movie it was 10 days). In Helsinki Sunrise, readers will find romance, comedy and tension as two completely opposite characters collide and try to wear each other down. And, of course, readers also get to experience the beautiful country of Finland and some of its unique culture.
This is probably a good place to insert the tagline and blurb of Helsinki Sunrise to really give readers a taste of what to expect.


 He needed the island to himself. So did she.
Three weeks alone at a friend’s summer cottage on a Finnish lake to fast and pray. That was Adam Carter's plan. But sometimes plans go awry.
On an impromptu trip to her family's secluded summer cottage, the last thing Eveliina Mikkola expected to find was a missionary from the other side of the world—in her sauna.
Determined to stay, Eveliina will do whatever it takes—from shortcrust pastry to shorts—to send the man of God packing. This island’s too small for them both.
Adam Carter, however, is not about to leave.
Will he be able to resist her temptations?
Can she withstand his prayers?

Do you have a personal favorite character from the novelette? If so, why?
 
Adam and Eveliina are such unique characters, it’s hard not to love them both—Eveliina with her spunk and tenacity (but then she is Finnish, and the Finns have Sisu!), and Adam with his down-to-earth humanness…a devout missionary, and yet still just a man.
But, truth be told, I do have a softer spot for Adam because he reminds me so much of my son, Kyle, who had inspired this story in so many ways.

Was there a defining moment of inspiration for the story?

Not an exact moment, probably more a series of moments. When I saw the list of stories Pelican Book Group were looking for on their Passport to Romance series, I knew I could write one set in Finland. I’d been there only months before.
The three elements that had to feature in the story—an abandoned boat, a dirty shoelace, a laptop computer—played a huge part in inspiring Helsinki Sunrise, as well as my experiences in Finland. For a number of days I tossed ideas about, and then went back to basics…I wanted my readers to experience the Finnish summer cottage and sauna culture, and I had a son who was a missionary, who fell in love with and married a Finnish girl, and who, being a Visual Effects artist, was never without his laptop. I shoved all those elements into my creative pot, plus some visuals like the ones below, and came up with Helsinki Sunrise.


 

You are a prolific blogger, but please tell us about the inspiration for your most recent blog, Foreign Affaire. What, in your opinion, makes it special and unique?

Now that I’m on the publishing journey, and getting into the whole marketing side of writing, I quickly came to the realization that, even though I blog on several blogs, I needed my own cyberplace that could showcase my fiction writing.
But I couldn’t limit this to my own work—I’d blog bi-annually if I did that. I’d come to know so many authors on International Christian Fiction Writers, and through American Christian Fiction Writers, as well as my new Passport to Romance Pelican family, who were all writing foreign romance. In planning my blog tour, I realized there were many fascinating aspects one could write about and tie in with your book. And so, Foreign Affaire ~ Finding Romance in Novel Places was born.
The blog showcases one author a month, one blog a week and is already booked up until the end of 2015. The first week features the book cover, blurb and reviews. Week two, a blog on the location of the story. Week three’s a bonus week with up to four blogs—two-day interviews with both the hero and heroine (after all, our stories are all about our characters). And the fourth week could be up to a two-day interview with the author.
There’s also a bookshelf where readers can find not only past and future showcased books, but any book that fits the Foreign Affaire criteria of Christian fiction with an element of romance and set in a foreign country. If a US setting, then the characters must be foreign or the location unusual—for instance, Unraveled, our first book showcased in July, was set in Alaska.
Readers can find the link to Foreign Affaire on my author bio below.

Finally, you live in Pretoria East, South Africa; an exotic sounding location for many of us. Will you please describe a few benefits and drawbacks of living where you do?

The benefit of living where I do has to be the weather and the Jacaranda trees. I think Pretoria probably has the best weather in South Africa—it can get hot in summer, but not overbearingly, and our winters are mild (although we do tend to get cold because our houses are not built for winter—tiled floors, no double glazing, no central heating). In fact, in mid-July this year, our mid-winter, we had beautiful temperate days with temperatures of 23° Celcius. But if it snows in the Cape, we certainly feel it 1500 kilometers away in Pretoria.
During summertime, Pretoria’s streets are lined in a purple hue from the Jacaranda trees. It’s not called the Jacaranda city for nothing.

The drawback to living where I do is the high crime rates we experience daily, and the poverty we’re continually faced with—both because of the high unemployment rate. At almost every traffic light you’re faced with homeless people of all colors begging.

 
Despite the problems in our country, South Africa remains a beautiful place—the only time I want to live elsewhere, is through my characters and my writing.

We trust that you’ve enjoyed this blog tour, and have already purchased your copy of Helsinki Sunrise.
There will be an eBook of Helsinki Sunrise up for grabs today. To be entered into the draw, please leave a comment with your email address before September 19th.*
Numerous eBooks of Helsinki Sunrise will be given away on the blog tour, so take a journey to each of the stops and leave a comment. Don’t forget to include your email address.
Helsinki Sunrise is available to purchase from Pelican Book Group, Christianbook.com, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble

Watch the Helsinki Sunrise book trailer on YouTube.
Watch the Passport to Romance book trailer on YouTube.


Marion Ueckermann’s passion for writing was sparked in 2001 when she moved to Ireland with her husband and two sons. Since then she has published devotional articles and stories in Winners, The One Year Devotional of Joy and Laughter (Tyndale House Publishers), and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miraculous Messages from Heaven, and her debut novelette, Helsinki Sunrise (White Rose Publishing, a Pelican Book Group imprint, Passport to Romance series).
Marion blogs for International Christian Fiction Writers and Beauty for Ashes. She belongs to Christian Writers of South Africa and American Christian Fiction Writers. She lives in Pretoria East, South Africa in an empty nest with her husband and their crazy black Scottie, Wally.

Connect with Marion Ueckermann:

* Void where prohibited; the odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. Entering the giveaway is considered a confirmation of eligibility on behalf of the enterer in accord with these rules and any pertaining local/federal/international laws.
Permission to use images obtained.
Jacaranda Photo Copyright: http://www.123rf.com/profile_lienkie

Saturday, September 6, 2014

'Framing Faith' by Matt Knisely

Framing Faith: From Camera to Pen, An Award-Winning Photojournalist Captures God in a Hurried World
Like a photographer or storyteller, Jesus exhibited time and again how easy it is to capture moments of profound importance just by "noticing," "stopping," and "responding" to his surroundings.

In a world moving way too fast, "Framing Faith" is a book for people seeking to focus their lives, to find a deeper knowledge of God, and a more authentic Christian faith. In this modern age, many of us fill every "spare" moment we have rather than taking an intermission to see the true works of God and realize that he is present in every moment.

Matt Knisely communicates biblical truths in a fresh way, allowing you to really hear them, as if for the first time. He illustrates a new way to "see" God and to help us live in the moment through the exploration of various photography concepts, including:

Perspective
Composition
Processing
Darkness versus Light

His probing questions and unexpected presentation lead readers into a place of honest self-examination, causing them to ask, "Am I listening to God?" "Framing Faith" provokes its readers toward reflection; it reveals God is in everything we see and do.


MY THOUGHTS:

I've been interested in writing and reviewing novels for a very long time, so was curious to explore a different angle of story telling, from a photographer's point of view, especially since there are a couple of keen photographers in my family. It was as thought provoking as I'd expected to find it. Matt Knisely is an expert in his field, and uses analogies such as focus, developing photos, setting up subjects, colour, exposure, letting in enough light, removing intentional fuzziness, and examining each scene for clutter, as analogies for how we live life. 

As he processes things entirely differently from me, this book was eye-opening. Knisely informs us that he grew up with a learning difficulty which made reading difficult. He was always a visual learner, a doodler who relied heavily on pictures. He's also clearly a 'people' person who considers what he aptly calls WOO (winning others over) one of his personal strengths. As I'm an introvert who loves pondering over word pictures and shies away from trying to talk anybody into anything, I was surprised to see how much we're really on the same page in our own ways. Knisely makes a good point that God loves it when we process our common faith in ways that reflect our individual personalities and strengths.

One thing which irritated me a bit while reading this book is the confusion of formatting. most sentences and several proper names don't start with capital letters, while capitals appear in the middle of random words all thrOUgh the teXt, without any apParEnt reason. I'm not sure whether his intention was to be arty and different for whatever reason. We're told that written words never held much impact for him, so maybe that's why, but for people more like me, it's jarring and slows down the reading experience a lot.  

I was impressed by so many story-photograph analogies that I probably have space to mention just a few. He points out that some photos make statements while others ask questions. The groupings photographers set up in family or work photos shows that we're meant to exist in relationships, and meaning springs from being part of other people's stories. The best photographers resist the temptation to look for only showy or 'grand' moments, and find great significance in quiet, less showy moments which many people miss. Great photos provide instant stories, have the power to whiz us back several years in an instant, provide voices for the voiceless and hope for the hopeless. Perhaps one of the biggest advantage in telling stories through photos is that the language is universal. Another thing which (sadly) came through for me is how much depth there is to the subject which a 'point and click' girl like me would have a hard time getting familiar with.

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

3.5 stars