What I’m Into ~ September edition

What I'm Into ~ September editionSeptember is here, which means the kids are back in school, but I can’t say I’m totally into that…yet. Because I was very much into the relaxed routines, lazy agendas, and laid-back attitudes of summer. And what a summer it was. Our little corner of the world just blazed through one its very hottest on record. Which means that, yes, our lawn is brown, and yes, our energy bill high from running ceiling fans night after night. But if that’s the price we pay for having day after day of high temps and sunny skies? I’m okay with that because I’m very into being sleeveless in Seattle.

What I'm Into ~ September editionWhat I'm Into ~ September edition

Speaking of blazing, these days I’m also into the 1345 firefighters from across the nation who came to help douse the devastating, wildfires raging across our state last month. While my immediate family and I were in no danger on the west side of the Cascades, the fires hit very close to home as my dear brother and his family came this close to losing their house. Sleepless nights, those! (pictured here: Smoke over Okanogan County; my niece & nephew returning home after evacuation order lifted.)

Other bits of completely random things I’m into:

My new e-cloth Deep Clean Mop. Bland brand name, fantastic product (“perfect cleaning with just water”), which I first heard touted by fellow reviewer, Sincerely Stacie. If you are into housework as much as I am (which is to say, not at all), I encourage you to check it out.

Ricotta cheese. On my veggies, on my breakfast croissants, on my pasta. Don’t ask me where this came from, but these days I’m madly into the stuff.

“Home: Where your story begins” ~ on a plaque at my dear friend Kristi’s house.What I'm Into ~ September edition

Cute things my kids (still) say, such as this gem from Madeline (as she was biting into a chocolate-covered doughnut): “Why do sprinkles make everything better?”

Books by Lysa TerKeurst. This woman keep me grounded. Newer releases such as The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands have resonated deep in my soul, but now I’m making my way through her backlist. Including most recently, Am I Messing Up My Kids? And Other Questions Every Mom Asks. I find great comfort knowing I’m not alone in wondering such things.

After words: So that’s it for me. What are you into these days?


The Gates of Evangeline, book review

The Gates of Evangeline, book reviewFrom a unique new talent comes a fast-paced debut, introducing a heroine whose dark visions bring to light secrets that will heal or destroy those around her . . .

The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young

About this book: (from the publisher) When New York journalist and recently bereaved mother Charlotte “Charlie” Cates begins to experience vivid dreams about children she’s sure that she’s lost her mind. Yet these are not the nightmares of a grieving parent, she soon realizes. They are messages and warnings that will help Charlie and the children she sees, if only she can make sense of them.

After a little boy in a boat appears in Charlie’s dreams asking for her help, Charlie finds herself entangled in a thirty-year-old missing-child case that has never ceased to haunt Louisiana’s prestigious Deveau family. Armed with an invitation to Evangeline, the family’s sprawling estate, Charlie heads south, where new friendships and an unlikely romance bring healing. But as she uncovers long-buried secrets of love, money, betrayal, and murder, the facts begin to implicate those she most wants to trust—and her visions reveal an evil closer than she could’ve imagined.

About the author: Hester Young holds a master’s degree in English with a concentration in creative writing from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, and her short stories have appeared in Hawai’i Review and other magazines. Before turning to writing full-time, she was a teacher in Arizona and New Hampshire. Young lives in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, with her husband and their two children.

Genre: Fiction/Mystery

Why I read this book: When I saw it was a “A Southern Gothic mystery debut that combines literary suspense and romance with a mystical twist,” I had to check it out.

First impressions: Love the creepy cover, and the eerie prologue drew me right in. One of my last impressions was that the title doesn’t do the story justice.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: R. Profanity, mature themes

Reminds me of… The Daughter by Jane Shemilt

Will especially appeal to… fans of Kate Atkinson and Tana French

This story matters… for its reminder of new life after death.

My take: From the start, this story’s complex heroine captured both my imagination and my heart. I may not have always liked her choices or opinions, but I couldn’t help but like her. Her combination of strengths and flaws made me care for her, wanting to ease her pain–and aid her in surmounting the enormous obstacles she faced. I also appreciated the honest way she grappled with spiritual issues, though I hope she will someday reach different conclusions. As this is, apparently, the first of a trilogy, in this I still have hope.

I especially liked the ways that Charlie’s interaction with Detective Minot added dimension to the story and depth to her character. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have minded the fleshing out of a few plot threads–a bit more on Grandma’s spectral legacy, Charlie’s relationship with Detective Minot’s wife, and the aftermath of Leeann’s story. Though here perhaps I’m being premature; perhaps these are dealt with in more detail later in the trilogy. In any case, these are minor things. I ripped through The Gates of Evangeline with very little effort. Ms. Young certainly knows how to spin a yarn, complete with red herrings and ever-ratcheted suspense.

This rich and atmospheric mystery makes a wonderfully dark and twisty read for fall.

Thanks to G.P. Putnam’s Sons for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: In the author’s notes I read that her story research encompassed a visit to Oak Alley Plantation–a place my husband and I visited while “babymooning” in New Orleans. (You’ll find a photo of Oak Alley on the banner of Hester  Young’s website.) I remember sipping mint julep (minus the bourbon because it was, after all, our babymoon) on the front porch after touring this still-grand antebellum plantation. Isn’t it funny how discovering a little detail like that makes one feel more attached to a story? It’s almost as if I own a tiny piece of it. Has that ever happened to you?

Story Behind the Story of The Deliverer by Sharon Hinck

Story Behind the Story of The Deliverer by Sharon Hinck

I first met the multi-talented Sharon Hinck (at various times a choreographer, dancer, musician, homeschool mom and writer) at a writers conference several years ago. I was immediately taken in by her humor, warmth, and willingness to befriend an aspiring novelist like me.

Sharon writes “stories for the hero in all of us,” about ordinary women on extraordinary faith journeys. She has been honored with a Christy finalist medal and three Carol awards for her previous books. She claims that one day she’ll figure out what to be when she grows up, but for now, she pours her imagination into writing.

This article first appeared in a Book Buddy newsletter. Thank you, Sharon, for allowing me to re-post it here.


The Story Behind the Story of The Deliverer
by Sharon Hinck

“If I can no longer do this, then who am I?”

Several years ago, (after loads of fun and the publication of seven novels) I was sidelined from my writing work by health issues. For quite awhile I wasn’t able to write at all. Slowly, I improved enough to begin writing short devotions. Then I wrote bonus material for the first three Sword of Lyric books as expanded editions were released with a new publisher.

Gradually, I resumed work on The Deliverer, a story I’d begun before I got sick. Now the book is finished—seven years after beginning the manuscript. That wasn’t the pace I had in mind when I began the story. I couldn’t have imagined the interruptions that would come. But I’m so grateful God allowed me to complete the book.

In that wonderful way God has of making use of our trials, part of Linette’s journey in the story involves the loss of her vocation. I was able to draw from the fear and frustration of my experiences to depict her struggle. I hope her story will encourage anyone who has faced interruptions, a loss of identity, or a loss of ability. Take heart! God may have something richer and deeper and more profound in mind for your life than you first imagined. Sometimes He may even get you back on a path that you thought was barricaded forever.

About this bookA lost songkeeper must lead her people to a long-awaited Deliverer.

Eager to serve the One, a young songkeeper travels to the dark and foreign nation of Hazor, but her confusing, rough-edged companion has lost his Restorer gifts. As danger rises against them both, she loses her freedom, her memories, and her hope. Now even the very music of her soul is threatened.

In our world, Susan Mitchell no longer feels at home in the carpool lane. Burdened by the unhealed scars from her trips through the portal, she fights to suppress her worry about her son, who remains out of contact in Lyric. But when a mysterious message hints Jake is in danger, she and her husband are swept away—to the place they least expect.

Clan rebellions. Lost Restorers. Has the One turned away, or will the face of the Deliverer bring light to the darkness?

Connect with Sharon online: Book Buddy Newsletter | Blog |Facebook | Goodreads |Twitter 

After words: Has your work ever been sidelined by illness or life events? How did you respond to the interruption?

Rainy Day Sisters, book review

Rainy Day Sisters, book reviewWelcome to Hartley-by-the-Sea in England’s beautiful Lake District, where two sisters who meet as strangers find small miracles tucked into the corners of every day….

Rainy Day Sisters by Kate Hewitt

About this book: (from the publisher) When Lucy Bagshaw’s life in Boston falls apart, thanks to a scathing editorial written by her famous artist mother, she accepts her half sister Juliet’s invitation to stay with her in a charming seaside village in northern England. Lucy is expecting quaint cottages and cream teas, but instead finds that her sister is an aloof host, the weather is wet, windy, and cold, and her new boss, Alex Kincaid, is a disapproving widower who only hired her as a favor to Juliet.

Despite the invitation she offered, Juliet is startled by the way Lucy catapults into her orderly life. As Juliet faces her own struggles with both her distant mother and her desire for a child, her sister’s irrepressible optimism begins to take hold. With the help of quirky villagers, these hesitant rainy day sisters begin to forge a new understanding…and find in each other the love of family that makes all the difference.

About the author: (from her website) Kate was born in Pennsylvania, went to college in Vermont, and has spent summers in the Canadian wilderness. After several years as a diehard New Yorker, she now lives in the lovely Cotswolds in England with her husband, five young children, and an overly affectionate Golden Retriever. You can follow her musings on village life at her blog.

Genre: Fiction/Women’s Fiction

Why I read this book: Cozy cover, new-to-me bestselling author who writes romance as a celebration of her Christian faith and the redemptive power of love, a compelling storyline…Well, yes, I’m in!

First impressions: Inviting cover and hook first pages had me from the start.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG

Reminds me of… Beth Kendrick, Marisa De Los Santos

Will especially appeal to… women who enjoy wholesome fiction that explores the complex emotions of family relationships.

This story matters because… it celebrates the meaning of family and healing power of love.

My take: I love falling in love with a new novel, and this one charmed me from the start. Winsome characters, romance-worthy setting, and enough relationship drama to keep me up at nights. I can’t say enough good things about this one, including the fact that it’s clean. From page one, I loved sweet Lucy and her hopeless optimism. I ached for prickly Juliet while rooting for Lucy’s determination to crack her nut-hard shell. I relished the way these two estranged sisters found the complement in the other they each needed, leading them both to health and hope. And the romance they found along the way provided sweet icing on the cake.

Though I savored this lovely story over the course of several sunny, summer days, Rainy Day Sisters would make an even more delightful treat swallowed whole this fall on your next curl-up-beside-the-fire-with-a-cuppa rainy day.

Thanks to New American Library for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: I’m delighted to have discovered Kate Hewitt (who also writes as Katharine Swartz), and pleased to learn she has a lengthy backlist. Who are some authors you’ve been delighted to discover?

Spotlight on The Best Is Yet to Be by Bruce Peppin

Warning: midlife mountains ahead.

The Best Is Yet to Be: Moving Mountains in Midlife by Bruce Peppin

About this book: (from the publisher) No one needs to tell you that the crises of midlife are real. In fact, they can loom like mountains blocking your path. Kids grow up, parents grow old, spouses grow apart. Finances get strained and regrets are relentless—just when it should be getting easier! At this stage of life, it’s easy to feel that our best years are behind us and somehow we’ve missed it.

But, as you’ll discover in this book, your later years can be your greatest years—by holding steady and following the Bible’s principles for finishing well. You can enjoy an inspiring second half and pass on an enduring legacy utilizing the practical guidance found in The Best Is Yet to Be.

About the author: Bruce Peppin has been married to Kathleen for 30 years, the same amount of time he has served in executive leadership at Focus on the Family. Prior to that, he worked in local church ministry and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Business from Long Beach State University and a Master of Divinity Degree from Talbot School of Theology. In his free time he enjoys mountain- and road-biking, hiking, reading, conversation over a good cup of coffee and an occasional motorcycle ride. Bruce and Kathleen live in Colorado Springs; they are the parents of two grown children and grandparents to Lincoln, born last year.

Genre: Non-fiction/Religion/Christian Life/Personal Growth

Will especially appeal to… Christian men in their 40s and 50s.

This story matters because…it helps Christians meet the challenges of midlife to live an inspired second half.

My take: Midlife can be a bewildering time, comprised of an often baffling blend of paradoxes. We midlifers still feel young…until our bodies zing us a sharp reality check, reminding us that we’re not as young as we like to pretend. We’ve been on the planet long enough to have seen some real change–in social mores, technology, on the world stage—and yet the way it was can still seem like yesterday. Many of us live in the in-between as the so-called Sandwich Generation, caring for both young children and aging parents—and we feel the squeeze. By the time we’ve reached our forties, most of us have put more years behind us than we have yet ahead.

It’s probably this last blunt reality that makes many of us take stock in our 40s and 50s, looking back at what we’ve done before casting our gaze ahead into the hazy future, asking ourselves: In the end, will what I’ve done make a difference? Will my life matter?

Will I finish well?

Bruce Peppin once asked himself those questions–and didn’t much care for the answers. The experience plunged him into depression. Fortunately, he wasn’t doomed to stay there as godly people came alongside him and walked with him until he emerged on the other side with renewed optimism, a clearer perspective–and wisdom to share.

He’s channeled all of that into his wonderfully hope-filled book, The Best Is Yet to Be. His blend of reflections, stories, and Scripture combines in a surprisingly practical package. Seasoned with plenty of manly analogies, this book is geared for men but has the potential to help all readers “finish well.”

Thanks to Veritas Communications Inc. for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: What does “finishing well” mean to you?

The Unbreakable Boy, book review

The Unbreakable Boy, book reviewThe Unbreakable Boy: A Father’s Fear, a Son’s Courage, and a Story of Unconditional Love by Scott M. LeRette with Susy Flory

About this book: (from the publisher) Like any other teenage boy, Austin loves pizza, movies, dancing, and girls. But unlike most other eighteen-year-olds, he has a rare brittle-bone disease, was locked in a mental ward as a child, and is autistic. Yet Austin doesn’t let any of that stop him.

His is a world where suffering a broken back is a minor inconvenience and the quest for the ultimate strawberry shake just might be the best day of his life.

Written with remarkable candor by Austin’s father, Scott, and New York Times best-selling author Susy Flory, The Unbreakable Boy weaves the beautiful and often humorous tale of how Austin teaches his father―and everyone else he encounters―to have faith in God and trust that one day life’s messes will all make sense.

About the authors: (excerpted from his websiteSCOTT LERETTE is an ordinary man with an extraordinary son. He is a sales executive for GE Capital whose favorite sports team of all time is the Boston Red Sox. Married to Teresa for twenty years, they live in Red Oak, Iowa, with their sons Austin (eighteen), Logan (sixteen), and a number of pets. Scott is an accomplished chess player, avid gamer, plays acoustic guitar in a band, and is actively involved with his church where he helps organize youth and high school missions and community service projects.

SUSY FLORY is a New York Times bestselling author with degrees from UCLA in English and psychology. She taught high school English and journalism, then quit in 2004 to write full time for publications such as Focus on the Family, Guideposts Books, In Touch, Praise & Coffee, Today’s Christian, and Today’s Christian Woman. She is the author or co-author of seven books, including Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero. Thunder Dog was a runaway bestseller and spent over a dozen weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Susy lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband. She has two grown children, a terrier named Sprinkles, and an ex-racehorse named Stetson.

Genre: Non-fiction/Memoir/General

Reminds me of… Get Your Joy Back by Laurie Wallin

Will especially appeal to…parents facing the challenge of rearing special needs kids

This story matters because…in the words of the publisher, “Austin’s journey dares us all to believe that miracles are possible, that hope does spring eternal, and that we can find joyous moments to celebrate every day.”

My take: What do you do if you’re a man who finds himself an unexpected dad, and then an unexpected husband, confronting a maybe-not-so-unexpected addiction as he rears an unexpected son?

Well, if you’re Scott LeRette, you write a popular blog about your journey and turn it into a book. Which becomes a poignant love letter to both your “crazy life” and the son who makes it so.

From the first pages of The Unbreakable Boy–in which we meet Austin and then his dad “cowering in the closet”–I was drawn into the story of their quirky, crazy life. First hooked, and then won over by Scott’s heartrendingly authentic representation of his journey, his family, himself. Who wouldn’t be inspired to see how an ordinary guy learned, by God’s grace, to be more like his extraordinary son?

Perhaps because I grew up with a brother with autism and have many good friends parenting children with autism–or perhaps simply because I’m a mom with challenges of my own–Scott’s story helped me. To see blessing in the small things, to find joy in everyday challenges, and to reach for hope.

I recommend The Unbreakable Boy to readers who not only wish to increase their awareness of special needs, but to be encouraged. And, as Scott says, to embrace those who are “different” as right and sound and good.

Thanks to Veritas Communications Inc. for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: How many parents do you know who might be encouraged by Scott LeRette’s story of The Unbreakable Boy?  

Seeing in the Dark, book review

Seeing in the Dark, book reviewLet there be light!

Seeing in the Dark: finding God’s light in the most unexpected places by Nancy Ortberg

About this book: Christians are supposed to be “the light of the world.” Yet we seem to spend most of our time stumbling in the dark. We want answers carved in stone, and instead we get uncertainty. We want a clearly marked path and a panoramic view of the future, and God gives us only fleeting glimpses of what lies ahead―and just enough light to take the next step.

So what do we do?

We take the next step.

In her much-anticipated follow-up to Looking for God, Nancy Ortberg takes readers on a journey that began thousands of years ago. From an ancient cave in Turkey to the California coast, Nancy highlights the often unexpected, sometimes imperceptible, yet always extraordinary means God uses to light our way through even the most painful and challenging moments in life.

About the author: Nancy Ortberg is the Director of Leadership Development at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, in Northern California, and the author of Seeing in the Dark: Finding God’s Light in the Most Unexpected Places and Unleashing the Power of Rubber Bands, Lessons in Non-Linear Leadership.  A highly sought-after speaker, Nancy has been a featured presenter at the Catalyst and Orange conferences, and has been a regular contributor to Rev! Magazine.  She and her husband, John, live in the Bay Area and have three grown children: Laura, Mallory, and Johnny. You can connect with Nancy on Facebook.

Genre: Non-fiction/Christian Living/Personal Growth

Why I read this book: for Tyndale House Publishers for review

Reminds me of…Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist

Will especially appeal to… seasoned believers, especially women, who could use a shot of encouragement.

This story matters because…it reminds us that no matter how dark or confusing our circumstances, God lights our path, one step at a time…

My take: Funny how often I receive a book that contains precisely the message I need to hear at that given moment. Case in point: it took only a few pages for me to connect with the author of Seeing in the Dark, to feel she understood exactly where I am these days–and to know she had something wise to say about it.

Where am I, exactly? Well, neither here nor there, really. I find myself in a place of transition, on so many levels. And transition–where few things feel settled or certain–can be hard for a girl like me who likes to know.

These days I’m aware as never before of the complexity and texture of life. Not much appears as black and white. Instead my world is filled with shifting circumstances and challenges that require near constant discernment. Which feels a lot like darkness, where what I need most is Light to guide me.

Apparently Nancy Ortberg agrees. She says:

“Living in between is hard work. It’s much simpler to make a choice, color it black or white, draw a line. But even though this living in between is more difficult, it’s better. Definitely better. What lies in between is nuance, richness, and meaning. It’s only in the in-between that we can live in color, with heartaches and joys combining hues.”

Ortberg reveals her strength as a mentor in not only her transparency, but also in her grasp of metaphor and ability to relate her circumstances to her readers’. I found her reflections on “living torn” and the reality of life’s hard paradoxes both comforting and encouraging: “…embracing pain may be one of the deepest and most profound ways to abundant life…. The in-between space is where God meets us and grows us in our understanding of who he is. Only tested faith is a personal possession.”

Scarcely 120 pages long, Seeing in the Dark is a quick but potentially invaluable resource for anyone who’s struggling to know their way, and who longs to learn from someone who’s been there.

Thanks to Tyndale House Publishers for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: What does “living in between” mean to you?

Sophie’s Quest, book review

Sophie's Quest, book reviewThorns and thistles! It makes me happy to welcome back my favorite co-reviewer–my daughter, Madeline–who joins me in offering her thoughts on this unique and informative novel for the younger readers in your life.

Sophie’s Quest by Sonja Anderson

About this book: Sophie Topfeather loves to collect people-things with which to decorate her life and home. When she finds a golden necklace, she is intrigued by its shape and shows it to her grandfather, the Great Wise Horned Owl of the Park. His reaction only stirs her interest even more; he calls it a holy symbol, and then a ‘t’ for ‘trouble’! All of which sets our young owl off on a Quest to learn its true meaning.

Little does she know that a day-dreaming, over-protected, adventure-seeking Pirate – er, mouse – named Timley has leapt into the brim of her hat as Sophie flies off on her Quest! And suddenly, their adventure takes its own turn as they find themselves on board a ship bound for the Holy Land. Thorns and thistles! Has the trouble started already? Can Timley convince Sophie she should not-I repeat, NOT-eat him?

This is also the story of the mysterious Sky Painter, who seems to be with them-no, leading them-on their Quest. So, why is he always leading them straight into trouble? Was the Great Wise Horned Owl right all along?

Come along on the Quest to find out! Cross oceans with Sophie and Timley to a land of mosques and synagogues, markets and Bedouin tents, and, like our unlikely friends, you may never be the same again!

About the author: Author Sonja Anderson has a Master’s degree in Education and a Bachelor’s degree in History, has worked as an elementary school teacher, a resident counselor in a children’s home, taught Sunday School, and has served for 12 years as the Christian Formation Coordinator for the North Pacific Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the NW Christian Writers Association. Married with two daughters, she has called Seattle home for over 20 years. Visit her online at SonjaAndersonBooks.com.

Genre: Fiction/Christian/Children/Adventure

Why I read this book: Because when I met the author and learned about her new book, I couldn’t resist.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: G

Reminds me of… the books of Kate DiCamillo

Will especially appeal to… children ages 8-12 who wonder how to engage positively with peers with different religious beliefs.

This story matters because…it illustrates that regardless of ethnicity, family background, or creed, we are all called to seek to understand and love each other–as the God who created us does.

My take: I doubt I’m alone in my belief that the best children’s books impart a moral lesson. And that the best of these sweep readers into a place of imagination, where readers will wish to remain even after they’ve turned the last page. Sophie’s Quest delivers this and more, accomplishing its purpose through the power of story. It’s so filled with adventure and whimsy that lessons are painless and indeed part of the fun. No need for soapbox posturing when the adventures of Sophie and Timley do the job so winsomely.

In addition to the author’s compassionate approach to those who practice different faiths, I especially enjoyed the layered friendship between Sophie and Timley–which shows at a personal level the bigger lessons these characters are absorbing along the way.

The fun characters and engaging voice make Sophie’s Quest a delightful read. Some young readers will want to read it on their own. Others will enjoy having a parent read it to them–in which case, young and old alike will likely learn a thing or two. I know I did.

Madeline’s take: The prologue does a good job of introducing everyone. It’s not very long but it still gets a lot of things covered and interests the reader enough to want to continue. In other words, it has a good hook. Also, I like animals, and so I like books that have animals as characters. And I like stories that take me where I’ve never been and teach me what I don’t know.

In Sophie’s Quest, I especially liked how the story changed the characters. Because if it changed the characters, I have hope it can change me as well.

Thanks to the author for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: What are some of your favorite books from childhood?

Though I try not to include endorsements in my reviews, I can’t help but repeat this one from Doreen Olson, Executive Director of Christian Formation for the Evangelical Covenant Church: “Some children’s books entertain well. Others teach important life lessons. Sonja Anderson’s Sophie’s Quest does both. From the ‘faint but urgent knocking’ of its prologue to the heartwarming scene in its epilogue, this story draws the reader into a world of adventure and learning. All of us — young and old — need to be reminded that differences need not form barriers when it comes to making friends. No matter our size or shape or background, we are all in this wild and wonderful world together to care for and learn from one another. Sophie and Timley, thank you for teaching that truth so beautifully.

I couldn’t agree more!

What I’m Into ~ Irish edition

What I'm Into ~ Irish edition

River View of Trim Castle

Dear Ireland ~

Having recently returned from your emerald shores, I am very much into you.

What I'm Into ~ Irish edition

“Bin Your Gum When You’re Done. Avoid a 150 euro fine.”

To start, I’m into the way your people say, “You are very welcome”–sounding each and every time as if they really meant it. I’m into the charm and homeyness we encountered at every turn, as well as the pride you take in your appearance–sponsoring “Tidy Town” initiatives and even laying down the law in the form of stiff fines for thoughtless gum-spitters so that you may present your best face to the world. Well done.

Like you, I’m into your Celtic Tiger economy which, though now waned, has left you with a legacy of good roads. Personally, I wouldn’t mind a few more crosswalks, for the sake of pedestrians and motorists alike. But your roundabouts are endlessly fun, and you boast some of the most courteous and capable drivers we’ve ever encountered–all of which I’m very into, given your narrow, twisty roads.

What I'm Into ~ Irish edition

Antrim Coast as seen from Dunluce castle

What I'm Into ~ Irish edition

Leg of lamb with champ

I don’t think I would ever tire of views of your misty coastline, your miles and miles of rugged rock walls, or your sheep-dotted pastures. And kudos for your nearly universal, free WiFi. Thank you too for your ubiquitous brown bread, which I got into with almost every meal. Not so much your veg, however, which still needs some work, but as I’m into so many of your other culinary delights–seafood chowder, lamb stew, beef & Guinness Pie, oh my!–I will not complain.

What I'm Into ~ Irish edition

On the beautiful Dingle peninsula

What I'm Into ~ Irish edition

Wanted: Sun

During my stay with you I found, in fact, there was little I wasn’t into–except maybe your weather. Your cool and cloudy summer felt a lot like our moody springtime back home–not an altogether bad thing, but we Seattlites are into sun in our summers, because we otherwise see so little of it. And the wind gusting across your hilltops? Whoa. I will say, though, I was into those two mornings of sparkling sunshine you managed to toss in, plus that one day of truly glorious weather to coincide with our exploration of your beautiful Dingle Peninsula.

To future visitors, I would recommend being into both a GPS and an Office of Public Works (OPW) Heritage Pass, which for 25 euro (paying for itself by Day 2), got us into nearly every site we wanted to see.

What I'm Into ~ Irish edition

Antrim Coast’s Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge

As for favorites, if pressed I would say I’m into the imposing remains of Dun Aengus; the medieval town of Trim, replete with castle (and site of Braveheart filming), with mysterious, neolithic Newgrange nearby; the crumbling, windswept ruins of Dunluce castle; the simply old-fashioned “Old Bushmills” Distillery; the enjoyably scenic and instructive Kissane Sheep Farm. If pressed further I would admit that I wasn’t so into Dingle town, which felt far too touristy (at least as we encountered it during touristy July). And if I had to make a choice, I’d go for the exhilaratingly scenic Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge (with views of Scotland in the distance) above the sadly over-commercialized, overpriced Giant’s Causeway;  and cleverly entertaining Smithwicks (say “smitticks”) tour in Kilkenny over the uber-touristy (and also overpriced) Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.

What I'm Into ~ Irish edition

Good craic at Dalton’s Pub in Kinsale

And oh, and the pub trad-music scene. We really got into your traditional folk music and good craic–which, loosely translated, promises good fun, but it’s really so much more than that. It’s one of the best ways you have of keeping your stories alive–those belonging to your people and your twisty, tangled history (apparently confusing even the most Irish among you). That you are so into your music and your stories lends you a seemingly unquenchable spirit. Precious pieces of your Gaelic heritage, may you be forever into these.

In closing, I’ll swing full circle and return again to your people. Of all the gracious, hospitable folk we’ve encountered on our travels, yours are among the most cheerful and friendly. And I’m totally into that. So to the Irish we offer our sincere thanks, and our prayers for a bright future. It’s to you that we raise a glass.


After words: So that’s it for me. What are you into?

P.S. For those who may want more, my husband kept a detailed diary of our trip. You’re welcome to read it here.

P.P.S. Remember I said I would be tucking this book in my tote to pull out during our travels? Well, I really did, and we both so enjoyed the insightful convo it sparked. Recommended!

Trial by Twelve, book review + giveaway

Trial by Twelve, book review + giveawayTrial by Twelve by Heather Day Gilbert

About this book: Tess Spencer loves her low-key job at the Crystal Mountain Spa, which allows her plenty of down-time with her one-year old daughter and lawyer husband, Thomas. But when a pool installation turns up eight skeletons in the spa’s back yard, Tess becomes entangled in a sleuthing job destined to go awry.

As the investigation gets underway, someone dumps a fresh body near the excavated burial site, confirming unspeakable fears. A serial killer has returned to Buckneck, West Virginia…a skilled hunter with a unique taste in prey. When Tess agrees to help the cunning Detective Tucker gather clues from the inside, she discovers the posh spa hides more than dead bodies. Even as she sifts through layers of deceit, Tess realizes too late that the killer’s sights have zeroed in on her.

Unpredictable psychological mystery replete with memorable characters, Trial by Twelve is Book Two in A Murder in the Mountains series.

About the author: Heather Day Gilbert enjoys writing stories about authentic, believable marriages. Born and raised in the West Virginia mountains, she believes that bittersweet, generational stories are in her blood. A graduate of Bob Jones University, Heather has been married for eighteen years and has three children. Heather’s Viking historical novel, God’s Daughter, was an Amazon Norse Bestseller for an entire year. She is also the author of Miranda Warning, Book One in A Murder in the Mountains Series, and the Indie Publishing Handbook: Four Key Elements for the Self-Publisher. You can find Heather online: website Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads

Genre: Fiction/Christian/Mystery

Why I read this book: because I like this gal’s style, and who doesn’t love a good mystery?

First impressions: Evocative cover art and intriguing first pages drew me right into the story.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG

Reminds me of… Port Aster Secrets mystery series by Sandra Orchard.

Will especially appeal to… Christian women who enjoy a compelling mystery with a light spiritual touch.

This story matters because… it lends hope to the promise of justice.

My take: I found Trial by Twelve a delight from start to finish. I reveled in the intricate layering of themes, the deft development of plot, and the light spiritual touch. Having read the first in this series, I especially enjoyed seeing Tess blossom as a wife and mother. The masterful pacing drew me right along, as did the plentiful twists and surprises–including one that actually delivered a chill. All throughout, Heather’s prose remained pitch-perfect, not one word out of place. Reading her work, I got the sense she is confident in her skills–and rightly so.

Writers tend to talk a lot about voice. Like tone, it’s an elusive technique that (I believe) cannot be taught but rather absorbed.  It’s an intuitive quality that permeates every page, giving a story its own unique feel, setting it apart from everything else, lifting it out of the ordinary. And Heather’s got it nailed. Her voice is clean, clear, precise, possessing just enough mountain twang to provide a hint of tart.

At only 50,000 words, Trial by Twelve is a wonderfully breezy read, perfect to take along on a short vacation–or anytime. A top-notch work of fiction, it’s the kind of polished novel that raises the bar.

Thanks to the author for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

Giveaway: Heather has generously offered an e-copy of Trial by Twelve to one of my lucky readers. You have only to let me know you were here–by leaving a comment, tweeting, commenting or liking on FB–and you’ll be entered into the drawing.

After words: Were you an Agatha Christie fan? I spent many of teenage hour (and a few in adulthood too) curled up with one of hers. I generally preferred Miss Marple to Poirot. How about you?