Waking Up Joy, book review

Waking Up Joy, book reviewBehind every lost dream lies a second chance…

Waking Up Joy by Tina Ann Forkner

About this book: (from the publisher) When adored town spinster Joy Talley ends up in a coma after a peculiar accident, she is surprised and incensed to hear what is being said in her hospital room, including plans for her funeral. When she finally wakes, her well-meaning, but bossy, brothers and sisters dismiss her claims, thinking her accident has knocked her off her rocker, but Joy has never felt better, and is determined to set the past right. Now Joy must face her darkest secret and risk reopening wounds caused by an old flame who rejected her more than twenty years ago. But taking risks brings change, as well as a new, younger man into Joy’s life, making her feel like a teenager again. Suddenly Joy’s once humdrum life is anything but boring and routine and the future beckons, exhilarating and bright.

About the author: (excerpted from her website) Tina Ann Forkner writes women’s fiction. When not writing, Tina is a substitute teacher who loves sharing her appreciation of reading and writing with children and teens. She enjoys traveling, gardening, and hiking in the great outdoors, is (still) learning to knit scarves, trying to cut back on caffeine, and not much makes her happier than an extra-large mocha.

Before making her way to Wyoming, Tina grew up in small-town Oklahoma, moved for a time to England, and eventually to Sacramento where she graduated with honors in English from Sac State. She makes her home in Cheyenne with her husband, three teens, and two spoiled dogs.

Genre: Fiction/Women’s Fiction

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: a very tame PG-13. Some mild cussing appropriate to context, didn’t bother me a bit.

How I’d judge this cover to suit the story: Perfect. To me, it speaks pure joy.

Reminds me of… shades of Joshilyn Jackson and Sarah Addison Allen

Will especially appeal to… readers of crossover women’s fiction who enjoy the novels of Lisa Wingate and Karen White.

Would I read another by this author? Do Southerners drink sweet tea?

This story matters because… it’s all about the hope of second chances and the promise that it’s never too late to start over and live life to the fullest.

My take: I’m going to keep this simple: I loved this story. Everything from its first engaging lines to its satisfying conclusion, and all that came in between. I found it impossible not to fall in love with Joy, who finds herself a spinster in her forties yet is not nearly ready to give up on love. I liked JOY’s sass and humor, its unassuming faith message and gently unfolding love story (which also managed to keep me guessing).

The author’s voice is vibrant, her prose smooth–altogether a pleasure to read. And the story is peopled by characters that range from charming to annoying, which is all as it should be. What’s more, I always appreciate women’s fiction that includes a dark mystery along with a bit of electric romance–and this one has both.

So put this one on your Christmas list, ladies. WAKING UP JOY is a novel to savor.

Thanks to Tina Ann Forkner for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: So fun to discover a new (to me) author whose voice just jumps right off the page. In the last year, who have been some of your best discoveries?

Spotlight on Tina Ann Forkner, author of Waking Up Joy

Spotlight on Tina Ann Forkner, author of Waking Up JoyMeet Tina Ann Forkner, author of several novels, including the recently released WAKING UP JOY. I’m delighted to welcome her to Story Matters today to share a bit of her story and give us glimpse into the creating of JOY.

So let me turn it over to Tina…


I grew up in rural Oklahoma in the same area that WAKING UP JOY is set. Not long after I graduated from high school, I left home to live in England for a few years, later moved to Sacramento where I finished college at Sac State, and eventually to Wyoming where I’ve stayed because it’s where I met the love of my life. I’ve been living in Wyoming for sixteen years with my husband and three teenagers, but I have to admit that while I love Wyoming, my heart is divided between my two home states. In many ways, I will always be a small town girl from Oklahoma.

There wasn’t one clear incident that sparked my interest in writing JOY. On one hand, I’m from Oklahoma, so that seems like a good enough reason to write WAKING UP JOY, but there are really a number of ideas that wove together to create my story. If I had to zero in on one thing, I guess it would be my fascination with near death experiences and interest in comas. One of my grandfathers, before I was ever born, claimed to have seen heaven when his heart stopped for a time. The story of that event was enough to spark an idea, but instead of focusing on seeing heaven, I decided to focus on what happens when one wakes up from such an event, and how it could be a catalyst for change in a person’s life.

Like Joy, in WAKING UP JOY, I’m from a small town in Oklahoma and there are many things about that area that have always Spotlight in Tina Ann Forkner, author of Waking Up Joyintrigued me. For one thing, it is in the northeastern corner of the state, very close to the borders of Arkansas and Missouri, so we didn’t have the flat prairies that went on for miles and miles like most people think of when they think of Oklahoma. I grew up with hills, trees, caves, and creeks and those images shaped my story and gave it a more Southern feel. I also understand how small towns work, how people interact when they see each other almost every day, how there is a difference between vicious gossip and conversational gossip, and how people stick together through ups and downs, and of course your ups and downs are never secret in a small town. If I hadn’t grown up in that small town in northeastern Oklahoma, I don’t think I could have created the fictional town of Spavinaw Junction that is such a big part of WAKING UP JOY.


In writing this story, I’ve learned to always follow my heart when it comes to writing. I loved writing my first two novels, RUBY AMONG US and ROSE HOUSE which were set in an area I spent a lot of time in when I lived in California, but in my mind I think always wanted to go back to the South. I even had characters who were born in Oklahoma, but living in the Sonoma Valley in ROSE HOUSE. Those were fun books to write and those characters are still special to me, but when I finally listened to my heart and decided to set a novel in Oklahoma instead of just having a couple of Oklahomans living in California, it did something to my writing voice that felt very natural to me. WAKING UP JOY might contain a quirky family that is much crazier than my real family, but somewhere in there, I can feel my roots.

If I were to go through the writing process again, I wouldn’t second-guess myself so much and I would stop worrying about what the industry expects. I would only focus on my readers. The best way to be a writer is to be yourself and let it show in your writing. Readers can see when you’re being real with them, even when it’s fiction.

When people read WAKING UP JOY, I hope they will go away with a sense that it’s never too late to start over and live life to the fullest. Nobody is perfect. We all have some kind of skeleton in our closet somewhere, but we don’t have to let it keep pulling us backward. Most importantly, I hope people laugh. I hope people close the book and remember that no matter what Joy went through in the story, she never lost her sense of humor. That’s why I named her Joy.

Why does *story* matter to me? I can’t see life any other way. Everywhere I turn, I see a story. I love how we can learn from the stories of others and how stories in our lives intertwine with the stories we read. Stories teach us about what it is to be human and I like to explore that concept when I write. I think that’s why real life sparks ideas in a fiction writer’s mind. I know that’s what happened in WAKING UP JOY, and then the story took on a life of its own.

As for what brings me the greatest encouragement—my faith does, both as a writer and as a person. In my novels, characters often doubt their faith and I have done that too. It’s easy to do that because faith in God is such an intangible thing. You can’t touch it or see it, you can only feel it and it’s scary to step out in faith. But sometimes the veil lifts and we catch a glimpse of what might be on the other side, and it inspires us to keep going. This is what happens to Joy in her coma and what propels her to question everything about her life when she wakes up.

And by the way, I love to connect with readers! Here are my social media links:

Facebook | Twitter |Website

Thanks for having me on your blog! Happy Reading!


Thank you, Tina! It’s been my pleasure to have you here today.

Friends, stay tuned–next week, my review of WAKING UP JOY. Here’s a little hint: LOVE.

Motherless, book review

Motherless, book review“This is how we all die…. The first wheel of our lives slips off the pavement on the day we learn how to lie to ourselves. The second wheel goes when we discover that lying gives us something we need, even if only for a little while. And then we are destabilized. From there we fall and fall.” ~ From Motherless by Erin Healy

About this book: (from the publisher) A whispering voice at the back of my mind reminds me that I’ve been this way for some time. Dead, that is.

The dead have a very broad view of the living, of actions performed out of sight, of thoughts believed to be private. I would know. Losing both parents is a trial no child should endure, and Marina and Dylan have endured enough. They deserve the one thing I could never give them: a mother’s love.

A mother’s love, and the truth.

My children have believed a lie about me for years and years. After all this time I can still feel their hurt in my heart. But the tether holding me to them is frayed from years of neglect . . . and I have to find a way to make my confession before it snaps.

But when the truth comes out, what other beasts will I unleash?

“Why do we lie to the children?” someone asked me once.

“To protect them,” I answered.

How terrible it is that they need protection from me.

About the author: (from her website) Erin Healy is the bestselling co-author of Burn and Kiss (with Ted Dekker) and an award-winning fiction editor for numerous bestselling authors. Erin is the owner of WordWright Editorial Services, a consulting firm specializing in fiction book development, and she is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and the Academy of Christian Editors. Her novels include such thrilling stories as Never Let You GoThe Baker’s Wife, and Stranger Things. She lives with her family in Colorado.

Genre: Fiction/Christian/Suspense

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

How I’d judge this cover to suit the story: Pretty good in terms of mood and ethereal atmosphere. But the image of the woman on the cover doesn’t match the physical description of the woman (Misty) in the book, who I’m sure it’s supposed to represent. I always find this a bit jarring, as if the cover artist never read the book.

Reminds me of…  the movie Ghost (am I dating myself?)

Will especially appeal to… readers of complex women’s fiction who appreciate a touch of the supernatural

Would I read another by this author? Erin Healy will always be a must-read author for me

This story matters because… it paints a vivid portrait of grace.

My take: Days after finishing it, I’m still thinking about this one. But that’s pretty typical for the way an Erin Healy novel affects me.

As usual, her prose is flawless, the characters multi-dimensional. The story is layered and complex, to the point that, yes, perhaps the narrative is a bit confusing. It’s the kind of story that you just have to hang on and trust to become clear. Which it does. But not immediately. And not all at once.

Perhaps because it did take time to untangle all the threads, I found myself becoming a mite impatient for things to actually happen. But of course, the intricate set-up was necessary in order to achieve the pay-off.

This was one of those books that after finishing the last page, I flipped right back to the beginning to read the first few pages again with fresh understanding. And appreciation. In fact, I daresay this novel would be even better enjoyed a second time ’round.

While Motherless is not one of my favorite of Healy’s–it is a rather somber tale–I did enjoy it. Most of all, I liked the way it left me mulling the hope-filled possibilities.

Thanks to BookLook and Thomas Nelson Publishers for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: There was one minor character I especially liked. Lena. She’s a grandma, and she didn’t even really come into the story until the last few chapters, but I just loved the hope she introduced. What about you? Can you think of a book in which a minor character plays an important role–maybe even stealing the show?

Q&A with Kate McCord, author of Farewell, Four Waters

Q&A with Kate McCord, author of Farewell, Four WatersIt’s my great privilege to welcome Kate McCord to Story Matters today. As I shared in an earlier post, Kate lived for five years in Afghanistan, where she worked as a humanitarian aid worker, delivering projects to benefit the people of Afghanistan. While there, she learned the local language and developed deep and lasting friendships with local Afghans. After evacuating from her home in Afghanistan, Kate transitioned into a mentoring, training, consulting and coaching role to other workers serving in the region. Prior to moving to Afghanistan, she worked in the international corporate community as a business process-and-strategy consultant. Currently, she serves Jesus through writing, speaking, mentoring and conducting workshops and seminars. She is the author of a nonfiction book, In the Land of Blue Burqas, and a novel, Farewell, Four Waters.

Kate, in your acknowledgements to FAREWELL, FOUR WATERS, you give your publisher credit for encouraging you to write this story as a novel instead of a non-fiction. What gave her that vision for this story?

My publisher understood the power of story to communicate the greater truth. This story, as fiction, allowed me to share the truth of my own thoughts, emotions and inner experiences with honesty and transparency.

The power of story to communicate the greater truth–yes, that resonates.

You wrote a non-fiction book before this one. Tell us a bit about it.

IN THE LAND OF BLUE BURQAS is all about faith conversations with Afghans. In that book, I gave print to both Afghan voices and my own, and how our faith conversations affected us.Q&A with Kate McCord, author of Farewell, Four Waters

I love that title, by the way. Now having written it as fiction, what freedoms did you find in telling your story this way? Where did you feel constrained?

So much of my actual experiences can’t be written because of the security situation in Afghanistan. To do so would have exposed my identity and the identities of those with whom I lived and worked, both Afghan and foreign. For their sakes and mine, I couldn’t do that. Writing fiction gave me the freedom to create characters and weave together situations in a way that tell the heart of the truth in a safe way.

To tell the heart of truth. That’s exactly why I am drawn so strongly to fiction.

You spent five years, from 2005-2010, living in Afghanistan as a Christian humanitarian worker. What drew you to this country, especially after the events of 9/11?

I picked up a book about Afghanistan at an airport in Europe and read it on the way home. The stories in that book captured my imagination. Over the winter of 2000 – 2001 I found myself reading everything I could find about Afghanistan and praying for the country and its people. It was through prayer that I found God’s heart for the people of Afghanistan and felt myself drawn to help them. At the time, I couldn’t see how, but when the Towers went down, I knew I would go.

Wow. That’s just incredibly powerful.

From both of your books, it’s evident that you have a heavy heart for the women in Afghanistan. How are women perceived there?

That such a complex question. The United Nations reports that Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman. The lives of women in Afghanistan are indeed very difficult, yet women are integral to society. I’ve watched women laugh and cry. I’ve seen them work, grieve, yearn for a better future and love their families. I’ve seen men protect and provide for their wives, mothers and daughters, fear for their safety, and struggle to figure out how to live in a rapidly changing world.

And you paint such a beautiful picture of all this in your novel.

What were some of the biggest struggles you personally experienced when living in Afghanistan?

There was always the struggle with physical threats, oppression and heartache. I heard so many traumas stories, most from the wars but some from ongoing domestic violence, poverty and sickness. I think, though, for me, the greatest struggles were within me; selfishness, impatience and fear. I suppose that’s true for all of us.

I was going to say, that sounds just like me, living right here in Seattle.

What do you miss most about Afghanistan?

There is so much I miss; but the greatest is community; with Afghans and foreigners. I miss people. I don’t miss the overwhelming heat in the summer or the brutal cold in the winter. I don’t miss struggling with sickness or constantly assessing security threats, but I do miss people. They have names, faces and voices – places where they live in my heart.

Q&A with Kate McCord, author of Farewell, Four WatersWhat one thing would you want readers to take away from FAREWELL, FOUR WATERS?

That God is with us, no matter what happens. One of the greatest lessons I learned in Afghanistan was this; in good times and bad, our hearts find their peace in Christ.

I love that, and that’s another theme that really comes out in FAREWELL, FOUR WATERS.

So, what’s next for you? Another novel? Or does another non-fiction await?

I’m currently working on a nonfiction book, WHY DOES GOD CALL US TO DANGEROUS PLACES. That’s just the working title. It should come out sometime next year, probably in August. I’m also working on another novel about finding and walking in our unique identity in Christ. I love both forms; fiction and nonfiction and hope to keep writing.

As do I, and I hope you’ll be in touch when your new book comes out. Thank you, Kate. It’s been an honor to have you here today.

Friends, would love to hear from you too. What part of Kate’s story surprised you the most? I suppose for me one of the most surprising things is that American workers were allowed into Afghanistan at all after the Towers went down. 

And you?

Farewell, Four Waters, book review & giveaway

Farewell, Four Waters, book review“You don’t want to wake up in downtown America in the middle of the night thinking you’ve left part of your story unfinished.” ~ on the subject of leaving well in Farewell, Four Waters: One Aid Worker’s Sudden Escape from Afghanistan by Kate McCord (p. 50)

About this book: (from the publisher)

Day 14: It should have been the beginning . . .

All she needed were stamps and signatures. Marie and her translator stood in the government offices in Kabul, Afghanistan to complete the paperwork for her new literacy project. The women in her home town, the northern village of Shehktan, would learn to read.

But a spattering of gun shots exploded and an aid worker crumpled. Executed. On the streets of Kabul. Just blocks from the guesthouse. Sending shockwaves through the community.

The foreign personnel assessed their options and some, including Marie’s closest friend, Carolyn, chose to leave the country. Marie and others faced the cost and elected to press forward. But the execution of the lone aid worker was just the beginning.

When she returned home to her Afghan friends in Shehktan to begin classes, she felt eyes watching her, piercing through her scarf as she walked the streets lined in mud brick walls.

And in the end . . .

It took only 14 days for her project, her Afghan home, her community-all of it-to evaporate in an eruption of dust, grief, and loss. Betrayed by someone she trusted. Caught in a feud she knew nothing about, and having loved people on both sides, Marie struggled for the answer: How could God be present here, working here, in the soul of Afghanistan?

About the author: (from the publisher) Kate McCord (a pseudonym) lived and worked in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2010. During her years in country, she worked as a humanitarian aid worker, delivering projects to benefit the people of Afghanistan. She also learned the local language and developed deep and lasting friendships with local Afghans. After a evacuating from her home in Afghanistan, Ms. McCord transitioned into a mentoring, training, consulting and coaching role to other workers serving in the region. Prior to moving to Afghanistan, Ms. McCord worked in the international corporate community as a business process and strategy consultant. Currently, Ms. McCord serves the Christ through writing, speaking, mentoring and conducting workshops and seminars. She is the author of In the Land of Blue Burqas published by Moody Publishers in 2011.

Genre: Fiction/General/Christian

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

How I’d judge this cover: Honestly, it doesn’t do much for me. Makes it looks more non-fiction than fiction (which was maybe the point?), and while its dark tones convey an appropriate degree of suspense, I personally don’t think it illustrates the fullness of this story.

Reminds me of… Three Cups of Tea

Will especially appeal to… readers, both women and men, who desire a true-to-life, behind-the-scenes look behind the Afghani curtain.Farewell, Four Waters, book review

Would I read another by this author? Yes. I’d especially like to read her first book, a work of non-fiction (shown here).

This story matters because… it humanizes a people Westerners find all-too-easy to dehumanize; and because it shows how faith in Christ is real, relevant and redeeming in even the most hostile of environments.

My take: First, a point of interest: According to her acknowledgements, Kate McCord’s publisher was the one who encouraged her to write this true story as fiction rather than non-fiction. On the whole, I’d say this was a good call, as I imagine it gave the author freedom to develop characters and circumstances while still adhering to the general facets of truth.

There were certain parts of Farewell, Four Waters that especially resonated. I liked very much how it revealed a side to Afghanistan and its people most Westerners cannot know. After reading this book, I can understand why Marie (presumably based on the author’s experience) was so drawn to these people, especially the women. She sees their beauty of spirit and communicates that clearly.

I also love how the author helps us to understand the benign workings of the Muslim mind and culture. Through Marie, we’re offered a glimpse through objective yet thoroughly compassionate eyes.

My favorite scene is probably the one in which Marie shares her faith with a cab driver, explaining so clearly why she “cannot” be a Muslim that a light bulb went off in my mind too.

Given the rather grim cover art, I did expect the story’s drama to unfold more urgently than it did. It starts strong, but then with the immediate appearance of danger past, there isn’t a heightened sense of suspense. For a non-fiction writer, however, Kate McCord nonetheless does a capable job in crafting a fictive story.

Looking for a ripped-from-the-headlines, current-events kind of novel that will likely challenge and deepen your own faith? I suggest you give Farewell, Four Waters a try.

Thanks to River North/Moody Publishers for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: I’m so grateful to River North/Moody Publishers for offering to give away a copy of Farewell, Four Waters to a reader of my blog. Just leave a comment and you’ll be entered to win.

Also–on Friday, Kate McCord herself will be stopping by. Stay tuned!

Preparing for Advent, featured devotionals

Preparing for Advent, featured devotionals

If you’re like me, now that Thanksgiving’s in the rear view,  you’re looking for a way to make the weeks leading up to Christmas more meaningful. To usher in more peace and love and joy. To focus more intently on the Christ child.

May I suggest an Advent devotional? Here are two to consider. Jane Rubietta’s Findng the Messiah provides a deeper dive into Advent’s spiritual roots and is more solemn in tone. Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift is a little lighter, written in her signature poetic style, but still deeply relevant.

Finding the Messiah: From Darkness to Dawn–the Birth of our Savior by Jane Rubietta

About this book: Through artfully told daily devotions, Jane Rubietta leads readers along a twenty-eight day journey into the heart of Advent, in search of the living Messiah. Reaching past the holiday veneer of tradition, pageantry, and glitz, she draws readers far into the spiritual depths of Christmas, where Christ can be born again into souls. This deeper approach to devotion is still accessible reading for just five to ten minutes a day.

Correlating Bible study resources, Small Group Guide and Sermon Notes are also available for free download online.

About the author: Jane Rubietta speaks worldwise, inviting her audiences to find the love they’ve been looking for in the arms of Jesus She is the author of several books, including future releases in the WPH Deeper Devotion seasonal devotionals.

The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas by Ann VoskampPreparing for Advent, featured devotionals

About this book: This Christmas, Ann Voskamp invites readers into the rich and meaningful celebration of Christmas we all long for — a celebration of the complete love story that’s been coming for you since the very beginning.

She reaches back into the pages of the Old Testament to explore the lineage of Jesus — the greatest gift — through the majestic advent tradition of “The Jesse Tree,” each day featuring its own exquisite ornament highlighting the Biblical story (free download of each of the 25 ornaments available from Voskamp’s website, annvoskamp.com, when you buy the book).

Beginning with Jesse, the father of David, The Greatest Gift retraces the epic pageantry of mankind, from Adam to the Messiah, with each day’s profound reading pointing to the coming promise of Christ, so that come Christmas morning you find that the season hasn’t blurred past you but your heart’s fully unwrapped the greatest gift you’ve always yearned for.

About the author: Ann Voskamp married a farmer and then birthed half-a-dozen kids, whom she homeschools. She authored One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, which remained a New York Times bestseller for over a year. Voskamp also writes for DaySpring and speaks for Women of Faith.Christianity Today named her one of fifty women most shaping culture and the church today, and she’s been featured on the TODAY Show as well as in WORLD and Focus on the Family magazines.

Spotlight on Joyce Villeneuve, author of Finding Forgiveness in God’s Word

Spotlight on Joyce Villeneuve, author of Finding Forgiveness in God's WordAs we look forward to Thanksgiving this week and Christmas soon thereafter, I wish to recognize that for many, the joy of the holidays is tainted with ambivalence–especially if their celebrations bring them into contact with family or friends who have hurt them in the past. Which is why I thought it was a particularly good time to highlight a new book by Joyce Villeneuve, who writes from her personal stories about forgiveness.

Joyce’s first book, The Courage to Forgive, was released in May 2010. Her second book, Finding Forgiveness in God’s Word, released earlier this year. Joyce is also a speaker who has encouraged and inspired many audiences with her insight on the topic of forgiveness.

She and her husband, Martin, live in Colorado, with their three children. Joyce can be found online at www.couragetoforgive.com.

Here’s more from Joyce, in her own words…


I was born and raised in Uganda, until the age of twelve, when my family and I fled Uganda due to the effects of the bloody coup by Idi Amin. I graduated from an all-girls convent school and was taught by Irish nuns.

I love to travel and have traveled all over Europe, Asia, various Indian Ocean Islands, the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and as far away as Tahiti. As I traveled nationally and spoke on the topic of forgiveness at conferences and various events, people would come up to me afterwards and share some of their pain and struggles with forgiveness. They would often ask me how I had found that deeper grace to forgive the terrible traumas that I had gone through.

So, I went through the Bible and pulled out the stories of characters from the Bible who had suffered or fallen from grace and yet, Spotlight on Joyce Villeneuve, author of Finding Forgiveness in God's Word
who had been able to forgive those who had betrayed them or they themselves have been able to ask for and accept forgiveness from God. These stories and many others that I write about in Finding Forgiveness in God’s Word helped me in my personal quest to forgive some of the unforgivable incidents that I have experienced.

I want other people to find that same kind of peace that I found through forgiveness. So many times we hold on to the pain of what we have done or what others have done to us, and we shackle ourselves to those traumatic events, unable to move forward and truly live our lives fully.

In writing Finding Forgiveness in God’s Word, I wanted to show people that they need to break free of those shackles and events that continue to hold them captive, those events in their lives that have left scars or anger and bitterness on their hearts, so that they could find peace and allow God to unfold His plans for them, those plans for a future and hope, and not the lives of anger and bitterness that they are living.


Writing this book was very cathartic for me. I had to do a lot of research and speak to many pastors so I could find answers myself to some of these questions. I learned so much about these much-loved characters from the Bible. I learned so much about myself too, as I wrote about the various traumatic incidents that I went through. I learned I could get very angry and bitter and vengeful-minded, and I didn’t like what that did to me as a person. I learned to have compassion towards myself. I learned that I have a heart that can forgive what I thought was unforgivable. I still struggle with some of the things I have gone through, but I always come back to that place of forgiveness. I have learned that I am strong and most of all, I have learned that I can trust God implicitly. No matter what comes my way, good or bad, I can trust God. That has been the greatest gift to myself in writing Finding Forgiveness in God’s Word.

When people read Finding Forgiveness in God’s Word, I hope their biggest takeaway is hope and love. Hope, because I want people to know that even though they have gone through trauma and may feel like they will never recover, that they will. They just need to trust God. Love because God loves each of us fully and truly. If we meditate on the suffering of Jesus, we can see God’s great love for us. If we have faith in God and His great love for us, God will give us the grace to bear and endure our sufferings.

Always hold on to that hope and love.

My greatest encouragement as a person and a writer is when I see how my books have impacted or changed lives because I know that my pain and my struggles and my hurt and my tears have helped someone else. It has not been in vain. None of it has been wasted. That’s why stories matter. We use our stories to bring hope to others.

The Paris Winter, book review

The Paris Winter, book reviewThere is but one Paris. ~ Van Gogh

The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson

About this book: (from the publisher) Maud Heighton came to Lafond’s famous Academie to paint, and to flee the constraints of her small English town. It took all her courage to escape, but Paris, she quickly realizes, is no place for a light purse. While her fellow students enjoy the dazzling decadence of the Belle Epoque, Maud slips into poverty. Quietly starving, and dreading another cold Paris winter, she stumbles upon an opportunity when Christian Morel engages her as a live-in companion to his beautiful young sister, Sylvie.

Maud is overjoyed by her good fortune. With a clean room, hot meals, and an umbrella to keep her dry, she is able to hold her head high as she strolls the streets of Montmartre. No longer hostage to poverty and hunger, Maud can at last devote herself to her art.

But all is not as it seems. Christian and Sylvie, Maud soon discovers, are not quite the darlings they pretend to be. Sylvie has a secret addiction to opium and Christian has an ominous air of intrigue. As this dark and powerful tale progresses, Maud is drawn further into the Morels’ world of elegant deception. Their secrets become hers, and soon she is caught in a scheme of betrayal and revenge that will plunge her into the darkness that waits beneath this glittering city of light.

About the author: Imogen Robertson writes historical fiction from her home in London, where she lives with her husband, a cheesemonger. She studied Russian and German at Cambridge, and was a TV director before turning her hand to writing.

Genre: Fiction/Historical

How I’d judge this cover to suit the story: Richly evocative, just like its story.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: R for occasional profanity (mostly mild but gets a little bolder toward the end)

Reminds me of… The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro, The Memory of Scent by Lisa Burkitt, The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin

You’ll want to buy this book if …you are an artist or Parisienne at heart

Would I read another by this author? Although dark historical fiction is not my usual choice, Imogen Robertson certainly knows how to spin a chilling tale.

This story matters… as it demonstrates how great risk and determination are often required to achieve what we want most in life.

My take: From its first pages, The Paris Winter features complex storytelling with a swirl of multifaceted characters who may or may not be all they seem. It’s finely researched and layered with beautiful details. And the way the author portrays the bleakness of a Paris winter… I shiver just to recall it.  

For all of that it has going for it, though, I struggled to find a character to really latch onto. Maud at first seemed the most obvious choice, and later Tanya. But identifying with characters is a highly subjective matter, and for whatever reason, neither of these completely clicked for me.

All the same, this is a well-titled and darkly imaginative tale about the City of Light, and I don’t want to suggest that my own preferences will necessarily be your own. The Paris Winter could be just the escape you’re looking for this season.

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

Q&A with Imogen Robertson, author of The Paris Winter

Q&A with Imogen Robertson, author of The Paris WinterIt’s my pleasure today to welcome Imogen Robertson, whose latest novel, THE PARIS WINTER–a lush historical fiction–releases today. I’ll have the privilege of reviewing it on Story Matters later this week, but for now, I’d like turn the focus to this imaginative writer, who graciously allowed a little Q&A.

Imogen, welcome! Please tell us something about yourself. .

Right! Well, I was born in Darlington which is a market town in the North East of England and went to school there until I was 16. I have two older brothers and my Mum and Dad still live in the same house where we were born. It’s full of books, photograph albums and bits of antique furniture my father bought while he was a furniture remover. I spent two years at a public school in Cheltenham, then studied German and Russian at Cambridge. I was a TV director for about ten years before I got my first book deal and I live with my husband – who is a cheesemonger – in south London. I play the cello, read, and binge-watch Grey’s Anatomy and Criminal Minds.

 What sparked your interest in writing THE PARIS WINTER?

Q&A with novelist Imogen Robertson

I came across some photographs of my grandmother taken while she was traveling around Europe just before the First World War. I also found one of her sketch books and the idea of a woman from my part of England traveling to Paris to train as an artist took shape from there.

What makes you the best person on the planet to tell this particular story?

It did come out of my head, so I’m not sure who else could tell it! I can’t draw and my brothers are both excellent artists so I’ve always been fascinated by the process of painting and the way visual artists see the world.

Beyond that, Maud [a main character] and I are both quite stubborn and willing to take risks to do what we want in life. There are elements of my family history in Maud’s – though her father is pure invention. There is mention of a lady doctor living in Darlington towards the end of the novel. That’s actually my Great Aunt, Constance Charlotte Robertson. I’m wearing one of her rings as I type.

What have you learned in the process of writing this story?

I learned a lot about how artists were trained during the period and the different currents in the art world of the time. I also learned about a remarkable woman called Ada Leigh who spent many years looking after English and American girls who had found themselves destitute in Paris. She deserves a book of her own.

What would you do differently the second time around?

An impossible question! I suppose every writer wishes they could have solved the problems that come up in writing a novel more quickly and with less pain. It’s a strange feeling when you’ve been bashing your head against some plot issue for weeks and then suddenly the solution just seems to arrive and you wonder why you couldn’t see it before. I have a terrible feeling that the pain is part of the process though.

When people read THE PARIS WINTER, what do you hope is their biggest takeaway?

I’d love them to think of Maud, Tanya and Yvette as people they know and care for. I’d love readers to feel like they have a memory of Paris at that time and of those people, rather than the memory of reading a book.

Why does *story* –as an art form, as a means of human expression—matter to you?

Story is how human beings see the world, and how we understand it. We create our own every day and absorb the stories of other people. There is no older or more universal art form.

What brings you the greatest encouragement—both as a writer, and as a person?

Notes from readers. It’s a wonderful thing when you hear from someone who has enjoyed your work and inhabited a world you created. It makes me feel as if what I’m doing is worthwhile and it gets you through the tough times. I’m not sure if I can distinguish between myself as a person and as a writer! Having a loving and understanding husband and family is a gift beyond price, of course

Do you have another story waiting to be told? If so, can you give us a teaser?

There are so many stories I want to tell. The difficult thing is deciding which one to write next. I think I’ve just decided which the new one is going to be, but it’s only a whisper at the moment so I shall have to stay quiet until it gets stronger.

Thank you, Imogen–it’s been a pleasure.

Postscript: Friends, which book-worlds have you once inhabited that linger, even when the story is finished? Would love to hear from you today.

Rare Bird, book review

Rare Bird, book review“I see holiness in giving and receiving love when there is absolutely nothing that can be fixed, and when there’s no exit strategy in sight.” ~ from Rare Bird: a memoir of loss and love by Anna Whiston-Donaldson (p. 105)

About this book: (from the publisher)

On the other side of heartbreak, a story of hope rises. 

On an ordinary September day, twelve-year-old Jack is swept away in a freak neighborhood flood. His parents and younger sister are left to wrestle with the awful questions: How could God let this happen? And, Can we ever be happy again? They each fall into the abyss of grief in different ways. And in the days and months to come, they each find their faltering way toward peace.

In Rare Bird, Anna Whiston-Donaldson unfolds a mother’s story of loss that leads, in time, to enduring hope. “Anna’s storytelling,” says Glennon Doyle Melton, “is raw and real and intense and funny.”

With this unforgettable account of a family’s love and longing, Anna will draw you deeper into a divine goodness that keeps us—beyond all earthly circumstances—safe. This is a book about facing impossible circumstances and wanting to turn back the clock. It is about the flicker of hope in realizing that in times of heartbreak, God is closer than your own skin. It is about discovering that you’re braver than you think.

About the author: (from the publisher) Anna Whiston-Donaldson holds a master’s degree in English from Wake Forest University. She taught high school English and photojournalism for six years. Currently, she is popular blogger and manages a Christian bookstore. She lives with her husband, Tim, and daughter, Margaret, in suburban Washington, DC. She blogs at An Inch of Gray.

Genre: Non-fiction/Memoir

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: R for language, PG-13 for everything else–but with a huge disclaimer. Yes, this book contains cussing. But those words–every one of them–absolutely belong here. This story could not be told with any kind of integrity without them.

How I’d judge this cover to suit the story: Perfection

Reminds me of… Sober Mercies by Heather Kopp (who, not coincidentally, helped birth this memoir); various work of Anne Lamott

Will especially appeal to… women whose encounter with grief has been up close and personal

Would I read another by this author? Oh my. Yes.

This story matters because it offers hope to the despairing, courage to those discouraged–from a mom who’s been there (and arguably still is)

My take: I am surely not the only mom to engage in a love-hate tussle with this memoir. 

On the one hand: a beloved son’s shocking death. A young mom’s grief. The tattered remnant of a family barely holding it together. The knowledge that if it could happen to them, it could happen to any of us. Ugh. HATE.

On the other hand: miraculous signs and wonders. “Pockets of peace.” God’s undeniable, tangible comfort and love. A community joined in beautiful grief and remembrance. Hope that life does indeed carry on. Healing happens. For all of us. Wow. LOVE.

Though this book came highly recommended to me (and is now a most deserving NYT Best Seller), I cannot say it was an easy memoir to read. It’s about love and loss, after all–the love of a mother for her son, and the horrific loss she endures when he dies suddenly on her watch. The boy’s name is Jack, and he has a younger sister named Margaret. At the time of his death, Jack had just started 7th grade, Margaret 5th.

Those who know my family will immediately spy the similarity: I have a beloved boy named Jack in 7th grade. His younger sister, Madeline, is in 5th.

There were other connections too. The boy-in-the-book Jack’s life verse was Luke 1:37–For nothing is impossible with God. It’s a piece of Scripture I know very well. It was my own anchor verse in the hope-filled months leading up to our Jack’s miraculous conception. More superficially, there is also the fact that the author’s family lives in suburban D.C., mere miles from where I myself once lived. Familiar territory, that.

So you can see why it might be a tough read.

But so, so worth it.

I did have to put it aside about halfway through. I was feeling low–not because of the book, I don’t think, but just down-ish for my own reasons, and reading about Anna’s anguish wasn’t helping me any. But I had no intention of putting it down for good, and when I did pick it up again a few days later, I found it hope-filled and encouraging. In fact, in the very next pages I read at least three gems I marked for savoring, simple yet profound observations like, “It is in the telling and retelling that we work our way through painful territory and gain insight” (p. 103). And “Some people who reach out express a fear that they are overstepping…I thank each one with a grateful heart, because she might be the exact person I need in this one lonely moment” (p. 104).

Anna Whiston-Donaldson is a woman who likes to write, and she uses this gift to usher in not only her own healing, but others’ as well. Beautifully written, poignantly told, this is one memoir you won’t want to miss.

Excerpted from Rare Bird by Anna Whiston-Donaldson Copyright © 2014 by Anna Whiston-Donaldson. Excerpted by permission of Convergent Books, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. All opinions are mine. 

After words: I must thank my dear friend Paula for putting me onto this book. She wrote me the day after she read it herself, saying, You have to review this one. Paula is the mother of five boys herself–none of them named Jack, but still, five times the reason I have to be afraid of this story. But she was right–I did have to review this one. It’s one of those that you want every mom to read so that she can be encouraged–literally, to find courage to mother, which is quite possibly the most frightening calling on earth. Anyway, Paula penned a lovely review at Barefoot, her beautiful blog, where she writes regularly about living life vulnerable to God. Check it out.