Spotlight on trio of books by H. Norman Wright

Spotlight on trio of books by H. Norman WrightFor those seasons of life when you need answers. Perspective. Hope. 

Sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference. Like one of these pithy books by renowned counselor H. Norman Wright. About the size of a postcard and only 100 concise pages long, each nonetheless contains a wealth of practical wisdom. I like that they’re small enough to tuck into a purse or a pocket, and that they provide space to jot your own thoughts and plans of action.

Personal side note: Of these three, I saved Discovering Who You Are and How God Sees You for last, thinking it would have the least to teach me. Yep, you can see where this is going. As so often happens when we think we know something, the very opposite was true. And what’s also true is that many of the concepts in this book plug into those taught in the other two books as well.

About these books:

Spotlight on trio of books by H. Norman Wright

Overcoming Fear and Worry. Everyone faces difficulties, but sometimes the fear and worry eats away at our lives and saps our energy. But we do not have to remain prisoners of fear, anxiety, despair, regret or stress.Dr. Norm Wright helps you combat negative thought patterns with the Word of God and gives you practical ways to develop resilience in the face of trials through positive self-talk.

Discovering Who You Are and How God Sees You. When we know who we are in God’s eyes – and

Spotlight on trio of books by H. Norman Wrighttruly sense his love for us – our confidence won’t allow the ups and downs of life destroy our self–worth. Releasing our dependence on having the right job, the right possessions, and spending time with the right people will bring us a deeper sense of peace and satisfaction that no disappointment can take away.

 

Spotlight on trio of books by H. Norman Wright

Helping Your Hurting Teen. Find out how to help an adolescent struggling with anger, teen depression, grief, or loss with this easy-to-understand Christian parenting book by expert Dr. Norm Wright. Includes an overview of key symptoms and practical solutions.

Is your teen withdrawing, acting unusual, or distracted? Do you feel like you just don’t know your child anymore? Are you afraid it’s more than just a stage? Find out which responses are “normal” adolescent behaviors, and which ones indicate deeper issues related to loss, anger, or teen depression, with this easy-to-understand book.

Expert Dr. Norm Wright gives insight on how to reconnect with your child, understand their struggle, and never lose hope.

About the author: (excerpted from his website) H. Norman Wright is a licensed Marriage, Family and Child Therapist, and he has taught in the Graduate Department of Biola University as well as the Talbot School of Theology. He currently is Research Professor of Christian Education at this same institution. He was in private practice for over thirty years. Most recently he has been focusing on grief and trauma counseling and critical incident debriefings. He is a chaplain and counselor for The Victim Chaplain Association and has worked in the aftermath of Katrina in Louisiana. He and his wife Joyce were married for forty-eight years and he lives in Bakersfield, California. His hobbies include bass fishing, gardening and training his Golden Retrievers, Shadow and Aspen, as therapy response dogs.

After words: When you’re feeling low or seeking wisdom, to whom do you turn for help?


The Inn at Ocean’s Edge, book review

The Inn at Ocean's Edge, book reviewClaire’s visit to a luxury hotel in Maine awakens repressed memories, threatening all she holds dear.

The Inn at Ocean’s Edge by Colleen Coble

About this book: (from the publisher) In 1989, Claire Dellamare disappeared from her own fourth birthday party at the Hotel Tourmaline on the island of Folly Shoals, Maine. She showed up a year later at the same hotel, with a note pinned to her dress but no explanation. Nobody knows where Claire spent that year—and until now, Claire didn’t even know she had ever been missing.

But when Claire returns to the Hotel Tourmaline for a business meeting with her CEO father, disturbing memories begin to surface . . . despite her parents’ best efforts to keep them forgotten.

Luke Rocco lost his mother under equally mysterious circumstances—at the same time Claire disappeared. After a chance encounter reveals the unlikely link between them, Claire and Luke set out together to uncover the truth about what happened that fateful year.

With flashbacks swimming just beneath her consciousness and a murderer threatening her safety, Claire’s very life depends on unscrambling her past . . . even if her family refuses to acknowledge it. Someone—maybe everyone—is hiding something from Claire Dellamare, and it will cost her everything to drag the truth out into the light.

About the author: (from her website) Best-selling author Colleen Coble’s novels have won or finaled in awards ranging from the Best Books of Indiana, the ACFW Carol Award, the Romance Writers of America RITA, the Holt Medallion, the Daphne du Maurier, National Readers’ Choice, and the Booksellers Best. She has over 2 million books in print and writes romantic mysteries because she loves to see justice prevail. Colleen is CEO of American Christian Fiction Writers. She lives with her husband Dave in Indiana. Visit her website at www.colleencoble.com.

Genre: Fiction/Christian/Romantic Suspense

Why I read this book: for BookLook for review…and because I hear such raves about this author and wanted to see for myself. Plus, I couldn’t resist the cover.

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

Reminds me of…Terri Blackstock, Brandilyn Collins

Will especially appeal to…readers of inspirational romantic suspense–especially those with a penchant for New England settings.

This story matters because… it speaks to the bonds of love and family, and to the power of forgiveness.

My take: I never like saying I couldn’t get into a novel, especially one like this with so much clout behind it. I want to get hooked on every book I read. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen here.

It wasn’t the story itself, which is–in and of itself–intriguing. Rather, it was something, somehow, in the way it was told. Starting, perhaps, with the way that I didn’t feel the author trusted me, the reader, to connect obvious dots. Like in this brief snatch of narrative: “What had gotten into her today? First experiencing a panic attack and then jumping to unwarranted conclusions.” This came on page 15, which meant I’d read about these two things (the panic attack and the jumping to conclusions) only a page or two before. I’m not likely to have forgotten so quickly what I was just so well shown.

I felt there was also a heavier reliance on cliché than I’d prefer. (“…her first impression was of impossibly dark eyes that seemed to look right into her soul. He would have been right at home on the cover of a pirate romance.” page 14)

And sometimes the dialogue felt stilted, as when characters used what they were saying to explain backstory to another character who would already be in the know. For example, ” ‘He hasn’t  hit you again, has he? I thought he stopped that after I threatened him when I was eighteen.’ ” (page 8, emphasis mine)

And then there were passages like this, which to me just didn’t ring true:

” ‘You’re wearing a peculiar expression, Claire. And look at you. No shoes. You’re filthy, and your hair is a wreck. What happened to you this afternoon? Your father even called the sheriff. Are you all right?’

” ‘I’m fine, Mom. Some guy killed the woman at the counter when I checked in, Jenny Bennett. I called the sheriff, but the killer sneaked up on me and hit me over the head.’ When her mother gasped, Claire shook her head. ‘I’m okay. The sheriff is looking for him.’ ” (page 33)

Really? All this talk of a killer and a brush with death delivered without a quiver? I don’t think so. Not in my world, anyway.

I’m sorry to sound so crushing. Could it be I lack an appreciation for the trademarks of this genre? Perhaps. I would certainly point to the author’s huge fan base and bestselling, award-winning status and urge other readers to take my take with a grain of salt.

Because, on the plus side, The Inn at Ocean’s Edge did have plenty of atmospheric suspense, plus a wealth of layered mystery, twists, complications, and original sub-plotting (including an incident involving an orca whale! I’ll admit I’ve not seen that one before). And, though I wasn’t much taken with the rest of the story, the ending was–to me, at least–satisfyingly unpredictable.

Thanks to BookLook Bloggers for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: One of the standouts of this story was its setting. If you could set a story anywhere in the world, where would you choose? A place you’ve already been…or one you long to go to?

Also–don’t miss this giveaway opportunity. Check it out:

The minute she steps inside the grand Inn at Ocean’s Edge, Claire Dellamare knows something terrible happened there—and only Luke Elwell believes her. Colleen Coble’s new book, The Inn at Ocean’s Edge, is a must-read for mystery and suspense readers. As Claire and Luke put together the pieces of a decades-old mystery, they discover that some family secrets refuse to stay buried. And some passions are worth killing for.

Celebrate the release of The Inn at Ocean’s Edge by entering to win a Kindle Fire and RSVPing to her May 5th author chat party!

oceansedge-400

One grand prize winner will receive:

  • A Kindle Fire
  • A copy of A Heart’s Disguise
  • A copy of A Heart’s Obsession
  • A copy of The Inn at Ocean’s Edge

Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on May 7th. Winner will be announced May 8th on Colleen’s website. Plus be sure to clear your calendar on the evening of May 5th because Colleen is hosting an author chat party on Facebook to celebrate her A Journey of the Heart series and the release of The Inn at Ocean’s Edge! RSVP here!

oceansedge-enterbanner

RSVP today and spread the word—tell your friends about the giveaway via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on May 5th!


The Nightingale, featured story

The Nightingale, featured story

Today I’m pleased to feature the latest release from bestselling novelist Kristin Hannah, who–like me–calls the Pacific Northwest home. Read on for the scoop on the story behind The Nightingale, plus a little Q&A with this prolific writer.

About this book: (from the publisher)

In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.

FRANCE, 1939
In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France … but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can … completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France–a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women.

About the author: Kristin Hannah is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than 20 novels including Winter Garden, The Nightingale, featured storyNight Road, and the blockbuster Firefly Lane which sold over 1.2 million copies.

Her novels Home Front and Night Road were among the first novels to appear in the #1 spot on 5 New York Times bestseller lists simultaneously. Home Front has been optioned for film by 1492 Films (produced the Oscar-nominated The Help) with Chris Columbus attached to write, produce, and direct.

Kristin makes the Pacific Northwest her home. Online, she can be found at www.kristinhannah.com.

The story behind the story

Sometimes a story sneaks up on you, hits you hard and dares you to look away.  That was the case with The Nightingale.  In truth, I did everything I could not to write this novel.  But when research on World War II led me to the story of a young Belgian woman who had created an escape route out of Nazi-Occupied France, I was hooked.  Her story—one of heroism and danger and unbridled courage—became the starting point.  I simply couldn’t turn away.  I had to keep digging, discovering, reading, and that story led me to others that were equally fascinating.  Stories about women who had saved Jewish children and rescued downed airmen and put themselves in harm’s way to save others.  Women who had paid terrible, unimaginable prices for their heroism.

Their stories were impossible to ignore.  I found myself consumed with a single, haunting question, as relevant today as it was seventy years ago: When would I, as a wife and mother, risk my life—and more importantly, my child’s life– to save a stranger?

That question is at the very heart of The NightingaleIn love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.  And sometimes, perhaps, we don’t want to know what we would do to survive.

In war, women’s stories are all too often forgotten or overlooked.  Women tend to come home from the battlefield and say nothing and go on with their lives.  The Nightingale is a novel about those women and the daring, dangerous choices they made to save their children and their way of life.

Q&A with Kristin Hannah

How long does it take you to write a book?
For the most part, each of my books has taken a year. Some-notably The Nightingale, Firefly Lane and On Mystic Lake-have taken a bit longer; between fourteen months and two years. Generally, I spend about three months coming up with idea, researching it, and formulating a loose plan for the spine of the story and the character arcs. The writing of the first draft-if I’m lucky-is about five months. This usually entails several “wrong” starts and do-overs. The final process of taking that draft and turning it into the novel I’d envisioned takes between four and six months. Normally, I do about ten drafts of the book.

Why did you make the move from romance to general women’s fiction?
I loved writing the romance novels, but I’ve always had a short attention span. Truthfully, I began very early in my career to become interested in story lines and characters and issues that went beyond the scope of the traditional historical romance. I wanted to write love stories-then and now-but I wanted some of those loves to be between mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, best friends, etc. My first change was to contemporary romance. That novel, Home Again, really opened my eyes to a new world. I felt as if I’d come to the place where I belonged. As much as I loved historical settings, I felt freer and more original in contemporaries. After that, it became a gradual broadening of my vision. More storylines, more characters, more issues. My books now tend to be about women coming of age, whenever that happens in their life. More often than not, they fall in love along the way, but that love is a peripheral part of the journey, not the journey itself.

Why do you write?
Quite simply, I write because it frees something in me. It’s the greatest job in the world. It allows me to be the wife/mother/friend I want to be, with plenty of time for the people I care about, while still giving me something that’s mine, something that defines me as an individual.

How do you know when a book is over?
I’m in a coma. Or my deadline is looming. Or I have a migraine that lasts for two days. The truth is, a book never really feels “done.” I wish it did. What’s more likely is that my deadline is approaching and I’ve simply run out of time. Thankfully, I’m a disciplined writer. I actually start my books on time; no more than two weeks after the previous effort is finished. This gives me the full year to work on each novel.

Do you always know the whole story, including the ending, when you begin?
I think I do. On occasion, I even turn out to be correct. Because my books are more character than plot driven, the end of my novels is wholly dependent on the characters’ arcs and growth patterns. For example, in The Things We Do For Love, I knew the plot and how it would unfold, but because I didn’t exactly know the characters when I began, I didn’t know how it would end, what choices each character would make. In Between Sisters, I knew that the sisters were estranged and that one of them would face a life-threatening illness. I didn’t know until the second draft what the outcome of that illness would be. Years ago, when I wrote the romances, I always followed a strict, twenty-page outline and lengthy character biographies. I spent a lot of my research time creating characters; then I moved them through the plot as I’d conceived it. In the end, I found that this hampered my creativity somewhat and began, as I moved into the bigger, more complex books, to require more editing. So, I let go. Now I spend more of my time discovering my characters. Although it creates a lot of missteps and wrong starts, I find that I enjoy the process more.

After words: For more about Kristin Hannah, to read an excerpt of The Nightingale and to see photos that inspired the story, visit the author at her website.

(Thanks to St. Martin’s Press publicity for permission to reprint material found in this post.)


My Sunshine Away, book review + giveaway

My Sunshine Away, book review + giveawayIt was the summer everything changed.…

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

About this book: My Sunshine Away unfolds in a Baton Rouge neighborhood best known for cookouts on sweltering summer afternoons, cauldrons of spicy crawfish, and passionate football fandom. But in the summer of 1989, when fifteen-year-old Lindy Simpson—free spirit, track star, and belle of the block—experiences a horrible crime late one evening near her home, it becomes apparent that this idyllic stretch of Southern suburbia has a dark side, too.

In My Sunshine Away, M.O. Walsh brilliantly juxtaposes the enchantment of a charmed childhood with the gripping story of a violent crime, unraveling families, and consuming adolescent love.

About the author: (from his website) M.O. Walsh was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His stories and essays have appeared in publications such as The New York Times, The Southern Review, American Short Fiction, Epoch, and Greensboro Review. His short stories have also been anthologized in Best New American Voices, Bar Stories, Best of the Net and Louisiana in Words. He is a graduate of the Ole Miss MFA program and currently lives in New Orleans, LA, where he is the Director of the Creative Writing Workshop at The University of New Orleans.   He also directs the The Yokshop Writers Conference in Oxford, MS. You can follow him on Facebook.

Genre: Fiction

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: R for profanity and mature content

Reminds me of… A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

This story matters because…it’s about the depths of familial bonds, the power of story, and the ability of forgiveness to transform our lives.

My take: Where to begin? Here I am weeks after reading the last page and I’m still catching my breath, trying to discern what this book meant to me. My Sunshine Away is just…well, it’s that kind of book, the sort that takes you by the scruff, shakes you up, drops you to the ground, and then walks away, leaving you spinning.

Here’s what I know:

This book is not for everyone. I would not, for example, hand it to my mother saying, “Here, Mom, you gotta read this.” No. And please–pay attention to the R rating and don’t say I didn’t warn you.

However.

I ripped through this book in four days flat.

It possesses one of the most vibrant voices I’ve ever encountered in contemporary literature.

It’s gripping and raw and true and beautiful. And even though I almost stopped reading twice because it took me to the edge of where I’m willing to go, I’m glad I pushed through. Because in the end I found redemption. Beauty. Promise. All of those good things we hope will emerge from the ashes of bad choices and the ugliness of life.

I liked it for these reasons, and for the fact that even though it’s set in the deep South, for once it isn’t a story about race. It is instead about human nature, a deeply profound metaphor about the wrenching loss we endure when we leave the innocence of childhood behind.

Yet its last notes are not ones of sorrow, but of hope. And forgiveness. And the transforming power of love.

It’s a story that haunts me still.

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

After words: M.O. Walsh set his story in Baton Rouge, the city of his youth (and, indeed, where he still resides). If you were to write a story based on your childhood, which town would be its setting?

You can read an excerpt of My Sunshine Away by clicking here. Want more? Enter this drawing for your chance to win a copy of your very own. a Rafflecopter giveaway


Chat with Willow Feller, author of The Epic Undoing of Haley Ann Ewing

Chat with Willow Feller, author of The Epic Undoing of Haley Ann EwingOne of my favorite moments as a book reviewer is when an author introduces me to something off the beaten track. I’m always looking for the chance to shine the spotlight on the out-of-the-ordinary–and let me tell you, Willow Feller’s debut novel, The Epic Undoing of Haley Ann Ewing is definitely that.

If you’re looking for a word that best describes Willow’s novel, that word is quirky. And fun. And funny. And, oh by the way, so very very true.

If you’re like me, you’ll recognize bits of yourself in Haley Ann, who struggles mightily to shed her Pharisaic skin. You’ll probably also recognize several other characters as people you know. I did. In fact, Willow Feller’s irrepressible Aunt Win is eerily like my own Aunt Winifred, who had a thing or two to teach me about grace.

About this book: Facing a cataclysmic identity crisis, pregnant Haley is battling for her very life—her life as an eco-chic, vegan Christian, that is. She hadn’t counted on being thrust into a war zone when she agreed to leave her East Coast life and go with her husband, Rick, to the Montana outback for the summer. And she certainly hadn’t counted on attending a ladies Bible study in a smoky, rancid saloon. Rather than run from it, though, Haley decides it is her God-given mission to subdue and educate the redneck forces that discount her superior vocabulary and sophisticated hairdo. With no help from Rick or his freaky Aunt Win, Haley dives headfirst into her mission only to find herself sucked irretrievably into a maelstrom of humiliating mishaps.

With tensions mushrooming as fast as her belly, will Haley see that she is actually living out the reality of the scripture, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”? And just how many car explosions and massive wardrobe malfunctions will it take for her to realize that it is her own judgments of others that are boomer-anging back on her?

Willow, welcome! Thank you for being here today. Now let’s talk about your book…Chat with Willow Feller, author of The Epic Undoing of Haley Ann Ewing

Anyone who’s been a Christian for any significant amount of time understands how easy it is to fall into judgmentalism—the issue at the heart of The Epic Undoing. I think it’s genius the way in which you expose our nearly universal flaw—because, of course, our defenses are down when we are already laughing, even at ourselves. How did you come up with such a uniquely quirky idea?

If you were to ask my husband about the origin of my ideas, he would say, “It’s a mental condition. We try not to talk about it.” But, thank goodness, you didn’t ask him. Actually, the book’s theme presented itself to me years ago when a woman I had previously deemed an unsavory hick (judging by the looks of her ramshackle property) pulled my car from a snow-filled ditch during a snowstorm. On the way home, I was so grateful for the lady’s expert tractor skills that I cried out to God in repentance for having ever judged her so harshly.

That single event taught me that “Judge not lest ye be judged” really is a law like gravity. It couldn’t be a mere coincidence that I was rendered dependent on someone I had judged as inferior to me. I began to see how many of my trials were just my own judgment chickens coming back to roost where they were first hatched—in me. This epiphany brought on some heavy shame, though, so I coped by spinning my comeuppances as hilarious to myself and creating a fictional character on which I could transfer all my guilt. I’m happy to report that this dysfunction is now proving marketable.

There are so many wonderful themes woven throughout your novel: sacrifice, rebirth, forgiveness, and of course the biggies—acceptance and love. There’s also a touch of the supernatural, with shades of C.S. Lewis and Frank Peretti. Did you deliberately set out to create a novel that contained all of these elements, or did they reveal themselves to you along the way?

Seriously, never in my wildest dreams did I set out to include all those ideas. I was just trying to write a funny story that contained a light message about the hazards of hypocritical judging. Because my genre is Christian fiction, I started my background research by studying Jesus’ teachings on hypocrisy and presumption. That topic took me straight into the world of the Pharisees—those arrogant legalists that dogged Jesus’ every step. It didn’t take long, then, for me to see similarities between my own bad attitudes and those of the Pharisees. I saw that I had unwittingly adopted a performance-based rather than a grace-filled walk with God, and it was disturbing. Eerie, actually. I couldn’t help but communicate that feeling through the symbolic viper bite. The other elements seemed to arise organically as I studied Jesus’ responses to the Pharisees at the same time I wrote my story. It was truly eye-opening stuff.

I don’t think I’m giving too much away when I say that I was really beginning to fear for Haley! I could see there were only a handful of pages left of the book and she still hadn’t seen the light. But then you pulled out a convincing resolution. Well done! So I have to ask: did the ending surprise you, or did you have it planned all along?

I had the ending figured out from the very beginning. I think the seed was planted that day in the snowy ditch. I remember mulling over worst case scenarios for someone stuck in a remote spot. The very worst I could think of intrigued me so much that I knew it had to be a story climax someday. So when I started writing The Epic Undoing, I pulled that perilous ending out and dangled it ahead of me like a mechanical rabbit on a greyhound track while I coaxed the story forward, chapter by chapter. It helped me stay focused through the five-year process.

I appreciate how you tackle the dangers of social media and how it can affect our thought-lives and—yes, let’s face it—the way we judge ourselves and others. Please share your thoughts on why you chose to make this such a significant part of your story.

Because I wrote almost the whole novel before our family could finally graduate from dial-up internet to a satellite dish, (I kid you not, we still don’t have DSL available in the North Idaho woods where we live) I entered the wild world of Facebook later than most people. Almost immediately I saw how someone could maintain a manufactured image on that platform. It seemed like the perfect place for Haley to showcase her assumed superiority and for me to make sure she got in way over her head with her misguided efforts.

You’ve pulled off a very well crafted novel here, from plotting to characters to deeper spiritual themes. You make it appear effortless, though any writer knows it was not. What parts of writing The Epic Undoing of Haley Ann Ewing did you find most challenging? Which brought you the most joy?

The “teachy” parts were the ones that made me bang my head on my desk and tear my already-sparse hair out. I prayed a lot over those. But, oh, the fun I had with Aunt Win! Every day that lovable character brought me joy. She became almost real at times. So much so that I ran into the living room one day and gushed to my husband, “You’ll never believe what Aunt Win just told me!” You can see why he questions my mental health. Yet he, too, recognizes the marketability of my insanity. He’s shooting for an early retirement.

Thank you so much, Katherine, for giving this slightly deranged author some space here on your classy site—I’m honored!

Thank you, Willow! It’s been my pleasure. 

Willow’s books are available on Amazon and at her website: willowfeller.com, where she’s currently offering a BOGO special on signed copies. You may also enjoy her blog, The Pharisee in Me.

After words: Friends, I’d like to hear from you! Have you ever recognized characters from your own life in the books you’ve read? Or yourself? What effect did that have on you?


Jump4Joy

What I’m Into ~ April edition

What I'm Into ~ April editionHow can anyone not be into spring? Personally, I love the gradually warming weather that allows my daily uniform of leggings, boots and sweaters to make way for capris, flats and–well, lighter sweaters. (This is the Pacific Northwest, after all.) Indoors, I’m celebrating with citrus-scented candles and Rainy Day Garden handcrafted soaps. (LOVE. The gifted owner is local–Vashon Island–but she ships anywhere and offers outstanding customer service. Tip: they make for great hostess or housewarming gifts.) I am also loving the way my fellow bloggers are welcoming the season, from Books & Beverages’ spring-time drinks to Kerry Ann Morgan’s DIY floral decorWhat I'm Into ~ April edition

What else am I into? Whitworth University. Though this May will mark a quarter-century (I know, right?) since I last walked its beautiful campus as a student, my alma mater remains one of the most positive influences in my life. From writing skills to eternal relationships to making a lasting difference in the world, Whitworth taught me so much about what really matters. And last Saturday on #WhitworthServes Day, when hundreds of alums gathered in cities all up and down the West Coast, my family and I zipped up to Seattle to join others helping out at Operation Nightwatch, where we cleaned and painted and gardened. I can hardly think of a better way to spend a sunny spring Saturday morning.

What I'm Into ~ April editionThanks to my daughter, I am also totally into dance. Not me dancing–I hasten to point out–but Madeline and her friends. At her dance academy, from January through March the students pour everything they’ve got into preparing for dance exams, which just wrapped last week. Here you can see Madeline (far right) and her three BFFs jumping for joy as they concluded their last exam. And now with the stress behind, the fun begins as, for the remainder of the school year, they take all they’ve learned and transform it into one big, blow-out show in June. It’s Snow White this year and it’s not to be missed, I’m telling you.

Every Lenten season since it premiered two years ago, I look forward to the hours IWhat I'm Into ~ April edition spend with my family watching The Bible, which captures the essence of God’s story from creation to Revelation. (It’s possible I may like its soundtrack even more, but I’m into that year-round, so maybe that doesn’t count.) In these weeks leading up to Easter, our family finds it a great way to generate discussion, and to remind ourselves of the ways that we continue to be a part of God’s story.  All of which is to say, I am very into Jesus, whose sacrifice and resurrection we celebrate this weekend, and who, because He lives, makes every good thing possible. 

Happy Easter, friends.

So that’s it for me. What are you into this spring?


Chat with Heidi McCahan, author of Covering Home + giveaway

Chat with Heidi McCahan, author of Covering Home + giveaway

Just in time for spring! For book lovers, I can hardly think of a sweeter way to welcome this season of rebirth and renewal than with a novel all about love and the joy of second chances.

Today I’m so pleased to welcome fellow Whitworth alum Heidi McCahan and to shine the spotlight on her delightful new romance, Covering Home.

I like it when a story takes me to a place I’ve never been, and this one certainly did that—to Japan…to watch baseball, of all things. This unexpected combination is central to the story, as are the wily ways of two people who don’t want to admit they’re falling in love.

Read on to learn more, and be sure to leave a comment for your chance to win an e-copy of this winsome novel.

Covering Home by Heidi McCahan

About this book: (from the publisher) On assignment in Japan, television personality turned sportscaster Britt Bowen is determined to land an interview with the most reclusive pitcher in baseball and prove she can succeed in a demanding profession. A relationship with a self-absorbed professional athlete is the last thing Britt needs. Shunning all media attention, former All-Star pitcher Caleb Scott is focused on rebuilding his career in Japan, far from his past and the horrible tragedy that nearly ruined him. Then he meets Britt, who is everything he vowed to avoid. But it doesn’t take long before Caleb is battling his attraction toward Britt. While she works to uncover his secrets, she can’t deny she’s drawn to his wounded soul. At a crossroads, Caleb must decide if he can break free from his past mistakes and give love another chance. And Britt must choose between advancing her career … or falling in love.

Heidi, thank you so much for being here today. Let me start by saying, you know your baseball! Oh my. How’d you get all those details right? One would imagine you were a pro.

Thank you very much. I enjoy watching the game of baseball and when I worked in college athletics I was permitted to sit in the dugout, which gave me a different angle than that of a spectator in the stands. There are certain nuances of the game that I still don’t quite grasp, having never played the game. In an effort to make sure the baseball scenes were portrayed accurately, I watched YouTube videos of professional pitchers pitching and quite a few games on television. I also hired a professional editor who happens to love the game. Finally, my pastor coaches baseball and his wife was a beta reader, so they were a tremendous help, too.

This novel had a totally different tone than your debut (Unraveled)—much breezier—and your touch seemed lighter somehow, more confident. Was this a deliberate choice as you wrote Covering Home, or did tone choose itself?

I’m glad you noticed that breezier tone, because it definitely chose itself from the minute Britt chased Caleb across the lobby of that hotel on page one. I feel nervous talking about it because it probably sounds odd, but I experienced this undercurrent of excitement—like an adrenaline rush—when I wrote the opening scenes. I just knew I was really going to love writing this story. I also received a lot of encouragement along the way. My critique partners offered positive feedback as well as constructive criticism. The first chapter also won the grand prize in a writing contest, which gives a writer a nice burst of motivation to keep going. Finally, I took on a long-term freelance fiction writing project last year and there’s something about receiving a steady paycheck that affirmed my abilities as a writer. All of those factors buoyed my confidence and contributed to the tone of Covering Home.

You did a terrific job balancing all the components of a novel—setting, characters, plot. I particularly liked the way you didn’t over-spiritualize, which I think can be a temptation for Christian authors. You wove in a faith element without letting it overshadow the story. What do you hope your readers take away from it?

For me, the faith element is difficult to weave in without sounding trite or formulaic. It’s definitely an aspect of the novel that comes together in the re-writing phase. On the other hand, I have to be careful that it feels organic, authentic to the characters I created.

Regarding takeaway messages, I’ve discovered that I really like to write about redemption. As I was preparing the novel for publication, the verse from Joel chapter 2 came to mind:  “I will restore to you the years the locust has eaten…” In short, the Lord can redeem anything. He is truly a God of second chances.

The story’s flow, as well the growth of its characters and their relationships to each other—it all felt effortless, though of course I know it wasn’t. What was your greatest challenge in writing Covering Home?

Yes, I’ve been very upbeat and positive in answering these questions so far. Writing is a joy for me, but it’s also emotionally challenging and just plain hard work. I’m always a little undone when the manuscript comes back from the editor. In this instance, both my editor and a handful of beta readers felt the rough draft portrayed Britt as snarky and unlikable. Ack! That wasn’t what I was going for at all. Most of the conversations between Caleb and Britt had to be re-written so the reader felt compelled to root for them and not against them. I’m so glad I took the advice and did the hard work of re-writing. The novel is certainly better for it.

Your setting descriptions especially captivated me. Please tell me you’ve actually been to Japan—or I’m going to be very jealous of your research and imagination skills. :)

Yes, I’ve been there. Japan is a beautiful country with amazing people. I haven’t traveled internationally very much, but my visit there was unforgettable. When I was a student at Whitworth University, they offered a three-week trip to Japan for sports medicine students. We toured many shrines and temples, visited Hiroshima, a couple of colleges, attended a professional baseball game and spent weekends with a host families. Most of the details about Japan in the story come from my personal experience. The scenes that involved food and the unique aspects regarding baseball in Japan required quite a bit of internet research. I also followed a blog written by an American baseball player who played a couple of seasons in Japan. That was both fun and informative.

Voice, tone, pacing—these were all spot-on as part of a winsome romance. Why does this genre so capture your heart?

I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Voice is really something that you have to discover. The more one writes, the more it shines through. Pacing is something I didn’t understand until I wrote more than one complete book and had professional editors explain why certain scenes are sometimes not necessary to advance a plot. I’m still learning and I definitely try to learn from reading successful, multi-published authors.

I think this genre captures my heart because I love a happy ending. Inspirational romance by definition will ultimately point the reader toward the Lord, in my opinion. As a reader, it’s the characters’ journey that’s so enjoyable for me. It’s what keeps the pages turning. As a writer, I like the challenge of taking flawed yet lovable characters and throwing all kinds of obstacles between them and their happily ever after, then making them fight for what they believe in, testing their faith, etc. In the end, they are stronger (both emotionally and spiritually) than when they started and they are with the one they love.

What’s next up to bat?

I was just invited to collaborate with nine other inspirational romance authors on a virtual boxed set of digital novellas. I’m very excited and quite flattered to be included. Each story must take place near water: lake, ocean, river, etc. My story is called Love Flies In and is set in Emerald Cove, Alaska. It features a minor character from my first novel, Unraveled. More details to come very soon, as the June release date is coming up quickly. I’m also working on a sequel to Unraveled, with Jeremy Tully as the hero of the story and featuring a professional female snowboarder as the heroine. I’m targeting a late-fall release.

Thank you so much, Katherine. You ask the most delightful questions. It’s a joy to visit Story Matters.

Thank you, Heidi! A pleasure to have you here.

After words: Friends, did you grow up around baseball? I loved watching my brother play Little League and playing some version of it (usually softball) in the cul de sac where we lived. Later, one of my favorite summer activities when I came home from college summer was to watch an A’s game live with my dad, brother, and boyfriend. What are your baseball memories? Leave a comment (even if it’s just to say you’d like to enter the drawing) for your chance to win an e-copy of Covering Home.


On Legacy and Why It Matters ~ with Joyce Oglesby

On Legacy and Why It Matters ~ with Joyce OglesbyI’ve been dwelling on the question of legacy lately–what it is, why it matters, and what we can do to make our own more meaningful. Which might seem strange, given my stage of life. But it’s been brought to mind as I’ve been to several memorial services within the last year or so, and also as I’m in the process of collecting up my mother’s life stories. It’s prompted me to reflect more intentionally on the passage of time, and of the potential we all have to affect others in good and lasting ways.

Besides, as today’s guest would tell you, it’s never too early–or too late–to consider what one’s legacy will be.

Joyce Oglesby is a Family-Life Fitness Pro, radio talk-show host of Just Ask JoyceTM, and respected speaker, author, and magazine On Legacy and Why It Matters ~ with Joyce Oglesbycolumnist. Her experience as a pastor’s wife, mother, grandmother, and entrepreneur has enhanced her expertise and passion to preserve the family unit. She is also the author of Grandma’s Jewels and the Legacy Behind Them, and I’m pleased to welcome her to Story Matters today.

On Legacy and Why It Matters by Joyce Oglesby

One might confuse legacy with inheritance, but it is much more than the financial gains or losses one accumulates while living. Whereas there is much to consider about legacy, there are a few things worth fleshing out.

Legacy speaks of one’s character.  A person’s character not only precedes her, but it lingers.  It comprises a lifetime of relationships and values.  Like a watermark, a legacy can hang on for generations. We’ve seen those ugly watermarks left from floods; they leave a nasty-looking stain.  But the watermarks left from deposits of layers of years of life and love, like those we see at the Grand Canyon, those are the marks each of us should desire to leave for our legacy.

Legacy is individual. A person can overcome and override a tainted legacy. I am living proof of that! My dad left a stained mark on a family of eight children. The spoils of abuse he left behind marred the legacy my siblings and I would begin ours with, but each of us had a choice to step out of our emotional prison when we became accountable for our lives. It took longer for some than others. Those of us who began earlier have had accumulated less wreckage needing repair.

Legacy is time sensitive. We often think of time in a bottle just waiting for us to spill out at our command. But time waits on no one. Speeding by at the speed of life, our legacy time is spent before we know it.  When we’re in our 20’s and 30’s, we have life by the tail. We’re trying to figure out who we are, the direction for our lives, our career, finding ourselves a lifetime mate, and starting a family. Once we hit 40, the world defines us as being “over the hill.” By 50 we’re labeled as “antique”! At 60, we’re looking at the big R – REGRET!  What have we left undone? Will I have my health tomorrow? What relationships need mending? How will I be remembered? How can I turn back the hands of time and do some things over? We also realize we’re not nearly as “needed” once our children begin embracing their own legacy journey. This is in large part why grandparents dote on grandchildren and invest in their precious lives. It’s a second chance at leaving a significant watermark on our legacy.

Legacy is a sure thing—you will leave one.  It’s up to each of us to decide what it will look like.

~ ~ ~

On Legacy and Why It Matters ~ with Joyce Oglesby

About Grandma’s Jewels and the Legacy Behind Them: Grandma’s jewels are as much a mystery as the one who stole them. But as Grace Willingham always said, “Simple truth is all it takes to unscramble the complexities of life.”

Grace Carissa Willingham earns the love and affection of Savannah, Georgia and beyond. An engaging legend of dignity, “Grandma Grace” loves creatively, lives dynamically, and gives generously. Her steadfastness navigates her through single parenthood and unsavory family dysfunction. Mastering the art of great sacrifice and loss, Grace demonstrates patience and faithfulness to her prodigal children and anchors a resilient legacy for her abandoned grandchildren.

But why would every family member lay claim to Grandma Grace’s priceless heirloom jewels?
The more probing question is: Who would be bold enough to heist them at her wake? Veteran Detective Bruce Masters is assigned to the high-profile case and stumbles into an even more sinister one. The multi-faceted mystery unfolds where real life and family values connect.

For more about Joyce, visit www.JustAskJoyce.com.

After Words: When you think about legacy, what do you want yours to look like? Me, I’d like my children to understand by the way I’ve lived that God is good, all the time. (I’m still learning it myself.) And I would like to leave the bigger world a better place by my care for it: more children fed, more girls educated, more women empowered to reach for their dreams.

And you?


The Dog Who Saved Me, book review + giveaway

The Dog Who Saved Me, book review + giveawayFrom the New York Times bestselling author of A Man of His Own comes a novel about one very special dog and the human lives he touches.

The Dog Who Saved Me by Susan Wilson

About this book: (from the publisher) Boston police officer Cooper Harrison never thought he’d go back to his hometown, Harmony Farms. But when his faithful K-9 partner Argos is killed in the line of duty, Cooper, caught in a spiral of trauma and grief, has nowhere else to turn. Jobless and on the verge of divorce, he accepts an offer for the position of dog officer in Harmony Farms, leaving the life he spent twenty years building behind.

And so he finds himself back where he started. Where his father was once known as the town drunk and his brother outgrew juvenile delinquency to become a drug dealer. Where he grew up as ‘one of those’ Harrisons. Cooper does his job with deliberate detachment, refusing to get emotionally invested in another dog the way he had with Argos–until he finds himself rescuing a wounded and gun-shy yellow lab gone feral.

Cooper never thought he’d find himself going back in order to move forward, and yet Harmony Farms is the one place where Cooper must learn to forgive and, only then, heal. All with the help of a yellow dog.

About the author: (excerpted from her website) Susan is the author of nine well-received novels including her 2010 novel, ONE GOOD DOG, which enjoyed six weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and THE DOG WHO DANCED received the coveted Maxwell Medal for Fiction from the Dog Writer’s Association of America in 2012.

She has two grown daughters and three grandchildren. She lives on Martha’s Vineyard with her husband and her demanding terrierist, Bonnie. She is working on her next novel, another work featuring the complicated relationship between humans and the dogs they love.

Genre: Fiction/Contemporary

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG-13 for occasional profanity and violence to animals

Reminds me of…The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein; Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog by John Grogan

Will especially appeal to…dog lovers, natch.

This story matters because…it reminds us that for as long as there’s life, there’s hope.

My take: Might be easiest to simply cut to the chase and start with this: What didn’t I like about this book?

Answer: Not much.

Okay, if I have to go there, I’ll admit it’s not easy reading about animal cruelty, which is a necessary part of this story. I rather hurried through those few scenes, which are mercifully brief.

With that out of the way, I’m free to rave. I loved this book. I held off responsibilities (sorry, family!) in order to finish in near-record time. It was just that good. I reveled in its overarching themes of love, forgiveness, justice, and letting go. I also appreciated the author’s deft narrative touch, and her in-depth knowledge of dogs and humans alike. Her combination of likable characters (and one or two despicable ones), plus the variety of narrative view points–ranging from Cooper’s first person account, to the third person accounts of Bull and the yellow dog, to the omniscient flashback scenes–it all works.

While of course this book is intended for dog lovers, I’m hard pressed to think of many–man or woman–who won’t enjoy this one. There’s a little of something for everyone: suspense, mystery, romance–all wrapped up in a beautiful blend of masterful storytelling. I raced through the last few chapters, holding my breath to see if the ending would satisfy as deeply as did all the rest.

It did.

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

After words: Bonus! It so happens I have an extra Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) of The Dog Who Saved Me that I’ll be happy to send to one lucky reader. Leave a comment to be entered to win.

The Art of Racing in the Rain, Marley & Me, and The Dog That Talked to God are three other novels about dogs I’ve read and enjoyed in recent years. How about you?


How to Catch a Prince, book review + giveaway

How to Catch a Prince, book review + giveawayShe caught her prince once. Can she catch him again?

How to Catch a Prince by Rachel Hauck

About this book: American heiress Corina Del Rey’s life was devastated by war. Every thing she loved was lost. But after five years of grief, she’s shed her grave-clothes and started over in the sunshine along the Florida coast.

But some things are not so easily forgotten. When a secret from her past confronts her face to face, she realizes she must follow her heart. Even if it costs her everything.

Prince Stephen of Brighton Kingdom is a former Royal Air Command lieutenant turned star rugby player, trying to make sense of his life after the devastation of war.
When his brother, King Nathaniel, discovers Stephen’s pre-war secret, he must deal with an aspect of his life he longed to forget. But how can he do so without exposing the truth and breaching national security?

Yet, true love has a destiny all its own. As the cathedral bells peal through Cathedral City, Corina and Stephen must choose to answer the call of love on their hearts.
Or let it be lost forever.

About the author: Rachel Hauck is an award-winning, best-selling author of critically acclaimed novels such as The Wedding Dress, Love Starts with Elle, and Once Upon A Prince. She also penned the Songbird Novels with multi-platinum recording artist, Sara Evans. Booklist named their novel, Softly and Tenderly, one of 2011 Top Ten Inspirationals. She serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers and is a mentor and book therapist at My Book Therapy, and conference speaker. Rachel lives in central Florida with her husband and pets.

Find Rachel online: website, Facebook, Twitter

Genre: Fiction/Christian/Romance

Why I read this book: Because it looked like pure, escapist fun.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: G, thank you very much.

Will especially appeal to…royal watchers.

This story matters because…it reminds us of the power of true love.

My take: If you have a fascination with all things royal, or wonder what it would be like to live like the 1%; if you love wholesome romance wrapped around a story of faith and second chances; if you crave indulgence in a contemporary, real-world fantasy–then I’ve got a book for you.

How to Catch a Prince is the third in Hauck’s acclaimed Royal Wedding Series, and it’s not hard to understand why the series has met with enthusiasm from her myriad fans. Hauck delivers winsome characters with a light touch and lays down breezy prose with the confidence of a seasoned pro. And she’s not afraid to address issues, either. There’s real life here, mixed in with the fairy tale.

For me personally, I have to admit this one was a bit too frothy to be a fave. And the secret marriage set-up stretched my credibility, as did the Del Reys’ 5-year sojourn in inconsolable grief. Not that grief isn’t complicated, or warranted, but the degree of it didn’t seem to match up with their faith or strength of character otherwise. However, as this novel is more or less a fantasy, I would anticipate that most readers would be willing to suspend disbelief thus far.

All in all, Hauck delivers a fun twist on classic romance: a modern-day fairy tale, complete with requisite happily ever after.

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity and Zondervan for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: Are you a royal watcher? If so, which one do you most enjoy watching and why?

By the way, you can see what other Litfuse reviewers are saying here. And don’t miss this fun giveaway! Details below…

An American heiress and a crown prince seem destined to be together. Will the devastation of war keep them apart forever? Find out in Rachel Hauck’s new book, How to Catch a Prince. True love has a destiny all its own. With a little heavenly help, Prince Stephen and Corina embark on a journey of truth. But when the secrets are revealed, can they overcome, move forward, and find love again?

Enter to win a “royal” prize pack! 

catchaprince-400

One grand prize winner will receive:

  • A royal-themed Brighton charm bracelet
  • 2 tickets to see the new Cinderella movie
  • The Royal Wedding series (Once Upon a Prince, Princess Ever After, and How to Catch a Prince)

Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on March 23rd. Winner will be announced March 24th on Rachel’s blog.

catchaprince-enterbanner
 

{NOT ON FACEBOOK? ENTER HERE.}