Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Love Will Find You
This is a friendly reminder that Sunday (December 4th) marks the beginning of the "Love Finds You" blog party taking place right here at this very blog! There will be some really fun interviews and giveaways to get you in the Christmas spirit, so I do hope to see you there. And don't forget (if you haven't already!) to check out the party page to see the schedule and learn how to gain extra entries in the main prize package drawing!
While we're on this "Love Finds You" theme, there are new covers up on the Goodreads site for a couple of February 2012 LFY releases. Care to see them? They're quite lovely!
I'm eager to see what else is in store for this series in 2012! And I'm also quite eager to show you what's in store for next week! Soon, very soon... ;)
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
My Review of There You'll Find Me
"Finley Sinclair is not your typical eighteen year old. She’s witty, tough, and driven. With an upcoming audition at the Manhattan music conservatory, Finley needs to compose her audition piece. But her creativity disappeared with the death of her older brother.
She decides to travel to Ireland following his travel journal. It’s the place he felt most alive – and she desperately needs to feel alive again. So she agrees to an exchange program and boards the plane. Beckett Rush, teen heartthrob and Hollywood bad boy, is flying to Ireland to finish filming his latest vampire movie. On the flight, he meets Finley. She’s the one girl who seems immune to his charm. Undeterred, Beckett convinces her to be his assistant in exchange for his help as a tour guide.
Once in Ireland, Finley starts to break down – the loss of her brother and the pressure of school, her audition, and whatever it is that is happening between her and Beckett, leads her to new – and dangerous – vices.
Then she comes across something that changes her perspective irrevocably. Is it enough to convince her that everything she’s been looking for has been with her all along?"
My Rating: Summer
Wow!! The charm of Ireland, the angst of young adulthood, and the beautiful craziness of life come together to make this an engaging, moving read! Jenny B. Jones has a winning and creative writing style that somehow combines humor and sincerity in a way that keeps the pages turning and the journey going. And this is one journey that I'm so very glad I took!
There You'll Find Me features quite a cast of quirky characters, many of whom charm the reader's heart despite their unique first impressions. Even though the hero seems a bit too good to be true and the mean girl seems a bit too awful to stand, the story is wonderfully told. It's heartbreaking to witness the events unfold, and yet there's enough sweet surprises and fun scenes to make it an ultimately enjoyable read.
This novel comes disguised as a diversionary YA book, but in reality it digs deep and refuses to shy away from painful questions and situations. Brimming with emotion and overflowing with hope, this book stole my heart. Is there a list for new Jenny B. Jones fans? Because if there is, well...there you'll find me.
*With thanks to Thomas Nelson Publishing through the Booksneeze program for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion.*
Monday, November 28, 2011
My Review of The Harvest of Grace
"Reeling from an unexpected betrayal, can Sylvia find relief from the echoes of her past…or will they shape her future forever?
Although Sylvia Fisher recognizes that most Old Order Amish women her age spend their hours managing a household and raising babies, she has just one focus—tending and nurturing the herd on her family’s dairy farm. But when a dangerous connection with an old beau forces her to move far from home, she decides to concentrate on a new start and pour her energy into reviving another family’s debt-ridden farm.
After months in rehab, Aaron Blank returns home to sell his Daed’s failing farm and move his parents into an easier lifestyle. Two things stand in his way: the father who stubbornly refuses to recognize that Aaron has changed and the determined new farmhand his parents love like a daughter. Her influence on Aaron’s parents could ruin his plans to escape the burdens of farming and build a new life.
Can Aaron and Sylvia find common ground? Or will their unflinching efforts toward opposite goals blur the bigger picture— a path to forgiveness, glimpses of grace, and the promise of love."
My Rating: Spring/Summer
The "Ada's House" series features some powerful stories full of healing and hope and love. The Harvest of Grace is a wonderful, fitting conclusion to the Amish trilogy. While Woodsmall catches all readers up-to-date at the beginning of this book (making it possible to read this novel as a stand-alone if desired), the series really shines as a whole - with all three books coming together to look at the gem of God's love and the love between people from various angles.
Sylvia is a new character introduced in this book - a stubborn farmer determined to escape her past and prove herself by saving the Blanks' farm where she now works. Aaron is a familiar face, but in this installment the reader gets a closer look at his motivations, including his desire for acceptance. Both are hurting souls that are seeking a harvest of grace.
Other familiar friends from The Hope of Refuge (Book 1) and The Bridge of Peace (Book 2) share the spotlight in this gentle story full of flawed characters and raw pain. The romance is sweet and the lessons on honest, forgiving love are even sweeter. Woodsmall has done it again!
*With thanks to Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion.*
Would you consider ranking my review? Thank you!
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Thanksgiving Giveaway Winner!
More giveaways to come during the "Love Finds You" blog party starting next Sunday!!
Saturday, November 26, 2011
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...
I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I'm so grateful for your friendship, your encouraging comments, and your willingness to take time out of your busy lives to visit and read my posts. Thank you for being my friends!
And now we are heading toward the next holiday - Christmas!! I'm sorry if I'm a little too early for some of you... Hope you don't mind my enthusiasm!
The Scrappin' Blogs website has so many lovely blog backgrounds to choose from, and I love this one with its gentle backdrop and cheery splash of color. The main picture is from last winter at my school (I think this was in February, featuring a very rare dusting of snow). I really am blessed to have such a beautiful view! May the picture remind you of the peace to be found on His path for our lives no matter the season or weather.
P.S. Don't forget that the "Love Finds You" blog party starts on December 4th! Just a little over a week to go!!
Friday, November 25, 2011
A Marriage Carol (CFBA Tour)
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
GARY CHAPMAN is the author of the bestselling Five Love Languages series and the director of Marriage and Family Life Consultants, Inc. Gary travels the world presenting seminars, and his radio program airs on more than 400 stations.
ABOUT THE BOOK
The red door opens and the first thing she notices is the fire in the room, blazing hot, a warm, inviting, friendly place and the voice of an old man welcomes her in. There are three golden pots on the hearth, shining, glimmering things. The old man claims that they are used to restore marriages. She laughs—and begins a journey through her past, present, and future that will test how she views her lifelong love. There are two futures available. Which will she choose?
If you would like to read the first chapter excerpt of A Marriage Carol, go HERE.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
The Jar: A Short Story (Part 3)
By Amber Stokes
Finally, Alice was able to approach Randy, tug on his sleeve, and hand him the penny jar. I wish I could tell you that he looked at that jar of pennies and other coins and simply knew how much they were really worth. As it was, he did give Alice a hug and a pained smile. He said, “Thank you,” and, “I missed you.” And then he turned to talk with another person.
Dear Alice, though, wasn’t offended. She had done her part to tell him as best she could that he was remembered and valued. And with all of her life experience, she knew that he would get her message in time. She was right. (I’ve heard Alice usually was.)
For many years that jar sat on Randy’s desk. Alice passed away; Randy got married and started his own family. While he didn’t think of the penny jar very often, he smiled when it caught his eye. He thought of Alice’s hugs and her pockets full of candy.
Randy would never know all the heart that went into that jar of pennies. And as much as I like to pretend I know such things, I really can’t fully comprehend it either. But forty years after he was drafted (I’ll wait if you’d like to do the math)…Randy’s oldest son surprised his father with a trip to Washington D.C. Randy brought the penny jar with him. The whole family went, and as they visited the war memorials, Randy was finally ready to share some of his stories.
I walked with him that sunny, humid summer day to the Vietnam War memorial. It looked like the wall of a trench, covered with names. Grandpa Randy found the names of some of his Army buddies. I cried when I saw silent tears fall down his stoic face. And then he asked me to hand him the penny jar, the one I had been holding ever since we left the hotel. The yellow ribbon was a bit tattered, but it was still there. The pennies were gone, though. Grandpa said that he was saving them in another jar, to share with someone else someday. His knee gave a satisfying pop as he knelt down to place the jar on the ground beneath that multitude of names.
I wouldn’t say the jar was empty, though, despite the missing pennies. If you had seen the light in Grandpa’s eyes and the way the sunlight filled the jar, I think you would have seen what I saw - hope.
As I've previously mentioned, this short story is fictional, but inspired by some real elements. As a young girl, I used to attend First Covenant Church, where an older man named Jim Worthen and his wife Evelyn sat in the pew behind my grandparents. Mr. Worthen would bring me candy, and he and his wife always had a smile and a kind word for me. They were so very sweet, and their presence in my life brightened my Sundays.
And then one day Mr. Worthen passed away. And eventually Mrs. Worthen asked me to come and visit her. She gave me a jar filled with pennies and a few other coins, telling me that Mr. Worthen had been filling it and saving it for me.
It was a gesture that touched my heart - to think that he had been saving up those pennies especially for me! And that jar of pennies still sits in my room back at home, a beautiful reminder of the power of kindness and thoughtfulness. I certainly couldn't comprehend when I was younger, and I still can't today, just how much heart went into that simple gift.
As for the other parts of this story, my own grandpa served in the Korean War, and my daddy served in the Vietnam War. I had the opportunity to see both of those war memorials a couple of summers ago, and it was certainly a moving experience. Below are some pictures I took of the Vietnam War memorial:
Writing this story for Thanksgiving, I'm reminded of how much I have to be thankful for...
Family and friends who surround me with love.
The simple but profound gift of a jar of pennies.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
The Jar: A Short Story (Part 2)
By Amber Stokes
A new note, a new drop of copper or silver, was added to the jar each week. Sometimes it was change from the grocers. Sometimes it was a penny she had found on the sidewalk in front of Gottschalks. Once it was a quarter she found in her couch.
By 1975, the jar was as full as it could be and Alice was 87 years old. And then one Sunday, she heard Randy’s parents tell the congregation that he would be home soon. He might even be in church the following Sunday!
So Alice went home and searched all about her trailer for what she was certain must still be there somewhere. Back too many years ago to count, she wore a yellow ribbon. I never did learn the details, but I’ve heard that she might have used it in her hair on her first date with the man she married. Whatever its original use, that yellow ribbon now had a new purpose, just like the jar, if only she could… Aha! She found it in the top drawer of her nightstand, tucked inside a book of Robert Frost poetry.
As you might have already guessed, she replaced the lid on the penny jar and tied the yellow ribbon beneath the lid. When she saw him next Sunday, she wanted him to know that she had been thinking of him all those days and weeks and months and years – those moments – when he had been in Vietnam.
To Be Continued...
Monday, November 21, 2011
The Jar: A Short Story (Part 1)
That's what the following short story is about. As my parents would say (quoting the movie Christmas Vacation), "It's the gift that keeps on giving all year long." And while that quote is taken from a humorous context, I think some seemingly simple gifts really do keep on giving and giving and giving. It is my hope that this story is another way for a gift given to me once upon a time to be poured out to you, dear readers.
While this short story I wrote is fictional, it's inspired by some elements of my own life. I'll let you know what's fact and fiction after I conclude this three-part short story on Wednesday. For now, I'll just share my brief dedication:
By Amber Stokes
If you and I were there to see the jar when it sat on the shelf in the cellar, neither of us would come to the conclusion that it would one day be a symbol of hope. After all, one does not normally equate canned rutabaga with anything beautiful – or anything much at all. But once the rutabagas were removed, and the jar was washed inside and out, you might have seen a glimmer of its destiny in the way the sunlight poured through it as it dried on the kitchen windowsill.
The jar was left there to dry after the announcement that Randy was drafted. As soon as Alice came back from church that Sunday, she knew she needed the jar for something more important than rutabagas. (Mind you, some people might consider rutabagas important. But Alice was not one of those people.) If we looked closely, we would have seen a few tears reflecting the sunlight as they traversed her weathered and wrinkled face that Sunday afternoon. Randy reminded her so much of the grandson she had lost during the Korean War. That was almost twenty years earlier, back in 1952.
After her only grandson’s passing, Alice had started bringing candy to church in the pockets of her large purple coat with the lacy trim. Randy and his family sat in the pew in front of her. Sometimes the only smile she could find in those weeks and months after losing Mark was when she saw Randy’s smile as she held out the candy in her small palm.
Of course, Randy was a young man by this time in 1971. He didn’t need candy anymore. And as much as he appreciated Alice’s kindness through his growing-up years, he had been a bit preoccupied at church that day. He forgot to give Alice a hug like he always did after the service.
But don’t worry – Alice was not the kind of woman to hold such a thing against a young man consumed with thoughts of war and leaving home and horrors he couldn’t even imagine yet. Instead, she had returned to her little trailer and prepared the jar for its new purpose.
To Be Continued...
Sunday, November 20, 2011
What's In Store This Week? (With Giveaway!)
With all of the homework and reading and blogging I've been doing this month, I really haven't done much of anything for my nano-NaNoWriMo project. And while I'm disappointed in myself for even making the challenge and not putting forth more effort to follow through on it, I'm hoping the Civil War poem, this short story, and possibly another short story for the BB (still not for sure on that one, so mum's the word!) will inspire and encourage you!
Now, one book I recently finished reading inspired me to try a unique voice for my short story, so I thought I would give that book away today to share the love:
If you'd like a chance to win my gently used copy of A Heart Most Worthy by Siri Mitchell, here's what you need to know:
- Leave a comment with your e-mail address saying you'd like to be entered.
- (Optional) Answer the following questions: Do you prefer reading stories from a first-person or third-person perspective? And what are your thoughts on omniscient narrators?
- You must have a U.S. mailing address (due to shipping costs).
- The winner will be announced on Monday, November 28th.
- Want to know more about my giveaway policies? Scroll down to the very bottom of the blog!
See you tomorrow!
Friday, November 18, 2011
My Review of The Doctor's Lady
"Priscilla White knows she'll never be a wife or mother and feels God's call to the mission field in India. Dr. Eli Ernest is back from Oregon Country only long enough to raise awareness of missions to the natives before heading out West once more. But then Priscilla and Eli both receive news from the mission board: No longer will they send unmarried men and women into the field.
Left scrambling for options, the two realize the other might be the answer to their needs. Priscilla and Eli agree to a partnership, a marriage in name only that will allow them to follow God's leading into the mission field. But as they journey west, this decision will be tested by the hardships of the trip and by the unexpected turnings of their hearts."
My Rating: Summer
The Doctor's Lady is about a long, difficult journey to Oregon Country and to the realization of God's powerful work through "unlikely" people and in "unlikely" circumstances. Rooted in the true story of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, this fictional retelling blossoms into a grand piece in its own right. It's hopeful, heart-pounding, and humbling!
Eli and Priscilla deal with romantic tension with a capital "T" as their journey brings them closer together but their stubbornness and misunderstandings keep them apart. Gentleness, sweetness, anxiety, suffering, trouble, and revelations abound throughout the plot, made all the more meaningful by some complex and admirable secondary characters. Details from research add a painful and yet engaging dimension to the story.
A beautiful, thoroughly engrossing book, this is one journey fans of historical romance (especially those with a fascination of the American West) won't want to miss!
*With thanks to Bethany House Publishers for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion.*
Thursday, November 17, 2011
My Review of Remembering Christmas
"Can one Christmas change a life forever?
Rick Denton lives his life on his terms. He works hard, plays hard, and answers to no one. So when his mother calls begging him to come home after his stepfather has an aneurysm, Rick is more than a little reluctant. What was supposed to be just a couple days helping out at the family bookstore turns into weeks of cashing out old ladies and dealing with the homeless guy who keeps hanging around the store. The one bright spot is the lovely and intriguing young woman who works at his side each day.
As Christmas nears, Rick's old life beckons, the hurts from his past loom large, and the decisions he makes will determine more than just where he spends Christmas Eve.
With skillful storytelling, Dan Walsh creates a Christmas story that will have you remembering every good and perfect gift of Christmas."
My Rating: Spring
Remembering Christmas is a life-affirming, hopeful Christmas story. The hero, Rick, is introduced as a frustrating, inconsiderate, self-centered man - whose attitudes and actions aren't so unfamiliar after all. He learns some valuable lessons about compassion and understanding as Walsh twists all the characters' lives into one lovely braid of a book.
For some, the holiday season is spent in hospital halls or out on the streets, homeless. And yet hope remains, and God is at work even in the suffering - perhaps especially so. Remembering Christmas gives the reader glimpses at people in very different places in life, and it shows the privilege of sharing the cheer of Christmas with others. With some romance, some good old-fashioned home-style Christmas, and a transformed heart, this is a sweet book to read at Christmastime or anytime you want to remember Christmas!
*With thanks to Revell Publishing for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion.*“Available September 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.”
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Civil War Heart
(Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction, 4th ed. by James M. McPherson and James K. Hogue, p. 332)
What a bitter-sweet, heart-breaking moment in history! Around 620,000 men died during the Civil War. Destruction and death were part of the results of the country's divide.
The following is a poem I wrote that was inspired by that "battle of the bands." Perhaps you're in a place like me, where you're desperately trying to grab hold of the future - symbolized by the North and progress. Or perhaps you're clinging tight to the past and all its pain or former "glory" - symbolized by the South. This poem isn't polished or perfect by any means. But I thought I would share it with you now anyway.
As C.S. Lewis noted, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” We all long for a forever Home, and nothing here on earth can satisfy that desire.
So may that night in the middle of the Civil War remind us of the beauty in an eternity far beyond and yet very near our everyday lives.
Look away, dear brother, look away.
Sing sweet "Dixie" beneath the stars -
Not so far above the frosty, bitter ground
Where the old ways have brought you
To this moment when heartfelt discord
Chases sweet melodies away. Away.
Not so fine and dandy, dear brother,
When all you glimpse of progress -
Future - is fight and struggle, endless
Grasping at blood-soaked dirt
Where you must sleep another night
Beneath stars you never can reach.
Let those songs fade away. Away.
Tonight hold close thoughts of home,
Beyond mere survival.
Where harmony reveals a candle
In the window not so far away.
Monday, November 14, 2011
What We Can Learn from the Evil Stepsisters
This week continues the series with a discussion of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella (specifically our school's current production, which is fabulous!). Come join the fun!
In the future, if you want to check out what's going on with this series, just click the button in the sidebar, just above my "Seasons of Humility" button!
Let's see what we can learn . . . where the past meets the present!
Friday, November 11, 2011
What I Wish Romance Writers Knew About the Military (Guest Post)
Meet Vince: "Born in Long Island, New York, have lived in New Jersey, Connecticut, Arizona, California, and Oklahoma. Lived three years in Italy and Germany while in USAF.(Air Police: K-9 section). Now live in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Married after whirlwind romance to same wife for over 30 years. Currently run my own real estate school in Oklahoma. Like to study foreign languages for a few months just to see how they work. Also like Latin and giving speeches. I’ve taught Philosophy, Advertising, Property Management, and many real estate subjects at the University, Community College, and Technical School level. Now writing non-fiction book on the Romance genre. I was trained to be a philosopher and history teacher but have worked mostly in advertising, marketing, and real estate."
You can learn more about Vince at his blog Philosophy of Romance.
Below are ten suggestions for writing better military romances as seen from a veteran’s point of view. One caveat: veterans were in the service at different times. Things change. Ranks change. The writer should check everything out first to make sure her facts are true for the same time period she is writing about. (Ranks may have been different during WWII, for example.)
1. Get the ranks right. I read one romance where the author thought a sergeant major outranked a Captain. She had the Captain jump up and salute the sergeant. This just destroys the writer’s credibility.
Here is where you can check ranks.
2. Get the time-in-grade right. Make sure the character has a rank that is appropriate for his age and/or time in the military. I’ve seen heroes with ranks so low for their time in the service that they must have been real screw-up’s who were busted a few times. This was not the author’s intention. (I couldn’t help thinking: what a loser that hero must be.)
Here is where you can get an idea of Army time-in-grade requirements before being promoted to the next rank.
You can find other sites for Navy and Air Force. Remember: some services do not have some ranks. I only saw one Warrant Office my whole time in the Air Force. I don’t believe there are any left.
3. Put military ‘annoyances’ into the story. I’ve read a whole series of military romances where you would swear the Airman had civilian jobs. They’d go to work like they were going to a civilian office. They would take days off or afternoons off as they needed for their personal reasons. That’s not military life.
I’d like to see some things like: having to go to commander’s call once a month (this is a major meeting of the troops often in a movie theater where films are shown and the concerns of the commander are given.) If this meeting was from 9 am to 12 pm and you just worked the 11 pm to 8 am shift, you still had to go. (Make sure they are still doing this at the time your story takes place. Make sure they call it Commander’s Call in the service you are writing about. They may do it on the internet at this point.)
Troops also have to take their exercise tests each year (this could be more often now). Another ‘hot issue’ that comes up a few times a year is who is going to be promoted and how will they react? (I’ve seen airman who were so mad they were not promoted that they went around kicking holes in the walls.) I don’t think I’ve ever seen troops looking at the posted promotion lists in a romance. This is a big deal. If your story spans a full year, this would have come up in real life.
There are also medical exams and shots to take as well as qualifying on the rifle range. There are inspections and sometimes the Inspector General flies in to check the post out. These inspections are supposed to be a surprise but we always knew when it was going to happen. Air Police pretty much knew what was going on.
Don’t forget the dreaded alerts. These are mission exercises where a war situation is simulated. The whole base would be called out to battle stations. You could be asleep in the middle of the night after having worked the 4 pm to 11 pm shift and you still had to get up and put in at least another 8 hours. Alerts are a major annoyance at any time. If you were just leaving the base to start your 30-day leave they can be a disaster. Even the officers would tell the troops: “If you are off duty, get off of the base. Go somewhere. Don’t stick around here.”
4. Consider describing the colorful patches on the uniform of your hero or heroine.
For example, if you have an Air Force Pararescue member, check out what the patch looks like here.
Soldiers and airman are proud of their units. I was in the Air Police K-9 corps and we had a patch we were very proud of.
See some here.
5. Have some saluting going on every once in a while to give the story a military flavor. I’ve read military romances where I don’t believe there was even one salute in the whole story.
6. Have some complaining going on in the background. This is just normal. “There’s the right way and there’s the Army way.”
7. Remember: personnel rotate every few years. Don’t have people on the post who have had the same military position for ten years. Troops are rotated every few years so they can get a fresh start every so often. Even a bad commander, who you can’t stand, may be gone in a year or two or you might be going to a new base in a few months yourself. This rotation makes it easier to put up with things that you would otherwise consider to be intolerable if you knew things would never change.
8. Troops who vote will often use absentee ballots.
9. There is usually some talk about getting out of the service or re-upping. “He’s a lifer” is often said about a career solider. Use a little slang like, RHIP: rank has its privilege. This is used quite often.
10. Talk about benefits and education. There are bonuses to re-up and money to pay for part of college tuition. Your hero could be going to college in the military. It could be a reason why he will not leave the service.
Use only a little of the above suggestions.
In no way would I suggest that the above is a checklist a writer must compete when writing a military story. Most romance readers are woman and most women have not been in the military. A writer does not have to do any of things I recommend above. I realize that the romance is the central focus of the story. However, if some of the above items are included in the story, then the story will seem more real and the reader will get an insight into military life that she did not have before reading the story.
One more thing: being late to work is being AWOL. Don’t have your service people coming late to work like it wasn’t a big deal. This does drive me crazy.
USAF, TAC 17th AF
1963 to 1967 K-9
Amber's Parting Comments: Thank you so much for the helpful information, Vince! And thank you for your service to our country. May we honor our military men and women this day and every day for the sacrifices they make or have made on our behalf.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Take a Back Road
Do you ever just feel the need to "take a back road" (or a train ride)? If you enjoy a bit of Country music, here's a song for you:
"And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone."
~ Matthew 14:22-23
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
My Review of Valley of Dreams (CFBA Tour)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Shown in her contemporary romances and women’s fiction, a hallmark of Lauraine’s style is writing about real issues of forgiveness, loss, domestic violence, and cancer within a compelling story. Her work has been translated into Norwegian, Danish, and German, and she has won the Silver Angel Award for An Untamed Land and a Romance Writers of America Golden Heart for Song of Laughter.
As a most sought after speaker, Lauraine encourages others to find their gifts and live their lives with humor and joy. Her readers clamor for more books more often, and Lauraine would like to comply ... if only her paintbrushes and easel didn’t call quite so loudly.
Lauraine and her husband, Wayne, have two grown sons, and live in the Tehachapi Mountains with a cockatiel named Bidley, and a watchdog Basset named Winston. They love to travel, most especially in their forty-foot motor coach, which they affectionately deem “a work in progress”.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Now Addy has discovered that "Uncle" Jason, the show's manager, has driven the show into debt, and he's absconded with what little money was left. Devastated, Addy decides to try to find the hidden valley where here father had dreamed of putting down roots. She has only one clue. She needs to find three huge stones that look like fingers raised in a giant hand. With Chief, a Sioux Indian who's been with the show for twenty years, and Micah, the head wrangler, she leaves both the show and a bundle of heartache behind and begins a wild and daring adventure.
If you would like to read the first chapter of Valley of Dreams, go HERE.
My Rating: Fall
Valley of Dreams has a very interesting premise, and the uniqueness of the setting and characters is commendable. Fans of all things American West should find this to be an enjoyable excursion.
Since this is the first book in a series, it's nice to have this introduction and insight into Cassie's story, as well as the Engstroms' lives. However, Valley of Dreams seems almost like a very long prologue rather than a story of its own. Cassie's character does grow a little bit, but overall the book feels like it's providing back story rather than the actual meat of the plot. The way the book ends (with some mystery and a bit of suspense) suggests that the second book, Whispers in the Wind (scheduled to release August 2012), will probably be where the more in-depth action and drama really starts, although this is not guaranteed.
The entirety of the book is mostly "rising action" or "building tension," as the reader is introduced to two groups, Cassie's troupe and the Engstrom family, waiting for their lives to finally cross. Some of the secondary characters, like Chief and Micah, have real potential, but come across a little flat - although there's a hint at the end that there's more to the ever-quiet and to-the-point Chief than meets the eye. The various reverends and their wives are all very similar with little to distinguish one from the other, and even the apparent hero and heroine didn't completely charm me. The "pets" are a nice addition, though - adding some sweetness with their intriguing names and their gentle presence.
This story includes quite a few details about daily life in the Dakotas at the turn of the century, which is nice but doesn't always move the plot forward. The ending does ultimately stir up the reader's curiosity, and if one is willing to invest a little time in this first book, it seems like this will be a sweet and clever series overall.
*With thanks to Bethany House through CFBA for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion.*
Sunday, November 6, 2011
Love's Christmas Journey
"While still mourning the loss of her husband and daughter, recently widowed Ellie King (Natalie Hall) visits her brother Aaron Davis (Greg Vaughan) and his children for Christmas. Ellie does her best to enjoy the holidays, even making new friends with Mrs. Thompson (JoBeth Williams), a local shop keeper, and handsome admirer Deputy Strode (Dylan Bruce). Settling in nicely with her brother's family, Ellie also meets Erik (Bobby Campo), a young man abandoned by his outlaw father whom Aaron has taken in as one of his own. When Aaron travels out of town to purchase adjacent land for farming, Ellie agrees to watch his children, but the season’s festivities are threatened when Aaron goes missing."
Love's Christmas Journey is a new two-part, four-hour journey Love Comes Softly fans won't want to miss! While the two new prequels that aired back in September and October on Hallmark Channel (Love Begins and Love's Everlasting Courage) were sweet, they really were lacking a certain depth and quality that made the first few movies of the series great. With the last two additions being rather disappointing, I wasn't expecting too much with this latest, much longer movie. I am happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised!
As more movies kept being added on to the series, I thought it was sad not to learn more about Missy's brothers (introduced in Love Comes Softly and Love's Enduring Promise). They simply seemed to vanish, even when Clark and Marty (Missy's father and stepmother) still came back off and on throughout the first six movies. I was so excited to learn that Love's Christmas Journey brought back Aaron (Missy's younger stepbrother)! And not only Aaron, but a yet-to-be-introduced younger sister named Ellie, who has a heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful story of her own.
There are so many wonderful surprises in this movie! The length definitely helps to give the characters more time to face challenges and grow. The overall quality is much better than the prequels (as well as the seventh and eighth movies), despite a little bit of lingering romantic (etc.) corniness, which can be cute, albeit awkward, sometimes! (And speaking of awkward, there's one falling scene near the beginning that is pretty out-of-the-blue, providing a laugh-out-loud moment.)
Yes, there is a bit of cheesy acting, which isn't so bad in a feel-good Christmas movie. But overall the acting is very good! I love that Sean Astin (of Lord of the Rings fame - Samwise Gamgee!) is the mayor!! And I knew a certain man in town looked familiar... Mr. Cunningham is none other than the actor (Stephen Bridgewater) who played Mr. Taylorson in Love's Long Journey and Love's Abiding Joy! How fun is that??
This movie packs an emotional punch, then wraps up the hurting in a great big group hug and a pretty red bow. And I enjoyed every minute! There's some Wild West-fighting tension that made me cringe and cry out, some adorable children scenes, and some romantic moments that made me go "Awww!" and smile. Love Comes Softly fans will recognize much of the background music, as well as a few references to Clark and Marty. With themes of justice, generosity, and hope, this is a great Christmas romantic Western to watch with your girl friends or family this season.
Want to learn more about the movie and the whole Love Comes Softly movie series? Visit the Hallmark Channel website!
Saturday, November 5, 2011
My Review of A Lasting Impression
"From Christy and RITA Award-winning author Tamera Alexander comes a novel about the difference between knowing who you are--and knowing who you want to become.
Claire Laurent's greatest aspiration is to paint something that will bring her acclaim. Yet her father insists she work as a copyist. A forger. When she's forced to flee from New Orleans to Nashville only a year after the War Between the States has ended, her path collides with attorney Sutton Monroe. She considers him a godsend for not turning her in to the authorities. But after he later refuses to come to her aid, Claire fears she's sorely misjudged the man. Finding herself among the elite of Nashville's society, Claire believes her dream to create a lasting impression in the world of art is within reach--but only if her fraudulent past remains hidden.
The Federal Army has destroyed Sutton's home and confiscated his land, and threatens to destroy his family's honor. His determination to reclaim what belongs to him and to right a grievous wrong reveals a truth that may cost him more than he ever imagined--as well as the woman he loves.
Set at Nashville's historic Belmont Mansion, a stunning antebellum manor built by Mrs. Adelicia Acklen, A Lasting Impression is a sweeping love story about a nation mending after war, the redemption of those wounded, and the courage of a man and woman to see themselves--and each other--for who they really are."
My Rating: Summer
Tamera Alexander paints vivid and detailed images with her words, and A Lasting Impression is an exquisite showcase of her talent. Although sometimes the specifics of her stories become vague in memory over time, the reader is left with beautiful, emotion-filled impressions that endure. This particular story is quiet grand in scope - a much different setting than her previous novels, set in a luxurious world of art and parties and finery. And yet Alexander shows that no matter the setting - be it the wilds of Colorado or the wilds of the gossip-hungry social elite - suffering is a part of the human condition.
Back story and historical background are woven in throughout the story in an engaging way, making the characters all the more authentic. Alexander explores various impressions and misjudgments throughout the pages, and she keeps the tension going right up to the very end. All of her characters have something to add to the story, and together they make up an oftentimes frustrating, but also wonderful, cast!
From cover to cover this is a gorgeous novel, encouraging the reader to look beyond first impressions and reach out to the hearts of others with forgiveness and compassion. The romance is sweet and yet powerful, and the lessons on truth and a new beginning in Christ are inspiring. This is another Tamera Alexander masterpiece that shines!
*With thanks to Bethany House through CFBA for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion.*
Click HERE to read my original post for the CFBA blog tour, which includes information about the author.
Friday, November 4, 2011
A Lasting Impression (CFBA Tour)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
These awards include the 2009 and 2008 Christy Award for Excellence in Christian Fiction, the 2010 and 2007 RITA Award for Best Inspirational Romance, the 2010 and 2007 Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, the 2010 HOLT Medallion, the 2007 Bookseller’s Best Award, the 2007 National Reader's Choice Award, and Library Journal’s Top Christian Fiction for 2006, among others.
Tamera's newest novel A Lasting Impression is the first of a brand new three-book Southern historical series, and the first two chapters are available for review. She's at work on her ninth novel which will release in fall 2012.
After living in Colorado for seventeen years, Tamera has returned to her Southern roots. She and her husband now make their home in Nashville, Tennessee, along with Tamera's father, Doug, and with their two adult children who live near by. And don't forget Jack, their precious--and precocious--silky terrier.
ABOUT THE BOOK
All that Sutton Monroe holds dear lies in ruin. He's determined to reclaim his heritage and to make the men who murdered his father pay. But what he discovers on his quest for vengeance reveals a truth that may cost him more than he ever imagined.
Set at Nashville's historical Belmont Mansion, a stunning antebellum manor built by Mrs. Adelicia Acklen, the richest woman in America in the 1860s, A Lasting Impression showcases the deep, poignant, unforgettable characters that set Tamera's stories apart and provides an inspiring love story that will capture readers' hearts and leave them eager for more.
If you would like to read the first chapter of A Lasting Impression, go HERE.
My Thoughts So Far:
I'm about 2/3 of the way through the book, and I'm loving it! Tamera Alexander's writing is so detailed and beautiful, and this story is emotion-packed and engaging. I'm hoping to finish this today/tonight and have a full review posted tomorrow. Eager to find out how Alexander brings everything together!
*With thanks to Bethany House through CFBA for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion.*
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Self-Worth: A Cautionary Tale
The answer is a simple one for a Christian, in theory: God. He's the One whose love and grace gives us worth and our lives meaning.
And yet as we talked about self-worth and self-esteem in my Personality Theory class today, I realized that I don't always live that way. We read and discussed an article about the various contingencies of self-worth (i.e.: finding our value through different avenues). This includes everything from academics to our appearance. When we determine our value through those factors, then we tend to interpret our successes and our failures as adding to or detracting from our worth as a person.
This can also include writing. The article mentioned that if we find our self-worth through a certain avenue and then we are criticized in it, we shut down and do our best to avoid the criticism or make excuses. Why? Because when we find our self-worth in something besides God, then any perceived "failure" on our parts will make us feel like we have little value.
And I am guilty of acting in this way. I really strongly dislike criticism and do my best to avoid it or ignore it. But you want to know something? Authors are supposed to thrive on criticism and editing!
I react in revulsion. If I ask for a critique, what I'm really asking for is validation and a pat on the back. I just want others to tell me that I'm brilliant and I'm definitely heading in the right direction. It's sad, but true. And I'm the same way with academics - I often put a lot more emphasis on grades than on actual learning.
But if we really truly believe that our worth is found in God alone - in His unconditional love and His purpose for our lives - then criticism isn't something to fear. We don't have to be in competition with others or be the very best at something in order to have value.
Does that mean we simply don't try to succeed, though? Not at all! Yet success is redefined when we strive for an eternal perspective. And no matter whether we fail or succeed, God is at work, He should be glorified, and we should be at rest knowing that His love never changes. If He wants me to write a book, then I should weigh advice, give it my all, and forget comparing myself to others (in their writing speed, awards, publication, etc.).
And one more thing: the article addresses an "antidote" for all the issues surrounding the self-esteem issue. The antidote is to focus on others and to be a part of something bigger than yourself. And that's just what loving and serving God is - being a part of God's eternal plan as He calls us to love and serve others and to give Him the glory. Isn't it wondrous to know your worth is in the hands of a God who lovingly created you and has a purpose for your life?
From God's Word:
"For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of yourself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith."
~ Romans 12:3
"And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him."
~ Colossians 3:17
"I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well."
~ Psalm 139:14
"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man."
~ Ecclesiastes 12:13
"And the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it."
Tell Me About Yourself - Blog Award!
Here are the rules for accepting the award:
1. Thank and link back to the person who gave you the award.
2. Share 7 things about yourself.
3. Give the award to 15 other bloggers.
And here are 7 things you may or may not know about me...
- I am a family girl - I just love spending time with my family! We have such fun on our family vacations or simply watching I Love Lucy or Bonanza episodes together. =)
- I love to read! (Surprising, right??)
- I just joined Twitter recently (@SeasonsHumility).
- I have a tabby cat named Mr. Murphy who lives at my grandparents' house. He's a sweetie! (Especially compared to my sister's cat, Muffin Man...although we still love him!)
- Speaking of pets: growing up I had a Persian cat (for a short time), hamsters, and Beta fish. (I think I had gold fish for a very short time, too... But that was before I can remember!)
- I didn't learn how to ride a bicycle until I was 11. *Blush*
- I love chocolate!! (I think I have the "chocoholic" gene passed down from my mom...)
I think this is a fun award to pass along so we can all learn fun, random facts about each other. =)
P.S. If you haven't seen the update page yet, I recently added the tentative schedule to the Love Finds You Blog Party page if you're interested in seeing some of the fun we have in store! Can't wait to party with ya'll!!
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Contentment Reading Challenge: November (Book Swap!)
Today, back by popular demand (again!), let's welcome another round of the Contentment Reading Challenge Book Swap! To save me a bit of time, as well as to make sure we're all on the same page, I'm just going to repeat the book swap guidelines from the last two swaps (in March and in June).
Here are some guidelines:
- You don't have to be a participant in the Contentment Reading Challenge in order to get involved in the book swap.
- If you are participating in the challenge and you end up getting a book through the book swap, feel free to count it to your total if you would like. It can be a re-read or a first-time read. You don't have to count it, though, if you only want to count re-reads. I'm just giving you permission if you'd like to. ;)
- There are no guarantees that everyone will get to participate. It's all up to you whether or not you end up connecting with another reader and finding some commonalities in your lists. (I'll explain that in just a moment.)
- If you choose to participate in the book swap, you will have to pay your own shipping to send your book(s) to another person. (This probably means that most of the "swappers" will be U.S. residents, but if a couple of people from another, same country find each other here, then that would be great!)
- A list of books you are willing to send (swap) to another person.
- A list of books you are interested in receiving through the swap, whether books you don't have that you want to re-read, or books you've never read before.
To get us started (and to give you an example), I'm just going to post my two lists here:
Books Available for Swapping:
- A Whisper of Peace by Kim Vogel Sawyer
- I Still Believe by Jeremy Camp (non-fiction) *Taken*
- To Have and to Hold by Tracie Peterson and Judith Miller
- Fairer Than Morning by Rosslyn Elliott
- A Lancaster County Christmas by Suzanne Woods Fisher
- Hello, Hollywood! by Janice Thompson
- Captive Trail by Susan Page Davis
- Love on the Line by Deeanne Gist (ARC)
- Out of Control by Mary Connealy
- Doctor in Petticoats, Montana Rose, or Deep Trouble by Mary Connealy
- How Sweet It Is by Alice J. Wisler *Taken*
- The Jewel of His Heart by Maggie Brendan
- Moon Over Tokyo or The Cubicle Next Door by Siri Mitchell
- Nothing But Trouble or Double Trouble by Susan May Warren
I'm willing to be flexible, so feel free to just let me know if one of my books sounds good to you, and we can go from there. =) And go ahead and post your lists and see if there's anyone you want to swap with!
Note: If you don't have a U.S. mailing address, be sure to let others know that in your comment. There might be someone from your country willing to swap with you! (As for me personally, I can only swap with those in the U.S. due to shipping costs.)
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Thinking realistically, I know it wouldn't be practical for me to fully participate in the challenge to write a 50,000-words novel in a month, especially since I have papers to write, other homework to complete, and books to review all month long.
But I like the carpe diem aspect of this challenge - "seizing the day" and refusing to put off writing goals in spite of a never-ending to-do list. So I've decided to have a nano-NaNoWriMo challenge for myself.
According to Dictionary.com, one definition of nano is -
How about you? Anyone out there taking on the full NaNoWriMo challenge? Anyone want to join me in doing a "nano" version of the challenge?