Monday, May 23, 2011

God's Gifts - More Then We Ask For

I’ve been having an emotional up-and-down roller coaster lately. It isn’t anything really big – just little things discouraging me or lifting me up. Last Friday was a great encouragement to me in a personal matter and I thrived on it all weekend. 

On Saturday, my sister asked if I’d like to do something. I immediately answered, “Go shopping.” We just laughed. She hates shopping and neither of us had the extra money to just shop for the fun of it. The first thing that popped into my head was a trip to Bath and Body Works. I haven’t shopped there in years but I love many of their fragrances. For the rest of the weekend, it stayed there in the back of my mind. Not in a bad way, just a wistful thought of something I’d like to do.
The weekend ended as I turned the key to enter school Monday. My mind on all the day held, I forgot about my wishful thinking. Near the end of the day, my sister (who is also the school’s music teacher) stopped by my classroom with a bright pink striped bag. It was from my Secret Pal. The staff exchanges information at the beginning of the year and sends each other small gifts each month. Sometimes it’s a bit of chocolate, a plant, a gift card, a note of encouragement. I could hardly wait to see what was in the bag. I confess, I had to peek while the class worked on an assignment. I almost cried when I saw the words “Bath and Body Works” on one of the bottles.

After class, I opened the bag and discovered hand soap, shower gel, body lotion, and a candle all from Bath and Body Works. How could she have known what I was thinking about all weekend? I don’t think I listed Bath and Body Works as one of my favorite stores. I can’t remember talking about it with anyone, not even my sisters. God knew. He knew before I thought about it and gave my Secret Pal the idea. 

I’m enjoying the scent of the lotion as I type this. Even more, I hold dear the knowledge that our loving Father desires to bless us in unexpected ways.

 Has God given you something special and unexpected lately?


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Beyond All Measure by Dorothy Love Book Review

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Book Description:
Unless she can trust God's love to cast out her fears, Ada may lose the heart of a good man.

Ada Wentworth, a young Bostonian, journeys to Hickory Ridge, Tennessee, in the years following the Civil War. Alone and nearly penniless following a broken engagement, Ada accepts a position as a lady’s companion to the elderly Lillian Willis, a pillar of the community and aunt to the local lumber mill owner, Wyatt Caldwell. Ada intends to use her millinery skills to establish a hat shop and secure her future.

Haunted by unanswered questions from her life in Boston, Ada is most drawn to two townsfolks: Wyatt, a Texan with big plans of his own, and Sophie, a mulatto girl who resides at the Hickory Ridge orphanage. Ada's friendship with Sophia attracts the attention of a group of locals seeking to displace the residents of Two Creeks, a "colored" settlement on the edge of town. As tensions rise, Ada is threatened but refuses to abandon her plan to help the girl.

When Lillian dies, Ada is left without employment or a place to call home. And since Wyatt’s primary purpose for staying in Hickory Ridge was to watch over his aunt, he can now pursue his dream of owning Longhorns in his home state of Texas.
With their feelings for each other growing, Ada must decide whether she can trust God with her future and Wyatt with her heart.

 
Set in the post-Civil War South, Beyond All Measure is a touching story of learning to forgive and love. After Ada loses her father and aunt in a tragic accident and her fiancĂ© abandons her without explanation, she accepts a position in Hickory Ridge, TN as a companion to elderly Lillian. Everything goes wrong from the moment she arrives. She discovers she wasn’t given the complete job description which angers and frustrates her. She has no money and no choice but to continue in the position. In the months to follow, she fights to follow her own dreams for financial independence along with caring for the loving but troublesome Lillian. To compound her problems, she begins to fall in love with Wyatt, Lillian’s nephew. 

Wyatt’s one dream is to fulfill his obligation of providing for his aunt and return to the ranch he loves in Texas. Scarred by memories of his time in the war, he fights his growing attraction for the Yankee he hired to care for his aunt. When he discovers Ada lied to him and misled him, there doesn’t seem any way these two can reconcile their differences.

It will take a great deal of faith in God and acceptance of His healing love to mend the hearts of Wyatt and Ada. A near drowning, a death, an abduction, and a fire all help to show them that God is not just what they need, He is Beyond All Measure.





Dorothy Love is the author of the Hickory Ridge series,  historical novels set in the beautiful Smoky Mountains region of  her native Tennessee.  Her well-researched, heartwarming stories of small town Southern life, faith, friends, and family reflect the emotions, concerns, and values of women everywhere.
Growing up in McNairy County, Tennessee, Doro attended  Bethel Springs Presbyterian Church and  the local grade school where she spent every spare moment writing stories to share with her classmates. As a college student in Texas majoring in teaching and English literature,  she co-edited her university newspaper. After earning a masters degree and a Ph.D, she authored dozens of magazine articles before breaking into book publishing with a number of award-winning novels for preteens and young adults. The Hickory Ridge series (Thomas Nelson Fiction)  marks her adult fiction debut.

When she isn’t busy writing or researching her next book, Doro loves hiking and hanging out with her husband Ron and their two golden retrievers, Major and Jake. Lifelong avid travelers, the Loves have explored the cities and the back country of New Zealand, photographed the Cuna Indians of the San Blas Islands, traversed the Panama Canal, explored Bermuda on motor scooters, and combed the best beaches in Hawaii and the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

For more than twenty years they have collected antique maps depicting their many ports of call, chiefly those  maps by 19th century mapmaker and engraver John Rapkin. Published by John Tallis of London, Rapkin’s maps in the 1851 edition of Tallis’ Illustrated Atlas are among the most visually appealing of the Victorian age.    The Loves make  their home in the Texas hill country.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Well-written and Enjoyable Too Rich for A Bride by Mona Hodgson

From the author’s website:



As the business-savvy Sinclair sister, Ida has never wanted to settle down.



Instead of love, she craves success.



But while searching for one, she just might find the other.



Ida Sinclair has joined her sisters, Kat and Nell, in the untamed mining town of Cripple Creek, Colorado for one reason: to work for the infamous but undeniably successful businesswoman, Mollie O’Bryan. Ida’s sisters may be interested in making a match for their determined older sister, but Ida only wants to build her career.



Under Mollie's tutelage, Ida learns how to play the stock market and revels in her promising accomplishments. Fighting for respect in a man's world, her ambition leaves little room for distractions. She ignores her family's reservations about Mollie O'Bryan's business practices, but no matter how she tries, she can't ignore the two men pursuing her affections—Colin Wagner, the dashing lawyer, and Tucker Raines, the traveling preacher.



Ida wants a career more than anything else, so she shrugs off the suitors and pointed "suggestions" that young ladies don’t belong in business. Will it take unexpected love—or unexpected danger—for Ida to realize where her priorities truly lie?



 



      This is the second book in The Sinclair Sisters of Cripple Creek series. It is the first one I’ve read and it works easily as a stand-alone novel. The author woks enough of the storyline from the other sisters into the book so the reader doesn’t feel as if something is missing. Although the romance is a major part of the story, equally important is the spiritual and life lessons each of the characters learns. At first, Ida never questions her drive to be a “woman of business” in the growing frontier town in Colorado. But subtle and not-so-subtle opposition begin to cause tiny doubts. She also trusts her own ability to be a good judge of character, after two near disasters in her relationships shake up her confidence.



     Relating to the characters is easy thanks to the well-molded development of the story. Each of the main characters has the opportunity to make choices and grow. The secondary characters are likeable and add to the storyline. Overall, I would recommend this book and this author.



     I received my copy through Blogging for Books in exchange for this review. This arrangement does not require that I write a positive review.







Mona Gansberg married Bob Hodgson in 1972, and became Mona Hodgson 38 years ago. They have two grown daughters, a son-in-law, three grandsons and a granddaughter.



In 1987, Mona Hodgson began writing articles, poems, and short stories for publication and has had several hundred printed in more than 50 different publications. Her publishing credits now include two historical novels, nearly 30 children’s books, and contributions to 11 books for adults



Mona is a speaker for women's retreats, schools, conferences for educators and librarians, and at writers' conferences throughout the United States and Canada. She holds professional memberships in the American Christian Fiction Writers, Romance Writers of America, Women Writing the West, Christian Authors Network, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, the Society of Southwestern Authors, and  Arizona Reading Association.



What does Mona like to do when she’s not writing? Picnic, Hula-Hoop, read to kids, visit museums, play tennis (on Wii), sink her toes into wet sand at the beach, retreat with her sisters, explore new places, gaze at sunsets and share lunch with a friend. 

Plain Wisdom by Cindy Woodsmall and Miriam Flaud

Description:
Best-selling novelist Cindy Woodsmall might seem to have little in common with Miriam Flaud, a woman immersed in the culture of Old Order Amish. But with nine children and almost 60 years of marriage between them, Cindy and Miriam both have found the secrets to facing life with strength and grace. Whether enduring financial setbacks, celebrating new babies and times of prosperity, grieving the crushing losses in the deaths of family and friends, or facing disappointments with their respective communities—through it all they find guidance for each day by looking to God. 

With poignant recollections, unexpected insights, and humorous tales, the two women welcome you into their unique friendship.  You’ll also gain a rare glimpse into the traditions and ways of the Amish as Miriam recalls special occasions and shares family recipes throughout the book.
 
Plain Wisdom is a heartwarming celebration of God, womanhood, and the search for beauty that unites us all. So grab your cup and your quilt and settle in for a soul-comforting read with Plain Wisdom.


In this small book lies huge pieces of wisdom sprinkled among antidotes of family life and community. Cindy Woodsmall, and "Englisher", becomes close friends with Miriam Flaud of Old Order Amish. Together they share lessons they've learned through life.


As a teenager, I lived in a part of Pennsylvania where Amish buggies are as common as automobiles. I made a few friends a few Amish families, though they were not the Old Order Amish as Miriam is. In this book, Miriam tells what she has learned as a woman living in a tight-knit community. Some of her stories bring a smile; others bring tears. She shares some recipes such as "Chicken Spaghetti", "Chocolate Coffee Cake", and "Egg Custard." The instructions are simple and the ingredients easy to find. 


In each chapter, both women address a topic related to a Bible verse. Cindy shares her experiences as a wife, mother, and writer. Miriam shares her love of crafts, writing, and her family. It is a wonderful blending of two very different worlds by two not-so-very different hearts. Wonderful!

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. They do not require that I write a positive review in exchange for the book.

Cindy Woodsmall is a New York Times best-selling author whose connection with the Amish community has been featured on ABC Nightline and on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.
Her first novel released in 2006 to much acclaim and became a best seller. Cindy was a 2007 ECPA Christian Book Award finalist, along with Karen Kingsbury, Angela Hunt, and Charles Martin.
Her second book, When the Morning Comes, hit numerous best-sellers lists across the US, including edging into the extended list on the New York Times, coming in at number thirty-four.
Her third book, When the Soul Mends, hit the New York Times best-sellers list, coming in at number thirteen, as well as making the USA Today's best-sellers list.
Cindy continues to write and release best-selling works of fiction, and she's begun work on a nonfiction piece as well.
Her real-life connections with Amish Mennonite and Old Order Amish families enrich her novels with authenticity.
Though she didn't realize it at the time, seeds were sown years ago that began preparing Cindy to write these books. At the age of ten, while living in the dairy country of Maryland, she became best friends with Luann, a Plain Mennonite girl. Luann, like all the females in her family, wore the prayer Kapp and caped dresses. Her parents didn't allow television or radios, and many other modern conveniences were frowned upon. During the numerous times Luann came to Cindy's house to spend the night, her rules came with her and the two were careful to obey them--afraid that if they didn't, the adults would end their friendship. Although the rules were much easier to keep when they spent the night at Luann's because her family didn't own any of the forbidden items, both sets of parents were uncomfortable with the relationship and a small infraction of any kind would have been enough reason for the parents to end the relationship. While navigating around the adults' disapproval and the obstacles in each other's lifestyle, the two girls bonded in true friendship that lasted into their teen years, until Cindy's family moved to another region of the US.
As an adult, Cindy became friends with a wonderful Old Order Amish family who opened their home to her. Although the two women, Miriam and Cindy, live seven hundred miles apart geographically, and a century apart by customs, when they come together they never lack for commonality, laughter, and dreams of what only God can accomplish through His children.
Cindy, her husband, their three sons and two daughters-in-law reside in Georgia.



Waiting is NOT for the Impatient!

I can't wait. How often have we all made that statement? Yet if we take it apart grammatically, it means that we are physically unable to wait for something to happen. Which, of course, isn't quite true. A more accurate statement would be, "I eagerly anticipate an event." But who's going to say that?

I'll be the first. I eagerly anticipate the first of June. Several events will happen or be imminent. First, I will have a short story published in Christian Fiction Online Magazine. That in and of itself is enough to schedule a party! Next, the critiques for two different contests I entered will be released within a short time of June 1. I am waiting to receive those critiques to edit my book The Road to Nowhere and submit to more agents.  I'm still waiting to hear back from the agent who requested to see more of The Road to Nowhere. It's been almost eight weeks. I've been advised to wait just a little longer before contacting her to be sure she received the email.

Then, of course, there's the end of the school year and the beginning of summer break. So, what can you say, "I eagerly anticipate the event" about?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Review of Unconventional by J.J. Hebert and BOOK GIVEAWAY


Description
YOUNG JAMES FROST just knows, deep in his bones, that he's a writer. He writes far into early mornings, after his wearying hours of scrubbing toilets and sweeping floors. He loves writing that much. But it's not only the joy of words that keeps him grinding; it's his desire to retire the janitor's mop. He sees being published as the key to living an improved life. James has another deep-seated conviction: that he's not good enough. He secretly longs to be accepted. However, the conventional others in his life seem all too willing to remind him that he's wasting his time. Then he meets and falls in love with Leigh, the one bright spot in his endless misery of self-doubt. A quiet but resolutely religious girl, she has to fight off disapproval of her own from overly critical parents, whose insults are countered by James's often-voiced admiration of her. Likewise, Leigh's faith in his talents begins to build his confidence, eventually allowing her to introduce him to a different way to help himself: relying on God. Ultimately, James's newfound faith is sorely tested to the point of doubt when his dream to be published seems to melt into a mirage, smothered by countless rejection slips from agents and publishers. His faith is also battered by having to fight highly emotional battles and suffer fear and loss. Just when James appears hopelessly sapped by devastating events, one last door opens, and he's rocked by an epiphany. UNCONVENTIONAL is designed to inspire readers to reach for their dreams.

As I read the first few pages, I was unsure if this was the type of book I’d enjoy reading. I’m not fond of the use of first person, but as I continued to read, J.J. drew me into the life of James Frost. Further in, I empathized deeply with the raw emotions James faced as he received rejection after rejection for his novel.  In fact, most of the first half of the book recounts the pain James faced from the rejection of his friends, his father, his girlfriend’s parents, and then his girlfriend. Reaching the absolute bottom of his life, he contemplates suicide. 

What makes this book Unconventional is how the story is told. As James discovers God’s love, he realizes that God is an unconventional God. Jesus’ method of salvation is an unconventional method. Life lived to the fullest is lived unconventionally.

This isn't the kind of fiction you choose to read for fun. This is a heartbreaking look into the life of someone striving for success despite the pressure working against him.  Like the fictional James, I know the pain of receiving those heartrending rejection letters from agents. The depth of emotion portrayed caused me to put the book aside several times. But the nagging need to know how James solved his problems prompted me to pick it up again. I am glad that I did. I recommend this book to anyone who likes to live life in an Unconventional way.

I received this book from Pump Up Your Books in exchange for hosting a blog tour by writing this review. Receiving the book did not influence the writing of a positive review.


J.J. Hebert's debut novel, Unconventional (paperback), became an Amazon.com best-seller in three categories on July 19, 2009. The Kindle version has been the #1 Inspirational Book in the Kindle Store numerous times. J.J. is also the founder of MindStir Media (www.mindstirmedia.com), which helps authors successfully self-publish, distribute, and market books. Currently, he lives in New England, where he's at work on his latest novel and children's book.
Visit J. J. Hebert's official Web site for more information: www.jjhebert.net
Subscribe to his blog: www.jjhebert.blogspot.com


Leave a comment to this question and I will enter you in a drawing to win a copy of this book. Drawing ends June 5, 2011.
     How do you attempt to live your life unconventionally?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

My Newest Work in Progress

With the end of the school year approaching (anyone else hear the "Hallelujah Chorus"?), I haven't had much time for writing. I've been keeping up with my book reviews and an occasional blog post here and there. But no real writing. 

This week I had two rounds of the stomach bug. Yes, that's right ladies and gentlemen, twice the fun. I missed two days of school, one of which I spent several hours debating whether to head to the ER or not. I decided to give it twenty-four hours and wait it out. By the second day 2, I was improved but still housebound. During the night, I dreamed an idea for a story. I started writing and for the first time since I joined it, I submitted chapter 1 to a critique group. I am really excited about this new book even though I'm not completely certain where it will take me. I'd like to share chapter 1 with you and get some feedback.



Chapter 1
Cassidy Overton’s Louis Vuitton heels clicked an irritated rhythm across the travertine tiles of the penthouse entryway. Tossing the matching clutch bag onto the maple credenza, she continued her quest for her husband. It didn’t take long to search the 3,500 square foot floor. Nothing. Standing in the middle the open floor plan, she glared at the awe inspiring view of the New York City skyline. Today it might as well be a cinder block wall rather than huge panes of ceiling to floor glass. The tempest in her soul stole the view from her eyes.
The phone’s soft buzzing swept her away from the late autumn sunset panorama. Swift steps carried her to the phone before it buzzed again. Please let it be William.
“Hello?”
“Cass. There you are. I’ve been trying to reach you all day. Where have you been?” Irritation flecked his words. She bit her lip, her own turmoil dissipating under the desire to help solve his problem.
“I’m so sorry, honey. My cell phone died and I’ve had the most irritating afternoon -”
“Sorry to hear that, Cass. I need you to do me a favor.” His words bit off her apology. “You know that wall safe I had put in behind the portrait in the guest room? I need you to get something from it for me.”
Before he’d finished speaking, she’d turned her pointed shoes in the direction of the guest room on the north end of the apartment.
“I’m putting you on speaker, William. Give me a second.” She pressed the button and placed the phone on the bookcase beside the portrait. Lifting it with both hands, she placed it on the floor against the wall. The steel door of the new safe featured a keypad and digital screen.
“Okay. Go ahead with the combination.” No answer. “William?”
Cassidy picked up the phone. Holding it to her ear, muffled voices floated in the background not far beyond William’s phone. She called his name again, but no reply. Should she hang up? Call him back? She glanced at the caller ID. The office number. Should she call his cell? Anxiety over the decision curdled her stomach. The shrill sound of a shredder muted the other distant sounds. What was going on? She jumped as a loud voice came clearly through the phone.
“Mr. Overton. Stop what you’re doing. Drop those papers.” A commanding voice, ripe with authority. The voice approached the phone. “Mr. Overton, we have a warrant for your arrest on charges of -” Silence. Two clicks then a dial tone.
Cassidy held the phone away from her ear and stared at it as if it held answers. Icy fear shivered through her shaking fingers as she pressed the speed dial to William’s cell phone. Straight to voicemail. She disconnected and dialed the office. For the first time in the three years she’d known her husband, his assistant didn’t pick up.
Cassidy’s knees failed her and she collapsed onto the bed. What was going on? She needed answers. She stood and flew to her purse for her cell phone. Scrambling through the desk drawers, she discovered the charger. Her fingers betrayed her as she tried three times to open the tiny clip for the cord. The fourth attempt pried it open. Attaching it, she plugged the other end into the wall socket and stared at the screen as it scrolled through the power up cycle. Each beat of her heart pulsated in her ears. Patience. Patience. Finally.
She punched her mother-in-law’s home number. Not the person she wanted to turn to for help right now, not after the lunch disaster of an hour ago. But she could always count on Patricia to know everything about everything going on. A voice answered before the first tone faded.
“They’ve arrested William.” From Patricia’s tone, Cassidy could imagine the tongue lashing someone just received. She was just thankful it wasn’t her this time.
“I know. I was on the phone with him when someone entered his office and -”
“MY William, Cassidy. My husband. The lawyers are with him right now to put an end to this nonsense.”
William and Mr. Overton were arrested? What was going on? “Patricia, I was on the phone with my husband when someone entered his office and announced his arrest.”
“What?” Whenever Patricia’s voice squealed into the higher register like that, Cassidy inadvertently pictured Maleficent from the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty. “My son and my husband? What am I going to tell our friends? How will I ever show my face in our social circle? I’ll be the laughing stock of our set.”
Cassidy counted to ten, waiting for the tirade to end. When Patricia’s wailing left her breathless, she paused. Cassidy jumped in. “What are the charges, Patricia? William didn’t have a chance to tell me anything. He was directing me to get something from the safe for him, but he was cut off before I could get it.”
Patricia’s sigh could have blown the remaining dead leaves off the trees in Central Park. “It has something to do with misused funds. I don’t get involved in the business, child. I leave that to my husband and sons.” She paused. “I haven’t heard from Percy or Philippa. I wonder why they haven’t called me? I can’t imagine Percy not calling his own mother knowing what horror I’m facing right now.”
Cassidy couldn’t help rolling her eyes. “Perhaps they don’t know what has happened. Is the charge serious? Are they in danger of going to jail?”
“Not with the amount of money we pay our lawyers. I should think not. No, I’m sure it’s just someone acting on misinformation. We’ll probably hear from them soon enough. Heavens! Look at the time. I have to meet the Sutherfords for dinner and I don’t have anything to wear. I was supposed to go shopping after our lunch but I was so flustered with the news about William, I came straight home.”
Of course she wasn’t flustered over the events at lunch time. That would be expecting too much. “Are you sure this isn’t anything to be concerned about?”
“Child, if it were, would I be going shopping then to a social event this evening?” Cassidy bit her tongue. “The lawyers will have it all straightened out by this evening. Now I just have to find a way to smooth this over with the vipers we call friends.”
A click ended the conversation. Cassidy closed her cell phone, accustomed to Patricia’s abrupt endings. Kicking her heels into a corner, she moved on bare feet to the sofa facing the panoramic view. Flopping onto one end, she curled her legs beneath her and lounged against the velor arm. Resting her head on her out-flung arm, she worked to quiet the turmoil within. Her other hand rested on her abdomen. The day started well, then the scene with Patricia, now this. Cold seeped through her. She curled tighter into herself. What can I do? What does a person do when everything falls apart?
“I don’t have anyone to turn to.” Her whispered pain wafted into the emptiness. A tiny tear trickled its way over her check. “Please, William. Please don’t be guilty.”

Does this get your attention? Does it sound like a book you would read? Do you see anything I could improve or change?  Please leave your comments. I'd love to hear from you!