Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Book Review: No Safe Harbor by Elizabeth Ludwig

Set in New York City in 1897, No Safe Harbor is the story of a young Irish woman searching for her twin brother.

For the last two years, Cara Hamilton had thought her brother was dead, a victim of political violence in Ireland. But when she receives a letter from him with instructions to meet him in New York, Cara boards a ship and starts a perilous journey.

But once she arrives there is no sign of her brother, and she must find her way with the help of strangers who want to befriend her, even though she has been warned to trust no one. Cara’s new life takes her to the intrigues and dangers of a political underworld. Her guide and protector is Rourke Walsh – a man who claims to be her friend, but could he be the one person her brother warned her to avoid?

Elizabeth Ludwig has painted a fascinating picture of New York at the end of the 19th century, complete with the contrast of beauty and poverty that makes the city so intriguing. Her characters were compelling, and I can hardly wait to read more of Cara’s story.

No Safe Harbor is the first book in the Edge of Freedom series. I’m looking forward to the next installment.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for my unbiased review.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Well-Balanced Reading Diet

Eating is one of my favorite occupations.

But that doesn't have to be a bad thing, as long as we vary our diet and don't over indulge on any one thing.*

*this rule doesn't necessarily apply to chocolate.

When you think of the types of foods available to us, they generally fall into one of three categories: 

1) Steak and potatoes - a well rounded meal with a protein, starch, 2 kinds of veggies, a fruit and a whole grain.
2) Fast food - either from a restaurant or a quick sandwich at home.
3) Dessert. Sweets and candy. 'Nuff said. 

Now if we always ate the #1 type foods, we would be healthy and happy - - but sometimes we just don't have the time and energy for a meal like that. We may not even be hungry enough for a full meal like that.

When it comes to reading, the classics and great literature fall in the #1 category. They're meaty, and worth taking our time to read them. They stretch our vocabularies and our imaginations, and they challenge our worldviews. But sometimes we just don't have the time and energy to slog through Dostoevsky or Steinbeck. Our minds need to engage with these authors when we read, and that doesn't happen every time we sit down to read.

What about the #2 type foods? These foods can ease our hunger and get us to the next meal. If we choose our menu well, we might even do pretty well if we only ate #2 foods and nothing else. But it's easy to fall into the "burger and fries" mode for every meal. How boring!

How about reading in the #2 category? This category is where most of our favorite books reside. They're easy to read, good stories. They move us emotionally, they get made into movies that entertain us, and we can pick up these stories anywhere. All our friends are reading these books, and we can discuss them in line at the grocery store. The danger is that these books rarely challenge us to look beyond our own lives and rarely require us to engage in an intellectual conversation with the author. A steady diet of these books can be satisfying, but eventually they become boring and predictable.

And what about #3? In foods, these are the desserts and candy. If you ate only these types of foods, you'd soon be in the hospital - so we save them for occasional treats.

And #3 reading? Think of the kind of fluff you pick up to read when you're tired or wrung out emotionally. These are the quick short stories in magazines, or a fun novella. The stories aren't complex, it's easy to get to know the characters, and the conflict is easily resolved in a few pages. There's a place for light reading, but you wouldn't want to make a steady diet of it.

So what is my reading diet like?

I tend to read a lot from the #2 pile - we all do. But after I've read a few #2's, I'll pick up a #1 to give myself a challenge. It's a little like peeking into another world for a while. The #3's get interspersed in the odd moments - a magazine short story or a short romance on my Kindle.

A couple days ago I picked up Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky. I read it when I was in college (has it really been 35 years?) for a Russian literature class. I came back to it because I remember it being much deeper and complex than I could understand back then.

That's the way good literature is, isn't it? One reading doesn't do it justice.

I'm at the end of chapter two, and I'm just floored at the way Dostoevsky is unfolding his story. This book deserves its status as a classic.

But I doubt if I'll read it straight through.

I'll read a few chapters of C & P, then the new Mary Connealy book will arrive from Amazon and I'll devour that. Then a few more chapters of C&P, and then another book will grab my attention.

But that's okay. I believe in a varied diet!

What does your reading diet look like?
Are you stuck in only one food group?
What book are you thinking about challenging yourself with next?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Book Review and Giveaway!

What happens when an Amish girl leaves her home to start a new life in the city? 
Susan Hostetler is all set to marry her long time beau, but when she sees him with another girl she leaves her Indiana home – not only leaving Thomas behind, but her Amish life as well. What she finds in the city surprises her. While she studies for her GED, learns to drive a car and experiments with dating, she finds leaving her problems behind doesn’t mean she’s free of them.
In Missing Your Smile, Susan meets Teresa Long. Teresa is an unwed mother, raised in poverty, who wants more for her unborn child. She is drawn to the Amish community, and when she meets Susan, she wants Susan to find an Amish family who will adopt her baby. When efforts to locate such a family fall through, Teresa decides the best way to have her child raised in the Amish community is to join the Amish church. Susan has her doubts about Teresa’s goals – not many outsiders successfully join the Amish church – but she has promised to help her new friend as much as she can.

Following Your Heart continues Susan and Teresa’s journey back to Susan’s home, where Susan finds a new perspective on her roots through Teresa’s eyes. As Teresa follows her heart to a place in the community, Susan holds back, unsure of where her heart is leading her. Of all the things she learned during her time in the English city, perhaps a new-found appreciation of her home is the most important thing – but what will she decide about Thomas?

These books are the first two in the “Fields of Home” series by Jerry Eicher.  The third book in the series, Where Love Grows, is due out in September. I have enjoyed Jerry’s Amish stories for several years. His personal experience and masculine point of view both bring a fresh look at the Amish culture that I enjoy. I’m waiting anxiously for September!

And here’s a wonderful opportunity for you! Jerry Eicher has generously donated a signed copy of each of these two books, Missing Your Smile and Following Your Heart, to give away on my blog!
To win a copy of each book, comment on this blog, telling me what you like about Amish fiction or tell us who your favorite Amish author is.

I’ll be doing a random drawing from the eligible comments next Monday, June 25, 2012. One entry per person, but you may comment as many times as you wish!

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Promise Kept!

 Whew! I think I’m finally catching my breath!

Let me catch you up with what’s been going on…

WAY back in August, Rachel Burkot, assistant editor at Love Inspired, was a guest on Seekerville.

You can read about her visit here:
                                                             Rachel Burkot's visit to Seekerville

If you read down to the bottom of the post, you may notice that the wonderful ladies of Seekerville launched a contest that day – the “Love Inspired Read-Me Contest”. It was one of those surprise contests Seekerville does so well, and 
                                                                      wonder of wonders, 
                                                                                                                  I was prepared!

I had three chapters of my story done
                                                                    (in fact, I had the whole thing, well, mostly done),

                      and I had a synopsis written. 


We had 24 hours to submit our stuff.

And I won.


I was thrilled :)

But then Rachel Burkot asked me to send her my full manuscript :) and I was thrilled again.

And then she asked for revisions :) and I was thrilled again!

there’s an interesting thing about the publishing business. 

The author is just one little cog in a huge machine. I sent my revised manuscript to Rachel in December, and waited. And waited.

I’m glad I already knew about being a little cog. The machine was working away, but I couldn’t see what was going on.

I wondered if Rachel had found it in her inbox,
                I wondered if she had sent it on to a Senior Editor, 
                              I wondered if I should revise it again while I waited…

But I took the advice of the Seekervillians again and started on my next book…

Flash forward to April. 

Out of the blue (seemingly to me) Rachel Burkot emailed me, asking for a proposal and a longer synopsis! 

In early May my wonderful agent called with the good news that Love Inspired was offering a contract!

                And another revision letter.

                I was more than thrilled.
Maniacal laughing thrilled!

Balloons and fireworks thrilled!!

Roll on the floor and bark out loud thrilled!!!

A forty-five year dream come true :) and… 

a promise kept…

                                  "The Promises We Keep" - my first blog post :)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Book Review: The Scent of Cherry Blossoms by Cindy Woodsmall

In her newest novella, The Scent of Cherry Blossoms, Cindy Woodsmall treats the reader to a glimpse into differences between two communities – the Old Order Amish and the Old Order Mennonites.  But these two communities only seem identical to the outsiders. Cindy Woodsmall dares to plumb the depths of the differences between these theological “cousins” that date back to the 17th century.

 Annie Martin is an Old Order Mennonite girl who loves her heritage and her grandfather. To escape a difficult situation at home, Annie goes to live with him in Apple Ridge, Pennsylvania just as spring begins to show its face. While there, she becomes reacquainted with a childhood friend, Aden Zook. But Aden is Old Order Amish, and as their friendship grows into love, their families forbid the relationship, revealing just how deeply the boundaries between the two sects run.

Even though novellas are traditionally shorter and less complex than a novel, Cindy Woodsmall has also given the reader fully developed secondary characters, including a look at Aden’s twin brother, Roman, as he tries to regain his identity after being confined to a wheel chair due to a farming accident. Roman’s journey and his steps toward love with an outgoing, vivacious Amish girl are a delightful background to Annie and Aden’s story.

I have enjoyed all of Cindy Woodsmall’s books that I’ve read, and this one is no exception. In the growing sub-genre of Amish fiction, Cindy gives the reader a sweet, authentic story every time.

To learn more about Cindy Woodsmall, or to read an excerpt of this book, follow these links:
Cindy's website
Read Chapter One
Buy This Book from Waterbrook Multnomah Publisher 

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for my unbiased review.

Book Review: Brush of Angel's Wings by Ruth Reid

In Brush of Angel’s Wings, Ruth Reid’s second book in her “Heaven on Earth” series, we are treated to the story of Rachel Hartzler, a young Amish woman who doesn’t fit comfortably into her Michigan Amish community’s expectations. She meets a young man, Jordan Engles, who is only planning to stay with his Amish uncle for a short time to fulfill a promise made to his dying mother before he rejoins the English world. 

When Rachel’s father hires Jordan to help out on the farm, Rachel has to face feelings ranging from jealousy because this newcomer is taking her place working beside her father to renewed grief as Jordan’s presence reminds her of her brother who recently died. Jordan, in turn, is dealing with his own grief and finds himself searching for a connection to his mother through her Amish roots. In spite of this, Jordan and Rachel are attracted to each other, and as they learn to work together, they become friends.

The reader is also witness to the workings of an angel, named Nathaniel, and a demon named Tangus, both trying to affect Rachel and Jordan’s lives – Nathaniel to protect them, and Tangus to lead them away from God. The angel’s and demon’s interactions are woven into the story throughout the book.
I enjoyed this story and was caught up in the developing relationship between Rachel and Jordan, especially when a tragedy seems to force them apart. I wasn’t as interested in the angel’s part of the story - it could have been left out without affecting the story in any way. Even so, I’m interested in reading Ruth Reid’s other books, including The Promise of an Angel, the first “Heaven on Earth” book, and Angel at Her Side, the third book in the series, available January 2013.

I received a free copy of this book for my unbiased review.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Book Review: Beyond Hope's Valley by Trisha Goyer

The third in Trisha Goyer’s Big Sky Trilogy, Beyond Hope’s Valley doesn’t disappoint the reader who is looking for the continuation of Marianna Sommer’s story. At the end of the previous book, we knew Marianna would be returning to her Indiana home, leaving her parents and younger siblings in Kootenai, Montana, and her future seemed set. But when she arrives in Shipshewana, she realizes her time in Montana has changed her, and she sees her home community through new eyes.

As Marianna and Aaron make plans for their future, questions continue to arise, leaving Marianna unsettled and unsure. Will she live the life she had planned, or will a new future open up for her beyond this valley?

I enjoy Trisha Goyer’s books very much, but this one was disappointing. The conflict between Marianna and Aaron seemed shallow and rushed, and her portrayal of the Shipshewana Amish community didn’t ring true – one of the pitfalls of using a real place for a setting in a fictional work.

Don’t let that dissuade you from reading this book, however – the end of Marianna’s story is a sweet conclusion to this trilogy.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for my unbiased review.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Debra Dixon's GMC

I love reading craft books for writing.

What can I say? I love studying.

Currently, I’m on my second time through Debra Dixon’s GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict.
This is a book that is written in such a straight-forward way it’s easy to understand.  Basically, the author maintains that each character in your story should have concrete goals (what they want), motivation (why they want it) and conflict (what’s keeping them from getting it). She uses well-known movies to illustrate her points, and it’s worthwhile to watch those movies (she encourages you to do so in her introduction).
I initially read this book a year ago when I was developing the characters for my first book. Even in the early drafts I was getting comments like “these aren’t cardboard characters,” and I know it’s because I used Debra Dixon’s GMC chart to develop all of my characters, not just the main, point-of-view characters.

So tell us, what are your favorite craft books?

You can buy Debra Dixon’s GMC here. You’ll find a much better price than on Amazon.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Next BIG Step!

 I don’t know exactly how many steps it takes to become a published writer, but I do know I recently took a huge one – 

I am now...

                  (drumroll please!)

…an agented author!

(We will pause here for cheers, whistles and Snoopy dancing!)

It all started when I received the sage advice (first from Tina Radcliffe and then from Julie Lessman, two of the authors from Seekerville) that it was time to get an agent.

Hah! Easier said than done!

First of all, I needed to write a query letter.

No, scratch that.

First of all, I needed to understand what a query letter IS. (See the results of that part of the journey here)

Next, I needed to write a query letter.

                    Not just A query letter – I needed to write MY query letter.

Because the query letter is your foot-in-the-door, smile-on-your-face first impression.

Then I needed to polish my synopsis.

Then all I needed to do was put it all together and send it off to an agent!

No – back up again – first I needed to find an agent I wanted to query, research the agent and the agency – make that multiple agents and agencies – and prioritize my list.
There are so many good agencies, prioritizing was the hardest part!

I queried one agent, ended up with a negative result, and put querying agents on the back of the stove.
God was telling me to wait, so I waited.

Then the Seekerville ladies (thank you, Ruth Logan Herne!) had another one of their impromptu contests - -
-          - well, impromptu for their readers. I know a LOT of thought, prayer and planning goes into these contests!

But this contest just HAPPENED to be an agent query contest.
The five finalists were given an opportunity to query an agent that just HAPPENED to be one of the top agents on my list.
And I just HAPPENED to be one of those five finalists.

So, with much trepidation, I sent my query to Barbara Scott, of WordServe Literary (

knowing I would have to wait several weeks for an answer…
…and got an email back from her in less than an hour!

The rest, as they say, is history.

I can’t tell you how much it means for this newbie writer to have an agent – someone who knows the business, knows the publishing houses, knows the editors, and is enthusiastic about my book. 

Whew! I feel like I have Tim Tebow, Peyton Manning and Roger Staubach all rolled into one as my quarterback!

Lessons learned?

1)      Finish your book! If you’re a new writer, have been working on that story for a while, but you’re still not even close to writing “The End”, sit in your chair and work! If you need some cheerleaders, join the #1K1HR group on Facebook ( Tell ‘em I sent you.

2)      Research agencies and agents – find out who they represent, what kinds of stories they’re looking for – and ask your friends for recommendations. Read the agents’ blogs, their guest appearances on writing blogs, and their bios. Make a list of your top five. Once you’ve queried all of them, make another list of your top five.

3)      Be like a Boy Scout: Be Prepared! You never know when God is going to send opportunity to your door, so be prepared to answer that door when He does. Write your query letter. Write your synopsis – better yet, write two. Have a one-page and a three-page both ready. You can then expand or contract your synopsis easily to fit the requirements of the opportunity.

4)      Don’t wait for opportunity to come knocking – pray for God to show you His time for you to send out that query!

5)      When you get that call or that e-mail, don’t faint. The floor is hard, and you’ll just worry the dog.

6)      Call your husband and crit partners with the news before the excitement wears off.

7)      Start on your next book, if you haven’t already!

Happy Writing!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Book Review: The Doctor's Lady by Jody Hedlund

Historical fiction means much more when it’s been inspired by a true story, and that’s just what Jody Hedlund gives her readers in The Doctor’s Lady.

It is 1836, and Priscilla White knows she has been called to be a missionary teacher in India. She is just as sure that God has called her to remain single, but the Mission Board has decided young, single women are not fit for the dangerous mission field, and have turned down her application.

Dr. Eli Ernest is also bound for the mission field – as a doctor to the native tribes in the newly discovered northwest. He has spent a year among the tribes in Oregon, and longs to return, but the Mission Board supporting him has determined that he must take a wife along, or not return at all.

In order for both of them to fulfill God’s call, Priscilla and Eli decide to marry – in name only. But even as they start their journey west, have the seeds of romance already been planted?

Jody Hedlund was inspired by the story of Narcissa and Marcus Whitman, missionaries to the Nez Perce Indians in the early 1800’s. Mrs. Hedlund drew extensively from the Whitman’s diaries for her story, giving the incidents along the way the true flavor of authenticity.

The Doctor’s Lady is Mrs. Hedlund’s second book (her first was her award-winning The Preacher’s Bride, 2010), and I hope we will be able to enjoy many more offerings. Her next book, Unending Devotion, is due out September, 2012, and is available for pre-order now.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for my unbiased review.