Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Why Every Girl Needs a Daddy

2008 Sense and Sensibility 

We watched the 2008 Sense and Sensibility over the weekend. I've seen it many times, but the joy of a well-told story is the many different angles you can think through before you've exhausted it.

Sunday night I thought about Eleanor and Marianne in the context of their absent father-figure.

Marianne had no idea what a snake-oil suitor looked like, because she had no dad to tell her. She was ripe for the first Byron-reading Dark Destroyer that came her way. (Seriously, who would trust Dominic Cooper's Willoughby anyway?)

Eleanor carried a lot of the family head decision-making that her father would have carried if he had
been alive. Accounting. Helping them find a house. Helping her mother and sisters find security and adjust to a new life. Putting in a word of caution now and then to Marianne which was never very well received. Because she had no father, she thought that she had to hide her emotions and be strong for everyone else.

Neither girl really had emotional stability. Eleanor had a good grip on keeping it concealed, but when it came down to it, she was just as hurting and vulnerable and confused as Marianne. We never really learn how their father's death affected Margaret. She seems to be a happy and well-adjusted young lady. But for the two older girls, losing their male protection at the most critical time in their lives led to the whole reason why this story exists.

Towards the crisis point, there's one wrenching scene where Marianne and Eleanor are hiding under the sheets, after everyone's gone to bed, talking. Marianne whispers, "What do men want with us? Perhaps they see us not as people, but as playthings, Eleanor."

There's nothing you want more than to hold them both close and hug them and whisper the truth. They're not playthings. And not all men, or even half, think of them as such. But they have an Edward who didn't tell the truth, and a Willoughby who seduced every pretty girl he saw; a brother John who abdicated responsibility, and a cousin John who teased them about lovers and saw them as pleasant company. Who can blame them for being confused and hurt?

Even Edward made a lot of his bad choices because he lost his father young. Mrs. Ferrars was a selfish, bitter control-freak who wanted everyone to bend to her beck and call. John Dashwood never stood up to her or his wife (and in my opinion, his wife shares an equal part of the blame for that). Had Mr. Ferrars been alive, Edward would have been much more purposeful, the whole fiasco with the inheritance would never have happened--and Mrs. Ferrars would have been kept under control. Or at least, so I like to think.

Even Willoughby, when it comes down to it, had no father. I wonder what his father was like, and what it did to him.

Was Jane Austen trying to preach the stability that male headship brings to the home, and what happens when it is lacking? I have no idea. But whether she was trying to or not, the story screams loud and clear that girls need male protection. Not just to give them a roof over their heads: after all, Sir John did that, and there were still some huge gaps in their lives. But to be directly involved in their love interests, their emotional stability, and their spiritual well-being.

A couple of weeks ago our Bible study fellowship went through several chapters in Numbers. One of them, Numbers chapter 30, discusses women's vows. Our small group took ten minutes debating that chapter until the leader reigned us in. :) This chapter is important in illustrating the importance of fathers.

In this chapter, the Lord tells women that if they made a vow, and they were a daughter living in their father's house, their father could negate or cancel the vow when he heard of it. The same was true for wives living with their husbands. Only divorced or married women were bound to their vows no matter what. This was not to lessen the value of a woman's vow, or to give males tyrannical authority. It was a loving provision for the daughters of Israel, that if they made a foolish vow (and we ladies, being more emotional, are prone to do that) the Lord in his love allowed them a way to cancel it. Also, it's a chapter about how a father's involvement is central to the health of the family life. Fathers aren't designed to be passive lookers-on. They are the head of the family, and everything that happens in the family happens under their watch. Imagine the security and protection this gives. It's not intended to control behavior; it's intended to bless and give emotional stability in the home.

When women don't allow male protection, (Like Fanny Dashwood and Mrs. Ferrars) it's a downward spiral that leaves the children insecure (like Edward) stubborn (like Fanny) or silly (like Robert). When the father is missing from a sad circumstance, (like the Dashwood girls) it leads to implosion (like Eleanor) or lack of self-control (like Marianne).

Not until Eleanor and Marianne found another legitimate male head (Edward and Colonel Brandon) could life resume in any way as normal. Sense and Sensibility is not a story about chasing love and finding your soul mate. It's a story about how without men, women are easily preyed on, but in the biblically-designed unit of the family, they have the honor and love that God most desires.

I'm not trying to spark a huge debate here about college, or jobs, or single females. Please don't take it that far. But I am saying that I am so, so grateful to have a father in my life. From a young age he taught me the value of self-control, and even now I am secure in his protection and provision. I can't imagine what it must be like to be without that. My heart goes out to the girls who don't have it. For those reading who might be searching for a father-figure, let me say that Marianne and Eleanor's story doesn't end in searching for a male head. They find rest. Just like Ruth and Naomi lost their father and husband, and God eventually led them to Boaz.

I'm glad I have a father who cares for my well-being. And someday, maybe, I'll find a beau in Sussex who thinks the same way. ;)

How about you? Are there other girls in literature who struggled for lack of a father-figure?

*All photos from this post taken from the Enchanted Serenity of Period Films screencaps.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Round Table Discussion with Suzannah Rowntree

Hello, friends and fellow bibliophiles! I had the pleasure of reading the Arthurian novel, Pendragon's Heir, as a beta reader. Today I have the precious delight of hosting Suzannah Rowntree with the published product! Join us for a discussion of magic, beta reading, and writing with vision. 

Schuyler: Suzannah, welcome to My Lady Bibliophile, and congratulations on the release of Pendragon's Heir! I was honored to be one of your first beta readers, and got the privilege of an inside peek during the creation process. I still remember the feeling of excitement when I opened that first chapter! :)

Your first novel description was a story that debunked the myths in Guinevere's relationship with Lancelot, similar to the Richard III research in The Daughter of Time. How did your vision for the book refine over time, and did it expand throughout the writing process?

Suzannah: Hello, Schuyler, and thanks for having me!

My vision for Pendragon's Heir definitely refined and expanded over time. I read The Daughter of Time in July 2005 and it actually took me just six days after that to write the first draft of what would later become Pendragon's Heir. At the time it seemed like an immense
achievement, but at only 42,000 words in length it seems tiny in hindsight! The current draft, on the other hand, is 155,000 words, give or take.

With the expansion in size came a proportional expansion in scope and message. I began looking for ways to express some of the important themes of Arthurian myth in my novel. Since I've been writing the thing on and off for ten years, I had a good long time to chew these things over, which I think helped me to construct a very dense and tightly-woven tapestry of themes and ideas in the novel. Not all the threads are as clear as I'd like, but I think I managed to say the most important things that occurred to me--things that seem to me to lie at the very heart of Arthurian myth, like the vision of a heavenly kingdom, and the pain of having to try to build it on the shoulders of fallen, sinful, imperfect people.

Along the way, the plot also expanded to fit the themes. Supporting characters sort of poofed into existence. As recently as Draft 3, the characters of Nerys the Fay and Simon Corbin--both very central to the finished book--barely existed. One of the most recent additions, new since you first started beta-reading, was King Arthur's dog Cavall. I added him as a sort of extension of Arthur's character, since I was concerned he was getting outshone by the more warlike knights around him. Hopefully, Cavall has given him a way to be more indirectly awesome, adding a bit of balance.

That's just a small example of how the book has refined over time. I'll usually add something in order to correct some problem, and then that addition will need to be woven into the plot everywhere else in the book, and then that will make me think of some other ways to use the added character (or subplot, or event), which will in turn give rise to more added details to be woven in and built upon. The weaving-in is important--a number of times, I had to cut out events or characters that only had significance in one or two scenes or plotlines.

Schuyler: Writing is often a process of the book growing in proportion to the author. As I read, I definitely saw the vision for Sarras, and the burden ordinary men felt in trying to bring that vision to pass. In spite of our pre- and post-millienial jokes, I found the way you wove Christian theology into the plot to be truly inspiring.

Speaking of Christian theology, one of our longest discussions throughout the book was on the handling of magic elements. You were a patient teacher as I asked for explanations. :) Could you describe the foundational framework of Logres magic for your readers? I loved how you defined good and evil, human and divine powers throughout our emails.

Suzannah: I approached the magic in Pendragon's Heir from a number of starting assumptions.

1. The practice of certain magic is forbidden in Scripture (Deuteronomy 18:10-11).
2. Magic is possible, and it is permitted to speak of it and read of it, at least in histories (Exodus 7:22, for example)
3. Witchcraft is defined as similar to insubordination (1 Samuel 15:23).
4. However, not every exercise of supernatural power is forbidden. Moses, for example, was able to turn his rod into a snake and turn water to blood by the express power of God.

This last point is important because we are, in RC Sproul, Jr's words, "Enlightenment geeks". We think there is a wide distinction between natural and supernatural power. We assume that it's OK to wield natural power but wrong to have access to supernatural power.
But this is anything but Scriptural. In Scripture the ultimate divide lies not between natural and supernatural, but between obedience and disobedience, between faithfulness and rebellion. Plenty of God's prophets, apostles, and other people have been granted the authority to heal the sick, raise the dead, and perform other miracles. Not even the natural world is completely natural, since God upholds all things by the word of his power.
The ultimate question is not whether the power in question was natural or not. The ultimate question is whether the power is gained and wielded in obedience to God, for God's glory, or not.
So the "magic", or better, the supernatural power present in Pendragon's Heir was written, as much as I could manage it, according to the principles I see in Scripture. Power might be granted by God, either as a special gift or talent (Blanche gains something like this toward the end of the book) or as a general authority given to a certain group of people (like Nerys and the other fay). Or, it might be grasped in rebellion by villainous characters. Throughout the book, I have attempted to keep a very clear distinction between the two kinds of power, demonstrating the limitations of the obedient kind, and the inherent malice and evil of the rebellious kind.

Schuyler: Having that basic groundwork in place made me a lot more comfortable with the idea of certain humans having supernatural powers. After all, magic exists--it's in the Bible--but knowing that you had clear limits showed me that Christian authors could include it in an appropriate manner. It wasn't until reading your book that the light bulb came on that sorcery should be one of the sins included in a book. After all, anything that the Bible forbids is equally sinful, whether rebellion or sorcery or adultery or anything more 'respectable' as well--though with limits, of course! Wisdom and reality are best blended in equal measure.

All right, so on to the beta reading process. All told, Pendragon's Heir took about a year from start to finish, with our weekly chapter and discussions. It was actually at the same time I was sending a weekly chapter of my own book to friends, so I enjoyed double-dipping and learning about both sides of the process. There were quite a few agonizing cliff-hangers in those weeks--especially when you switched character viewpoints on me! :) And sometimes the most challenging was the Australian/US time difference when you had forgotten to attach a chapter and I had to bite my nails in suspense! What did you most enjoy about the beta reading process, and why would you recommend beta readers to others?

Suzannah: My favourite thing about the beta reading process is the encouragement it gives. Writing is hard, and it was particularly hard throughout the year I was writing the 4th draft of Pendragon's Heir, since I was busy and stressed out and finding it really hard to build up the mental stamina necessary to work for a sustained period of time on this enormous and very complex project. During that time, I more or lesssurvived on your weekly feedback. Without it, I would never have kept on through the really hard times, and Pendragon's Heir would have taken two or three times as long to finish.

Beta reading, I believe, has a negative and a positive aspect. Positively, beta reading is an encouragement that you're on the right track, that what you've written is engaging and thought-provoking. Negatively, it's a way to identify what you're doing badly, whether it's a sentence that makes no sense, a character you haven't properly fleshed out, or a moral dilemma you haven't followed through on. Both these aspects are important to me, but because I have high standards when it comes to my own work, it's the second that's most important to me. There's a passage in Proverbs about there being safety in a multitude of counsellors, and I see my fiction as being an important weapon in the long war between the city of man and the City of God. For me, my work isn't just make-believe, and it isn't just self-expression. It's a weapon. It's a tool. It's for something, and it has sharp edges. I want it to be safe for those who use it, and I also want it to be devastatingly effective for the use for which I intend it. I have all kinds of blind spots when it comes to my world, my characters, and my plots, and I believe that counsel from people I trust and respect is absolutely necessary for what I want to achieve.

In choosing beta readers, I try to find people who I trust a) to understand what I'm trying to achieve through my work, and b) to be fearless in challenging my shortcomings. I've heard of a few authors who generally don't make use of beta readers because they feel that what they do is so unique that opening their book up to criticism from others would affect the integrity of their artistic vision. I sympathise with that viewpoint, but personally I have rarely had trouble telling the difference between readers who don't understand my vision versus readers who do but have legitimate concerns.

Meanwhile I see a lot of authors turning out books containing shortcomings that demonstrate a lack of good counsel. There are books that are narrowly focused on ethical/moral rectitude, but fall splat on their faces when it comes to artistic quality: historical accuracy, writing style, characterisation, and so on. Then there are books that pursue artistic quality, occasionally to a stunning height, but which might fumble and limp on some key theological questions. As someone who has committed both sins in the past and will likely do so again in the future, I look to my beta readers as a filter to catch what I miss and pull my attention to my blind spots.

One of the reasons I chose you as a beta reader, Schuyler, was because I knew you had a more cautious approach to magic in fantasy than I did, and I wanted you to push me and test me on that. On the other hand, I chose my friend Christina as a beta reader primarily because I knew she would hold me to a formidably high artistic standard; I was thoroughly delighted when she also challenged me on a number of ethical questions. Another friend, David, beta read my book at a much later stage, but pointed out with almost surgical precision a couple of problems--one character whose repentance didn't ring true to him, a solution to a thorny plot/magic question which you and I had corresponded on rather fruitlessly for a while.

One of the most challenging pieces of feedback I had on Pendragon's Heir came from Christina: after reading the fourth draft, she told me, "Look, as it is, homeschooled girls are going to love this book. But I want to be able to recommend it to all my friends as a mature work of art." I was almost there, but I still had some polishing to do. I could give the same advice to many of the other young authors I've been reading recently: You're doing so well. But you could always be doing better. Find the beta readers who will challenge you to excel.

In November 2013 I got to meet the author and get an autograph. :)
Schuyler: Yes, yes! I love your thoughts on beta reading, especially since I have had some similar experiences. Artistry is both a career and a skill, and every good artist has to serve an apprenticeship to their field. While I love a pioneer spirit, the whole point of an apprenticeship is to submit yourself to other people who will point out weaknesses and blind spots. This sharpening process is often facilitated by beta readers, since writing mentors are hard to find.

Ok, we'll wrap up with one final question here. I think one of the greatest struggles of Christian authors is balancing the main thrust of the vision while writing gripping plot and characters. Did you ever struggle with making sure your vision of Sarras didn't overshadow realistic character development? How important to the overall theme of your book is the fact that you showed characters who failed as well as succeeded?

Suzannah: Writing mentors are hard to find. I think a lot of authors just focus on getting beta readers
from their pool of fans and followers, but in my mind, it's more important to seek criticism from among one's Titus 2 mentors.

I have lots of thoughts about balancing vision with artistic integrity, and I definitely mean to write up a whole blog post about this sometime soon! With Pendragon's Heir specifically, however, I didn't ever feel that the vision of Sarras was at odds with character development. Rather, in terms of the Part 2 plot, it promoted character development, since it provided a way for Blanche in particular to face and overcome her fears. In Sarras, she finds herself in a situation where failure is not an option. She is not a brave or a resourceful person, she is not particularly keen on defending Logres, but Sarras confronts her with a very stark choice, between pure good and undeniable evil. Refusing to fight--the option she's favoured up to this point in the plot--suddenly becomes impossible. She's forced to fight for Sarras--and like the Londoners in GK Chesterton's Napoleon of Notting Hill, that forces her also to love it. So Sarras neatly answers the question of how I'm going to force a somewhat reluctant and selfish character to grow beyond herself.

On a more macro level, Sarras of course is a symbol, almost an allegory, of our own vision as Christians on this earth. When Blanche and Perceval and the other characters talk about Sarras, I am writing what I know--conversations I've had, late at night in far more prosaic settings, so that I am writing about something I know and believe intimately; these are my loyalties, these are my ideals. It never occurred to me that maybe not all the characters in the story would experience the vision of the City in the same way. After all, my Myers-Briggs personality type is often called "the Idealist", so maybe I assume everyone feels as strongly about it as I do!

About characters who fail as well as those who succeed, I am reminded of what St Augustine once said concerning the mercy and the wrath of God--namely, that both are such integral aspects of his character and glory that neither a world in which he saved everyone, nor a world in which he damned everyone, would adequately communicate his character. My job in relation to my subcreated world, my fiction, is analogous to God's in relation to his created world, his history, with this important difference: that I am God's creature, while he is no one's but his own. Therefore not only do I have the power to pass judgement or show mercy to my characters, but insofar as my fiction tells my readers something about history, and insofar as my hand in the story's plot tells my readers something about God's providence, I have the duty to symbolise God as he truly is.

Which is just a roundabout way of saying that in real life, some people fail and others succeed, and my book is bound by that truth. It is important that everyone in my book has weaknesses and failures; that good characters with bad theology are inevitably destroyed; that characters hovering on the brink of destruction are yanked back by grace; that heroic characters stumble into weakness; that villainous characters stumble into grace. That's life, and we don't always understand or like it, but there it is, all the same. Demas finds his silver-mine, and departs the faith; Saul goes to Damascus breathing dragon-fire and meets a hero on the road.

And this is indeed an integral part of the plot. How can deeply sinful people build a perfect City? The answer is that we don't. God does it. And that is what Pendragon's Heir is about.

Where to Get the Book:
Wow! How's that for writing with vision? If this whets your appetite for the story itself, then look no further for plot synopsis and purchase links! Also, you can find my review here

Blanche Pendragon enjoys her undemanding life as the ward of an eccentric nobleman in 1900 England. It's been years since she even wondered what happened to her long lost parents, but then a gift on the night of her eighteenth birthday reveals a heritage more dangerous and awe-inspiring than she ever dreamed of--or wanted. Soon Blanche is flung into a world of wayfaring immortals, daring knights, and deadly combats, with a murderous witch-queen on her trail and the future of a kingdom at stake. As the legendary King Arthur Pendragon and his warriors face enemies without and treachery within, Blanche discovers a secret that could destroy the whole realm of Logres. Even if the kingdom could be saved, is she the one to do it? Or is someone else the Pendragon's Heir?

Purchase Links: 

About the Author: 
When Suzannah Rowntree isn’t traveling the world to help out friends in need, she lives in a big house in rural Australia with her awesome parents and siblings, trying to beat her previous number-of-books-read-in-a-year record. She blogs the results at www.vintagenovels.com and is the author of both fiction and non-fiction. Pendragon’s Heir, her debut novel, released March 26 on Kindle and in paperback.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Rise of the Fallen, by Chuck Black (Wars of the Realm #2)

Chuck Black's latest book, Rise of the Fallen, offers some fresh and exciting angles on spiritual warfare.

The Book
From Amazon:
A six thousand year war rages and now the demonic Fallen are coming for him—the one man shrouded in mystery. Only Validus stands in their way.

Validus is the last and least of God’s angels, but he’s seen much across the millennia since his creation. Empires have risen and fallen as angelic and demonic forces battle in a raging war that will determine humanity's fate – and the fate of his defeated brothers.

Eventually called to be an earth-bound warrior, Validus rises to a position of power and respect, commanding legions of angels through impossible battles and overwhelming odds. But when orders arrive from the Creator's most elite Messenger, he finds himself suddenly demoted to a task of apparent insignificance considering the fierce war they are waging against the demonic Fallen – the covert protection of one unbelieving man.

Validus soon finds himself on a mission that will push him beyond his abilities as he battles to protect Drew Carter, for the Fallen are coming for him. Legions of them.

As Validus races against time to discover why Drew is so important to humanity's survival, can he stand between Drew and all who would destroy him?

My Thoughts 
Rise of the Fallen is the sequel to Chuck Black's Cloak of the Light. Book 1 starts off from the perspective of unsaved human, Drew Carter. Book 2 backtracks to tell the same story from the perspective of last-created angel, Validus. At first I was wary--backtracking is not my favorite idea of a sequel. Nor is a parallel plot that re-tells the Bible from an angel's perspective. But the premise was so cool and different that I found myself enjoying it immensely. I love thinking about angels and what the story of the world might be from their perspective. This was a gutsy second book that managed to pull off a good amount of tension and purpose. 

Not to be divisive right off the bat, but I do enjoy Chuck Black's pre-millenial focus. I respect friends with different viewpoints, and enjoy many books with different eschatological leanings--but here I was on my own turf, and I felt at home. I appreciated the value the angels placed on the children of Israel as God's chosen people, even after the early church was established. It's interesting how a person's eschatology can influence the whole plot and scope of a book--the difference between whether Christians bring the Kingdom of God to earth, or whether they are faithful until the Kingdom of God comes to earth. 

Validus was a pretty fun angel. I mean, I never thought about it, but one of the angels would have to be the last-created angel, and why not write a book about it? I loved the grand One Hundred angels, and the friendships between Validus and Persimus and Cadriel and Ral. I thought it was realistic how even angels struggled with trusting God's plan, though some decisions on Validus's part seemed border-line questionable. "This is not a protocol situation so I'm going to make a non-protocol judgement" doesn't seem very--angelic. Towards the end of the book Black makes it clear that one of Validus's decisions is unwise, and that's part of the plot--but there were a couple of others that made me wonder. 

The one thing about Rise of the Fallen which caused me to wrestle with it extensively was the intensity of angel/demon warfare portrayed throughout the plot. The narrative flips back and forth between present day and various spiritual battles throughout biblical history. Battles are brutal, frightening, and massively destructive. There were no breathing spaces--no emotional grounds for pause so the reader could get a breath and process. I had to stop reading it before bed so I wouldn't freak out every time the lights turned off. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. For one thing, it demonstrates the fact that spiritual warfare is going on around us non-stop, even when we cannot see it. It also shows how brutal and serious this conflict is. There is no room for complacency or being off our guard in God's kingdom, and angels too experience loss and sadness from our sin. Rise of the Fallen shows that even angels suffer deeply while guarding believers.

To be honest, the extent and brutality of spiritual warfare portrayed in this book was almost more than my mind or emotions could handle. It was scary--demon possessed people have always been scary to me. But the book caused me to think and wrestle, and that's what a good book should do. I'm glad I read it.

While this is a work of fiction, and included speculation as such, phrases and facts pulled from the Bible were put in bold print. The back contains a short study guide for each chapter explaining the author's thinking process behind certain additions. I appreciated the bold text, and appreciated his willingness to imagine where the Bible does not give us specific details.

As for why Drew Carter was so important: I guessed it. And I was right. And Chuck Black is awesome for thinking of it and turning it into a book.

Check it out, folks. His writing gets better with each book, and this new series is definitely worth reading.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Wanderlust Creek

If I could ever be accused of neglecting a genre, Westerns would be one of them. It's not that I have a dislike towards them--it's just I've never thought about them. But when I got the chance to pick up Elisabeth Grace Foley's Wanderlust Creek during her pre-release sale, I found it surprising just how enjoyable a Western novella could be.

The Book 
From Amazon:
From the author of "The Ranch Next Door and Other Stories" come six more short stories exploring the joys, heartaches and laughter of life against the backdrop of the Old West. In “Single-Handed,” a gunfighter’s courage comes in doubt when he refuses to explain to his friends the real reason he backed down from a fight. The capable proprietress of the busiest eating-house in town handles a day of disasters large and small in the light-hearted “The Rush at Mattie Arnold’s,” while in “Room Service,” a hotel night clerk finds himself in on odd position after he allows an exhausted traveler to stay in a reserved room. And in the title story, the novella-length “Wanderlust Creek,” a young rancher and his wife struggle to hold onto their land and their dreams in the face of adversity from weather, enemies—and even doubts of each other. Approximately 53,000 words.

My Thoughts 
Wanderlust Creek was like going way back to the Roy Rogers films, only without any of the cheesiness, and much more value. I read most of this novella on a Sunday afternoon. The general happiness and subtle sweetness of the stories hooked me in one after another and I couldn't put them down. In fact, this novella made me think of our favorite western book, Letters of a Woman Homesteader, by Elinore Pruitt Stewart.

Single-Handed and A Search for Truth were good, all-around gunslinger cowboy stories. The Rush at Mattie Arnold's made me laugh, especially every time Etta pinned her braids up. The Mustanger's Bride and Room Service surprised me. The characters made choices that left me wondering once or twice (eloping girls and forging hotel books are not generally activities I consider heroic) but I admired Elisabeth's guts for including them without apology or explanation. Wanderlust Creek was the most precious gem of the collection. The villain kept me guessing, and I loved Gloria and Ray's commitment to each other. Gloria made me think of Nannie in A Bride Goes West, (a true story) with her love for the West, even though she grew up a city-type girl. I could tell a lot of love went into that story on Elisabeth's part, and it showed in the good craftsmanship. The various characters portrayed chivalry and honesty and a willingness to work hard to make a heritage for themselves.

What I most appreciated about this collection was the general hope and sweetness. Guys and girls became sweethearts, cowboys found a second chance, and problems were fairly easily resolved. After the long list of complicated and gut-wrenching novels I read regularly, having a book that was true-hearted and clean and good felt like a refreshing drink of water.

This is a novella, so I can't write a long review without giving spoilers or waxing unnecessarily eloquent. I will just leave it short and sweet. It was well worth the investment, and I'll be on the lookout for more of Elisabeth's novellas in future.

You can find Elisabeth over at her blog The Second Sentence, as well as Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads. Wanderlust Creek is on Amazon.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

War of Loyalties Character Interview--Terry O'Sean

In keeping with St. Patrick's day, I am pleased to present to you an Irish-American War of Loyalties character, Terry O'Sean. Terry is a 36-year-old, lean, red-haired fellow with a penchant for lounging around in the wrong place at the right time. I hope you profit by enjoy his acquaintance.

Note: Acushla is an Irish term of endearment for a sweetheart. Terry uses 'Acushla' and 'Pearlie' interchangeably. :) 

What is your favorite food?
An Irish breakfast. Alisa makes me lots of them, and Pearlie's learned how too.

What is the worst injury you have ever received?
Well, I got a flesh wound from a bullet, and a night out on the river with a swim afterwards didn't help. But that was years ago, and I made it.  

What is your greatest fear?
Just don't like people to be mad at me, but after that I'm good for anything. :)

What is something you would dream of but never expect to happen?
Having all the people I like settled in one place and happy with one another. Somehow this lot I'm with tends to be on the unhappy side, and I think they must look at life differently than I do. And I'll never get everybody I like in one country, which is sad.

What do you care the most about in life?

Whose opinion do you care the most about?

How do you react when you get tired?
I talk a lot. Jaeryn tells me I ought to be locked up so no one has to be subjected to my foolishness.

(Terry gets a little silly when he's tired.)

What is your dream job?
Nothing specific. A bunch of different things that will put a little money in my pocket and keep life interesting. My dream job is not to have to do the same thing the rest of my life. Variety is much more enjoyable than regular work. Right now I help Alisa take care of her horse and do handyman work. 

Ben helped Charlotte carry her trunk back to Copt Point that afternoon. Terry was there when he stopped by, sweat-stained from working in Alisa's garden, and attacking the cherry tart Pearl gave him with hearty vigor. ~War of Loyalties, by Schuyler M. 

What do you see as the most significant event in your life so far?
I don't know. Never thought about things like that before. 

What has been the greatest trial in your life so far?
My sister. I love her, but she's a trial.

What would you do if you had a free hour and could do anything you wanted to?
Go talk to Acushla! Actually, if I had a free hour, I'd go marry her, but somehow I don't think she's ready for that yet. Not sure why, when she likes me and I like her.

What is most important to you, heart, head or hands?
Hands. I was never very smart with my head, but I can work with my hands.

Would you rather die alone or with friends?
Aw, if I have to die I'd much rather have some company while I'm at it. As long as they didn't die too, I wouldn't want that. Just company until I died would be plenty good.

What is the last lie you told?
Well, I told Starlin King a bunch of whoppers, but they won't hurt him and he'll never know the difference. Just to make him feel good and all that.

What is something you would tell nobody (barring the author)?
I do have one thing, but I can't tell you, m'dears because I promised--er, someone I wouldn't breathe a word of it, and they're the sort of person who needs to be obeyed.

(Poor Terry thinks it's a secret, but he can't keep it a secret for the life of him.)

What is one thing you would love everyone to know about you?
I'm Irish, and I love Acushla! 

What would be your preferred mode of execution?
I think the rope might be interesting. But then, drowning would be adventurous too. And I always wanted to stand before a firing squad and give 'em a good grin, and see if they could actually stand to shoot me while I was doing it.

Is there anyone you would die for or follow to the ends of the earth?
I'd die for Pearlie. And I follow her around a lot, but I don't think she wants to go to the ends of the earth. Lots of strange people there, you know; I've seen them. They might want to marry her, and that wouldn't be good.  

What would move you to tears?
I've never cried before. Except when I was small as my sister's boy, probably.

What is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done?
Something I've done, or something I've said? I participated in the IRB revolt in 1916, and then I ducked down in hiding for a while because they were after us all. Mum probably wouldn't think that was too smart. And then I took up cigarettes and got a tattoo. There's more, but you'll just have to read and find out.

Describe your wife or ideal wife?
A little blonde-haired girl with blue eyes and long lashes and a pretty, kissable face. And one that needs me to give her just a little happiness, because I like making people happy.

Would you rather be guilty of a crime and get away with it or be innocent and falsely accused? 
I don't know. Um, I think I'd rather get away with it. I mean, I don't want to die yet. I have to live and save up some money and get married. 

Any family?
One mum, one dad, and three siblings. They're great folks. :) 

What is your religious background?
Always went to church when I was a little kid. It was a nice, small church with stained-glass windows and the hardest pews that ever made your backside sore to sit in. I taught myself to sleep without closing my eyes during the sermon, and I got pretty good at it. My parents didn't make me to go to church after I turned fourteen. It was nice, but I had other things I'd rather do. But I have a high respect for people who do. Those who go to church are good folk, and we need them to balance out the rest of us heathens in the world. 

A tousled red head popped out of an upstairs window. "Hello mate," it called.
Ben tipped his head back and recognized the man he had met in the street with the cigarettes. "Hello. Am I speaking to Terry?"

"You've got him, doc," the man said cheerfully. "Wait a moment, and I'll come down."
~War of Loyalties, by Schuyler M. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Pendragon's Heir, by Suzannah Rowntree (Book Review)

And we dream in the night
Of a city descending
With the sun in the center
And a peace unending
~Carry the Fire, by Andrew Peterson

The hardest part of reviewing a book that you love is finding words eloquent enough to express how much you enjoyed it. I've definitely faced this with Pendragon's Heir, a novel about the quest for the Holy Grail from the perspective of Arthur's daughter.

It's coming March 26th, folks. And it's fantastic.

The Book
Blanche Pendragon enjoys her undemanding life as the ward of an eccentric nobleman in 1900 England. It's been years since she even wondered what happened to her long lost parents, but then a gift on the night of her eighteenth birthday reveals a heritage more dangerous and awe-inspiring than she ever dreamed of--or wanted. Soon Blanche is flung into a world of wayfaring immortals, daring knights, and deadly combats, with a murderous witch-queen on her trail and the future of a kingdom at stake. As the legendary King Arthur Pendragon and his warriors face enemies without and treachery within, Blanche discovers a secret that could destroy the whole realm of Logres. Even if the kingdom could be saved, is she the one to do it? Or is someone else the Pendragon's Heir?

My Thoughts 
Perhaps I should give a full disclosure at the beginning and say I was a beta reader for this book for the last couple of drafts. That being the case, I have some amount of natural bias, but I'm committed to an honest review in spite of that.

I knew absolutely nothing about Arthurian legend when she sent it to me, except vague ideas of the Round Table and Lancelot and Guinevere; so I got to read about Arthur and Pendragon's Heir with fresh eyes. That was a magical experience. Reading this latest draft was only a further pleasure. The plotting is impeccable, and the author gets things done without an ounce of excess. It takes a lot of effort to write like that. I've been trying to figure out how to describe Suzannah's writing, and while I haven't hit on a perfect comparison, it reminds me in many ways of a Howard Pyle or Roger Lancelyn Green story: it isn't told cinematically, as so many modern books are, but in the good, old-fashioned narration of books before televisions were invented.

Pendragon's Heir's main conflict is of imperfect men striving to build the perfect kingdom of God on earth. It's also a conflict between two potentially illegitimate heirs of Arthur, and which one the kingdom rightfully belongs to. Furthermore, the Round Table seems to be crumbling with corruption from the inside, and Blanche and her knight Perceval wrestle with the question: can the City of God be built by imperfect people?
“I mean,” he said, “that by your own showing, the greatest threat to heaven comes from within the ranks of the angels themselves. Before you can prove to me that heroes can defeat villains with nothing but the purest chivalric ideals, you must convince me that heroes do exist, and that villains are not a fanciful tale for children. You must tell me, sir, if you dare, that you are incorruptible, and that your colleagues and commanders are as pure as you. Your health.” ~Pendragon's Heir, chapter 11
Suzannah's handling of Lancelot and Guinevere's story was fresh and brilliant, with some surprising twists. Also, shall we say, more redemptive? Instead of just setting out the facts, she explores the moral implications afterwards, and I like a book like that.

This book avoids moral compromise and unwanted bits without being shallow. You won't find language or explicit sex, but that doesn't prevent Suzannah from tackling adult issues in a mature, professional manner. Adultery, betrayal, illegitimacy, and even lust are all themes she addresses, especially with the Lancelot and Guinevere plot. Witchcraft and the limits of its ability is another significant theme in the story. I'll admit that this last-mentioned challenged and worried me sometimes, but it served to deepen my perspective on biblical portrayals of good and evil. If you're comfortable with Lewis and Tolkien, or Arthurian legends themselves for that matter, you should be fine with Pendragon's Heir.

Ok. Now for the characters.

Blanchefleur herself strikes the happy balance of a character who has a lot to learn, but who doesn't make herself unlikable while doing it. The way she learned to embrace her role as protector of the Holy Grail, while at the same time never quite losing her yearning for gaslight and tea, made her a sympathetic protagonist.

Dare I say how awesome her knight, Perceval, is? I tried to express my liking for him once, in compatibility with my role of encouraging beta reader, but was promptly told by the author not to lose myself to dangerous fantasies: I don't know whether to feel bad or not. I mean, are you sure your appreciation of Perceval isn't becoming a mite unhealthy? I think...I think you may even love him more than I do at this point, which is...weird.

One can only try. So I'll just content myself with saying he's far from perfect, just like Blanche, but I appreciated his ebullient view of life and steadfast commitment to the City of Logres.

Other gallant knights I enjoyed making the acquaintance of were Gareth, Gaheris, and Gawain. A lot of the knights only had cameo scenes due to the fact that Blanchefleur doesn't get to meet many of them, but they all had a human touch and their personalities were clearly drawn. Nerys the fay, with eyes like unfathomable pools, Heilyn the faithful squire, and faithful old Sir Ector made for a wonderful supporting cast. But my favorite side character was definitely Branwan. Young and bubbly, she reminded me of a lot of dominion-minded young women who are true of heart, but find it hard to express just how deeply they think about things: Blanchefleur felt a quick rush of affection for her. When the world frowned, Branwen went on smiling. There was a heart of steel under all that froth and bubble.

There were a couple of flaws here and there. The constant use of 'said' dialogue tags became a distraction. Galahad, a knight figured prominently in Part Two, had a peace with his parent's sins that I thought would have tied in significantly with Blanchefleur coming to peace with her own birth, but those particular character arcs never intersected. The conflict of Guinevere and Lancelot was put on hold for a long time in Part Two. On a couple of occasions the characters seemed to stuff natural feelings down in their pursuit for a perfect Logres. But the virtues of this book far, far outweigh the flaws.

Sometimes the best thing about Pendragon's Heir was that I didn't know the end. I didn't know if Perceval lived or died. I didn't know if Blanchefleur was real. I didn't know what happened to Morgan, and I once wrote Suzannah and told her I thought there would be a huge battle coming eventually, but I had no concrete evidence to back it up. Early on in the book I looked up a couple of people on Wikipedia, but I quickly stopped when I realized it would spoil the plot. I'm so glad I didn't know, because I may be one of few who can read Pendragon's Heir without the prior knowledge of how the story ended in other editions of Arthurian legend.

There are many things I want to say and can't. We'll have to create a Pendragon's Heir Fan Club or something, where those who read it can talk about the spoiler-y bits. It's a book that's thoroughly Arthurian, and yet eminently applicable to life today.

The most fitting way I can think of to end this review is a verse from the hymn that expresses so many themes of Pendragon's Heir: one church, one communion, one struggle, built on the one Cornerstone Jesus Christ:

’Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.

Such was the dream of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table in Pendragon's Heir. I highly recommend it. 


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

War of Loyalties March Snippets

Ben pulled up a chair and waited for the first incisive look from the sharp blue eyes. But they remained closed. One minute passed, and the second, and the third, with no response.
"This feels almost like home now," Charlotte remarked, as she set the flat irons on the stove to heat. "I saw the sea often when I was a child, and it looked just like this."
"Snob." Ben went over by the window so as not to have the gun near her, and emptied it of the shot. "I'm surprised you even considered marrying me. You don't get holidays by the sea now."
"No." She gave him a saucy smile. "Now I live by it. I calculated what I would be getting in return."
"I don't think seeing him as a martyr to an imbecilic sixteen-year-old will help matters."
Terry held out his left hand and Ben saw a thin sparkle that hadn't been there Wednesday evening. He slipped it off and placed it on his own finger for sake-keeping. The ring flashed a twisted flame of gold and sapphire in the most delicate setting he had ever seen.
"It just arrived." Jaeryn showed great pride in the apparatus. "The newest Brownie on the market, and you'll find it useful when you go to Emmerson's tomorrow. During church, you'll remember. I hope you don't mind skipping church once; you can go to the evening service if you like."
The betrayal ripped into him, leaving a jagged shard of misgiving behind. "Thank-you, Peters," he said absently. "I believe that will be all. I'm much obliged to you."
He had not pursued his way towards town long when he caught sight of a dark-headed figure on the road. It was Jaeryn. Ben wondered what would have weighed more with him than a few extra minutes of sleep. Whatever had disturbed him the night before must be gone, for Jaeryn looked quite satisfied with the world in general, and he wore a grey knitted sweater which gave him an air of casual comfort.
A hint of defense entered King's deep voice. "You don't understand. He asked most particularly to be left alone, and he's not a lad to be denied. We sent for you as soon as Starlin's man found something was amiss."
"Never mind, then." Ben rolled his eyes. "Communication is a commodity of little value in this house."
"Sir," Starlin's valet replied noncommittally, and hastened to obey his instructions.
Alisa gave him a seat in her living-room and offered him tea, but he declined it. Then, without asking, she handed him her little boy, her blue eyes dancing, and sat down in the chair beside him. Matthew sat on his lap with a doubled-up fist crammed into his mouth, staring in front of him with round, wondering eyes. But he didn't cry when he switched places.
"The idea that culture and ethnicity determine virtue is a misguided one. You should not live under the shame of ignorant judgment."
Ben thought it of little use to protest, and silently inked his fingers and pressed them on the paper Jaeryn offered. Jaeryn scrawled his name at the top--his real name--and laid it aside to dry. He saw Ben's face and looked at it more closely. With a sharp exclamation he tore off the top and rewrote the alias.
"I'm obliged to you."
"No, you aren't." Jaeryn laughed. "But sometimes, Dorroll, you need help beyond your own efforts, and today may be one of those days. You're an eloquent fellow on occasion, and I'm sure the talent will come in good stead with Ryson. Do be agreeable."
Pearl came in with a flush of pleasure on her face, willing and eager, completely unsuspecting of his intentions. She wore a light blue waist with her serviceable brown skirt, and looked quite charming and pretty with her honey-blonde curls half covering her shoulders.
Jaeryn's green eyes looked him over for a moment of inspection. He swung about on one booted heel and shoved his hands in his pockets. "Get out."
Aside from the crooked index and littlest fingers, the rest were smooth and scarred and unblemished, and they didn't look used to hard manual labor. The only thing, now that he looked closely, to show that Jaeryn Graham was not a creature of complete invulnerability, were the scars on his face from the glass injury in the Tontine bombing. They were practically invisible in normal lighting, and anyone ignorant of the affair would never notice them. But to an informed observer, and in very good light, the tiny white specks from the largest pieces of glass could still be traced.
"Do you realize," Ben said, in a voice that was hardly audible, "this is the first thing I've ever failed at?"
Keep a careful watch. We are laid by the heels, and I cannot flatter myself that our researches will be unimpeded for long. I have never taken the strongest measures possible, for I know from experience that moderation is a better cover than hasty violence. But you may see differently, and you must act according to your lights.
"I miss you already." Her voice was mellow from crying and she tucked her hand in his arm and melded into his side until he could feel the loose waves of her hair against his face. "I know you're doing the best you can for us. It's just hard to be strong sometimes."
"It is a curse, being strong." His voice went rough, and he swallowed back the sting of sadness. "But it is our cross, and we must carry it."

There you have it, friends! And be sure to come back Friday for an exciting review of the up-and-coming novel, Pendragon's Heir! :)

Friday, March 6, 2015

When Sorry Isn't Enough, by Gary Chapman

Chances are you've had to apologize a few times in your life, and I'm sure a few people have apologized to you. But more often than not, the apologies that need to be said never get verbalized, or if they do, the recipient doubts their sincerity. Enter When Sorry Isn't Enough, by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas.

If you've ever struggled with apologizing or forgiving, then this book is for you. I needed it so much, and it was incredibly challenging and healing.

The Book 
When Sorry Isn't Enough details 5 apology love languages, encouraging you to take a step up from the basic "I'm sorry." Each person has different phrases they're looking for to know you're sincere, and if you don't speak their language, you're probably in a strained relationship.

1. Expressing Regret "I'm so sorry for what I did." 
2. Accepting Responsibility "What I did was wrong. There is no excuse for it." 
3. Making Restitution "What can I do to make this right?" 
4. Genuinely Repenting "I'm going to do _ to make sure this doesn't happen again." 
5. Requesting Forgiveness "Will you please forgive me?" 

In each category, Chapman and Thomas tell stories of people they have counselled, give examples of the right way to apologize, and explain the need that you are supplying for the offended person.

The second half of the book delves into receiving apologies. It discusses why apologies come hard to different personalities, and what forgiveness is and isn't. And it also explains that one of the people you may need to forgive is yourself.

My Thoughts
I love this book because it is simple and easy to read. It covers the basics without going into lofty flights of prose and thought. Just what you need to do, and that's it. That doesn't mean taking action is easy, but their goal is give you understanding as simply as possible.

This is not a theology book. It's a practical how-to book. You'll find some Scriptures, and it's written from a Christian worldview, but mainly Thomas and Chapman draw on their years of counselling experience. The facts of sin and repentance are already assumed; they're out to tell you how to put that knowledge to practical use. They had a lot of stories with couples, singles, young and old, family and friends, to give a wide scope of how these principles work. I found the life experience aspect a refreshing inclusion.

In some ways this book was a hard, hard read. I have an extremely tender conscience, with an extreme perfectionism streak. This makes it difficult to accept messing up, while at the same time I don't like ignoring what I've done wrong. It is difficult to go through the apology process, but the older I get, the more I want an authentic, growing relationship with Christ and with family and friends. In that sense, it was convicting.

On the other hand, some of it was incredibly healing. The author duo explain that it's not wrong to want justice, as long as you handle that desire righteously. Nor does forgiveness mean that your memory is wiped of the event. Nor should you allow people to manipulate you with poor and insincere apologies.

Nor should you implode and refuse to forgive yourself.

As for the apology languages themselves? Oftentimes the way you give an apology is your personal language. So think of the last one you gave, and what you said--any of the phrases up top ring with you? My apology language is Expressing Regret, with Accepting Responsibility being a close second. (Though in rare cases I feel pretty strongly about Making Restitution.)

I appreciated this teaching, would highly recommend it, and hope to read it again. I think I'll need some time to fully process it; but I was so blessed by When Sorry Isn't Enough, and I hope you will be too.

I received this book free from Moody Publishers in exchange for an honest review.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Show Your Work

I continued on with the Austin Kleon adventures by picking up Show Your Work from the library. This guy is awesome for his common sense and clarity, two key qualities every writer/blogger needs to have. I'm ready to ditch the plethora of media-navigation articles I've been collecting and pick up this book instead whenever I'm looking for some direction.

The Book
[From Amazon:] Show Your Work! is about why generosity trumps genius. It’s about getting findable, about using the network instead of wasting time “networking.” It’s not self-promotion, it’s self-discovery—let others into your process, then let them steal from you. Filled with illustrations, quotes, stories, and examples, Show Your Work! offers ten transformative rules for being open, generous, brave, productive.

1. You Don't Have to Be a Genius.
2. Think Process, Not Product.
3. Share Something Small Every Day.
4. Open Up Your Cabinet of Curiosities.
5. Tell Good Stories.
6. Teach What You Know.
7. Don't Turn Into Human Spam.
8. Learn To Take A Punch.
9. Sell Out.
10. Stick Around.

My Thoughts 
Social media is the beast that all of us bow down to in the modern age, especially if we're wanna-be authors. Go to a writer's conference, talk to an agent, and the first thing they'll tell you is grow, grow, grow that platform. It's overwhelming, and the temptation is to go out in the highways like the king with no guests and pull in anyone who can be begged, borrowed or bribed.

My studies of social media only left me with questions. How is one to get the 1,000+ requisite followers necessary to attract decent publishing houses? And what does one say on social media? After all, I may like the socks I put on this morning, but I don't flatter myself that everyone wants to hear about them. Months after the writer's conference I attended, the social media aspect of it left me depressed and jaded. The manipulation I heard about didn't seem like a very God-glorifying or enjoyable way to get to know people.

Enter Show Your Work.

Kleon takes this subject from a different perspective. Instead of focusing on how to increase your numbers, he focuses on creating community--the kind of social platform where you can share your work and your friends can share theirs--a mutual conversation where friends are created instead of fans. Slower? Perhaps. But everybody's looking for genuine platform, and if you have it, your work will pay off. Genuine friends are much better than half-hearted fans, and will go a lot farther.

In my reading of the book, these two principles especially resonated with me:

Be honest. It is hard for me to open up completely on the internet. There are certain likes and hobbies I keep secret because I am afraid--afraid people will judge me, afraid I could possibly lead them astray, afraid they will misunderstand my commitment to the Lord. Ok, so I did show my Lord of the Rings fandom, but heaven forbid I should confess that I listen to Celtic Thunder on a fairly regular basis. Some songs are fine, but others are not, and I don't want people thinking I listen to the bad ones. All that is is pride and fear, and something I have to come to grips with.

While I seek to be sincere with every post and comment, sometimes I don't pour out as much as I could because I am writing in the fear of what other people think instead of fearing God alone. Learning what to share, how to share it, and when to share it so God can be glorified is a journey that I'm on. Being willing to be open in a redemptive, not self-indulgent way is my end goal. It takes time, but I cannot think of a better place to work it out than with the dear friends I have found through this blog.

Be generous. If you want people to like you, then it is very important to be generous to them as well. With the measure you use it will be measured unto you. And on social media you have to get used to following people on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Don't follow them because they're perfect (though be wise about who you hang out with and recommend). Follow them because their work has invested in you, you would like to be friends with them, or you see something worth supporting and recommending. If you like them a lot, chances are you should show them a little link love and let others know you like them too. Don't be stingy. Christians are already too stereotyped by that. That ties in with the above point; often people who are afraid to share themselves are afraid to like others--because who you like shows a piece of who you are. It takes courage--but the courage to invest in someone else is well worth it.

Share Your Work is for anyone--reader, writer, blogger, crafter, sewer--who has work and wants to share it with people, even with the eventual view of selling it. Wanting to sell your work is not an unholy objective (Kleon discusses this as well) and this book will help you forge some genuine connections on the internet. It clears the murk and takes away a huge amount of pressure, as well as putting the joy back into the tweeting and the blogging.

For those readers who would like to be aware, Share Your Work does include some crude slang, and the included quotes on pg 78 and 195 are particularly inappropriate. I got a sticky note to cover the one on 195 because I hated having to flip through it.

Austin Kleon puts the common sense and the enjoyment back into growing your social media platform. I cannot express my gratefulness. Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work are books I'll be dishing out my hard-earned cash for as soon as I can. From a girl with Scottish and Dutch heritage, that's the highest recommendation I can give. ;)


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