Friday, September 30, 2016

The Rakshasa's Bride Paperback Release + Giveaway!

I am super excited this morning to join Suzannah Rowntree in announcing the release of The Rakshasa's Bride in illustrated paperback! This beautiful retelling of The Beauty and the Beast, which I personally loved, can now come to your personal bookshelf!

so cool i can't even 

In celebration of this special occasion, Suzannah is joining me for a wee interview. So pull up a cup of hot cider and some nice doughnuts, and join us for a cozy chat. (Plus, keep reading to the bottom all the way until the giveaway!)

1. The Rakshasa's Bride is a fairy tale retelling. What are your favorite fairy tales, and what attracts you to this genre as a writer?

I grew up on Grimm's Fairytales and also devoured others wherever I found them, so I have a lot of favourites. The Rakshasa's Bride retells Beauty and the Beast, which is obviously a favourite with everyone, including me! Jorinda and Joringel, which I retold in The Bells of Paradise, was deeply comforting to me as a child because of how the power of the witch is so completely overthrown. I always felt a deep kinship with Rapunzel because of the length of my hair, though I've recently had to cut it. The Black Bull of Norroway, with its repeated motifs, is my favourite for telling aloud to children. But my most favourite, for several years now, has been King Thrushbeard.

When I first penned The Rakshasa's Bride I didn't intend a whole series of fairytale retellings. But fairytales are very powerful--sometimes the simplest stories are the rawest, the most compelling. We get lost in the princessy trappings, and forget the underlying meanings that praise humility, diligence, and faithfulness. It's these deep themes, and the raw power of the storytelling, that attract me to fairytales. I don't yet feel completely confident in my own power to invent such tales from scratch--though I am becoming more confident as time goes on--and working on an already-established pattern gives me a creative sandbox to experiement within.

It also gives me an overarching theme within which to experiment with homages to multiple different genres! The Rakshasa's Bride, for instance, is a bit of a homage to what I like best about *ahem* Bollywood movies...

2. Is there a power in fairy tales that other stories can't quite match? What are their unique strengths for conveying a message?

Referring back to my previous answer, yes, I think so! Fairytales are stories that work without a really strong sense of setting or characterisation. They have to rely on raw plot, on situations that everyone can sympathise with. They tend to be deeply mythic, in some ways almost (but not quite) allegorical. In stories like this, it's the plot itself, more than the characterisation, that provides an explanation of the human condition and the divine rescue. Now, fairytales aren't the only stories that work like that - The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars are just two recent examples of mythic stories that have this raw, simple plot power. But myth seems to go closer to the bone than any other kind of storytellings.

As a result, fairytales provide an explanation for how the world works. They lay down certain incontrovertible laws that often echo heavily off Biblical themes - from "He has exalted the humble" to "The elder shall serve the younger". There's a magnificent chapter in GK Chesterton's book Orthodoxy, "The Ethics of Elfland", that explains how reading fairytales as a young man paved the way for his surrender to Christ, by instilling in him an idea of both the fundamental lawfulness, and the fundamental wonder, of the created cosmos. This is not allegory, though it's a close cousin. It's more like catechesis; it makes more definite claims about the way the world actually is.

3. Who's your favorite fairy tale hero?

Well, fairytales tend to be pretty light on characterisation, but I have two favourites from two obscure Grimm's fairytales. There's John from Faithful John, who risks everything to save his master's life. On the more humorous end of the scale, there's the absurd Kate from Frederick and Catherine, who is gloriously dim (we're talking Amelia Bedelia levels of dimness) but endlessly well-meaning, and who winds up saving the day in the end, anyway!

4. Do you love any movie adaptations of fairy tales? Which ones?

Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella, seriously. While the CGI bluebirds and the declarations of faith in fairies are about as much as I can stand, I was deeply impressed to see the original fairytale's essential meaning come through with such shining power. Branagh's Cinderella is a paean to idealism, humility, kindness, bravery, and forgiveness, of a kind that I never expected to see adorning the film screen. For someone who isn't apparently a Christian, Branagh's made some of the most Christian movies of recent years--I suspect his long apprenticeship to Shakespeare may have something to do with it.

I'm not big into the Disney animated canon, and I detested Ever After as passionately as I loved Cinderella, so I think that's my sole recommendation!

5. What's your favorite way to celebrate the completion of a writing project? Chocolate? A fun day? A shopping spree?

Well, my idea of a really good time usually involves silence, solitude, and a really good book, so that's what my celebrations usually look like! Otherwise, I might relax with a favourite movie, or buy a long-awaited book or some listening music. Champagne is also very festive. ;) When I finished the first draft of OUTREMER, my major historical project, I treated myself to a leisurely shopping day with my sisters - sorting through books at a book fair, sniffing and sipping in the tea shop, looking through silk skirts and silver jewellery at the Indian importers.

All of which is fun, but sometimes the most exciting thing is simply getting to move on to the next project!

6. If you could have one iconic item to own from literature, what would it be? (Cinderella's glass slipper, Aragorn's sword, etc.)

Ooh. Oh, let's say Queen Lucy's healing cordial. That's something that would definitely come in handy, plus who else can say they have the juice of the fire-flowers that grow on the Sun?

7. What are your favorite things to do to restore your creativity?

I find all I need is some time away from the writing. It can be as little as a half-hour afternoon walk, or as much as a month juggling toddlers at a friend's place, but stepping away from a deadlock for a while has always been enough to get the creative juices flowing again.

8. Which fictional land would be your favorite place to take a vacation?

I've always wanted to go to Narnia. I still want to go to Narnia, though I suppose it's a bit late for it now; they might not let me in. (Not my fault; I used to sit in my wardrobe waiting to be let through!) In that case, I'll take a holiday in a treehouse in Lorien, definitely.

9. Tell us one little known fact about you.

I am such a tea snob. Loose-leaf, without milk or sugar (unless you've got a good masala chai), is the best way to have it - teabag tea is prone to be bitter, taste faintly of teabag, and not lend itself to reinfusion. Gunpowder green and oolong are particularly good, but Russian Caravan, smoky and smooth, is romance in a mug - one sip and you're making the long trek by camel from China, bearing tea to the aristocrats of St Petersburg. Mmm.

10. Any hints as to your next fairy tale project?

I have a couple of projects in various stages! Nearing completion, there's Death Be Not Proud, a retelling of one of the well-known Grimm tales, set in Jazz Age New Zealand, in the style of a Mary Stewart romantic suspense thriller. Look for that to be published pretty soon! I also have plans to release my other fairytale retellings, The Prince of Fishes and The Bells of Paradise, in paperback at some stage.

I also have a host of little fairytale plot bunnies hopping around in the back of my mind. This week I actually sat down and started to rough out the plot of the next one. I'm keeping this one pretty quiet at the moment, but suffice it to say that it will be a particularly outrageously fun story, and will feature a scene in which a character orders tea in epic detail. *nods*

(Giveaway code)

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Happy Birthday, Lady B! (From Junior and Co.)

Someone had a Birthday recently, and the blog was silent.


We have not forgotten, but duty called, and so we were delayed in getting the party together. Now Jaeryn, Terry, and Ben (and me!) have finally assembled to try to figure out some sort of Grand Happy Birthday Blog Post.


Me: Terry, Schuyler’s gone at a writing conference right now which is why we can post here. We have to stay F-O-C-U-S-E-D.

Jaeryn: I can’t find Small. Do you think she left it?

Ben: No, I saw her take the Kindle along with her laptop. I hope she has a good time.

Jaeryn: *mutters something*

Me: What did you say? This is the one day of the year when we’re best friends, remember.

Jaeryn: You rascal. I was just saying I don’t think a writer’s conference is good for her. Makes her think up too many bad things for us.

Terry: OH NO! You’re right! What do we do?

Ben: *sighs* There’s really nothing we can do. Anyway, where were we? I don’t like hacking blogs like this.

Me: It’s okay, Ben. I’m her sister after all.

Jaeryn: *coughs*

Me: *glances sternly at Jaeryn* What device are we going to post this on?

Jaeryn: None of her accounts are logged in on any of the laptops at home. If she hadn’t taken Small, this would have been a whole lot easier.

Me: Ben, can you think of anything?

Ben: *shakes his head*


Me: You can??

Terry: Look at this CUTE picture. We could post that!

Me: *grins* Terry, we’re not trying to figure out what to post, but HOW to post.

Terry: Oh. Well, where’s Acushla? Maybe she can help.

Me: Acushla’s busy right now, Terry. We agreed to do this ourselves, remember? She’s making the cake, and you can go lick the beater when she’s done.  

[well-dressed figure enters room]

Me: FENTON. You’ve saved us!! *gives him a big hug* You have a device we can post on, don’t you?

Fenton: *gasping for breath* For a price.

Me: C’mon, Fenton. It’s a birthday. Besides, I’m sure you have a ton of money anyways. Help us out.

Fenton: *unmoved*

Jaeryn: *stands up ominously*

Fenton: *still unmoved*

Me: Oh, no, this is disastrous. Fenton! Jaeryn! This is supposed to be a HAPPY birthday! Jaeryn, you’ve got more money than the rest of us. Can’t you give him some?

Jaeryn: No, he doesn’t need any money.


[everyone momentarily diverted]

Ben: Fenton, it’s a birthday. Give us the device.

Fenton: *considering* As long as you let me come to her party.

[everyone stares in surprise]

Me: Why, of course, Fenton dear, the party wouldn’t be the same without you.

Fenton: *nods awkwardly and pulls out Schuyler’s iPod*

Me: Oh no, is it that small?

Jaeryn: *laughs* Instead of Small, we have something that’s really small to post on. Can you even read Blogger on an iPod?

Ben: I don’t know. I would think so.

Terry: *wondering if Acushla is done with the cake* What kind of cake is it?

Me: Some sort of chocolate ombre cake, maybe? By the way, boys, do you have any gifts for Schuyler?

Terry: OH NO. I forgot. I was planning to, I really was. Do you think she’d like chocolate kisses? 

Me: *grins* Terry, she’d be thrilled with chocolate kisses.

Jaeryn: I bought her a knife.

Me: Woah. That’s awesome.

Fenton: I’m offering her my services for a month.

Me: Fenton, you are being so nice this evening. You’ll be the life of the party.

Ben: I-I’m not sure yet. I thought about a book, but I got her that last year.

Me: Never too many books, Ben. You’re a dear to think of it. Now, are we all ready for our big surprise?

[groans from around the room. Everyone assembles in a circle]
[all sing happy birthday in four-part harmony; Terry a little off key]

Me: That was SO beautiful, boys. She’ll love it. Let’s get this posted before she comes home.

Fenton: *disappears quietly*

Ben: *looks at his watch* I can’t believe it’s so late! I’ll have to buy a book for her before the stores close. And patient calls to do tonight! Goodbye, everyone! *rushes away*

Terry: *goes to lick off the beater and talk to Acushla*

Jaeryn: Just you and me, kiddo.

Me: I am NOT a kiddo. You wanna help with the last part of this though?

Jaeryn: *stretches* Sure, I don’t have much else going this evening.

[Jaeryn and Junior bend over iPod and get to work]

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, PRECIOUS GIRLIE! I hope you have a fantabulous day celebrating, and that this offered you at least a little bit of laughter. ;) Love you lots and can’t wait to see what God does through you this year. *hugs*

As it turns out, the iPod didn't work so Jaeryn and I had to wait until Schuyler got home to "borrow" her computer. XD Good thing Jaeryn was still around to help...

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Time to Die + A Time to Rise Release Tour!

I was SUPER excited to be accepted to the Nadine Brandes' team for the A Time to Rise release! I've been wanting to read her books for ages, so diving into book 1 of Parvin's adventures was a dream come true! (Just around my birthday, too--so awesome.)

Come talk with me about my first foray into dystopian literature!

The Book [from Goodreads]
How would you live if you knew the day you'd die?

Parvin Blackwater has wasted her life. At only seventeen, she has one year left according to the Clock by her bedside.

In a last-ditch effort to make a difference, she tries to rescue Radicals from the crooked justice system. But when the authorities find out about her illegal activity, they cast her through the Wall -- her people's death sentence.

What she finds on the other side about the world, about eternity, and about herself changes Parvin forever and might just save her people. But her Clock is running out.

My Thoughts
I started this book after dinner one day and didn't stop until bedtime. It was that exciting. The tension is non-stop, and I had a complete lack of self-control in finishing it. :P

There were a lot of things I loved about this book. First of all, Nadine's world building is really solid. Her technology is incredible (anyone else want a tune chip for music?) and I loved the electronic journal and updating newspapers. It felt real, believable, and so creative. Not only technology, but the terrain, the cityscapes, and the different cultures Parvin encounters have a harsh reality that really fits in with the atmosphere and themes. I'd like to read this book again just to re-encounter everything and catch more details.

I like the fact that Parvin has a real family in this book. A mom. A dad. A brother--all living and very much loving her. That's rare to find in stories, and they have a realistic dysfunction--troubles, but not so much that deny the fact that they're a close bonded family. In fact, wherever she goes, Parvin creates or finds family. It's a key need fulfilled, and a safe place for her. Shalom is found in two are better than one--especially in the context of family bonds.

Parvin herself is a good example of a heroine who really grows well throughout the book. She starts out weak, but not whiny or dislikable--very relatable. Gradually she grows stronger, wrestles with things, finds help, suffers mentally and physically in some pretty big ways. At one point I was completely shocked with what Nadine was putting her through. ;) But through it all, she's a realistic example of growth as a Christian--I could really relate to her feelings at one point when she's made a decision and then regrets it, and can't let go of the regret. The way she talked with God, and refused to accept the brokenness in the world around her was really, really good.

I loved Jude. He's a pretty special guy, which his humor chemistry with Parvin, and his tenacious sense of protection and guidance. Lots of aww moments that felt completely natural and soul satisfying. And yes, Hawke was pretty cool too.

The only part I didn't totally connect with was the romance aspect--at first I really liked Parvin's insecurity and inexperience about how she should feel in a romantic way, but then it got a little distracting with wondering what was a right way to touch Jude (nothing inappropriate, but I just enjoy it more when plot focuses on how a couple relate to each other with personality chemistry).

There is so much potential for future books both in the plot line and in the spiritual themes. Questions to be answered, growth to be achieved--I definitely want to see what happens next.

Order the Book
To check out A Time to Die, click on any of these awesome buttons:

A Time to Die

Order Book #2

You'll want to order book 2 right away after reading book 1. Just sayin'. ;) So to make it easy for you...
A Time to Speak
Amazon BN-iconlogogoodreads icon

And Best of All...

The reason we're all here is to celebrate the release of the final installment--book 3!!

A Time to Rise

IF you pre-order book 3, you'll get some awesome swag. The most adorable bookmarks on the face of the universe. So hie thee forth and check it out on Nadine's website!

Connect With the Author
To hang out with Nadine on social media, check out her website. Actually, it was her sweet interaction with her fans that first attracted me to her books. I love her newsletter, her Twitter, and her blog--in fact, I love any place she's on! She always makes me smile and gives me new things to think about. :)

I received a free e-copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Autumn TBR

Coming to the reading pile this autumn....

Far from the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy
I've wanted to see the movie ever since it came out--so, I'm doing my traditional, and reading the book first as a way to work towards the movie.

Anne of the Island, by L.M. Montgomery
A continued foray into my second time all the way through the Anne of Green Gables series. I'm currently enjoying this one. Patty's Place and girl chums. Such richness.

Grace for the Good Girl, by Emily Freeman
I've been reading books that have taught me much about deep comfort and kindness from the Lord. This is another one on my list.

Everyday Grace, by Jessica Thompson
Another book on relationships, ditto above.

The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James
It's been on my to read list for FAR TOO LONG. This must be remedied!

Polly and Newton, by Jody Hedlund
This one is on its way in the mail to me! My first Jody Hedlund novel, and such a pretty cover. ^_^

The Shattered Vigil, by Patrick Carr.

Veiled Rose, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl
Not *immediately* on my fall list, but I'd like to read this one in the fall season.

Lark Rise to Candleford, by Flora Thompson
Also because I'd like to dig into the TV show, and the book looks so pretty and delicious.

What's on your autumn reading stack? I'd love to know! Have you read any of these books? What do you think of them?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson

"I wanted to lend this to you."

A friend handed me Gilead, after an afternoon of sipping chai lattes and chatting about life. I'd seen it around the book community and wanted to read it, so I was excited about the chance. In the midst of a very crazy week of life, the simplicity and depth made it a perfect haven to slip away to.

I love the cover. It makes you think of stained glass, or watercolor--the same muted nostalgia that is the trademark of this book.

The Book 
John Ames is dying. He's lived through three wars, a Depression, and at least one drought. His life as a preacher has been abnormal and normal all at the same time. He's lived a long time--and now, in his seventies, he wants to leave a record of things to remember for his seven year old son.

At first, he sets out chronicling things about his past, his grandfather, and the charming little town where they live--Gilead. But when Jack Boughton returns to Gilead after years of wandering, John's letters become a very present-day wrestling--though still in that gentle, nostalgic strain--of unresolved threads from his past.

And unwittingly, in his wrestling, he leaves a more authentic picture of his humanity for his son than he ever could have with just a thoughtful chronicle of past memories.

My Thoughts 
Gilead is one of those books I read as a writer, and I'd love to know more about how the author felt during the writing process. It reads in such a way of random memories and lingering over small details that you almost thing she couldn't have scripted it in advance. But it is so beautiful and simple that you know this book probably took some very hard work and multiple drafting to pull out that simplicity. Clarity is rarely a mark of first drafts. And Gilead is so clear and full of the very essence and feeling of memory, that I want to know what Robinson felt like as she wrote it. Was it hard? Did she pour over some of these passages multiple times, wondering if she would ever say what she wanted? I'm sure she did.

I love the way John Ames sees the sacredness in small things. Perhaps it's his age--he is in his seventies after all. But oftentimes he has a way of gripping the reader's heart by his ponderings over the simplest details. I especially loved his breathless wonder at the beauty of Christian sacraments. Communion was, to him, more than just the Lord's Supper shared in church. He found communion moments in taking biscuit from his father outside a burned down church as a boy. One of the most shining memories in the book is when he gives communion to his seven-year-old son. It struck me so much because it's likely he'll never give it to him again.

I believe in believer's baptism. But while I disagreed with it theologically, I could appreciate the beauty of John Ame's descriptions of baptizing infants as a pastor--laying his hand in blessing on their faces. His ghost of guilt is a vivid one, over the one baby who he felt went unblessed because he had been in turmoil of mind as he performed the ceremony.

And I also loved his Holy of Holies. The silence in the church in the mornings, when he could just sit and think, even though he knew all that memory and holiness of fellowship would be torn down with the old church building after he died.

In between the celebration of worship and sacrament, you get thumbnail sketches of the chequered people that made up his community--the strain between his pacifist father and his warrior grandfather--his brother Edward who walked away from the faith--his keen, lifelong friendship with Jack Boughton--his love for the beautiful woman who married him so late in life and gave him his precious son. And Jack Boughton--the outcast wondering if there is any way back to grace.

Without spoilers, I can say the ending was poignant and almost brought me to tears. It has a deep strain of honesty as Jack's coming makes John Ames face old regrets...memories...and even a form of guilt as he feels his own lack. The tension of relationship crackles on the page as we see into the depths of his soul.

It's a rare gift to see inside a soul like that. Reading Gilead is a rare opportunity. I highly recommend the experience.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Gratitude: A Prayer and Praise Coloring Journal

So I'm totally supportive of this trend of adult coloring books. It started with hearing about them through Ann Voskamp, and before long I bought one of my own--a beautiful Joanna Basford's Enchanted Forest.

Not having a natural artistic bent with colors, I'm slowly learning what looks good and that it's important to keep your pencils sharp. But when Tyndale offered one specifically having to do with gratitude, I thought it would be fun to try out a coloring journal combined with prayer.

The Book 
Gratitude: A Prayer and Praise Coloring Journal invites you to bring creative journaling and the calming act of coloring into your quiet time with God. This beautifully designed interactive prayer book from Tyndale's Living Expressions collection helps guide your thoughts as you pray about concerns such as health, overcoming stress, personal relationships, and more. Gratitudegives you a way to celebrate and give thanks to God for the many blessings he provides. Filled with over 100 designs to color, plenty of space for journaling and sketching, and 40 needs-based prayers, Gratitude helps you express your devotion to God with your whole heart!

My Thoughts 
I like a lot of factors about this journal. The pages are small, and less overwhelming than some of the bigger coloring books, so when you're sitting down to pray it's easy to break it into manageable chunks. I've done a coloring session every day this week to test out the book for review, and each time I enjoyed the ten minutes or so I spent with it. I would throw on some instrumental Christian piano music by Eric Nordhoff, choose a prompt that stood out to me, and for ten minutes I would color and pray to the music background. If I didn't get a page done, that was OK. I chose another prompt the next day, and there's still lots of room  to return to a prompt I didn't finish multiple times. The good thing about this book is, you can custom-tailor it to your preferences and time limits. It's a beautiful way to make prayer time a treat.

Sometimes the drawings are a little too cute, but there are a lot of pages I would love to try, and even when I don't always connect to the pre-written prompts, I love the subject matter they make my own prayers springboard into. The subjects are varied and good, and as I meditate on them, my heart is refreshed.

If you love art but struggle sometimes with prayer, this might be a great platform to bring alive your own prayer life. Or if you have a younger girl artist you know who you want to encourage in her faith, this might also be a great gift. I'd encourage taking a look at it in store to make sure it's what you expect and want, but it turned out to be a lot more fun than I was expecting, and I'd love to do more with it in future.

I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale in exchange for an honest review.

Cry Out Prayer Night 
For another opportunity to join in prayer, Nancy Leigh DeMoss is hosting a livestream prayer night over the internet on September 23. From 6-9 central, join thousands of women around the world crying out to God for national and international repentance. It's coming soon, and you won't want to miss it! Go to to see if there are any groups gathering in your area, or to sign up and participate right from the comfort of your own home.

What do you think of coloring books? Do you have a favorite one? What are your favorite ways to keep track of your prayer life?

Check out Tyndale's  Inspire Creativity board on Pinterest for downloadable samplers and shareable coloring pages and for more inspiration about their coloring products.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Uninvited, by Lysa TerKeurst

I've been savoring this book for weeks. Underlining, meditating, tucking truth into my heart and mind from its pages. This is my first foray into Lysa TerKeurst's books, and I was deeply blessed. 

If you feel rejected, broken, or unloved, or even just having a case of the blues, Lysa's book will minister to you. There is so much gentleness and truth tucked away in its pages. 

Also, I think the color scheme on the cover is extremely pretty. It's a happy thing to look at. ;) 

The Book 
The enemy wants us to feel rejected . . . left out, lonely, and less than. When we allow him to speak lies through our rejection, he pickpockets our purpose. Cripples our courage. Dismantles our dreams. And blinds us to the beauty of Christ’s powerful love.

In Uninvited, Lysa shares her own deeply personal experiences with rejection—from the incredibly painful childhood abandonment by her father to the perceived judgment of the perfectly toned woman one elliptical over.

With biblical depth, gut-honest vulnerability, and refreshing wit, Lysa helps readers: • Release the desire to fall apart or control the actions of others by embracing God-honoring ways to process their hurt. • Know exactly what to pray for the next ten days to steady their soul and restore their confidence. • Overcome the two core fears that feed our insecurities by understanding the secret of belonging. • Stop feeling left out and start believing that "set apart" does not mean "set aside." • End the cycle of perceived rejection by refusing to turn a small incident into a full blown issue.

My Thoughts 
While I'm not suffering from a deep and traumatic relationship break-up, I was in need of fresh reminders of God's sustaining love when I picked up this book. I think what I most appreciated about Lysa's book was the truth it gave me about God's power, sustenance, and love. As Lysa says on pg. 23, we need our minds braced by truth. My own mind feels weary right now, so I need more time in the words of God, and the life that he gives through Scripture.  Throughout Uninvited, I was comforted by the reminder of God's character. So often, when we suffer, we have wrong behavioral reactions of resentment, withdrawal, or hopelessness. Those can only be fixed by a better, deeper understanding of who God is, and who he is to me. God is very, very good at all times, and once our confidence is founded in that, we can begin the healing process of healing pain and gaining spiritual strength.

A couple things that stood out: people aren't meant to be used as life support. People can do CPR, but clinging for life support from someone continually goes beyond their human strength. If you're going from person to person looking for life support, you're doing it wrong: only God is designed to offer that constant level of sustenance. Yes, we need community. We need help from others. But we need to be careful to have proper expectations of what belongs to God, and what belongs to people.

It's all about perspective. Truth. When I believe the truth about God, and have abundant life in him, I am better able to have real expectations and not get unnecessarily hurt by others. I'm also better able to look into the raw, hurt places and find healing for them. I can lived deeply loved on a daily basis, full to the brim with the love of God.

The second to last chapter, about Jesus in Gethsemane, was also really good. Lysa talked about how olives are pressed, processed, and ultimately destroyed. But they're destroyed to be edible and preserved. The hard process of refining ultimately leads to a better product than the olive in its raw form. Sometimes the processing seems incredibly hard, but Jesus is using it to make us better than we were before. We are not being destroyed. We're being given better life.

There was one spot with an example about David's feelings that I think Lysa read more into Scripture then can rightly be inferred from the passage. I don't connect to every sentence or how she says it, but overall I connect to the heart of the book, and I learned so much from it. The only thing that bothered me as I went through it was the underlying jokes she made about body image. They were meant to be a light-hearted, relateable "me too" thing, but it was a subtle undercurrent of putting down herself that might cause others to struggle without knowing where or why those feelings had come from. There was no truth to combat it, and I didn't like that unresolved and troubling strain in an overall lovely book.

I underlined a lot in this book, finding truth to tuck away in my heart again and again. I want to revisit some of the underlining and copy it down in a notebook to have that truth nearby to review and remember. Also, when you purchase Uninvited, you get a free audio download of Lysa reading prayers from the book that is incredibly beautiful to listen to. If you've ever felt hurt, betrayed, or simply lonely, then Uninvited will give you an invitation to a closer trust in Jesus.

Prepare to live loved. 

I received this book for free from BookLook bloggers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

In Which Jaeryn Graham Has a Birthday

Jaeryn Graham is a 28-year-old Irish doctor in my novel, War of Loyalties. A WW1 spy for the British homefront, he seems to be an enigmatic fellow who has a few secrets to keep. Check out interviews and snippets here to get introduced to him! 

Jaeryn is having a happy birthday today. There was tea for breakfast. I have a cake for him in the oven. A chocolate cake. Writing time is scheduled for later, with kicking off War of Honor draft two. He'll get the first editing scene in honor of his birthday. Who could ask for more? 

And YOU all have sent in some terrific questions for him to answer, so without further ado, I'll turn it over to him! :)

I make no guarantees for his behavior and will not stand pledge for his personal veracity.  

Whose side are you on? 
Neither for you, nor for your enemies, but as a rebel in the army of justice I have now come. 

Jaeyrn, what is your favourite treat? 
A chocolate bar. I find them rarely during the war, and should get Terry to scrounge around for me.

Do you have a favourite smell? 
Irish stew. 

I am also curious about your beliefs regarding war.
In principle, I believe war can accomplish a good and necessary purpose. In practice, I would do it, but I find the loss of comrades and the suffering of women and children a sobering price to pay for victory.

What is your go-to outfit for every-day life, and how do you look on special occasions? 
Everyday life: grey suit and tie and a bowler hat. Very relaxed occasions: a newsboy cap and Aran jumper. Special occasions: a black suit. 

Do you have a sweetheart at all?
No. Nor do I wish to have one. They pry into private concerns, and they want most of your time.

As a medical man, what's your opinion on miracles? 
I don't believe in modern day ones. Our current justice system would kill any miracle before its birth. I believe in working hard, taking risks, and finding men to bend to your purpose in a moment of crisis. 

What's your relationship with Ben like? 
Ha. As soon as he quits being so suspicious, we should be fine. 

Is there a moment in your life of which you feel very proud? 
Two: one when I got my inheritance, and the other when I set up office in my first practice. 

What was the hardest moment in your life?
College exams are beastly.

Are you a religious man?
Yes. I go to Tontine Congregational Church on Sunday mornings, unless I'm trading off emergency medical calls with Ben.

Would you rather have a pink dragon or a sparkly unicorn?
I would RATHER have vengeance on whoever asked this question, but in theory I'll go with the unicorn, as it would be an obedient personal companion.

If you could go back to any point in time in history, what would be your first choice, and why?
I would like to be Finn MacCool leading a band of men in ancient Ireland, or Warwick the Kingmaker in Britain in the time of the 1400s. Both men had power to lead and change the course of history, and I like to change history.

Do you like reading books? Which ones, and when/where/how would you read them?
I hate reading, and avoid it all all costs if I can help it. The only books I would read are medical reference books, and I would read them in the clinic or in my living-room before bed to handle a case for the next day.

Childhood best friend?
I don't put much stock in friends, something might happen to them. Best to keep independent.

Who is your role model?
A man I knew growing up. He dreamed of better days, and he taught me the meaning of patriotism.
How much money do you really have?
In my opinion, questions about personal finances are prying into private concerns.
What's your preferred mode of execution?
Firing squad would be preferred, but I hate getting up early, so please schedule it for later in the day.
What is the most embarrassing thing you have ever done? (PLEASE answer this, buddy!)
Dancing with an extrovert woman on a spy mission. Never again. 

Do you want kids, and if so, how many? 
At least one, preferably a son to carry on my name.

Have you ever been to the place in Ireland in the picture? 
As an agent, it's not really wise to say where I've been or haven't been.
Recount the time in your life that you were the most scared.
WHO put you up to asking this question? I had a very bad incident in my earlier twenties with a locked room and a cellar and a dead body. I prefer not to remember it.

What are your true intentions towards the young doctor who is helping in your practice? 
Who can fathom the heart of a man? It is deep waters.
What was your mother like? 
Better than I deserved. I loved  her very much.
If you played board games, what would be your favorite? 
Anything with an element of risk and strategy to it. The Dorrolls seem to keep chess around, and I don't mind playing it with Terry now and and again. 

Are you a good singer? Could you carry tenor or bass? Would you sing in public with friends?

Schuyler: srsly, this is an awesome question. I've NEVER thought about that before. 

I know how to play music, and I can sing. I would sing with friends in public, I don't really mind it, but I would never sing in the presence of my enemies. I couldn't sing well enough to have a career in it, but I can carry a decent tune in baritone.

Are you currently loyal to Britain, Ireland, or Germany? ...remember, Jaeryn, you promised to answer any question! ;) 
I have been a dedicated British agent for 7 years, and I let my track record speak for itself.
If you were stranded on a desert island, what would be one thing that you would insist on bringing with you?
My tea.
Who is your favorite person on earth?
Someone who I would give my life for, and if I know you well enough, I'll let you meet them someday.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you trust Ben?
10. I can read him like a book.

Do you prefer mountains and hills, or more prairie land?
Mountains and hills. They offer places to hide away in, and you can't hide in prairie land.  
Would you rather spend a day by the Sea or in a large city?
By the sea.
Do you dance?
Only if dying is the other option.

When it comes to transportation, do you prefer horse, automobile, or your own two legs?
Automobile, for speed. But I like the dependability of my own two legs, too.

What colleague do you despise the most? Like the most? Tolerate the most?
Ann Meikle. Peters. Samuel Ryson.

Have you ever accepted a bribe? In any form besides money?
Yes. I've struck a couple of deals I'm not entirely proud of for a good cause.  

What normal task makes you nervous/sweat the most? 
I dislike giving shots. I'm good at them, and I can do it fine, but it has its challenges. Also coding with secret ink is something that I really hate. It's the hardest part of my work, and I'm always afraid the end result won't be legible, which in time-sensitive messages is nerve-wracking. 

What is the worst meal you've had to eat?
Shortbread. Don't ask. 

How did you break your fingers? 
Did I? How odd, they seem to be working fine currently. 

Jaeryn thanks you all most kindly for the questions, and invites you for tea and cake in the evening. He himself must be off to a private meeting with colleagues, but he says it was most kind of you to come, and he is grateful for everyone who made his birthday extra special! :) 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas

It is my deep pleasure and delight to present this blog review today.

I've wanted to review Metaxas' Bonhoeffer ever since the early days of this blog--but to do it justice, I needed to give it a second read, to have the contents fresh in my mind. And that just didn't happen. I kept shoving it to later, until this year, when Bonhoeffer became a top priority.

He's been one of my heroes. He deeply inspired one of the novels I've written, his theology and life have shaped my thinking time and again. And reading this book for a second time, I found even more profound insights from his life to meditate on.

The Book [from the back cover, paperback edition]


As Adolf Hitler and the Nazis seduced a nation, bullied a continent, and attempted to exterminate the Jews of Europe, a small number of dissidents and saboteurs worked to dismantle the Third Reich from the inside. One of these was Dietrich Bonhoeffer--a pastor and author. In this New York Times best-selling biography, Eric Metaxas takes both strands of Bonhoeffer's life--the theologian and the spy--and draws them together to tell a searing story of incredible moral courage in the face of monstrous evil. Metaxas presents the fullest accounting of Bonhoeffer's heart-wrenching decision to leave the safe haven of America to return to Hitler's Germany, and sheds new light on Bonhoeffer's involvement in the famous Valkyrie plot and in "Operation 7", the effort to smuggle Jews into neutral Switzerland. Bonhoeffer is the story of a life framed by a passion for truth and a commitment to justice on behalf of those who face implacable evil.

My Thoughts 
Summing up a 542 page biography is hard enough. Summing it up on such an incredible man as Bonhoeffer is nearly impossible. But nonetheless, I'll try.

I think one of the themes that stood out so clearly to me in this book was decision making. Bonhoeffer didn't wait around to make decisions. If the German government was doing wrong, this was how we should speak out against it. No brainer. But time and again, the church struggled with making decisions. They didn't want to take action that would have definite consequences in future. They would rather play it safe both sides. And they delayed too long. Bonhoeffer had a hard time understanding this, and often got angry with them for their refusal to stand irrevocably on the Word of God. In that respect, I probably wouldn't be like him. I hate making decisions that burn bridges or rock the boat.

Another theme about decision making that I pulled out was his struggle in chapter 21 when he returned to America just before WW2. Bonhoeffer was a contentious objector on the brink of being drafted, but he didn't want to make this a public stand, because he knew others would follow his lead unnecessarily. While he believed it for himself, he didn't believe it should be the precedent for the entire church. He struggled with whether to stay safely in America or to support the church in Germany. He could not find his motives in it all, and he could not clearly discern God's will. But in one particularly comforting passage in his diary, he writes: "When the confusion of accusations and excuses, of desires and fears, makes everything with us so obscure, he sees quite clearly into all our secrets. And at the heart of them all he finds a name which he himself has inscribed: Jesus Christ. So too one day we shall see quite clearly into the depths of the divine heart and there we shall then be able to read, no to see, a name: Jesus Christ." (Metaxas, pg. 328) As I struggle with searching the depths of my own unfathomable heart, it comforts me that at the center, God has imprinted Jesus Christ there. Even in the most confusing and challenging decisions.

I began tabbing my thoughts with sticky notes towards the end of the book, so I only have record of what stood out to me in the latter part. But the points that stood out to me were scattered through Bonhoeffer's decision to join the conspiracy against Hitler. Bonhoeffer helped his brother-in-law Donhanyi compiled the Zossen file, a record of the atrocities the Nazis committed against the Jews, mentally ill, and others. Bonhoeffer and his confederates had to wrestle with hard decisions, and they never found comfort in them: does one kill a man to prevent him from killing many others? That was the conclusion they came to. And with it, I think Bonhoeffer came to other conclusions as well. He condemned the idea that success justifies the means which one uses to achieve something. The world looks at success as a justification of wrong. But for Bonhoeffer, it was simple, clear obedience, the figure of the crucified Christ, which should be the standard of action. Christ's death did not look like a success at the time: but it was obedience to God, and that was what mattered.

Some pages later, Bonhoeffer makes a note in another letter to his parents. He told them that "Last year when...we came to the end of the year, we probably all thought that this year we would be decisively further along and would see more clearly." (Metaxas, p. 374) Nevertheless, they had to come to terms with the uncertainty of the future for the long haul. There weren't going to be any quick fixes.

The third point that I suspect came out of Bonhoeffer's decisions surrounding the conspiracy was in a letter to a friend where he says "In such times [referring to the death of his friend's father] one must struggle through a great deal for oneself alone .You will have to learn out there how one sometimes must come to terms with something alone before God. It is often very difficult, but these are the important hours of life." (Metaxas, pg 410). Whether Bonhoeffer reached that conclusion in America, or in his struggles with church, or perhaps even with his brother Walter's death or his broken relationship with Elizabeth Zinn, I don't know. But the triple points of obedience, long-term commitment, and personal accountability to God certainly shaped his character in the war years.

While those points stood out to me theologically, the personal relationships Bonhoeffer experienced were also interesting. Bonhoeffer's rigorous academic family life, where he learned to speak of things thoughtfully, and his close friendship with Eberhard Bethge did a lot to support him through the turbulent years he endured. I could resonate completely when he said, "That the two of us could be connected for five years by work and friendship is, I believe, a rather extraordinary joy for a human life." (Metaxas, p. 375)

I also found his relationship with Maria charming. She was a bright, girlish sweetheart, who wanted to study mathematics and took sudden urges to dance or get up in the middle of the night to take a walk. She constantly thought her light-hearted spirits wouldn't be good enough for Bonhoeffer: but he didn't need her to be an equal theologian to love her deeply. Bonhoeffer promoted marriage even in these turbulent times of war. Marriage, was, to him, a belief and dependence that God was working even in dark times, and would continue to work after the war. There was no need to wait for better days. Embracing marriage was embracing humanity and our presence here on earth. Perhaps my favorite quote from his letter on marriage was, "We need not despise happiness simply because there is so much unhappiness. We should not arrogantly push away the kind hand of God because God's hand is otherwise so hard." (Metaxas, p. 408) Bonhoeffer's view in turbulent and uncertain times: Keep embracing the joys and responsibilities of earth. We are not yet called to heaven.

I am saddened by his death every time--wishing it hadn't happened, something had worked differently, all the little triggers to kill Hitler that didn't work would have worked. But ultimately, that would be wanting to change God's ordering of history, even, as hard as it is to comprehend or accept, throughout the Nazi horrors. Bonhoeffer's writings and testimony have proved an inspiration for many. And though his tragic loss leaves me numb with the ache, I treasure his memory. As Bonhoeffer himself said, "Where God tears great gaps, we should not try to fill them with human words. They should remain open. Our only comfort is the God of the resurrection, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who also was and is [Bonhoeffer's friend's] God." (Metaxas, pg 349).

This fall or winter would be a great time to add Bonhoeffer to your reading list and discover him for yourself.

Friday on the Blog 

Jaeryn Graham, the enigmatic Irish doctor from War of Loyalties, turns 127 (but in reality he only stays about 28 years old). In celebration, he's hosting a Q&A on the blog--turn in YOUR questions by blog comment, Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ before Friday, and he'll answer them!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Hood, Stephen Lawhead

The trails in the forest of Bookdom lead down many winding paths, and you have to be patient along the way. Sometimes it takes time for your path and a particular book's to intertwine.

But it's bound to happen eventually.

I first heard of Stephen Lawhead at a writer's conference. The conference coordinators and I were talking about book recommendations, and when his name came up in the conversation, I tucked it away for future reference. A couple of years later, I visited a bookstore and found a Stephen Lawhead book about Robin Hood, set in Wales. But, you have to make hard choices sometimes, and that particular day I had to walk away without it. A few months later still, it was time. I brought another, slightly more beat-up copy home to live in My Lady Bibliophile's palace and dug in.

The Book 

Robin Hood

The Legend Begins Anew

For centuries, the legend of Robin Hood and his band of thieves has captivated the imagination. Now the familiar tale takes on new life, fresh meaning, and an unexpected setting.

Steeped in Celtic mythology and the political intrigue of medieval Britain, Stephen R. Lawhead's latest work conjures up an ancient past and holds a mirror to contemporary realities. Prepare yourself for an epic tale that dares to shatter everything you thought you knew about Robin Hood.

My Thoughts 
One thing I really liked about Lawhead's retelling is his fully fleshed out villains. We flip back and forth between Bran and the villain POV. Count de Braose is a very good henchman to the crown with complex flaws, and the lengths he went to surprised me on occasion. Some of the villains are strong and ruthless and some of them are weak and cringing, but in a totally believable way. Lawhead's villains are individuals, with individual motivations and allies, and I really like that realism. I feel like my taste for Paul Murray Kendall's complex historical characters carried over here into my liking of Lawhead's Norman characterizations. 

One thing I particularly like about this book is that it's a more full-blooded kind of fiction that I'd love to see more Christian publishers dealing with. Bran has an understated faith arc, and the author is able to stay true to the rough-and-tumble soldier's world he thrusts us into. Lawhead deals with subtlety, and I like the variety that offers. Perhaps in fantasy it's a little easier, but this book reads like historical fiction, so as a writer of straight historical fiction, I like seeing his style on the market. While you will find brief instances of language/crudity and mature elements, it's not overwhelming to the good elements of the book. As a friend said, "adult Christian fiction without being cheesy." That sums it up perfectly. 

Mérian had the inner arc that sticks out to me most as I write this review. We start the book with her and Bran carrying on a borderline mistress relationship (though for those concerned, the beginning of the book is the most intense and never goes too far). Then as we go further, her romantic struggles get more and more complicated. No one else knows how deeply grief wounds her heart when Bran disappears. But as she goes on and meets different characters in the cast, she finds herself struggling with feelings she never expected. Her mother warns her against falling in love with the English, who are trying to take over Welsh lands. Mérian has no intention of doing so, but her father keeps thrusting her and the rest of their family into the company of an English baron, and Marian can tell that the baron is eyeing her instead of his wife. Very slowly, she starts struggling with feelings for a Englishman, and a married man at that. And without really drawing attention to it, Lawhead writes a very good portrayal of a woman with whom life went differently than she expected, who had to struggle against an attraction she probably would never have wanted to deal with in the first place. It's a small side plot in it all, but I think it's Lawhead's most in-depth and skillfully drawn character in the story.

On the minus side: After Rosemary Sutcliff, I admit I'm spoiled for anything, but I thought the descriptions were bland and would have liked a more vivid connection with the deep forest Bran enters. Somehow the forests and waterfalls and rivers didn't grab me this time. There was nothing to make me hold my breath and linger in wonder, and in a fantasy that's what I really want to see. I'm a proponent for a fully fleshed out world. 

Also, while we have a close connection to Bran's thoughts in his struggle and rebirth scenes, the author switches to omniscient view in the latter half of the book as Bran begins his upward climb to save his people. That sucked the personal stakes and foreshadowing out of the climax, and while the stakes were clearly there--getting money to buy back his kingdom--the personal meaning of it for him felt weak and disconnected. I would rather have had a plot that relied on gut-level connection with the characters for the final fireworks, not merely surprise and cleverness. Though I will say, that after the biggest climax, Lawhead reconnects us to Bran's heart and struggles. 

Back to the positives, Lawhead's note at the end of the book about his research was fascinating. I loved his look into the history of Robin Hood and the geography and history of the Welsh people. He builds a solid, real-life case for his Bran ap Brychan, and since I'm excited about anything resembling a historical mystery, I loved the way he pieced together the premise for his book. I highly recommended taking the time to read it. 

I'm a huge fan of Paul Creswick's Robin Hood, so any Robin Hood retelling has a longstanding fandom to live up to. Stephen Lawhead's rendition made for a mostly fun summer romp on my TBR stack. Adventure, character growth, and a touch of Celtic legend of the very best variety make for good ingredients to work with. 
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