Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Mist of Midnight

Greetings to my fellow readers! I will confess to a bit of nervousness here. I have never been part of an official "blog tour" before. As you can see, my little piece of the web is pretty small, but I'm thankful for the chance use it as I share author Sandra Byrd and her newest book, Mist of Midnight, with you.

What I appreciate about Sandra is her diversity as a writer. I have enjoyed everything she has written, from the French Twist Series to the Ladies in Waiting books (see my review for Secret Keeper).
There is a different flavor to each series, but Sandra brings the same passion and zest to every story she undertakes and I love it. I was really looking forward to reading Mist. 
To be honest, I was a bit apprehensive when I started the book, because it was SO different from what I am used to reading, and really, from anything that is out there right now. I honestly couldn't decide if I liked it or not.
But I couldn't stop reading. And the deeper I got into the story, the more I began to find the rythym and flow of the words. I found the flavor of the story- and I remembered other books I enjoyed with a similar feel.
Mist of Midnight is mysterious without being dark. There are clues dropped along the way for you to discover,  but they leave you with more questions than answers. I did feel the ending was a bit rushed, with the truth finally being told almost at the last moment. Mist really reminded me of Bleak House by Dickens- as a reader you know more is going on, but what is truth? And who is telling it? These questions keep the pages turning. I loved the details about India- and the way Sandra tied the two worlds together.
Mist of Midnight is different. But it's a kind of different that is needed in a market filled with so much of the same. I enjoyed the book, and the reminder of books-gone-by that it stirred in me.
I recommend for fans of Jane Eyre & Victoria Holt books.

In the first of a brand-new series set in Victorian England, a young woman returns home from India after the death of her family to discover her identity and inheritance are challenged by the man who holds her future in his hands.

Rebecca Ravenshaw, daughter of missionaries, spent most of her life in India. Following the death of her family in the Indian Mutiny, Rebecca returns to claim her family estate in Hampshire, England. Upon her return, people are surprised to see her...and highly suspicious. Less than a year earlier, an imposter had arrived with an Indian servant and assumed not only Rebecca's name, but her home and incomes.

That pretender died within months of her arrival; the servant fled to London as the young woman was hastily buried at midnight. The locals believe that perhaps she, Rebecca, is the real imposter. Her home and her father's investments reverted to a distant relative, the darkly charming Captain Luke Whitfield, who quickly took over. Against her best intentions, Rebecca begins to fall in love with Luke, but she is forced to question his motives—does he love her or does he just want Headbourne House? If Luke is simply after the property, as everyone suspects, will she suffer a similar fate as the first “Rebecca”?

A captivating Gothic love story set against a backdrop of intrigue and danger, Mist of Midnight will leave you breathless.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Glass House

It's been a while since I've written a personal post. But these words have been floating around in my mind and heart for a week, and I finally let - or made- myself put them down.
You may not know this, but I'm grieving. I'm also tired. Mostly, I'm tired of grieving. But it's okay. And it will be okay. And maybe you need to hear this, too.

Glass House

"How are you?" They ask.

"I'm fine." I say.

And most days, I mean it. I'm not 'good' - but I'm better than 'okay'. And really, it's not fair of them to expect much more from me.

After all, life isn't easy inside the glass house of grief.

I can't help feeling it. Exposed. Everywhere I go. Everyone I meet. I wonder, "Are my curtains drawn tight enough? Can they see?" Because I know- I know- if they took the time to look closely, they would see it all. You can't hide behind transparent walls.

Everything was stable, secure, and safe. And in one moment- one instant, frozen forever in the endless drift of time- everything changed.

Fragile. Precarious. Exposed.

Wounded. Still bleeding. Half-alive. Pieced together. Barely breathing.

I'm fine.

Just don't look too closely.  You might see through my "socially acceptable" smile. My "polite conversation". My "normal life".

The glass house came down again last week. Shattered from the inside. I don't remember what triggered the collapse. It doesn't matter anymore.

I know when it's coming. I can feel the cracks forming, hear the soft splintering sound as the fissure spreads. Reaching out, never satisfied. It grows.

So does my panic. I feel it building inside me. The explosion. The loss of control. There's nothing I can do to stop it. It's time to hide.

I curl into a ball. I hold myself together while I fall apart. And it comes.

The explosion. Again. And again. And again. Like waves against the shore. Powerful, destructive, relentless- it radiates out from me.

Like Jericho, my crystal fortress lies in ruins at my feet. I don't like to lose control. And yet, there's a bitter beauty to it all.

This... is real.

My shattered, broken heart laid bare. Raw, exposed, unprotected. Such a strange relief.

I am myself.

Light breaks through the smoke of my destruction.

It falls from heaven, reflects off each and every piece of glass. Color erupts around me.

Ah yes. The breathtaking glory found in the midst of this place of death.

And yet, I choose to rise again. The Light reminds me I cannot stay here in this ruin. My hands are strengthened. My heart, re-bound. I take up the shards.
I bleed. I feel the pain of all that's wrong with my world. I keep working.

Piece by piece, life fits together again. The glass house shines in the light of a new day. Because life, you see, must go on.

I am not destroyed. I am whole.

I am...fine.

For now.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Tears of the Sea

It's been just over 12 hours since I finished Tears of the Sea by MaryLu Tyndall, and this book still hasn't let me go. It is truly one of the most beautiful scriptural allegories I have read in a very long time.

Wait a minute. Amazon says this book is about a mermaid. 

Yes, it is. Skeptical? Don't worry- I was too. In fact, I had no idea the book was an allegory when I started reading it. It didn't take long for the parallels to start standing out, and suddenly I was filtering the book in an entirely new way.

A King, holy, glorious, righteous, and good.
A lost world, full of suffering souls.
A Prince, sent to save the lost, willing to give himself for the least of these- even unto death.
A crew of faithful servants, unsure what the big picture is, but willing to follow their Captain anywhere.
An evil overlord and his minions, desperate to take over the world and defeat the King once and for all.

And one woman. Cursed. Unloved. Alone. Desperate for redemption, freedom, love.

Can you see it?

Books like this are the reason this blog has it's name-  Tears of the Sea is more than words. Written by & from a heart surrendered to Christ, this book is truth. It is powerful, and deep, and wide as the ocean.
I refuse to say more because I don't want to spoil it for you. I want you to read it for yourself. Let it wash over you and open your eyes again to the truth of scripture. See in a new light just how much He loves you. What He gave to redeem you. What awaits those who press on toward the upward call in Christ.

If you only read one book- just one- this whole year, make it this one.

Amazon Link

I recommend for fans of C.S. Lewis' Narnia, Francine River's Redeeming Love, and Ted Dekker's Black, Red & White (The Circle Trilogy)

PS- I couldn't resist a light-hearted post script... I was already in love with this book, but after visiting MaryLu's Pinterest board and discovering her model for Savion was Chris Evans? Well....let's just say I love Tears even more now.  :)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Just A Hop, Skip, and a Jump

(Also known as, Joy Has Been Tagged)
My friend Gretchen over at Spec Fiction GEKE tagged me in a writing style blog hop.  I am horrendously late in posting my responses (apologies, all), so without further ado:

What am I working on? 
My current project is a fantasy (or speculative) fiction series set in a medieval time. The idea behind the series comes from Matthew 16:18: "And I say also to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell will not prevail against it."
I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. My writer mind started chewing on this verse. "What if I wanted to tell a story about this truth? What would it look like?" And slowly, my story was born. In it, 3 siblings, children of the one true king, represent the church. Only when the three become one will they be fully equipped as warriors, and able to storm the "gates of hell". And don't worry, this isn't some cheesy "Captain Planet" kind of oneness. It's meant to be a portrayal of the power God wants to unleash through His body, the church, to release the captives, and vanquish the evil in this world.

How does my work differ from others in it's genre?
I'm honestly not sure how to answer this question. I don't pretend to think that a story like this has never been done before. And I know several other speculative authors who strive to weave spiritual truth into their stories. So the type of book I am writing is not uncommon. But the Lord gave this  story to me, to be told in my voice, with my heart. So, at the risk of sounding arrogant, what makes my work different is the fact that it's mine. :)

Why do I write what I do? 
One of the reasons I love speculative fiction is because there is so much room to share spiritual truth- to write a powerful allegory- and have it be an amazing journey at the same time. When I read Ted Dekker's Circle Trilogy (Black, Red, & White)- it changed how I looked at speculative fiction. It was a great story. But it was so much more than just a story. It was truth! It was amazing, powerful, redemptive truth. And I thought, "I want to write like that. I want to tell a story filled with the truth of God's word in a way that will impact people long after the last page."
The other reason I write what I do is because God has called me to it. Some may consider that a "cop out" or an easy answer, but it's true. He continues to write this story through me. I hesitate to even call it "my book" because it's not. It's His.

How does your writing process work? 
Um, not well. Haha! Seriously. I am a total pantster (for those non-writerly types who may be reading this, being a 'pantster' means I write by the seat of my pants). I will get a scene in my mind, write it down, take it as far as it goes, and stop. Again. And again. And again. You see the problem, of course. I end up with a bunch of  "brilliant!" scenes which have no context, no depth, and no flow. So this girl is retraining herself to plot. Because random, "brilliant!" scenes tied loosely together do not a solid story make. Plot. Plot all the things! Haha!
I'm learning a lot from fellow authors who are wiser than I am, and always looking for a good writing craft book. I am also working hard at character building. You can sometimes get away with a plot-driven story, but not in speculative fiction.

Well- I hope you've enjoyed this little window into my writing world. :) I now invite you to:

Skip! On over to the blog of a fellow writer and friend. Martha Artyomenko is homeschooling mom and one of my heroes, who still makes time to write while raising 4 boys. :)

And please, do also Jump! To the blog of Nicole Deese- one of my favorite contemporary romance authors! If you haven't yet read her Letting Go series you are seriously missing out.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Dear Mr. Knightley

Let me begin by saying I had a lot of expectations about this book. I had heard nothing but good things about it from my friends. I expected that Katherine would reference Emma, at least, if not other works of Jane Austen. I expected it to be lighthearted and fun. I expected it to be romantic (duh!) and entertaining. 
I purchased this book for my Kindle, and I actually forgot about it. I know, I know. I heard the collective gasp and cries of "how could you?"  Well, it's easier than you think. My life has been crazy for the last few weeks, and browsing my Kindle for something to read wasn't exactly high up on the 'To Do' list. Fast forward to Sunday. The weekend had been brutal, I wasn't feeling well, and I needed a distraction. Time to blow the figurative dust off the Kindle, I thought. And lo and behold, what did I find waiting just for me but Katherine Reay's book. I finished it this afternoon. I know what you're wondering. Will I now say that Dear Mr. Knightley met my expectations? Yes. And no. 

This book was everything I expected/wanted/hoped it to be. I am an Austen fan. I have read all of her novels, and I hold several of the film adaptations very close to my heart. I also enjoy Jane Eyre, Anne of Green Gables, and have seen the movie The Count of Monte Cristo. Why does this matter? Because it matters to Sam. Or, Samantha, if you prefer. Sam's "friends" - these characters- were already my "friends" too. I connected with her instantly on those grounds alone. But it goes deeper. Sam wants to be a writer. It's her dream. She "wants it so bad she can taste it." I can relate to that. 
Sam doesn't know how to let people in. The circumstances of her life have trained her to cope- to hide behind her walls. Granted, Sam's childhood was much more difficult than mine, and her journey couldn't be more different. But her thoughts/struggles/feelings are the same. And I start to wonder if maybe Katherine was following me around and taking notes for her character development. 

Here comes the No-
It went beyond my expectations. This book was MORE. I don't know what other word to use. 
It wasn't just a romp through the life of your average college student, who wittily quotes Jane Austen to her friends, and one day manages to stumble into the "perfect" Austen hero, fall madly in love, the end. 
I didn't expect to think. It sounds horrible, but part of me assumed this book would be a "no-brainer." I was wrong. With every letter, Sam unearths a new truth about herself. Sometimes, it's painful. And in those moments, I would wonder, "are we the same?" 
As the reader, you get the raw, unfiltered story, just like Mr. Knightley. And in a way, Sam baring her soul forces you to do the same. It also forces you to care. A lot. You invest in the characters- in the story. 
I'm always happy when a book surprises me. And Dear Mr. Knightley was such a book. I highly recommend it- especially of you are an Austen fan- but you don't have to be. This book has a story to tell to each of us. I challenge you to read it and see if it doesn't cause some introspection in your own life.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Raspberries and Vinegar

My parents have talked about living off the grid quite a bit. We do our best to eat fresh food.  
Could we do better? Yep. 
Do I still go out and eat the occasional fast food burger? You bet.
Do I believe you are going straight to the bad place downstairs if you don't grow your own food? Um, that would be a no (and I'm pretty sure Valerie doesn't, either). 
Why am I asking these questions? Because. I am about to share a book with you that I enjoyed very, very much. But I must warn you that it may change how you feel about what you eat. And I mean that in the best possible way. :) 

This book delivers exactly what it promises on the front cover. It's about a farm. It's fresh. And it's a romance.

It's about a farm.

But this isn't just any farm. It's a back to nature, make your own compost, heritage seeds only, as-organic-as-you-can-get farm. Jo and her buddies Sierra and Claire are serious about changing the way we as a culture look at food. They're passionate about being good stewards of the earth, and as a result, taking care of the human body in the process. Move over, Super One- Green Acres has come to town!

It's fresh.

I could compare reading this book to eating a crunchy, home grown, leafy green salad. It's just plain good! I have never read a book like this before, and I believe Valerie's voice has definitely been missing in the Christian fiction market. Valerie's characters have minds of their own. They're snarky. They have dreams. They have "issues". And in the end, they come to a point of asking, as we all must, "Who's plan am I following? Am I doing what I want, or am I doing what God wants?"

It's a romance.

Yep. No denying the chemistry between Jo & Zach drives this story. But it's also about the love of the land. The love of the simple life- and the simple things in life. It's about loving those near to you while you still have time. It's about loving another person, even if you will never see eye to eye with them. And most of all, it's about loving God, and desiring to follow Him no matter where it might take you.

Can this book be confrontational? Yes.
Will it challenge the way you as a reader look at the food on your plate? Yes.
That's kind of the point.
 Raspberries and Vinegar will stick with you long after you finish reading it. And, just like that fresh salad, you will be wanting more.
Want to know more about Valerie?

Monday, December 23, 2013

2013- 12 Days of Fiction: DAY 1!

The Secret Keeper by Sandra Byrd

Here it is, friends! The moment we've all been waiting for- my top pick in fiction for 2013. 
I hesitated to pick up Sandra's books for a long time. I mean, the covers are obviously really rich and exquisite. Reader eye candy, if you will. I can't tell you how many times I picked this book up off the shelf and put it back. 
Henry VIII is a notorious 'womanizer' - and this book centered around the women in his court. Was it possible to tackle such an amorous subject and still keep the content clean enough for a sensitive reader like me? 
One day, while once again studying Sandra's beautiful book sitting on the shelf of the bookstore, one of the employees walked up to me and said, "Why don't you review that book for us?" 
Needless to say I was more than willing to help out! 

And...I have never been more thankful to be proven wrong. These books are written from the perspective of hand maidens to the queen(s) of Henry VIII. Instead of using them as a way to tell a sizzling romance from a different perspective, we get a unique and beautiful look into the lives of the queens themselves. Their joys, heartaches, and triumphs are shared from the caring heart of someone close to them. 

I chose to feature Secret Keeper because I connected with this book deeply. I love to read, so of course, I read often. But it's rare that a book actually moves me to tears. Juliana and her story became my own. I don't want to give the end away, but in all honesty the end of this book is the main reason Keeper has my number 1 spot. The end is beautiful. It's everything you would hope for. 
But it was more than that to me. It was a reminder of the perfect love of Jesus. I wept because I saw myself, forsaken and alone, without a friend. I had nowhere else to go, no one to turn to. And in the moment of my deepest despair, He came, pulled me out of my darkness, claimed me as His own, and rescued me. And that, my friends, is a truly beautiful thing.
So, there you have it! I hope you have enjoyed this year's countdown, and found some new authors to add to your bookshelf! 

I highly recommend all of the books in the Ladies In Waiting series (which can also be read as stand-alones).

Back Cover: 
The author of To Die For returns to the court of Henry VIII as a young woman is caught between love and honor. 
 Juliana St. John is the daughter of a prosperous knight. Though her family wants her to marry the son of her father's business partner, circumstances set her on a course toward the court of Henry VIII and his last wife, Kateryn Parr.
     Sir Thomas Seymour, uncle of the current heir, Prince Edward, returns to Wiltshire to tie up his concerns with Juliana's father's estate and sees instantly that Juliana would fit into the household of the woman he loves, Kateryn Parr. Her mother agrees to have her placed in Parr's household for "finishing" and Juliana goes, though perhaps reluctantly.
     For she knows a secret. She has been given the gift of prophecy, and in one of her visions she has seen Sir Thomas shredding the dress of the king's daughter, the lady Elizabeth, to perilous consequence.
    As Juliana learns the secrets of King Henry VIII's court, she faces threats and opposition, learning truths about her own life that will undo everything she holds dear.