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Death in the English Countryside (Murder on Location #1)Death in the English Countryside by Sara Rosett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Finally, another cozy mystery series I can enjoy! I fell in love with the characters early on, there was lots of mystery to the plot, the English countryside wooed me into the story, and the writing flowed. I could see this story in my mind as I read.

Kate Sharp travels from L.A. to Nether Woodsmoor to look for her boss, who is MIA on a mission to scout for homes and estates as locations for a new Pride & Prejudice filming. There she meets Alex, a local scout who helps her look for her boss. That goal isn’t easily reached, as they discover secrets around every corner, hiding the truth they are seeking.

An excellent read, in fact, I’ve ordered the next book in the Murder on Location series, Death in an English Cottage. Besides the six other novels in the series, plus a novella, author Sara Rosett has written six novels in her On the Run series, and about a dozen other cozy mysteries. Read on! Lots to choose from.

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Facing My Mortality

My last remaining aunt passed away yesterday (at the time of this writing). She was my mom’s youngest sister at 88, but her health wasn’t good. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it always is. This passing. This finality.

The past few years have reduced the family generation above me to nothing. My dad’s been gone for twenty-five years, and even though he came from a large family, all his siblings and their spouses are also deceased.

Marg – Mom (2), Erna (5), Mary (1) Beth (4), Kay (3)

My mom was the second-born of five. The eldest passed a number of years before Mom, the third in line was next, but Mom carried on quite happily until her 95thyear. She passed beginning of November 2017, then her next youngest sister went in December, and her youngest sib left us this January.

And that’s it. The older generation is no more.

My brother and I spoke of this recently. “Everybody’s dying,” he said. I agreed, and added that our generation is next in line. It’s a sobering thought.

Aging is a process best understood, unfortunately, when our time is nearly up! Most of us find a comfortable age and continue to “live there” as long as our bodies allow us to deceive ourselves. Suddenly we are old, and have no idea how it happened.

There are several ways to handle this issue of mortality:

— ignore it…but it won’t go away

— embrace it…but you will age more quickly (I aged a lot when Mom lived with us her last year)

— gain a balanced perspective…we were not made for this world only

To further explain the third option, this life is short, and for many people on this earth, very difficult. I’ve been blessed with love and “more-than-enough” my whole life, and yet I can find things to complain about. But the point is, this life is only a training ground, a weeding out, if you will, for eternity.

Three generations: daughter Wendy, me, Mom

We were made for Eden, but we goofed it up big-time. Then the One who created us had mercy and took our punishment for our sin by sending His only Son—that’s Jesus—so we could be free from the penalty for our failure. And now, IF we accept His unmerited gift of grace, we can look forward to eternity in heaven as a reward for accepting mercy. How cool is that?

Yes, the journey may be unfamiliar, even frightening, but the destination will be worth it all.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes.

There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain,

for the old order of things has passed away.”

Revelation 21:4

I met Ann-Margret Hovsepian at the InScribe Christian Writer’s Conference in 2018, where she was the keynote speaker. We immediately felt a friendship and camaraderie, so I asked her for an interview for my blog.

Ann-Margret Hovsepian

Jan: How long have you been writing and how did you come to it?

Ann-Margret: I’ve been writing for publication for over 25 years, but that was never my childhood aspiration, even though the clues were there. Ever since I learned the alphabet, I’ve had an irrepressible affinity for the written word and, although I’m Armenian, the English language. My parents often found me poring over a dictionary or encyclopedia, or amusing myself with word puzzle magazines or my older sister’s English exercise books. In elementary school, I made good use of my parents’ old manual typewriter and every scrap of blank paper I could find to produce one-of-a-kind family newsletters complete with articles, jokes, illustrations and puzzles. However, I also loved science, so I studied chemistry in college for a few years before it dawned on me I was in the wrong field.

When I was 20, I started working for Home Builder Magazine and, within four years, went from typesetting and proofreading to managing the editorial department, copy editing and copy writing. At that point, I decided to quit my job and launch out on my own, and have been freelancing since then. I am drawn to writing because I want to share good news with people and that’s one of the tools I’m skilled at using. For me, writing is the means to an end, not the end itself.

Jan: Who are some of the people who most influenced your decision to write?

Ann-Margret: My father saw the gift in me before I took writing seriously and he’s always encouraged me to write—not necessarily to showcase my talent but to share what God puts on my heart. He’s a pastor so he has always seen a deeper purpose for my writing. I’ve also had many editors and writers affirm my talents and that has helped me stay the course even when I’ve struggled with self-doubt.

Jan: What’s your preferred genre and why do you write?

Ann-Margret: Definitely non-fiction. I love reading fiction but do not feel drawn to write it. Again, writing is a tool for me. My real passion is communicating God’s love and truth to people, encouraging them and bringing them joy, and writing is an effective way for me to do that.

Jan: How and where do you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Ann-Margret: I have to confess that I’m all over the place with my writing, even after 25 years of doing it professionally. My approach depends on the project, and mine have been varied. Some require more preparation than others, and for some I’ll handwrite notes first while for others I’ll just sit at my computer and start writing.

Jan: Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?

Ann-Margret: Everything inspires me! Nature, books I read, conversations I overhear, smells, sounds, memories, songs, mistakes I make, people I meet, etc. I carry a little notebook around with me to jot down ideas. I don’t always use them but it’s a practice that helps me pay more attention to details around me.

Jan: How do you research and how do you know you can trust your sources?

Ann-Margret: Again, it depends on the project. I love interviewing people and hearing their stories or insights. I generally interview people I already know or people I’ve been asked by editors to interview. I will occasionally ask friends for suggestions. Of course, I do research online as well but I try to be diligent about fact-checking and tend to stick to reputable sources.

Jan: What do you like most / least about writing?

Ann-Margret: What I like most is the opportunity to touch people’s lives—to inspire and encourage them, or to share important information with them, to nudge them closer to God. It gives me a thrill when they respond and let me know my article or book had the desired effect.

What I like least is all the hard work! The lack of inspiration at times, the fear, the rewrites, the brain drain when the sentences start to sound like an alien language but I need to keep pushing through. It can be discouraging at times.

Jan: What are some of the best methods of promoting your work?

Ann-Margret: My best forum for communicating with a wide audience and letting them know about my writing has been Facebook (my business page). Since all my books have been published by traditional houses, however, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to have them promote my work. Word of mouth has been great, as well as simply being involved in various areas of ministry and getting to know lots of people.

Jan: What are your favorite / most effective social media?

Ann-Margret: Facebook and Instagram, but mostly Facebook because there is so much more space for writing longs posts and easily commenting back and forth with people following my page.

Jan: How do you balance professional time with personal time?

Ann-Margret: I’m not sure I do! It can change from week to week or month to month depending on how many deadlines I’m juggling. Sometimes I do very little writing for long stretches and other times I’m writing well into the wee hours of the night just to get it all done. As a freelancer who works in my own home and lives alone, this is manageable. I think I probably thrive on the variety. I’m fairly disciplined when it comes to working hard and meeting deadlines, so I like being a bit less structured when it comes to managing my schedule.

Jan: What are you currently reading? Do you prefer digital or print?

Ann-Margret: It’s not unusual for me to be in the middle of two or three books at the same time. I recently starting reading Becoming Mrs. Lewis and Praying with Jane. I have a couple dozen books in my Kindle library but I really, really don’t like reading from a screen unless I have to. It can be practical when traveling but it’s basically print for me.

Jan: What are some of your favorite things? What makes you unique?

Ann-Margret: I think I collect favourite things. I have so many! The colour red, snowflakes, meringue, Calvin & Hobbes, quilts, vintage suitcases, gerbera daisies, polka dots, gingham, fireworks, peppermint tea, anything Narnia, anything Jane Austen, calligraphy, key lime pie…! Maybe that’s what makes me unique. I am delighted by many things. I’m curious and creative and find it impossible to be bored.

Jan: What keeps you going in your writing career?

Ann-Margret: First of all, the Lord’s strength and help. And then it’s the people around me: the ones who pray for me, the ones who read my work and ask for more, the ones who publish it. For me, my writing has very little to do with me. It’s not a hobby or something that I necessarily enjoy doing. My writing is all about my readers.

Jan: How is your faith reflected in your writing?

Ann-Margret: Especially in the last several years, just about everything I write is a reflection of my faith as I write almost exclusively for Christian publications. And that is the goal of my writing anyway—to share my faith and to help others know God more through my work.

Jan: What are some things you learned from your own writing?

Ann-Margret: I’ve learned things about the world around me as I’ve interviewed people and shared their stories, but I’ve also learned a lot about myself and God as I’ve worked on devotionals or feature stories on difficult topics. I’ve learned to be more open-minded and attentive. And, as I’ve worked on thousands of rewrites and revisions, I think I’ve learned just a little bit about humility!

Jan: What is your ultimate writing goal?

Ann-Margret: To be faithful and obedient in whatever opportunities God gives me to connect with readers, and to be truthful in everything I write. I no longer have any measurable goals regarding how many books I write or sell or how much money I make.

Jan: Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Ann-Margret: As far as the craft of writing goes, my advice is to balance confidence with humility. You need confidence and courage to put your thoughts on paper but you also need humility to be open to direction and correction. Talent is important but it’s not enough. A major part of my success in being published comes down to my willingness to listen to and work with editors.

In terms of the business of writing, I always tell novice writers to be willing to invest in their careers, not only time and energy but also resources. Choose a writers’ conference that is right for you, making sure it’s one with good networking opportunities, and save up for it if you have to. Nothing beats meeting the editors and publishers who want to publish what you are writing.

Jan: Thanks, Ann-Margret, for your willingness to share with us on my blog. I hope to meet you in person again soon.

Readers, please check Ann-Margret’s Facebook page, blogsite, LinkedIn.

 

January 2019 New Releases

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.

Amish Romance:

Seasons of an Amish Garden by Amy Clipston — Enjoy a year of beautiful seasons in this new story collection, as young Amish couples manage a community garden and harvest friendships and love along the way. (Amish Romance from HarperCollins Christian Publishing)

Courting Her Prodigal Heart by Mary Davis — Pregnant and alone, Dori Bontrager is sure her Amish kin won’t welcome her—or the child she’s carrying—into the community. And she’s determined that her return won’t be permanent. As soon as she finds work, she’ll leave again. But with her childhood friend Eli Hochstetler insisting she and her baby belong here, will Dori’s path lead back to the Englisher world…or into Eli’s arms? (Amish Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Contemporary Romance:

Her Hope Discovered by Cynthia Herron — Charla Winthrop, a savvy business woman seeking a permanent lifestyle change in small-town Ruby, Missouri, learns that things aren’t always what they appear when she takes up residence in a house steeped in charm and a hint of mystery. Rumor has it that Sam Packard the town carpenter is her go-to guy for home remodeling, but can Charla convince him to help her—with no strings attached, of course? Alone far too long, Sam’s prayed that God would send him a wife and a mother for his daughters. However, the new Ruby resident is hardly what he imagined. A new place to call “home,” the possibility of what might be, and the answer to someone’s prayers unite this unlikely pair with the help of the town’s residents. (Contemporary Romance from Mountain Brook Ink)

Cozy Mystery:

Murderous Heart by Lynne Waite Chapman — Freelance writer, Lauren Halloren pens popular magazine articles extoling the comfort and security of small town America. And Evelynton, Indiana treasures its wholesome small town values. Ask anyone. Streets are safe to walk. People look out for one another. Marriage vows are treasured. Murders are solved. In this third volume of the Evelynton Murder series, Lauren, along with friends, Clair and Anita stumble over another body. The partially mummified remains turn out to be an Evelynton resident. But how, in this close knit community, could a woman be deceased for over six months without being missed? (Cozy Mystery from Winged Publications)

Historical Romance:

My Heart Belongs in the Blue Ridge: Laurel’s Dream by Pepper Basham — Journey into the Blue Ridge Mountains of 1918 where Laurel McAdams endures the challenges of a hard life while dreaming things can eventually improve. But trouble arrives in the form of an outsider. Having failed his British father again, Jonathan Taylor joins is uncle’s missionary endeavors as a teacher in a two-room schoolhouse. Laurel feels compelled to protect the tenderhearted teacher from the harsh realities of Appalachian life, even while his stories of life outside the mountains pull at Laurel’s imagination. Faced with angry parents over teaching methods, Laurel’s father’s drunken rages, and bad news from England, will Jonathan leave and never return, or will he stay and let love bloom? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

The Homeward Journey by Misty M. Beller — Finally free from her dead husband’s addicted lifestyle, Rachel Gray and her young son set out for a new life in the wilderness of the Canadian territories. She is reluctant to accept help from another man, but after a bear threatens her son’s life, she agrees to accompany two God-fearing brothers who are traveling to the same area. Slowly, she begins to trust the one named Seth. Despite Rachel’s best efforts, she can’t seem to fight her attraction to Seth—until a secret from his past proves he had more in common with her husband than she thought. When a new peril threatens her son’s life, she must choose between trusting in what she can control, or the man who her heart says is trustworthy, no matter his previous sins. The path she chooses just may determine whether she can step into the new life God has in store for them all. (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

Stepping into the Light by Candee Fick — With war looming and a madwoman in their midst, the only hope for a peaceful future may lie in a marriage alliance between a disfigured recluse of the Gunn clan and the overlooked second son of Clan Sinclair. (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

Under the Midnight Sun by Tracie Peterson and Kimberley Woodhouse — Tayler Hale is ahead of her time as one of the first women naturalists. She has always loved adventure and the great outdoors, and her remote job location also helps keep her away from the clutches of the man to whom she once made a foolish promise. It seems she must keep running, however, and in secret, her boss from Yellowstone arranges for a new job . . . in Alaska. The popular Curry Hotel continues to thrive in 1929 as more visitors come to Alaska and venture into the massive national park surrounding Denali. Recent graduate Thomas Smith has returned to the hotel and the people he considers family. But when a woman naturalist comes to fill the open position and he must work with her, everything becomes complicated. The summer brings unexpected guests and trouble to Curry. With his reputation at stake, will Thomas be able to protect Tayler from the danger that follows? (Historical Romance from Bethany House [Baker])

Devotion by Olivia Rae — Injured and unable to make his living by the sword, Sir Theo de Born needs to secure his keep by becoming an educated man. As he finds himself falling for his reluctant teacher, he learns of her plan to leave England before the winter sets in. How can he convince her to stay and fulfill her promise while protecting his heart? Denied her true love and sent away to a convent, Lady Rose de Payne has no choice but to accept to become Sir Theo’s teacher. However, she has a plan to escape the confines of her new prison and start fresh in a different country. As the chilly winds blow, her resolve begins to waver. Will she abandon Sir Theo to a miserable fate or will she give up her dreams to make his come true? (Historical Romance from HopeKnight Press)

(Spoiler alert)

Every once in a while, I pull away from my genre fiction and read something literary. It’s a challenge, because I avoid dystopic stories if I can help it. The world is in enough trouble without pretending it’s worse. That’s my take.

I picked up All the Light We Cannot See at the local thrift store for $2 and started in on it. I will admit it took me weeks to finish; I kept putting it down and reading something easier. But the story pulled me back in every time I picked it up.

In a nutshell, it’s about a blind girl, Marie-Laure, and her father from Paris who go to live with his brother in a place called Saint-Malo during the war. Marie-Laure’s father, who works in a museum, carries with him a precious jewel that some people say is a curse. As long as the carrier keeps it, he or she will not die, but their loved ones will find trouble/death.

The other main character is Werner, who with his sister, Jutta, are orphans in Germany. Because of his innate skill with radios, Werner is enrolled in a Nazi technical school and eventually uses his training in locating hidden radios.

The story follows these two characters and those in their lives throughout the war, a dismal and dangerous existence. Chapters alternate between the two stories, and inevitably, they link for the space of a day or two.

This story is gripping, well-written, tight and moving, but not happily-ever-after. The problem I have with reading over 500 pages, only to have one of the characters blown up in one sentence, near the end, is one of great frustration and sadness. Do I wish I’d never read it? Possibly. It’s haunting, and that can be painful. But perhaps the reminder of what people experience in war and how it changes them—for better or for worse—is necessary from time to time.

This is a highly acclaimed book, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, so if that is incentive enough, give it a read.

I started reading the book of Matthew on January 1, using the theme: with new eyes. I want to see God’s Word in a fresh way in 2019.

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Matthew 11:3 features John the Baptist’s question to Jesus: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” John had obeyed God, and was now sitting in a cold, dank jail cell, his earthly future bleak. Perhaps—and I’m speculating here—he’d expected something entirely different from the Messiah he had prophesied about. The Jewish traditions handed down through the centuries may have created another expectation in his mind.

Jesus’ reply to John’s messengers (verses 4-6) was curt. “Go back and report to John what you hear and see…Blessed is the man who does not fall away because of me.”

As I read the first few verses of chapter eleven, I was reminded of a podcast my husband and I listened to recently by Ron Hutchcraft. The idea was that if we live life with expectation, we sometimes miss the freshness of a brand-new message. But, if we live with expectancy, we can be open to God’s surprises.

How often do my limited expectations get in the way of experiencing the newness of living in God’s Kingdom? If I live in expectancy, I am watching for whatever God has in his creative mind.

So, one of my goals this year is to live in expectancy of all God has for me, in all areas of my life. That’s definitely more exciting than my own expectations.

This morning I sat down at the piano and decided to play through the Christmas section of our hymnal, since my old Christmas piano books seem to have disappeared. The words of a particular advent hymn resonated with me.

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O How Shall I Receive Thee?

(Melchior Teschner [1584-1635]; Paul Gerhardt, trans. by Arthur T. Russel)

Verse one:

O how shall I receive Thee, how greet Thee, Lord aright?

All nations long to see Thee, my hope, my heart’s delight!

O kindle, Lord, most holy, Thy lamp within my breast,

To do in spirit lowly all that may please Thee best.

 

 

Verse four:

Love caused Thy Incarnation, love brought Thee down to me;

Thy thirst for my salvation procured my liberty.

O love, beyond all telling, that led Thee to embrace

In love, all love excelling, our lost and fallen race!

 

How beautiful and all-encompassing is the love of our God in Christ Jesus, our Lord! May thoughts of Him increase your joy this Christmas season.

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