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Oh yay! Another cozy mystery series.

I purchased this book because of a review by fellow author, Janet Sketchley, and I’m glad I did. It’s the story of Nicole Fitzhenry-Dawes who finds herself in a quaint Northern Michigan town as new owner of a maple syrup business. Nicole is a lawyer, but she’s not happy about it. Her parents, also lawyers, demand perfection, and she is far from perfect. In fact, she’s klutzy. I love that about her. She’s a big city girl in a small town, trying to figure out who murdered her favorite uncle, the only one who ever understood her or took time for her.

The mood of the book is lightened by humor, but the plot is intense, as cozy mysteries go, and carries the reader on to the very end when the mystery is finally solved.

One of the best things about this book/series is that it’s a clean read. Thanks, Emily James. I look forward to the next books in this series.

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January 2018 New Releases

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

Contemporary Romance:

Her Handyman Hero by Lorraine Beatty — Reid Blackthorn arrives in Dover on a personal mission—to make sure his terminally ill brother gets a chance to meet his daughter. Deceiving little Lily’s guardian isn’t his intention. Yet once Tori Montgomery mistakes Reid for her new handyman, he knows it’s the only way to be close to his niece. Tori is honoring her friend’s last wish by keeping Lily away from her father’s family. And once she learns who Reid truly is, she realizes there’s too much at stake—including custody of Lily—for her to fall for the former DEA agent. But in keeping a promise, is she losing out on her chance for a happily-ever-after? (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Beneath the Summer Sun by Kelly Irvin — It’s been four years since Jennie’s husband died in a farming accident. Long enough that the elders in her Amish community think it’s time to marry again for the sake of her seven children. What they don’t know is that grief isn’t holding her back from a new relationship. Fear is. A terrible secret in her past keeps her from moving forward. Meanwhile, Leo Graber nurtures a decades-long love for Jennie, but guilt plagues him—guilt for letting Jennie marry someone else and guilt for his father’s death on a hunting trip many years ago. How could anyone love him again—and how could he ever take a chance to love in return? (Contemporary Romance from HarperCollins Christian Publishing)

Ain’t Misbehaving by Marji Laine — True, Annalee’s crime amounted to very little, but not in terms of community service hours. Her probation officer encouraged her with a promise of an easy job in an air-conditioned downtown environment. She didn’t expect her role to be little better than a janitor at an after-school daycare in the worst area of town. Carlton Whelen hides behind the nickname of CJ so people won’t treat him like the wealthy son of the Whelen Foundation director. Working at the foundation’s after-school program delights him and annoys his business-oriented father. When a gorgeous prima donna is assigned to his team, he not only cringes at her mistakes but also has to avoid the attraction that builds from the first time he sees her. (Contemporary Romance from Write Integrity Press)

Finding Grace by Melanie D. Snitker — Single dad Tyler Martin can’t be more grateful to the woman who finds his missing daughter. Even though he feels a spark between them, falling in love is a risk he shouldn’t take. Too bad chance encounters and his stubborn heart keep trying to convince him otherwise. After escaping a nightmarish relationship, Beth Davenport is content with her safe and blessedly normal life. Yet something about Tyler and his adorable daughter makes her wish for more. With the walls around her heart finally starting to crumble, she’s afraid of a future she can’t predict. Can they let go of their fear and trust God to lead them to the love they desperately need? (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

Marrying Mandy by Melanie D. Snitker — Mandy Hudson swore she’d never marry. Abandoned by her parents and raised by her grandparents, she has a hard time trusting that real love will last. When her grandmother dies, Mandy’s shocked to discover a stipulation in the will. Considering marriage to her best friend may be the only way to keep her family’s beloved bed-and-breakfast. The loss of his job threatens Preston Yarrow’s shaky financial stability. Besides, he can’t watch his best friend give up the only real home she’s ever known. Frustrated by Mandy’s stubborn refusal to let him help, he’s certain they are stronger together than they are apart. A marriage of convenience might be crazy… or an answer to both their prayers. (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

Historical:

Son of Promise by Caryl McAdoo — Can a wife find the grace to forgive when her husband’s withheld the truth? Travis Buckmeyer has a secret son, and the morning’s come to tell his sweet wife. He hates breaking Emma Lee’s heart. She promised him one ten years ago, but hasn’t been blessed to carry a baby to term. Every miscarriage made the telling harder, but now his clock’s run out. He’s going for his son, praying he won’t lose her.
Cody knows who his mother claims his father is, but he’s only interested in getting sprung from reform school then boosting enough from the do-gooder to bust out on his own.
Can Travis find redemption, Emma Lee forgiveness, or Cody the love he’s been longing for? (Historical, Independently Published)

Historical Romance:

Hearts Entwined by Mary Connealy, Melissa Jagears, Regina Jennings, and Karen Witemeyer — Four top historical romance novelists team up in this new collection to offer stories of love and romance with a twist of humor. In Karen Witemeyer’s “The Love Knot,” Claire Nevin gets the surprise of her life awaiting her sister’s arrival by train. Mary Connealy’s “The Tangled Ties That Bind” offers the story of two former best friends who are reunited while escaping a stampede. Regina Jennings offers “Bound and Determined,” where a most unusual trip across barren Oklahoma plains is filled with adventure, romance, and . . . camels? And Melissa Jagears’ “Tied and True” entertains with a tale of two hearts from different social classes who become entwined at a cotton thread factory. (Historical Romance from Bethany House [Baker])



A Bouquet of Brides Collection by Mary Davis, Kathleen E. Kovach, Paula Moldenhauer, Suzanne Norquist, Donita Kathleen Paul, Donna Schlachter, and Pegg Thomas — For seven bachelors, this bouquet of brides means a happily ever after. Meet seven American women who were named for various flowers but struggle to bloom where God planted them. Can love help them grow to their full potential? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)



A Mother For His Family by Susanne Dietze
Lady Helena Stanhope’s reputation is in tatters…and she’s lost any hope for a “respectable” ton marriage. An arranged union is the only solution. But once Helena weds formidable Scottish widower John Gordon, Lord Ardoch, and encounters his four mischievous children, she’s determined to help her new, ever-surprising family. Even if she’s sure love is too much to ask for.
All John needs is someone to mother his admittedly unruly brood. He never imagined that beautiful Lady Helena would be a woman of irresistible spirit, caring and warmth. Or that facing down their pasts would give them so much in common. Now, as danger threatens, John will do whatever it takes to convince Helena their future together—and his love—are for always. (Historical Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])



His Forgotten Fiancee by Evelyn M. Hill — Liza Fitzpatrick is stunned when her fiancé finally arrives in Oregon City — with amnesia. Matthew Dean refuses to honor a marriage proposal he doesn’t recall making, but Liza needs his help now to bring in the harvest, and maybe she can help him remember… Matthew is attracted to the spirited Liza, and as she tries to help him regain his old memories, the new ones they’re creating together start to make him feel whole. Even as he falls for her again, though, someone’s determined to keep them apart. Will his memory return in time to save their future? (Historical Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])



A Song Unheard by Roseanna M. White — Willa Forsythe is both a violin prodigy and top-notch thief, which makes her the perfect choice for a critical task at the outset of World War I–to secure a crucial cypher key from a famous violinist currently in Wales. Lukas De Wilde has enjoyed the life of fame he’s won–until now, when being recognized nearly gets him killed. Everyone wants the key to his father’s work as a cryptologist. And Lukas fears that his mother and sister, who have vanished in the wake of the German invasion of Belgium, will pay the price. The only distraction he finds from his worry is in meeting the intriguing and talented Willa Forsythe. But danger presses in from every side, and Willa knows what Lukas doesn’t–that she must betray him and find that key, or her own family could pay the same price his surely has. (Historical Romance from Bethany House [Baker])

Mystery:

Surgeon’s Choice by Richard L. Mabry, MD — Dr. Ben Merrick thought his biggest problem was getting his fiancé’s divorced parents into the same room for the wedding–and then, people started dying. (Mystery, Independently Published through White Glove)

Romantic Suspense:

Innocent Lies by Robin Patchen — Desperate to be safe from the man who held her captive and ruined her life, Kelsey must ensure her child is protected before she can take her enemy on. But a string of bad luck gets her arrested and lands her face-to-face with the only man she’s ever loved—the only man who can destroy all her plans. (Romantic Suspense, Independently Published)

Cold Truth by Susan Sleeman — When research chemist Kiera Underwood receives the cryptic phone call about her twin brother, she tries to contact him to no avail. Her twin sense tingles, warning her that something is wrong. Kiera’s not prepared when an attempt is made on her life and Blackwell Tactical operative Cooper Ashcroft delivers her second shock of the day. Someone killed the supervisor at the research lab where her brother works and stole a deadly biotoxin. The main suspect? Her brother, and Blackwell Tactical has been hired to bring him in. If that wasn’t shocking enough, she’s suspected of colluding with him. Setting out to prove herself and her brother is innocent, she is almost abducted before Ashcroft rescues her. He’s faced with the reality that she’s telling the truth and someone has likely abducted her brother—perhaps killed him—and now Kiera’s very life is in danger, too. (Romantic Suspense, Independently Published)

Revisiting Christmas…

One of the highlights of our Christmas season is a visit to our kids in Gem, Alberta, in time for their school Christmas program. Over the years of our grandchildren’s attendance at the school, we’ve managed to take in several of these.

Gem School is a very small rural school, just over twenty students of varied backgrounds. They are divided into two classrooms: grades 1 – 3 with one teacher, and grades 4-6 with another. There is also an educational assistant employed a couple of days a week, and a half-time secretary who doubles as the music teacher. Parents are encouraged to volunteer for various events or to just help out in the classroom. Class pairing—matching students from the first class with students from the second for reading—has been a great success.

When we were at the Gem School program this year (December 2017), we met the new first-classroom teacher, as well as her husband. He told us that as a behavioral consultant for the district, he doesn’t get called to Gem because they don’t need his services. They handle their own issues as a community, as a family.

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Beginning in November, teaching of regular curriculum in Gem School is set to simmer on a side-burner as practices begin for the Christmas program. Each classroom puts on a skit. For many years, these skits have been written by a now-retired teacher and her husband. Many of the jokes relate specifically to certain students or teachers, or even the director of education for the district. Everyone finds them very entertaining.

Students who take music lessons play their instruments in between scenes, and smaller groups sing Christmas songs. The grand finale is a black-light show based on the song: Do You Hear What I Hear? The students do an excellent job of this wonderful production.

Why is this annual Christmas presentation so important? What do the kids learn that makes the time spent so valuable? Here are a few of my observations:

The children:

  1. learn to work together to put on the show
  2. develop self-esteem as they play their parts and sing their songs
  3. learn public speaking skills, including the use of clear and audible voice projection. I could hear every spoken word, even at the back of the long, narrow hall. After this year’s performance, I heard people talking about the boy who never speaks. But he did speak his one- or two-word parts loudly and clearly. Truly a success story.
  4. find out how to work the audience with in-house jokes, humour, and enthusiasm
  5. gain basic play production knowledge: acting skills, acceptable backstage behaviour, onstage movement, positioning of props, presentation of the black-light display
  6. learn to support and encourage each other
  7. strengthen their memorization skills, although it’s not the end of the world if someone forgets a line and needs a cue (this is rare)
  8. learn to adapt when things don’t go exactly as planned, and to enjoy themselves as they learn
  9. develop musical skills
  10. come to appreciate a sense of community within the group
  11. become involved in helping to build props and sew costumes
  12. get to earn a reward, besides the sense of accomplishment. (The day after the program, the Gem School has Pajama Day, where the students all come to school in pajamas, watch the recorded show, and play games.)

During the program, parents and community volunteers take care of lighting, recording, props, and student control. After the program, the students move through the audience talking with people and handing out Christmas oranges. They are obviously pleased with their accomplishments, as well they should be.

One of the welcome aspects of this small school program is the freedom to include a nativity scene in the black-light display. Even though an active debate continues to swirl around the place of religion in schools, I personally am thankful we can preserve the true meaning of Christmas—the birth of Jesus Christ—in the school in Gem. I know this may not be possible forever, but I hope and pray it will be sustained as long as possible.

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I know this phrase has been used before, but I’ll borrow it for the Gem School: They truly have the best Christmas pageant ever! Kudos to all those involved in this production, especially the students.

I love to watch Hallmark movies at Christmastime, and they are numerous. I’ve noticed that many of them have a similar theme: single parent with cute young child returns to his/her hometown and meets a man/woman they used to know. Love grows, obstacles pile up, love overcomes.

The details differ, but the themes are similar. So why do I keep watching? I know the setup, I know the outcome.

For me, it’s the journey. Who are these people and what makes me care about them? What problems come into their lives? How do they overcome them? What tools do they use to do so? What are their values? What finally brings them together?

These are the same questions that apply to the books we read, and we usually invest more time reading (unless you read a lot faster than I do) than watching. Whether we are readers or writers, finding a connection between the main character at the very outset it enormously important, or I don’t care to read / watch. The more I care, the more I’m invested in the story.

One more thing: I also notice that the real meaning of Christmas—the birth of our Savior—is completely missing from many, if not most, of the stories. I wish that your journey to the manger this season doesn’t stop there. The reason for the season is Jesus, and his journey goes on to the cross. That’s our reason for joy and celebration.

Blessings to you on your particular path this Christmas.

 

 

I’ve long been a follower of C.S. Lakin’s excellent writing blog: livewritethrive.com, which includes tips, ideas and training pertaining to writing and the writing life.

This is where I heard about The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction. As a plotter, I love techniques that add framework to my writing process.

12 Key Pillars does just that. It helps the writer pre-think the most important facets/aspects of a novel before launching into the actual writing. The four main pillars—the four corners that hold it up—are as follows:

  1. concept with a kicker
  2. conflict with high stakes
  3. protagonist with a goal
  4. theme with a heart

Add to that keys 5 through 12, a downloadable worksheet for each chapter, and some time, and we have an exceptional resource for planning a novel. Lakin offers lots of examples of books and movies that use the concepts she outlines. She also uses analogies: just as we need a solid base on which to construct a house, so a novel requires structure and strength to ensure quality. As a visual learner, I found these word pictures very helpful.

Once we know the basics, have thought them through and dug deep to answer the questions C.S. Lakin sets out, we are free to write the first draft with a lot more purpose and direction than we may have had previous to reading this book.

I have read and studied this book, and filled out the worksheets, and I personally recommend it to anyone who is seeking excellence in novel structure.

Today I am pleased to share an interview with a dear woman who has been a personal friend of mine for more than 25 years. Dee Robertson has been an educator most of her adult life. She grew up in and travelled to many exotic places in her life, and has written several non-fiction books, a children’s three-book series, and many magazine articles. She continually amazes me with her knowledge, wisdom and opinion on many and varied subjects. Take a read of our interview…

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

Dee: In 1962, I travelled with my young son to Venezuela to visit my parents who lived there, only to arrive in Caracas in the middle of a revolution. We were first held in detention, and then shipped out of the country to a small Dutch-owned island. It was all very traumatic. I wrote the story, and The Calgary Herald bought it for twenty dollars—a lot of money for me at the time.

When my second husband and I settled onto an isolated Native reserve on B.C.’s north coast I started writing regularly for several well-known west-coast monthly magazines. I continued to write for those magazines until we moved to Saskatchewan in 1995. Since then I have written and published three adult books and a trilogy of children’s books.

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

Dee: Both of my husbands were very supportive of my writing efforts. In fact, my first husband had to copy out all my early writings on an old Underwood typewriter. I was totally inept at typing! My second husband had the advantage of having a more user-friendly typewriter to help me out. It wasn’t until I got my first computer in 1995 that I did my own typing.

Janice: What is your preferred genre?

Dee: Whether as adventure articles or as memoir, my work has been almost exclusively non-fiction. I tried my hand at a tiny three-volume set of books for children, but since they were about my pets, to me they too were non-fiction. My favorite genre though, is the essay, and it is, I think, in creating essays that I do my best writing.

Janice: Why do you write?

Dee: I suppose it’s a compulsion to put thoughts, ideas, and dreams down on paper. Now, in retirement, I am almost constantly jotting down the whirlings of my brain. At first, they often seem wondrously prescient, but over time, they do seem less so.

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

Dee: I write at my table in my little “office/computer” room where I can sit and watch hundreds of feeding birds, and be still and peaceful. I jot down random thoughts and ideas that sometimes get developed—or not.

I guess you would say I am a pantser – writing about what moves me or obsesses me at that moment.

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

Dee: My ideas, my inspirations come from my reactions to what I read, what I hear and what I see. A good TED talk can have me madly jotting in reaction to the message—positively or negatively. A well-done documentary film can provide hours of scribbled response. Mostly the notes will go nowhere nor serve any further purpose, but somehow I find pleasure just in recording them.

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

Dee: In spite of the frequent questioning of the information provided to us by Google, it is likely no less trustworthy than all the information that our traditional sources have provided us with over the hundreds of years. Everyday a new revelation comes out telling how we have been misled.

Janice: Good point! What do you like most/least about writing.

Dee: I honestly can’t think of what I like least about writing. I just like writing. I thoroughly enjoy editing others’ writing; the challenge of composing messages, reflections or homilies for my church. The focus provided by writing for the many courses and workshops I have attended over the last twenty years has also provided direction. But most of all, I love writing to tell a story, even if the story is only for myself.

Janice: What are you favorite/most effective social media?

Dee: I am not much of a “social media” user. I find most postings on social media at least as ill-informed as I am myself. I do not need collaboration of my own misconceptions.

Janice: Okay then, moving on (smiles)…How do you balance professional time with personal time?

Dee: Since retirement, I am free to do whatever I want. However, without deadlines, commitments, or career obligations, I too often find that “nothing” is what I end up doing. I believe most people operate best under pressure and deadlines. However, from the perspective of eighty years, I think I’ve used most of my time wisely. I have accomplished much of what I would have planned to do, if I had been a planner.

Janice: I like that. What are you currently reading?

Dee: I have just finished reading a book called Rock Creek by Thelma Poirier. The author lived her whole life on ranches in the Rock Creek Valley, which now makes up part of the Grasslands National Park here in Saskatchewan. Since I have lived as a wandering gypsy most of my life, I have great admiration for those who have lived “in place” for generations, and have come to make the place a part of themselves.

Janice: What are some of your favorite things?

Dee: I truly love nature. But I also truly love people, places, travel: the silence of the high Arctic, the hectic liveliness of a tropical village, the ocean in a storm, the diminishing of person when standing on a high mountain, the terror of roaming through bear country, and the quiet aloneness of wandering the trails of Grasslands.

Janice: How is your faith reflected in your writing.

Dee: My faith is inherent in all I see, in all I know and in all I do; it is an integral part of me. My faith is an essential part of all that I write.

Janice: And finally, what advice do you have for a beginning writer?

Dee: It will be the same advice that all writers give to potential writers: just do it! But we must also insist that beginning writers know the importance of re-writing. While taking courses at the local college with young students, I have been quite dismayed by the students’ inability or reluctance to work at improving their writing. They all seemed totally content with their initial production, in spite of, and often with total disregard for, what the instructor has told them.

Janice: Thank you, Dee, for taking the time to visit with me today on my blog. You are and always will be an inspiration.

Dee Robertson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Have This Moment

“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” Psalm 90:12 NIV.

That’s good advice, especially these days when so many people are distracted by their tech devices and busy lives, and fail to realize that life is passing them by.

This year turned out very differently than I had originally planned. As some of you know, shortly after Christmas, my husband and I invited my mother to live with us. She came in April, and our home became hers until her passing in November.

My mom

I had planned to continue writing as usual, but I also wanted to spend time with Mom, having tea or playing a game of dice or watching her favorite game shows. We enjoyed all of the aforementioned activities, and when I look back, I do not regret any of the time spent with her. However, it was not always an easy decision for me, because writing waited, and games are not my favorite thing.

We writers love to be alone with words and ideas and characters, but sometimes God has other plans for us. When I realize how quickly time has flown, how short my time with Mom turned out to be, I’m so glad I chose to be present in her world. Because I won’t have another chance for that.

As David says in Psalm 103:15, “As for man, his days are life grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone and its place remembers it no more.” Or, to quote the lyrics of an old song, “Yesterday’s gone and tomorrow may never come, but we have this moment today.”

We each have decisions to make about how we spend our time. I pray for discernment as we review the past year and look forward to what God has for us in the future. In the meanwhile, let’s celebrate the mystery and miracle of Christmas, and be present in the lives of those we love. And happy writing too!

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