Wednesday, August 28, 2013

On Every Side by Karen Kingsbury

This novel is one of Karen Kingsbury’s early books, but somehow I overlooked it as I was reading her works. The book is based on an actual incident involving a civil rights group that wanted a 10-foot-wall placed around a statue of Jesus in a public park in Wisconsin. The statue had stood in the park since 1959 when it was donated to the town. A private landowner bought the statue and some land around it, and the case was dismissed.

            Karen Kingsbury took these events and wove a compelling fictional story, one that kept me turning the pages faster and faster. My husband even read it in a short period of time, something he rarely does.

            The story centers around a fictitious town: Bethany, Pennsylvania; a young lawyer, Jordan Riley, who grew up in the town before his mother died and he was separated from his sister; and a young executive, Faith Evans, whose father was part of a Christian law firm in Bethany. Faith and Jordan were next-door neighbors when they were children but had lost track of each other. Jordan also lost contact with his sister, Heidi, when they were sent to separate foster homes after the death of their mother. Because of all that, Jordan has lost his faith, and he is the head lawyer for the case. He is bitter and stands against the Christian community to get the ruling to have the Jesus statue encased in a 10-foot brick wall.

            Backstory gives the particulars on these people as well as the events to bring the reader up to speed on the situation in the town and in the lives of the characters.

            There is a lot of dialogue between the lawyers, and a demonstration of the persecution of Christians when they take a stand for what is right. Faith is a Christian who is also evening anchor for the TV station in Bethany, and she faces some pretty hard things because of her stand for the right of the people to keep the statue in their town. Of course, there are sub-plots and interesting characterization, as there are in all the books by this author.

            I think you will be pleased if you read this book. It is a study in legal matters, a premise that makes the reader want to see victories for the Christian community, and a love story. Typical of books written by Ms. Kingsbury, this one will not disappoint.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Important (by David Nobles)

We've been on vacation for the past two weeks, and I must have forgotten how to post. Today's post should have been an essay by our son, but I accidentally posted it Saturday while working to catch up on my blog. I hope you will scroll down for that post now-- it's meant for today.

Be watching in September for writers Ann Gabhart and Meg Moseley, authors of wonderful Christian fiction books. Interviews coming up on the first and third Mondays with giveaways from the authors.

Blessings on you all. I hope you've had a wonderful summer and will have a great fall season. How 'bout those Cardinals? I've become a baseball fanatic this summer, watching the St. Louis team as often as possible.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Important (by David Nobles)

My Beautiful Bride and I were on the way to church last Sunday when she said a quilting customer asked her if she thought what she did was Important. She was wondering about her answer to that question.

Am I doing something that is Important? This is a question I have thought about often, and I told her so.

Am I Important? Or--are only famous people important? If you are a politician in Washington, DC, if you are a star athlete, if you are a celebrity, you are important. That’s what we seem to think.

First, let me get my Old Guy Rant out of the way: Back in my day, a politician in DC was a statesman not just a money-grubbing do-what-it-takes-to-get-reelected, self-important, headline-grabbing narcissist. A star athlete was talented, committed, and hard-working, a role model, not some hipster completely covered in body ink riding a piece of wood with wheels down a fake hill. And a celebrity was a good actor, not some physically attractive but talent-starved rich idiot who got herself videotaped while doing things people are supposed to do in private. End of Rant.

If only famous people are Important, almost none of us will ever get there.

I remember wanting to be Important when I was in college. My dream was to go to law school, ace all my classes, make the top score on the bar exam, and end up on the Supreme Court, where I would help everyone have a better life. OK, that was just one dream—another was to get a spot in the World Burping Championships. College students, right? SMH (for you other Old Guys, that means “shaking my head”). Johnny Manziel (a Fightin’ Texas Aggie famous for being a darn good football player and the Village Idiot) explains away his “mistakes” by reminding everyone he is a college student. Nuff said.

Seriously, here’s a real dream that came out of my college daze: I met this girl. She was beautiful, and nice, and smart, and she would talk to me and spend time with me. I somehow convinced her to marry me. She helped me graduate law school, even though I never aced a class. Thirty years later, neither of us has ever been famous, but over the years we have helped lots of people. Yes, we hurt some too, but I am very glad that number is much smaller. We raised two great kids. We paid our bills and our taxes. We have tried to be honest and we love our families.

I do not think of myself as Important—I’m just a guy. Is it enough, though, to be a regular guy?  A great movie illustrating the importance of a routine life is “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” Mr. Holland’s dream was to be a musician but he took a job out of college as a high school music teacher, just to pay the bills while he wrote his masterpiece. He stayed in that job for his whole life. He wasn’t perfect. Over the years he hurt a few people, but he helped many more. He overcame fears and problems and temptations. In the end, it turned out that his Opus, his Great Work, was not a piece of music but was the people he encouraged and helped. It’s a movie that will make you cry, no doubt about that.

I think it is important to show up to work every day. It’s important to work hard. It’s important to come home and love your family, to help the kids with homework, and to show up at the soccer games. It’s important to financially support causes you believe in. No, Hollywood is not going to call, and neither is Washington. But when your son or daughter says “Thanks, Dad. I love you”—well, that’s going to make you cry too. It’s important to hang on through tough times. You won’t win every time, and when some really hard things happen an Important Person may get knocked down, but he gets back up. He may take some time off but then he shows up at work again, because there are bills to pay and those folks in Washington aren’t going to work for themselves, are they?

Am I Important? I don’t know. By every standard out there no, I am not. I can’t sing, dance, or play sports and I’m not the sharpest tack in the box either. I’m reasonably intelligent, but if you’re building a team to find the cure for the common cold, or the solution to the [name your crisis here], well, I’m not your guy. There are some things I do well, but lots and lots of people can do those same things. One hundred years from now, I’m pretty sure no one will remember my name.

But…my wife and kids love me. My family and a small circle of friends respect me. I believe that God wants the best for me. I have a good, no, a great job, where people think I bring something to the table. I can string a few words together to get a point across. As the great poet Alice Cooper once said, “That’s enough for a workin’ man. What I am, well that’s what I am. I tell you baby, that’s just enough for me.”
Thanks, David. And you're important to your mom and dad, too.

Friday, August 16, 2013

I'm on Vacation

I'm on vacation. We have visited our kids in Allen, Texas, spent a couple of days with my 94-year-old mother in Denton, and today we will be in Fort Worth with my husband's brothers. No blogs next week. Next week we will be with our son and his family while we welcome a new great-grandchild into our family.

After we get back home during the last week of August, I'll resume my blog with author interviews, my sons' essays, and more book reviews.

I am having difficulty getting any emails to go out from my computer while we are away from home, so please bear with me. I can receive emails, but can't get anything to go out from my computer.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

I'm on Vacation

No blog today or for the next few days. I'm on vacation, spending time with family. Hope you have a wonderful end of the summer. Before we know it, school will be in full session, fall sports will begin, and we'll all be busier than ever.  Happy summer!

Monday, August 12, 2013

What is Your Heart's Desire -- by David Nobles

Winner of Cindy Woodsmall's book The Winnowing Season is Karen from Pennsylvania. Thanks to all who commented on Cindy's interview.

New Post today by David Nobles
What is your heart's desire?

Does God want you to have your heart's desire? I think he does. I think he wants you to be happy.

BUT: I've always thought he wanted you to have your heart's desire ONLY if your desires match up with his. Happiness will only come on those terms. In other words, only if your will is totally subsumed within his, if you have been crucified with Christ, if you have died to self, if you have taken up your cross, given away all your get the idea. I admit I have always thought you had to be Super Christian or the Ultimate Disciple to get the desires of your heart. Gary Barkalow says that's not true in his book "It's Your Call." He says God made me, with my very own specific physical and psychological profile, my personal set of gifts, abilities, hang-ups, and oddities, and he wants me to have my heart's desire.

Can he be right? Can it be that simple?

He does say that certain desires don't count: those that don't match up with God's character. If your desire is to harm someone, take advantage of a situation, or is in some other way less than God's best for anyone, you have to throw it out. With those exceptions, if you are a Christian, he wants you to have the desires of your heart.

I don't consider myself Super Christian or the Ultimate Disciple. Lots of days I have died to self, but unfortunately lots of days I haven't. However, I truly want to honor God with my life. So, if God wants me to have the desires of my heart--what are they?

I want my wife and kids to have good lives. I want them to be happy. I want to be happy as well. I wouldn't turn down a six-figure salary.

I want to break 80 (without a lot of practice, of course). I want my Bears to win the BCS national championship and March Madness. It's OK if they have to work real hard to do it. I want to own a car made since 2003. I want to lose weight and be in shape enough to finish an Olympic distance triathlon--I don't want to win, but I don't want to be last. Middle of the pack would be great.

I want to travel. I'd like to see all 7 continents--I've already been to 3. I think it’s going to be really, really tough to actually get to Antarctica.

I want to write something worth reading. I want people to read what I write. Making a lot of money from writing wouldn't stink. It would then be just fine if someone called and said come talk to this stadium full of people about what you wrote.

I want to help small groups grow: in numbers, in depth of relationship with one another, and in their relationship with God. I want people to experience the Christian life as God intended it. I want to help people know God and make him known. To be able to teach people about God’s plan for themselves and the world and to help others be better teachers would really make me smile.

Obviously most of this is not what Barkalow is really asking about. I think there are more serious things in my heart, but right now I don't know what they are. Barkalow says most people can't answer this question, that their passions have been suppressed and diminished and maybe even crushed by life. He says it will likely take some time and work to discover the true desires of your heart. I am working on that, and I encourage you to do that work as well.

What is your heart's desire?

Friday, August 9, 2013

I'm on vacation

I'm on vacation-- no post today. Hope you've had time for some get-away this summer. It's drawing to a close. Schools will be starting and fall activities will begin. If you haven't had time for that trip, hope you will make it before long.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Meet Miss Pippi, the Librarian

Meet Miss Pippi, the Librarian, as she shares why she loves books and some of the books she loves!

I love to share books! Some of my favorite moments of being an assistant Children’s librarian is reader’s advisory. Reader’s advisory is the opportunity to share and suggest books to readers. I love it! Since I live in the Children’s Room, I read and recommend a wide range of authors and series from picture books to chapter book. Of course, I end up of reading stacks of Children’s Literature throughout the year!

When I get a moment to read for myself, I love to pick up and read inspirational fiction. I grew up reading Janette Oke and Grace Livingston Hill. I started with the books available at home, and then branched out to library books. After familiarizing myself with Christian authors available at the library, I stretched further and purchased my own copies of beloved stories as well as books not available at the library. Through the years, my personal library grew, but the first books I read always bring back fun memories.

My first Grace Livingston Hill book was Out of the Storm. It was an old book with no dust jacket or illustration printed on the cover. It was solid blue with black letters spelling out the title. Out of the Storm opened up the world of the 1920’s. Hill’s gentle storytelling style drew me in and captivated me. I gathered as many titles I could find after devouring this first title. Recently, Barbour Publishing began reprinting Hill’s books! I just finished April Gold from Barbour. I’m looking forward to rereading Hill’s classic stories as well as discovering new ones I haven’t enjoyed yet. I would recommend picking up one of her books. Hill wrote modern fiction, but with decades between her books and today, they’re historical treasures. It’s an opportunity to catch a glimpse of life in the early 1900’s.

Janette Oke’s Women of the West series was another beginning series for me. The books were standalones, but linked together under a common theme of women surviving the west in the 1800’s. I love the Westward expansion and the 1800’s is my favorite time period. I imagine these books probably played a role in the stories that I enjoy today. A newer standalone series that reminds me of Women of the West is the Land of Shining Water series by Tracie Peterson. Again, it’s the 1800’s, but each story features a different young lady located in Minnesota.

Moving on from Hill and Oke, I’ve devoured books by Michael Phillips, Judith Pella, June Masters Bacher, Lori Wick, Lauraine Snelling, Lori Copeland, Catherine Palmer, Cathy Marie Hake, Mary Connealy, Deanne Gist, Julie Lessman, Robin Lee Hatcher, and so many more!  It would be too difficult to select one author as my favorite. As soon as I think of one series or title, I remember another and the list gets longer and longer.

It’s amazing to see so many Christian authors today. When I began reading inspirational books, the selection was small and I read many stories over and over again. Now, it’s hard to keep up with all the wonderful books available! I thank the Lord for all these talented people who work to entertain, encourage, and share their faith through literature. It’s a blessing to be able to read books that offer more than just an entertain story. They offer stories of hope and faith.

Miss Pippi's real name is Cassie and she works in a library in the Midwest. If you enjoyed her article today, please leave a comment.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Meet Author Cindy Woodsmall

 Today we will meet Cindy Woodsmall, author of best-selling and award-winning Amish fiction. She's won Fiction Book of the Year, Reviewer's Choice Awards, Inspirational Reader's Choice Contest, as well as one of Crossings' Best Books of the Year. She's been a finalist for the prestigious Christy, Rita, and Carol Awards, Christian Book of the Year, and Christian Retailers Choice Awards.
Q: When did you first realize you wanted to become a writer?
I struggled with the idea of writing professionally, even after I attended my first writers’ conference. Still, the hunger to understand story development and create stories was strong in my heart. Actually, that desire began for me at a very young age.
One of my earliest childhood memories is of my mother reading to me before bedtime. After she left the room, I reworked every story she’d read to me. If Cinderella had been the ugly one, how would that change the outcome? If the stepsisters had been the nice ones, how would that have affected the story? I hated when I became too sleepy to continue working on those ideas and imagining the new story lines. That was the beginning of my love of thinking about plotlines and characterization.
But in high school, I had an experience that turned me off to writing. My English teacher gave the class a creative writing assignment, and my mother helped me brainstorm it. Working on it with her was a lot of fun. I wanted a good grade on the assignment, and I received it. But the teacher never returned my story. Months later all the students were called to the gymnasium for assembly, and awards were given out for various things. When my name was called, my heart about stopped. Up on stage, I was given a three-foot-tall trophy. I then learned that my English teacher had sent the writing assignments in to a countywide writing contest, without my knowledge, and I’d won. I was mortified! I hated the spotlight and didn’t feel I’d done anything that special. After the assembly, I stuffed the trophy into my locker, turned to a friend, and said, “I’ll never write again!” And I meant it. When it was time to go home that day, I hid the trophy under a sweater and put writing behind me.
After many years of refusing to write, I slowly worked through most of my reservations. Once that was accomplished, I attended a writing conference and went through the process of finding a publisher. It wasn’t easy, but I had peace the whole way, possibly because I would’ve been fine if I never became published. When I received my first contract, I prayed that enough books would sell that my publisher wouldn’t be disappointed. That was my only goal.
There are a lot of roads in life, and we often take the wrong one, thinking it’s the right one. I’m grateful that God kept directing me toward the “write” road.

Q: Every author seems to have taken a slightly different path to becoming published. What is your story?
I began writing the Amish story of my heart in 1999. I went to my first writers’ conference in 2002 (American Christian Fiction Writers conference). I came away so excited at the idea of getting the story inside my heart onto the written page in a way that captured readers’ minds and hearts. My world became immersed in everything to do with writing. Whenever I wondered how best to convey on paper what was happening in a scene, I’d study book after book, talk to a writing mentor, and even dream about writing methods and solutions. Two years later I felt I was ready to turn in the first chapter to a few editors.
I received wonderful feedback on my writing. I even had an offer for a book contract if I’d write anything except Amish fiction. At the time only Beverly Lewis was writing Amish stories in trade fiction, and editors weren’t sure the market would hold strong for a second Amish author. Besides, they didn’t like the idea of a new writer following in the footsteps of such an established author.
I spent a few restless weeks deciding whether to follow the editor’s advice or stick to my Amish stories. It was a rough choice. It didn’t make sense for an unpublished writer to turn down the opportunity for a contract with a big publishing house. But after weeks of sleeplessness, I knew I had to continue with the story I’d written. 
With that decision made, I made another—to pitch my story to every editor at every conference possible. Unfortunately, with one exception, the editors I spoke with were not interested in testing the market to see if it could support a second author writing Amish fiction.
In the spring of 2005, I submitted the first chapter of When the Heart Cries to an editor with WaterBrook Press (a division of Random House). The editor for WaterBrook believed my story was strong enough to draw in readers regardless of whether or not my setting and characters were based in Amish, so she asked me to turn in a full manuscript. I did, it passed the committee, and I had my first contract! That book was released in the fall of 2006.

Q: Tell me a little about your books.
I’ve written twelve works of fiction and one nonfiction, and I’m currently working on book three in my Amish Vines and Orchards series.
My real-life connections with Amish Mennonite and Old Order Amish families make devising the stories a lot of fun. I cherish the weeks I’ve spent staying with Amish families. The culture is so different from ours. The mind-set is fully on keeping the Old Ways, and it’s such a blessing for my writing to be able to draw from my time among the Plain people. 
My coauthor for my nonfiction book is an Old Order Amish woman named Miriam Flaud. Sometimes she and other Amish friends help me brainstorm my stories before I begin writing them. When I’m visiting an Old Order Amish home, there are times when an Amish woman will bring a baked good and we’ll have a slice of it along with a cup of coffee while she tells me about an event from her life that she thinks would make a good novel.

Q: How did you feel when you opened your box of the first published copies of your very first book?
I would love to be able to tell you that I soared with elation. Many of my author friends danced around their homes and embraced the moment fully. But I didn’t even open the box. Hours later, when my husband came home, he opened it. He was excited and coaxed me into leaving my office to take a look at the book. I ran my hands over the cool, smooth cover, and then returned to my office to work on book two. The deadline for the sequel was pressing in, and my energy and attention were funneled into that project. Looking back, I think I was scared that When the Heart Cries wouldn’t be enough of a success for the publisher to be pleased they’d put me under contract, so I brushed my feelings about it under the rug—as if the only thing that really mattered was the next project. (see my note about this book at the end of this interview.--JN--It was fabulous!)

Q: What do you want readers to take away from your books?
I want my readers to feel three main things as they read my books: Beautiful. Treasured by God. And energized strength. The kind of energized strength that comes through stirring faith, hope, and love in themselves and others. Those three things can reach beyond all reasonable boundaries and roadblocks, bringing into existence all we need. But each of us must be renewed regularly or we will grow weary, get out of sorts with God, and lose sight of the finish line.

Q: In what ways does your faith impact how you approach writing?
Subtly and realistically, I hope. I aim to have a character-driven story, not an author or an agenda-driven one. From birth, people are on a journey, and by the time my story picks up, my characters are young people, often in their late teens to twenties. I want to get into their hearts and minds. What have they learned about life? What do they want from life? What mistakes have they made?
I feel that many people love God and may be fully dedicated to Him, but most don’t live their lives thinking, What is my Christian message to the world? Christ in us is a beautiful, ageless message, as unique as each person. So the question each character in my novels will inevitably answer is “How does God’s love and His will, mixed with the strengths and weaknesses of who I am, come across in my life?” Then, if a Bible verse or scriptural message comes to the character’s mind, it will be organic, in the same way as when God speaks to us. So faith becomes a part of the story.

Q: What can you tell us about any future releases you have planned?
The Winnowing Season releases April 2. It’s the second book in the Amish Vines and Orchards series. Book three, For Every Season will release in the fall.
A sneak peek into The Winnowing Season ~
The tornado that devastated Kings’ Orchard pushed Rhoda, Samuel, and Jacob to make a new start in Maine. Are they strong enough to withstand the challenges of establishing an Amish community—and brave enough to face the secrets that move with them? 
On the eve of their departure to begin a new Old Order Amish community just outside of Unity, Maine, Rhoda Byler is shocked to discover that choices made by her business partner and friend, Samuel King, have placed her and her unusual gifts directly into the path of her district’s bishop and preachers. She is furious with Samuel and fearful that the Kings will be influenced by the way her leaders see her, and not what they know to be true—that Rhoda’s intuition is a gift from God.
Jacob King won’t be swayed by community speculation. He loves Rhoda, believes in her, and wants to build a future with her in Maine. But when the ghosts of his past come calling and require him to fulfill a great debt, can he shake their hold before it destroys what he has with Rhoda? Samuel has a secret of his own—one he’ll go to great lengths to keep hidden, even if it means alienating those closest to him. Throwing himself into rehabilitating the once-abandoned orchard, Samuel turns to a surprising new ally.
Can these three faithfully follow God’s leading and build a new home and orchard in Maine? Or will this new beginning lead to more ruin and heartbreak?
To read an excerpt or to preorder The Winnowing Season, go to:
 I can’t say for certain what the future holds, but in a couple of years, I’m hoping to begin a new series that will take me and my readers into something very special. 

 Thank you, Cindy, for sharing with our readers today. Here are pictures of the covers of some of Cindy's newest books. I hope you have read some and will read some more.

Cindy's Sisters of the Quilt series was the one that drew me into her writing. These were three books I literally could not put down.
When the Heart Cries, published 2006
When the Morning Comes, published 2007
When the Soul Mends, published 2008
If you'd like to win Cindy's newest book, The Winnowing Season, comment here. I'll be mailing the book to the winner, who will be chosen August 10. I'll contact the winner by email, same as always. Be sure to leave your email address.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Book Review--Small Town Girl

Author Ann Gabhart revisits the small town of Rosey Corner and the Merritt sisters that we met in her offering Angel Sister several years ago. Little Leona Birdsong has become a ten-year-old and the Merritt sisters are all grown up too, and ready for their destinies. Many of the people we met in the previous book make appearances here, too. But if you didn’t read the first book, you will still enjoy this one. It can be a stand-alone story as well as a sequel.

Kate, the middle sister, is the main character.  We meet her while she gets ready to stand up with her sister Evie as she marries Mike, the preacher at the Rosey Corner Baptist Church. Kate has to swallow her hurt because she loved Mike, too, and wanted to marry him, but he has eyes only for Evie. Mike invited his friend Jay Tanner to come and be his best man, and as soon as Jay sets eyes on Kate, sparks begin to fly,

Kate is not interested in love and marriage, though, so she keeps Jay at arm’s length, even though Leona’s crush on Jay is evident. So Jay tries to get to Kate through Leona, whom he calls “Birdie.” He takes them on walks and to movies, the way couples courted in the 1930s.

The book is full of homespun wisdom, interesting dialogue, and sub-plots that crop up here and there. The time is the beginning of World War II when people listened to the radio and cranked their cars to get them to start. Kate works in her parents’ establishment, an old variety store which stocked most anything people would need and kept a tab for people who didn’t have money to spend every time they needed an item from the store. It is so reminiscent of the old days. Many people will not remember these days, but they will learn how people lived back them by reading about it.

When Pearl Harbor interfered with everybody’s life, big decisions had to be made. Kate had to decide whether she loved Jay. As the author describes life in the Army camps, we can see the hardships the men had to endure. Jay became a Paratrooper, jumping out of airplanes, while Mike was a Chaplain.

This book was so good, I didn’t want it to end. I hope you will get a copy and read it, too. Ms. Gabhart is an excellent author and a master at dialogue.