Wednesday, July 30, 2014

10 Authors I own the most books from

For today's list, I've come across The Broke and the Bookish
They run an excellent website including a feature called 'Top Ten Tuesday' but as I'm an Aussie blogger, who is hours ahead of them in time, I hope it's okay that I can post mine on a Wednesday, even though it doesn't have the same alliteration. Anyway, I plan to contribute in some of their topics from time to time, and today's is 10 authors I own the most books from.

1) Kathryn Kenny

The Mystery of the Missing Heiress (Trixie Belden #16) I've recently discovered that Kathryn Kenny was the collective pseudonym of several Trixie Belden authors, but I'll write the name as if she was one person anyway. I collected the Trixie Belden novels, which were all the rage back in the early 80s when I was a tweenie, for good reason. The mysteries Trixie solved, along with her BFF, Honey Wheeler, their brothers and a couple of other friends were phenomenal. I acquired all 36 of them over a period of time, along with the Trixie Belden quiz books to give my own brain a workout.

My daughter won't read them. She thinks they look abysmally old-fashioned, however much I try to convince her that she doesn't know what she's missing. Who knows, she may find that to be the case for her, with their lack of the social media related activities and music young girls love now. Sometimes I'm tempted to try to sell the set to earn some money, as they're probably collectors' items now, but I always hold back. They remain taking up space.

2) L.M. Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables
I collected the set of these with my pocket money when I was a young teen too. Not just the Anne and Emily series, but all of them, including Kilmeny, Jane and Marigold, whose stories are single volumes. They are mostly all the beautiful old hard cover versions, which are probably also collectors' items.

3) Stanley Schmidt

This man writes the most brilliant Maths text books which we've used for our homeschooling. They are collectively called, 'The Life of Fred', and are more like quirky, classic stories or works of art. He believes that children need to be coerced into loving Mathematics, and the way to do this isn't giving them pages of dry sums and formulas to grumble through. His little hero, Fred, with the box-shaped head, is the youngest Maths Professor at Kittens University, at the age of 5. Students need to pause frequently, to figure their way through some of the problems Fred come against in his daily life. Of course, they all involve Maths, and often some English and Social Studies too.

Along with the junior primary volumes we have for our youngest son, we also own some middle school Geometry, Fractions and Decimals for my daughter. The books range all the way up to complicated senior Calculus for those who want to carry on. They are far more than Maths text books. I've included them because I think they're unique literature.

4) Joyce Meyer
Battlefield of the Mind: Winning the Battle in Your Mind
I went through a phase of buying books by Joyce Meyer as they were released, finding her style encouraging, frank and funny. I still dip into them from time to time, as her advice often finds me at times of need.

5) Meredith Resce

The Greenfield Legacy
Meredith is my first fellow Aussie Christian author friend. I cold-called her as a stranger way back in the late '90s, to ask her advice about breaking into the Christian publishing industry in Australia, which has undergone lots of changes since then. I believe I own most books Meredith has written, from her Heart of Green Valley series onward. It was fun to collaborate with her on a novel a couple of years ago, along with two of our other friends, Amanda and Rose. 

6) Dr Seuss

The Cat in the Hat I never purposely set out to buy Dr Seuss books but they have a way of multiplying on the bookshelf somehow. Second hand give-aways, library sales, presents. Whatever the reason, I appreciate his wisdom and wit in rhyme, along with the quirky pictures. They are some books I'll be loathe to part with, even when the kids have all grown up.

7) The Bible

I own several different translations, which I've often come across at second hand shops. My original one, back in the 80s, was an old King James version which used to belong to my dad. I bought the NIV version as a Uni student, and since then, I've come across several more. I enjoy comparing the different ways of expressing passages across translations. Needless to say, they take up a lot of room on my shelf.

8) Laura Ingalls Wilder

Little House on the Prairie (Little House, #2)
I've loved these since my Primary School days and bought every one of them. Since then, I also got hold of some of the later series by others, such as Roger Lea MacBride's novels about his friend, Laura's daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. Although these can't strictly be classified as part of the Little House series, I do anyway.

9) Lynn Austin

She's one of the historical Christian novelists whose works I enjoy, and I've discovered then when I count the print books on my shelf along with the ebooks I've picked up cheap for my kindle, (some of which I still haven't even read) I own many of Lynn Austin's. 

10) Yours Truly 

Picking Up the Pieces I have to say this because it is the truth by far. I'm not just talking about the nine novels I've written. If there were only nine spines on my shelf, that wouldn't be much at all, but our garage and the shelves of our study/bookcase are filled with hundreds. Even though they are the same nine books, there are stacks and stacks of them, many dating way back to the days when we were working independently. The boys even built a column from my boxes of books by the door of their garage-cum-common room, to use as a sound-block at night, when the rest of us have gone to bed and they are still getting up to whatever they do.

If you'd like to help decrease the number by ordering any, please let me know :)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

'Soul Keeping' by John Ortberg

Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You
When is the last time you thought about the state of your soul? The health of your soul isn t just a matter of saved or unsaved. It s the hinge on which the rest of your life hangs. It s the difference between deep, satisfied spirituality and a restless, dispassionate faith. In an age of materialism and consumerism that tries to buy its way to happiness, many souls are starved and unhealthy, unsatisfied by false promises of status and wealth. We ve neglected this eternal part of ourselves, focusing instead on the temporal concerns of the world---and not without consequence. Bestselling author John Ortberg presents another classic that will help you discover your soul---the most important connection to God there is---and find your way out of the spiritual shallow-lands to true divine depth. With characteristic insight and an accessible story-filled approach, Ortberg brings practicality and relevance to one of Christianity s most mysterious and neglected topics."

The premise of this book is simple. Although we go to gyms and educational institutions to firm up our bodies and minds, we tend to overlook our souls, which remain flabby and out of shape. This may well be the cause of restlessness, dissatisfaction and other spiritual maladies which we find it hard to shake off.

In a very entertaining first section, Ortberg sets out to show that even though we give our souls lip service (soul music etc), when asked for a definition, many people aren't all that clear on exactly what they are. We get no further than the hazy, look-alike image which floats up out of a cartoon character's body when he dies. He introduces our souls as the parts of us that integrate will, mind and body, a bit like the cotton that holds garments together. The remainder of the book is full of reflections and tips to give our souls the respect and care they deserve.

He explains how they are easily damaged by all sorts of things which we are taught to approve of and chase after by the world. We get as good at lying to ourselves as we do to others. We push ourselves into hurry mode thinking that's the only way to achieve success. And we never realise that sick souls are as infectious as sick bodies. He gives a list of signs that your soul may be without a centre, including several which may seem simply 'normal' in our day and age, such as lacking patience, hurrying, having something to prove, and finding identity in externals.

As tending to the soul is the way to make all our moments glorious and content, I found the book really made me want to work on it. It encourages us to take life slowly and leave time for our souls to catch up with our bodies. It's refreshing to see that, paradoxically the soul and the ego are not partners. In fact, the more obsessed we are with our ego selves, the more the soul suffers. Yet Ortberg reminds us that we say 'yes' to greed, lust and attention in a way we don't to colds and strep throat.

The book emphasises the work of his friend and role-model, Dallas Willard. I've read that John Ortberg's warm, easy style may be a good introduction to Willard's complex theological thoughts. I like the thread of Willard's thoughts, such as, 'What matters is not the accomplishments you achieve but the person you become.' I also like the old professor who reminded himself, 'I can admire without having to acquire.' Good message for the kids.

In general, this is a good read for people who could benefit from some soul care, which is probably pretty much everyone in the western world.

Thanks to Net Galley and Zondervan for my review copy.

4 stars

Soul Keeping: Caring For the Most Important Part of You available from Amazon

Monday, July 28, 2014

Interview with Rhonda Pooley

You commenced your tertiary education in your mid forties. What, in your opinion, were the challenges and advantages of being a mature aged student?
I don’t exaggerate when I say that studying for my BA gave me three of the best years of my life!
    My natural abilities aren’t exactly of the practical variety. I joke that if I’d been born in ancient times, the tribe would have thrown me out to starve or be eaten by sabre tooths! When I learned that I could get into university via the mature age entrance scheme, I jumped at the chance. I found studying so stimulating and confidence-building. I went on to do a post graduate Diploma of Education followed by a Master of Arts in Creative Writing.    
    Generally, mature aged students do well in higher education because they know exactly what they are there for, they are grateful for the opportunity, and they’ve don’t waste time. Taking up full time study after many years was emotionally and mentally draining, because I hadn’t been schooled beyond year 10. To that point, I’d learnt by rote and I didn’t understand that a different type of study technique was necessary at tertiary level. But coaching was available, and I discovered that life experience more than compensated.
    It was tough juggling study and family life.  I felt guilty that I didn’t home-bake anymore, that cleaning the house was way down on my ‘to do’ list; that I deserted my husband five nights a week and shut myself in my study as soon as the evening meal was finished. I was so blessed to have the full support of my husband, James. He not only supported me financially, but also emotionally.    
    Studying puts a strain on relationships, particularly when assignments are due. You need buddies who are happy to talk course material ad nauseum, because it will bore your family rigid! It can be hard for your family and friends to accept that you seem not to be the same person you used to be.  And in many ways study will change you forever, broadening your interests - and your backside, too, with all that sitting around in lectures! - as well as your circle of friends and colleagues.
    Another downside for a mature student is to fall into the trap of being the campus ‘mother’ (or ‘father’).  It’s all too easy to be taken advantage of by lazy or opportunistic students (or to get emotionally embroiled in their off-campus troubles) thinking it’s our Christian duty to help them. Attendance at a secular, humanistic university will challenge your Christian faith. My circle of friends had been pretty much centred on church and Christian related activities, and my views were out of synch with, and unexplainable, to most of my fellow students. I didn’t hide my faith, although I rarely engaged in public debate, and I won respect. In fact, I had more opportunities for meaningful witness than I have ever had before, or since!

Since 2003, you've made regular visits to Cambodia and Finland. Can you describe your dreams about these destinations, which made travelling there so compelling?

Someone prophesied – it was actually the first time I had been prophesied over – that I would go ‘to a land OF the north’. He repeated this phrase several times until I registered that he wasn’t saying TO the north. ‘OF the north’ is a literary phrase which refers specifically to northern Europe. So I asked God, ‘where,’ and I saw the word, ‘Finland’ which was really strange because I had no Scandinavian heritage, or even Finnish acquaintances. Later, while praying for the country, I had an open vision of an intercessor standing in the middle of the map of Finland and I knew going there would be a prayer assignment. It was fourteen years before it I did it, though, and then only because of another prophetic word. God is so patient!
    With Cambodia, I dreamt I was under a waterfall and then I learnt that the north eastern area of Cambodia, where my nephew worked, was famous for its waterfalls (I didn’t know this before the dream). He had been asking me to visit for a long time.
    There was more to these visions and dreams, and the confirmations associated with them, than there is space to describe. Suffice to say, God will use the strangest things to get our attention!

(That's intriguing. He works in His own time frame, too. It's great to hear about the creative ways in which God works.)

Please tell us a little about Marion Fromm, whose story you've written in your book, 'Cambodian Harvest'.

Marion Fromm is an Adelaide woman who, in her mid-sixties, set up a dried fruit factory in Cambodia in order to employ land mine survivors. She did this with minimal finance, no knowledge of the language, and on her own, apart from a small group of prayer partners back in Australia. She continues to live and work in Cambodia, today. Her story will encourage you that nothing is impossible and God can use anybody. Read the book, folks!

(Wow, it's so great that you've written Marion's story, to make it available to everyone, instead of letting her keep it to herself.)

How did you work together on a memoir such as this? Did you conduct on-the-spot interviews or rely on technology such as emails? Did you know exactly what aspects of Marion's story you wanted to focus on, or did she surprise you with extra material which you then felt compelled to work into the manuscript?

I served on the Board of Reverse the Curse of Landmines for one term so I had met Marion, of course, but it was not until I was asked to write her story, three years later, that I actually visited her in Cambodia. At that time, I recorded interviews with her and with landmine disabled employees. Back in Australia, I transcribed all of that and began writing. It’s worth noting that transcribed interviews can be difficult to follow. Interviewees can jump from one life event to another, giving the impression that these events were concurrent, whereas in reality there may have been years apart, or involved different people from the names they remembered. I used emails to clarify transcribed information and, where possible, sought corroborative detail from others.
    My focus from the beginning was always on the aspect that God will use the most unlikely people! I honour Marion’s honesty and humility in allowing me to write truthfully. Her life may not be what is typically portrayed in Christian biographies, but I saw the majesty and grace of God in choosing her for the amazing work that is underway in Cambodia. 

Both you and Marion are senior ladies making a difference in the world. In fact, you describe your later years as more productive than your earlier ones. This is so encouraging for me, as my older children are edging into their upper teens, making the empty nest syndrome seem closer all the time. Do you have any advice or counsel for me, and others in the same position?

The best thing I can say to people who think life has passed them by, whether through age or circumstances, is that God is not finished with you yet! Pursue those heart dreams that have not yet manifested in your life. Press in to lay hold of those things for which Christ laid hold of you.

Rhonda has kindly offered one free copy of 'Cambodian Harvest' to a blog visitor who will leave a comment. The winner will be chosen randomly. Please leave your contact details in your comment and we may be in touch.

Cambodian Harvest About Rhonda Pooley

I describe myself as a late developer. During a university education started in my mid forties, my childhood interest in creative writing was re-ignited. After a period of teaching English and Drama in secondary schools I returned to the University of Adelaide to embark on a Master of Arts in creative writing.  I have been writing fiction, mostly short stories, ever since. I’m particularly proud of the ‘highly recommended’ I received for a short story in the Scarlett Stiletto competition conducted by the crime writers’ group, Sisters in Crime.  It will be no surprise, then, that my favourite reading for relaxation is English crime fiction (think Ian Rankin or PD James!).
Given my background in fiction no one is more surprised than I am that my first published book is a biography. This came about because of my interest in Cambodia, which I have been visiting since 2003. I have also travelled within Finland and the Baltic countries.
I am currently working on a novel with a historical background.
I am married to James (49 years!) and have 4 children and 4 grandchildren.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

'In the Shadow of Jezebel' by Mesu Andrews

In the Shadow of Jezebel (Treasure of His Love)
Trained as a priestess in the temple of Baal, Princess Jehosheba strives to please the demanding Queen Athaliah, daughter of Jezebel. But when a mysterious letter from the dead prophet Elijah predicts doom for the royal household, Jehosheba realizes that the dark arts she practices reach beyond the realm of earthly governments.

Forced to marry Yahweh's high priest in order to further Athaliah and Jezebel's power plays, Jehosheba enters the unfamiliar world of Yahweh's Temple. Can her new husband show her the truth and love she craves? And can Jehosheba overcome her fear and save the family--and the nation--she loves?

With deft skill, Mesu Andrews brings the Old Testament to life, revealing a fascinating story of the power of unconditional love.


This novel follows the events given in a couple of chapters found in 1Kings and 2Chronicles. Jehosheba's story is summed up in a few neat sentences, and I've always wished somebody would highlight how this bold young woman almost single-handedly saved the royal line of King David. I'm so glad it's now been done.

King Jehoram's daughter always thought life under the thumb of her stepmother, Athaliah was normal, being trained as a Baal priestess. Athaliah's mother, the evil Queen Jezebel, also has a profound negative influence on whoever she can get her hands on, always wanting to wipe out the knowledge and worship of the true God of Israel. Each for their own reasons, Jehoram and Athaliah decide that Sheba must marry Yahweh's high priest, Jehoiada. Although she considers this a grim destiny to begin with, it becomes obvious that God's holy Temple is the right place for her. And as scripture reveals, she's the woman who saves the royal lineage of Judah when she hides her baby nephew from the murderous Athaliah for several years.

I wondered whether Sheba's love for Jehoiada develops a little too quickly, considering how strongly she resisted initially, but decided no. She'd been starved for proper love from the people who were supposed to her guardians for so long, it's reasonable that she would quickly warm to her husband, when she discovers that the love he offers is genuine and deep.

Jehoiada is a great hero. At first, I wondered how the marital union of a crusty old priest and a beautiful princess could possibly work in fiction. Mesu Andrews pulls it off brilliantly. Jehoiada is certainly not doddering (as the scene when he arm-wrestles Hazi proves). As well as treasuring his young wife, he is concerned and empathetic to everyone. I love his relationships with the young men in his life; Nathanael, his second in command, Zabad, the chief guard, and of course, Ahaziah the crown prince.

I think Prince Ahaziah (or Hazi for short) is one of my favourite characters, giving the story a lot of depth. The Bible simply tells us that under the influence of his evil mother, Ahaziah went off the rails and followed the customs of those around him. Mesu Andrews' Hazi is a warm-hearted, witty young man who simply wants those he loves to remain safe and happy. It's hard to forget what his mother, Athaliah, does to make him cooperate with her stinking plans in this book. Let's just say she knows what buttons to push.

The lifestyles of those faithful believers who live within the Temple precincts shine like a beacon. Without being haughty, pushy or depressed, they wake up to complete their sacred tasks day after day, choosing to trust Yahweh's good intentions to them, even though the nation seems to be going crazy, following their corrupt leaders and the worshipers of Baal and other foreign gods who have all sorts of bizarre, sensual rituals. It's a good example for any of us, who plod along doing what is right, even though it may seem to be achieving very little.

The powerful moments included Jehoiada telling the wriggling lamb, 'I know you don't deserve it, but that's the point.' It's good to see the passages from our Bible brought to life in biblical fiction.

5 stars

In the Shadow of Jezebel: A Novel available from Amazon

Thursday, July 24, 2014

10 Wicked Women in Novels

For my first list, I've decided to tackle villainous females. For some reason, they have their own style of nastiness. Male villains may be memorable and commit foul deeds, but females often have their own bitter flavour. Some seem to develop a particular type of cattiness, going straight for the emotional jugular vein in a way which may not even occur to their male counterparts. They may have a way of being discreet and sneaky, putting on an innocent or lovable face, concealing the seething nastiness within. I've chosen ten books which spring to mind from my reading over the past few years, and am happy to see that half of these are by Australian authors (although I'm certain it's not because our women are nastier. We just know how to tell a good story).

I've decided to count backwards. These are roughly from most mild to the very worst, although you'll find that many of them operate in the same sort of spirit as fairytale characters such as Snow White's wicked stepmother, C.S. Lewis' queen of Narnia, and Dodie Smith's Cruella DeVil from 101 Dalmatians.   

10) The Risky Way Home by Paula Vince
The Risky Way Home Please allow me to include one of my own. Henrietta Bowman is the hero's bitter old grandmother. She has a history of making Piers and his sister, Suzanne's lives almost unbearable, while their mother, Mara, seemed too spineless to stick up for them. They blame many of their personal hang-ups on her influence, and in the course of the story, it is revealed why she resents her grandchildren so fiercely, and why Mara feels she has no comeback.

9) A New Resolution by Rose Dee
A New Resolution Caroline is the sort of character we love to see falling flat on her face. She is a grown-up spoiled brat who always had designs on the hero, Nate, for her own reasons, and turns up thinking that she'll kick up a fuss and get her own way, as usual. Her plan includes humiliating the sensitive heroine, Anika, and making her feel horrible. Little does Caroline know that she'll be way out of her element on Resolution Island. There are laugh-out-loud funny moments as she gets what she deserves.

8) The Prayer Box by Lisa Wingate
The Prayer Box Gina is the older sister of the heroine, Tandi. She's the ultimate freeloader, who will keep her distance when things are going her way, and then show up to throw her weight around, getting her controlling fingers stuck into however many lives she can. You give her an inch and she'll take a mile. Throughout the story, her lack of scruples may amaze readers. And she remains totally shameless, thinking that she's just doing what she has to do to look after Number One.

7) Every Waking Moment by Chris Fabry
Every Waking Moment Jillian Millstone is the new director of a nursing home, taking over from a kinder predecessor. She's is officious, haughty and clearly wrong for the job, although she think she will implement vast improvements So convinced of her own infallibility, she closes her mind to people who try to reason with her. And she sees people as 'types' rather than individuals. I liked the choice of surname for her.

6) Charter to Redemption by D. J. Blackmore
Charter to Redemption People who pretend to be looking after you, but intend to use you as a pawn in their own personal games, are easy to dislike. Heroine Emma Colchester's Aunt Adelaide fits the bill to a tee. She puts herself in the role of benefactor, organising a marriage for her niece which brings Emma right across the world. However, she deliberately withholds certain information about Emma's intended, Gideon Quinn, including his age. We discover why Emma was set up by Adelaide as a sacrificial lamb. 

5) Tangled Secrets by Carol Preston
Tangled Secrets (Turning the Tide, #3) The heroine, Beth, arrives in the colony with her two younger brothers, to discover that her father's fiance, Bridget, resents them all, especially her. Bridget seems to go out of her way to make Beth's life miserable, in sneaky, underhanded, cruel ways, until finally Beth snaps and makes a decision which negatively impacts many years of her life. Bridget is a wicked stepmother of the Australian colonial era, knowing that Beth is helpless and friendless, yet rejoicing because this gives her more leverage to make her life miserable.

4) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Harry Potter, #5) I know this is children's and youth fantasy, but I can't help putting Professor Dolores Umbridge in a list such as this. She was surely the most calculating, evil-hearted, easy-to-despise Defense against the Dark Arts teacher Hogwarts ever had. All her badness was delivered in the most patronising, sickly-sweet way. "No Harry dear, put away your quill. I have a special one I want you to use." It's easy to shudder when I think about her.

3) Signed, Sealed, Delivered by Rita Stella Galieh
Signed Sealed Delivered Another Australian colonial novel with the most brazenly wicked woman you could expect to find. Cornelia Cantrell is the employer of heroine governess, Megan Trevallyn. Cornelia cooks up such a huge and horrible plot that I won't mention anything about it for fear of plot spoilers. How she manages to put it all together and then live the lie she has concocted has a twist of evil genius about it. And it's all about self-gratification and getting her own way.

2) A Constant Heart by Siri Mitchell
A Constant Heart This one is set in the Elizabethan court in the 1500s. Lady DeWinter poses for years as the mentor of the more naive young heroine, Marget, Lady Lytham. When you discover Lady DeWinter's selfish purposes for the bogus advice she deals out, and the history of ruined and wrecked lives she's left behind her, you can only shake your head. This is one wicked woman.

1) In the Shadow of Jezebel by Mesu Andrews
In the Shadow of Jezebel (Treasure of His Love) History's most infamous mother and daughter team must top of the list. The Bible reveals Jezebel as a shameless manipulator who controlled her husband, and hence the kingdom, trying to spread hideous Baal worship and wipe out knowledge of the true God. Her daughter, Athaliah, follows in her footsteps, not hesitating to plan the murder of her own infant grandson. This novel brings them vividly to life, referring to themselves as the 'Queens of Destiny.'

I hope you enjoyed my list. Feel free to mention any other novels which may fit on this list, or create your own.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Interview with Rita Stella Galieh

Today, I am delighted to introduce my friend and fellow Australian author, Rita Stella Galieh. Writing historical Australian fiction isn't her only talent. I caught up with Rita and asked her a few questions.

1) Would you please tell us a bit about your radio program? Where does it broadcast and what topics do you address?
Thanks for your invitation, Paula. I am happy to be a guest on your interesting and often indepth blog. My husband and I both script and co-present on Vantage Point, a five minute program broadcast through out Australia in every state except NT. We speak on a variety of topics eg. God's GPS, Age of Indiscretion, Under Construction, Who Can You Trust?, Self Harm, Whose Power? Is That All there Is? Then we lead into what God says/Jesus is the answer, and offer booklets.

2) Your inspirational romance blog is full of true stories, many written by people about when they first met their spouses. How did you come to choose this theme?

Like me, I guess most women have an inbuilt desire to experience romance and I wanted to share stories of how God was involved in men & women finding their life's partners. Also I blog on any snippets of marital advice etc. If any of your visiters would like to share their story they can email me:  ritagal (at) optusnet (dot) com (dot) au

(I've been touched entertained several times. Here is Rita's blog .)

Signed Sealed Delivered3) Each year, you and your husband minister in Thailand to Buddhist schools, prisons, hospitals and churches. Do you return to the same places? And what does a typical day look like?

We love the Thais and each year look forward to our month-long ministry there. Sometimes we make return visits. Yet even after twenty years we're going to new places. Hah! No day is typical, we've learned that! The very first time we arrived and very jetlagged after bedding down at midnight, we left at 5am and took 5 services indifferent places. Our homebase is Bangkok where we stay with our evangelist/interpreter, Somchai & Saethong, his wife. We're accepted in these places because my artwork accompanies George's messages. And they love his upbeat violin playing.

(Wow, your energy is just astounding. They sound like amazing presentations, with the combination of art and music included.)

4) One of the things I love most about your colonial novels is the inclusion of famous historical figures in the plots. A.B. (Banjo) Paterson made a cameo appearance in ‘Fire in the Rock’, and you had Caroline Chisholm in ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered.’ Did you have to research their dates and movements carefully to weave them into your stories?

Thank you for that, Paula. I think having such personalities in cameo roles makes the story ring true and research is necessary if you write in the historical genre.

(Fire in the Rock was one my of my favourite colonial stories the year I read it.)

Fire in the Rock5) Your most recent Australian historical novel has been accepted by an agent in the United States. Congratulations on the exciting news. Can you tell us more about this?

You know the old adage, 'overnight success' (after you've slogged away for years.) I tried agent after agent but only received a form "not what we're wanting at this time" reply. After much praying and wondering if I'd ever find a home, I found an agent I'd never heard of before and she showed such great enthusiasm. Oh, at last, somebody liked my writing! She gave it to ten well known publishers at the ECPA who requested my Book Proposal. Then she said our part is over. Now we wait on "publisher time" which is usually six months before hearing a yea or nay! 

(Publisher time! I like that. To us, it seems up there with the formation of glaciers. To any publishers reading this, we guess how rushed and inundated you must really feel.)

6) Please tempt us with a description of the new book, ‘The Testing of Taylor Jones.’

I fumbled over titles before I asked 'What is it about anyway?' Then I had it. Its genre: Historical Romance with Quest Plot.
A venture into the unknown. A step of faith or an incalculable blunder?
Late 1890s: As members of a covert expedition in search of a creature thought extinct, Dr. Garrett Steele, veterinary professor of the New England Museum of Natural History and reporter, Miss Taylor Jones, are thrust to the limits of their courage and endurance in the rugged outback of Australia. He wants to make the find of the century and she determines to write an account to elevate her to a household name. When betrayed by a rogue team member, danger escalates their passionate clash of personalities into a relationship neither had bargained for. Will each find what they crave, or will they fail the final gut-wrenching challenge?

(I'm looking forward to reading it, as it sounds intriguing. I hope the cogs turn quickly and that we may have that pleasure some time soon.)

Rita has kindly offered to give away one copy of either 'Fire in the Rock' or 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered' to one commenter, who will be chosen randomly. Please leave a way of getting in contact with you. 

Here are my reviews of Fire in the Rock and Signed, Sealed, Delivered. 

Rita Stella Galieh is a scriptwriter and co-presenter on Vantage Point, a 5 minute program broadcast throughout Australia. She has contributed to several US Anthologies by Adams Media and has two Historical Romances published by Ark House Press. Each year she and her husband minister in Buddhist Government schools, prisons, hospitals & churches in Thailand

Sunday, July 20, 2014

'The Hatmaker's Heart' by Carla Stewart

The Hatmaker's Heart For Nell Marchwold, bliss is seeing the transformation when someone gets a glimpse in the mirror while wearing one of her creations and feels beautiful. Nell has always strived to create hats that bring out a woman's best qualities. She knows she's fortunate to have landed a job as an apprentice designer at the prominent Oscar Fields Millinery in New York City. Yet when Nell's fresh designs begin to catch on, her boss holds her back from the limelight, claiming the stutter she's had since childhood reflects poorly on her and his salon.
But it seems Nell's gift won't be hidden by Oscar's efforts. Soon an up-and-coming fashion designer is seeking her out as a partner of his 1922 collection. The publicity leads to an opportunity for Nell to make hats in London for a royal wedding. There, she sees her childhood friend, Quentin, and an unexpected spark kindles between them. But thanks to her success, Oscar is determined to keep her. As her heart tugs in two directions, Nell must decide what she is willing to sacrifice for her dream, and what her dream truly is.


Nell Marchwold is a talented hat designer who works for Oscar Fields, a prestigious milliner in New York. Her mission has always been to bring out the inner beauty in every woman, delighting some who may have felt plain their whole life. Yet giving her dream the priority it seemed to deserve meant that many sacrifices were required, the biggest of which seemed to be having to kowtow to a selfish and demanding employer ( a 'schmuck' as her fellow worker Calvin calls him). She ends up forced to ask herself whether recognition at the top of her field is the same as happiness.

Nell's boss, Oscar Fields, is the sort of character we're torn between hating and feeling sorry for. He bosses his staff around, blackmails them, arranges their lives, regards them as possessions, forces them to work 60 hour weeks and never gives them credit unless it puts him in a good light. Yet how exhausting to be him, such a control freak that even his staff must be seen as extensions of himself. You can't read this book without waiting for him to either crack or fall flat on his face.

The story has a gentle mystery, as Nell visits the flamboyant Dr Terrence Underwood, who gives her drawing exercises to try to get to the bottom of why she stammers when nervous. There is plenty of pressure on her to figure it out, as Oscar finds her a liability who shouldn't open her mouth around VIPs until she's cured. 

Oscar, Nell and some of the other staff have the opportunity to set up shop in London for several weeks, to design hats for noble folk who plan to attend the royal wedding of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon and Prince Albert (who also had a stutter like Nell, come to think of it). This part of the story was great. I was alive for the royal weddings of Charles and Di and Will and Kate, so appreciated having this glimpse into the wedding of 1923 too.

Although there are romantic moments, this story isn't really a romance, which I feel it fair to tell people who are looking for one. It's more about the sagas of working life. In fact, I was far more interested in Calvin, Nell's fellow apprentice, than Quentin, the boy she left her heart with in England. This isn't because Quentin isn't likeable, but simply because we see far more of Calvin and get to know him better. He was probably one of my favourite characters.

I'm glad I read this book, as there is so much food for thought, concerning our motivations for the work we do, and when a God-given dream crosses the line into personal gratification, which may then lead to being driven and losing your sense of joy. The 1920s milliner shop setting really brings that home. Oscar, Nell and the other staff were practically running themselves ragged to make good impressions, as fashion was their whole world, yet now, about ninety years later, it is no longer obligatory for every citizen to wear a hat as part of our daily attire. All that stress for them is simply a whimsical memory of times long ago for us.

Thanks to Net Galley and  FaithWords for a review copy.

4 stars

The Hatmaker's Heart: A Novel available from Amazon

Friday, July 18, 2014

'This Holey Life' by Sophie Duffy

This Holey Life
… that was the point at which I should’ve put my foot down. Stamped it hard. Stopped the past repeating itself. But what did I do? I did what Mum used to do in times of crisis. I left the room and went to put the kettle on.
Vicky is a reluctant curate’s wife, struggling to come to terms with her own bereavement and her husband’s new-found faith. Then, one Boxing Day, a knock on the door brings her annoying big brother, his teenage son and a cello into her life, turning her world upside down.
With her small terrace house in Penge now fit to burst, Vicky struggles to manage her three children and the joys of everyday family life. As a new threat lurks behind every corner, hope appears in the most unlikely of circumstances.

An enchanting, funny, sad yet bittersweet tale of life and living, one that reminds us it’s not a race at all… but a journey.


The theme of Vicky's whole life has been comparing herself with her older brother, Martin, and feeling that she's fallen short in every way, encompassing career, family, suburb and spouse. She's grown up with the impression that it was always her lot in life to be second best. So she begins to panic the day after Christmas, when Martin and his ten-year-old son, Jeremy, knock on her door, looking for a temporary home. It seems his accomplished, but long-suffering wife has booted him out. Vicky is too 'nice' to say no, but braces herself for the implied put-downs and disapproval she's always expected from her brother.

I couldn't shake off the impression that a big part of Vicky's problem is that, for a chunk of the book, she doesn't value the many blessings in her life. When you take all the good for granted, and grumble through your day, you are bound to find it full of hard work and fall into bed, exhausted. When she married her husband, Steve, she thought she was getting a plumber, never expecting him to change career and become a curate in the Church of England. Vicky has never worked out how she feels about God, so is uncomfortable in her role as a clergy wife. She has three healthy young daughters, but always darts her thoughts away from the baby son she lost whenever they head there, which is frequently. I did feel very sorry for her for that. Smothering your grief because you feel there's nothing you do to make it better and should be over it, really is exhausting.

The book is written as a bit of a comedy with serious undertones. I liked the British setting, reminiscent of 'The Vicar of Dibley'. Martin did come across as a colossal pain in the neck for the most part, but it's interesting to reflect that we are seeing him through the lens of Vicky's point of view. Having the book written through his eyes would make a totally different story. I did feel a soft spot for Jeremy, perhaps because he reminds me of my own 10-year-old son, who is also large for his age and very sensitive.

It's worth getting to the ending, which is quite satisfying, as Vicky forms some new personal philosophies. Having read another novel by Sophie Duffy which had a huge twist, I was wondering if there would be something similar in this. There were some surprises.

There are some nice quotes. I especially like this reflection of Vicky's about her husband. 'Life is simple for him these days. He hands his worries over to God, whereas I gather mine all around me like a class of small, uncontrollable children.'

Thanks to Net Galley and Legend Press for a review copy

3.5 stars

This Holey Life available from Amazon

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Life Spent Reading

This is a post I wrote on New Year's Day for the Christian Writers Downunder blog, and I want to share it here too.

During this first week of the year, I stumbled across a quote by Annie Dillard. She reminded me, "How we spend our days is how we spend our lives." Then she expanded on that to say, "Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading - that is a good life."

I had to stop and think about that, because I do consider a day free to do nothing but read is a good day indeed. As I pondered, I began to see what I think she meant. And she's right.

Consider the benefits of a life spent reading. We stimulate healthy paths in areas of our brain which might have been left dormant otherwise. At parties, we have the potential to begin interesting conversations. We never need to worry about being bored in unexpectedly empty hours. Instead of moping about how we have nothing to do, we relish the sudden opportunity to get stuck into our books. If we're caught in a queue or waiting room without our books, we simply pull our fully loaded reading devices out of our handbags or briefcases and we're all set. If we're bloggers, it isn't difficult to come up with something to spark a blog post because our minds keep ticking over with what we've read. As I skimmed through my blog to see the tone of last year, I noticed how often I said something occurred to me because of something I'd read. If fiction is among the mix, we may be more empathetic people than those who don't read. Even scientific studies have indicated that. Imagining ourselves in other people's shoes comes easily to us, enabling us to intuitively sense how those around us might feel, making us more sensitive in our relationships. We may be more familiar with the experience of having sudden flashes of insight or unexplained answers to questions we've been pondering, without actively seeking them, because they come to us from within the pages of our books. We are more familiar with the interesting features of the world without physically having to visit each place. And our imaginations are healthy. They get more aerobics than those of people who merely opt for watching TV. There are huge benefits to a life spent reading.

BUT to have the benefit of a life spent reading, we have to be able to spend part of our days reading without feeling that we're wasting our time. There's where people may sometimes come unstuck.

It's increasingly difficult for people to justify doing that in the twenty-first century. There's usually something pressing and urgent to be done within each 24 hour block. We feel lazy if we're caught with our feet up, reading a book, while there are still dirty dishes in the sink or wet towels on the bathroom floor. When we feel as if we shouldn't read until all the housework is done, there's very little time left over. If your house is like mine, one room is being made messy while another is being straightened. If we are lucky enough to be caught up in the pages of a fascinating book, how easy it is to call the day a write-off and say, "I spent too much time reading," or "I did absolutely nothing."

I'd like to encourage us all to remember the great benefits of a life spent reading, and remind us that we won't achieve those good things listed above unless we prioritise at least a little while each day to read. And if we really want to feel as if something good and constructive is coming out of our reading time in the short time, we can leave trails of our experience through reviews left on our blogs, or any of the many book review sites. That's a good record of our life spent reading, which might be springboard for those of many other people.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Interview with Jeanette O'Hagan

Today, it's my pleasure to welcome writer and blogger, Jeanette O'Hagan. She is a wise and encouraging person to know, and I enjoyed this opportunity to ask questions about her reading, writing and literature which we all may benefit from. 

1) You’ve led a busy and varied life, having practiced medicine and taught theology. Now you are choosing to focus on your creative writing. What is it about telling a good story that has made you decide to dedicate this current time in your life to pursuing it?

 I’ve had a passion for telling stories and for writing them since primary school. I love words. I love people and wondering about why they are the way they are, what motivates them, what are their stories, their hopes and dreams. I also love the possibilities of change in the middle of life’s difficulties – of even the bleakest situations turning around, of hope, love and new beginnings. And I love writing.
I’ve enjoyed doing a number of things – studying, doctoring, teaching, mothering - but about 6 years ago circumstances forced me to give up a long term dream and ministry that I had invested heavily in for many years. I felt abandoned in the desert but very gently God began whispering into my life that he had other plans for me. The last three years have been an exhilarating roller coaster journey as I’ve taken up study, blogging and began reediting and expanding into a series a novel I wrote 20 years ago.

(Your last three years sound amazing. It may sound hackneyed to say, 'When one door closes, another opens' but we all love hearing true stories about when this happens)

2) Okay, now that I’ve asked, “Why choose writing?” I know you’ve been an avid reader of many different genres. You are writing a fantasy adventure series so I’ll hone in even deeper. What is it about this genre that you find particularly fascinating?

 Ever since my parents began reading the Narnia series to me and my brothers (I was seven), Fantasy has been my first love in fiction. I love science, theology, history, travel, languages and cultural studies – the complex beauty of the inhabited world lifts my spirit and reminds me of the Maker. All novels have the ability to transport the reader into a new/different world – but fantasy is full of wonder and is strong on world building. It is full of movement and colour. It is rich in metaphor and allows the exploration of grand themes.

(Well said!)

3) As a lifelong reader, how has reading changed your life?

 It’s hard to imagine my life without reading. In the first few grades of Primary school I found it hard to make friends but took to reading with ease. Then I discovered the school library – and that opened up whole new worlds. Reading became a way with coping with not being included. Over the years, I did learn to make friends – but I also kept on reading and imagining. I’ve learnt a lot about life from both fiction and non-fiction. It’s given me a greater knowledge of myself, other people and God. 

4) Can you name a couple of people who have influenced your love of reading and writing and tell us why?

 First, I would have to say my mother who took the time to re-enact nursery rhymes when my siblings and I were little and to read to us each night. Then I would say my Dad who didn’t have patience for small talk but would discuss what books I was reading (especially if they were serious tomes) and who gave up Engineering to manage the Crusade Bookshop in Mt. Isa (which actually started as a bookcase in our lounge room in the mid 1960s). In Grade 11 & 12, I got to work in the book shop on Saturday mornings and for stock take. And then I could name the host of authors – like Lewis and Tolkien and a multitude of others whose works captivated my imagination. But you did say a couple – right?

(I love how you honour your parents first, knowing that they were instrumental in introducing you to Tolkien, Lewis and the others. I'm sure we could have another interview or two just about the Crusade Bookshop. What a great family business/outreach to be involved in.)

5) As well as studying, you are hard at work on a fantasy series. I’ve been lucky enough to have a sneak preview of the first, “Akrad’s Children.” Without plot spoilers, can you tantalise readers with a brief overview of what we might expect?

 In the Akrad’s Legacy series I follow the lives, loves and adventures of four young people in following a divisive civil war. Mannok is heir to the throne and anxious to win the approval of his father; Dinnis and Ista are orphans connected with the fierce northern invaders and Rasel is a feisty young woman of mysterious origins. And then there is an unknown assassin targeting the royal family. The stories are set in Tamra, part of the imaginary world of Nardva – there’s lots of intrigue, friendship, danger and a little bit of romance.  If you want to know a bit more, I wrote a hypertext story ‘My sister’ by Dinnis son of Gaia as a teaser last year.

(I've just had a read of the hypertext. It's a very tantalising glimpse into the mind of Dinnis, near the start of the story, and just hints at some of the mystery and intrigue to come.)

6) Do you run your ideas past your family as you write? Do your children share and support your love of writing.

 Actually, I don’t tend to talk about my stories while I’m writing them. My daughter has expressed an interest in reading them but then gets cold feet though she has enjoyed the few excerpts I’ve read to her. My family is supportive of my writing. And both my children show narrative flare J

(I actually agree with you. That way, you get to keep the story developing the way you want it to, without being diverted by the possibilities of other people's suggestions.)

Jeanette has practiced medicine, studied communication, history and theology and has taught theology.  She is currently caring for her  children, enjoying post-graduate studies in writing at Swinburne University and writing her Akrad fantasy fiction series (  She is actively involved in a caring Christian community.

You can find her on her Facebook page or webistes Jeanette O'Hagan Writes & .

Friday, July 11, 2014

'Full Steam Ahead' by Karen Witemeyer

Full Steam Ahead
Nicole Renard returns home to Galveston, Texas, to find her father deathly ill. Though she loves him, Nicole's father has always focused on what she's not. Not male. Not married. Not able to run Renard Shipping.

Vowing to find a suitable husband to give her father the heir he desires before it's too late, Nicole sets out with the Renard family's greatest treasure as her dowry: the highly coveted Lafitte Dagger. But her father's rivals come after the dagger, forcing a change in Nicole's plans.

After a boiler explosion aboard the Louisiana nearly took his life, Darius Thornton has been a man obsessed. He will do anything to stop even one more steamship disaster. Even if it means letting a female secretary into his secluded world.

Nicole is determined not to let her odd employer scare her off with his explosive experiments, yet when respect and mutual attraction grow between them, a new fear arises. How can she acquire an heir for her father when her heart belongs to another? And when her father's rivals discover her hiding place, will she have to choose between that love and her family's legacy?

Poor Darius is driven by nightmares of remorse and a sense of worthlessness, as he'd failed to rescue a perishing young girl from a sinking steamship. Since then, he's made it his mission to figure out why boilers explode, killing many innocent passengers. He needs a secretary but nobody will apply, as they fear his wild ways and fearsome experiments. I really like Darius. His self-deprecating humour is appealing and there are usually good reasons for his short fuse. But most of all, he is truly heroic in his lack of concern for personal acknowledgement, as long as the problems with exploding boilers are solved.

Nicole is equally driven, but her quest is to make up to her ailing father for having her instead of a son. She sets off to find him an 'heir' through marriage, and aims to safeguard his most precious material possession from those who seek it. It's a dagger formerly owned by Jean Lafitte, the famous pirate. Nicole goes above and beyond what any good daughter would normally consider her duty, but the plot hinges on her determination. Short of cash when her plans go awry, she answers the ad for a secretary, and discovers that her employer is a mad-professor type, or as she tells herself, 'an obsessed, eccentric, social misfit.'

Romantic sparks fly when these two get together. It's good to see a man respect a woman for her sharp intellect in an era when females often tried hard not to come across as bluestockings. I love the goal Nicole sets for herself before she even learns the full truth; to ease Darius' burdens and restore what he had lost. It's as good a purpose as any, and more so when you develop feelings for a guy who could possibly blow himself up.

The time frame is amazingly short, as they meet, fall in love and get betrothed within a couple of weeks, but such things do happen, and Nicole had intended to find herself a husband in that time frame anyway. I love how Darius' personal torture is brought to an end. It gives hope to anybody with deep regrets and 'if onlys'. The end concerning the Lafitte dagger is quite suitable too, although not necessarily what readers may expect.

I wonder if a sequel will be written. You would think any children of Nicole's and Darius' would have to have a good start in life, as both parents are intelligent, athletic, decisive, intense and physically attractive. They are the total package, just like this book.

Thanks to Net Galley and Bethany House for giving me a review copy.

4.5 stars

Full Steam Ahead available from Amazon

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

'Grace for the Good Girl' by Emily P Freeman

Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life 
Many of us believe that we are saved by grace--but for too many, that's the last time grace defines our life. Instead of clinging to grace, we strive for good and believe that the Christian life means hard work and a sweet disposition. As good girls, we focus on the things we can handle, our disciplined lives, and our unshakable good moods. When we fail to measure up to our own impossible standards, we hide behind our good girl masks, determined to keep our weakness a secret.

In Grace for the Good Girl, Emily Freeman invites women to let go of the try-hard life and realize that in Christ we are free to receive from him rather than constantly try to achieve for him. With an open hand and a whimsical style, Emily uncovers the truth about the hiding, encouraging women to move from hiding behind girl-made masks and do-good performances to a life hidden with Christ in God.


Every now and then, a book comes along which just hits the right spot.

This book was written for those of us who have always tried to do the right thing. We please people, we always have a smile and polite reply, we never make waves or cause trouble. When those with messed up pasts come forward to receive affirmation and positive feedback for changing, we sit with plastered-on smiles wondering where we really fit, longing to recognised too. And we hide our deepest hurts and insecurities for the sake of looking good and not bothering others, who we then secretly resent for believing our lies that we are fine.

Several times, I found myself nodding, 'Oh yeah, I've been there.' Wearing masks starts off as a game but becomes an exhausting burden we don't know how to shake off. If people don't seem to buy our acts of 'niceness' we make it our self-imposed job to go to any length to change their minds. Other people become measuring sticks for our goodness and we gauge our performance by their behaviour toward us. No wonder we're exhausted. It's like putting on a live stage show all day long. I felt a lump in my throat when Emily Freeman wrote some of the 'good girl' catch cries. 'Please notice me! The energy it takes to live for your is killing me!'

People wouldn't necessarily think 'good girls' need books to be written, but our need for help may be more desperate than anyone's. Freeman explains the serious position we may be in, as we subconsciously try to convince ourselves that we're good enough by our own efforts. As Christian 'good girls', the magnitude of what Jesus did for us is lost in our own efforts, our determination to be important, right, liked and good. It's hard to deal with the hidden wilderness of sin when we're trying hard not to even acknowledge it. We have a lot in common with the Prodigal Son's brother.

Freeman manages to emphasise the seriousness of this, while retaining her understanding, sympathetic tone. Without knowing, 'good girls' may live our lives with as big a checklist theology as any Pharisee. Like the Prodigal's brother, we misunderstand the sweeping extent of our Father's love and acceptance, and work hard for something we already have. Truly, we need to accept ourselves in the position of the Prodigal for a change, because receiving grace and being able to finally relax may be one and the same for us.

This book may truly be a life-changer for me.

5 stars

Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life available from Amazon

Monday, July 7, 2014

Interview with Cherie Burbach

Today I'd like to welcome a very prolific author who has written non-fiction, self-help and fiction, but today we're helping her celebrate the release of her fresh new poetry book, 'My Soul is from a Different Place'.

Cherie is the Friendship Expert and has published over 1,000 articles on the subjects of health, sports, lifestyle, and friendship. She’s also written for NBC/Universal,, Popular Mechanics, Philips Lifeline, and more.
Cherie’s poetry reflects the faith and hope that is evident in her life story. After reading and enjoying the book, I asked Cherie these questions.

1) How did you come to choose the book’s title?

 The title comes from one of the poems, which I wrote when considering how our soul might feel being housed here with us on earth. When it finally leads us back to God and we return home, how content and welcome it feel being back home. It’s my reminder that this earth is not the end of our journey.

(It draws us in, that's for sure.)

2) You’ve written a wide variety of books. What is it about poetry that appeals to you as the right medium for books like this?

I think poetry opens up a different level of emotion and understanding, especially when we talk about feelings, faith, or loss. Sometimes we are “at a loss for words” in dealing with the things we experience emotionally, and poetry is one way to express ourselves in a healthy way. I’ve always been drawn to poetry because it helps me view the world in a different way.

3) The cover is unique, interesting, and easy to be drawn into. How did you settle on this design?
My Soul Is from a Different Place: Poems
I’ve been intrigued by the idea of our solar system and am always brought back to how incredible God’s vision is for us. That he made the earth and stars and loves us so much he created this world that is exactly perfect for us in every way (temperature, light, atmosphere). So I wanted to design the cover that conveyed how we’re a part of everything he made, and that our souls are connected to Him even while we’re here in the comfy confines of earth.
The cover is a combination of my mixed media art and computer design skills.

4) Are there two or three poems in this book which are personal favourites of yours, or particularly meaningful to you?
The title poem definitely is, and also “Kiss That Scar” and “The Wise Bride.” They are all in some way about embracing your mistakes as lessons from God, moving forward, and being content with the person you are today.

(I loved those ones too, as I was reading through.)

5) As I read through the poems, they seem to ring with joy, optimism and faith, even in the presence of adversity. Do you need to be in the right frame of mind to write them, or are you able to use your gift to help draw yourself out of an undesirable head space?

I’m so glad that you’ve taken those thoughts from them! I feel that even when I’m feeling sad or frustrated, poetry helps me reconnect with God, and when you do that, you see hope on the horizon. You might not feel it yet, but you know it’s there and at times when I’m struggling that’s enough. I know the bad times won’t last forever, and they can’t keep my faith down for long. So the process is an easy one because the poetry does all the work. It’s almost like prayer.

Cherie, thanks for coming to visit my blog today. It was lovely having you, and I hope, 'My Soul is from a Different Place' will touch the hearts of many readers. To connect with Cherie and view her broad range of books and writing, please visit her website.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

'Anomaly' by Krista McGee

Anomaly (Anomaly #1)
Thalli has fifteen minutes and twenty-three seconds left to live. The toxic gas that will complete her annihilation is invading her bloodstream. But she is not afraid.

Thalli is different than others in The State. She feels things. She asks questions. And in the State, this is not tolerated. The Ten scientists who survived the nuclear war that destroyed the world above believe that emotion was at the core of what went wrong—and they have genetically removed it from the citizens they have since created. Thalli has kept her malformation secret from those who have monitored her for most of her life, but when she receives an ancient piece of music to record as her community’s assigned musician, she can no longer keep her emotions secreted away.

Seen as a threat to the harmony of her Pod, Thalli is taken to the Scientists for immediate annihilation. But before that can happen, Berk—her former Pod mate who is being groomed as a Scientist—steps in and persuades the Scientists to keep Thalli alive as a test subject.

The more time she spends in the Scientist’s Pod, the clearer it becomes that things are not as simple as she was programmed to believe. She hears stories of a Designer—stories that fill her mind with more questions: Who can she trust? What is this emotion called love? And what if she isn’t just an anomaly, but part of a greater design?

I'm sure we've all seen some children shamed and shunned for being 'too emotional'. In fact, as we grow older, we do learn to keep our emotions in check. Imagine if you are the only person with a full gamut of emotions in a world of clinical, matter-of-fact peers who have been genetically designed to fit in and do as they are told. This is Thalli's lot in life, and she knows she must keep a lid on hers at all times or she will be taken away in shame to face annihilation. She doesn't want to be without her emotions, because she rather likes them. Some teens we know seem talented at assuming the indifferent and emotionless stance at will, but I wonder if they'd be able to do it every day, with the threat of certain death if they don't. Thalli pulls it off remarkably well until one day, her iron will-power comes crashing down when she's assigned to listen to a piece of music by Johann Bach as part of studies toward being a musician. 'Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring' turns out to be her downfall, and she can't contain her tears.

Her story takes place in a future society, when the world as we know it has been annihilated. Humans are kept in age groups and assigned strict tasks. None of the young people have ever seen signs of sickness or age in another person. When Thalli is scheduled for annihilation, her childhood friend Berk, now working with the scientists, steps in to try to save her. But he can't reveal his true intentions toward her.

One of my favourite characters is 90-year-old John, and his stories of the world before the apocalypse. Without actual dates being given, we get the impression that he might have been born around the same time as some of us. He tells her about God, the Designer, and considers himself part of the Remnant who are always providentially left behind. I enjoyed how Thalli came to relate his stories about love (something they never get taught) with the feelings she has for Berk.

There are a few details which make me wonder. How could Thalli have slipped under the radar in her very early years? Toddlers with emotions cannot possibly conceal them or understand the need to, I'm sure. However, it's still a good, fast-paced read which held my interest.

4 stars

Thanks to Net Galley and Thomas Nelson for a free review copy.

Anomaly available from Amazon

Friday, July 4, 2014

'Every Waking Moment' by Chris Fabry

Every Waking Moment
Treha Langsam is a mysterious young woman who has fallen through the cracks, much like many of the elderly people she works with at Desert Gardens Retirement Home. But Miriam Howard, director of the facility, sees her extraordinary gift and untapped potential. Treha is a whisperer of sorts, calling those who have slipped into dementia back to a life of vibrant, if only temporary, clarity.When Treha's and Miriam's stories intertwine with a documentary team looking for stories of the elderly, Treha's gift is uncovered, and the search begins for answers to the mysteries of her past. As their paths converge, each person is forced to face the same difficult question: "What if this is as good as my life gets?"An uplifting, human tale of an ordinary woman with an extraordinary gift.
My husband has been performing saxophone concerts at places similar to this book's main setting, so I was hooked from the start. We call them nursing homes or aged care facilities. Desert Gardens Hospice, in this book, was called an 'end-of-life facility' which seems a bit blunt. The drama unfolds within its walls.

The main character is Treha Langsam, a young female employee who seems to have a way with the patients and inmates. At first, she comes across as something of a horse whisperer, but her subjects are elderly humans who are locked into Alzheimers or dementia. My early impression was that Treha was devoid of a sense of humour, and it becomes clear that she is unable to express any emotion at all. But she has a photographic memory, a fertile mind a bit like a Thesaurus, and loves reading novels. She has no past that she can remember, yet it's evident that she must have some sort of empathy, or she wouldn't get along so well with the elderly inmates. During the story, she's called a 'memory stealer' and you'll have to read the book to find out why.

There are a couple of 'villains' in this story, and one of the easiest to hiss and boo is Jillian Millstone, who is set to replace the kindly Miriam Howard as director of the centre. It's an apt surname for this cold and clinical woman who believes she will usher in improvements and regards people as 'types' rather than seeing them as individuals. It's sad to see a good person retire to make way for an unsuitable replacement who is capable of snuffing the good feelings out of a place in a flash, without even realising that she's doing it. Once again, you'll have to read the book to find out what happens.

My favourite characters were Devin and Jonah, the two young men who wanted to start a business making artistic and revealing films about the reminiscences of elderly people. What Treha lacks in humour, they make up for over and over. I started chuckling when we first met Devin trying to convince his bank manager to give them a loan, and not succeeding in his attempt to 'explain art to a number cruncher'. The boys have no easy road, and you have to read it to find out what happens.

There is plenty of mystery to unravel, as Miriam, Devin and Jonah begin to get to bottom of Treha's earliest history, dredging up some sinister crime from people you would least expect. And we get plenty of alternative ways of viewing the inmates of Desert Gardens. Some view them as 'old fogeys' eking out their last days in some forgotten corner, while others, like Miriam, Devin and Treha, see them as 'treasures in wrinkled bodies.' One of the most interesting things about this book is its success in making readers care so deeply for Treha, in spite of the fact that she seems to function like a robot girl for a lot of it.

I think one of my favourite quotes comes from Chaplain Calhoun. He's a minor character, but sums up the wisdom encapsulated in some of the elderly characters. 'Being content is not a lack of ambition. It's being able to rest and relax and know your worth doesn't come from what others think of you, or even what you think of you.'

4 stars

Every Waking Moment available from Amazon

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Genetically Modified Fiction

Before the start of the holidays, I was proof-reading an essay for my son. It was for Media Studies and he'd chosen a subject called 'Modding'. I had no idea what that meant, and Logan's essay explained that it is the modification of video games by players in the gaming community. Members of the general public take their favourite games and make changes to suit themselves. This may range from a simple tweaking in clothing style to the creation of a completely new game based loosely on the original game's engine. Many 'mods' fall between these two extremes.

His essay explains how modifying an existing product and releasing it as one's own has its dodgy aspects. He discusses the fact that it is not limited to the gaming industry, although that was the focus of his essay. The writing of 'fan fiction' is also becoming popular. This occurs when fans of a movie or book series make use of existing characters and universes invented by some original author or creator to write and publish their own stories. My son used to love those Star Wars novels, written by a variety of authors who based their stories on the movies scripted by George Lucas. Recently, I've told my daughter that I'd love to see her read more novels, and she says that she prefers to stick to fan fiction about her favourite You Tube celebrity, Toby Turner, aka Tobuscus.

When you think about it, something similar has been happening for many years. Although we never referred to it as 'fan fiction' it basically shares the same characteristics. I'm referring to the habit of people writing sequels to classics or well-known books whose authors, in many cases, are long dead. I loved 'Sanditon' which was the six remaining chapters of Jane Austen's final manuscript finished off by another lady who preferred to remain anonymous. We have 'March' written from the perspective of the father of the girls in 'Little Women'. There's 'Wide Sargasso Sea', a sequel to Jane Eyre from the point of view of Rochester's mad wife, Bertha, which I had to read because it was on the English syllabus at Uni when I was a student. Most recently, I've seen 'Longbourne' based on the servants of the Bennett family in 'Pride and Prejudice'. Just because these books may be perceived as more literary, do they basically fit the characteristics of fan fiction?

A reviewer I chanced upon recently had a bit of a rant about authors who write this material, which I'll try to paraphrase. Basically, she's over this sort of 'sequel' because those who write them are enjoying benefits they haven't fully earned, and piggy-backing on emotions and effects which the original authors produced with sweat and tears. In many cases, she believes that modern attitudes which can't help creeping into the stories are often alien to the intentions of the original authors, who would possibly turn over in their graves if they knew what was being done. Do you think she has a point?

It's not really a new question. We've all seen movies or TV series which have let us down because they deviate from the books they are supposed to reflect in major ways. I've seen Agatha Christie movies which have taken liberties with characters and their motivations. The Anne of Green Gables series starring Megan Follows started off well, but eventually had Gilbert going off to fight in the War and Anne publishing a novel, none of which ever happened in L.M. Montgomery's books.

How about the Little House on the Prairie series, with Melissa Gilbert and Michael Landon? They wrote in an adopted son named Albert for the Ingalls family, which certainly never happened in reality. 'It's nothing like the book,' we say with disappointment, but warning bells should ring whenever we read, 'Based on the book, 'Whatever' by John Doe' which happens almost one hundred percent of the time. These literary 'mods' seem to mean that people feel free to meddle with stories which are already beloved and well-established literary icons.

The saddest thing people may say is, 'I don't need to read the book now, because I've seen the movie,'

Sometimes I feel like crying out, 'No, what you've seen may be a modified mish-mash with only names and a few scenes in common, nothing like the book!'

When I contemplate the possibility of people wanting to do something similar with my books, I get a chill deep inside. It would make me very nervous to think of another person 'modding' my books with either plot changes or unplanned sequels. In 2009 I wrote a sequel to 'The Risky Way Home' and 'Picking up the Pieces' which I named 'A Design of Gold' but I was the one who had the sudden idea of where to take the younger characters from those books. It wouldn't be the same if someone else did it. I'd want them to run it past me first, at the very least, to make sure they have the same vision and goals for my characters. I definitely wouldn't want my published stories twisted into something that never happened.

If I feel so strongly about that, I have no reason to think that Ms Bronte, Austen, Alcott or any other writer would feel different, just because they are no longer in the position to complain. I'd be interested to hear what others have to say about the subject. Writers, would you feel at least a little twinge if someone else took your characters, settings and themes and put 'mods' on your work? Readers, do you get terribly disappointed when a movie you've looked forward to based on a favourite book seems to stick very loosely to the plot?

Do you think it's a bit like genetically modifying food? Many people protest about this because we sometimes end up with food which is not as tasty or nutritious. We may have seedless watermelon which tastes more insipid, new-styled grains which contain artificial synthetic gunk that may make us sick over time, or larger-sized, hormone-fed animals which may provide more meat but never live truly healthy lifestyles while alive. With genetically modified books, we may well end up with a product which is more insipid, loses some of its punch or adds in artificial substance which is alien simply because it wasn't in the original author's head. As people protest about genetically modified food, should we ever make a stand about genetically modified books?

Thanks to Logan Vince for writing an essay which inspired a lot of thought.