Friday, November 30, 2012

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Liz Johnson "A Promise to Protect"

Happy release week to our friend LIZ JOHNSON! A Promise to Protect hit shelves this week and is perfectly stocking-sized :)

1.) What's the most difficult part about writing a suspense novel with the twists and turns and uncertainty that await your characters in A Promise to Protect?

For me the hardest part about writing a suspense is making sure that a character’s motivation makes sense. For example, in A Promise to Protect my heroine, Ashley, will do anything to protect the women and kids staying in her shelter. So I had to ask myself what would make a woman risk everything to protect someone else. Protectiveness is often considered a male trait, so I had to dig into Ashley’s back story and find compelling reasons for her actions. Actually, uncovering my villain was a similar process for this book. I had several possible bad guys in mind, but all of them lacked enough motivation to keep Matt and Ashley on their toes. Finally I had to scrap my idea for a villain and start from scratch. Sometimes a character’s history hides from me, but digging it out is always worth the struggle. I think it makes for a much more fun read. It’s certainly more fun to write.

2.) What inspired you to write about a Women's Shelter and how much research went into re-creating it authentically for the story?

In my hometown in Arizona, there’s a shelter much like Lil’s Place. I remember seeing billboards and hearing radio ads for fundraisers for it when I was young. For some reason those always stuck with me, and I think often of that shelter. I read about it and other similar homes as I wrote this book. I’m so grateful that I’ve never been in that place where I needed a safe place like that, but I know that many have. In fact, when I was a college, a family member went through a terrible time and ended up needing a safe place to stay. I was happy to provide that, to offer a spare bedroom and an open heart to someone in pain. While I wrote, I thought about that time and pulled from my feelings then to give my characters as many authentic reactions and emotions as possible.

3.) I've read all of your published work (thus far!!! ) and must say that I am continually impressed that all of your heroes and heroines are so unique to each other. Their actions, motivations and characterizations are always new. What keeps character fresh to you? where do you pool your imaginative resources?

A pool of imaginative resources? That wounds like somewhere I’d like to take a swim! :) Hmm . . . Well, I wish that I had a spreadsheet of some sort that listed out various character traits and habits so that I could just pick and choose what I’ll use for each character. I don’t. Maybe I should get one. In all seriousness, it all goes back to digging into each character’s history. And then looking at my own life. In Vanishing Act, I had a heroine who was under enormous stress without anyone she could turn to. So I asked myself what I do to try to relax. Shopping! That’s my consistent go-to. But I’m not Nora. So looked at her history and uncovered a would-be tri-athlete (so not me!). Throughout the book, she goes to bike riding and swimming to think through her situation and cope with the stress. I don’t want my characters to be just like me, but I continue to grow and change. As I learn new things, come to new understandings in my walk with God, I often find those realizations showing up in my characters’ lives. I guess life is the best pool of imaginative resources.

4.) What's next for readers who are eager for your next Love Inspired Suspense offering?
Next up is Tristan’s story! For those who read A Promise to Protect, you’ll remember him as Ashley’s older brother and Matt’s fellow Navy SEAL. Tristan rescues Staci, an American woman, from a Middle Eastern prison. But just because she’s back in California doesn’t mean she’s safe.
I just turned that book in to my editor, and it’ll be out in the fall of 2013. We’re still working on a title for that one and the next, which will feature another member of SEAL Team FIFTEEN.
Thanks for having me, Rachel!

William Henry is a Fine Name by Cathy Gohlke

“Right is right, and wrong is wrong, and a body ain’t got no business doing wrong when he ain’t ignorant and knows better.”  Mark Twain The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

William Henry is a Fine Name is not only the best Christian YA novel I have ever read; it is one of the best YA novels I have ever read. Period.

Indeed, after finishing Promise Me This and knowing that I would immediately want to read the rest of Cathy Gohlke’s work, I had no idea that William Henry was a YA novel. I bought it on amazon and started reading and it was only doing research after ( and learning that it had won the Christy Award in the YA category) that I learned of its true origin.

Regardless of this categorization and regardless of whether or not you read Christian fiction, this is a book that transcends labels.  The Christianity ingrained in the story is very much done in the subtle mode of conscience. In fact, it won’t seem any more saturated than the undercurrents of the new Lincoln film or the moral compass guiding Huck Finn down the river with Jim in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

It is with Huck Finn that I want to begin.  Mark Twain’s work is rightfully renowned and Huck’s voice and dialogue and the entire vernacular and timbre of the piece are pitch-perfect.  You seep back a hundred years or so to the murky Mississippi.  Within the FIRST page of William Henry I was put in mind of Twain’s magnum opus. It gallops forth in full speed, keeping the pages turning, with the prelude to Robert Leslie’s story very much like a lot of 13 year old protagonists: a colourful tapestry of southern days lounging by fishing holes and scurrying home for supper.  Robert’s best friend in the whole world is William Henry. Though William Henry is black and this is mid-1800’s Southern United States,  William Henry is treated remarkably well for a plantation worker of the era.  Mr. Heath and the kindly Miz Lara, overseeing the beautiful plantation Laurelea, freed all of the slaves, hiring them as paid workers who are treated with a sense of equality and dignity.  Robert informs us very early in his narrative that he had no idea that slavery was such a dismal and degrading thing having only seen the periphery of his own plantation upbringing.

William Henry can read. William Henry is smart. William Henry can out-quip and out-con any of the rapscallion neighbours with his rapid-quick thinking and joy for life. Robert, it seems, is somewhat envious of William Henry and his adeptness and intelligence: all the while holding on to his best playmate.

William Henry, however, keeps a part of his life secret from Robert.  Robert’s father and William Henry’s father are both involved in something that requires a lot of late-night working, lantern swinging and coaches with false bottoms.  It will take a further plunge into the narrative and into Robert’s memoirs to reveal that Robert lives in the midst of the workings of the Underground Railroad.

To give a swift and necessary contrast to the rather idyllic childhood days of Laurelea, Robert and his set-in-her-Southern-ways mother set off to visit Ashland: the plantation owned by Robert’s grandfather and the setting for his Ma’s upscale breeding.  There, immediately, Robert is giving a look at different face of slavery: one of poverty, cruelty and humiliation.   Under the tyranny of the overseer Mr. Slocum, the slaves are beaten, scorned and weighed under the great burden of work.  While Robert’s mother and her Cousin Albert advocate for the better treatment of the slaves’ working conditions, they fail to notice the greater turmoils wrestling in Robert’s conscience and in the consciences of so many who are opposed to human ownership.

It is at this pivotal point in the novel that Robert ---a 13 year old boy so realistic and heartwarming in his sheer believability—grows up in an up-turned world. It is also amidst the violence of Ashland (a runaway slave dies when his foot is cut off as punishment, a young boy is whipped within an inch of his life), that the book becomes jubilantly traumatic.  I coin this because while I was enjoying the vigorous reading experience, I was crying and shaking at the sheer inhumanity wrought before me in fictional form. I would promise myself to read just a chapter before bed; but spend long into the night thinking about what I read and, in short, a very emotional wreck.

Whilst battling with his inner demons and his moral awakening at Ashland, Robert is given the opportunity to choose between two worlds: a world that his conscience dictates as right, and the opportunity to inherit the grand plantation owned by his grandfather.  It takes a mulatto boy named Jeremiah, fathered by his grandfather when he rapes a young slave as punishment and the slow and steady words of a visit preaching (the aptly named Rev. Goforth) to set Robert’s spiritual and moral changes into swift motion.

I won’t talk any more to the plot. It will rip your heart out and keep your pulse quickened through its deftly executed suspense; but I do want to speak to how brilliant the exposition of its greater themes is.  Robert is never given vocal direction on how to act.  He is sometimes encouraged, sometimes hedged at: but his decisions and how is life will play out---torn between his Mother’s love and her backward(but inherited )views and the world of his father and his upstanding help at the Underground Railroad---are his own.  Goforth speaks to how everyone has a turning point in life that will define who they are in the future; and without ever prodding Robert in an outright and vocal manner, he inspires such a change in Robert’s spiritual make-up that you will be moved and inspired simultaneously.

The people in our life, it would seem, act as points of a compass; but it is up to us to decide our direction---catapulted further by our own spiritual awakenings, our restless consciences and our understanding of the Higher Power who holds the ultimate distinction between black and white, right and wrong.

This is a REMARKABLE book and so literary.  If you read one book this season or pick one book to put under a tree for a book lover such as I, choose this one.  It is EXCEPTIONAL.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Andie Oliver is a faithful woman--to God, to her handsome husband Joe, and to televangelist Reverend Calvin Artury, a Godfather in a Mafia of holy men. Raised in the 1970's to be subservient and submissive in the tradition of the Bible-belt South, she becomes a prisoner of that tradition. As a reluctant member of Artury's evangelical megachurch, the House of Praise in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Andie's dream of children, home, and marriage falls apart after Joe is hired by the ministry team.

Vivid and tragic, Televenge exposes chaos in the megachurch, and embraces those who discover their destiny in unconditional love in a world fraught with fear and intimidation. Fighting for redemption for her family and herself, Andie confronts the very definition of evil personified. Evading ruthless adversaries who will go to any lengths to protect Reverend Artury, Andie battles the darkest side of televangelism. With more twists and turns than the Blue Ridge Parkway, Televenge takes you from the Piedmont South to the Hawaiian Islands, to Nigeria, and back to the high country of North Carolina.

In pitch-perfect voices, Pamela King Cable's emotionally rich debut novel creates four extraordinary characters. Suspenseful and deeply moving, Televenge will be one of the most talked about books of the year.

I am not as far in this book as I planned or hoped to be because my reading schedule was thrown off this week by the VIRUS OF DOOM ( you name it: flu, fever, laryngitis--- I had it ). I do want to speak to what I have read thus far, though, in hopes of enticing you to check out a book with a plot that I was at once curious and sceptical about. The first writer that comes comparatively to mind is Mario Puzo: the setting, the amalgamation of a family answering to a higher power ( in Puzo, a Mafia don, in Televenge, the tightly-constrained world of holy order of televangelism) and the rapid-paced suspense that weaves you into the plot and plants the seed of an almost impersonal sense of danger. You feel for Andie. You want her to succeed. You want to transcend the line blurring fiction and life and steal in and warn her, coax her, speak to her and plot with her. 

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the novel thus far is the way it looks at religion as a trap: a redemptive trap, yes; but one with a very profuse sense of chaos. With a patchwork quilt of intriguing locales and a convoluted sense of grace and family and hope beneath a sinister web, Televenge is so thoroughly unique. As I said, I am not finished yet; but have no doubt that this would make a fabulous ABC miniseries. The time, the colour, the mystery and the magnum opus of crime and suspense in the name of God are just the type of clashing and chaotic fodder for interesting and speculative televised spectacle.


Wednesday, November 13th:  Patricia’s Wisdom
Wednesday, November 21st:  Speaking of Books
Thursday, November 29th:  A Fair Substitute for Heaven
Sunday, December 9th:  My Book Retreat 
Monday, December 10th:  Jenn’s Bookshelves
Thursday, December 27th:  My Bookshelf
Friday, January 4th:  Broken Teepee
Monday, January 7th:  Fiction Addict
Wednesday, January 30th:  West Metro Mommy 

With thanks to TLC for the review copy.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden

I knew when I read Lady of Bolton Hill that I had stumbled on an author with reams of potential. Then, in Rose of Winslow Street, the potential was somewhat more realized.  Finally, Against the Tide proved what I had long thought, that Elizabeth Camden could be an excellent writer whose obvious background in history would make real the personages and events she tackled.

Lydia Pallas, orphaned at a young age, has a history of life on a fishing boat with her Greek father and due to travel speaks numerous languages.  Bright and pretty, Lydia has scored a magnificent job as a translator for the US Navy.  It’s very much a man’s world, overseen by a dashing Admiral; but Lydia’s intelligence and crafty way with languages and exceptionally-tuned ear make her an asset.

Unaccustomed to the warmth and provision allotted her with her fine salary and a beautiful apartment near Boston Harbour, Lydia is discouraged at the prospect of being evicted from her home.  She needs money ---and fast.  When the mysterious and Adonis-looking Alexander Banebridge (known widely as Bane) offers her seemingly menial translation work, Lydia is eager to pocket what he offers. Soon, however, she learns that a more sinister game is afoot and is spiraled into a web of death and destruction care of the thriving opium trade.

The plot details, historical context and brash and blatant manner in which Camden expels the dangers of opium are well-woven here and make for a thrilling ride. Bane is a very dashing hero (think Heath Ledger in the Patriot for a visual ) with a sly sense of adventure and a wonderfully sarcastic and sardonic tongue which balances his ardent faith with a nice edge.  The only part of the story, however, I didn’t buy was Bane and Lydia’s developing romance. While she scorns him from the first and reluctant begins aiding him, the transition from prickles to romance  happens with much too quick a shift and gone is the cute banter and sly sarcasm replaced, instead, with the wooing cadences of a romantic tale.  The romance is a welcome and cavalier addition to the enthralling adventure; but it wasn't painted with a believability or chemistry I like to see in my characters.

Lydia herself, however, was a lovely heroine: smart, resourceful, strong as an ox and not without her own flaws or character deficiencies. Her slow turn to faith was well realized on page.

Bane’s a bit too cardboard cut-out of the dashing hero type for my taste ( no matter his less-than-wholesome background ---as hinted in Lady of Bolton Hill) but I got the distinct sense that Camden knew exactly what he looked like, sounded like, moved like and was able to fluidly transpose this from her imagination to the page.

All-in-all, a VERY well-written and engaging historical novel which errs a bit in the romance field; but more than makes up for it with its slick verisimilitude and adventure.  

And me, Miss Nautical Nut: loved all the stuff about ships and the sea!!! 

I received this book from Graf-Martin Communications on behalf of Bethany House publishers

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Does This Church Make Me Look Fat? by Rhoda Janzen

Does This Church Make Me Look Fat?  Amazing book, guys! I loved it. Rhoda Janzen gets the spiritual experience and is a perfect bystander ( with reams of intelligence) to walk us through her rather jolting jump from her Mennonite background to a Pentecostal church she attends with her boyfriend/fiancĂ©/husband.

Janzen, a prolific poet and scholar, brings to the church experience years of figuratively and literally engaging with the tenets ( mythologized and metaphoralized and categorized) of theology.  She weaves her new experiences and her new zeal for engaging in the spirituality of her childhood with anecdotes of her brilliant new relationship (her partner Mitch, the reformed alcoholic-turned-Pentecostal is a GEM with a brilliantly coloured faith and lovely conversion story and respect for the church and the patrons therein), her days as a professor, her attendance at Pentecostal services and her tragic diagnosis of breast cancer: fought hard with and eventually won in a near miraculous way.

You can take the girl outta the Pentecostal, it would seem, but you can’t take the Pentecostal outta the girl.  I was raised in a Pentecostal church. My father was a Pentecostal minister. I knew about speaking in tongues and Acts II before I knew my ABCs.  While I don’t identify with this denomination any more or attend a Pentecostal church ,it is as much a part of my being as my school grades, Christmas memories, and ability to ride a bike.  I KNOW Pentecostal.  While Janzen’s views and observations might offend those who are touchy on the subject and too quick to judge interested and intelligent observance as mockery; I quite enjoyed what the Pentecostal world looked like for an outsider. Especially for an outsider with a strict Mennonite background. This, my friends, was my favourite part of this surprisingly uplifting and very, very sardonic and quick-witted piece.  Think Anne Lamott. Are we good here? We love Anne Lamott. How about Anne Lamott with a dash of Lisa Samson? Are we good?

A few quotes to entice readership:

“Most of the hymns were familiar to me, but the services also featured some long, tuneless pieces of chanted music that sounded suspiciously as if somebody had made them up in the car on the way to church”  (Dear Rhoda Janzen, I have said this about every Chris Tomlin song ever written)

“Mennonites are known for their gorgeous acapella hymns. For instance, they might take a Protestant staple, such as Thomas Ken’s beautiful 1674 “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” and jack it up like a doxology on steroids.  My Mennonite church sang a highly embellished, tightly harmonized version to the tune of Samuel Stanley’s “Dedication Anthem”” so rousing it made you want to throw confetti (Hey! Somebody should tell the Pentecostals about confetti!”

As someone passionate about the emergence of Jesus is My Boyfriend songs in the evangelical worship culture as a replacement for the beautiful melodies, settings and poetries of a history of hymns, I revelled and delighted in the fact that an academic outsider, seeping with intelligence and well-crafted thought for the beauty of music and words, could reduce some of the choruses and worship songs to near hilarity with her comparison of them to better written and more timely pieces.

Obviously, the Pentecostals eventually begin speaking in tongues and Janzen’s literary recreation of the experience is poetical and rapt with energized imagery: “Syllables rolled around me like pearls from a broken spring, scattering beyond sense. I had never heard anyone speak in tongues. I had always assumed that glossolalia was an expression of unfiltered inner gibberish. But in that moment I wondered if it couldn’t be both gibberish and praise language- an edifying wall of sound that lifted the worshipper to a place beyond understanding. Even if those gorgeous waves of foreign syllables had come rolling out of my own mouth, I still would have tried to understand the experience as a foreign language.”

She is continually impressed by Mitch, who practices what he preaches: “She observed, moreover, that the kindness and the faith did not exist in his character as independent qualities. Rather, the first was clearly activated by the second.”  Gosh darnit, isn’t that what everyone strives for?

She is a tad confused when it comes to filling out a Cosmopolitan-type quiz on assessing and ascertaining her spiritual gifts: “My Pentecostals were an old-fashioned group. They called the women ladies, they believed that the men needed to step up to the plate in the spiritual leadership of the home. If they were to assign a man the gift of flower arranging, there would have to be a literal biblical precedent.”

Coupling her obvious recollection of the Biblical stories and Faith background of her Youth, Janzen is able to apply her rudimentary understanding with her current circumstance.  The following quote left me all a-shudder in its exquisite truth (here, she recalls the parable of Jesus healing a boy possessed by demons at a father’s entreaty that even though he wasn’t sure he believed, he wanted to be taught how to believe): “For me the takeaway is that we don’t need to be strong and faithful and firm in order to approach God.  We can be an unholy mess, like the son, or a frustrated skeptic, like the dad. What a relief that we don’t have to be good at religious in order to seek God! We don’t even have to have a strong sense of belief. All we need is the desire to believe”

I could saturate this with quotes forever, so exceptionally crafted and memorable is this work; rather ( as my Pentecostal father would say when winding down a sermon) IN CLOSING…
Janzen doesn’t make peace with her questions. Nor does she decide that her spiritual life is grounded and founded upon the principles expelled in her evangelical wanderings. She does, however, uphold a fascinating sense of faith, hope and integrity. She searches and seeks and ultimately finds that while we could spend the rest of our lives literally fighting over every small thing in scripture: from the existence of Lilith and dinosaurs to whether or not Hell and Heaven are concrete or metaphorical places ( Rob Bell! Rob Bell, let’s talk about Rob Bell); she takes baby steps. She learns what it means to be open and to accept and to listen for the will of God.  That, readers, is what makes this book heart-warming and inspiring: not how far she comes in the pinnacle of spiritual sojourning; but the fact that she sojourned at all.

My thanks to Grand Central Publishing for the Netgalley review copy.
Special thanks to my sister Fruity (find her on twitter @leah_mcmillan )for pointing me in the direction of this book.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Hangman in the Mirror by Kate Cayley

Years ago, I read Keturah and Lord Death and couldn't shake it from my head.   A heroine who falls in love with Death and a historical setting at once enigmatic and refined.  I loved the voice of the novel, the narrative scope and the saucy way of inching out mysterious details with aplomb. Martine Leavitt had me from page one.

It’s been a long while since I read a Teen novel that packed as much of a punch as Keturah. That is until I was checking around Netgalley for something to read and stumbled upon The Hangman in the Mirror by Torontonian Kate Cayley.  Honestly, I had never heard of this title before and the cover left a lot to be desired; but the setting (1750s New France) immediately captured my eye.  As did the small kernel at the back of my brain that brought the synopsis to remembered forefront.  You see, Cayley scripted a novel based on a plot that inspired a popular poem by Margaret Atwood.

With this delicious synopsis, I set in and finished the book which I started over lunch break, last night in the warmth of my apartment while the fog settled outside.

Readers, I LOVED this book. I loved the atmospheric feel and tangible scents of the Montreal streets. I loved Francoise, our narrator, the daughter of a drunken washerwoman and her retired soldier husband, who yearns for something of her own.

I loved the gritty exposition of life for those who were so dedicated to the New World: finding crass judgement by popular hanging spectacles and obliterating the term ‘peasant’ even though many of lower stations were still begging for stale crusts of bread on the dirty street. I loved the attention to the smallpox epidemic and to the tragedy of stillborn children, especially felt in upper class families.  Mostly, I loved the author’s close attention to the power of oral history.

My elementary school teacher used to spend Fridays before holidays dimming the classroom lights and treating us to a few well-spun tales of the voyageurs and the metaphysical: both wrapped in the stuff that creeps across you with a chill and spins you back to the world when Canada was first becoming a nation: amidst the canoes and the firs and the harsh sweat of the voyageur’s brows.  Here, Cayley threads stories of this ilk while positioning her heroine in the line of her mother’s oral fire. Her mother remembers France and tells of the gritty Paris streets, the song and the dance and the opera.

Indeed, there is a major motif stemming each page which conflicts the idea of lies with the reasoning of oral truth.  Francoise tells many haunting tales: at first to her friends, later to her mistress as she moves into a fine estate as a lady’s maid.  In each instance, her audience listens with rapt attention; but calls her bluff. Francoise, however, cannot believe that these stories are lies; rather half-truths; rather beautiful tales that captivate.  It is this Scheherazadean gift which will eventually save her life in a unique, compelling and thoroughly suspenseful way.

It is the power of story which leads us through this theatrical narration. For, indeed, it is a very theatrical book: attention is made to set, to perfectly-crafted dialogue, to action, to the beautiful curtain at the end of the beautiful story, leaving the reader/ audience breathless with the power of a simple climactic sentence.

I absolutely ADORED this novel.

I hope you seek it out.

I received this book on approval from Annick Press through Netgalley.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Litfuse Blog Tour: Courting Cate by Leslie Gould

FROM THE PUBLISHER: When Amish farmer Pete Treger moves to Paradise Township, Pennsylvania, he meets Cate and Betsy Miller. Both are beautiful, but older sister Cate is known more for her sharp tongue and fiery temper than her striking appearance. Betsy, on the other hand, is sweet and flirty,and seems to have attracted most of the bachelors in Lancaster County!
However, the sisters' father has made one rule: elder sister must marry first, before the younger can even start courting. Though he finds both sisters attractive, something about Cate's feisty demeanor appeals to him. Soon the other bachelors in the district convince Pete to court Cate. She hardly seems receptive to his overtures, though. Instead, she's immediately suspicious of his interest.

I guess I should preface my thoughts by letting you all know that Amish fiction is not my favourite genre. In fact, I rarely read it  ( I read a token Cindy Woodsmall and Beverly Lewis just to ensure that I was ‘up’ on the Christian trend); so the drawing card for Courting Cate was the fact that the plot and characters were grounded in Taming of the Shrew.  Indeed, those who have a penchant for the Shakespearian will have fun with its channeling of the age-old plot and matching the characters from the Shakespeare work to the modern day.

The problem? The adaptation fails somewhat when it comes to the character Cate. Katherina (Kate) Minola ( of the play) is a resolute and strong and prickly character---yes, misunderstood; but whip-smart and beguiling. While the eponymous Cate of this work is certainly strong and feisty for the Amish ilk; she doesn’t rise beyond being anything but mildly put-off and mildly intelligent.  I really craved a sparkling, energetic and feisty heroine and, rather, found a heroine who is strong when held toward the metric of Amish Christian romance; but not very memorable beyond.

While I enjoyed learning of Pete Treger’s backstory and watching his persistence to win Cate’s favour, I found that a lot of chemistry was missing. A lot. Indeed, I would wait, with baited breath, for the next scene featuring the two so that fireworks would ignite and the breathless banter of Katherina and Petruchio of the Shakespeare version would erupt. Here, again, I was left somewhat disappointed.

This might sound like a harsh review; but there is a lot to commend Courting Cate: most of which is found in Leslie Gould’s winning style ( she is a great storyteller who infuses the world of Lancaster County so deftly you feel that you are living there ). Further, I applaud her taking a unique idea and making it manifest. It’s an original plot and character piece that, with a few tweaks and a bit more spark and flint, would have made for an enjoyable romance.

Make sure that you visit the Litfuse site to learn more about the author chat this evening where you can interact directly with Leslie Gould

Visit the Litfuse Landing site for Courting Cate

Monday, November 19, 2012

TLC Book Tour: Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear

" Early April 1933. To the costermongers of Covent Garden--sellers of fruits and vegetables on the London streets- Eddie Pettit was a gentle soul with a near-magical gift for working with horses. So who would want to kill him.... and why?"

Back in more-than-fine form, Winspear returns to the world of intrepid female detective Maisie Dobbs: juxtaposing Maisie's personal past and present with her penchant for uncovering the truth.  Those who enjoy thinking, atmospheric mysteries with a flair for the perfect world of 1930s elegance, will sink their teeth deep into this latest endeavour.

It's hard, as we with insatiable appetites for mysteries know, to keep a series striding and fresh near ten books in...and yet Winspear makes every outing with Maisie, Priscilla and all fresh and captivating. More still, and unpretentiously, she slyly slides in the figure of Winston Churchill: to add to the well-painted canvas of life on the street: from working streets of Lambeth to the highest of politics.

Winspear has winning literary style that is at once thoughtful, stylish and subtly suspenseful. However, what I note most greatly attributing to her flair is her ability to keep page after page turning with convincing dialogue.  Her characters breathe to life: leaping off the page and into your sitting room, acting out as if they are staging the action affront you while you sit quietly, pensively with your tea attempting to outwit the unstoppable Maisie.

I recommend this series to those who have dappled in the world of Mildred Pierce and Lord Peter Wimsey.

Fans of Maisie and those uninitiated will enjoy the extras embedded in the Harper Perennial PS  edition: including an interview with best-selling novelist Lee Child who asks Winspear a myriad of questions about writing, how her personal life drips onto her pages and her passion for the after-math of WWI in England.

My thanks to TLC for the opportunity to review this book.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Promise me This by Cathy Gohlke

Michael Dunnagan is a street rat. Abused my his Uncle Tom, huddling his nights away wherever he can find crude shelter, Michael’s long given up any hope in finding love or warmth.

He is floored when he meets the kindly Owen Allen, gardener and lofty dreamer who offers Michael odd jobs and shelter until he leaves sail on the Titanic to a new life in America.

Having met and experienced the kindness of Owen and his beloved sister Annie, Michael recognizes he has nothing to stay for. He stows away aboard the mighty ship and is immediately reunited with his new friend, who pledges him brotherly affection, safety and a life in the new world.

On the night of the Titanic’s sinking, Owen Allen trades his life for Michael’s: impressing upon him the importance of seeing that his seeds and plants grow on his aunt and uncle’s farm in New Jersey and that his greatest desire, for Annie to find her way to America, become Michael’s most fervent cause.

This ultimate sacrifice not only affects Michael and Annie from a spiritual and emotional standpoint; but joins them together in a type of makeshift family that transcends blood ties.  While living and working for Michael’s aunt Maggie and her endearingly brusque friend Daniel, Michael learns more of how Christ’s sacrifice was reflected in Owen’s last action of grace. Annie, alternatively, wades through the darker places of bitterness to find ultimate forgiveness: not only for the young man who returned while her brother perished; but also for the cold-hearted aunt who would squeeze the last of life out of her future.

Gohlke does an exceptional job at weaving the events of the Titanic and its pre-boarding in a swift narrative canvas that urges the reader along.  Following the prelude of the main story and Owen’s final act of grace, she does well at delving into the terse aftermath of the tragedy while slowly hinting to the Great War about to unfurl.  Readers who are awash with a fervent passion for the Edwardian world of Downton Abbey will cherish this story.
From a Christian fiction standpoint, it is refreshingly literary; while still weaving an intricate and delicate mélange of characterization and backdrop that will have readers turning the page at rapid pace.

Gohlke is, in short, a beautiful writer and this moving story was made more potent still by her deft skill for narrative arc and characterization. Indeed, friends, this is Christy award-winning material. The motif interwoven of Owen’s plants and seeds taking root and creating beauty on either side of the Atlantic is also well-met with Gohlke’s soft and subtle inclusion of their importance in the plot and in the thriving and growth of the characters.

One might think that the major action would finish with the monumental death of an important and beloved character: rather smartly Gohlke uses the legacy of one act to prove time and again how Christ’s love lives on though his paramount sacrifice left a wake of tragedy and loss. 

Compelling and moving, this is by far one of the best and most competent novels I have read this year: in and out of the CBA.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Happy Launch, Novel Crossing!

Hello all!

Novel Crossing officially launches today! Hurrah to that!

Check it out. While you're there you can read some of my full reviews of a  couple of favourite books I hunted down and reviewed for the Community Site:

I have also weighed in on a ton of books with their easy rating and one-sentence-review system.

Check out Novel Crossing on twitter: @novelcrossing
and on Facebook:

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Lest We Forget

From Walter's letter to Rilla as he fights for Canadian freedom in the Great War:

"Rilla, the Piper will pipe me 'west' tomorrow. I feel sure of this. And Rilla, I'm not afraid. When you hear the news, remember that. I've won my own freedom here--freedom from all fear. I shall never be afraid of anything again--not of death--nor of life, if after all, I am to go on living. And life, I think, would be the harder of the two to face--for it could never be beautiful for me again. There would always be such horrible things to remember--things that would make life ugly and painful always for me. I could never forget them. But whether it's life or death, I'm not afraid, Rilla-my-Rilla, and I am not sorry that I came. I'm satisfied. I'll never write the poems I once dreamed of writing--but I've helped to make Canada safe for the poets of the future--for the workers of the future--ay, and the dreamers, too--for if no man dreams, there will be nothing for the workers to fulfil--the future, not of Canada only but of the world--when the 'red rain' of Langemarck and Verdun shall have brought forth a golden harvest--not in a year or two, as some foolishly think, but a generation later, when the seed sown now shall have had time to germinate and grow. Yes, I'm glad I came, Rilla. It isn't only the fate of the little sea-born island I love that is in the balance--nor of Canada nor of England. It's the fate of mankind. That is what we're fighting for. And we shall win--never for a moment doubt that, Rilla. For it isn't only the living who are fighting --the dead are fighting too. Such an army cannot be defeated.

"Is there laughter in your face yet, Rilla? I hope so. The world will need laughter and courage more than ever in the years that will come next. I don't want to preach--this isn't any time for it. But I just want to say something that may help you over the worst when you hear that I've gone 'west.' I've a premonition about you, Rilla, as well as about myself. I think Ken will go back to you--and that there are long years of happiness for you by-and-by. And you will tell your children of the Idea we fought and died for--teach them it must be lived for as well as died for, else the price paid for it will have been given for nought. This will be part of your work, Rilla. And if you--all you girls back in the homeland--do it, then we who don't come back will know that you have not 'broken faith' with us.

"I meant to write to Una tonight, too, but I won't have time now. Read this letter to her and tell her it's really meant for you both--you two dear, fine loyal girls. Tomorrow, when we go over the top--I'll think of you both--of your laughter, Rilla-my-Rilla, and the steadfastness in Una's blue eyes--somehow I see those eyes very plainly tonight, too. Yes, you'll both keep faith--I'm sure of that--you and Una. And so--goodnight. We go over the top at dawn."

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Wreath of Snow by Liz Curtis Higgs

Liz Curtis Higgs loves Scotland.  So do I.  I was fortunate enough to visit in the Summer and, I must say, my attention to her past few works of fiction have definitely been inspired by her passion for the country.

Here, in this perfect Christmas confectionery, Higgs takes us on a railride from Edinburgh to Stirling where a young and intelligent young woman is confronted by a dashing man who holds a desperate secret.

From the beginning, Meg Campbell is conflicted: she doesn't feel as if she belongs at home with her well-off parents, even during the most important time of the year. Moreover, she is forever haunted by the accident that crippled her  younger brother when they were both children.  His bitterness, it would seem, has ramifications on the entire family.  The stolen hope that has pervaded his older years leaves Meg and her family struggling to connect with a man whose personality has become difficult.

Gordon Shaw is as troubled by Meg's past as she is.  Initially unbeknownst to her, Gordon is the long lost stranger who once innocently injured her brother and set in motion a wheel of events with ramifications stemming to the present. Gordon longs to make amends; but Meg would rather her new acquaintance stay completely away from her unhappy family.  Will Christmas bring a time of redemption and unexpected grace...or just added sorrow?

You know what I think?  I think you should pick someone on your Christmas list who loves languid, romantic Victorian fiction and buy this novella for them.  Make it better: throw in a packet of earl grey tea and Scottish shortbread and you have the perfect book-lover's gift!

I received this delectable little treat from WaterBrook Multnomah Books in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Is Everyone Hanging Out without Me? (and other concerns) by Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling. Egads. She be the funniest!

Like, the funniest in the world.

I am an intermittent viewer of The Office and I always found her character Kelly to be so sprightly and fun and so typical ( I love that, for those of us who work in office settings, the characters are almost archetypal).  Kaling also writes prolifically for the Office: including one of the funniest episodes it has ever aired (Remember that one with the Dundie awards? That was her).  This memoir acts as an introduction to her career as a comedian and writer and sitcom star; but takes us through her thought-processes with adorable little asides where you feel she is directly talking to you as you get your nails done with a latte and a zesty smile. Her observational humour had me in stitches.

Kaling grew up the daughter of parents who wanted their children to be high-achievers.  Always a braniac, Kaling had trouble identifying with kids her age. When she made it to high school, comedy became her first love and led to the writing and producing of a play that would act as her big break

Kaling champions and advocates intelligence in women. Her mother ( a major inspiration for Kaling and for her character in The Mindy Project) is an OB-GYN. Kaling would never settle for typical domestic role; nor was she brought up to. 

While Kaling is indeed funny, insightful and extremely brilliant; so is she the  type of girly-girl girlfriend you want for nights with merlot, fuzzy slippers and a Nora Ephron film.  Kaling works well in a “man’s world” writing comedy; but she is such a woman (in the flouncy and flowery way) when it comes to her hardcore belief in romance and happy endings.

She’s almost a dichotomy. She’s almost, it would seem, at odds with herself.

Those of you who have watched the Mindy Project ( and do…the stream of consciousness is to die for as is the wonderful success of an American minority in a starring, romantic role) should know that the Mindy you see there is very much the Mindy we meet in her book and that we can assume is the Mindy of “real life.”  Though fame and fortune and success have found her; she still is a down-to-earth woman: concerned about her weight, her singleness,  obsessed with Bridget Jones’ Diary and with a penchant for junk food and shopping with her friends.  I love her.  She’s so refreshingly normal.

Her insecurities will strike a note in that wonderfully relatable fashion so many females look for.  Her anecdotes on dating and school bullies will make you laugh aloud ( I read part of this book on a plane and was so conscious of my snickering).

Mindy Kaling, will you be my best friend?

Novel Crossing: Kinda the 'goodreads" of Christian Fiction

I am a member of Novel Crossing ( which has VASTLY improved over the past month as it readies itself for full launch) and I encourage readers to check it out.

As well as featuring places to click on the books you've read ( and add them to your shelf ), you have the opportunity to write short, one sentence impressions of the book.

I don't know about you guys; but reading so many long rambly reviews ( like mine!) on amazon and through blogs can be tiresome. Sometimes you just wanna get to the heart of the story and a reader's brief impression, n'est pas?

Another feature (which I provided in link form the other day) are exclusive author interviews: some in print form; some in VIDEO form [see the Novel Crossing chat with Rosslyn Elliot]

I've created a profile (I'm Rachel at a Fair Substitute for Heaven if you want to add me to your community) and started the long task of checking off every book I've read from the vast recesses of this web's base (holy crikey! they've hardly missed anything!) ; but I have yet to really devote time finding "friends" to add to my roster.

You can follow Novel Crossing on twitter: @novelcrossing
Find them on Facebook:
and, of course, go STRAIGHT to the site:

Thursday, November 08, 2012

A Hobbit Devotional: Bilbo Baggins and the Bible by Ed Strauss

So everyone is super hyped for the new movie strarring John Watson... erm... I mean Martin Freeman as Bilbo. Luckily, Barbour is ready to help you celebrate by excavating Tolkien's more evangelical roots and the parables that can be found in his story. 
Stocking stuffer? I think so! 

From the Publisher:
Those who enjoy J. R. R. Tolkien—even those new to his classic stories—will love A Hobbit Devotional featuring 60 humorous, challenging, and encouraging devotionals. Soon to be a major motion picture, The Hobbit has fascinated readers for more than 70 years. Now, this tale of humble folk who overcome fear, discouragement, and despair through steadfastness, courage, and hope forms the basis of a brand-new devotional book. Each reading sketches a scene from The Hobbit, relates it to a contemporary life situation that readers might experience personally, and brings in the teaching of a relevant Bible story or verse.

I received a review copy through Netgalley on behalf of Barbour

At Every Turn by Anne Mateer

There is an awesome moment in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm where the loquacious and spirited Rebecca prays for the souls of the heathen in far away lands.  At her time in history, worlds like Africa and the orphaned children and harsh situations not only stirred her heart; but captured her imagination and she prays with flourish that they will thrive. 
At the beginning of Anne Mateer’s fabulous and spunky new novel At Every Turn, the equally spirited Alyce Benson has the same heart and conviction stirred when a missionary couple visits her church and Alyce impetuously stands up and promises three thousand dollars for their work on the Gold Coast. Sure, Alyce’s father is rich; but despite her grandmother’s best efforts, both Alyce’s parents are skeptical of the church as a philandering institution where people lose money in the fever of hype. Alyce is just going to have to raise the money herself.

Luckily, Alyce has a unique talent anomalous to most young ladies in 1916 America: Alyce can drive an automobile like  nobody’s business. Her father’s mechanic, Webster Little, takes her out to practice: goggles shading her face, her bobbed hair hidden by a brown cap and the world, in these moments, is Alyce’s own. Is there a chance that Alyce could use her unique passion to raise the money needed to live up to her promise? Only time will tell.  Along the way, Alyce is forced into small deceptions of identity, moments of heart-felt ( and funny in their compassionate calamity) charity which inspires her to give the money she is slowly raising to those in her own community, and questions of conscience and heart.  While Webster Little’s whistle echoes from the shop on her father’s estate, so does Lawrence Trotter’s handsome face and safe job as her father’s accountant (as well as his regular church attendance) seem to meet her demands for a faith-based mate. 

Adventure, deception, Hilarity and a lot of racing ensue in what is by far the most unique historical romance I have read in the CBA this year.

Ally is a whip-smart, funny and believable character.  She is deliciously flawed and touching in her penchant for disaster.  The scrapes and mix-ups she finds herself in are born of her good heart.  She desperately wants to do right (think Anne Shirley ); but can’t help but steer herself off course.  While her mother wants her to be a proper, well-bred lady; she can’t help but thinking she was shaped for something different. There are touching moments in Alyce’s first-person narrative ( a device I don’t usually enjoy; but which is well-employed and well written here) when Alyce wonders, while strolling on the arm of Lawrence Trotter, if maybe she was made for a traditional women’s existence. Of course, the lure of the race track and Webster’s new car tend to throw that delightfully off-kilter and askew.

Webster Little, with his resounding whistle, shady past and general good-humour, as well as his passion for automobiles, will put devout Montgomery readers in mind of Barney Snaith of The Blue Castle.  The time period of the setting and the yearning of a woman desperate to break the mold of society and venture forth on a daring mission full of wonderful adventures reminded me of Valancy.  It was then that I remembered a comment on a friend’s review of The Blue Castle last year Anne Mateer’s comment that it was one of her favourite books (it is, as I have learned from conversation, also a favourite of the Pink Carnation series creator Lauren Willig and of CBA master-worker Laura Frantz).  Anyone who admits to loving this book and somehow, subconsciously, allows its inspiration and similarities to seep into their work is a truly kindred spirit and a “friend” of mine.

I loved wiling away a few lazy hours with At Every Turn.  You’ll grin, you’ll shake your head at the antics of Ally and you’ll root for her: a woman ahead of her time, to not only win the race and raise the money, but also to find ultimate romance and adventure.

Well done, Anne Mateer. This was a competent and boisterously exuberant offering and I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us next.  

See my review of Wings of a Dream
Read how Anne Mateer envisioned the characters ( with period-specific detail and photos!) here

I received this book for review from Graf-Martin Communications on behalf of Bethany House 

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Film Review: Showstopper: The Theatrical Life of Garth Drabinsky

I was lucky.  My passion for theatre developed in the brief, shining and glorious decade when Toronto, ranked with New York and London, was the theatre hub of the world.  Even though I lived in little Orillia, my nights were spent singing along to soundtracks; my days in school dreaming of the next production my family would see in the big city. At that time, Toronto theatre was at its height of varied artistry and endeavor.

It was the era of big Blockbuster Musicals. Before the age of the JukeBox musical and when everything was fresh and new and beguiling.  It married classics (the great revamp of Show Boat) with edgy kaleidoscopes of music and colour: Joseph!  Ragtime!! Les Miserables. Phantom!
Toronto in the 1990s was when I first knew it. Because the 1990s was the decade in which this 31 year old came of age.

Our assistant pastor’s wife loaned me The Canadian Cast of the Phantom of the Opera when I was in  grade 7 (Colm Wilkinson! Rebecca Caine) and I was hooked. I begged ( and got )vocal lessons from my parents so I could sing like Christine and I borrowed the Gaston Leroux novel from the library. A love affair was born. Very soon after Les Miserables followed, the singing continued and the incessant reading of classics began.  Not only classics of literature; but classics of the stage.  I was obsessed with the early beginnings of the stage: of operetta, of Gershwin, Porter, of the years that led us through the Golden Age to the modern renaissance. Indeed, musical theatre in the 1990s was evolving, yes, but often a renaissance.

Fortunately, for me, the city not too far-- with its lights sparkling and its performances awaiting-- was filled of touring companies and the productions that settled in for long, languid and brilliant runs. Lavish productions at beautiful theatres. Often productions would test here before heading to Broadway. Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell in Ragtime , Clorish Leachman et al in Show Boat, Donny Osmond in Joseph! we were the perfect breeding ground. WE HAD COLM WILKINSON ( I have seen him on stage countless times)  The Mirvishs ran half the town ( The Princess of Wales, Royal Alex, the Elgin, the New Yorker which is now the Panasonic) and Garth Drabinsky’s Livent had shows at the Pantages ( now the Ed Mirvish Theatre) The Ford Centre ( now the Toronto Centre for the Arts) and the Hummingbird (now the Sony).  This was, as you can tell, before the days of sponsored signs when theatres were just like stepping back into a slice of heaven.


God in heaven, I was obsessed!  I saved my ticket stubs, bought programs, leafed through the playbills, recognized all the Canadian stars, geared up for the next production, asked for tickets for Christmas and birthdays. I LOVED miniBroadway!

Garth Drabinsky and his ilk fed my creative consciousness. Showstopper: the documentary which exposes the rise and fall of his fraudulent empire took me on a bitter-sweet whirl through the past. On the front, it was an excavation of Toronto in the 1990s. I moved here in 2001 and so while I was a visitor, it had yet to become my home. And yet, yet I remember the way it looked and how exciting it was to come on a visit.  To go to the theatre.

The documentary itself is fascinating especially in how it unravels the destruction of an empire; but how it best worked for me was as a recollection of what the theatre experience used to be like: a treasured and certain thing: a major event.

I have been to London’s West End, to Broadway, to the  great opera houses of Austria. I have seen more of the world in my adult life; but the magic of my formative years as a theatre attendant is unparalleled.  Certainly I live in the city ( where theatre and performance still thrives, if on a somewhat different scale); but while it is still special it is more readily available and it is the  build-up to a performance that I miss.

My family dressed up to the theatre. It was an event. We would talk about it before and after, we would sit quietly as in church reverently watching the action on the stage.  Vendors didn’t wander up and down the aisles dolling out ice cream and beer, cell phones were owned only by the police and Zach Morris.  The only light that occasionally went off was an illegal flash from a hand-held (non- digital ) camera. But, for the most part, audiences behaved differently.  The theatre was a place of reverence.

The film struck a dim chord with me mostly because it caused me to exhume what had long been buried: that moment, that memory of what it REALLY felt like to see a show: the orchestra tuning in the pit, the applause as the conductor wove his way to the front of the musicians, the first cymbal clash or note played, the first action on stage when the red or dark blue curtain was pealed back.   With the end of Drabinsky and Livent came the end of an era: not only for Toronto but also for Broadway. Things are different now: the scales and subjects and calibre of shows are different, the audiences are different, the producers and creators cater to different (and often absurd ) audience needs.

Anyone who is interested in the Blockbuster Age of musicals, in the Tony Awards, in any of the Livent mounted shows will appreciate this bittersweet piece.  A favourite moment occurred in one of the many great interviews (Elaine Stritch, Chita Rivera are just a few of the famed interviewed) where legendary Dihann Carroll speaks to Drabinsky’s risk in casting her as Norma Desmond in the Toronto production of Sunset Boulevard.  Here, Drabinsky broke the mold and a colour barrier.

This took me back and I think it will take a lot of people back: back to an age of my city before Yonge and Dundas Square, before SARS, before the insane amount of box stores and digitalization where the City was an adventure and not a sponsored entity.

Garth Drabinksy knew the moment The Lion King won the Tony that Ragtime ( his stake in the race) and his empire would soon crumble. I doubt the Toronto theatre community recognized that, on a smaller scale, it was also ushering the end of an era.

[if you don't know about Garth Drabinksy, read the wikipedia article and do a google search]

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

All Things New by Lynn Austin (aka Extra! Extra! Lynn Austin makes me a better Christian)

WARNING: major Lynn Austin love here. GAH! rambles and odes and such... it's rather pathetic ;)

Lynn Austin is no stranger to work and research surrounding the Civil War.  The 8 time Christy Award winner scored two such awards for her Refiner’s Fire trilogy which exceptionally offered readers with three books centered on three different viewpoints: the North, the South, the Slave.

In the Restoration piece, All Things New, Austin has married these 3 three perspectives through new characters and circumstances.  The war is over; but its ramifications have left the South shattered: faithless, hopeless and poor.  What was so hard fought for on both sides seems pale when compared with the devastating loss of life and lifestyle.

For White Oaks plantation owner Eugenia and her daughters, Mary and Josephine, the world is hardly recognizable.  Where the slaves used to work their farm and ensure food was provided and parties balls overseen, this new found emancipation forces a brand new necessity for getting one’s hands dirty. Indeed, the sullying of hands is a major motif in the novel: as Eugenia slowly but surely watches her daughter’s dainty fair skin become blistered and callous with work of survival.

After years of distance, doing back-breaking work for their master’s well-being, freed slaves Lizzie and Otis can finally live together as man and wife.  But, while they still maintain a livelihood on the plantation owned by Eugenia and run by her ex-soldier son, Daniel, they are torn between a conglomerate of former slaves vying for sheer freedom and the bleak helplessness at having the freedom to leave but lacking the direction to go.

Alexander Chandler, a Quaker turned Yankee soldier aches to make amends to his Creator for his part in the hopeless destruction and bloodshed. Acting as agent for the Freedman’s Bureau, he encourages Lizzie and Otis and others of their kind to start anew.  As well as starting a new school that Lizzie and Otis’ children attend, he acts as liaison between the freed slaves and their previous owners in an attempts to encourage them to work peacefully. 

Everything, every single thread in this compellingly readable tapestry is one born of chaos. I cannot fathom the confusion and drastic change of living that occurred for Americans on both sides of the War (the losing South, the Winning North) nor for the freed slaves so beholding to their masters and their degrading way of life that an evening walk seems to instil a sense of breaking a law now dissolved. While Josephine is young and able to adapt to the changes and, subsequently shape her character and drive in a way never imagined by questioning and challenging her uprising to this point, so Eugenia is stuck in a past that she can never resurrect: sadly scrambling to keep up appearances, make calls at neighbouring plantations depraved of their glory and organizing balls to assemble the ragtag crew of the poor and defeated.  Unable to accept that the South’s glory days are gone, she acts as a kind of Ashley Wilkes’ : nobly holding to the past while unable to see the new world as it unfolds before her.  Readers will at times find her stubbornly ridiculous; outwardly wanting to lash at her condescending tone and her inability to see the harm she unintentionally causes. But, here, here is one way in which Austin excels. She can make even the most seemingly unsympathetic character understandable. Slow, sure changes in character equate in massive leaps strode forward and Eugenia leaves so much of her social certainty behind.

Josephine’s tale is by far my favourite: mostly because Lynn Austin’s young women as they confront spiritual uncertainties resonate most strongly with me.  Josephine is, like the cream of the Austin canon, a perfect collision of modern questions and a well-researched time period. She’s effervescent, extremely relatable: a firecracker on the verge of something wonderful even as the old life threatens to pull her back.  Josephine is, at the beginning of the book, eclipsed by her loss.  The loss of her way of life, the loss of her side of the War, the loss of her father and brother.  Even when Daniel returns, he is not as she knew him and retreats sullenly into himself emotionally scarred by what he has seen and heard.  When she makes an unlikely ally in Alexander Chandler she recognizes him as a sounding board for the questions rapidly firing in her head.  While Chandler may represent the winning side, so he poses questions about God, faith and humanity…most importantly, her future… that Josephine is aching to resolve.

The relationship between Josephine and Alexander is worth reading alone.  In gloriously slow and lugubrious fashion, Austin metes out significant and brief meetings. Each time, we learn a tad more about both as individuals as she strings us along: their silences as telling as their conversations.  In a recent interview with Novel Crossing, Austin mentioned that she often writes large patches of dialogue first. Her first draft, she admits, is often a plethora of dialogue wherein she revisits and hashes out and patches together connecting scenes.  This is so telling in the propensity of her dialogue to resound off her page; but also testament to her genius at writing character.  These are character driven stories.  Much as Josephine clings to her father’s mirror ( a kind touch featuring Alexander is brought to light when it comes to this mirror), so do these compelling and strong scenes hold a mirror up to ourselves.

  Lynn Austin does best when she asks universal questions  through her fiction. She often doesn’t answer them. She poses them, she encourages one to fight and challenge and wrestle with them as her achingly relatable characters do.   It is no secret that I love Austin and I encourage readers who try her to recognize that she works on more than one level. First, she is a universally admired storyteller. She has dozens of women readers ( in the States and Canada and beyond) who recognize she has a knack for just a great narrative. Her stories will grab you. She doesn’t trip you up with dense and muddled descriptions; rather she leans across and whispers in your ear.  It works well, it’s a style her own. 

Secondly, she is unique enough to have what I call a  Lynn Austin Moment. It occurs in every book in the same vaguely delightful way that the Ernst Lubitsch touch pervaded his classic films.  This is that one reassuringly blossoming moment when you know that you are reading a Lynn Austin novel. It’s a delight, it’s a spark: it’s a scene so unique and cherished and wonderful that you just want to live in it a moment.  It’s for this reason that people read books and you will find a plentitude in Austin.  I don’t want to give away MY Lynn Austin moment in All Things New because I want readers to discover what it can be for themselves.

Finally, and most importantly, she is divinely inspired.  I don’t usually get so mushy when I dole out the Christian book reviews; but Lynn Austin’s novels tend to meet me where I am spiritually at the exact moment I am reading them. It is almost mindblowing how spirit-filled these books are and how they speak to me on so many levels and challenge me and encourage me in ways I didn’t even know I needed challenging and encouraging.    I get mocked ( good-humouredly) for my Lynn Austin love; but if readers could possibly fathom the way that God speaks to me through her work, they might give me a bit of a break.

I yearn for every believer to find the same type of solace in fiction.  I believe that God speaks in many ways, mediums, forms. For passionate readers why wouldn't he use intelligent storytelling as a portal?  Lynn Austin is gifted.  Not just in the way that we mention the gift of any artistic storyteller; but in her ability to strengthen her readers’ spiritual walks.  She opens our eyes to things: They are often things that are staring us right in the face; but they hit me doubly so when I am in the midst of her pages.

Austin’s books validate me as a believing woman. I know I am not alone. I know that I am on the right path. I know that even when I feel too-outspoken, too awkward, too imaginative, too different that I have found an imaginative construct wherein I am validated. I am valid. My life is valid. God made me the way I am. I, too, can have a purpose: as flawed and strange and outspoken and bewildering and unladlylike as I am.

She can silently and gently preach through her words forever that God uses women of all types and circumstances in all times (married or single, educated or not, strong and outspoken or docile and meek) and that ALL are worthy.  This is her thesis (I’ve told you all this countless times before).  And there are times when I look to my “big three” of female author-hood (Austin, DL Sayers, Catherine Marshall) and thank the good Lord above for how they quench my thirst. Because, honestly, fair readers-who-are-probably-bored-of-this-long-winded-ramble, I sometimes wonder if I would still be a believer today, given time, circumstance and the confusion of being an independent woman in the Evangelical sphere, if it wasn’t for their meeting me where I’m at. Strangers, yes, using fiction to resuscitate me. 

I’ll never really have the  guts to write Lynn Austin a personal email. I would get all flustered and not know where to begin …. But I want you to know how she has changed me, challenged me, healed and consoled me. I think the right book ---the right author---can find the right reader in providential bliss--- and I want you to give it a chance. She might just be the balm you need.  This story is far more than historical fiction.  But, that’s the beauty of Lynn Austin, isn’t it?

This review copy was provided from Graf-Martin Communications on behalf of Bethany House