How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Year in Books

The last day of 2013 is here! As of today, a natural bookend to the year’s shelf of books, I have put 40 onto mine. Some were print, others were digital; some were old – one arguably the oldest proper novel – many were new – one then-unpublished and one or two brand-new; some were fiction, others biography and nonfiction. For the most part I’m satisfied with my shelf, though I wish I could have fit more classics on to it. But I certainly wouldn’t wish any of the books I did put there to be removed!

Fortunately for you, I’m not going to list all the books I read and what I thought of them (if you truly are interested, you can find most of them on Goodreads); but I did think a top-15 list would be fun, although it was rather difficult to make. I’ve tried to put them in some semblance of order, according to how much I enjoyed them and how much they impacted and enriched me:

Chucking College
Melanie Ellison
This book challenged me to grow as a person and define and pursue the education that will truly further my goals; it also made me glad that I made the decision to not attend college when I was younger.

Traitor's Knife
Elizabeth Kaiser
This light fantasy novel, by someone I've gotten to know online, was a wonderful read. Miss Kaiser's writing is beautiful, her settings feel tangible, and the storyline has suspense and mystery. I really entered in!

Let Go
edited letters of Fenelon
Fenelon was a 17th-century French theologian. I've seldom read in one little volume so many thought-provoking, perspective-changing words about surrendering to God.

Jane Austen
This sweet story is one of my three favorite Austen novels. I enjoyed it the second time around this year and received inspiration for my own Regency novel.

In Search of Adventure
Alicia Willis
This is a 2013 novel of the Middle Ages, also by someone I've gotten to know online. It was exciting and satisfying. I loved the historical setting and the spiritual lessons.

The Seamstress
Seren Tuvel Bernstein
Mrs. Bernstein was a Romanian Jewish Holocaust survivor. Her story, like all Holocaust survivor's stories, was jaw-dropping-ly amazing, but her artistic style of narrative really captured me.

Sir Walter Scott
Ivanhoe squeezed into the very end of this year. What a book! So many satisfying adventures, details, and well-drawn characters. I owe it a thorough review. Look for that soon.

Once Upon a Time: On the Nature of Fairy Tales
Max Luthi
This intriguing book went into just what title describes: the nature of fairy tales. I learned much about the fairy tales, their history, (though, sadly, not their precise origins!) and storytelling, as well as much about the human mind.

The Baronet's Song and The Shepherd's Castle
George MacDonald; edited by Michael Phillips
I don't consider myself to have cheated here. The two books are companions and are therefore inseparable, in my mind. They contained masterful, picturesque storytelling as well as beautiful spiritual truths. Scotland as the setting was also a plus!

The Concealed Light
Tsvi Sadan
This was a unique and fascinating book. For each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Mr. Ladan chose four or five names for the Messiah from Jewish literature and explains how they fit Yeshua. There are 22 letters, so that's a lot of names that, amazingly enough, accurately describe Yeshua!

The Charity Diary Series
Elisabeth Allen
There are three sweet, affirming books in this series about a young Christian woman who lives with her homeschooling family in England. She learns many things about walking with God, and readers learn them with her. The loving sincerity of Miss Allen shines through her novels!

Jane Austen's Letters
collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye
I loved getting so many insights into one of my favorite author's life and times through her witty, personable letters. This volume is a treasure!

Don Quixote
Miguel de Cervantes
Reading this landmark of western literature was an experience I'll never forget! While it was tedious on occasion, I'm so glad I persevered. It really enriched my literary life. Six months later, I'm still learning things about it!

The Wanderer
Fanny Burney
What a ride! I loved the mystery, the characterization, the breadth and scope, the suspense, the philosophizing, and the meatiness of this early nineteenth-century novel. It was almost 900 pages long, but I never tired of it.

Drum roll, please!
Tongue of the Prophets
Robert St. John
This was the most touching book for me of 2013. Written in the mid-twentieth-century, it's a biography of Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the amazing Jew who revived the Hebrew language, against all odds, in what was then called Palestine. He was an ardent Zionist and the task God used him for was just awe-inspiring.

 2013 was the best year yet in my personal life; the Lord really revealed His hand in many instances. I am thankful to the point of tears for everything He's done. He is good!

What was your favorite book of 2013? What was your favorite part of 2013 in general?

 a postcard from my great-grandmother's collection, postmarked 1911

Friday, December 20, 2013

Ancestry, part 2

This is my follow-up of last Friday’s post, where I determined that I would relate a few stories about my family that help inspire my WIP, The Alice Quest, a novel that explores people’s connection to their ancestors.

my great-grandparents

I know the most about my maternal grandmother’s family, since I had the privilege of writing a mini-biography for my grandma and her children. These ancestors lived in Chicago since they emigrated from Friesland, The Netherlands. Dutch ancestry factors into The Alice Quest via main character Amy Brown’s great-grandfather. Her grandparents live in Holland, MI, a lovely historical town I am somewhat familiar with. It sounds like a pleasant place to live, especially if you have Dutch ancestry! There is an event in May called the Tulip Festival that centers around Holland’s fields of tulips … though I’ve never seen it myself, I’ve heard it’s spectacular. I wish Amy’s story could have started in May, because I would love to see her at the festival which she never misses, but (you writers know how it goes) the story has to start in June.

Chicago shows up in The Alice Quest, and the lives of my ancestors who settled there filter in through that arena as well. Alice Prescott, Amy’s great-great-grandmother’s sister, was born and raised in a Chicago suburb from 1886-1906; none of the family ever knew what happened to her after a fateful summer day in 1906. Although Alice lived on the opposite side of the city from the Dutch communities my ancestors inhabited, I like the association. To me, Chicago is an ancestral city and I feel a connection to it like no other metropolis, so it fits my novel about ancestry like a glove.

My grandmother saved postcards from the first years of the 1900s with relatives’ handwriting on them. The mental image of their faint cursive was with me as I pictured Alice’s diary in The Alice Quest. I knew that there were streetcars in Chicago because a sister of my great-grandmother’s was killed in a streetcar accident in 1914, and therefore a mention of the potential dangers of streetcars finds its way into my writing. There may be a place, also, for mentioning the Pullman cars, Chicago-created luxury train cars to which my great-great-grandfather contributed his skill of marquetry, the art of making inlaid wood designs. 

Leaving my maternal family and long-ago stories, I’ve found a bit of inspiration from my dad’s brother’s house, a Victorian dwelling that I got to visit this past summer. It’s full of lovely antiques, including a phonograph that played a 1905 record for us. The history of the house and its treasures fascinated me to no end, and thus, in The Alice Quest, a Victorian mansion emerges, potentially significant to the plot of the mystery.

And as I go along building my novel, no doubt I’ll find more materials in my family’s history. Have you ever mined your family history for inspiration for your writing or even your life in general?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Literary Birthday

Jane Austen was born to write. She was writing stories by the time she was 12; they’re called the Juvenilia, and I’m reading them now. They are silly little tales that she wrote for family members, about ridiculous people doing ridiculous things, and you can almost hear the youthful author laughing behind her characters’ backs.

Miss Austen was born on December 16th, 1775, exactly five years after one of the greatest composers – Ludwig van Beethoven – was born. Last year, I celebrated her birthday with posts about her and her books during the whole month of December. Here is my ode to her that I wrote at that time:

“Miss Austen was a brilliant writer – even the greatest scholars, like C. S. Lewis and E. M. Forster, admired her. Her novels were a turning-point in the tradition of British fiction. She was devoted to portraying reality – in plot, in dialogue, in the conscience – and she translated that reality into a work of art. The earlier British novels I’ve read are melodramatic in comparison. Jane Austen sized down her situations and characters so that they were utterly believable and relatable, even to today. Her character portraits are complete, thus producing memorable characters that feel like people you’ve met – and yet they are not so complex that you can’t easily identify their types and traits. Her books are laugh-out-loud funny, pointing out the ridiculous and potentially teaching the reader to evaluate herself for damaging peccadilloes.

Miss Austen wasn’t trained at a school – her novels come from an uncommon intelligence and talent. Countless people could enjoy and study them, recognizing themselves in the pages and being enriched by the sketchbook of a culture that was quickly passing away.”

To bring this birthday post to a close, I’ll relate how Austen has influenced my own writing. In my novel, Adventure in England (due, Lord willing, next year), Jane Austen is a prominent feature of the tour my characters take. They visit her home in Chawton, Hampshire, where she lived the last seven years of her life; her tomb in Winchester Cathedral; and her townhouse in Bath, where she also dwelt for several years. They even stop in Southampton, another place she lived for a time. Steventon, where she was born, however, did not make the tour – the rectory she called home for more than twenty-five years, alas, no longer stands.

I am co-writing a Regency novel with a friend, and if there had been no Jane Austen, The Wise- and Light-Hearted would not exist … but it’s been endlessly fun and enriching! I wonder how many other books would not have been written if not for her?

If you’ve read any Jane Austen books or watched any related movies, how have they affected you?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Things That Inspire in Me a Story: Ancestry

What is it about our ancestors that we find endlessly fascinating? Though not everyone cares about their long-dead relatives whom they’ve never met, many of us do … we take as much pride in the fact that our great-great-great-great-grandfather fought in the Civil War, that a lost-track-of-greats-grandmother sailed on the Mayflower, that our infinity-greats-ancestors were royalty, as they or their immediate children did. Although it may not have any practical bearing on our lives, I think it’s healthy to love our ancestors (within reason) and feel that they are our connection to the past, whether it’s world-changing history or life-sustaining homemaking. Learning their stories is the only way we can honor and respect them now that they are gone from this earth.

one of my great-grandmothers (center) and two of her sisters

That’s why I enjoyed Rebekah Jones’s novel Grandmother’s Letters so much – she illustrated the direct and helpful effect even the long-ago past can have on our lives today. I hypothesize that our far-away ancestors’ choices are largely responsible – on the human side of things – for where we end up in our lives, be it where we live or what our interests are. I like thinking about the possibilities, such as, what if my great-great-grandparents hadn’t chosen to immigrate? and then praising God for the way things turned out.

I also like studying my ancestors because I get to place them in the events of history, and in a way it makes me feel that I was there. We have a right to the glories of the past through the participation of our ancestors.

Beyond that, though, all of us can find inspiration from our ancestors’ lives for our stories! My work-in-progress The Alice Quest explores ancestry and how we interact with it, and I draw from my own experiences and love of ancestral history as I delve into Amy's, my MC.

So what fascinates me from my family history? First of all, where my ancestors came from.

My dad’s dad’s family has been in America for a good long while. Before ending up in Michigan, where my dad, grandparents, great-grandparents, and most of my great-great-grandparents were born, they lived in New York and Massachusetts, and their ancestors came from southern England in the 1600s. I find it exciting that they pioneered America and saw or even fought in the Revolutionary War. My dad’s mom’s family emigrated from Sweden in the 1880s and settled in Michigan; my great-grandmother spoke only Swedish until she went to school.

My mom’s mom’s family also came over in the 1880s, only they emigrated from Holland and put down roots in Chicago. My mom’s dad’s family came from Germany around the same time.

my great-great-grandmother who came from Holland (her daughters are in the previous photograph)

Because of my ancestry I feel a connection to and special fascination for the cultures of England, Sweden, Holland, and Germany – as opposed to, say, Italy, Spain, Russia, and the Native Americans. Is that exclusively conscious, i.e., I take more interest in them because I know it’s in my blood? Or is there something in my genetics? I don’t know if I can ever know for sure.

In part two of this post (which will emerge next Friday if I can manage it) I’ll tell you a few things about my family that inspire The Alice Quest. On Tuesday, however I’ll be doing a special Jane Austen post in honor of her birthday, December 16th.

What is your family’s ancestry?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Book Review: Grandmother's Letters

Grandmother's Letters

“Louise’s friend is dragging her along on a dubious treasure hunt. She, however, would rather be reading the recently discovered letters written by her great-great-grandmother, Georgiana Donahue.

Meanwhile, Xavier, a young law student, is facing struggles of his own. He can’t find a job, his uncle is constantly belittling his late father, and he can hardly stand his seemingly perfect cousin.

In the next town, an old man’s reclusive ways are disturbed when he agrees to let Malcolm Moore do his yard work. Although he desires to return to his seclusion, he is perplexed by the Moores’ willingness to welcome him into their lives.

Almost 100 years in the past, Georgiana Donahue’s life was turned upside down in the course of one eventful year, and she was inclined to blame God for all of her troubles. Little did she realize that the searching letters she wrote to her brother and his wife would end up touching so many lives, so long after they were written…” [The synopsis.]

This book was a joy to read. Miss Jones draws readers in through many different ways: a mystery about a lost treasure, questions about the old trunk, a fun and interesting cast of characters, heartfelt spiritual lessons, and a cozy story-telling style.

The mystery kept me guessing until its conclusion – a satisfying “who-would-have-thought!” solution. Louise’s rich and overly-bold friend Priscilla, who was wrapped up in solving this mystery, was hilarious.

The old trunk full of family heirlooms represented where the past and present intersected. I loved how history touched and changed modern-day lives through Louise’s great-great-grandmother’s letters.

You’ll need a web to connect all the characters – watching their stories gradually weave together was a delight! Miss Jones portrayed their deep struggles clearly but with an economy of words, and their resolutions were perfectly paced. Almost every person’s story was moving – Mr. Centenarian’s story was probably my favorite, but I liked Louise’s and Xavier’s as well. As an author myself, I was also intrigued by Xavier’s “perfect” cousin Adrian Terrence, who was an author.

Everything fit together like the lovely book cover with its assortment of objects. I would have perhaps liked more character depth, but not every book has to have that, and this one came off well without it because of its large cast of unique and equally-important characters. There were funny moments and touching moments and one that even made me tear up. I see it as a book that explores community – how people from the past can directly and deeply affect those in the present, and how people nowadays can help and care for each other.

There were a few flaws and an inconsistency here and there that another round of editing could have caught. Several of the younger characters calling their parents “Mother and Father” felt unrealistic to me. But basically those are my only criticisms.

Since most or all of the younger characters were homeschooled, Grandmother’s Letters probably holds special interest for homeschooled students, but it is by no means limited in its audience!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Thanksgiving + Hanukkah

I hope you had a beautiful Thanksgiving! I know it’s over, but special days like that linger in our thoughts longer than tasty leftovers do in our fridge. I didn’t do a proper Thanksgiving post last week, nor did I comment on Hanukkah, which began on Thanksgiving eve. Jewish days begin in the evening, so the first day of Hanukkah commenced with the setting of the sun last Wednesday. This convergence is once in a lifetime. The last time it happened, since Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday, was 1888; the next time will be about 79,000 years in the future. I do wonder how this could happen twice within 130 years and then never again for 79,000 years, but that’s what they say.

This convergence brought a connection to my attention, one that I never saw in all my years of celebrating both. Thanksgiving and Hanukkah – how could they relate? One is American and Christian, one is Jewish. Thanksgiving is distinctly associated with fall, Hanukkah is distinctly associated with winter. (That they overlapped this year was very strange – Hanukkah was about the earliest it could be and Thanksgiving was about the latest.) One was birthed in 1621 CE, one in 165 BCE. One focuses on thankfulness, one on dedication. But with all of these differences, there is a similarity: that of the people’s hearts.

The Pilgrims separated from the established Church of England in order to worship God in a more biblical manner. They were so devoted to God, He encompassed their lives so much, that they left their country and laid down earthly security to settle a new country where they could build up His Kingdom in the way that they weren’t allowed to in England. They gave up their all to serve God. If they hadn’t, we wouldn’t have what we have today – our America.

Likewise the Maccabees of the Hanukkah story took a stand and separated from the Greek culture that was overwhelming the biblical faith. They were so devoted to God that they refused to assimilate and instead fought to retake their country and their Temple, God’s Kingdom, laying down their lives in the struggle. They gave up their all to serve God. Yeshua hadn’t yet come, and although God would have raised up another deliverance to keep His chosen people intact so that He could come, the Maccabees and their followers are still inspiring because they resolved to be that deliverance.

The example of these two people groups gives me a lot to ponder. It makes me ask: Am I laying down my life in such a way? Am I dying to myself and saying, “Only You, my God”? Am I determined to let nothing separate me from the Lord? Am I being the “City on the Hill” that describes both groups?

This is a blessed and dynamic time of year where these two celebrations converge like a mighty river, causing their truths to flood our lives.

What are your thoughts?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Indie Authors Book Sale

I am participating, for the first time, in an Indie Authors group sale. I hope that if you're in the market for books you find this helpful!

Welcome to the Holiday Indie Book Sale, where all of your reading dreams become a reality. Or rather, your holiday shopping spree! You don’t have to look any further than these awesome books by awesome self-published authors for gifts to stuff your stockings. From Black Friday through the day after Cyber Monday, fill your shelves with paperbacks!

Melody Valadez
DQTR44VX (20% off)

Faith Blum
93LQLRJ8 (10% off)

Marilynn Dawson 
2MU73RQR (10% off)
Mom's Little Black Book: Godly Advice for the High School Graduate:
Becoming the Bride of Christ: A Personal Journey:

Molly Evangeline

Kelsey Bryant
YFY84GHU (20% off)

Christina & Melody Grubb

Aubrey Hansen
D6PH5HAT (20% off)

Morgan Huneke
BX6RV6SK (20% off)

Vicki Lucas
Toxic: (Discounted to $10 through Paypal)

J. Grace Pennington
9L3ES8RT (20% off)
Firmament: In His Image:

Jordan Smith
5PC4QW6S (20% off)
Finding the Core of Your Story:

In addition, you may want to participate in this fun giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Chatterbox in November


I’m once again joining in with the blog link-up Chatterbox from Rachel Heffington of Inkpen Authoress. This time the topic is death. I haven’t written any books containing definite tragedies, so I wrote a conversation between three characters from The Alice Quest just for Chatterbox. Either this conversation hasn’t happened yet or it happens off-stage, but it did give me an opportunity to touch on the different ways these characters – Amy, her sister Lisa, and their grandma – relate to the century-old disappearance of Alice Prescott.

    Lisa stared at Grandma and Amy, her eyebrows raised. “How do you know she didn’t die? Her story could have ended right there, in 1906 or whenever it was she disappeared.”
   “Her diary itself says she eloped,” Amy replied, forgetting any doubts she’d had herself. Stating evidence to contradict Lisa often had that effect.
   “She might as well have died,” Grandma declared, throwing out her hands as if exasperated. “Nora never saw her again.”

   “It was worse than death because there was never any closure.” Amy sat on the porch railing as a chill crept over her, sent by the wind and clouded sky as much as by her thoughts. “Why didn’t Alice contact Nora at least? She would have kept it a secret. Alice would have been a wife and possibly a mother by then; she wouldn’t have had to deal with her parents. Nora must have felt betrayed. It was like Alice had killed herself and kept herself dead all the while that she held the power of resurrecting. She didn’t love Nora enough to resurrect herself.” Amy took her gaze from the porch floorboards and looked meditatively at Lisa. “That’s no way to treat a sister.”

This was just a snippet, because I wanted it to feel like it came straight from the story. Hopefully something like it will go straight into the story!

To finish up, I hope you have a wonderful and meaningful Thanksgiving. Take advantage of this celebration to be rededicated to God as you give Him thanks and realize how much He has done for us!

Friday, November 22, 2013

November Snippets


It’s Snippets of Story time! How appropriate that my 100th blog post is about the stories I write ... my impetus for beginning a blog in the first place. And so, here are some lines from Adventure in England and The Alice Quest that I’ve written this month.

Reanna didn’t answer, but parted her lips and started singing wordlessly in a gliding melody, her soprano climbing louder and louder. I felt her emotions: she hadn’t sung for two weeks! So much was pent up inside that it poured forth now as if we were in the hills of the Lake District again, swept by the wind, teased by the sun and the clouds.
Adventure in England

“Nine o’clock already, kitten?” Amy called, though she could see the old mute cuckoo in her clock was about to pop out. The evening sky of June was still a luminescent smoky blue; if the trees had not been so thick, she might have been able to see the sunset from her window. (However, she wouldn’t have traded glorious house-hiding Sherwood-Forest trees for a sunset she could stroll out to the road to see.)
“Ye-es,” Kristia mewed deliberately, not swayed.
Amy smiled. Not too long ago, when Kristia was learning how to tell time, she could always make Kristia second-guess herself. “All right then, ask Lewis if he wants to listen, and I’ll be right there.”

The Alice Quest

[Amy] hadn’t quite lost it, but she hadn’t kept it together, either. Her squabbles with Lisa felt so childish, but she couldn’t get the better of them. Was this anything like Alice’s turmoil as she confronted the division in her family, between her and her parents and between her and Del?
The Alice Quest

“Right down to the gravestones, eh? I’d like that. A whole lot. You’ll help me find them, won’t you then?” [Grandma asked.]
Amy’s reading ground to a halt … the request sounded ominous, and she had better be on her guard. “Alice and Wilson? Or the gravestones?”
“Both. You just said we could find them, right down to the gravestones. I take things literally. The more I think about it, the more I see that I won’t be satisfied this time until we find Alice, her body, and any descendants she might’ve had.”

The Alice Quest

No one ever means “nothing.” [Amy thought.] Everyone, even if they’re long dead in our time, matters to God, and they mattered to people who missed them beyond their lifetime. Everyone has a legacy that still lives today, even if their names are long forgotten.
The Alice Quest

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Interview on Stardust and Gravel

I was privileged to be interviewed yesterday on Sarah Scheele's blog, Stardust and Gravel. You might like to read it; feel free to comment!


Friday, November 15, 2013

Book Review: Champion in the Darkness

 Champion in the Darkness (The Champion Trilogy, #1)

Champion in the Darkness, a fantasy by Tyrean Martinson, was an excellent novel. Many elements stood out from your average fantasy; when I finished it, all I could think was, “Wow! Where’s the next book?”

The world is Aramatir, the kingdom is Septily. Fifteen-year-old Clara is the only child of her parents and they, like other believers, have a gift that they use in service to the kingdom: Clara is training to be a Sword Master, like her mother, and her father is a Shepherd. The third discipline or gift is Law-Giver. The three disciplines are taught at centers called Triune Halls. Clara and her parents’ lives in Skycliff, Septily’s capital, are whole; Clara is about to receive her Crystal Sword which means she is ready to become a Sword Master. But then Clara learns she is the Champion, a hero raised up at different times by the Lord to save the people of Aramatir during great tribulation. Almost immediately after that, the tribulation breaks forth in the form of a takeover of Skycliff by the army of Kalidess, an evil sorceress and pawn of Satan who desires ultimate power over Aramatir. Clara’s world falls apart and she hardly knows herself as she must put her training into practice, help lead those who escaped from Skycliff, and become the Champion God called her to be.

Epic fantasies don’t always give me thrills because I can’t always enter into their world; usually the problem is sketchiness and lack of originality. But Martinson’s world felt unique, well-drawn, and complete. Aramatir had a history and geography that was fairly easy to grasp, and the differences between the countries were intriguing and realistic. I think it could have benefited from a map and more description, but as it was I did get a clear picture of each place in my mind. Martinson put me there very effectively; one great method she used was not explaining a custom or action and therefore “assuming” that readers knew what it was, because obviously the characters knew. Like historical fiction, this makes readers believe that they are really in the place and time.

Another thing that some epic fantasies lack is character development. I love character-driven narratives, and that’s what Champion in the Darkness is. Almost every character – Clara; the Sword Masters Stelia, Salene, Dantor, and Prince William; the Aerlandian prince Adrian; the Septilian king Alexandros – had an arc and an important, interesting story all their own. The novel incorporates several points of view, mostly Clara and Stelia, but each view is clearly delineated.

The battle scenes and fight scenes were very well-described. I grew breathless every time one of the Sword Masters, such as Clara or Stelia, took part in a fight because I was watching it in my mind. Does the author run her own sword academy? She even got down to the way they trained! This brings up a point that perhaps more than any other aspect gave this book its grip on my mind: the issue of women fighting. The society was essentially androgynous; there were no assigned roles, and women as much as men took part in battles. I haven’t read many “Girl-Warrior” books, but the fact that no one balked at Clara, a female, being the Champion made gender a non-issue. Clara was very humble, knew she was a woman, and didn’t lord it over anyone, man or woman. It was not “I am Woman, hear me roar!” I like the idea of women being able to fight if they need to (I am a martial artist, after all), but I’m not entirely comfortable with the image of women-warriors in this book. There, I said it. If I had to give my conclusion, it would be: I liked that Clara (and the other women) could fight, but not to the extent that they did so. Contradictory? Maybe, but our feelings about issues like these sometimes are.

Something else that made this fantasy unique was its religion. It’s Christianity as we know it, albeit with some differences accounted for by custom, such as we see in the real world. The Septilians know the Scriptures, and the main characters have deep, true-to-life relationships with God and deal with tough issues, tougher than many of us will ever face. One thing that felt very realistic was how they see that the men in Kalidess’s army can repent and join the good side.

There are several other points I wish I had room for, but let me end with the ending. I found the ending to Champion in the Darkness to be perfect. There is closure, but it’s apparent there’s much more to be done to accomplish Aramatir’s freedom. It didn’t feel rushed or incomplete, and yet it set up the next book, promising a fresh story as Clara continues her journey as Champion. I will be looking for that second book!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Hundred Thousand Doors

Books, books, books, everywhere! All for the taking, well, in exchange for anywhere from fifty cents to a few dollars per book. But the price is hardly inhibitory as you consider the gems written into the pages between those tempting covers. “Buy me! Read me! You won’t be disappointed!” they seem to say, and it’s easy to believe them, because your guard is down like a sleeping watchman’s gun. You’re in a dream, after all, a beautiful dream where a hundred thousand doors lead into other lives, new experiences, exotic countries, surprising veins of thought, even fantasy worlds that read like a dream themselves.

Ah, the library sale. Our area is blessed to have a big one, with two warehouse-like rooms spread with table upon table of used books. They come from individuals and libraries, and probably other sources, too, but what matters is that they can all come into your home library via a paper sack that you tote, then drag, then shove along the floor with your feet, until you carry it to a holding table or snag a friendly carter who’ll take it there for you. Then you go back to searching with a brand-new sack. It’s easy to pick out too many, and by the time you have to go several hours after you began (allow at least four), you’re feeling overwhelmed and picturing your stuffed bookshelves at home and thinking, “I’d better not bring all these home.” That thought helps with the culling. But plenty of precious finds still travel home in your trunk.

So, what were some of the precious finds that made it home in my trunk?

  • Mrs. Hurst Dancing & Other Scenes from Regency Life 1812-1823 – a Regency treasure! Diana Sperling water colored these scenes out of her family and friends’ lives. An excellent primary source.

  • Before Jane Austen, The Shaping of the English Novel in the Eighteenth Century – by Harrison R. Steeves. The history of literature, especially English novels, fascinates me.

  • Twenty Master Plots (And How to Build Them) – by Ronald B. Tobias. I heard about this on the internet and am intrigued to learn more: “Here you’ll find twenty plots discussed and analyzed – plots that recur through all fiction, no matter what the genre…. This book shows you how to develop plot in fiction….”

  • The Gammage Cup – by Carol Kendall. “A Novel of the Minnipins.” Three outcast friends must save their people, the Minnipins, from their enemies. A Newbery Honor Book. This fantasy has garnered rave reviews from several readers whose opinions I respect, and I couldn’t resist!

  • The Good Master – by Kate Seredy. Another Newbery Honor Book, this historical novel is set in Hungary, a rather out-of-the-ordinary setting. A friend recommended it the day before the library sale, and then there it was!

  • Young Falcon – by Elizabeth Anne McKinney. The cover of this fantasy adventure about an Elven girl arrested me; it’s a new book by a young author, a senior in a private Christian school in Texas. It looked like a very good story.

  • Trixie Belden #1 The Secret of the Mansion – by Julie Campbell. Another friend recommended this mystery series. 14-year-old Trixie can be likened to a young Nancy Drew, though perhaps not so perfect. I love Nancy Drew, by the way.

  • The State of Israel – by Israel T. Naamani. “A Triumphant portrait of Israel today …” This was published in 1972, so a bit outdated, but I’m looking forward to the history it contains.

Tell me about some of your favorite secondhand book finds!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fifth of November

                                              Please to remember the fifth of November
                                                       Gunpowder, treason and plot.
                                               I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
                                                           Should ever be forgot …

Have you ever heard that rhyme? Ever since I read it in a nursery rhyme book in my single-digit years, it has stuck in my head. I soon learned that it commemorated Gunpowder Treason Day, or Guy Fawkes Day, when the Catholic Guy Fawkes’s attempt on King James I’s life in 1605 failed. It was made an official celebration to thank God for His deliverance of the king. It was a day for church services and sermons … anti-Catholic sermons. British people celebrated it since then, mostly with bonfires, fireworks, and Guy Fawkes effigies … but also with much anti-Catholic sentiment; by the late 1800s, the anti-Catholic violence fortunately stopped. It is still a British holiday today.

The rhyme and the holiday and their association with old England fascinated me even when I was little, and therefore November 5th was a memorable day to me. This may sound silly, but I am someone who remembers and values her childhood particularly well … I gave Angela, my favorite Whitney doll (Barbie’s little sister Stacy’s friend? Remember those, one step up from the Kelly dolls?), November 5th as a birthday. She’s red-haired like me; she’s very pretty; her hair is short and cute and her hazel eyes sparkle. I gave her all the qualities I admired most, such as intelligence, athleticism, kindness, and bookishness; that’s why she needed a birthday with an intriguing history, and one in autumn at that, which was my favorite season. Angela appreciated it: I don’t recall ever having her go to a bonfire, but she thought a lot about the history of her birthday. She would have liked to celebrate it like England does, however: a chilly, windswept, star-studded night, trees with just a smattering of clinging leaves, the heat of a huge bonfire warming your insides and battling the cold, fireworks piercing the dark sky and scattering the chatter of friends.

The reason I have such fond memories of my dolls is that I played stories with them, which turned into my writing fiction. The stories I created with them were in essence like the stories I would write. Most of the creative elements were there … characters, personality, plot, action, dialogue, setting … the only thing lacking was words on a page. As I grew older, my story-writing increased in direct relation to my role-playing’s decrease.

Well, one thing led to another in this post, I suppose, but my main thought is this: November 5th isn’t really just another day for me. Like fall in general, it makes me nostalgic.

Any thoughts on Guy Fawkes Day or special things, like toys, from your past?

Oh, and I almost forgot! The Alice Quest is up to 8,769 words. I’ve written 3,187 words since Friday.

Friday, November 1, 2013


November is going to be a fun month for a number of people – they’re participating in National Novel Writing Month! I am not, but I won’t say I wasn’t tempted. I finally decided it just didn’t seem healthy for me. I already give myself a hard time over my paltry word count every day, and I’m afraid NaNo would only make that feeling of failure worse. Everyone has a different method of writing; mine is to pick and rework my words as I write them, and that’s part of what takes me so long to get words on the page. But, who knows? Maybe NaNo would get me over that problem! In any case, for a couple of reasons, I decided this was not the year to try.

I did learn something interesting yesterday related to this. The professor on a DVD writing course of mine was talking about how to start a writing project. For some people, that’s the hardest part of writing! I’ve experienced it more than once and it can feel like you’re trying to get through a brambly path – you have to make up your mind, grit your teeth, and push through regardless of the thorns and clinging vines. One way to ease the pressure is by allowing yourself to free-write for a while, writing down anything that comes to mind about your subject. The result is probably not very good, but after you come back and look at it, you’ll no doubt find the germ of a really worthwhile idea that you can run with. First drafts, however bad, are necessary to the finished product.

It’s a similar principle with NaNo. NaNo forces people to just start, and then, to persevere. Don’t worry about making it fantastic the first round; most of us just need the permission to dive in and swim. You can fix it later.

While I see the logic in this mind game and applaud how it stimulates people, it isn’t the way I tend to work; I’m more comfortable making passages as good as I can as I write them. Is it about having control? I don’t like letting things getting away from me, after all, and NaNo is notorious for that, isn’t it? : )

I’m going to watch my friends who are participating with interest and further my own work-in-progress, The Alice Quest. Here is my word count as of writing this blog post: 5,582. Let’s see how far it’s grown by next Tuesday! And for all you NaNoWriMo writers out there, Godspeed!

What do you think of National Novel Writing Month?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Book Review: In Search of Adventure


“A novel of adventure, comradeship, and suspense, as a valiant knight seeks to overcome his merciless foes and retain honor in a hostile land.” [From the back cover]

In Search of Adventure is the second full-length novel of Alicia Willis, one of my favorite new authors, and the second installment of her Comrades of Honor series. It continues the story of To Birmingham Castle. Like the first, it breathes history and proves that the old way of storytelling is effective and compelling.

It felt like the Middle Ages, from its accurate description of the life of knights and squires to its extolment of chivalry, virtue, and heroism to its third-person omniscient narration and the Middle English dialogue of its characters. Miss Willis has certainly accomplished her goal of writing a historical fiction series that’s “family-friendly, entertaining, yet accurate.” (From The Comrades of Honor Series website.) I really appreciate her skill!

I found the characters interesting and endearing: Kenneth Dale, the squire, was perhaps my favorite of all the series yet. Adela, Sir Nathaniel’s love, was runner-up. Even though there were many dangerous moments, these by no means overshadowed the richness of the characters. The three main characters were such good friends and it warmed my heart to read their banter, because it was just like friends tease each other today, only in the beautiful language of old England. Each one’s devotion was exemplary.

Even though all of the main characters were virtuous, Miss Willis correctly portrayed them as exceptions, because there were many unscrupulous people – such as murderous lords and brutal knights – during that time and in the book. But we wouldn’t want to read about them without the light of true Christians nearby, now would we? What a depressing prospect! Fortunately, In Search of Adventure showed, in powerful ways, good triumphing over evil. People like Sir Nathaniel and Kenneth modeled godly character, which included making hard choices and dying to self. It influences you to analyze your own actions and motives.

I can think of only one downside, but really, it may not be a downside at all, because Miss Willis specifically targeted this subject: the book focused on small noblemen, knights, and squires, and very little on any other personality. But this limited focus allowed the relationships between the characters to be depicted in full.

There’s one more book in this series, scheduled for 2014. Let’s just say I’m glad 2014 is almost here – I can’t wait to find out how this series will wrap up!

Friday, October 25, 2013



Rachel Heffington of Inkpen Authoress has ingeniously created a new monthly blog link-up thing called Chatterbox. She chooses a topic of discussion that we plunk in front of a few well-chosen characters from our stories and then let them have at it! Rachel says she loves dialogue, and I heartily agree that it’s super important. Letting characters speak for themselves, with just a bit of control, is a large element of making a story real, and it’s an excellent way to get to know them.

So, this month’s topic is coffee. This first topic was easy for me because I just so happen to have a conversation based around coffee in Adventure in England. That conversation will do very nicely. I know there are a lot of characters, and I don’t expect you to keep them straight, but picture yourself in an English cafĂ© listening to a group of eleven young people, made up of both Americans and Brits. (The narrator is Marielle, by the way.)

“So, will you order something?” [Chelsea asked. “]You need to have Lizzy’s cappucinos at least.”

“So you’ve replaced teatime with cappucino time?” Caroline jested, her voice not so strong as usual. She must not have been entirely at her ease.

Paris and her friends laughed. “I’d say coffee is just as popular as tea here,” Paris said. “But there aren’t as many fancy kinds except for, like, chains like Starbucks.”

“You have Starbucks?” Abby asked.

“You bet. Not here, but in Taplow and Slough,” Chelsea answered. “Lizzy’s drinks are better, honestly.”

“That’s their opinion,” countered Paris. “Lizzy’s comes closer than any tearoom or restaurant to great coffee, but not like Starbucks. The calories are just as scary, though, as anywhere else, so I’d almost rather drink tea myself.”

“Hmm. I love Starbucks, but do you think I should try one from Lizzy’s?” Abby turned to look at the menu posters behind the counter. With all the wild swirls on them, it was a wonder she could read anything from way back where we stood.

“Use those pounds you just exchanged for your dollars!” Paris exclaimed. “It’d be your first buy, huh?”


“No way are you, like, going to be the first to buy something in England,” Kailey protested sharply. She took a step toward the counter. “Do they have mochas?”

“Uh-huh,” Chelsea replied, she and the others grinning as if they saw a joke. While I found the rivalry funny at times, like now, I always hoped it wouldn’t develop further and ruin what should be a pleasant, peaceful trip.

“Do you want something, Paris?” Abby asked.

“No, thanks. Wait they have diet soda; I’ll get that.”

“Reanna? Anyone else?” Abby went on.

“Cappucino, with cinnamon if they have it,” Reanna responded.

The rest of us declined. I personally felt that it was poor form to order something after Mrs. Endicott had done such beautiful work for tea at her home.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Few of My Favorite Blogs

I always appreciate seeing the lists of the favorite blogs of my favorite bloggers. Since I didn’t have anything like that, I thought now was a good time to put one out! I shall soon be turning this into its own page. There are so many wonderful writers' blogs out there, but these are the ones I follow regularly, and oh, for time to follow more! (Once this is a page, I'll probably be adding to it from time to time!)

Stardust and Gravel Sarah Scheele

Road of a Writer Deborah O’Carroll

Homeschool Authors

Scribbles and Ink Stains Abigail Hartman

Whisperings of the Pen Katie Sabelko

Living on Literary Lane Elizabeth Rose

Be Forgiven Bekah Marie

Alicia Willis Alicia Willis

Word Painters

The Second Sentence Elisabeth Grace Foley

Hope Scribbles Elisabeth Allen

E. Kaiser Writes-A-Blog Elizabeth Kaiser

The Destiny of One Sarah Holman

Friday, October 18, 2013

Flying High

I’m sure not everyone finds romance in an airplane ride. Some fly so often that it’s become routine; others dislike it so much they close their eyes until it’s over and never give the windows a glance. I myself don’t think I would like it half so much if I didn’t get a window seat every time, nor if all my flights were hours long. But the flights I took this past summer, from Brookings, South Dakota, to Denver, and then from Denver to Dallas, were perfect showcases of what I love about flying.

As soon as the plane begins to move, a thrill goes through me. It glides smoothly along the runway, and gets into position for takeoff. Then it starts picking up speed with a long, exhilarating, overwhelming whoosh and I’m pushed back in my seat. The front wheels lift off the earth, and then the monstrous thing is completely in the air, climbing effortlessly higher and higher. The cabin is full of pressure; my ears pop. But most of my attention is funneled out my window. I feel weightless as the earth quickly gets smaller and smaller and all its features become sharp and clear and beautiful. Miniature things are more beautiful, more precise than full-sized counterparts. Before the clouds fade everything out below, I note the ruffled ribbons of trees, the perfectly straight fields, the network of silver roads alive with tiny cars, the multi-colored Monopoly houses.

It’s thrilling.

Clouds are lovely and mysterious because, not being solid, they’re barely there. They drift by my window like dreams, having substance yet intangible. It’s hard for me to believe this heavy, clunking machine has brought me among them.

My trip from Brookings to Denver was during daylight, so I could see the land as long as the clouds did not obscure it. It was empty and hilly; I saw a grand river; even though it was summer the country down there looked cold and forlorn in an appealing sort of way. When we approached Denver the ground was peppered with perfect circles, green, yellow, or half of each color. Are these a bunch of crop-circles? Nazca lines? I wondered. How come I’ve never heard of these before? I researched them after I got home and learned that farmers in this area use “center pivot irrigation” which necessitates circular crop fields.

It’s a spectacular thing to get a bird’s-eye view of the earth, to be isolated above the masses, who go about with the ability to see only the small spectrum of things that’s right in front of them.
My nighttime flight, from Denver to Dallas, was just as breathtaking. The night was as dark as it could be, but the cities on either end and the few in between were vast piles of little lights, gold, white, and red. They reminded me of the fabled dragons’ hordes hidden deep in a cave and glittering in torchlight. That thought, of course, made me imagine I was in just such a place – maybe gazing at the Dwarves’ newly reclaimed treasure in The Hobbit


I took these plane journeys by myself, and there wasn’t anyone to talk to, especially during the flight late at night when my neighbor was dozing, so my mind was active and my imagination often had free reign. It’s always splendid to get such a different view of the world, so different from the routine that you feel like you’re in a fictional story yourself. Which means that I and my beloved characters were in the same realm for a time and goodness, did I enjoy that!

What do you think of flying?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Snippets of September/October

It’s Snippets of Story time! I’ll be sharing snippets from two stories today. One is the sequel of Family Reunion and though the story is completely written, I am still editing and modifying so there are some new passages I wrote this month. The other one is a brand-new story in which one-and-a-half chapters have taken shape, with who knows how many more to go!

This new story is called The Alice Quest and is a mystery about homeschool graduate and history buff Amy Brown who helps her grandmother in a cross-country search for a relative that disappeared one hundred years ago. Depending on how things in my writing schedule work out, I may have plans for it come November ….

“It’s a bloody bother about that congestion charge. We could have avoided it if we had used Semley Place.” Pulling into what seemed the last available spot at Brewer Street Car Park after circling the lot more than once, Mr. Endicott was coolly bringing up all the inconveniences he could think of. Despite his being “used to the commute,” that morning’s traffic had frayed his nerves with too many close calls. 
                                                                                                         – Adventure in England

We got back to the river at the end of Clink Street and saw a replica of an ancient, tiny ship called the Golden Hinde that carried Sir Francis Drake, in the 1500s, around the whole belt of the earth. …
All of us were impressed with it; Paris had seen it only once, years ago, so she was cheerfully incredulous about the feat. “That’s dumbfounding. How could the sailors keep from going crazy? Can you imagine us on a ship that size for that long? We all like each other, but not that much.”
“Wait, how long was the voyage?” Abby asked.
“Almost three years!” replied Paris.
Abby wrinkled her nose and ran her eyes over the ship again. “Ick. You’re great, Paris, but ….” “That’s okay, I totally understand!”

                                                                                                         – Adventure in England

Amy loved history as if it were an old friend – it was ever behind her, after all – and she wanted more than anything to convey that passion to her students. She would only have them one day a week, on Friday, and those classes had to shine. She had to bring something more to them than what was in the textbook. I’m no teacher, that’s why I’m having this blasted writer’s block, she despaired. I just don’t know how to say what I need to say! Five opening lines, four of which were bisected neatly with a bold straight line, resided on notebook page number one. 

Make that five crossed-out opening lines. Maybe she should try this on her laptop.
                                                                                                                   – The Alice Quest
Even the Browns’ home was a piece of history, a spacious and beautifully restored century-old farmhouse. It sat at the front of a nine-acre wooded plot in central Michigan; its fields had been sold off long ago and were now hidden from the house by a row of apple trees and a crowd of maples and spruces.
                                                                                                                   – The Alice Quest

Check out Katie Sabelko’s blog for snippets from other writers!

Friday, October 11, 2013

On Goodreads and Inspiration

Goodreads is perhaps my favorite website, and now Family Reunion is listed and I’m on there as an author! So exciting! Here’s my profile.

Now, that wasn’t quite enough to fill up a blog post, was it? So I think I’ll have to expound on something … well, how about the *deep thoughts* I’ve been pondering lately? I’m going to be a bit transparent here with advice to myself that maybe you’ll find meaningful as well.

Inspiration. Every writer is different. “No, really? You don’t say!” But, I make that statement because sometimes we writers don’t take that to heart. Am I the only one who occasionally wishes she had certain other writers’ gifts? Maybe they’re very prolific and their stories generate effortlessly like rabbits. Maybe their writing style is as lyrical and inviting as a song. Maybe they’re so well-informed, intelligent, and profound that their books are life-changing. If only you could write like any or all of the above …!

But every writer is different. God has different plans for each one and has gifted them accordingly. Maybe you’re meant to write just a few long and weighty tomes in your lifetime. Harper Lee published only one book, To Kill a Mockingbird, but look at its legacy. Maybe you’re meant to write down-to-earth stories that resonate with practical people more than a poetic style of writing ever could. Maybe your books are meant to entertain and cheer readers up rather than stretch their minds.

And then there’s the realization that writing isn’t all there is in this world, even for writers. If you’re like me, you get depressed on a weekly basis over how little time you have to write. How will I ever get anything written if I never write? But God doesn’t just give writers one gift – oftentimes there are a multiple number of things that any one writer is valuable for. Maybe it’s mother- or fatherhood, or a day job, or a special talent in music or art … there are lots of important things to be done in this world. Writing is only one of them.

So, the next time you feel discouraged, remember that writing is profitable in many, many different ways and on many levels … even something written for your eyes alone is worthwhile if it helps you. Our desperate aim is always to get everything in our heads onto paper or into type and to as many readers as possible, but if we managed to accomplish that, our writing days would be done, and we wouldn’t want that, now would we?!

My conclusion, to myself and to anyone else, is to remember that the essential thing is to work hard and write for God’s glory, and the results are up to Him.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

First Anniversary

Obscured by the book- and sukkah-shaped shadows of Family Reunion’s release and the festival of Sukkot, my first-year blog anniversary nearly slipped by unnoticed. Why it would want to hide, I don’t know, but I’m bringing it out of the shadows now.

I posted my first small note on “Kelsey’s Notebook” on Friday, September 21, 2012. This date is important because it took a lot of nerve for me to begin a blog, nerve I could have sworn was nonexistent. God led me step-by-step. It represented my entry into earnest, for-publication writing. I had been doing my research and realized that I needed a presence on the web if God was going to fashion my dream of being a published author into a living reality. I didn’t want to do it at first, but reason and faith prevailed and here I am, very happy with what’s come about, directly and indirectly, from my blog.

First of all, it urged me to be serious. I followed blogs and got into contact with other young writers/authors which was, and is, of immense encouragement. Being resolved to write more widely seemed to prepare me to enroll in The Christian Writer’s Guild apprentice program in December 2012, one of the most edifying things I’ve ever done.

It’s been a comfort, as in: I need to write … for real. Let sweet, creative juices flow without any guidelines or expectations …. And it’s been a terror – It’s 9 pm on a Tuesday and I still don’t have my blog post written! Ahhh! 

It’s been one of the most enjoyable ways for me to interact with online friends. Many thanks to those who read and/or comment! You make it worthwhile.

And now it’s overseen the publication of Family Reunion, which was my first goal! May God grant that, in one form or another, it oversee the publication of many more.

Here’s to another year of blogging!

What do you like about blogging or reading blogs?

                                                                embarking on a dream