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

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Year in Books

Last year, I did an “awards ceremony” for the fifteen books that impacted me most in the year … they didn’t win awards per se, but they did win recognition and commendation. Like last year, this year’s list represents many genresand also, because it’s limited to fifteen, is unable to include all the books that impacted me. I read 51, which beats last year’s score by quite a bit, but that also makes the decisions harder! These are more or less in order, but a bunch of them ranked very close together, so don’t pay too much attention to the numbers. (If I were to do this list again without referring to the order here, I would probably discover that I had rearranged them.)

Without further ado …
# 15
The Perilous Gard
Elizabeth Marie Pope
This YA novel brought me back to the type of books I enjoyed most when I was younger: historical fiction with a dash of fantasy and wonder. About Tudor England, mysterious cults, and the beautiful landscape, it’s no wonder this was captivating enough for me to exclaim, “I’d love to write a book like this someday!”

The Kings and Queens of England
Jane Murray
This fun history book untangled the English monarchs enough for me to have them memorized at one point. It’s proved helpful several times just in the few months since I’ve read it!

DahveedYahweh’s Chosen
Terri Fivash
This was an adventurous, hard-hitting novel about David as a boy and young man, the first of seven in a series. Fivash has an excellent understanding of ancient Hebrew history. Since I’ve been studying David this whole year, I know how fantastic his story is … so I look forward to the rest of the series!

Friendship and Folly
Meredith Allady
Although I’m not finished yet, I plan to be before the New Year, and I already know this book belongs here. I’ve been wanting to read a modern author that hearkens back to Jane Austen, and while there are some differences (which are delightful), I think I’ve found her!

Rose in Bloom
Louisa May Alcott
I love Louisa May Alcott, and I was very glad to revisit her story of the Eight Cousins. This book was filled with what I love best about her writinggentle moralizing, character-driven plots, family relationships, and comforting evocation of 19th-century America.

Emily Climbs and Emily’s Quest
L. M. Montgomery
Montgomery is a very satisfying writer, and I loved being able to finish the Emily stories that I started two years ago. Emily is a writer with a whole lot of depth, and these books were beautiful.

The Pickwick Papers
Charles Dickens
Sarah Scheele
These two have to be linked together, because after I read Dickens’s funny serial novel, I was privileged to edit Scheele’s funny retelling and laugh at all the inside jokes. Pickwick will always be special to me as the book I brought with me to England (and did not have much time to read).

Thaw: Winter’s Child, Winter Queen, and Prince of Demargen
E. Kaiser Writes
This hasn’t been released yet, but it’s another book I had the privilege of editing, and I enjoyed every part of it. It’s a retelling of Frozen and The Snow Queen, so it has light fantasy but a historical feel. The characters are richly endearing and constantly tugged at my heartstrings.

Mansfield Park
Jane Austen
I seldom reread a book, but Jane Austen has been the consistent exception. This classic’s 200th anniversary was in May, and I had a lovely time studying it and savoring Austen’s words again. The story with all its moral richness sank into me even more upon a second reading.

Mary Barton
Elizabeth Gaskell
I read this Victorian novel in anticipation of visiting Manchester myself during my tour to England. Like all Gaskell’s works, the characters were extremely well drawn, every social issue was fairly dealt with, and Christianity was shown to be the light that it is.

Remembering the Alamo
Alicia A. Willis
As a Texan, the story of the Alamo grips me. This was a very good telling of that story from a different perspective than I’ve heard before, and my emotions at reading it are still fresh in my mind … that’s how I know it belonged here, near the top of the list.

Kisses from Katie
Katie Davis, with Beth Clark
This memoir of a contemporary young woman who began a ministry in Uganda taking care of orphan girls was a very thought-provoking, inspiring read. I appreciated the look at modern Africa, and was encouraged to do what God has called us all to do: live with more love (among other things)!

The War of the Worlds
H. G. Wells
I myself am very, very (need I put another very?) surprised to see this so high on the list. But perhaps because it was such a different book is why it stuck with me and made me realize it had to be here. It was mildly disturbing, but fascinating, and made me think of the Apocalypse. I didn’t see the resolution coming, which doubled its impact.

Twenty Years at Hull-House
Jane Addams
This memoir about the humanitarian Jane Addams and her laudable projects was powerful for its history, smooth prose, and thought-provocation. Although it’s 100 years old, it made me want to do something and be in some ways more like Jane Addams.

Majestic Is Your Name
Theresa of Avila; edited by David Hazard
This devotional really got to the heart of spirituality, and it was something I really needed after feeling dry earlier this year. I see now that it was the first step in drawing close to God again after feeling disconnected.

As far as years go, 2014 was an excellent one. The high point was England and all the time I got to spend with my very dear, but distant, friend Laura. There were several disappointments, but none that I can’t see the reason for … instead, they opened up other things! I thank God for this year!

What was your favorite book(s) of 2014? Your favorite part of the year?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Beaded Post

Today, as I am still editing England Adventure (I am taking a long time, I know, but it’s got a lot of words and I’m evaluating every one of them—or at least it feels like it), this post is going to be like a bracelet made up of little beads of information ….

England Adventure should be ready to publish in January. I don’t have my cover yet, but once it’s here, there shouldn’t be anything holding me back! I would appreciate prayers, if you think of it, for this whole process. Thank you! I’m really excited to introduce my new characters to you, and hopefully take you to England with me ….

On Word Painters, I published an article on formatting a book … you can tell what I was working on the week that I wrote it! :)

Next Tuesday, I plan to post my top-15 list of books that impacted me most this year. It’s fun but kind of hard to narrow down to 15 … stay tuned for that, and do be thinking of your favorite books from what you read this year, because I’d like to see their intriguing titles in the comments next week.

Hanukkah’s last night is tonight! I’ve had a blessed time reflecting on our Savior and how we can let our lights shine like He did.

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Friendship and Folly, which is the novel I’m reading right now, is proving to be a delight. It’s a Jane Austen-type book about two young ladies set in 1805 England. Cleverness and authenticity drip from the pen of the author, Meredith Allady; she comes the closest to the spirit of Jane Austen of anyone I’ve read so far, yet her style is distinct and all her own. (If possible, she’s even wittier than the one who started it all, I think, which is rare to find in a Regency novel.) I look forward to reviewing it on my blog when I’m done.

On a humorous note, I leave you with this picture of these gingerbread ninjas that I got from my martial arts instructor … I almost had a hard time eating them. :) I wish my flying side kicks looked that good!

Have a wonderful week!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

It Should Be a Holiday

Even though today is a very busy and ordinary day and I can’t do much to celebrate, I feel festive. Why? Because today is the birthday of my favorite author, Jane Austen. She was born in 1775, so that would make this her 239th birthday. She only lived to see her forty-first, but her legacy has mushroomed more than she could ever have imagined in her wildest dreams. People don’t always interpret her correctly, but many love her. Our literary lives would be missing so much if she had not written her books; I feel that she is one of the people that God has used to bless the world, if only to inspire us with moral characters, help us become wiser in our choices, and entertain us with much-needed laughter and skillful writing.

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This year, I can picture her quietly observing her birthday at home in early 1800s Chawton because, in September, I was privileged to see where she lived for the last eight years of her life. (See this post for more.)

I wish I had time to make this a more full-bodied article, but perhaps you’d like to read my previous Jane Austen-birthday posts here and here.

Until next week!

P.S. You also might be interested to know that tonight is the first night of Hanukkah on the Jewish calendar. To those of you who celebrate it, Happy Hanukkah! If you would like to read more about it, go to this post, when, last year, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah coincided. 

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Project 10:8

Just a quick post today because I am trying to be a good author/mother and focus on my upcoming novel England Adventure

If you have a story, short or long, or a poem, or graphic art that you would like to donate to a good cause, you might like to check this out from Rivershore Books:

Project 10:8 is an effort to raise money for Justice Society, an organization that fights slavery and human trafficking across the world. Rivershore Books is looking for quality writing and graphic art to sell on their website to support this cause. Short stories and poems will be bound in collections, longer stories will be sold separately, and graphic art will be sold on their Etsy store. To learn more, click here!


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Enchanted Island

Two days ago, the word artist Lucy Maud Montgomery turned 140 years old. This lady is one of my top five favorite authors; I love her poetical descriptions and her well-drawn characters. She knew how to observe and translate those observations into writing that fills readers’ senses with images and insights … she heightens our appreciation for natural beauty and human personalities. There is deep emotion running beneath her descriptions, which makes their impact greater. The land, the water, the trees, the gardens, the houses, all are characters in themselves. She almost always wrote stories with Prince Edward Island, Canada, as backdrop. When you have read much of Montgomery’s work, the island becomes as much a storied land as England, or, in our individual experiences, our own homes. L. M. Montgomery’s work is probably what first revealed to me how much I value setting in a story.

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What fueled her development as a writer? How did she become so good at what she did? She wrote all the timedaily diary entries, letters, hundreds of short stories and 22 novels. She readSir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters, Anthony Trollope, William Thackeray; poetry, prose, history, psychology, contemporary best-sellers. She loved her home, Prince Edward Island. Her vivid imagination gave her no rest. I read an instructive biography a couple of years ago called Magic Island; you can read my review of it here and see what I learned about her life and writing. That’s where I found this endearing quote from her diary: “How I love my work. I seem to grow more and more wrapped up in it as the days pass and other hopes and interests fail me. Nearly everything I think or do or say is subordinated to a desire to improve in my work. I study people and events for that, I think and speculate and read for that” (December 31, 1898). If you’re a writer, doesn’t that sound familiar to your experience?

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Her family and friends called her Maud. Her mother died before she was two, and at age seven she was sent by her father to live with her maternal grandparents. She was brought up strictly, and had little contact with children her age … she made up imaginary friends and worlds instead. She attributed her keen creativity to that necessity. She was good in school and achieved her teacher’s certificate in one year (as opposed to two!) at college before studying literature at a university. That certificate was usefulshe became a teacher for some yearsbut she vastly preferred her writing … beginning in 1897, her short stories were regularly published. Her first novel, the phenomenal Anne of Green Gables, burst into readers’ hearts in 1908. In 1911 she married Ewan MacDonald, a Presbyterian minister, and had three sons, two of whom lived to adulthood: Chester and Stuart. Sadly, she suffered from depression, and her husband was mentally ill in later life. She wrote until her death in 1942, but the last novel she saw through publication was Anne of Ingleside, in 1939. The Anne-related short stories in The Road to Yesterday were published posthumously. Funny, and fitting, how she bookended her novelistic career with much-loved Anne ....

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I’ve read the eight Anne books, the three Emily books, The Blue Castle, Chronicles of Avonlea, and Further Chronicles of Avonleabut I’ve by no means exhausted Montgomery’s supply of fiction! We readers have many opportunities to dip into the beautiful, occasionally disturbing and thought-provoking world that she sculpted out of the shores, meadows, woods, and people of Prince Edward Island. Have you read any of her books? Which ones?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Indie Authors Sale


I hope everyone had a blessed Thanksgiving! As promised, here is the list of Indie authors---have fun checking them out, and please do seriously consider supporting them with purchases!  
The Ankuluen: Cyber Monday
Saffron's Big Plan and Other StoriesCyber Monday
Do You Take This Quest?: Cyber Monday

Faith Blum
A Mighty Fortress: Black Friday [V4Y5K36D -- 10%] and Cyber Monday
Be Thou My Vision: Black Friday [7626YZAK -- 20%] and Cyber Monday

Sarah Brown
The Prodigal Pup: Black Friday [SB14CP31 -- 25%] and Cyber Monday [SB14CP31 -- 25%]
Learning Lessons from Furry Friends: Black Friday  [SB14CP31 -- 25%] and Cyber Monday [SB14CP31 -- 25%]

Kelsey Bryant
Family Reunion: Black Friday [YFY84GHU -- 20%]

Elizabeth Ender
RansomedBlack Friday [GNE6VUXY -- 30%]

J.J. Francesco
Blood Chain: Cyber Monday

Julie Gilbert
Nadia's Tears: Cyber Monday

Leah Good
Counted Worthy: Black Friday [K7CVNEER -- 40%] and Cyber Monday

Melody Grubb
The Land of Calais: Black Friday and Cyber Monday
The Warmth of His Eyes: Black Friday and Cyber Monday
Send Me, Lord Jesus: Black Friday and Cyber Monday
Therese Heckenkamp
Past Suspicion: Black Friday and Cyber Monday
Frozen Footprints: Black Friday
Rachel Heffington
Anon, Sir, Anon: Black Friday [9MTYHSX3 -- 25%] and Cyber Monday

Rebekah Jones
Journeys of Four: Cyber Monday
Grandmother's Letters: Cyber Monday
A Year with the Potters: Cyber Monday

Jaye L. Knight
ResistanceBlack Friday [Q45HN6G9 -- 25%] and Cyber Monday

Melika Dannese Lux
City of Lights: Black Friday [FNB98MY6 -- 35%] and Cyber Monday
Corcitura: Black Friday [GU46WHKT -- 55%] and Cyber Monday

Tina M. Neely
Diamond Hair Princess: Black Friday

Joel A. Parisi
Shadow Play: Cyber Monday

J. Grace Pennington
Radialloy: Black Friday [Y2XHGYDN -- 25%] and Cyber Monday
In His Image: Black Friday [KXNZ7PYN -- 25%] and Cyber Monday
Machiavellian: Black Friday [UFXGUYMM -- 25%] and Cyber Monday

Jennifer Sauer
Why Rodney Never Should've Gone to the NAPIC: Black Friday [F76DDR7S -- 45%] and Cyber Monday

Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer
Touch My Tears: Black Friday and Cyber Monday
Third Side of the Coin: Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Cara Simmons
The Haven: Black Friday and Cyber Monday
The Leviathan: Black Friday and Cyber Monday
The Champion: Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Jordan Smith
Finding the Core of Your Story: Black Friday [NL4NJXWS -- 30%]
Melanie D. Snitker
Calming the Storm: Cyber Monday
Rachel Starr Thomson
Reap the Whirlwind: Cyber Monday
Lady Moon: Cyber Monday
Angel in the Woods: Cyber Monday

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Sales, a Link, and Birthdays

Whew. It seems like I have a lot to spread on the table in this post … sort of like a Thanksgiving dinner. And, like said dinner, I’m having trouble deciding where to start ….

How about business, first? I will be participating in two online book sales this weekend: One spans Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and includes a bunch of Indie authors. The print version of my book will be on sale on Friday; check here on Friday to see who else is participating and maybe find something really nice! The other is a smaller, exclusively Cyber Monday sale in which some of the Word Painters will be marking their eBooks down to $2.99 each. So stop by on Monday for more info!

Speaking of Word Painters, you may be interested in a post I wrote there recently: Encouraging Verses for the Writer.

And now for the birthdays. The birthdays, to be precise, of some of my favorite authors. It turns out the end of November is chock full of them! Each of these authors has written at least one book that is on my list of absolute favorites:

George EliotNov 22, 1819­Dec 22, 1880. Her 1876 novel Daniel Deronda, about a young man seeking his identity and befriending some remarkable European Jews, is high on my list.

John BunyanNov 28, 1628Aug 31, 1688. Author of The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678). What more can I say?

Louisa May AlcottNov 29, 1832Mar 6, 1888. I enjoy all her novels, but high up on my list are Little Women (1868) and An Old-Fashioned Girl (1869).

C. S. LewisNov 29, 1898Nov 22, 1963. The Chronicles of Narnia have been a part of my life since I was I don’t know how young!

Mark TwainNov 30, 1835Apr 21, 1910. Twain’s skill with words always leaves me in awe. My favorites by him are Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896), quite high on my list, and The Innocents Abroad (1869), a hilarious travel memoir.

L. M. MontgomeryNov 30, 1874Apr 24, 1942. Montgomery is my favorite of these November authors. I love every page her lyrical words are printed on, but the ones I love best belong to her Anne of Green Gables novels, 16.

Which of these authors are your favorite(s)?

To wrap up this post, I want to wish you all a happy Thanksgiving. I’m thankful for these birthday-authors, I’m thankful for each of you who read my blog, and I’m thankful to God for everything … everything. I don’t want to sound trite, but He has blessed me so much, and I can see that even the bad things always, somehow, work out for good, especially when they are just to make me depend more on my Lord.

Have a blessed and meaningful holiday! 

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Master of Adventure

I thought that’d be a fitting nickname, for the time being, of one of my favorite authors, Robert Louis Stevenson, whose 164th birthday was Thursday, November 13. Unfortunately his birthday passed me by, or else I would have observed it by reading one of his short stories … I’m not sure which ones I’d be interested in right now, but I could do with a dose of his beautiful writing! (Any short story recommendations?)

I encountered Robert Louis Stevenson early on … I don’t remember quite when his name with its memorable ring first charmed my ears. But I didn’t read any of his books until high school, when I recommended Kidnapped for my homeschool literature club as something we could read. And my goodness, was I glad I did! The whole group enjoyed it, me perhaps most of all. Young, handsome, and vulnerable David Balfour, humorous and larger-than-life Alan Breck Stewart, evil uncle, mysterious house, ships, swordfights, danger, Scotland … that novel has lots of things to make me love it. I gained an even greater appreciation for the beauty of Stevenson’s writing when I read three more of his works: Treasure Island, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and finally, the sequel to Kidnapped, David Balfour (or Catriona, as it’s called across the sea). Kidnapped is still my favorite, but I loved the adventure of Treasure Island and the haunting brilliancy of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the sweet romance and story continuation of David Balfour. Three other books of his that I would love to read include The Master of Ballantrae, The Black Arrow, and Travels with a Donkey.

Robert Louis Stevenson gave me some joy on my trip to England in September. I was looking for the perfect book for one of my dear bibliophile friends. At Berrington Hall, a country mansion in Herefordshire, I discovered (dressed in my Regency gown, too!) a used book shop in the gatehouse, a dusty room with tall ceilings, high windows, and uneven brick or stone floors. The antique books caught my eye, and low and behold there was: The Life of Robert Louis Stevenson by Graham Balfour (who was his cousin). This edition was from the 1920s. Aha! Pam’s book! It cost only two pounds, and payment was on the honor system: put the correct amount in a little coin box by the open door. That was one of the most unusual places I’ve ever shopped for books, but I found something that absolutely thrilled my friend!

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Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1850. He was an only child and sickly, and did better with private tutors than at school. He told and wrote stories from young childhood … his father, who also had the bent, fully supported him, and made it possible for him to publish his first work, an account of the Scottish covenanters’ rebellion, on its 200th anniversary: The Pentland Rising: A Page of History, 1666. Stevenson was 16. He was supposed to be a lawyer like his father, but he longed to be a writer, and his father became “wonderfully resigned” to it, as his mother put it. 

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Unfortunately, Stevenson drifted from this close relationship with his parents and from his faith. He became a traveler and an active member of the English literary world. His first actual book, An Inland Voyage, a travelogue, was published in 1878. He eventually married Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne, a divorced American woman with two children, in 1880. His health was suffering badly, and they tried living in many different places to find a suitable climate. I read about him in the Royal Diary story of Princess Victoria Kaiulani of Hawaii before I read any of his stories; he lived in Hawaii for a time and was friends with the royal family. He lived his final days on the Samoan Islands in the South Pacific, and died there on December 3, 1894. Though he was only 44, he had been writing practically his whole life, and so bequeathed a sizeable amount of enthralling stories, both fiction and nonfiction, for us to enjoy and dream with.

To close, how about a poem from his endearing A Child’s Garden of Verses? This is one of my favorites:

When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay
To keep me happy all the day.
And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;
And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.
I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.

Do you like Robert Louis Stevenson? What is your favorite book by him?

Note: I am indebted to wikipedia for my information about his life! 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

British Expressions

During the years it took me to write England Adventure, my creative sessions often immersed me in books, websites, films, and photos that brought English culture alive to me even before I was blessed to visit in person. Among my favorite things to study was the British way of speakingand when I heard it with my own ears in England, I was thrilled! 

I tried my best to give my English characters authentic tongues. (An English reader was quite helpful, too, in that department.) Fortunately a lot of people are also intrigued by the differences between British English and American, so I’ve had good sources to point these differences out; I also gleaned from informal posts by Britons on forums, Tripadvisor, and blogs. Anyway, this is a sampling of words and expressions I’ve found use for in my story. Many of these you’re probably already familiar with:

From Gregory Endicott, the wry, yet caring host for the six cousins:

Don’t go wishing too much or else you’re bound to bring rain down on the whole holiday.” [American equivalent: trip/vacation]

Your parents are rightly concerned about things like banking accounts when it comes to that.” [This is subtle! American equivalent: bank accounts]

These girls wanted to see what was on the telly in England,” Mr. Endicott explained when he saw us. “I told them it was all the same rubbish that’s anywhere in America, but you can tell who prevailed.”

All the way on the pavement, if you please.” [American equivalent: sidewalk]

I’ll be parking in a car park or two. We shall do lots of walking.” [Either a parking lot or a parking garage]

Mr. Endicott, answering no, he’d prefer a fizzy drinka sodaalso went out …

It was brilliant.” [wonderful, awesome … I heard this a lot myself in England]

And my two favorites:
Now, no turning off into sideshows and faffing about.” [dillydallying]
I hadn’t the foggiest when you wanted to get into it.” [“Idea” is dropped off the end]

From Celia Parker, Mr. Endicott’s feisty sister:

I don’t see the point in standing out here in the drive, with all the neighbors looking on. Come inside; is that all you’ve got?” [Drive: driveway. In England, I heard people saying “I’ve got” or “you’ve got” all the time instead of plain “I have” or “you have.”]

I tell you it was never more tempting to order takeaway than tonight.” [They never seem to say “takeout,” which is what I’m used to; it’s always “takeaway.”

All of you just wash your hands in the loo, not the kitchen, and come back to the dining room.”

And one more … this one is special to me, because it was the first Briticism my ears picked up on once we arrived in London:

Haven’t had enough of English accents, yeah?” [Chelsea, a teenage friend of the Endicotts’ granddaughter Paris, said this; it replaces the American “huh” or “right?”] As for when I heard it, when we first emerged into Central London from Victoria train station, we were turned around and couldn’t figure out where we were on our map to get to our hotel. A super nice, older man noticed we were lost, so he kindly looked at our map with us and pointed out the way we should take. While he explained the directions, he said something like, “We're on Victoria Street, yeah?” The fact that I heard him say that, a legitimate British man in legitimate London, stuck in my memory far longer than the directions did. 

Now how about a fun read on what Britons think is … unusual about Americans? This is from Joy Clarkson's blog, an American who is enrolled at Oxford. 

Do you enjoy British expressions? Do you have a favorite? 

Oh! And just a housekeeping survey ... do you like this font better than my other? Easier to read, nicer looking, etc.?