I knew that C.S. Lewis and I had more in common than our Christianity when he said, "You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." Welcome to a celebration of faith, tea, and the written word. I'm always engaged in a book, and whether it's one I'm reading or one of the inspirational historical romances I write, there's always a cup of tea close by. Join me in a cup as we chat about faith, our favorite books and the exciting places our reading and writing adventures take us.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Holy Innocents

Isn’t it a blessing to know that Jesus loves kids? That He embraces them in His arms and marvels in them?

One of my kids’ Christmas wish lists was a page and a half long, and included a metal detector just in case there’s treasure buried in the yard. Outlandish? Materialistic? Yes, perhaps. But the crazy-long list also reminded me that my child so trusts in my love for him that he asks me for things, no matter how excessive, because he knows I want to bless him.

I’ve learned so much about God from being a mother. My kids have helped me grow in humility, patience, and love, but I’ve also gained a deeper understanding of God’s love for me. If He feels more deeply about me than I do about my own kids, His forgiveness must be sure, and He must really, really love me.

Kids and Christmas…they do go together, don’t they? Not just because of Santa Claus, cookie decorating, and page-and-a-half long wish lists. But because Jesus was a child, too, and on Christmas we celebrate His incarnation, remembering what He gave to be born of a woman, live and die to save us from our sins. God’s gift of His Son is the biggest gift we’ll ever receive.

Following the story of Jesus’ birth in Matthew’s Gospel, we’re given a brief account of the children who were near the stable that first Christmas. In a horrible postscript, Jesus’ neighbors in Bethlehem are mentioned:

The Massacre of the Innocents at Bethlehem, by...Image via Wikipedia

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled. “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, for they are no more. (Mt. 2:16-18)

Two verses only, but they are devastating in their impact.

These little boys from Bethlehem, traditionally called the Holy Innocents by the church, were perhaps only a few dozen in number, just peasant children easily disregarded by history. Nevertheless, several denominations remember these children, who were beloved by their parents and their God, commemorating their loss on December 28.

Over the years, the name Holy Innocents has come to refer not just to those babies from Bethlehem, but has embraced other children who departed from our arms too soon. Young victims of violence or illness are remembered this day, as are infants who were never born, due to abortion or miscarriage.

bundled.Image by capturedbychelsea via Flickr

When I suffered my own miscarriage and placed my own Innocent into God’s arms, God taught me several things, but one of the most important lessons was how much He loves my children. God cares for our babies more than we do. He wants what’s best for them, knows them intimately, and cares what happens to them.

He loves them so much that He’s made a place for them, and they are safe in His arms.

As Jack Hayford writes in his book, I’ll Hold You In Heaven, “Rather, each of those little ones are present with the Father. They have identity, individuality and deserve to be known for what they are – eternal beings. They still have a divine purpose which, though it may transcend our understanding for the moment, we shall perceive clearly when the day dawns that we no longer see as through a glass, darkly, but then face-to-face.”

What a gift, to have eternity with those we love! Even if we’ve never seen each other’s faces, or the time we had to adore those faces was far too short.

That is part of the miracle of Christmas: in our world of sin and loss, of Herod’s cruelty and a mother’s grief, a Baby came and penetrated the darkness, offering us hope, salvation, and light. And a place for all of us, even those whose faces we have yet to behold.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Over on Inkwell: Isn't Christmas Over?

Collage of various Christmas images, made from...Image via Wikipedia

Christmas is over, right? So now what?

Over on Inkwell Inspirations today, I share my thoughts. Here's a hint: don't pack up the message and work of Christmas when you take the decorations down from your tree! As Christians, we've got a job to do!

Tomorrow, I'll post on an oft-overlooked, tragic and precious part of the Christmas story: the Holy Innocents.

Hope you're all having a fabulous holiday celebration!
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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Of the Father's Love Begotten

An artificial Christmas tree.Image via Wikipedia

Have you been humming your favorite Christmas songs for weeks now? I confess that I have: Nat King Cole's "The Christmas Song" is a favorite of mine, and the Manheimer Steamroller CDs have been on heavy rotation at home. My favorite Chrismtas song is a hymn, however, and a really old one at that. "Of the Father's Love Begotten."

Of the Father's love begotten,
ere the worlds began to be,
he is Alpha and Omega,
he the source, the ending, he,
of all things that are and have been
and all future worlds shall see,
ever more and ever more!

Well, good thing I've been humming it for a while, because Christmas is practically here, and other than singing about it, I'm not at all prepared. I haven't baked a thing. I didn't finish Christmas cards. The makings of the gingerbread village are still in their original box, piled under other stacks in my cluttered house. What's that they say about the best laid plans? Sometimes in the middle of life, things happen.

Just over a week ago, our family lost a beloved grandma. Now that the services are over, we're going forward, just as we all do when we suffer loss (in faith, but changed). Nevertheless, I find myself utterly out of it, as far as the usual holiday trappings go.

It's a good reminder that much of the stuff of Christmas is just that: trappings. Trim. Gravy. The literal and figurative wrappings of our celebrations. The true meaning of Christmas is something utterly different, something so huge in its import to the universe that it changed everything.

O that birth forever blessed,
when the Virgin, full of grace,
by the Holy Ghose conceiving,
bore the Savior of our race;
and the Babe, the world's Redeemer,
first revealed his sacred face,
ever more and ever more!

Let the heights of heaven adore him;
angel hosts, his praises sing;
powers, dominions, bow before him,
and extol our Gpod and King;
let no tongue on earth be silent,
every voice in concert ring,
ever more and ever more!

Tomorrow, the gingerbread village will come out of the box, but tonight, I'm trying to restore my focus on the most essential, crucial part of Christmas: the babe born in Bethlehem, God Incarnate, Man Divine. Come to save me, remake me, restore me, and someday take me Home. I pray that this Christmas, you are focusing, too. Enjoy the trappings, the wrappings and the gravy -- but also rejoice in what God has done for us in sending His son.

Christ, to thee with God the Father,
and O Holy Ghost, to thee,
hymn and chant and high thanksgiving,
and unwearied praises be;
honor glory and dominion,
and eteral victory,
ever more and ever more!

Amen! And Merry Christmas!

I'll be back in a few days...I'm going to enjoy some family time. See you soon!

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Friday, December 18, 2009

A Stray Drop of Blood

I recently had the pleasure of reading Roseanna White’s A Stray Drop of Blood. An epic tale of salvation, passion and love, this inspirational story is rich in historical detail and intriguing characters, providing a tantalizing glimpse into the Jerusalem and Rome of Jesus’ day.

Abigail is a beautiful and intelligent Hebrew slave, raised in the Visibillus house. Her masters – a Roman official and his Hebrew wife – raise her almost as a daughter. When their handsome son Jason returns from Rome, however, Abigail’s life is changed forever. Jason forces her into his bed, and Abigail endures shame, desire, and the scorn of Jason’s friends, especially centurion Titus. Until tragedy strikes.

This is no damsel in distress tale, however, nor is it another story of a scoundrel's reformation by a lovely female. The characters are not two-dimensional, and like real people, they change, sometimes inspired by each others’ actions, but more significantly, through their relationships with Jesus. I felt warmly toward characters that simulaneously disappointed me, and I judged others which blossomed into faithful Christians. For example, I was disgusted with Jason at first, but like Abigail, I began to struggle with my feelings for him. I rejoiced in his growth, both emotionally and spiritually. Likewise, Titus goes through a transformation, from the stoic centurion who drove the spike through Jesus’ wrists at the crucifixion to something more. And as Abigail struggles through heartache, sin, and other trials, I cheered for her and her newborn faith, through which she sometimes stumbled.

I enjoyed reading how the story wove fictional characters with Scripture. The characters live through a few of the events of the Gospels; they discuss Jesus’ teaching and witness miracles. Two are present at Golgotha and receive “a stray drop of blood” on their clothing. Jairus, Pontius Pilate, Barabbas, and the woman caught in the act of adultery all make appearances here, and I was intrigued by a scene where the characters engaged the events of these verses from the Gospel of Matthew: “The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people” (27:52-53).

The spiritual journeys of the characters intrigued me. I wondered how life might have been for the early Christians, so few in number at first and so thirsty for any word of the Church. Lacking Hebrew Scripture, they relied on each other and the Holy Spirit to serve Jesus faithfully.

Just as in real life, however, the characters fall into sin even after they're saved. Sin is a prevalent theme in the story, and I found myself comparing Abigail’s universe to mine, where decisions aren’t always clean-cut and a Godless culture heavily influences our worldviews. The author explores these difficult situations, the consequences of sin, and the transforming power and grace of Jesus’ blood over all our mistakes and failings.

Published by a non-CBA press, A Stray Drop of Blood is not confined by the guidelines most Christian publishers have created. Consequently, the characters make difficult ethical choices which I’ve never seen explored in Christian fiction before, such as choosing to lie to protect someone. The plight of slaves, including their use as sexual objects even in Hebrew households, is not shied away from. While not graphic, desire and sexual sin are evident throughout the story. So, however, is the dear cost of our salvation. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross at Calvary is the crux of the novel, literally and figuratively.

Fans of Biblical-era fiction will enjoy this novel, as will readers of inspirational romance (there is a happily-ever-after -- yay!). Well-written and quick-paced, the story captivated my attention, and I could not be distracted from it.

If you'd like an autographed copy of A Stray Drop of Blood, click here to place your order. Then send Roseanna an email here and she'll be able to autograph the copy for you before it's sent out. Just tell her who to make it out to!
Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author for review purposes. I did not receive any payment for my review.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Setting the Holiday Mood: Anchoring the True Meaning of Christmas into your Celebration

Adventkranz (liturgisch)Image via Wikipedia

We’ve talked about our Christmas traditions and how they get us in the holiday spirit, especially in regards to the books we read and the food we prepare – the annual sorts of things which hang the holly and the ivy going in our psyches, as it were. But what about those things we do to remind us – ourselves and our children – of the true meaning of Christmas?

Somewhere, aside from the Christmas cards, stacks of presents, and to-do lists, is the “reason for the season.” Many of us have our Nativity scenes in place; we have the pageant rehearsals marked on the calendar; and we plan to attend church Christmas Eve. Those are great things. I’ve found that there are other things we can do to anchor the amazing and world-changing events of Christmas, in which the Savior of the World was made incarnate…things we can do to help us live out the true meaning of Christmas day by day. Here are some of the things we do in my family:
  • Bless Others. When my kids struggle with greed – okay, I struggle with greed too – I find it helpful to reach out to those in need who live near and far. It communicates to all of us how blessed we are and how God wants us to help each other. I love shopping with my kids for other kids, kids we don’t know and will never meet this side of eternity. Kids who have needs and won’t get a lot of presents this year. Some wonderful ministries which enable you to bless children in need include Angel Tree Ministries (for children with incarcerated parents), Operation Christmas Child (run by Franklin Graham’s Samaritan Purse, for children in other countries), and Toys For Tots. Local outreaches in your community might also have ways for your family to contribute; our local Christian radio station has a great program to help needy families. Serving in rescue missions together is also a humbling way to remember how blessed we are, and how God wants us to reach out to others.
  • Celebrate Advent. I'm an Anglican, and like some other denominations, we celebrate a season of Advent before Christmas. Other churches are already decorated with swags of greenery and singing carols, which is wonderful, but before we enjoy those, we spend a few weeks preparing for Christmas, holding off on decorating the sanctuary with evergreen until Dec. 24. In the meantime, we use this period to prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming (first as a baby in Bethlehem, and again when He returns to judge mankind). We make use of the Advent Wreath, lighting one candle (three purple candles and one pink) per week as we do a family devotional, involving Scripture and prayer. You don’t need to be of a particular denomination to use the days preceding Christmas to look at your life and prepare for Jesus. Do devotionals as a family. Read the Bible together. Pray for one another. It doesn’t have to be formal. In our house, we pick something different to pray for each day, i.e., a family member or friend.
  • Apply everything you do this holiday season to your relationship with Jesus. Just like we should be doing every other day. We aren't just Sunday Christians, right? We're supposed to live each day in full relationship with God. The same principle applies to our Christmas celebrations, even those "non-religious" things we do. Baking? Give some of your cookies away as an act of love! Do you know an older person who could use some help hanging up their lights? Or anyone lonely who might like to come celebrate with you?

    Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer CastImage by K!T via Flickr

    Use every minute to put Jesus at the center of your celebration. Even even when watching TV. I love Christmas specials: Rudolph, Charlie Brown, all those shows. Christmas movies, too, like “A Christmas Story” and “The Bishop’s Wife.” As you watch your traditional favorites, enjoy them, and then talk about them with your family. How do these shows resemble our family’s celebrations? How do the characters show love, loyalty, compassion, or other things God values? What can we learn from them? We annually watch “The Nativity Story,” a movie which came out a few years ago which follows Mary and Joseph from the Annunciation to Bethlehem. The movie is highly fictionalized, of course, and at points frustratingly inaccurate (the Wise Men arrive a few years too early), but the movie gives an idea of what it was like to live as a Jew back then, in fear of the Roman State. It also shows the type of censure and judgment Mary and Joseph must have endured.
  • Be like Jesus through the stress. Get some rest and put on a breastplate of righteousness when you go out and face the crowds. Saturday, I almost got mowed down in three parking lots, was cut off twice, and I was shoved in a store. I tried my best to smile, remember that we’re all in a hurry, and try to show patience.

What are some things that you do to keep Jesus central to your Christmas? I’d love to hear your ideas.

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Setting the Holiday Mood in the Kitchen...and Don't Forget the Giveaway!

candy cane cookiesImage by chotda via Flickr

I must be hungry, because I'm thinking with my stomach today.

Food is a huge part of the holidays, there's no dispute there. I don't think I'm the only one who struggles with eating my way through December. The rest of the year, I'm pretty good about avoiding copious amounts of sugar, but as soon as Thanksgiving is over and the Hickory Farms stand goes up in the mall, my resolve weakens. On my next trip to the store, when shelves are lined with eggnog and Peppermint Hershey's Kisses, I'm a goner.

And of course I have to have treats on hand in case someone stops by. Yeah right, like my house is grand central station. I'm looking for reasons to have cookies lying around. Picking up your kids from a playdate at my house? How about you sit down a while and enjoy a pfefferneuse?

I'm helping supply food for a relative's open house, and before making out my shopping list, I thought I'd get some ideas by looking at ads. I made the mistake of opening the flyer for one of my favorite stores, Trader Joe's. Ugh. Why don't I have any willpower anymore? I actually wrote "two-bite cheese souffles" on my shopping list, and not because I'll take them to the open house. I'll probably hide them in the back of the freezer and then eat them all by myself for lunch.

Certain foods go on the Christmastime list no matter what, of course. They are so ingrained in my celebration of the holidays that it's hard to celebrate without them.

Here are some things I can't do without at Christmastime:
  • Oranges. Really, you say? Well, I got one in my stocking every year when I was growing up. And I adore those little clemetines (we like "Cuties"). They're perfect for snacks, easy to peel, and we can go through a 5 lb. box without even trying.
  • Candy Canes. In everything. They are the look, smell and taste of December in one tidy, red-dye-#40-infused little treat. They even have a spiritual story attached to them, not that looking like a shepherd's crook (or a "J" for Jesus, depending on what kids' book you read) and symbolizing Jesus' purity and suffering in the red and white stripes makes them less indulgent. In our house, we put candy canes on the tree, as edible decorations. I melt them in hot cocoa. We mash them and make peppermint bark (so easy for kids to do). They're even good in scones, with chocolate chips, at tea time. Mmm.
  • Cranberry Bread. My mom made it, with orange zest and juice. Nothing fancy, but I like it Christmas morning.
  • Stollen. With my German last name, you probably knew this was coming. Stollen is a huge deal in my house. For one thing, this traditional sweet bread costs a fortune to make. We spent almost twenty bucks on the candied citron alone, which we had to purchase pre-Thanksgiving (if you wait until now, the stores are sold out). For another, it takes almost twenty-four hours to make. You start the night before, soaking fruit. The next day is spent in a series of muscle-building kneadings, naps during the dough risings, and finally, the baking... Stollen is an important tradition in my husband's family, and they keep the recipe a closely guarded secret.

What are some baking traditions in your house? I'm always open to new recipes.

Don't forget to leave a comment! December 8 I'll pick a comment at random to win A Read-Aloud Family Christmas, published by Barbour. My family is deeply entrenched in A Christmas Carol now... It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Books that Set the Holiday Mood...and a Giveaway!

Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. In Prose. ...Image via Wikipedia

Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that….

Ah! The first lines of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol! I've put on my fuzzy slippers and the hot chocolate is ready, complete with a mini candy cane in the mug for a truly divine treat. Time to make a dent in my stack of Christmas-set reading material, and I’m starting with Ebenezer Scrooge.

I’ve already posted on a few Christmas-set novels. But now that Thanksgiving is over I feel like I can officially get into the holiday spirit.

I can be rather picky about my Christmas books. I prefer a rich story that doesn’t just happen to take place in December (and, with the exception of a brief mention of a pageant, gift, or snowflake, could be set in August for all the holiday oomph the author put into it). When I read a Christmas-set story, I want to feel like Christmas is coming; I want to smell the cranberries and pine, feel the chill in the air, and taste the gingerbread. And if the book is an inspirational, the true meaning of Christmas -- Jesus’ Incarnation, when He came to earth to save us from our sins -- must be a main theme.

Currently on my stack are some brand new Steeple Hill releases: Missy Tippens’ A Forever Christmas and Blessings of the Season by Annie Jones and Brenda Minton.

My To-Be-Read stack is full of old favorites, too, which set the mood for me. What would the holidays be without some sense of nostalgia, after all? Some of these books I’m enjoying are secular, Regency-set stories, and some are inspirational. One of my favorites in this latter category is JoAnn A. Grote’s Love’s Shining Hope, a 2004 Barbour release. It isn’t even a Christmas-set book, but the end takes place on Christmas Eve, and I love the family’s preparations and the Christmas shopping scene.

Most of my favorite Christmas-set books are tried-and-true holiday classics, however, books written for adults and children that have been read and re-read over the years. Each December, we read them aloud: Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry. The Night Before Christmas. The Animals’ First Christmas. Our copy of A Christmas Carol is tattered, and even the youngest member of our family knows the first page by heart. I always loved Beatrix Potter’s The Tailor of Gloucester, wishing I could see the little mice that were so busy on Christmas Eve.

Mice sewing, illustration from The Tailor of G...Image via Wikipedia

It’s part of my family’s tradition to read these stories aloud, and I was delighted to discover A Read-Aloud Family Christmas this year, published by Barbour. In one tidy little volume, you can find several brief Christmas readings, perfect to read alone or to your family. The Tailor of Gloucester is here, as are fifteen others, including Gift of the Magi, The Legend of St. Nicholas, The Night Before Christmas, and a condensed version of A Christmas Carol which Dickens himself supposedly used as a read-aloud copy.

I bought a copy to give away, and if you’d like to enter the drawing to receive it, just leave a comment and indicate your interest by Tuesday, Dec 8. I'll pick a winner at random and pop the book in the mail, so you have time to enjoy it by Christmas. What are your favorite Christmas stories? I’d love to find some new ones, so let me know what you enjoy reading!

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving Thanks for The Big, The Little, and The Chance to Start Over

Autumn Tree in Northern CaliforniaImage via Wikipedia

Happy Thanksgiving!

Well, the house is almost clean. Not quite. But no one can argue that I haven't been busy today. All you have to do is breathe and you'll notice a delectable aroma, as orange, apple and cranberries simmer on the stove. The onion and celery are chopped for tomorrow's dressing, and one pie is out of the oven. Another will get made after the kids come home from school – early today, in anticipation of tomorrow’s holiday.

I have a bit more to do before I’m ready for company in a few hours, but here I am writing a blog post instead of vacuuming. I have to write this down, because my heart is full this Thanksgiving. Looking back over the past year, I have a lot to be thankful for: my family, our health, friendships old and new, good times, full bellies, a warm church family, and a home. When you know what it’s like to lack any of these things, you understand how rich these blessings are.

Then there are the little things: the beauty of the crimson-leafed tree outside my window; the tea roses my husband brought me last week when I got some sad news; the fact that I have a husband who'd bring me tea roses; good books and movies; the kids’ giggles; a new package of eye shadow…Nothing is too small to thank God for. He’s given it all to me.

He’s also given me a lot of blessings with my writing this year: another contest final; my first conference; my first agent pitch to a woman who’s now my friend; and friendships with fellow writers, including the darling and talented Gina Welborn, who asked me to be part of her group blog, Inkwell Inspirations. Those things have changed my life.

God’s given me a bounty in the past year, and this week, He’s given me a something new: a blank page, if you will. A chance to start something fresh.

Change is a little rough for me. For the past eighteen months, I’ve had a goal in front of me. My Regency-set series (manuscripts and notes) was stacked at my right, and so many books on English history and landscape were piled on my left side that I should be thankful indeed that we didn't have an earthquake, or I'd have been buried under them. The books aren’t going that far, just on the shelf, but this last week, I made the decision to move my Regency series. With no more fanfare than a sigh, I put my two contest-finaling stories into a file. I’m not saying goodbye to them forever. They’re going into what my agent friend calls my Inventory. Sounds more impressive than the yellow file folders they’re actually sitting in, doesn’t it?

The files are close and accessible, should I find a nugget of research or have a thought about a character or plot point. And maybe someday, I can finish them and maybe, maybe, God will even allow their publication. But I came to the point where I’ve worked on them a long time, and I had to choose whether these were the only two novels I’d ever write and re-write until I’m dead. Or give up.

After I made my decision this week, I cleaned the office (this feat is probably on my husband’s “Thankful For” list). The space is fresh, tidy, and clean, all ready for me to begin researching and plotting a California-set historical on Monday.

I’m not giving up.

No matter what ups and downs there are in my life, my attitude must be one of thanks to God, Who’s sustained me through it all. I have so much to be thankful for, and this year I’m also thankful for you. May you be blessed this year as you rejoice in all that God has granted to you.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cowboy Christmas

Cowboy ChristmasImage by blahmni via Flickr

Yee-haw! Lasso up a copy of Cowboy Christmas, Mary Connealy's latest release, and sit down for a spell of inspirational Wild West romance, action, and holiday spirit.

It’s 1879, and missionary singer Annette Talbot has been imprisoned by the dangerous Claude Leveque, who intends to make money off of her angelic voice...and probably worse. Annie escapes, but she has nowhere to go other than her reclusive father’s ranch in Wyoming.

Wyoming rancher Elijah Walker’s heart was turned to ice by his fiancée’s role in his Pa’s death. He can’t ever trust a woman again, other than his saintly Ma, of course. Surely Annie Talbot is hiding something, too. So what’s he to do with her, half-starved and alone at the holidays?

Mary Connealy's Cowboy Christmas (A Barbour publication, September 2009, $10.97) is an enjoyable inspirational romance that starts off with a bang. The villain, Claude Leveque, is suitably vile; the supporting characters are essential to the plot and I found them enjoyable, especially Ma and the secretive Gabe Michaels (whom I think will be getting his own story soon. He deserves it.). The lead couple, Elijah and Annie, are well-drawn, with Connealy’s famous wit and style. Elijah is my favorite of the two; he's a manly guy, and behaves more like a real-life guy than many heroes I've read about. He gets angry when upset; hates tears; his conflict is compelling and enjoyable; and the way he resists his feelings for Annie made me chuckle aloud a time or two. I especially enjoyed their bickering sessions, but I appreciated how the characters grow, spiritually and emotionally, from the challenges they face.

Though the word “Christmas” is in the title, this book could be read any time of year. Connealy’s descriptions of winter in Wyoming are crisp, but there is not a strong Christmas theme, other than the characters marking its approach.

Connealy is a shining star among writers of historical inspirational romance. If you've never read her books, this story is a fun way to get to know her style.

The book is pictured below, on the Shelfari widget. I couldn't get a photo, but the book is available on Amazon, or at your local Bible book store among the Christmas books.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Do All that You Do With Love: St. Thérèse of Lisieux

Ste Thérèse de Lisieux Quality PictureImage by Thérèse de Lisieux via Flickr

Today on Inkwell Inspirations, it was my pleasure and honor to post a piece on a woman of historical significance who’s impacted my life. Choosing my subject could've been sticky, as God has offered me inspiration and hope through the stories of numerous women, from Mary Magdalene to Corrie Ten Boom. But there has been one woman whose life and writings have changed me, and I had to seize the opportunity to share her with others: St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

Thérèse was born into a particularly devoted and godly family in 1873 (both her parents had wished to take holy orders, and three of Thérèse’s sisters also became Carmelite nuns). From the age of three she devoted herself to serving God, and she became a Carmelite nun at age fifteen. Once in the convent, she lived a quiet, unassuming life. It was only after her painful death from tuberculosis, nine years later, that the world learned there had been something very special about her.

She’d lived wholeheartedly for God. To honor and serve Him, she did ordinary things with extraordinary love, using even the smallest of her behaviors and thoughts as tokens of love to Jesus. “I have no other means of proving my love for you [God],” she wrote, “than that of strewing flowers, that is, not allowing one little sacrifice to escape, not one look, one word, profiting by all the smallest things and doing them through love” (Story of a Soul, 196).

This manner of life became known as her “little way,” a means of holiness, or as she told her sister Mother Agnes, “It is the way of spiritual childhood, the way of trust and absolute surrender.” Thérèse was so thoroughly convinced of God’s love for her that she didn’t question His appreciation of her attempts to return His love despite the limits on her ability. She simply offered Him everything she had: the choices she made moment by moment, whether they had to do with her tasks, her health, or the frustration of living among irritating people.

While ailing from tuberculosis, Thérèse was asked by her sister to write down childhood memories. She also obeyed her superior in the convent, who asked her to write about her spirituality so that there would be something to put in Thérèse’s own obituary. These writings were bound and sent to other Carmelite convents in place of a usual obituary, and forgotten…Until those other Carmelites passed the books on to the outside world, and at once the writings grew roots in the hearts of its readers. Within seven years, the book had been translated into six other languages; by 1915, 200,000 copies of the French edition had been published, and 350 pilgrims a month were visiting Lisieux. In 1925, she was canonized. Truly, her spiritual way has impacted millions.

Writing about Thérèse for my Inkwell post was hard. I couldn’t narrow down my focus. I wanted to tell everything I knew about her, which isn’t a tremendous amount, compared to others. But I struggled anyway.

Fortunately, I have another outlet in this space, so today I’d like to share just a few of my favorite of Thérèse’s quotes. They come either from the collection of her writings, Story of a Soul; or are attributed to her in conversation, as recorded in Storm of Glory by John Beevers. I pray that something here blesses you as you read, and that perhaps you might take an opportunity today to offer Jesus a token of love, however small: a look, a word, a phone call.

When I was in the world, I sometimes woke in the morning and felt gloomy at the thought of what the day probably held in store for me. It’s very different now. I get up full of joy and courage because I see ahead of me so many opportunities of showing my love for Jesus and of saving souls. (SOG 105)

This is the conclusion I draw…I must seek out in recreation, on free days, the company of Sisters who are the least agreeable to me in order to carry out with regard to these wounded souls the office of the good Samaritan. A word, an amiable smile, often suffice to make a sad soul bloom; but it is not principally to attain this end that I wish to practice charity, for I know I would soon become discouraged .... I want to be friendly with everybody (and especially with the least amiable Sisters) to give joy to Jesus and respond to the counsel He gives in the Gospel [referring to Matthew 6:4] (SOAS, 246).

…as soon as this Sister arrived, she began making a strange little noise which resembled the noise one would make when rubbing two shells, one against the other….it would be impossible for me to tell you how much this little noise wearied me. I had a great desire to turn my head and stare at the culprit who was certainly unaware of her “click.” This would be the only way of enlightening her. However, in the bottom of my heart I felt it was much better to suffer this out of love for God and not cause the Sister any pain. …Everything was useless. I felt the perspiration inundate me, and I was obliged simply to make a prayer of suffering; however, while suffering, I searched for a way of doing it without annoyance and with peace and joy, at least in the interior of my soul. I tried to love the little noise which was so displeasing; instead of trying not to hear it (impossible), I paid close attention so as to hear it well, as though it were a delightful concert, and my prayer (which was not the Prayer of the Quiet) was spent in offering this concert to Jesus (SOAS 249-250).

…you can see that I am a very little soul and that I can offer God only very little things. It often happens that I allow these little sacrifices which give such peace to the soul to slip by; this does not discourage me, for I put up with having a little less peace and I try to be more vigilant on another occasion (SOAS 250).

I don't believe that I have ever spent three minutes without thinking of God.... one naturally thinks of Someone one loves (SOG 94).

Your life is one that is humble and hidden, but remember that nothing is small in the eyes of God. Do all that you do with love (SOG, 107)

I only will what He wills, and I am pleased with whatever He does….I would never ask God for greater sufferings, but if He did increase them I should endure them joyfully because they came from Him (SOG 187-8).

Her final words were, "Dear God, I love You!" But in the days before, as she lay dying, Thérèse was visited by the infirmarian, who suggested Thérèse sleep. When Thérèse replied that she could not rest, and so she prayed, she was asked, “What do you say to Jesus?”

Thérèse answered, “I say nothing. I just love Him” (SOG 187).

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Edward Cullen: Perfect Romantic Hero, Pale Imitation of Christ

Somewhere, somebody’s counting the hours.

The second movie based on Stephenie Meyer’s blockbuster Twilight saga is coming out soon. Chatter has increased on all things related to it: what the stars are like; whether or not the vampire stories are ok for Christians to read, much less enjoy; and why people like them so much. And boy, do they like them. Approve of the series or not, it’s indisputable that Twilight fever has gripped America’s female population.

Compared to Twilight, a totally different sort of book sits on my reading stack: Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen, by Fay Weldon. Originally published in 1984, it was loaned to me by a friend, and as an Austen fan, I’m enjoying it. My reading came to a hard stop on page 13 when I read:

'CoverCover via Amazon

The other books [not Austen's]…are thrillers and romances, temporary things. …[The] characters exist for the purposes of plot, and the books they appear in do not threaten the reader in any way; they do not suggest that he or she should reflect, let alone change…. And because they don’t enlighten, they are unimportant. (Unless , of course, they are to be believed, when they become dangerous. To believe a Mills & Boon novel reflects real life, is to live in perpetual disappointment. You are meant to believe while the reading lasts, and not a moment longer.)

Mills & Boon novels, by the way, are like category-length romances. And though I can guess her feelings, the author leaves her opinions about inspirational novels to the imagination, whether “thrillers [or] romances,” despite the fact that they sometimes come with discussion questions and Bible studies.

But to expect that any novel “reflects real life” is, as Weldon states, a danger, especially if a person allows her views to be formed by fiction, romance or not. I’ve read plenty of literature which enlightened and challenged me, yet also depressed me. I would not want to coexist with some of the characters invented by almost every college-taught novelist I’ve read.

I am not arguing, by the way, that Twilight can or cannot “enlighten,” or is or isn’t “unimportant.” I will not get into that discussion here. But since reading that statement of Weldon’s, I've thought about how women's (and girls') views of men and marriage are shaped by romance novels, and it’s recently been a hot topic of discussion over on Inkwell Inspirations. I can’t help but wonder about the subject in light of the phenomenon that is Twilight, which is arguably the most popular book series among females today. The universe of human Bella Swan, her vampire-love Edward Cullen, and her werewolf friend Jacob Black is a fun place to visit. But if the characters are believed outside of the novel (and here I mean their essences, their characteristics, not their states as mythical characters like vampires), as Weldon says, disappointment looms.

I should note that Jacob the werewolf has his fans too, but right now I want to look at Edward, Twilight’s vampire hero.

Mr Edward CullenImage by Ezyan Y. via Flickr

Why is Edward so popular? Well, he’s smart, handsome, brooding (get a load of that intensity!) and he chooses to do the hard thing in order to do what’s right. He doesn’t “want to be a monster” (187) so he feeds on animal blood instead of humans’. He’s a guy with a conscience and a (metaphoric) heart.

Another appealing thing about Edward is his love for Bella. He is so attuned to her that he knows what she needs (encouragement, a loving touch to her cheek, or a hand-crafted meal). Always. He spends 24 unsleeping hours a day devoted to her. Among a few other faults, he’s seriously overprotective, but I think many girls, perhaps left emotionally or physically undefended by the men in their lives, might find that a desirable trait rather than a negative one. Edward doesn’t cheat, abuse or shame like some real-life boyfriends or daddies.

He has great lines. He says, “You are the most important thing to me now. The most important thing to me ever” (273). He compliments her wardrobe: “I’m very partial to that color with your skin” (320). He promises to stay with her forever (498). What girl doesn’t want that?

I think females are attracted to Edward because in being moral, protective, faithful, and totally in love with Bella, he’s practically the epitome of “perfect love,” which is something we all yearn for.

Romance writer Lori Lundquist is writing a thought-provoking series on how Twilight brought her closer to Jesus, and she gave me permission to quote her: “The attraction is born out of our DNA. We all crave a perfect love because we were made by the Perfect Love. Humans, created by the Creator, God Almighty, are designed to love, because He is love, and also to be loved perfectly by Him. We read and write fairy tales, consciously or sub-consciously, because of the proverbial God-shaped hole in our souls.” (October 26, 2009, www.lorilundquist.blogspot.com)

Perfect love has only ever been found in one man, Jesus. No matter how wonderful or rotten the men in our lives have been, Jesus alone will never let us down or abandon us. He is the only One who can save us, restore us, and bring ultimate healing to our hearts. He is Right, protective, and totally in love with us.

This does not mean that love between a man and a woman isn’t godly. Christian marriage is one way Jesus has given us to experience, understand, and reflect His love.

“The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. It signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people…. The union of husband and wife in heart, body and mind, is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord…”(Book of Common Prayer, 423).

When we look to a man to be near-perfect like Edward, however, Weldon’s point about believing fiction only while you're reading it holds. It could be dangerous for a reader to compare Edward (or Mr. Darcy, Romeo, or any other fictional hero) to the real men in her life, holding him up as a standard of masculinity. If a woman or girl thinks her husband (present or future) will be as intuitive, affectionate, and slavishly devoted to her as Edward is to Bella, she’ll be disenchanted, fast. One bout of your husband suffering the stomach flu ought to do this trick.

Not to say that my husband doesn’t have any of Edward’s qualities. He’s cute, smart, and thoughtful. But I can’t read his mind, I get tired, and I selfishly want my way sometimes. If I can’t be everything to him, why should I expect the same from him?

As much as I may want my husband to be able to read my mind when I want a shoulder massage, what I really want is for his life to be devoted to God. No human man's existence is supposed to be entirely all about their women, as Edward's is with Bella. Edward’s “perfect love” for her is, after all, fictional, a pale imitation of the Perfect Love that is Jesus.

Perhaps you’ve never had an issue confusing real-life men with fictional ones, but have you ever compared a character to someone you know? Have you ever tried to take specific lessons from characters to apply in your own life? (For example, "I want to be more attentive to my spouse in the little things, like Edward is to Bella.") Do you think fiction can inspire or enrich you this way?

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

For All The Saints

Author: :en:Fra Angelico Created: :en:15th CenturyImage via Wikipedia

Today, as temperatures drop and October fades into November, your house might look like mine: bedecked in faux spider webs, harvest orange candles, and school-painted paper jack-o-lanterns. The kitchen permeates with scents of apple cider, popcorn and the unmistakable earthy smell of pumpkin innards. We’re gearing up to trick-or-treat, but around here, we don’t forget that Halloween started as All Hallows’ Eve, the night preceding a special day in the church. November first is the day set aside to celebrate All Saints, a long-held observation of those who’ve served Jesus faithfully.

I love saints: I’m always adding to my saint book collection, learning about the saints who are living now or who have gone to heaven, and how and why the church holds them dear. All Saints’ Day is quite a feast in our church. White linens, meaningful hymns, and joy are expected and powerful in the service. We remember all kinds of saints, like those who are Saints with a capital "S," Christians who are recognized by the Church, known by many, painted on icons and featured in stained glass windows.

But these capital “S” folks aren’t the only ones invited to the All Saint’s party. We are too, and it’s an interesting perspective to realize that we live among saints, present and future (as we do future non-saints. As C.S. Lewis put it, each person we encounter is immortal and heading toward one of two eternal destinations. If that statement doesn't shake you into trying to woo others heavenward, I don't know what does.).

It’s always sort of jarring to me, though, that the celebration of the saints also includes me, a broken, sinful person who fumbles through life. Saints are supposed to be goody-two shoes, religious people who make right choices at every fork in the road. You know the kind. They may be interesting to read about, but I sometimes wonder if in day-to-day life, they got on everyone’s nerves because they, oh, say, never rolled their eyes, or got angry at the person ahead of them in the “15 items or less” line at the supermarket for having eighty cans of cat food.

Except that goody-two shoes isn’t in the definition of a saint. Not even close. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is written “To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus” (1:1). That means, if you are a Christian, one whom God has called to be one of His people and who is “faithful in Christ Jesus,” you’re a saint. Pretty cool, huh? And we’re all knit together in Jesus’ body, here to help each other along our journeys of faith and direct each other’s gaze to stay fixed on Jesus.

Have you ever sought inspiration from the saints? Just as the light illumines stained glass windows, God shines through the lives of saints as examples for us. When we look to the saints for inspiration, comfort, or encouragement, they point us to God.

For instance, when I put my foot in my mouth (which if you know me, you know I do a lot) I have the example of Peter to go to. He made a lot of mistakes, but he always turned to Jesus and got on with life, a reminder to me to give my blunders to Jesus and keep serving Him.

When I get irritated at someone who pushes my buttons, I think of Thérèse of Lisieux, one of my favorite saints, who considered spending time with those who’d hurt or bothered her as acts of devotion to Jesus.

When I feel discouraged or depressed, I thank God for those current-day saints He’s placed in my life who, like Barnabas (whose name had been Joseph, but was renamed to reflect his gift of encouragement) cheer and hearten me.

Brendan’s faith, proved by getting into a little boat to take the Gospel across the sea in obedience to God’s call, gives me courage on those days when I fear the unknown. Brothers Lawrence’s offering of every moment to “practice the presence of God” reminds me to serve God cheerfully in every chore.

Saints have helped me get through other rough patches. As the young bride of an equally young seminary student, folks warned that parishioners may not take us seriously as spiritual leaders, young as we were. Sometimes, those folks were right, much to our frustration, but God directed my eyes to others who served Him as younger people. Charles Lwanga and his companions, who were either teenagers or in their early twenties when they were martyred in Uganda over a hundred years ago, gave me strength, and pause: no matter how old I grow, I will still be growing into their level of spiritual maturity.

I encourage you to check out a book on saints. One place to start could be 365 Saints by Woodeene Koenig-Bricker, a page-a-day-type book which is easy to go through. Naturally, these glimpses of saints just scratch the surfaces of their lives, but you may read about someone new whose story you’d like to explore further.

If you have a good book on saints, let me know! And may the Lord bless you as you walk with Him faithfully today, dear saints.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Like a Mini-Vacation

Egypt: GizehImage by Brooklyn Museum via Flickr

Over on Inkwell Inspirations this week, five gals are blogging about their favorite trips. Their vacations, mission trips, and adventures have made for enjoyable and thought-provoking reading, especially when I’m in a season of life where I’m not much on the go. Not that I haven’t left the house, but my travels aren’t necessarily things others would get excited to read about.

That doesn’t mean that I haven’t enjoyed myself. I’ve taken some great trips this year. I went to my first writing conference (which was fun and fascinating); spent all my money in Disneyland; visited family and friends out of town, which restored my soul like nothing else; and I spent four highly-anticipated days in a beach-side condo. Sick as a dog. The kids loved the tide pools, shells, seal-watching and swimming. Fortunately, I had a good book and a blankie.

But these trips, while blessings to me, aren’t exactly the exotic stuff of travel blogs.

Take that back. I could write about how standing for three hours, saving spaces for my family to watch the Fantasmic! show at Disneyland, does not bring out the best in me. “What Would Jesus Do” went right out the window when I growled at a lady who kept trying to hamstring me with a stroller.

Peter Pan and Captain Hook sword fight aboard ...

It was a pretty cool show, though.

Right now, though, there are no such out-of-town trips for me. But that doesn’t mean I can’t go anywhere. In my mind, at least. That’s part of what I love about books. I have experienced adventures I’ve never dreamed of taking in real life; I’ve traveled through time and space to cruise down the Nile, dance at Almack’s, sleep in a Scottish castle, and worship in gothic cathedrals.

I love to be transported to new places to learn what they’re like. Or to escape reality. Sometimes, I wish some of the fictional places I read about really existed, like the town in Allie Pleiter’s Bluegrass Christmas, an October Steeple Hill Love Inspired (I told you those Christmas books come early!). Just like Mitford in Jan Karon’s books (which are wonderful, by the way), Pleiter’s Middleburg, Kentucky is the kind of town where I’d want to live. It’s clean, wholesome, and filled with Christ-minded folks. It’s the kind of place where a mayoral challenge is the biggest news to hit in years, everyone eats at the pie shop, and a big city gal can get a full-time job running a Christmas pageant.

(I am married to a pastor who would love this church’s budget, since they can afford to hire a woman just to head up a seasonal drama. And she can live on that pay.)

It’s a joy to let go of the reality of your life (goodbye swine flu, bad economy, and the carpool!) and soak in the small-town holiday spirit of this novel, like a bubble bath. Sadly, you’ll eventually have to get out of the tub and back into the cold world. Nevertheless, though their town might be make-believe, I think there’s a benefit in keeping the memory of these characters with you. Acts of kindness, owning up to mistakes, and obeying God are all themes that are worth considering. Perhaps even incorporating into our own realities.

Now that’s a little trip worth taking.

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Finally Hopping Aboard the Amish Bandwagon. Er, Buggy.

Traditional Amish buggy, Lancaster County, Pen...Image via Wikipedia

Recently I was chatting with my dad about my writing and the current book market. I shared the pessimistic thought that Regency-set stories, like the ones I write, just aren’t in huge demand right now.

“Well, what is in demand?” my dad asked. “Besides vampires.”

“Amish romances.”

“What? Did you say Amish?”

“Yes, Dad. Buggies and barn-raisings and shoo-fly pie.”

Well, my dad thought this was interesting, to say the least, and when Time Magazine ran a story on the popularity of Amish stories a few days later, my dad and I chuckled over the article. It seems that TV is getting in on the act, too: last week on “Bones,” a FOX crime drama, the murder victim was Amish.

The Amish are popular kids in school these days.

A writer-friend of mine was told by a literary agent to start writing Amish romances in order to get her foot in the door. “You’re a professional writer,” the agent insisted. “You can write anything, and Amish stories are here to stay.”

Well, my friend is talented and can indeed write anything. I’m not so sure that I can. Creative writing teachers tell you to write what you know, and my experience with the Amish is very limited. I respect their beliefs and practices, and I appreciate the sense of community and relationship with God they hold firm. I don't know much beyond that, however. I've had little opportunity to even interact with the Amish. I've purchased fabulous baked goods and sighed over the exquisite stitching in some quilts. I did visit a barn where men created furniture to the customer’s order, but despite the amazing craftsmanship, I didn’t take home the baby cradle I’d wanted. Oh, and one time, when I walked across a street, I almost got run over by an Amish boy on a pony. It was quite, quite exciting.

That right there is not enough to craft a comic strip, much less a dynamic, intriguing romance novel.

Of course, it might help if I actually read an Amish-set story. Yes, it’s true; I haven’t read one yet. When reaching for reading material, I tend to choose historicals set in faraway places over contemporaries, although one could argue that the Amish might not exactly fit into the contemporary category, either. In a lot of ways, they are similar to the blacksmiths and oxen-dependent farmers in the romantic historicals I read. Hey, this could be a good fit for me, after all.

Time to hop aboard the Popularity Train and buy an Amish story. After reading the back cover blurbs of several, I chose A Cousin’s Prayer by Wanda E. Brunsetter, one of the grand dames of Amish-set romance. I’ll let you know what I think when I’ve finished.

What about you? Are you a fan of Amish romances? Do you have any good recommendations for me? Leave a comment and October 15, I’ll randomly draw a winner to receive a Harmony-scented Gold Canyon bookmark. No need to leave your email address in the comment; just let me know if you want to win a bookmark and I’ll announce the winner Oct 16.

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Book Reviews and New FTC Rules

A little bit of business today. According to FTC regulations, if I write a book review, I must mention if I received the book for free. As one could view that free book as “payment” for my review, the reader should be aware of the fact that I might be biased.

As I’m not a real book reviewer (professional or otherwise), I don’t receive free books. Well, that isn’t exactly true. I’ve won a few books on blog contests, but I have never received a book for the sole purpose of reviewing it. However, if I do review a book I’ve won, I’ll let you know. It’ll happen soon, because I won something, Yay! But every book I’ve mentioned so far on this blog has entered my world accompanied by a store receipt.

I should also note that I will only review books I like. I read some books that you’ll never see a post about, mainly because I don’t want to pick anything apart in this space. And frankly, I often don’t bother reading more than a few chapters if I can’t stand the book. I will mostly review "inspies" (that is, Inspirational, or Christian Fiction), and as I write inspy historical romance, that’s the genre I read the most. However, I do read some mainstream books, like The First Patient and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and sometimes I'll want to talk about them.

Ok, enough business. Tomorrow will be back to tea and good books as I explain why I’m finally catching up to the 21st century, jumping on a buggy, and reading Amish romance.
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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Oh My!

'CoverCover via Amazon

I’ve never seen anything like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies ("The Classic Regency Romance -- Now With Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem") before. A national bestseller, the novel came about when Quirk Publishing hired screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith to re-write Jane Austen’s 1813 classic, Pride and Prejudice, weaving a zombie-centric theme through the original work. As an Austen fan and lover of Regency England, I was simultaneously creeped out and intrigued, so I decided to check the book out.

Then I couldn’t put it down. I found myself snorting back chuckles within the first few pages. Just like those old TV commericals where the chocolate gets mixed up with the peanut butter, there's something about the mish-mash of English literature and horror flick that works here, and I got a big laugh out of it, partly at my own expense as an Austen fan.

The story follows the basic plot of Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennet and her four sisters live with their parents in Hertfordshire. Wealthy and handsome Mr. Bingley takes up residence in a nearby house, Netherfield, joined by his sisters and friends, including the dashing Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Elizabeth’s mother sees potential in both Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy as husbands for her daughters. The eldest Bennet sister, Jane, takes a fancy to Mr. Bingley, and Elizabeth is both drawn to and infuriated by proud Mr. Darcy.

As these two couples’ journeys to love progress, however, they must fight off zombies at every turn. Hence the twist: a plague terrorizes England, unearthing brain-hungry corpses which devour or infect hapless folk who are unfortunate enough to walk alone, find themselves low on musket ammunition, or stand too close to a window. To defend themselves, characters carry muskets, longbows, or pitchforks, though the Bennet girls have been trained in martial arts and are experts at combat.

Make no mistake, this version of Elizabeth Bennet is a warrior. She spends her spare time whittling blowgun darts, cleaning muskets, and sparring in the dojo. In the original novel, Lady Catherine encourages Elizabeth to demonstrate her fingering ability on the pianoforte; in the Zombie version, Elizabeth displays her finger strength by standing on her head and “walking” around, supporting her weight on her fingertips. It’s ridiculous. But it also made me laugh.

Zombies infiltrate every aspect of this retelling. The “sorry stricken” (the characters don’t use the word “zombie”) intrude on Mr. Bingley’s ball, lurk outside Pemberley, and prey on travellers, which makes each trip to London a life or death battle. Zombies prove to be a valuable plot device, as they are ultimately responsible for lost messages, Charlotte Lucas’ decision to marry Mr. Collins, and the military presence in Hertfordshire.

The book will not satisfy everyone’s tastes, of course. No book does, but some Austen purists will do better to stay away than expose themselves to the desecration Grahame-Smith inflicts on the original masterpiece. Other readers might not appreciate the humor, which includes lots of zombie yuckiness, descriptive ninja fights, and the occasional double entendre. I rolled my eyes on occasion, but that's the worst of it. I am not one to object to the numerous historical inaccuracies, either, particularly the Asian influence permeating the book. Of course it was impossible to make multiple trips (much less one) to China at that time, as the Bennets do for martial-arts training. Nor would Darcy have modeled Pemberley after a Shinto shrine or refer to Buddha. Nor would Lady Catherine have surrounded herself with a guard of ninjas. However, as nearly every action hero from our own day and age seems to receive training in Buddhist monasteries (Batman, for instance), I saw the Asian influence as part of the spoof.

And as I said, I did enjoy much of the humor, especially the understated parts. It is in passing that we learn of Mr. Bennet's "zombie traps" which use cauliflower as bait; and when Mr. Darcy fights off a hoarde of zombies, "the smoke from (his) musket hung in the air around him, wafting heavenward through his thick mane of chestnut hair." That's my sense of humor for ya.

Perhaps the best thing to me about the book is that I felt compelled to get my copy of Pride and Prejudice off the shelf for the sake of comparison. I read passages side by side, marveling at the changes. I can’t help but wonder if others have done the same. Perhaps someone who has never read Pride and Prejudice is now, thanks to the zombie version, enjoying the original. If just one person has visited the public library or their local book store for such a reason, I feel that there is merit in it, even if it’s not for everyone or proves a one-hit-wonder.

Nevertheless, I see that Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is out in stores, and already on the bestseller list.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Tea, Jane Austen, and A Giveaway

Scones are also commonly served with jam and c...Image via Wikipedia

What is the most decadent thing you've ever eaten? Beignets? Chocolate mousse? Creme Brulle?

The most tempting, indulgent, hard-to-not-eat-the-whole-dish-with-a-spoon treat I can recall devouring is Mock Devonshire Cream. (I'm sure the real thing is delicious too, but you can only find it in specialty stores here in the US. My friend Arlena shared her recipe for the mock stuff with me, and it's fabulous.) Smooth, rich, sweet and creamy, Mock Devonishire Cream is meant to go with jam and scones, but I can't stop with one dollop. Therefore, in the interest of my arteries, it's best not to have all of the ingredients on hand.

I didn't take this picture of scones and jam and cream, but just look at it! Look how thick that cream is...

Ok, snapping out of it -- Today on Inkwell Inspirations, I share Arlena's recipe and also chit-chat a bit on how Jane Austen enjoyed her tea. In Georgian England, tea was something of a status symbol, expensive even without the high taxes imposed on it by the government. It was such a regarded commodity that the poorer classes would do some extreme things to stretch their tea supplies, including recycling it, over and over and over. Unscrupulous salesmen created disgusting blends of tea, twigs, sheep dung and toxic chemicals (dear me, I am so glad we have regulations against that sort of thing nowadays) and smugglers made a mint off of contraband tea. The price was better that procuring it honestly, but it was illegal, not to mention the fact that the tea had been packed in smelly oilskins, giving the tea an odd taste. No wonder Jane liked to go directly to the Twinings warehouse and buy her tea straight from the source, several pounds at a time.

If you visit the site, don't forget to leave a comment by Oct 8 with your email address so you can be entered into the drawing for an Inkwell Inspirations recipe book. I've seen some of the recipes in there, and I want one too! Happy Tea time!

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Paint the Town Pink!

October is Breast Cancer Awareness MonthImage by oOoHEAVENLYoOotheheavenlyexperiance© via Flickr

With all of the pink ribbons tied around car antennae and tree trunks, you’re probably aware that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s hard to escape. This time of year, many communities paint the town pink; offer fun runs, rallies, or fundraisers; and offer TV spots drawing attention to the leading killer of American women aged 40-55. Breast cancer awareness is everywhere: even kitchen products offer lines of pink mixers and measuring spoons, for sale just this time of year, making a donation to cancer research. My grocery store is well-stocked with teddy bears in pink t-shirts, and on my latest trip to Hallmark to buy a birthday card, I noted a stack of free greeting cards (with pink envelopes, of course) that encourage a gal pal to get a mammogram.

I support every ounce of the hoopla. I think that it’s unfortunate when makers of “breast cancer” items do not make a donation toward cancer research, but at the same time, anything that draws attention to breast cancer can be worthwhile if it makes a woman consider the issue. As one in eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer (that’s one woman every two seconds), this disease will probably affect you at some point during your life, whether it’s a battle fought in your own body or that of someone you care about. Your phone might ring, as mine did, with the news that somebody close to me was now engaged in the battle of her life.

In honor of the moms, sisters, daughters, friends, and neighbors who are affected by breast cancer, I’d like to encourage you to do something about fighting breast cancer. Here are some things any woman can do:

Support local fun runs, rallies, and fundraisers that celebrate cancer survivors and encourage patients.

If detected early, the breast cancer survival rate is 96%. Wow! Yet 13 million American women have never had a mammogram. If you are over 40, get a mammogram every one to two years. It’s what the National Cancer Institute recommends, and so does the US Department of Health and Human Services. Mammograms saved the lives of two women I know, bringing to light tumors which were not detected through self-examination. If you’re over 50, get a mammogram every year.

Visit www.theBreastCancerSite.com to help donate mammograms to needy women. All you have to do is click a button, once a day. (While you’re there, visit the other partner sites to help feed kids, save the rainforest, and buy vaccinations for inner city kids.)

Do your self-examinations every month, starting at age 20. Have a trained professional do an exam every two years if you're under age 40; if you're older, do it every year. Seventy percent of breast cancers are discovered through examinations.

Keep in mind that eighty percent of lumps are not cancerous. Get them checked, anyway.

If you have a friend undergoing cancer treatment, do what you can to help. Pick up their kids, take them dinner, rent them movies, give them love, or give them space if they need it. But don’t let them think they’re alone. Call, send cards and flowers, and be there.

From personal experience, I learned that sometimes during chemo, things smell and taste different to the patient. Be tolerant of their preference and new dietary needs.

Men can get breast cancer, too. Encourage the guys in your life to see a doctor if they notice a lump.

Eat a low-fat diet, exercise, and don’t smoke.

Pray, pray, pray. For healing in the lives of those affected, and for a cure.

Celebrate the women in your life now, today! Call a friend, go out to lunch, forgive someone, hug your daughter, thank your mom. Be grateful for every moment you have with the precious people God has put in your life.

I’m thankful for you, Mom. Thanks for fighting with all you had to beat your cancer, and now helping others who are undergoing that same battle.

Below are the sites I used for the statistical information. If any errors appear, however, it is entirely my fault.


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Monday, September 28, 2009

Book Review: Dakota Child by Linda Ford

In Linda Ford’s latest Love Inspired Historical, Dakota Child, unwed mother Vivian Halliday thinks she can make things right when she locates the father of her baby. But when she and her two-month-old son are trapped in a North Dakota blizzard, rescue comes in the form of “Big Billy” Black, a behemoth of a man who is feared by the people in the village. He lives in seclusion with his mother, “Mad” Mrs. Black, a woman still traumatized by her years as an Indian captive. Vivian isn’t sure she and her baby are safe with this pair, but there’s nowhere else to go. When Billy’s faith in God and surprising gentleness give her comfort and peace, however, she almost begins to wish she could stay with him after the storm abates.

I have never read an inspirational romance quite like this, where the heroine is an unwed teenage mother and the hero is not the father of her child. I appreciated Ford’s honesty in dealing with sin, shame, and forgiveness, as well as her examination of the motivations and consequences of the characters’ choices, both good and bad. I sympathized with the hero and heroine’s tremendous loneliness, as Vivian was raised in an orphanage, and Billy was rejected by the townsfolk. Likewise, I admired Vivian's commitment to her baby and her hope to make him legitimate, and I appreciated Billy's promise to care for his ill mother. As a hero and heroine, Billy and Vivian are likable, vulnerable characters, and I rooted for them every step of their journey.

Love (for God, each other, and the baby) urges Billy and Vivian to make changes to their lives, and I was curious to see how the story would unfold. I was not disappointed. Billy and Vivian struggle through their fears, misperceptions, and pasts, and every triumph they experience is attributed to the Lord.

The only issue I had in reading it is the occasional wish that Billy and Vivian’s thoughts and back story would be manifested into dialogue and action. In a book like Dakota Child, where the characters are snow bound and the secondary characters are an infant and an ill woman, there is plenty of time for the main characters to mull over their situations. The novel is strongest when the characters do little things for each other, support each other’s faith journeys, and later, when they interact with the pastor and the baby’s father.

Nevertheless, I found Dakota Child an engaging read which I couldn’t put down, and I recommend it.