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, August 31, 2009

Summer May be Fading Fast, but Summer Reads Go On

Books - bookcase top shelfImage by ~ Phil Moore via Flickr

Summer is on its way out, but I’m not ready to let go of the “summer read,” the books that we choose to fill the hot summer months with diversion, enjoyment, or instruction. There’s something about reading at the beach or in a shady spot with a Popsicle in hand that makes the experience special.

I don’t know about you, but to me, summer reading gravitates toward escapist entertainment. Actually, I read novels non-stop anyway, no matter the season. But since I write historical romance, I spend a bit of time reading non-fiction, researching 1880s costume plates, the Oregon Trail or British smuggling. I love biographies, travel books and anything related to my favorite historical periods. My family knows they can score big with me at Christmas by giving me just about any book with the words "Regency," "Old West" or "Jane Austen" in the title.

But on my summer commutes to the bookstore and the neighborhood library (which, thanks to budget cuts, isn’t even close to my neighborhood), I rarely leave the fiction section. When the weather is hot and the days are lazy, when laundry is drying on the line and the bees buzz thick around my garden, my mind is prone to wander. I want to go faraway places, solve mysteries, and enter different worlds. This summer was no exception, and here are some of my favorite summer reads this year.

The Preacher’s Wife by Cheryl St. John drew me in right away. Whether it’s because I love historical romance or because I’m a preacher’s wife myself, I had to get a copy! The inspirational story (a Steeple Hill, Love Inspired Historical) swept me away, as a childless widow agrees to marry a widowed pastor and raise his three girls, even though he does not return her affection. The protagonists struggle with their Christianity in a realistic way as they try to serve Jesus even when they don’t know all of life’s answers. The themes of God’s love, mercy, and consistency blessed me, and were woven deftly into the story.

I was glad to pick up A Connecticut Christmas, even in July. All four of the novellas in this inspirational romance anthology were nominated for American Christian Fiction Writers’ Book of the Year, and I wanted to know why. My favorite is Janet Lee Barton’s The Cookie Jar, where a woman struggles to keep her business afloat and falls in love with two motherless kids (and their dad). Who knows? Maybe reading about snow and mistletoe brought the heat down a few degrees.

The First Patient, by Michael Palmer, is a thriller about the doctor to the President, whose frightening illness is hidden by those closest to him. Quick paced and full of action, it was fun to read and challenged my writing. I wish I could come up with plots like this!

Speaking of plots, A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, the bestselling children’s series, explores in thirteen volumes (plus one Unofficial Autobiography) the travails of the Baudelaire orphans. I love reading children’s novels, for three reasons: it helps me keep up with what my own kids are reading; kids' books can include examples of great writing; and sometimes, they're just plain fun. Lemony Snicket's books fits all three bills.

Mrs. Mike by Benedict and Nancy Freeman is another Young Adult gem I found in the library…about twenty-some years ago. I never forgot Katherine and Mike, a sergeant in the Canadian Mounted Police. Re-reading their story, I still loved it, though I was shocked by how much things have changed since it was first published in 1947, especially the treatment of Native Americans. The love story, however, is powerful but squeaky clean, and the writing has moments of pure beauty.

What did you read this summer? I’m always eager to learn about a good book, and in exchange, I’d like to share a brand new copy of The Preacher’s Wife with one of you! To be entered into the drawing to receive it, please leave a comment after any post before September 15 with your name and email address (please use brackets to protect yourself from spammers, i.e. name <@> account <.> com). I’ll pick the winner at random! And don't forget to stop by http://www.inkwellinspirations.blogspot.com/ for our big launch today. There will be prizes every day through October!
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Saturday, August 29, 2009

New Blog on the Block

There's a new blog on the block, and I'm excited to be a part of it! Tomorrow, August 31, marks the big launch of Inkwell Inspirations, a blog intended to bless readers and writers of inspirational romance. It's a group effort: fifteen of us will take turns posting on fun and varied topics, from fictional characters who challenge us, awesome recipes, and Sunday devotionals. Each of the contributors are award-winning romance writers, and I freely admit that I'm not sure what Gina Welborn was thinking when she asked me to be a part of it. These women are gifted writers, knowledgeable about the industry and the written word, and best of all, they're generous of spirit. I am delighted and honored to be an Inky -- "passionate word builders, passionate followers of Christ."

And we're giving away a prize each day through October! Check it out, leave a comment, and you'll be entered to win one of several fabulous prizes... something different each day. (I wish I could enter!)

Hope to see you there!

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Earl, His Countess, and a Good Cup of Tea

I love sharing a cup of tea with a friend, and I was thrilled to learn my new friend Niki Turner enjoys two of my favorite blends, the bergamot-infused Earl Grey and citrusy-floral Lady Grey Teas. She asked how they got their names, and looking into it, I learned more than the legend of the teas. The story of Earl Grey himself is one of privilege, political power, and even a bit of scandal.

Lord Grey  Prime Minister 1830-34Image via Wikipedia

The English lord for whom Earl Grey Tea is named was an interesting guy. The Second Earl Grey, Charles Grey (1764 –1845) was a Whig politician with powerful friends, including the Prince Regent and Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, one of England’s most notable aristocrats of the day (and a relation of Diana, Princess of Wales). He pursued the Duchess, and as a result of their liaison, she gave birth to a daughter, Eliza, in 1792. The married Duchess was forced to give Eliza over to Charles’ parents, who raised her as Charles’ sister. Though the soon-to-be Earl Grey “seem[ed] fond of her” (according to a letter written by Lady Bessborough in 1808), Charles was not involved much in Eliza’s life.

He became quite busy with his marriage to Mary Ponsonby and the sixteen children she bore him, and of course he was occupied with his political career. At its pinnacle, Charles served as British Prime Minister from 1830-1834, and his notable tenure saw the passing of the Reform Act (reforming the House of Commons) and the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire.

Somewhere during this time, Earl Grey and Lady Grey Teas came about and were named for Charles and Mary. But why? The answers are mostly the stuff of legend, but here’s what I uncovered.

Several stories regarding the origin of Earl Grey Tea take place in China, involving a Mandarin with a drowning son. Depending on the story, the child was saved by either a British diplomat, a gentleman in Lord Grey’s service, or Lord Grey himself. In gratitude, the Mandarin presented the Earl with a chest of black tea flavored with essence of bergamot, an Asian citrus fruit. However, there is no fact to prove this story, and Lord Grey never traveled to China.

The stories go on that once the chest of tea was almost empty, Lord Grey asked Richard Twining, founder of Twining’s Tea, to duplicate the recipe, though other tea manufacturers have made similar claims. Some stories state that Richard Twining made up the recipe on his own initiative, specifically for Lord Grey. There is no dispute, however, that Lord Grey favored black tea blended with bergamot and popularized the blend.

Less mysterious is the origin of Lady Grey Tea. The Countess supposedly requested a lighter version of her husband’s namesake tea and Twining’s obliged, creating a blend of black tea, bergamot, lemon peel and cornflower essence. Lady Grey Tea remains a proprietary blend of Twining’s; you can only buy it from them, in its trademark blue box.

Though Lady Grey Tea is well-liked, Earl Grey Tea remains wildly popular. Though bergamot-infused black tea is now available from many manufacturers, the Sixth (and current) Earl Grey gave Twining’s his official endorsement, and his signature is seen on every yellow tin and box of Twining’s Earl Grey Tea. While the Second Earl Grey and his Countess left behind a legacy of family, public service, and perhaps scandal, too, I can’t help but wonder how they would feel about the legacy of their tea preferences, still enjoyed some two hundred years later.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What is the Regency Era?

If all of the books and movies devoted to Jane Austen are any indication, the Regency period is alive and well in the imagination of modern readers…and writers like me. I love to read and write stories set in the Regency era, that slim period of British history that gave us not only Jane Austen but Beau Brummell, Lord Byron, and Percy Shelley.

George IV of the United Kingdom as the Prince ...Image via Wikipedia

The Regency period was quite short, lasting just nine years. The King of England, George III, was incapable of functioning as king (perhaps you recall him as “mad King George”?) and his eldest son, George, the Prince of Wales (pictured here), was designated Regent in 1811, governing in his father’s stead. When George III died in 1820, the Prince Regent ascended the throne as George IV, thus ending the Regency era. However, I’ve seen the Regency period defined as lasting far longer, from the 1790’s through the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837.

It was a time of war (against Napoleon and briefly, America), economic strain, and scandal among the Royal Family. The wealthy indulged in tremendous excess, while the lower classes had little voice, as rigid social structures ruled the day, confining behavior to certain codes.

The Royal PavilionImage via Wikipedia

But it was also a time of great beauty, art, architectural growth (perhaps best exemplified by the Prince Regent’s Royal Pavilion in Brighton), romantic literature, and elegance. Glittering descriptions of society functions, riding sidesaddle through Hyde Park, and Grecian-style gowns create a certain picture in one’s mind’s eye, as do tales of smugglers, fox hunting and Waterloo.

Whether or not you’ve enjoyed a Regency-set novel, one thing is indisputable. The Regency era had a style all its own, and it continues to spark the modern imagination.

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