By the Book

where a love of God and good books meet

What I’m Reading: Five Days in Skye

I have a love/hate relationship with books set in places I have never been. And to be honest, that’s most of them since I’m not well-traveled. As pathetic as it is, I’ve only visited (not including those I’ve passed through on my way somewhere else) nine states, and I don’t even have a passport. Most of those were for martial arts tournaments or writing conferences. If you make me narrow it down to places I’ve actually spent at least three days in for something other than tournaments and conferences, I have to lower it to four, possibly five. My point is, there are a lot of places I haven’t been. So, I read about a lot of places I’ve never seen.

I love reading a book and being able to clearly picture the mountains in Colorado, the vinyards in California, or the colors of fall in New England. They create in me a desire to see these places for myself, and that’s where the hate comes in. Do you realize how many places are now on my “someday I’ll go there” list? It’s been steadily growing since high school, and I’ve yet to check one place off.

Take my latest read, Five Days in Skye by Carla Laureano. Andrea Sullivan is set to vacation on a tropical island, and when her boss sends her on a business trip to Scotland, she is less than enthused. (I really don’t know what her problem was. I’d choose Scotland any day. Have you heard the way they speak? And who doesn’t want to explore castles?) Andrea goes because work is what she does, and she is in line for a VP position. Impressing the boss is more important than a little rest. Besides, she can relax any time.

The quick change in plans makes Andrea a little moody, and after a rocky start with her client, James MacDonald, she’s not feeling any better about the whole ordeal. James, on the other hand, is determined to help Andrea see how much there is to love about Skye. After slowly eroding some of her defenses, James succeeds in getting Andrea to stay longer than she expected, a total of five days in Skye to learn to live life away from work and love Skye. And despite previous hurts, family drama, and a strict code about mixing business with pleasure, Andrea may find she loves the man she met in Skye as well.

While the entertaining, well-told story and likable characters are enough to give the story a great review, the descriptions of Skye make it even better. As James and Andrea explore in and around Skye, the images readers are left with are a little more than enticing.

As I finished, I contemplated the need to get a passport, and I was only stopped by the reality that I don’t have the means to go anywhere right now, much less fly to Scotland. And with that truth, you can clearly see why I have a love/hate relationship with stories like Five Days in Skye. I love the story and the way the setting comes alive in my imagination, but I do kind of hate that I know I’m not going there any time soon. Of course, if the desire to visit Scotland hits me in the future, I could always spend more time there by re-reading Five Days in Skye!

Main Character Monday with Dean Blackburn

Welcome to Main Character Monday. Today’s guest is homicide detective, Dean Blackburn, from Song in the Dark by Jessica White. Thank you for joining me.

Thanks for having me. But honestly, I’m used to being the interviewer not the interviewee.

What three words would you use to describe your author?

Curious, tenacious, and courageous enough to discover the truth. She reminds me of my three Dobermans when they catch a scent and refuse to abandon it until they discover the source. She never stops digging until she gets to the heart of the story.

Just for fun. Go with your gut.

Sunrise or sunset?

Sunset. It means I get to go home and spend time with my dogs.

Pie or Cake?

Honey Cakes & Moon Pies makes this pomegranate cake that’s to die for.

Tulip or Iris?

I guess irises, because they were my mother’s favorite. But whatever Jenna prefers.

Chocolate or Vanilla?

Hands down, dark chocolate.

Interesting. Next question. If you could visit any place in the world, where would you go?

I’d probably get out of Albany, New York and visit some warmer climates. I’m not really the touristy type, but I like quiet places where the boys can stretch their legs and I can relax and read a book cover to cover without worrying about looking over my shoulder. Perhaps discover some unique bookshops hidden around the world, like the one in Coober Pedy, Australia that’s built inside a cave. Or Atlantis Books in Santorini, Greece that carries old hardbound books.

Speaking of books, let’s talk the Bible. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Which of these traits do you find easiest to display in your life? 

Wow. I guess self-control would be my strongest. You can’t be a good detective if you don’t learn to control your thoughts and emotions and not let them get in the way of the evidence or project onto your victim or your suspect.

Which of them is the hardest to display?

Hardest? All the rest! Again, with my job, it’s really hard to see the good around you—but that’s why Jenna amazes me. She’s got the whole package. She even makes my curmudgeon of a neighbor grin like an old fool.


Jenna sounds like someone we all need in our lives. I’d love to meet her, but for now, we should continue with the interview. What is your favorite story from the Old Testament?

Old Testament? Probably the story of Gideon. Growing up a military brat, I learned to trust in numbers and weapons. But since meeting Jenna, I’ve learned God has us covered. Whatever we need, we’ll have when we need it.

What is your favorite book in the New Testament?

Acts. It’s practical. Stories like Ananias and Sapphira really hit home. I hate it when perps get away with lying to the cops. It’s good to know that even when I can’t see the truth in a situation, God knows. In the end, justice is His. If He chooses to let me be a part of that, then it’s a privilege.

If you could leave us with one message, what would you want us to know?

That darkness can’t extinguish light, but light can expel darkness. So surround yourself with people who bring light into your life. And never take them for granted.

Thank you for joining me today. I think you must be the first detective I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing, and it gives you a slightly different perspective than most of the characters I interview.

Readers, you can find out more about Dean and meet Jenna in Song in the Dark by Jessica White. Keep reading for more about Jessica and where to find her book.

More on Song in the Dark:

After graduating from Juilliard, harpist Jenna Fields returns home to Albany to escape her manipulative ex and prove to her controlling mother that she can orchestrate her own life.

Homicide detective Dean Blackburn spends his days seeking justice for the dead. But darkness taints everything, including him.

When his three Dobermans lead him to Jenna playing in the park, he tries to resist the beautiful musician and focus on his cases. At least until he witnesses Jenna’s ex attempt to blackmail her and learns she’s being stalked, just like one of his homicide victims.

When her world crumbles beneath her feet, and Dean learns she has her own dark secrets, he helps Jenna see that the key to escaping her mother’s gilded cage is already in her hands.

Where to connect with Jessica: AuthorJessicaWhite.com for more info

Write Stuff Wednesday with C. Kevin Thompson

“Everything has a purpose, or premise. Every second of our life has its own premise, whether or not we are conscious of it at the time. That premise may be as simple as breathing or as complex as a vital emotional decision, but it is always there.”

If you read this quote out of context, you may think it’s from a theologian or Bible teacher. Rick Warren would surely agree. Other experts in other fields would as well. However, the quote comes from the very beginning of Lajos Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing: Its Basis in the Creative Interpretation of Human Motives. He goes on to acknowledge that some writers may call it a “goal.” Others refer to it as a “root-idea” or a “theme.” Others still ask the question, “How can you tell what road to take unless you know where you are going?” In the end, however, they are all talking about purpose, or premise.

He then uses some well-known plays from Shakespeare and others to show how each of these popular stories has a premise that drives every aspect of the story. Nothing in the lines on the page is wasted or superfluous.

Some examples of premise he gives are:

Romeo & Juliet: “Great love defies even death.”

King Lear: “Blind trust leads to destruction.”

Macbeth: “Ruthless ambition leads to its own destruction.”

Othello: “Jealousy destroys itself and the object of its love.”1

These overall themes or premises become the anchors to which every word, every character action, every plot twist is tethered. Otherwise, stories will ramble. Characters will flail. Readers will lose interest.

As I write, the premise becomes the umbrella under which the storyline resides. For example, in The Serpent’s Grasp, which won the BRMCWC Selah Award in 2013 in the debut novel category, the overarching theme was: What is Truth? And in this case, within the scientific community. The storyline addresses that theme throughout. As the main character, Dr. Evelyn Sims, says in an article she “wrote”:

“One question keeps haunting me as a scientist. One query’s answer eludes me. I ask and ask, search and search, research and research, and not one scientist can give me a definitive answer. I posed the question when researching the Scopes Monkey Trial as a graduate student. I inquired when ‘Little Lucy’ was unearthed. I have combed the halls of academia, scoured the journals of science, and questioned leading experts searching for the answer to this question: Of what or whom is evolution afraid? If time is on the side of truth, then there is nothing to fear if it is truly truth we seek.”

In that last line, therein lies the premise. Scientists who seek the truth honestly should not care what they find, if they are truly seeking truth. All they should wish to do is discover what the truth is. And if the evidence points to a Creator, then why should they fight against it? Unless they are not seeking the truth…  

For my Blake Meyer series, the overarching theme is: What is true peace? We talk about peace all the time. We plan for it with retirement funds. We build up our military to defend it. We change laws and create new ones in an attempt to legislate it. We hold conferences to discuss it. We even give out prizes to people who supposedly embody its true meaning. However, what is true peace? Supervisory Special Agent Blake Meyer, a non-believer, is on that journey right now.

My latest novel, The Letters has an overall theme of: How much do the physical and spiritual worlds intertwine? Or do they collide? Or is it both? While it deals with the issue of abortion, it’s not a heavy-handed book on that subject at all because I didn’t want it to be. Instead, it uses the topic to delve more into character and plot rather than topic and opinion. In the end, Rachel Hamar finds out how much these two worlds mesh together

1 pp. 1-5 of Egri’s book.

Short bio:

C. KEVIN THOMPSON is a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a kid at heart. Often referred to as “crazy” by his grandchildren, it’s only because he is. He’s a writer. Need he say more?

He is the author of the Selah Award-winning debut novel, The Serpent’s Grasp, and his Blake Meyer Thriller series, which includes Books 1-4 so far, with Book 5, A Pulse of Time, coming out Memorial Day 2020! And, his new standalone novel, The Letters, is now available!

Kevin is a huge fan of the TV series 24, The Blacklist, Blue Bloods, NCIS, Criminal Minds, BBC shows Broadchurch, Shetland, Hinterland, and Wallander, loves anything to do with Star Trek, and is a Sherlock Holmes fanatic too. But you will never catch him wearing a deerstalker. Ever.

Website:                                  www.ckevinthompson.com/

Kevin’s Writer’s Blog:            www.ckevinthompson.blogspot.com/

Facebook:                                C. Kevin Thompson – Author Fan Page

Twitter:                                   @CKevinThompson

Instagram:                               ckevinthompson

Pinterest:                                 ckevinthompsonauthor

Goodreads:                             C. Kevin Thompson

BookBub:                                C. Kevin Thompson

Full Of Character with Hope Toler Dougherty

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Hope Toler Dougherty, author of Rescued Hearts, Irish Encounter, and Mars…with Venus Rising. Keep reading after the interview to find out a little more about Hope’s books and where you can connect with her on social media. Welcome, Hope.

What character from the books you’ve read has impacted you more than all the others?

Jane Eyre! Despite being an orphan with plain looks and nothing but her intellect and strong will to help her navigate the world, she remains true to her Christian character. Jane Eyre is a classic novel, not Christian fiction, but Charlotte Bronte wrote Christian lessons throughout the whole story.

What character you created was the easiest to write? The hardest?

I loved writing Agnes in Irish Encounter, Jancie and Winnie in Mars…With Venus Rising, and GiGi in Rescued Hearts. They’re senior saints who have a zest for life. They were so much fun to write! I hope to be like them many years from now!

I’m struggling with a character in my fifth manuscript. I know a few things about her, but she’s pretty quiet about her real main goal. She’s a tough nut to crack.

I have no doubt you’ll find out exactly who she is and be able to share her with the rest of us! Scripture is full of real people who had character to spare. Which one do you most relate to or enjoy reading about?

You know when Paul writes in Romans 7:15 about knowing what to do, wanting to do it, but then doing what he hates to do? Sometimes I feel like that, like the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

I wish I was bold like Moses’ sister, Miriam, when she appealed to Pharaoh’s daughter or Abigail when she appealed to David when her husband, Nabal, was being foolish or like all those new Christians in Acts who spread the Gospel amid so much persecution and fear. I love reading about average people acting courageously for God.

I don’t know about our readers today, but I can also relate to that verse and the reasons you chose those people. Do you plan your characters and their back stories before you begin writing or are you as surprised by them as your readers?

I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer, but I try to get to know my main characters as much as I can before I begin. I have a character sketch activity with about 100 questions from a writing class I took at Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writing Conference. I fill out as many of those questions as I can before I begin because it makes the writing easier for me.

I think Blue Ridge is where I first met you. It’s a great conference. If someone wrote a movie about you, who would you like to play your character? Why?

Maybe Sandra Bullock. She’s got a quirky vibe going even when she’s dressed up. Plus, we both studied at East Carolina University, but I never saw her there.

I love her, and I like that you have that connection to her, no matter how distant. I can’t think of anyone famous that I’m even distantly connected to. Just two more questions and a fun fact. What is the most encouraging thing you’ve heard or experienced as an author?

A couple of years ago, I was shocked to find myself sitting beside Steve Laube, a top literary agent and owner of his own agency, at a meal at ACFW. During dessert, he asked what I write. I answered, love stories. He asked, “Do you mean love stories between men and dogs or men and cats or…?” I said, “No, men and women.” He replied, “Ah, romance. Then you should say it. Own it. Romance is the biggest genre in the publishing world. It’s the biggest for a reason. People love it.”

I’ve always struggled a little with the idea of writing romance because I used to teach real literature. Now I’m trying to focus more on gratitude for the perfect path God’s created for me. I write romance!

What a great reminder for the tough days as an author. What is your biggest challenge as an author?

Marketing. I’m sure that’s true for a lot of introverted writers.

I hated selling Girl Scout cookies, and they should be the easiest thing in the world to sell. I don’t even like asking people for reviews. If they’ve shelled out money to buy the book, taken the time to read it, taken more time to tell me in person or my message or email that they like, I feel greedy asking for one more thing. And those reviews are so important!

And now I’ll share a fun-fact Hope included as the answer to an alternate question. Her favorite go-to snack whether writing or not? It’s Cheez-Its. I couldn’t pass up sharing that one since it’s also my youngest son’s go-to snack! And now a little about Hope’s books and where to find her.

Back cover copy for Rescued Hearts:Children’s clothing designer Mary Wade Kimball’s soft spot for  animals leads to a hostage situation when she spots a briar-entangled kitten in front of an abandoned house. Beaten, bound, and gagged by the two thugs inside, Mary Wade loses hope for escape when a third villain returns with supplies.
Discovering the kidnapped, innocent woman ratchets the complications for undercover agent Brett Davis. Weighing the difference of ruining his three months’ investigation against the woman’s safety, Brett forsakes his mission and helps her escape, the bent-on-revenge brutes following behind. 
When Mary Wade’s safety is threatened once more, Brett rescues her again. This time, her personal safety isn’t the only thing in jeopardy. Her heart is endangered as well.

Hope’s bio: Hope Toler Dougherty holds a Master’s degree in English and taught at East Carolina University as well as York Technical College. She’s a member of ACFW and  RWA, and her novels are Irish EncounterMars…With Venus Rising, and Rescued Hearts. A native North Carolinian, she and her husband, Kevin, look forward to visits with their two daughters and twin sons. 

Where to purchase Hope’s books:

Irish Encounter 

Rescued Hearts

Here are Hope’s social media links:

http://hopetolerdougherty.com/

https://www.facebook.com/AUTHORHOPETOLERDOUGHERTY/

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13941031.Hope_Dougherty

https://www.instagram.com/hopetolerdougherty/

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=hope+toler+dougherty

Sharing My Post

This is my post from today on the Mantle Rock Publishing site. I hope you enjoy it!

Main Character Monday: Viktor – The Kalila Chronicles

If a person could fan-girl over a fictional character interview, today would be the day. From book one of the Kalila Chronicles by Erin Howard, I’ve loved Viktor. Yes, he’s the demon brother to Matthias. I know he’s not your typical good guy. In fact, he’s acting out of selfishness even when he does the right thing most of the time. But there’s something about the character that makes him one of my favorites in the series. And today, I get to interview him!

Viktor, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you through Erin’s Kalila Chronicles series. But for those who might not have had that same opportunity, can you tell us a little about yourself and your family?

Families are complicated. Or perhaps that’s just my family? My big brother, Matthias, is finally softening towards me. But I can’t blame him for the years of turmoil that I’ve put him through. See, he blames me for convincing our whole family to follow Lucifer. I mean, I can’t help that I’m a charismatic guy. I didn’t want them following me, but by the time Lucifer was kicked out of heaven, it was too late. Of course, Matthias didn’t see it that way and made it his vendetta to stop me. It made doing my job a lot harder when I not only had to watch my back from angels but also from my brother.  

You’ve spent a lot of time with humans, both trying to destroy them and more recently keeping them safe. Is there anything you admire about the humans you’ve come in contact with through the years?

If I have to tell something that I admire, I would say their ability to bounce back and keep going. No matter what is thrown their way, they have the capabilities to keep going.

Keeping in mind this is a purely hypothetical question, if given the opportunity would you want to become human? Why or why not?

No way. I wouldn’t want to give up being able to sneak around humans without them noticing and alter the atmosphere around them. It’s fun being me.

Given your background, I’ll refrain from asking you for your favorite or most inspirational scripture verse. However, I’d like to get your thoughts on one that makes me think of you when I hear it. Romans 7:15 says, “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.” While the verse pertains to the Christian struggle to live a godly life while the flesh keeps pulling us toward sin, my question is can you see yourself in this verse?

It does sum me up, doesn’t it? Matthias started all of this when he interrupted my plan of destroying Thea. Sometimes, I think it would have been easier if I would have gone ahead and murdered her. But that’s the problem, right? This back and forth war that is always waging inside of me.

Who is the person/being you most admire and why?

There are not many people that I admire. I don’t usually waste my time with humans or supernatural beings. When I have orders, I fulfill those orders, and then I move on. Do you know who never complains about having to do his job? Philip. I like that. 

Is there one thing you have experienced or learned that has impacted you more than everything else?

You like to dig deep with these questions, don’t you? I’ll do just about anything to get to Bethesda. That’s what is driving me. Everything else is just a distraction. This war going on inside? I hope it resolves itself soon.  

Is there one message you would like to share with the people reading this interview?

I feel like I’m the last one that can give advice or a message to whoever is reading this. There’s plenty of people rooting for me to fail. And I constantly feel like I’m one step away from slipping from one side to the other. But I’m trying. It goes against everything I’ve come to know, but I’m not giving up on getting to Bethesda. What will happen on the way, who knows? But I’m not looking back. You shouldn’t either. If you have goal, reach for it. Don’t give up.

Thanks for your time Viktor. And thanks to Erin Howard for sharing you with us today.

This is just a little snippet of life with Viktor. As you can probably tell, he’s a little bit complicated and a lot conflicted. Kind of reminds me of the rest of us at times. I hope you’ll check out The Silencer, but if you haven’t done so already be sure to read The Seer and The Soul Searcher first. It is a series, and it should be read in order.

Before we end things, why don’t we find out more about Erin Howard and her books.

New Release: The Silencer (The Kalila Chronicles, #3)

Release Date: 2/04/20

Publisher: Mantle Rock Publishing

Back cover blurb:

Sam’s parents asked him to do the unthinkable:
And it cost him everything.

When Sam Hart was forced to walk away from everything and everyone he knew, The Kalila became his new home. He thought he could keep the past buried but after an unexpected visit from his brother, a family secret is revealed.

Already reeling from a murder of one of their own, an unimaginable chain of events leaves everyone questioning each other’s loyalty. Will Sam, Viktor, and Matthias be able to stop this newest threat before they lose another?

Bio:

Erin R. Howard is a Developmental Editor, YA Urban Fantasy Author of The Kalila Chronicles, and has earned a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing/English from Southern New Hampshire University. When she’s not writing, Erin enjoys spending time with her family, fueling her craft addictions, and teaching writing workshops. Erin is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and the KenTen Writers Group. She resides in Western Kentucky with her husband and three children.

Social Media:

Website: https://erinrhoward.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/E.R.H.Fiction/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ErinRHoward

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/erinrhoward/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/erinrhoward/

Newsletter: https://landing.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/z6w4q4

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEiu-jq-KE-VMIjbtmGLbJA Purchase link: https://www.amazon.com/Silencer-Kalila-Chronicles-Book-ebook/dp/B08361WNND

Write Stuff Wednesday with Michelle De Bruin

Michelle De Bruin reflects on the writing of L.M. Montgomery

The quote I am sharing today comes from the book, The Blue Castle. This book is one of my favorites. It was first published in 1926 by L.M. Montgomery, the Canadian author of the Anne of Green Gables series. Here is the quote from the book where we get a chance to see the world from the perspective of the heroine, Valancy Stirling:

Valancy was happy, gloriously and entirely so. She seemed to be living in a wonderful house of life and every day opened a new, mysterious room. It was in a world which had nothing in common with the one she had left behind, a world where time was not—which was young with immortal youth—where there was neither past nor future but only the present. She surrendered herself utterly to the charm of it.

The book is about Valancy who is a member of a large family clan. They are respectable, but stuffy. Their values and philosophies are left over from the Victorian era. Valancy has always been looked down upon and subdued by her family. She reaches her twenty-ninth birthday and also receives some bad news about her health. She has one year to live so takes the risk of leaving home and living her life the way she wants to live it and not according to the expectations of her snobbish clan. In the end, Valancy is pleasantly surprised in her choice of a husband and goes on to live a beautiful life of romance and freedom.

The story of Valancy is appealing because we all dream dreams and struggle against forces and attitudes that get in the way of them coming true. Even though it is fiction, The Blue Castle proves that dreams do come true, and we can help that happen by taking a stand for our values and being true to ourselves like Valancy did.

Meet Michelle: Michelle De Bruin lives in Iowa with her husband and two teenage sons. She has a bachelor’s degree in Religion with a Christian Ministry emphasis, and in Music. Michelle is the spiritual services provider for an organization that offers services for people with mental and physical disabilities. She has been a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) since 2015. Michelle writes inspirational historical romance about people who live in rural communities. Characters that bring to life the delights of farm and small-town living, whispers of Dutch heritage, and Christian faith make Michelle’s stories distinct. A romantic at heart, Michelle is always on the lookout for glimpses of God’s love through the window of a good story. Her first book, Hope for Tomorrow, released in 2018. The sequel, Promise for Tomorrow, released November 2019.

Faith’s Journey on Tour

I’m excited to announce Faith’s Journey is on its first blog tour with Celebrate Lit. I’ll admit I’m also a bit nervous. Why? Authors know reviews are critical in getting the word out about their books, but we also know not every book is a perfect fit for every reader.

We love to hear from readers who have connected with the stories we write. Hearing how our characters encouraged readers in their own struggles is amazing. The ministry element of our writing is meant to encourage and challenge people in their faith. Those good reviews give us a tiny glimpse into how God may be using the story to touch others. Do we have to have that glimpse? No. We can trust that if we’re doing what we feel God would have us do, He will also use it in the way He deems best. But it’s still kind of nice to hear sometimes.

On the other side of that is hearing the negative. Authors pour their heart into each work. Knowing that everyone has different tastes and not everyone will like what we’ve worked so hard to create doesn’t erase the sting when the negative reviews come in. It helps keep everything in proper perspective, but there’s still that little bit of let down. If it’s a particularly harsh review, bashing instead of offering constructive criticism or acknowledging it’s just not their cup of tea, it may bring more than a little let down. I know authors who refuse to read reviews for this reason.

Opening up your work to a blog tour is exciting, but nerve-wracking. It puts your work in front of a wider audience. That’s great. Authors need to be seen to be read. But the reviewers can say what they want, good or bad. That unknown part of the process is where the nerves come from. Will I let that stop me from enjoying this opportunity? Absolutely not. I’ll read and share each day’s post on my social media. And I’ll work to put all the comments, good or not so good, into perspective knowing I’m blessed to do what I’m passionate about regardless of how others respond to it.

If you’d like to join me in seeing what each new days brings, check out the link below. It lists all the blog stops for the tour and the days each stop takes place. Plus, you can enter to win my Cozy Winter Nights reading prize pack. There’s nothing better than a warm blanket, chocolate, teas and hot cocoa, and a new book (in the form of a $15 Amazon gift card to let you choose the right book for you!).

http://www.celebratelit.com/faithsjourney/

What I’m Reading: The Cupcake Dilemma

My husband and I drive to Cape Girardeau, Missouri once every couple months to eat at our new favorite restaurant. It’s an Irish pub with a fun atmosphere and great food, but that’s beside the point. One of the last times we went there, I ordered dessert. I never order dessert at restaurants because I’m always too full. But this time, I purposefully saved room.

I ordered bread pudding. I’d never had bread pudding before and had no idea what to expect. Bread and pudding in the same sentence don’t sound appetizing, much less putting them in the same dessert! But something intrigued me about it, and I decided to take the risk.

I may take more risks in the future. My first bite of this warm, rich dessert was filled with cinnamony goodness. Fall exploded on my tongue, and it was a beautiful thing. Adding caramel ice cream to hot bread pudding added to the perfection. I think I heard angels singing. It was that good.

It’s amazing when you find a dessert like that bread pudding, but equally (if not more) amazing is finding a book like that. A story that grabs your attention from the first page and invites you to dive in and keep reading until you reach the end. A story that’s sweet and fun and balanced and leaves you with a good feeling at the end. (And as a bonus, they leave you without the uncomfortable fullness that comes with indulging in decadent desserts!)

I had the pleasure of devouring one of these special books just a few days ago. The Cupcake Dilemma: A Rock Creek Romance Novella by Jennifer Rodewald grabbed my attention with a great presentation. The cover is simple and cute and the idea that the book would contain cupcakes added to my interest. Then, I read the first line.

Wow! It wasn’t profound. It wasn’t a poetically written description of some far off place that painted a perfect Monet in my mind. It was sassy and fun and set the tone for the story to come. It made me dive in, and I didn’t come up for air until I reached the last page.

I’m not usually a fan of first person story telling, but Jennifer Rodewald does it so well in this book I forgot it was done that way as I was reading. Kirstin Hill is funny and sassy and in completely over her head when she’s assigned to bring cupcakes to the town’s Valentine’s Day barn dance.

She’s a great teacher, but Kirstin is a kitchen nightmare. And she’s struggling to find her place as the new girl in town, only adding to the pressure to provide perfect desserts. Enter Ian Connealy, baker at and owner of Sweet Tooth Bakery.

Ian wows the entire town with his sweet creations. Kirstin’s been wowed by them since she moved to town. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that in addition to being a superstar bakers, Ian is gorgeous. Plus, he’s willing to help with Kirstin’s cupcake dilema, if she’ll agree to his terms.

The story is full of frosting, friendship, flirting, and fun. And it leaves readers with that “just tried the most decadent dessert” feeling without the need to head to the gym.

What I’m Reading: Lane Steen

I admit I shed a few tears the first time I listened to Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s rock opera, Beethoven’s Last Night. When Mephistopheles strikes a bargain with Beethoven to give up one piece of the music he’s created in exchange for his soul, Beethoven rants at Fate for having left him with this awful choice after the lifetime of hurts he’s already faced. She allows him to revisit scenes from his past and erase their pain from his life. But the hurts, disappointments, and losses sprinkled throughout his memories aren’t what moved me.

After reliving each painful experience, Beethoven makes his choice. As he sings “This is Who You Are”, it becomes clear. Beethoven can’t erase any of his past without erasing the beautiful music created from the things he experienced. One event changed in his past would change everything else about his life. He chose to keep the pain so the world would not lose the beauty drawn out of it. It’s a choice that probably hits close to home for many of us as we consider the mistakes and hurts of our own lives.

I imagine it’s a theme that played throughout Lane’s life in Lane Steen by Candace West.  Before she was out of her teenage years, Lane Steen’s life held enough hurts to fill ten people with the ache to erase the past. Raised in a shack on the outskirts of town was enough to make Lane feel like an outcast without adding in her tattered clothes and father’s bad reputation. Even those paled in comparison to the horror of living with an alcoholic father who didn’t need the addition of alcohol to make him physically and verbally abusive to his wife and daughter. With her own mother being emotionally disconnected from her, the only bright spots in her life are school and her friendships with Tabitha, Guy, and the new teacher who encourages Lane to find what she’s good at and pursue it.

Even these gifts in her life don’t lessen the hurt she feels or take away the hate Lane has for her father. Her only thoughts are to escape the town and her family and never look back. As opportunities open up small windows of hope into Lane’s life, Lane begins to wrestle with the possibility that God is there and, despite her awful circumstances, He may care about her.  

Lane takes a journey of self and faith discovery through the story. Each secret revealed about herself and her family’s past gives her more understanding. Lane learns what brings her joy and purpose. She finds out how healing God’s forgiveness and love can be to receive, and she is confronted with the need to extend that forgiveness and love to others. Lane’s eyes and heart are opened to what it really means to love someone and let them love in return. And she struggles to define what forgiveness should look like on a daily basis as she tries to move forward from the damage caused by others in her life. Lane had to learn how to let the past shape her without allowing it to trap her in a world of hate and retribution.

Whether it’s in the fictional world of Lane Steen or in our sometimes all too real lives, the past plays its part in who people become. Good and bad circumstances influence our outlooks, decisions, and emotions. Left on our own, we often turn to unhealthy ways of dealing with the past. We, like Lane, attach ourselves to ideas of retribution, hate, or despair.

It doesn’t have to be this way. God’s word offers hope that as we’ve been forgiven, we can forgive others whether they deserve it or not.  They don’t even have to accept it. We find freedom in ourselves to move into a better place when we choose forgiveness.

Scripture promises us that while the hurts may not fall away, God can grow good things in us despite and even through the pain. God assures us He will never leave us. When we feel we are all alone, we can cling to this promise and know that feeling is not from Him. He’s there to provide strength, encouragement, and direction in the middle of our hurts.

Navigating our pasts to become God’s best for us in the present and future isn’t an easy path. And it’s relevance in our lives is what makes Lane Steen’s fictional story resonate even if your pains are very different from hers. But coming to the places of acceptance of our pasts, forgiveness for those who hurt us, and allowing God to work in us will bring us to the place where we can be everything we were created to be.

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