Top Ten Tuesday

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Do you have books that you return to over and over when you need a pick-me-up? The ones that always come through with good stories and an uplifting message? I don't really have specific books so much as specific authors who fit this bill, and generally they fall into two different genres: Christian Westerns or Classic Children's Literature. Keep reading to find out more!

Christian Westerns

Stephen Bly  Stephen Bly
I grew up reading Stephen Bly books, and therefore they bring back really great memories each time I revisit them. My father used to read them aloud to us, which adds another special layer to my recollections, as he is no longer with us to share these kinds of moments.

Regina Jennings  Regina Jennings
Regina's books sometimes remind me of Stephen Bly stories, but that's only one reason I like them! They are laugh-out-loud funny with characters you wish would come off the page so you can be friends with them. Plus Regina is a really cool person, as I can attest in multiple ways!

Karen Witemeyer  Karen Witemeyer
Characters you can root for, plots that make you think as well as being entertaining - those are two things I like about Karen's stories. Just like the above two authors, Karen weaves in plenty of humor. She also runs a rocking fan group, and it's easy to see how much she enjoys her readers.

Classic Children's Literature

Little House on the Prairie  Laura Ingalls Wilder 
Little House on the Prairie is another set of books I can remember my parents reading to us. These charming stories of Laura, Mary, Carrie, Ma, and Pa just seem to become part of our own history when we read them when we're young. 

Anne of Green Gables  Lucy Maud Montgomery
Ahh, who doesn't love redheaded Anne Shirley and her imagination-fueled adventures? These stories never fail to be delightful, even when they pull on your heartstrings. I do love Anne, but I have to admit I might like her daughter Rilla even more. There's no need for a contest, though - I'll keep rereading both!

Girl of the Limberlost  Gene Stratton-Porter
She doesn't quite fit under Children's Literature, but Gene Stratton-Porter wrote some really good stories about young adults trying to make the best out of difficult life circumstances. It's the kind of spirit that encourages you to keep going and become the kind of heroine you would be proud to read about on the page.

Find more Top Ten Tuesday posts at That Artsy Reader Girl.
 A.W. Tozer

I love the writings of A.W. Tozer. They have been personally meaningful to me in the past, so I was immediately interested when I saw that Bethany House was putting out a new compilation of his sermons. When I saw the subtitle for this book was "Finding and following God's will for your life," I had a feeling deep down that this could be a 'for such a time as this' book in my life, and that proved to be true in more ways than expected.

Tozer preached this series of sermons as God began leading him to leave his prosperous Chicago church to take a smaller pastorate in Toronto. These messages sprang from his own desire to follow God's will, and some of my favorite quotes from the book reflect on how God prepares us for His will, makes a way for us, and provides faithfully for everything He ordains. Our responsibilities are to keep ourselves close to God and to obey even when we can only see the next step. God doesn't ask us to understand the whole plan - He asks us to trust, walk in faith, and to receive His blessings. The way may not be easy, and is often incredibly difficult and leads us to destinations that we did not expect, but following Him allows for a life which can be rich in peace and joy despite the trials.

There were a few things Tozer touched upon which were new concepts to me, or at least phrased in ways I understood in a clearer light, and I've been mulling them over and discussing them with friends. One of them is the fact that God's grace is not about us and our weaknesses, it's about Him and His character. "What God has for us not based on who we are, but rather on who He is" (Chapter 8). Another section talks about our enemies, and how our enemies are no obstacle in God's eyes. In fact, they are opportunities for Him to work especially in our behalf! "...When I see my enemy from God's point of view, my heart is filled with rejoicing because that enemy only reveals to me the amazing grace of God in my life" (Chapter 11).

I thought a pivotal part of the book was when Tozer discusses belief versus unbelief. We can believe in God's power and His blessings and still not believe they are for us, for our specific lives. "God is the God of today and tomorrow as well as yesterday. However, to most Christians, God is the God of yesterday alone. They believe in everything that was but cannot rise to believe for today, let alone tomorrow" (page 121). Oh, that is so true! As Tozer says in Chapter 5, "If God said it, then it must be true, and if it's true, then it's true now, and if it's true for someone else, it's also true for me."

Reading this book brought strength to my life and faith. It sparked worship and refreshment in my spirit. Even writing this review has brought Chris Tomlin's song "Good Good Father" to mind, because Tozer really does focus on our wonderful almighty God who will lead us with the cloud and fire if only we will keep our hearts turned to Him. I would recommend this book for believers everywhere.

I received my copy of the book from the publisher. All opinions in this review are my own.

 Up From The Sea

If you enjoy stories with a vintage feel, debut author Amanda Dykes is one to add to your list. The tone of this story reminded me of early twentieth century writers like Eleanor Porter and Maud Hart Lovelace, which is a very positive connotation!

The year is 1925 and Savannah Mae Thorpe comes to live with her wealthy aunt and uncle after the death of her parents. Though she is nearly old enough to claim her mother's land as an inheritance, her uncle threatens to sell it and invest the money. When Savannah declares she can find more value in the land, he insists that she prove it. With the help of a quiet young lumberjack, Savannah faces the mountain with a heart to discover her personal history and unravel a local legend that stretches back to the Revolutionary War.

Weaving in the true account of the King's pines, Amanda Dykes gives us a story about family, honor, and atonement. I only wished this prequel novella was longer, but that means it did its job! I eagerly await the release of Whose Waves These Are coming later this month.
Top Ten Tuesday

Have you ever done anything truly outrageous for the love of books? I feel like I'm fairly ordinary when it comes to my book-loving ways - well, except perhaps for my Well-Read Llama posts - so I polled some friends, and between their recollections and my own I was able to round up ten things that we do *just* for the love of books. Whether they truly qualify as outrageous I'll let you decide. 😉

1. Lost sleep due to excitement
I don't get to go to a brick and mortar bookstore very often. Sometimes, on the nights before a visit is planned, I can't sleep because I'm too excited about the possibility of finding treasures the next day!

2. Before the days of Amazon pre-order deliveries
My friend Robin says she used to "get up real early the morning of a new release to go and buy it...but that’s not as outrageous, in my opinion, as the people who went to the bookstore at midnight! I think it was about 6:00 a.m. for me."

3. First in line
On a similar note, I've stayed up past my bedtime to select a new release for review the moment it becomes available from the publisher. Sometimes all the paperback copies are already requested if you wait until morning!

4. Must have been a good one!
My friend Susan reports that she has stayed up until 5 a.m. reading. Who needs sleep when you've got a good book in your hands?

5. Would you like fries with that?
We all know to take books with us if we anticipate any wait time at all. I don't get fast food often, but when I do, I always take a book to read while in the drive-thru. I don't like to miss a minute of reading time! 😉

6. Cleansing my palate
It's usually a fun thing when a book you enjoy gets made into a movie. But what if it's a horrible adaptation? I once saw a movie version of a beloved classic novel that was so awful I had to immediately begin rereading the book to wash away the negative impressions the film had left.

7. Using those muscles
Last year several of my favorite authors were in my town for a writing retreat, and they put together a book signing event. Between the six authors present, I owned 30 paperback books they had written (and had several more on my Kindle!). I bagged up those 30 books and took every single one to be signed - and refused to be embarrassed about it, especially when it meant so much for the authors to see me lugging them in!

8. Now that's a lot of books!
My friend Abigail used to buy and resell books online. "I have bought literally hundreds of books at a time before... I think the most I ever bought in one day was close to 800. So fun. 🙂" Wow!

9. When sharing is not caring
There's a family legend that says once upon a time my paternal grandparents were so caught up in a book that neither one wanted to put it down. In order to read it almost simultaneously, one would speed through a page, rip it out, and hand it to the other - over and over until they got to the end! I'm not sure why they had to destroy the book instead of coming up with a holistic solution like reading it aloud, but it makes for quite a story!

10. Making it personal

There's one book that meant so much to me when I read it that I bought a personal hardback copy and wrote my own forward on the flyleaf. That book is always going to have a special place in my heart and on my favorites shelf!

Find more Top Ten Tuesday posts at That Artsy Reader Girl.
The Sky Above Us 

Violet Lindstrom is committed to going to the mission field. A broken engagement and a world war have stalled her plans, but a heart to serve has led her to join the Red Cross and hopefully minister to British children who have been evacuated to the countryside. Dismayed to discover her plans are once again thwarted and she's been assigned to run an Aeroclub for American pilots, Violet struggles to see the men as more than a disruption and a poor substitute to her true calling.

Like his brother, whom we met in The Sea Before Us, Adler Paxton is estranged from his family. Having betrayed everyone he loves, Adler's personal ambition drives him to become an ace pilot. Assigned to be a wingman instead, he struggles to accept his place - just as he has his whole life. He's refused to acknowledge the pain that came with his fiancee's death and his subsequent actions towards his family, but caring friends and God's work in his heart prompt Adler to open up and wrestle with the Almighty just like Jacob of old.

There's a thief among the Aeroclub volunteers, and Violet may lose her job - and any hope of a mission board accepting her - if she can't prove that she's not the one selling Red Cross supplies on the black market. Meanwhile a tall Texas gentleman with a tortured past has caught her eye and become the friend she needs during this difficult assignment. If only she can help him as he confronts his personal demons and comes face to face with the consequences of his actions. Is there hope for a Paxton family reconciliation? Violet wants to see Adler become whole again.

Dreams, ambitions, failures, and faults are on full display in this second book in Sarah Sundin's Sunrise at Normandy series. You'll ache and cry with the heartaches faced, and worry about the safety of Violet, Adler, and the others at Leiston Army Airfield. This is another spectacularly written, well-researched WWII novel from one of my favorite authors. I can hardly wait to see how this series concludes when The Land Beneath Us releases next year!
 Top Ten Tuesday

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I love to read! And though my To Be Read stack never seems to get smaller, I'm always looking for more stories. Here are nine things I consider before committing to a book.

1. The Author
Any books released by my favorite authors go straight to the top of my list. If I start hearing a lot of buzz about a new author I will also be intrigued and more likely to try their work.

2. Cover Art
I'm not ashamed to admit that I do judge books by their covers. If you can tell that not a lot of thought went to the front of a book, it tends to be a good indication of what you can find inside.

3. Recommendations from Friends or Trusted Sources
There are certain people I know or follow who have similar reading tastes to my own, so if they liked a story I will keep that in mind for the future.

4. Bad Reviews on Amazon
It's true -- if a book has caught my eye, I go straight to those 1- and 2-star reviews to find out more. Why? They tend to be written by real and honest readers. I hate writing bad reviews, as does every reviewer I know! So if someone went to the mental anguish to compose a post about why they didn't like a title, that's worth paying attention to. Sometimes they will mention something that I know would bother me, but other times there is nothing that I find objectionable. If there are zero bad reviews, it could mean the book is too recently released to have found an audience beyond the author's family members or friends, and that also needs to be kept in mind.

5. The Publisher
I do pay attention to publishers. Some publishing houses have earned my trust, while others have earned side-eyes. I am also very hesitant to try a self-published book unless these other factors I've listed above are in its favor. I usually regret it otherwise. That said, once I have a good experience or two with an author who self-publishes, I will be a loyal follower.

6. What's The Hook?

If I'm still trying to make up my mind, there's always the opportunity to read the book's blurb to see what it will be about. Is there a unique and intriguing premise, or does it sound pretty boring and similar to any old plot out there? 

7. Genre
Everyone has their favorite genres, and I am no exception. In order to avoid an unpleasant reading experience and having to write an agonizing bad review, I steer clear of the genres I know I don't care for.

8. Setting
A story that is set in a time period or location I enjoy - or one which I'd like to learn more about - is one I'll be much more likely to pick up. 

9. Price
Okay, let's be honest - if a book is on ebook promotion or paperback clearance, that alone isn't enough to get me to buy it, but it will cause me to check out the above qualifications more closely. That's why some authors have a permanently free book or two (often the first book in a series), or take part in programs like Kindle Unlimited. They want readers to give them a chance. Good books are worth full price, and supporting authors is important. If you do take advantage of deals (and we all do!), try to give back by posting honest reviews, and if you liked the book, follow and promote the author as you can. They'll appreciate you and be reminded why they go to the effort of writing these books in the first place! 😊

Find more Top Ten Tuesday posts at That Artsy Reader Girl.
 Shelter of the Most High

I recently read my first Connilyn Cosette book - and I was hooked! I was thrilled to read this second book in her Cities of Refuge series, and now eagerly await the third one coming out in July. 

Sofea was captured from her home across the Mediterranean Sea when marauders raided their coastal village. She, along with her cousin Prezi, are the only known survivors of the attack. The two girls manage to escape from the pirate ship and wash ashore a Canaanite beach, where they are found by Israelite spies and brought to the refuge city of Kedesh.

Unable to speak the Hebrew language, Sofea and Prezi make assumptions about the Israelites based on the lives they knew on the island of Sicily. Sofea's father was the priest of their people, which further shapes her thinking as she learns of the Hebrews' devotion to their One God. The ways they mistake or misunderstand customs adds a very natural feeling to the story.

Although he is not technically confined within the borders of Kedesh, Eitan is nevertheless bound by actions and promises made when he was a child. He wants to be a soldier and help Israel establish itself in these final years of leader Joshua's life, and eventually he is able to take part in training exercises. A need to be free of his past thunders through his veins.

Danger lurks in this city of refuge - some seen, some unseen. There are people wanting to destroy Eitan and his family, and they are willing to use his growing fondness for Sofea to get to him. Twists and turns mark their paths, and difficult decisions must be made. Cossette once again uses this unique time frame and setting to bring us a wonderful story of hope and redemption. 

If you enjoyed "A Light on the Hill," you'll be happy to know the characters of Moriyah and Darek play large secondary roles in this novel. That was a fun bonus for this reader. I would highly recommend this author to anyone who enjoys Biblical fiction, or would like to add Biblical fiction to their reading repertoire.
When Life Doesn't Match Your Dreams 

Jill Eileen Smith is a well-known writer of Biblical fiction, though somehow I have missed reading her books thus far. Unmatched dreams, though -- now that's something I'm more familiar with. Like most Christian women, I've read plenty about the ladies in the Bible, but something about this book seemed a little different. For one, Smith picks women from early in the Old Testament -- all these women come from either Genesis or Exodus. I don't know about you, but for all I've seen on the more popular Biblical women, I've never read anything that included an in-depth look at the wives of Lot or Potiphar. Hmm!

In another unique twist, Smith includes portions in each chapter when she dives into first-person fictional slices of that woman's life. This really sets the scene and gets you thinking about these stories in ways you might not have before. How willing a participant was Leah in tricking Jacob to marry her? What went through the mind of Lot's wife as she hosted the men who predicted the destruction of her city? These are questions for which we'll never know the answer, but Smith does an excellent job drawing out each woman's voice and perspective on the way things might have been.

I hadn't even reached the end of the first chapter before I began collecting quotes form this book. The first one I wrote down? "The details of our hurts don't matter so much as the fact that we have them." Ooh, that is good! I kept writing them down all throughout the book. Another of my favorites came from Chapter 8: "Never be afraid to ask for grace."

Two chapters in this book that really spoke to me were the ones on Hagar and Leah, women who went through a great deal of pain and were despised for various reasons. All the chapters were really good, and the truths on display are applicable to today's world. I'd recommend this for women everywhere, especially those in need of knowing they are not alone in whatever they may be facing. The women of the Bible were just as real as you and me, and the God who was involved in their lives is the One who cares for us even now.

I received my copy of the book from the publisher. All opinions in this review are my own.
Castle on the Rise

Kristy Cambron's Lost Castle series continues with this Ireland-inspired tale. Like the first book in the series, this is a split-time novel featuring three separate timelines, characters, and plots. In the late 1700s our heroine is Maeve, largely running her family's estate and trying to be a generous mistress, including rescuing strangers who are found wounded in nearby fields. The middle storyline focuses on the 1916 Easter Rising, with young photographer Issy wanting to join the fight for freedom. Our current day setting brings us Laine, a hurting divorcee with a small daughter whose unplanned visit to Ireland may end up bringing hope and healing to both of them.

Having found the timeline in "The Lost Castle" confusing to follow, "Castle on the Rise" is truly refreshing in its straightforward chronology. The historical stories grabbed me right away, and I also felt for Laine and the burden of the secrets she was keeping.

However, much like the first book, I felt too much was lost trying to pack three stories into one. I love learning history through fiction, but it seemed the rebellions of 1798 and 1916 as Cambron tried to describe them lacked context, and the real life people and places lacked impact because they were not developed enough on the page. I felt Issy's story was the strongest and that I could have gathered so much more of Ireland's struggle if only it had a chance to truly grow and blossom here.

My other main complaint was that even basic conversations were difficult to follow because none of the characters' motivations were very clear. I often had no idea why any two characters would be having the conversations as presented in the story.

It is clear that Cambron loves Ireland and wished to honor this country and its fight for freedom. Her description of the location were beautifully done. Perhaps other readers would be able to enjoy the split-time approach more than I this time.

I review for BookLook Bloggers

I received my copy of the book from the publisher. All opinions in this review are my own.

Top Ten Tuesday

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One of my favorite things to do is curl up with a good movie or miniseries that is based on a classic story. It's not often that I take time to watch them, but the good thing is that if you have the soundtrack you can listen to them anywhere! It doesn't matter if you're doing housework or driving in the car, you can follow along with beloved stories as the soundtrack plays. Below are some that I go back to time and again.

EmmaEmma (2009)
My favorite Jane Austen adaptation - largely because Mr. Knightley is The Best Ever. One of my favorites:
The Seaside

Les Miserables
Les Miserables (2012)
Redemption. Sacrifice. Love. Liberty. "My soul belongs to God... He gave me hope when hope was gone." One of my favorites:
Who Am I

Sense & SensibilitySense & Sensibility (1995)
This isn't my favorite version of the movie, but it has the loveliest music. One of my favorites:
My Father's Favorite

Anne of Green GablesAnne of Green Gables (1985)
The music alone makes me feel nostalgic and weepy - but in a good way! One of my favorites:
Anne's Theme

Phantom of the OperaPhantom of the Opera (2004)
It's not just a stage play - I've read the 1910 book by Gaston Leroux. The movie is better! One of my favorites:
All I Ask Of You

North & South
  North & South (2004)
The music can be on the melancholy side, but this is such a good story! One of my favorites:
Mr. Thornton's Walk

Pride & PrejudicePride &
Prejudice (1995)
The veritable music of my teenage years. That piano! Those horns! One of my favorites:
Opening Title Music

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That Artsy Reader Girl.
Top Ten Tuesday

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Like most readers, my To Be Read stack is tall and impressive. While I generally have an idea what I'll be reading next, this list is just an approximation. It doesn't include books I've finished but haven't yet reviewed or books I'm currently reading, so it may be a while before these actual titles appear as reviews on this blog. You'll have to stay tuned! Meanwhile, here are the ones I'm most anxious to get into soon:

Sky Above Us  "The Sky Above Us" by Sarah Sundin 
I love Sarah Sundin, and her latest release has garnered a lot of praise -- which is not a surprise to this reader! I can hardly wait to check it out for myself.

Shelter of the Most High  "Shelter of the Most High" by Connilyn Cossette
I really enjoyed the first book in Cossette's Cities of Refuge series, and I am anticipating catching this second one before the third releases this summer.

Twist of Faith  "A Twist of Faith" by Pepper Basham
Still a new reader of Basham's books, I've got a couple older releases on my radar for the upcoming months.

Tozer Cloud By Day  "A Cloud By Day, A Fire By Night" by A.W. Tozer
This brand new Tozer release is a collection of his sermons on the topic of finding God's will for your life. I have always appreciated Tozer's works, and this one seems timely for me.

Governess of Penwythe Hall  "The Governess of Penwythe Hall" by Sarah E. Ladd
I've followed Sarah E. Ladd since her debut novel, and now her 8th book (and the start of a brand new series!) is about to hit the shelves. I'm sure it will be great!

Find more Top Ten Tuesday posts at 
That Artsy Reader Girl.
Her Hope Discovered 

Raised with wealth and privilege, Charla Winthrop has tried to live up to her prestigious last name. She quickly found that wealth did not equal peace, nor did business success relate to personal fulfillment. Having visited the Ozarks for a developmental project and being drawn to its charm, Charla decides to make a fresh start of her life. She lands in the charming small town of Ruby, Missouri, and quickly makes friends with the local citizens.

Sam Packard lost his wife more than three years ago and has begun praying that God would send someone who could share his life and help him raise his daughters. When he meets the lovely new stranger he wonders if she could be the answer to his prayer. 

Excited to discover new passions and get to know who she is apart from the things that have controlled her in the past, Charla eagerly embraces the new things and people in her life. Is it too soon to be attracted to helpful handyman Sam and his lovable little girls? Charla must navigate her budding dreams, the expectations of herself and others, and contentious family relationships in order to find out who she is supposed to be.

I don't read a lot of contemporary romance, and while I enjoyed this story, I feel like true fans of the genre would be even more enchanted by it. I'm also not a fan of several of the tropes used within the plot, which isn't the book's fault at all. I do love small town stories, and this one was especially fun because I live in the Missouri Ozarks myself and get to experience the down home charm every day. It's a wonderful part of the country.

I'd recommend this for everyone who loves cozy contemporary romance, and I look forward to more books as Herron's Welcome To Ruby series continues.
Stray Drop of Blood 

I have so enjoyed Roseanna M. White's recent releases that I've slowly been making my way through her earlier works. I was not entirely sure what to expect with "A Stray Drop of Blood," but that was okay - once I got into the novel, every time I thought I had figured out what would happen next I was always wrong! That's some strong storytelling right there.

Our heroine is Abigail, a young Hebrew slave who lives in Jerusalem. Her mistress is also Hebrew, while the master is a Roman soldier who believes in the One True God. Despite being a slave, Abigail is treated more like a daughter, loved and educated throughout her upbringing.

Things shift drastically when the master's son Jason returns from Rome, having been away for several years. Seeing Abigail's beauty, he believes he must have her for himself, no matter the cost to Abigail or his parents.

Tensions run high in Jerusalem as the words of the teacher Jesus are much reported, and Barabbas wreaks havoc in the streets as he leads an uprising. From the fateful Passover day that changed the course of the world to the beginning of the church in Rome, Abigail's tumultuous journey will keep you glued to the pages.

This book does not shy away from the debauchery of the times, so I would not recommend it for readers under 18 years of age. If sexual assault or abuse is a trigger I would also caution readers to look elsewhere. For a technical note on the writing, I found the vast number of point of view characters to be a different approach. In general I do not prefer to have so many come and go, though it helped with the suspense of never knowing which direction this story would turn. Overall this book was quite reminiscent of a classic story I loved as a teenager: "The Robe" by Lloyd C. Douglas. I would recommend "A Stray Drop of Blood" for adult readers who enjoy Biblical fiction or looking into life as it might have been at the time of Jesus.
Tracy Joy Jones

I first heard of Tracy Joy Jones in December 2017, when Tracy began offering a free Christmas novella to her newsletter subscribers. Recommended by none other than the fabulous Melissa Tagg, it was an easy choice to check out Tracy's story. I'm glad I did!! Now about 15 months later, I've read five of Tracy's novellas and not only am I a fan of her work, she's become a friend as well. Her novellas are sweet and funny while touching on deeper emotions that resonate within readers. Now that Tracy is beginning to release her books on Amazon, I asked her if she would drop by for an interview and let us get to know her a bit.

Q: Welcome, Tracy! I have loved your Mayberry Family novellas! Can you introduce the Mayberrys to those who might not have met them yet?

How Gretchen Stole Christmas A: Hi Erin, thank you so much for having me! I would love to introduce you to the Mayberry Family. I first met them the month before Christmas in 2017 when I had a crazy idea for a comedic story that just wouldn’t let go of me. The first person I met in that journey was the oldest daughter Gretchen, who arrives home from college to find a Santa look-alike climbing in her little sister’s bedroom window. Suspecting the perfect disguise for a burglar, she goes into attack mode and is horrified to discover she’s just rendered her ex-boyfriend unconscious.

I think I was surprised as anyone when TEN siblings poured out of the family home to go investigate the unconscious Santa! How was I ever going to keep up with them? One of my dearest friends in the world has ten siblings, and after years and years of listening to her wonderful and often hysterical stories, I got to live in the middle of my very own “imaginary” large family and loved every minute.

From there, we met the second oldest of the family, Amelia, in my second novella, “Unlucky in Love & Lyrics." When I first started writing Amelia, I knew immediately that I was going to love her. She grows so much through the stories, but I can’t help feeling that her story isn’t finished. Especially as it relates to her yummy drummer boyfriend, Zeke.

Q: The Mayberry novellas all take place around various holidays. How did you come to choose those special times of year for a setting?

A: That’s a great question. I honestly have no idea! I think Valentine’s Day came too quickly to get a novella out after Christmas, and I had this crazy idea to meet the family throughout the year. My husband’s birthday is March 19th, so we usually make a big deal out of St. Patrick’s Day. From then it was just spacing them at a reasonable pace throughout the rest of the year.

Fourth of July ended up being a challenging one for me because my kids were out on summer break. I’ve never been completely been happy with the way Gretchen and Will’s disastrous engagement turned out. However, I’m working on a re-write that I’m so excited to release in a couple months. I think their story will finally reach where I wanted it to go.

And it’s funny because the next novella was "sort-of” a Halloween release. I’ll let you in on a little secret, I actually don’t celebrate Halloween. However, I’m passionate about all things to do with the Fall. With a house full of Mayberry children, it just felt like the natural place for a story. I do love the way the story ended up being something completely different than I first intended. Kayla’s story celebrates everything fall all in one delicious love-hate mix-up.

And then I ended the stories full circle with a Christmas wedding. If I had to do it over again, I would definitely get married around Christmas. Although definitely not on the actual day.

Q: Do you have a favorite holiday?

A: Surprise! Christmas. Hands down. I decorate everything that moves, and love every part of creating memories for my friends and family. Sometimes I feel guilty that I don’t make more of an effort on other holidays. However, I think so much of what makes it so delightful is that you’re trapped by the cold, your kids and loved ones are home with you, and it seems like we really snuggle into family moments together. We play more games, build puzzles, and there is so much theme music to capture the memories. They say memories are bound by scent and taste and music, and I think that is what Christmas does better than any of the other holidays.

However, a very close second would be Groundhog’s Day, although for completely selfish reasons. It’s my birthday and always a big deal in our house. I decided to write
a new novella series this year centered around Groundhog’s Day, so maybe I’m just continuing the trend.

Q: What's next for the Mayberry family? You've mentioned the possibility of a full-length novel in the future. Can you give us any hints about that? (My guess is that it will be Amelia getting her own story!)

Unlucky in Love & Lyrics A: Yes!!!! Oh my goodness, I can’t wait. I can see the whole thing in my heart. When I wrote the last novella “A Very Mayberry Christmas” I was shocked that first of all, Zeke wasn’t there, and that secondly, Amelia was singing with someone else! What!?! I honestly didn’t know what to think about that development. My mom is one of my first-readers and called so mad at me. She hates tattoos but really loved Zeke.

“You better fix this,” she said.

And she’s right. I knew I had to fix it. I’m not sure exactly what format it will take, longer novella or full length book, but I can’t wait to “fix it” as my mom said. Amelia needs to do some more growing before she’s ready for the next part of her journey, but I can’t wait to be part of it and see her story come to life.

Q. Yay, I was right! I can't wait for this one to come together. What's up with the latest story that is available on your blog?

A: As I mentioned earlier, I get really excited about Groundhog’s Day because of my birthday. However, this year I had a strange kind of birthday. I was sad, and I’m not often sad. I love to travel, and we were home. It was freezing cold and miserable, and I just found myself wishing I could be part of something. My imagination started running away with me and out came a story.

I could have just written it for myself, but I’ve had so much fun sharing my novellas over the past year, I decided to share this one as I write it. I have a whole wacky crew of characters planned for the story, and can’t wait to see how Eden Parrish grows through her time reliving the movie Groundhog’s Day.
A Beautiful Day Once isn’t what you think, but I think it will be a lot of fun to live it with her.

Q: Confession: I haven't started on A Beautiful Day Once because I'm waiting for more installments to binge read together. 🙂 Can you tell us a little about your writing journey so far?

A: My writing journey began with my reading journey. I love books. I re-read books. I devour books. But because I love them so dearly, I never imagined I could write. My first real story idea came just over three years ago. It's the story of a girl who lost her parents to tragedy, got trapped in grief, hid out on her grandmother’s front porch, and the boy and a nest of eagles that finally gets her to rediscover the world around her.

Anyway, I sat down to write that story, not knowing if I could even write or what it would be like and five weeks later, I’d written an 85,000 novel. I moved on to the second, and then the third in that series. At that point, I started attending writer’s conferences as a writer. My husband and I own a
graphic design company and we have the privilege of working with many other authors. Consequently, we’ve been in the writing world for years, but joining as a writer has been an entirely different journey.

I was advised by my agent that YA wasn’t the best place to start, so I wrote two more books for adults and started trying to find a home for some of the books I was writing. I spent the past year editing and pitching and writing proposals, and, of course, writing the Mayberry family series. To date, I still haven’t found a traditional publishing home for “Calamity Jenn” and “Bye Bye Bailey.” It’s been a bit of an interesting journey for me, but I think that is where having the outlet of my novellas has really helped. I write every single day, as much as I can. I decided a short time after I discovered writing as a passion, that I would write for the rest of my life, even if no one read it.

I’ve learned over the past year that having readers is lightyears better than your stories never being read. However, I will always write for the rest of my life. I’m still praying about the self-publishing road. I think it is the right fit for my novellas, but I haven’t made a final decision for my full-length books.

Q: Who are some of your favorite authors to read?

A: Oh goodness, who don’t I like? I read everything. I mean everything. Except for tear-jerker women’s fiction. I hate crying when I’m getting ready for bed or trying to get ready in the morning or cooking dinner. I just don’t want to do it. And if a story doesn’t have romance of some kind, I struggle. It doesn’t even have to be much. I love the Lord of the Rings, and there’s barely anything romantic in there, but at least it’s there.

In Christian fiction, it feels like I’m picking my favorite child. I love
Melissa Tagg to pieces. Both personally and as a writer, she’s delightful. I love Katherine Reay, especially her first book, "Dear Mr. Knightley." I love Kristi Ann Hunter, Susan May Warren, Joanne Bischoff, Denise Hunter. Kara Isaac and Jenny B. Jones make me laugh, which is one of my favorite things to do. And I adore “Lady Jane Disappears” by new author Joanna Davidson Politano. Such an unexpected read. In Biblical fiction, my dear friend Mesu Andrews rocks my world with every book she writes. She is releasing a new book this month, “Of Fire & Lions” on the life of Daniel. There are also classics I read every single year like “Jane Eyre,” “Keeper of the Bees,” “Pride & Prejudice,” “The Blue Sword,” and “The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society.”

Honestly, I could talk books forever. My favorite quote is by Pam Allyn and it says, “Reading is like breathing in, writing is like breathing out.” It fills my lungs just to write that.

Q: Where can readers find you online?

I touch base most days and am available on my author Facebook page:
You can also reach me on Instagram at:
I have Twitter, but I think I have too many words for Twitter. I agonize forever getting them down and usually give up. 😉
And of course on my website, If you join my newsletter, you’ll get to stay up to date with all of my writing journey and news. I’d love to have you along for the journey!

When Fireworks Fly
Thanks so much for having me, Erin. It’s been a joy to relive the Mayberrys' journey and I hope your readers will get the chance to meet the Mayberrys as well. “
How Gretchen Stole Christmas” and “Unlucky in Love & Lyrics” are now available on Amazon and the third novella “When Fireworks Fly” will be for sale by summer.

It's been a pleasure chatting with you, Tracy! Readers, check out Tracy's books at the links below, and be watching for more releases soon!

How Gretchen Stole Christmas          Unlucky in Love & Lyrics

Nothing made me realize how many series I read as trying to think of stand-alone books for this post! 🙂 I don't think about these sorts of things often, but it's true that my reading tends towards series. Also I find most stand-alones wrap things up well and don't leave me hanging, so that added another layer of complexity to finding selections. That said, I did come up with several books in whose company I would gladly linger if they continued into another story.

Lady and the Lionheart  "The Lady and the Lionheart" by Joanne Bischoff
This tale is full of emotional depth and is nearly allegorical. I'd love to know where life took these characters and how they continued finding hope and healing.

The Lacemaker  "The Lacemaker" by Laura Frantz
To hear Noble say "Anwylyd" one more time... 😍 These were lovely characters who knew a lot about sacrifice. I hope on the other side they built a lovely future!

Life After  "Life After" by Katie Ganshert
The sole survivor of a train bombing has to learn to embrace life again, and while one could see how things *might* have worked out for Autumn by the end of the book, I would have loved to read more!

Prelude for a Lord  "Prelude for a Lord" by Camille Elliot
I adored this Regency novel with a Dickensian vibe. It was never meant to be a stand-alone but its sequels never materialized. I was definitely hooked!

H2O  "H2O" by Austin Boyd and Brannon Hollingsworth
This was originally supposed to be the first in a series, too. It's a fascinating speculative story of a woman who begins having visions any time she comes into contact with water. Additional stories were to feature interactions with other basic elements of life. 

Find more Top Ten Tuesday posts at 
That Artsy Reader Girl.

Believe it or not, this Top Ten Tuesday topic was a little tough for me! I love reading, but usually I only think about trading places with a character in two situations: 1) If I *really* relate to them, or 2) If I really *don't* relate to them. Haha! Mostly I'm observing when I'm reading, not putting myself into the story's world. And since Characters I Relate To is actually an upcoming topic, I couldn't choose those characters for this one, so I gave it some thought and I did come up with a few whose shoes I wouldn't mind filling for a day or two. 🙂

Catherine Morland  Catherine Morland from "Northanger Abbey" by Jane Austen
I'm not even going to pretend - my main reason for wanting to trade places with Catherine has everything to do with the Austen hero from this story: Henry Tilney. 😍 I love his wit and his care for his family and friends.

Feather Trailer-Hobbs  Feather Trailer-Hobbs from The Lewis & Clark Squad Series by Stephen Bly
Feather is the only girl playing in a boys' 3-on-3 basketball league. She's got good friends and a budding faith. This is a great series for teens or preteens, and has been a personal favorite for more than 20 years. 

Elnora Comstock  Elnora Comstock from "A Girl of the Limberlost" by Gene Stratton-Porter
Her beautiful heart shining through every heartache, Elnora seems like an ideal woman. She handles life's challenges with ingenuity, hard work, and grace. She's also talented in many different ways!

Emily Webster  Emily Webster from "Emily of Deep Valley" by Maud Hart Lovelace
Emily knows about making sacrifices, about having to muster her wits when life doesn't go according to plan. She is a truly inspirational character while still being very real. 

Allie Kyle  Allie Kyle from "Flabbergasted" by Ray Blackston
She lives in an exotic location, she loves Jesus, and she maintains a level of cool while still being incredibly down-to-earth. Plus I'd love to see Jay Jarvis in real life - that would be a hoot!

Find more Top Ten Tuesday posts at 
That Artsy Reader Girl.
Until I Knew Myself

I’ve been wanting to try this author for a while, and I’ve seen a lot of positive reviews and recommendations for this series in particular. I dug in with much excitement when the first book crossed my path.

Tyler Mitchell feels like he’s missing part of himself. There are so many questions about his past, his family background. Raised only by his mother, he was alone in the world when she died when he was 16. Thankfully his best friend’s family took him in, but even nine years later he’s struggling with knowing who he is - the poor orphan or the adopted son of an affluent family. When he hears that his paternal grandfather, whom he never met, has died and left him his belongings, Tyler grasps at anything that might bridge this gulf he feels in his heart.

Gray has crafted a very realistic novel about hurting people and traps that we can fall into when our most vulnerable selves are crying out. This book did not seem like the first in a series, as the web of relationships was quite thick from the very beginning. Tyler’s quest to connect with his past causes quite a bit of tension among his friends and adopted family, and he wonders why they seem to stand against him finding answers.

I did take some issue with the fact that this is listed as inspirational fiction. There is only one character who I could tell was a Christian, and there was only one single conversation about God that came 75% of the way through the book. I felt the lack of faith content, and as a more conservative reader, I didn’t like the cursing, frequent drinking, or the way the characters who were supposedly best friends treated each other. There was a lot of tension, a lot of fighting, a lot of alternating anger and coldness. I was so turned off that I do not plan to read any more of this series, though I may check out some of Gray’s others in the future.

I can see people enjoying this book who like gritty fiction with a dose of real world problems.

The Warrior Maiden

Melanie Dickerson has brought us another exciting fairy tale retelling, and this time Mulan takes center stage! We're all familiar with the Disney version of the story, and perhaps you even know a bit about the original Chinese legend. Dickerson blends this well-known character with people and places from her Hagenheim series to form a delightful novel that her readers will love.

This Mulan has recently lost her distant and uncaring father, and, in order to save her mother's home, disguises herself as a man and takes her father's place in the army. They are marching to defend an ally against the attack of the evil Teutonic Knights. Her father's servant boy attends her, knowing she is a woman and helping guard that secret. He's no Mushu, but he plays a valuable role in helping Mulan.

Because she has training in archery, Mulan is able to fit in well when it comes to the shooting range, though she doesn't do so well in other fighting disciplines. When it is time for battle, her bravery comes as a surprise even to herself. Soon her name becomes synonymous with daring and courage.

I thought Dickerson did a good job balancing Mulan's femininity with the warrior aspect, and her unmasking made complete sense within the story, coming neither too soon nor being too drawn out. I enjoyed the hero and thought the conflicts he faced were well-drawn and natural. The way he is able to help her understand God as a loving Father was one of the highlights of the novel. One side character in particular will grab onto your heart, and I understand he's getting his own story in December, so I am very much looking forward to that!

I review for BookLook Bloggers

I received my copy of the book from the publisher. All thoughts in this review are my own.
 A Desperate Hope

Eloise Drake is one of the few female CPAs in 1908. She's sought all her life to belong, and finally in the ordered world of numbers and figures she can earn her own rightful place. Unfortunately, her competence has landed her in the path of the one man who could undo everything - Alex Duval,  whom she loved wholeheartedly when they were teenagers.

Now mayor of Duval Springs, Alex has been fighting for his town's survival. New York City needs water, and the State Water Board has declared eminent domain on the entire valley, intending to remove all structures and build a reservoir to meet their needs. When the experts and accounts descend upon the town to begin evaluating property and distributing payouts, Alex is shocked to see Eloise again. He has never stopped caring for her, despite the way her guardian forced an end to their relationship.

Alex is determined to save Duval Springs despite whatever the state may say, and Eloise is the only one who can help him. For her part, she always loved his big dreams and risk-taking personality. But is his wild idea truly something that can be accomplished, or merely a desperate hope that will end with the disillusionment of the entire community? Is it foolish to work closely with the man who stirs up so many feelings from the past?

Determination, inspiration, and a large dash of intrigue lead the way in Elizabeth Camden's new release. I love how she found three truly fascinating water-related tales and wove them together in this Empire State series. I would recommend this story to all historical fiction fans! Click for my reviews of Book One and Book Two.

I received my copy of the book from the publisher. All thoughts in this review are my own.

Books allow you to travel all over the world. Sometimes they will take you to places you've been, while others give you the desire to see new sights and experience new things all over the world - or even fictional lands! I was excited to see this topic come up for today because I had no trouble thinking up ten places, real or fictional, that I would love to visit.


Yosemite  Yosemite National Park - from
"Where The Fire Falls" by Karen Barnett
Not surprising if you read my review of this book, Yosemite captured my heart with the beauty displayed in Karen's novel.

Prince Edward Island Prince Edward Island - from
the "Anne of Green Gables" novels by Lucy Maud Montgomery
I'm not sure I've ever met a woman who didn't want to visit PEI after falling in love with Anne, Gilbert, Matthew, Marilla, Diana, and the Avonlea folk.

England England - from every book by
Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, Julie Klassen, Sarah E. Ladd, etc. etc. etc!

Like PEI, England is often a top tourist destination spot for those who love classic literature!

Pawleys Island The South Carolina coast - from
"Flabbergasted" by Ray Blackston

Myrtle Beach, Pawleys Island, and Litchfield Beach have never sounded more fun than when Jay Jarvis visited with the group of singles from North Hills Presbyterian.


Library of Congress The Library of Congress - from
"Beyond All Dreams" by Elizabeth Camden

Elizabeth Camden is really good at making history come to life, including her novel about the Library as it was around the turn of the twentieth century.

Idaho Idaho - from many Stephen Bly novels

There was always a lot to love with Stephen Bly's stories, one of which was the setting. His home state of Idaho seemed particularly alluring.

The Limberlost - from "A Girl of the Limberlost" by Gene Stratton-Porter

I know it's just a swampy forest, but if you grew up reading Gene Stratton-Porter (or having your grandmother read her to you!), you'll know how it captured your imagination.



Maple Valley Maple Valley, Iowa - from many
Melissa Tagg novels

This one easily tops the list! I feel like I have so many friends in Maple Valley - the Walkers, the Renwyckes, Megan the grumpy barista. Who wants to go with me? 😄

Great Park Great Park - from the Tales of the Kingdom series by David & Karen Mains

Escaping from the evil Enchanted City and its cruel ruler, a young man finds healing and purpose in the land where the King lives. These beautiful allegories have been part of my life since childhood!

Lyric - from
"The Sword of Lyric" series by Sharon Hinck

The world is simpler in Lyric, full of good-heated people who will fight in battle against any evil that may arise. They serve The One and honor the gifts He gives them.

Find more Top Ten Tuesday posts at That Artsy Reader Girl.



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