18 April 2014

Friday Fifteen: Paula Vince

Friday Fifteen: Fifteen books which have influenced your life or your writing. Today, a warm welcome to Paula Vince, an author from South Australia (who has featured in several of these lists as an influence, so it's only fair we hear what has influenced her!).

1) Enid Blyton

When I was 6 years old, our teacher was reading us The Magic Wishing Chair. I was away sick for a week and missed a chunk. To cheer me up, my mother bought the book so I could catch up on the story myself. That was the start of my love of Enid Blyton’s books. I couldn’t figure out whether I preferred her fantasy or boarding school novels.

2) Laura Ingalls Wilder

It’s inspiring that she started writing when she was elderly. She clearly remembered what happened when she was a little girl and wrote the ‘Little House’ series. If she hadn’t done it, we would have missed fascinating stories about a pioneering family in America travelling west. She’s proof that it’s never too late to begin.

3) L.M. Montgomery

She must be one of the masters of how to make an episodic plot shine. In my teens, I devoured not only the Anne series, but everything L.M. Montgomery wrote. We may think of them as historical stories now, but for her they were contemporary tales set in her own familiar environment, something I have a passion for.

4) Emily Bronte

I read ‘Wuthering Heights’ when I was 15, and it became the text I kept returning to in my quest to figure out how to write well. I thought her plot was perfect and she made her setting shine. I must have spent hours delving into exactly how her second generation of characters in that story were a mirror of the first.

5) Harper Lee

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ was another text I tried to pull apart in my teens to figure out just how she did it. Using an 8-year-old narrator like Scout Finch to tell the story of how her father defended Tom Robinson seemed a stroke of genius. And the way Boo Radley’s story finished up tying together with the Finch family’s story was very well done.

6) Francine Rivers

She introduced me to the concept of writing contemporary Christian fiction. I read ‘The Scarlet Thread’ in the mid nineties and it resonated with me. Since then, I read all her other contemporary novels. (I enjoyed her historical novels too.)

7) Jane Austen

She proves that good writing may also be useful from a historical point of view. Her novels give us a perfect glimpse into the lives of young gentry in the Georgian Era. Her characters are masters of witty dialogue too. And she’s another author who was simply writing contemporary stories about places she knew well.

8) J.K. Rowling

The Harry Potter series are like a work of art in many ways. I was amazed that, even as an adult, I didn’t want to put them down. I’d be waiting at the door of K-Mart the first morning of every new release. I’d never bother until they came down in price. And I was prepared to tussle with my then 12-year-old son to hold on to the final one, for the thrill of being first to finish.

9) Charles Dickens

He continues to impress me with the volume he managed to produce. Most of his novels ended up as thick as bricks, yet he did all the necessary editing without the aid of a computer. His characters (not to mention their unique names) were often entertaining, and his stories helped to highlight the plight of poverty-stricken families in the Victorian era.

10) Daphne du Maurier

I went through a phase in which I was fascinated with everything British. I loved her exciting plots, with their dashes of mystery and romance.

11) Ruth Park

She did for Australia what many other authors have done for their countries. I loved her ‘Harp in South’ series about the poverty-stricken Darcy family who lived in Sydney during the Depression era. Her descriptions have a way of revealing the beauty of life, even when circumstances leave a lot to be desired.

12) Kathryn Kenny

She’s one of those authors whose name many of us may not recognise, even though we grew up loving her writing. She wrote most of the Trixie Belden series. I managed to collect all of those paper back novels. Her plots never failed to surprise me, and I loved Trixie and all her friends and brothers.

13) Joyce Lankester Brisley

She was the author of the Milly Molly Mandy books. I loved them when I was tiny, and re-read them to my daughter many years later. They are just simple stories about how little it took to impress a small girl who lived in an English village in the early 20th century. Brisley did her own gorgeous illustrations.

14) Janette Oke

She first made me aware that Christian fiction even existed, when I came across her books while browsing through a book shop in my teens.

15) Lynn Austin

Her Christian fiction is among my favourite. She seems to be able to choose any historical period and make it come alive, from the Bible to the Depression era. Her research must be enormous, but she still seems to manage to produce as many books as other authors.

About Paula Vince

Picking up the Pieces - winner of International Books Awards 2011

Best Forgotten- winner of CALEB Award 2011

Paula Vince is the award-winning author of several contemporary Christian romances with elements of mystery and suspense. She lives in South Australia's beautiful Adelaide Hills with her family. Her most recent novel, 'Imogen's Chance' was published in April 2014 (and will be reviewed here next week).

Would you like to contribute a Friday Fifteen? If so, email me via my contact page to set a date. Contributions are welcome from anyone—readers, reviewers and authors. It's an opportunity to share some of the authors (and books) which have influenced you, and to pick up some ideas for new authors to read.

17 April 2014

Review and Giveaway: A Sensible Arrangement by Tracie Petersen

Welcome to the campaign launch for Tracie Peterson's 100th book! A Sensible Arrangement launches Tracie's new Texas-based series, Lone Star Brides, that’s sure to please. As a special treat, devoted fans will be able to catch a glimpse of several popular characters from previous series.

Tracie is celebrating by giving away an iPad Mini and hosting a LIVE webcast event on 4/29.


One winner will receive:
  • An iPad Mini
  • A Sensible Arrangement by Tracie Peterson
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on April 29th. Winner will be announced at the A Sensible Arrangement Live Webcast Event on April 29th. Connect with Tracie for an evening of book chat, trivia, laughter, and more! Tracie will also be taking questions from the audience and giving away books, fun prizes, and gift certificates throughout the evening.

So grab your copy of A Sensible Arrangement and join Tracie and friends on the evening of April 29th for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven't read the book, don't let that stop you from coming!)

Don't miss a moment of the fun; RSVP today by signing up for a reminder. Tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 29th!

My Review

Widow Marty Olsen is leaving her Texas ranch to be a mail order bride for Jacob Wythe, a banker in Denver. He’s a widower looking for a sensible wife for a marriage of convenience, because the board members of the bank feel a bank manager should be married. They need to keep up appearances, after all.

My real problem with A Sensible Arrangement was that I expect a marriage of convenience story to have a strong romantic element. While in real life these situations were undoubtedly the challenge of two complete strangers learning to build a life together, in Christian fiction (and general market fiction), a marriage of convenience is two strangers falling in love. This was a real weakness in A Sensible Arrangement—I never felt Mary and Jacob spent enough time together to develop a lasting relationship.

If you leave aside the fact that A Sensible Arrangement
wasn’t a romance, it did have several strengths. Marty was an interesting character. She was a strong and independent woman who makes her own choices (as illustrated by the fact she left a steady existence for the uncertainty of being a mail-order bride in faraway Denver), yet she was a compulsive liar who constantly tried to reconcile her lack of truthfulness towards Jacob as being for the best. I did find her lying somewhat tiresome, as I didn’t understand her reason for lying for most of the novel (and when it was finally revealed, it seemed a little illogical).

The Christian elements were strong, with a clear message of salvation, and a sobering comparison of Christians as opposed to people who go to church for social reasons (I suspect not a lot has changed in this regard since the 1890’s). The background to the plot was the collapse of the banking industry in Colorado due to changes in national legislation, and I thought this was interesting. We’ve all heard of the 1929 crash which started the Great Depression of the 1930’s, but I hadn’t known there were others.

A Sensible Arrangement is the first in the start of the Lone Star Brides series, but I suspect it draws on characters introduced in previous novels as the backstory has that quality of delivering a lot of information in only a few words. It’s Tracie Petersen’s 100th published novel, and it shows in the strong writing and the way she seamlessly integrates the history into the plot.

Overall, while I enjoyed the historical aspects and the relationships between the minor characters, I wasn’t convinced by the romance between Marty and Jacob. However, I’m sure Tracie Petersen fans will enjoy it.

16 April 2014

Review: How Sweet the Sound by Amy K Sorrells

Excellent Debut

Anni’s childhood comes to an end the day her uncle rapes his sister, then witnesses her uncle murdering her father in a confrontation about the attack. Sunny and her mother move in with her grandparents, who are themselves grieving the loss of their two sons, but in different ways. Vaughan tries to comfort Anni and her mother, but Princella seems to think everything is the fault of Anni’s father.

The story is told from the viewpoints of Anni and Comfort, Anni’s aunt. It’s written in first person, but the two viewpoints are so different there is no chance of confusing them. Anni is thirteen, so her scenes are filtered through her adolescence and first love, while Comfort’s scenes are bleak to begin with, but thaw as the novel progresses, as she begins to hear from God and accept his healing.

How Sweet the Sound isn’t a light read. It moves between the present and the past, and as we read, we learn more about the histories of the characters and the events that have shaped them into the people we see. I have to say that I didn’t think a teenager (Anni) should be exposed to some of these facts, but she’s had to grow up fast. Princella was a fascinating character, one I find difficult to understand even now.

This is the debut novel from Amy K Sorrells, and I’ll certainly be keen to see what comes next. Her writing is excellent, particularly the feel of her words and her use of imagery, and she dealt with some difficult subjects in a sensitive manner. Worth reading.

Thanks to David C Cook and NetGalley for providing a free book for review. You can find out more about Amy K Sorrells at her website.

15 April 2014

Review: Death by the Book by Juliana Deering

Mystery in a 1930's English Village 

I’ve always enjoyed Agatha Christie novels, as well as Georgette Heyer’s 1930’s detective romps. They are well-written with clever plots, interesting characters, and their ‘contemporary’ setting now reads as a delightful step into days gone by (well, delightful except for the body count).

Juliana Deering’s Drew Farthering mysteries take place in the Hampshire village of Farthering St. John, a small village in which everybody knows everybody else (and their business), and the class system is alive and well. Death by the Book is the second in the series, following Rules of Murder, but can easily be read as a stand-alone—like all good mysteries, we do find out whodunit (and why) at the end, but there is also the ongoing thread of Drew’s relationship with Madeline.

We get straight into the mystery when Drew visits his lawyer in nearby Winchester, only to find he has been murdered and left with a cryptic note stuck to him with an antique hatpin. There’s no apparent motive, and no suspect. Chief Inspector Birdsong is again in charge of the case—and he doesn’t want any help from Drew. However, the lawyer’s widow asks Drew to look into the case, and he soon unearths

The story then moves back to the Farthering estate, where Drew finds Madeline’s aunt, Ruth Jansen, has arrived to take Madeline back home to the States. I have to say I found this abrupt change of pace jarring and I wasn’t convinced by Miss Jansen as a necessary character, as she seemed to detract from the plot rather than add to it.

However, the murder mystery was excellent. As usual, I didn’t guess the identity of the culprit, but in hindsight, the clues all make perfect sense. Recommended for mystery fans.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free book for review. You can find out more about Juliana Deering at her website.

14 April 2014

Trailer Reveal: A Long and Winding Road by Linda Brendle

Sometimes reality really bites. Alzheimer’s has wrapped Mom’s brain into knots, vascular dementia has attacked Dad, and instead of carefree retirees, we have become caregivers. Regardless, dreams die hard, and we somehow stumbled into the purchase of a forty-foot motor home. That’s when all four of us set out on this seven-week trek across sixteen U.S. states. Now, Dad stopped-up the toilet again, Mom wet her last pair of clean jeans, and David just announced that he was hungry. My head is beginning to pound, and I know this isn’t going to be the easygoing retirement we’d imagined for ourselves.

Linda Brendle takes you on a roller-coaster ride of emotional and spiritual challenges that many families are facing right now. Co-dependency, mental breakdowns, and finding love after divorce are just a few of the issues weaved into this journey of caregiving. Whether you’re looking for an inspirational story to help teach you how to “let go and let God,” considering becoming the caregiver for one of your own parents, or are just looking for an entertaining travel book, this story is sure to strike a tender nerve. 

Release Date: July 1, 2014

Author Bio:
After 15 years as a family caregiver, Linda began writing to encourage, inspire and amuse other caregivers. She loves to travel and since retiring has traveled mostly by motorcycle and RV. She and her husband live in a small East Texas town where she gardens, writes and attends church.

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