Saturday, December 20, 2014

Review: Swept Away


Swept Away
By Laura V. Hilton & Cindy Loven
Quilts of Love
Abingdon Press, 2014


Summary

Sara doesn't think she wants love. But her grandmother has other plans.

Sara Jane Morgan is trying to balance teaching with caring for her ailing, stubborn grandmother. When school lets out for the summer, the plans are for Grandma to teach Sara Jane to quilt as they finish up the Appalachian Ballad quilt Grandma started as a teenager. But things don't always go as planned.

Andrew Stevenson is hiding from his past---and his future. He works as a handyman to pay the bills, but his heart is as an artisan, designing homemade brooms. When Sara Jane's grandmother hires him to renovate her home, sparks fly between Drew and his new employer's granddaughter.

Still, it doesn't take Sara Jane long to see Drew isn't what he seems. Questions arise, and she starts researching him online. What she discovers could change her life---and her heart---forever.


My thoughts

Love and loss, hope and faith, tradition and new beginnings - The Quilts of Love series focuses on the women who quilted all of these things into their family histories. I have enjoyed several books from this collection, and Swept Away is another solid read.

I'm always amazed at how each story in this series brings a fresh perspective and is quite unique. Set in West Virginia, Swept Away incorporates themes such as broom making, the Appalachian Trail, and a ballad quilt. I enjoyed the characters of Sarah Jane, Drew, and Sarah Jane's grandmother, Sari, as well as the relationships formed between them. There's also a serious side with its focus on the loss of loved ones and Alzheimer's, which made this story all the more touching.

Sarah Jane and Drew seemed unlikely candidates for romance in the beginning . . . Drew was a free spirit, used to working at his own pace, while Sarah Jane thrived on organization; Drew had a strong faith, while Sarah Jane "wouldn't pay homage to some God who was either too small or too uninterested." It was certainly enjoyable to see them get past their initial snap judgment of each other, and I loved the way Sarah Jane was able to look beyond Drew's "John the Baptist" appearance and get to know the real person. Sarah Jane was a little too forward for my tastes at times, but that's just me. It did make for good romantic tension, though!

Two strong elements really spoke to me . . . First was the patience and caring that both Drew and Sarah Jane exhibited with Sari, because I'm not sure I would have had that much. And secondly, the creative way this story presents the gospel message. It was interesting to see how Drew wove his testimony into the colored braiding of his "witnessing brooms."

Maybe the stories in this series are limited to a certain length, but having a few things explored more deeply would have made this a much richer read - like Sari and Caleb's story, the deaths of Sara's parents and Drew's twin, etc. Also, I thought the weakest part was the last few pages, as a lot seemed to happen without much detail. And the surprisingly abrupt ending really left me longing for another page or two. Still a good read overall. Recommended.


Laura V. Hilton, Cindy Loven

Laura V. Hilton is an award-winning author and a professional book reviewer. A stay-at-home mom and home school teacher, Laura lives with her family in Horseshoe Bend, Arkansas. Cindy Loven is active in the church and writes from her home in Conway, Arkansas, where she lives with her husband and their son.

Visit the Litfuse Blog Tour page to learn more.

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Author Spotlight + GIVEAWAY: Suzanne Woods Fisher


It is always a pleasure to welcome Suzanne Woods Fisher to The Power of Words because she is one very special lady - as a writer who has just published her 25th novel and personally as well. Suzanne has the ability to create rich, character-driven stories with multi-layered plots, but that's something that all who have read her stories already know.

Christmas at Rose Hill Farm is a fascinating story (please see my review here). Suzanne has graciously offered to share a copy with one of you and details are at the end of this post. Now enjoy hearing from Suzanne as she shares about this book and her new novel that releases in the early spring . . .


Q:  How does it feel to have published 25 novels, Suzanne? God certainly touches us through your writing and I pray that He will continue to guide your thoughts as you write - and may you never tire of this craft!

How do I feel about 25 published novels? Kind of…dazed! You’d think I’d feel more confident about writing. I can’t shake the fear that every contract is my last one. About halfway through each manuscript, I’m convinced it’s a horrible story and someone should take away my computer. Then, after the manuscript all comes together and I’ve written the best story I possibly could, after I’ve submitted it to my editor and am waiting for her response, I get hit with another wave of confidence-crisis. But on the plus side of a lack of confidence, I do not take any story for granted. I want each novel to be better than the one before it, and I want to keep growing in my craft. And I never, ever grow tired of writing. I feel very grateful.


Q:  What is one of your favorite family Christmas traditions, past or present?

We started a new tradition a few years ago that I wish I had discovered when my children were little. As my family has expanded through marriage and grandchildren, I had to start simplifying gift giving. I came across this Victorian guideline:




It’s been a big success in our family and is a great Christmas stress-reducer tool. Feel free to borrow!


Q:  Please tell us a little about Christmas at Rose Hill Farm and how it fits into the Stoney Ridge novels.


        A few years ago, after my novel The Search released, I was surprised by the amount of reader e-mails who asked the same question: What happened to Bess and Billy? They were teenagers in The Search and, typical of teens, they had an on-again, off-again relationship. I still get more reader e-mails about Bess and Billy than any other characters in my novels. It was obvious that Bess and Billy needed a story of their own. 
        Christmas at Rose Hill Farm is set in the late 1970s, a few years after The Search takes place, as Bess is preparing to marry Amos Lapp. (Just a side note: we meet up with Amos again in The Keeper). In her grandmother’s greenhouse, Bess stumbles on a potted rose tucked deep in a corner with one single bud, soon to bloom. Unable to identify this rose, she calls a rose society to send out a rose rustler—someone with skills to track down the origins of the “lost rose.” And that’s how Billy Lapp returns to Stoney Ridge. After leaving years earlier, he took his love and knowledge of roses and became a highly respected rose rustler. No longer Amish, though.
        So why did Billy leave Stoney Ridge in the first place? If there’s a love triangle (Bess and Amos and Billy), will Billy end up loveless? And where did this mysterious rose come from? I can’t answer the first two questions without spoiling the story, but I can tell you about the origin of this rose: it came over on the Charming Nancy, the ship that brought the first group of Amish to America from Europe in 1737. And if that piece of history intrigues you, you’ll love Anna’s Crossing about that very ocean voyage, releasing next March.


Q:  You must have really enjoyed the research into heritage roses, rose rustlers, etc. Did any tidbits of information especially capture your imagination?

        “Rose rustling” is an odd term because, unlike cattle rustlers, they don’t steal anything. Just the opposite—they seek to preserve it. When rose rustlers find an old rose, they identify it and take cuttings to propagate (with permission, of course). Now and then, they come across a “found”—a rose that was thought to be extinct. A “found” is the equivalent of an earthquake in the rose world. Such an unusual discovery causes reverberation and ripples and excitement. After all, each rose has a story behind it.
        Here’s one that tugs at my heart, a reminder that God does not forget the brokenhearted. It’s about a pink rose called “Louise the Unfortunate.”
        In the mid 1800’s, Louise was a mail order bride from New Orleans. She traveled to Natchez, Mississippi to meet her new husband-to-be and start her new life. She waited and waited on the docks but no one came to claim her. A day turned into night, then a week, then a month. Had her betrothed come to the docks, seen her, and changed his mind? Or had something happened to him? Penniless, heartbroken and ashamed, Louise became a prostitute, working “Under the Hill,” until she took ill and died. Her white marble headstone has a simple epitaph: “Louise the Unfortunate” and a pink rose adorns her grave.


Q:  There's so much we'll never understand this side of heaven, but I'm sure the subject of angels fascinates many readers. Do the Amish believe in angels and what inspired you to incorporate "George" into your story?

        First of all, the Amish do believe in angels. As I wrote Christmas at Rose Hill Farm, I wanted to introduce an angel as one of the characters. Carefully, though. I didn’t want to get off track from what the Bible infers about angels. Based on biblical assumptions, I used my imagination to add some details. For example, George, the angel in my story, had an unlined, unstressed face. And he was always hungry, happy to accept what was offered to him, but food was always lacking in taste, he said. The way we’d feel if salt were left out of soup. Or the difference between a home grown tomato in August and a store bought one in January. Those things seemed like reasonable assumptions to me because Heaven was George’s home.
        George was assigned to Billy Lapp, a troubled soul in Christmas at Rose Hill Farm. His role was a little like a guardian angel, but his job was a short-term assignment. His goal was to help Billy make amends before it was too late. He never interfered, he just gently prodded. I loved that character!


Q:  I love how your stories always have a strong spiritual message, Suzanne. Is there one particular insight that really speaks to you, or that you hope readers will take away?

        I’d like to answer your question with another point about George the angel. He knew the Bible and quoted it, though he didn’t bother to memorize the numbers of verses. I had to really think that one through—would an angel even know the Bible? Would he need to know? After all, George already had the end of the story. But then, in a way, so do we.
        Emmanuel, God is with us.
        That is what I hope readers will take away from the story.


Q:  Please share a little about your upcoming novel, Anna's Crossing, which contains the back story of Christmas at Rose Hill Farm - and any other stories or series you might have in the works.

        Anna’s Crossing is a story about the first Atlantic Ocean crossing of the Amish in 1737, based on what facts there were to be found. It tells the story of the treacherous sea journey through a community of endearing (mostly!) characters, stuck on a ship together. Here’s a snapshot of the book:
        In Anna’s Crossing, when Anna first meets Bairn, the Scottish ship carpenter of the Charming Nancy, their encounter is anything but pleasant. Anna is on the ship only to ensure the safe arrival of her loved ones to the New World. Hardened by years of living at sea, Bairn resents toting these naïve farmers—dubbed “Peculiars” by deckhands—across the ocean. As delays, storms, illness and diminishing provisions afflict crew and passengers alike, Bairn finds himself drawn to Anna’s serene nature. For her part, Anna can’t seem to stay below deck and far away from the aloof ship’s carpenter, despite warnings.


Q:  I always end my interviews with this question because I think it's so important . . . How can we support and/or pray for you, Suzanne?

What a lovely note to end on! I’m a big believer in intercessory prayer, so here’s my request: In six months, two of my children are getting married…just six weeks apart! Please pray for wise use of my time, for attention-to-details with weddings and book work, for completing manuscripts to the best of my ability. And thank you!

____________________


Bio:  Suzanne Woods Fisher is an award winning, bestselling author of fiction and non-fiction about the Old Order Amish for Revell Books. She is a Christy Award finalist and a Carol award winner. Her interest in the Amish began with her grandfather, who was raised Plain. A theme in her books (her life!) is that you don’t have to “go Amish” to incorporate the principles of simple living. Suzanne lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area and is a puppy raiser for Guide Dogs for the Blind. She loves to hear from readers! You can find her on-line at www.suzannewoodsfisher.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SuzanneWoodsFisherAuthor.

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GIVEAWAY

To enter the drawing for Christmas at Rose Hill Farm, simply answer the following question:

This story has several themes - including angels, growing roses,
a love triangle, and "Emmanuel, God is with us." Is there one
particular theme that resonates with you?

E-mail addresses are required for the drawing and be sure to leave them in a safe format - [at] and [dot]. If you're willing, it's also helpful to share about this giveaway on Facebook and/or Twitter.

"Likes" on my Facebook page, ThePowerofWordsBookReviews, are greatly appreciated, as are followers on Google+, Pinterest, Twitter, and this blog.

  • E-mail required, one entry per person. Odds of winning are based on number of entries.
  • Contest ends at midnight PST on Tuesday, December 30.
  • Winner will be chosen by Random.org and contacted by e-mail. Respond within 48 hours of notification or another winner will be chosen.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas with Erma - The Christmas Pageant


This excerpt from At Wit's End beautifully captures Erma's innate humor. Enjoy!



The Christmas Pageant

Memo to:Mr. Kravitz, principal
From:Katherine Courageous
Re:Christmas Pageant

The Christmas Pageant will be a little late this year. Possibly January 23 if that date is agreeable with you.

Although an enthusiastic Pageant Committee has been at work since October, we have had some problems. To begin with, there were several on the committee who insisted on making a musical out of the Nativity story. At one point, we had the precision drill team making a "B" for Bethlehem in the background while a trio of baton twirlers marched around the stable. This idea was scratched when someone remembered batons hadn't been invented yet.

Remember how excited we were about the donation of a "live" donkey? Our custodian, Mr. Webber, does not share our excitement. Although his phrasing was a little less delicate, he intimated that if the animal was not "gym-floor trained" by January 23, we could jolly well go back to papier-mâché. He also said (this is quoted out of context) that the smell of the beast wouldn't be out of the auditorium in time for the Lions' annual Chili Supper next May.

We have had a few casting problems to plague us. I had to award the Mary, Mother of Jesus, role to Michael Pushy. (His parents donated the donkey.) Michael refused to wear a wig, which might be a little confusing to the audience, but I'll make a special note on the program. I've had great pressure from Mrs. Reumschusser. It seems her son, Kevin, is a Ted Mack Amateur Hour loser who plays "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" on the spoons. I am using him at intermission.

The costumes didn't arrive until three days ago from the Beelzebub Costume Company of New Jersey. There was obviously an error. Instead of thirty Roman soldier uniforms, there were thirty pink suede bunny leotards with matching ears. It was quite apparent to me that after I had tried a few on our "little people," this was not our order. Miss Heinzie and myself couldn't help but speculate that somewhere there is a tired businessman with a Roman soldier sitting on his lap.

The shop department is not yet finished with the special scaffold for parents wishing to take pictures and record the program. We felt this necessary after Mr. Happenstance's accident last year when he panned in too closely and fell into the manger.

I hate to ask, but could you please do something diplomatic with Mrs. Ringading? She has threatened the refreshments committee with her traditional whiskey balls and rum cookies. You know what a fire hazard they created last year.

In view of the fact that two of our shepherds have diarrhea, we respectfully request the Pageant be postponed until January 23 or after.

- Erma Bombeck, At Wit's End, Nelson Doubleday, Inc., 1965

The Art of Christmas - Lisi Martin


The art of Lisi Martin fascinates me; in fact, if it was possible to melt when looking at these paintings, that would describe me!





Lisi Martin is a Spanish artist and illustrator who is famous for her highly detailed and romanticized pictures of children. At the age of 16, Lisi began formal art studies in Barcelona, although she is quick to point out that the type of illustration for which she is famous is not something that was taught at art schools in the early 1960s. After working for a couple of Spanish companies, Lisi made a breakthrough in her art career when she joined the Swedish greeting card company, Pictura, in 1983.

Enjoy Lisi's art and feel free to leave a comment (click on images to enlarge) . . .


































Monday, December 15, 2014

Author Spotlight + GIVEAWAY: Tricia Goyer, Cara Putman, Sarah Sundin


This picture says it all! Three beloved Christian authors of World War II-era fiction have come together to gift their readers with the new Christmas release, Where Treetops Glisten. Tricia Goyer, Cara Putman and Sarah Sundin invite readers to turn back the clock to days gone by as they listen to Bing Crosby sing of sleigh bells in the snow and get to know the Turner family. Hailing from the heart of America in Lafayette, Indiana, these characters will never be the same as the reality of America’s involvement in World War II hits incredibly close to home.

With its family emphasis, spiritual insights, World War II theme, romance, and the clever use of beloved Christmas carols that debuted during the era, this collection stands out among other Christmas stories. (Please see my review here.) I appreciate Litfuse Publicity sponsoring this giveaway, details of which are at the end of this post, and hope you'll enjoy this interview with Tricia, Cara, and Sarah.



An interview with Tricia Goyer, Cara Putman & Sarah Sundin
Authors of Where Treetops Glisten


Q: How did the three of you decide to collaborate on a collection of novellas together?

Cara: I’d written in a couple of novella collections and loved the collaborative aspects. Writing is often solitary, but when you’re working on a collection with other writers, you have fun opportunities to work together. I asked Sarah and Tricia if they’d like to work together because I love their World War II stories, and I love their hearts. I also thought this was a sneaky way to get to know them better. It’s so fun now to have a book we’ve written together!

Tricia: The coolest thing about Cara approaching me is that I highly respect both Cara and Sarah for their writing abilities and their love of World War II. There aren’t many people I know who enjoy both of these passions, just as I do, and it was easy to say YES!

Sarah: When Cara invited me to participate, I was thrilled. We all liked the idea of using one family’s experience over the course of the war to tie the stories together.



Q: What themes run through each of the stories in Where Treetops Glisten to tie the book together?

Sarah: In all three of the stories, someone is overcoming grief or loss, and someone is dealing with regrets of the past. Strong themes of healing and reconciliation and hope run through each story. Giving is also a crucial element, which is appropriate for Christmas stories!

Tricia: I also love the use of Christmas songs from that era. The title, Where Treetops Glisten, may be very familiar to readers. Also each novella is named after a popular Christmas tune from those years!


Q: Each one of the three siblings in the books has to chart his or her own path. How is the love of their family a support system for them, even as they make their own life decisions?

Sarah: Pete’s always seen himself as the black sheep of the Turner family — but as a much-loved black sheep. His family was there for him during his wild youth, and they’re there for him when he returns from his combat tour drained of hope and joy. They offer wisdom and humor and encouragement.

Cara: Abigail has keenly felt the shortness and unpredictability of life. Because of it, she’s afraid to chase her dreams or really dare to dream. Her family provides the support and stability to try even when life is something she can’t safely manage.

Tricia: Meredith (Merry) is the wanderer. She is the one who moved to Florida to attend nursing school as soon as she graduated from high school. She’s the baby of the family, and she’s always tried to prove herself. Yet as the years go by, and as Merry finds herself serving as a nurse in Netherlands, she realizes the place she wants to be the most is home — back with the family she loves.


Q: The three novellas are all titled after a Christmas song that became popular during World War II. Can you share a little of the history behind the songs and how they became a part of the book?

Sarah: Since so many great Christmas songs debuted during World War II (“White Christmas” in 1942, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” in 1943, and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in 1944), I’ve often thought those songs would be a fun way to connect a novella collection, so I suggested it to Cara and Tricia, and they liked it too.

Cara: I loved the idea of using the Christmas carols to connect the stories. So many of those songs are a big part of Christmas even today! But we still had to figure out the rest. Christmas carols alone wouldn’t be enough for three stories to come to life. Once we were all on board, we had a conference call to figure out the rest.

Tricia: I used my song title, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” as an inspiration for my character too. I have a friend named Merry who was born on Christmas . . . so I used that for my novella! Meredith is nicknamed Merry, and her name plays into the story; that song makes its way into the novella too!


Q: Each of the characters in this book has to overcome not only personal obstacles, but also cultural conditions he or she has no control over. What lessons can we learn for our own times from their stories?

Tricia: The issue of “cultures” comes up strongly in my novel. Before the war, Meredith had fallen in love with a man from Germany. After Pearl Harbor, he abandoned her and returned to Germany, breaking her heart. Old and new feelings crash within her as their unit prepares to enter Germany. Meredith also cares for German soldiers who are brought into their field unit.

The lessons I hope the reader walks away with is that our nationality is only a part of who we are. Our family situations, and our faith, also make us who we are.


Q: One thread that ties all of the stories together is the siblings’ grandmother. What do they learn from her lessons of wisdom and faith that help develop their own choices?

Cara:  Grandma was such fun to write! She was feisty but with a deep love for her family. She provides the perspective of time and experience to each of the siblings — yet in a different way to reflect their unique journeys.

Tricia: I loved including a “grandma” in the story since my Grandma lives with me. I love the unconditional love and snippets of wisdom that come from the older generation.


Q: What is it about the Christmas season that engenders such a strong feeling of warmth and love?

Cara: There’s a freshness and sense of wonder to Christmas. The idea that God would send His son to earth as a newborn is an incredibly humbling thought. There’s also the cleanness of fresh-fallen snow that always makes me think of what Christ did on Calvary. Combine that with great music, tradition and the love of family, and it becomes a magical time where almost anything seems possible.



Learn more about the authors!

Tricia Goyer - triciagoyer.com, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest

Cara Putman - caraputman.com, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest

Sarah Sundin - sarahsundin.com, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest

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GIVEAWAY

To enter the drawing for Where Treetops Glisten, simply answer the following question:


Since music plays a big part in this book, what is a
Christmas song that you never tire of hearing or that
holds special meaning for you?

E-mail addresses are required for the drawing and be sure to leave them in a safe format - [at] and [dot]. If you're willing, it's also helpful to share about this giveaway on Facebook and/or Twitter.

"Likes" on my Facebook page, ThePowerofWordsBookReviews, are greatly appreciated, as are followers on Google+, Pinterest, Twitter, and this blog.

  • E-mail required, one entry per person. Odds of winning are based on number of entries.
  • Contest ends at midnight PST on Friday, December 26.
  • Winner will be chosen by Random.org and contacted by e-mail. Respond within 48 hours of notification or another winner will be chosen.
  • Eligibility: US residents, 18 and older