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February 16, 2014

Friend Me
Wow. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a thriller like Friend Me. We had an ice storm hit this week, so schools were closed, and I actually found time to devote to reading. From the very first page, I was hooked and couldn’t put this novel down.

When I first heard about Friend Me, I was intrigued because the author spent over 30 years as a missionary in Asia. I wondered how he would handle the whole topic of virtual friendships — this affects all of us, especially our children. I know of homes that have been destroyed because of “online relationships,” and I’m constantly telling my kids not to share private information with strangers. This book is centered on the theme of Philippians 4:8:


Finally, brethren,
whatsoever things are true,
whatsoever things are honest,
whatsoever things are just,
whatsoever things are pure,
whatsoever things are lovely,
whatsoever things are of good report,
if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise,
think on these things,
–Philippians 4:8

What happens when a person deviates from pure thinking as set forth in the Bible? It all starts off so innocently.

The contemporary story takes place in Indiana, and involves a complicated web of three main characters: Scott Douglas and his wife, Rachel, and a mysterious software developer with a dark past named Melissa. We read from all three points of view, so it’s interesting how the author gets into each character’s mind and shares what they’re thinking.

On the surface, Scott and Rachel have the perfect life: he has a good job with an investment firm, and Rachel stays home full-time to care for their two young children. But below the surface, trouble is brewing. Scott gets called into the office of his boss because his company’s wealthiest client is unhappy, and it’s up to Scott to turn his account around. This propels him into the world of risky trading, and his stress level increases because he may lose a huge amount of money, as well as his job.

Meanwhile, since Scott works long hours and is hardly ever home, Rachel finds herself starving for deeper friendships. While exploring online, she discovers the “Virtual Friend Me” website that offers her the chance to create her own virtual friend, someone who’s always available to listen, unlike her husband.

After she tells Scott about it, he decides to check out the website to see what his wife is up to. He too is drawn into the idea of having a virtual friend, and he steps into a landmine of trouble when he requests a “female” for his friend. This leads to intimate conversations, and Scott begins to spend every spare minute chatting with his virtual friend instead of spending time with his real-life friends and family.

Behind both Rachel and Scott’s creations is Melissa — the brilliant designer who helped start the company. When she created the software, she secretly programmed it with a search parameter to find her ideal match, but she’d forgotten to specify his marriage status. Too late, she thinks Scott is the perfect man for her, and she’s determined to be with him. She craves Rachel’s life as Scott’s wife and the mother of his children, and she begins to stalk their home and look for ways to get rid of her.

Because Scott and Rachel both share openly with their virtual friends, Melissa knows every detail of their personal lives … when they’ll be home, the code of their garage door, what’s in their medicine cabinet, everything. Melissa reminded me of the creepy mistress Glenn Close played in the 1987 film, “Fatal Attraction.”

The plot gets scarier and scarier and is filled with so many twists and turns I couldn’t stop reading! I love the author’s subtle message — that we as a society must be careful not to cross the lines that lead us away from what is true, pure, honest, and lovely. This book would be a fantastic springboard for discussions in a book club, and it even contains questions and additional activities in the back for that purpose.

On his Christian Suspense blog, author John Faubion explains how he got the idea for this book, while sitting in a software meeting:

While we were talking, something occurred to me that had not been done yet. Something really revolutionary. There were bits and pieces of it all over the world wide web, but no one had yet brought them together yet, not in the way I was thinking. Consider the whole Facebook phenomenon. How people want to be “friended” and “friend” other people. What a lot of people really want is a true friend. Someone they can pour their hearts out to. A person who is totally trustworthy, and who would keep every confidence sacred.

The truth is, there are not many like that!

But what if. . . you could design your own friend. Not a real person, but just as good as real. A virtual person. You would pour into your design all the traits that you thought were most important — trustworthy, friendly, discreet, constant, forgiving. Just think about your list. When you were done, you’d have the perfect friend …

I told my wife about this. . . that maybe I’d get some people together and we’d do it. Make such a product available and see if we could make it work. I got back an unequivocal, “NO.” When she explained why, she made sense…It would really get weird, and pretty fast. So she said to me, “Why don’t you write about it? Just don’t really do the software.”

The result? Friend Me.

If you visit the author’s Christian Suspense website (which is so interesting!) you can actually have a conversation with a virtual friend programmed by the author. Yikes! I also loved reading Faubion’s blog post about how he got his first book contract. I really can’t believe Friend Me is his first published book! It’s published by Howard Books, the Christian division of Simon & Schuster.

If you’d like to read it, you can enter to win a free copy in the upcoming giveaway!

*****

John Faubion is celebrating his debut novel, Friend Me, with a Kindle HDX giveaway!

friendme-400

One winner will receive:

  • A brand new Kindle Fire HDX
  • Friend Me by John Faubion

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on February 22nd. Winner will be announced February 24th on John Faubion’s blog.


Don’t miss a moment of the fun; enter today and be sure to stop by John’s blog on the 24th to see if you won.

About the Author:


John Faubion

John Faubion spent many years in Asia as a missionary with his family. Since returning to the United States, John has worked as a senior software developer for a large appliance chain. He teaches an adult Sunday School class and enjoys writing and driving his 1949 Packard automobile. John lives near Indianapolis with his wife, Beth, and their daughter. He is still fluent in Chinese. You can learn more about him and his writing at his website, Christian Suspense.

Blogger’s Note: I received a copy of this book, complimentary, from Litfuse.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Christian Living,Marriage | Permalink | Comments Off on Inspirational Suspense from a Missionary Turned Author



January 25, 2014


A Promise Kept. Hatcher

January is a month of fresh beginnings for me. I celebrate a birthday, for one thing, and I always enjoy having the chance to sit down with a notebook and plot out a few plans and goals for the new year. I’ve been keeping a journal, off and on, since I was in college.

Back when I was 19, I lived in a dorm and needed a “quiet place” to go to pray, so writing gave me a chance to slip away from reality and focus on God. Not much has changed in that respect. Writing is still my best way to connect to the Almighty.

That’s why I got really excited when the opportunity came my way to read Robin Lee Hatcher’s latest novel, A Promise Kept. It’s a contemporary story about a woman struggling with painful choices, trying to discern God’s will for her life. The main character, Allison Kavanagh, needs time to heal from a wounded heart, and she retreats to a log cabin she inherited from her Great Aunt Emma. While living there, she discovers a trunk full of old diaries, written by her great aunt, and these diaries from the late 1920s/early 1930s play a significant role in how Allison moves forward in her life today.

I loved the whole premise of the book, and the setting in the beautiful mountains north of Boise, Idaho, gave me a chance to escape to a place quite different from my native Georgia. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. Allison and her husband, Tony, have recently divorced, after being married for over two decades. The day Allison issued her husband an ultimatum — to change his ways or leave — she thought she’d save him. Instead, he walked out, leaving her with a broken heart, broken marriage, and disappointment that she’d misunderstood God.

Her move to small-town life in the area of Aunt Emma’s restored rustic cabin gives her ample time to explore her past, as well as the mysteries that begin to unravel from Emma’s stash of hidden diaries. Strangely, she also discovers a beautiful vintage wedding dress in the trunk, as well as a photograph of a handsome stranger. But how can this be? Her self-reliant great aunt never married!

Allison, flanked by her cute papillon puppy, Gizmo, begins to develop relationships with people in her new town. She attends church and discovers people in her congregation who are also suffering and seeking God’s will. Her grown daughter, Meredith, visits from Texas, and continues to seek ways to draw her mom and dad back together. It’s awkward … but has her ex-husband, Tony, truly started to change?

I love how the author allows readers into both women’s lives through their diaries: we see the day-to-day life of Emma as she slips from the decade of the Roaring 20s into the Great Depression of the 1930s. Then Allison, inspired by her Great Aunt, also begins to write in a journal. It made me see how a woman’s faith survives through her words, powerful even generations later.

The most shocking thing about the book comes at the end — I’d love for you to read it, so I don’t want to spoil it for you! But I will say that the author confesses in a personal “note to readers” this is the most intimate book she’s ever written (out of more than 70 novels!) because it’s based on the true story of her own life. Wow! So I loved this book on another level: I loved learning how a writer transforms real life into the art form of a novel. Beautifully done!

I hope you can read A Promise Kept. I found it spiritually uplifting, as Allison contemplates scripture and how prayer can affect one’s circumstances. I felt like the character had become a personal friend by the time I finished, and of course it made me want to go write in my own journal. This would be a wonderful novel for a book club to share, as it also contains discussion questions at the back.

If you’d like to read A Promise Kept, keep reading below, to find out how you can “meet” the author and enter a giveaway to win a copy of her book!

**********

Don’t miss Robin Lee Hatcher‘s stunning new novel, A Promise KeptRobin is celebrating with a fun giveaway and an encouraging Facebook Author Chat Party.

promisekept-400

 One winner will receive:

  • A Kindle Fire HDX
  • A Promise Kept by Robin Lee Hatcher

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on February 6th. Winner will be announced at the “A Promise Kept” Facebook Author Chat Party on the 6th. Connect with Robin and friends for an evening of encouraging book chat, prizes, and an exclusive look at Robin’s next book!



So grab your copy of A Promise Kept and join Robin on the evening of February 6th 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 clicking JOIN at the event page. Spread the word—tell your friends about the giveaway and party via FACEBOOK or TWITTER. Hope to see you on 2/6!


Robin Lee Hatcher

    Meet the author:

Robin is the author of 65+ novels and novellas. Her home is in Idaho, where she spends her time writing stories of faith, courage, and love; pondering the things of God; and loving her family and friends. Learn more about Robin at: http://www.robinleehatcher.com.
Blogger’s note: I received this novel, complimentary, from Litfuse.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Christian Living,Faith,Family,Marriage,Writing | Permalink | Comments Off on Robin Lee Hatcher’s A PROMISE KEPT



November 13, 2013

The Reading Promise

I recently devoured Alice Ozma’s wonderful book, The Reading Promise, and can’t wait to tell you about it. Isn’t this cover scrumptious? I could give it a hug! A father reading to a daughter, the little girl standing on a pile of classic books. This book is everything I believe in about kids, books, writing, parenting … I love it!

When the author, Alice Ozma, was nine years old, she and her father made a reading promise. He promised to read to her every night for 100 nights in a row, without skipping a single night. That doesn’t seem all that hard, does it? But when you think about reading for a little over three months, like an entire summer, without skipping ANY nights, this is not easy. But they did it. Alice’s father never missed a night.

So, to celebrate, they went out to eat pancakes, and over that breakfast, Alice just came up with the number 1,000. She asked her dad if he would commit to reading to her for 1,000 nights in a row. After a few bites of his pancake, he did.

And he kept that promise, not only for 1,000 nights, but for NINE straight years. They called it “The Streak,” and Alice and her dad kept up their reading streak from the year Alice was nine until the day she left for college at age eighteen. I’m almost in tears typing this sentence as I remember the details about where and when they last read together, ending the streak. You will not want to miss finding out how this amazing story wraps up.

Reading a book like this energizes me and gives me hope in the future. I really can’t say enough great things about The Reading Promise. Just knowing that there are people out there like Alice and her father, Jim, makes me feel a part of something big. Every adult who is reading a book to a child today is doing something important and long-lasting, creating a new generation of readers.

You can learn more about Alice Ozma and her dad here, and you can also commit to making your own reading promise!

This book has renewed my zeal in reading out loud to my children at bedtime. I hope it will renew yours as well.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Books,Children's Books,Education,Family,Parenting | Permalink | Comments Off on The Reading Promise



December 28, 2012

As the year 2012 draws to an end, I want to thank each of you who’ve stopped by to read here. The 12 Pearls of Christmas posts were truly a gift to me, as I hope they were to you as well. I never tire of reading women’s personal stories of faith, especially those who crave a deeper spiritual life in the midst of cultivating a home and raising a family.

My biggest prayer for myself in the coming year is: How can I grow in my spiritual walk so that I can pass my faith along to my children? They see me day in and day out, either living in peace, trusting in the power of God, or living in anxiety, worrying each day that disaster looms around the corner. I confess I’m the type of person who feels most “comfortable” when I’m worrying about something, and it’s a disposition I inherited from my grandmother (who probably inherited it from her grandmother!) It’s also a habit I’d like to break in 2013.

The best way I know to quiet an anxious heart is to saturate my mind daily with scripture, and after that, I love reading devotionals penned by Christian writers. When I found out one of my favorite Georgia authors, Marion Bond West, had published a new book, I was thrilled to join in the blog tour telling others about it.

I grew up reading Marion’s stories since my mother always had Guideposts magazines around the house. Then when I moved off to attend college, my grandfather began giving me annual subscriptions as Christmas gifts. In 101 Moments of Trust, Marion Bond West skillfully weaves a tapestry of stories gleaned from over 33 years of writing for Daily Guideposts. The subtitle of the book says it all: “Inspiring Thoughts for Believing in God’s Promises.”

I laughed out loud reading about Marion’s early days of mothering, raising two daughters and rambunctious twin sons. In one story, she describes the terrors of a grocery shopping trip, when a toddler son threw a jar of pickles out of her cart. Yet, writing now from the perspective of a grandmother, she sees that those days were filled with humor and fun. I love the fact that Marion’s daughter, Julie West Garmon, grew up to become an inspirational writer as well, sharing her own journeys of faith.

In the introduction to her book, Marion Bond West describes the joy she felt in gathering her stories. She says:

I remembered things about my life that I’d since forgotten; early feelings, long ago memories, elapsed dramas rushed back to me. Oh, how I wish I could have learned earlier the joys of not being shy, self-conscious or critical of others. I wish I’d met strangers by initiating the first step. I really have come to enjoy and love people, especially those with whom I don’t have much in common. We Daily Guideposts contributors hear with some frequency from loyal readers, and their most common comment is something along the lines of “I grew up with you!” or “I feel like I know you, that I’ve spent the last thirty years with you as a close friend.

As you read her book, you’ll encounter the unexpected paths the author has taken through life, such as how she survived the loss of her first husband, and how she renews her faith even when children don’t always make wise choices. If you are a cat or dog lover (as I am), you’ll be especially blessed by Marion’s many stories of her family pets, and how God loves us through the animals we encounter and bring into our world.

You can purchase your own copy of 101 Moments of Trust here, in an inexpensive e-book format. I hope you enjoy it, and I would love to hear from you if you do. You can contact me by email.

I pray each of you are blessed with a wonderful new year!

About Marion Bond West:
Marion Bond West is fascinated by honesty: honesty in others, honesty with herself, honesty with God. For almost forty years, she has written honestly about her life and God in a wide variety of books, magazines, and newspapers. Marion is a contributing editor of Guideposts magazine, having written for the internationally recognized publication and for the devotional book Daily Guideposts for more than thirty years. She and her husband, Gene Acuff, live in Watkinsville, Georgia.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Christian Living,Faith | Permalink | Comments Off on A Powerful Book for the New Year: 101 Moments of Trust, by Marion Bond West



August 31, 2011




It’s no easy task, getting most kids to write a paragraph, much less a full creative story. That’s why I felt like I’d uncovered a treasure, when I happened upon Gail Carson Levine’s Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly. It was parked on the same shelf near a biography of J.K. Rowling that I was checking out for my kids.

We’ve long been fans of Gail Carson Levine’s Newbery Honor work, Ella Enchanted, one of the rare children’s books that survived being transformed into a movie. In fact, it was the movie, starring Anne Hathaway, that got me reading the novel, along with my daughters. Amazing! Levine’s writing is magical, and she doesn’t keep her methods secret. She willingly shares writing tips in classes she teaches to children and adults, as well as on her blog.

If you have a budding young writer in your family (or if YOU are longing to create fiction), Writing Magic is sure to inspire. It’s filled with writing advice, story starters, and most of all, encouragement. Levine believes writing should be fun, and if it’s not, then something is wrong!

In the first chapter, Levine lists her seven rules for writing:

1. The best way to write better is to write more.
2. The best way to write better is to write more.
3. The best way to write better is to write more.
4. The best way to write more is to write whenever you have five minutes and wherever your find a chair and a pen and paper or your computer.
5. Read! Most likely you don’t need this rule. If you enjoy writing, you probably enjoy reading. The payoff for this pleasure is that reading books shows you how to write them.
6. Reread! There’s nothing wrong with reading a book you love over and over. When you do, the words get inside you, become part of you, in a way that words in a book you’ve read only once can’t.
7. Save everything you write, even if you don’t like it, even it you hate it. Save it for a minimum of fifteen years. I’m serious …

Levine goes on to explain that last rule. She said she used to think she’d always remember what it felt like to be a kid, but she discovered (as we all do) that you forget the details. The only way to absolutely remember how you feel being a child is to write as a child, and then save those writings.

She further explains:

When you become a teenager, you step onto a bridge. You may already be on it. The opposite shore is adulthood. Childhood lies behind. The bridge is made of wood. As you cross, it burns behind you.

If you save what you write, you still won’t be able to cross back to childhood. But you’ll be able to see yourself in that lost country. You’ll be able to wave to yourself across that wide river.

As a mother, I’m always trying to get my children to write in journals. It’s worked for some of my kids, who love to record their memories, but not for others, who would rather be doing ANYthing but writing. Seeing Levine explain it all so clearly reminded me that someday, if their journals survive the years, they’ll appreciate being able to “wave” to themselves across the bridge from adulthood back to their childhoods.

I haven’t always been good at keeping a journal, though it’s a practice I’ve become passionate about the last fifteen years or so. For me, it’s a connection to my spiritual life, to God, because when I put ink to paper I can block out the distractions of the world (most of the time) and enter into my Quiet Place, where I find the strength and joy I need to face my day. I think kids also benefit greatly from being able to sort out their ups and downs in written form. Diaries are also fascinating raw material for creating fiction.

In Writing Magic, Levine explains why she writes fiction, which I enjoyed reading about. She writes for several reasons: to enjoy the power of creation, to tell a good story, and to make discoveries — about herself and others. As parents, if we can pass along this desire to create through words, we’ll be enabling our children to make their own discoveries. What a noble calling!

Throughout this book, Levine uses examples from her own novels as well as other famous children’s works, to clarify her points. I loved being able to enter into her thought process, as to how she came up with her ideas for books such as Ella Enchanted, Fairest, The Wish, and others. She also offers advice on how to come up with interesting characters and plots that will hook readers, as well as how to inject humor into your writing. Finally, she shares her own publishing journey, and encourages her readers to persevere in getting their work out there.

Levine closes every chapter with two simple commands: “Have fun!” and “Save what you wrote.” She also ends her posts the same way in her blog for young writers. It can’t get much simpler than that.

I hope you get a chance to pick up a copy of Writing Magic. Here’s what the author says on her website about her own book:

When I wrote Writing Magic I’d been teaching creative writing to wonderful middle school kids for six years.

I love to talk, teach, and write about writing. I made up prompts, and we tried them together. If a prompt worked for me, it worked for them, and vice versa. I invented a few prompts just for the book, but almost all are workshop tested, just as you’d expect recipes in a kitchen to have been cooked at least once. I love dreaming up prompts, and they’re probably my favorite parts of the book. Writing Magic is my only banned book, as far as I know. It was banned from middle schools in a district in Illinois because I advise readers to make their characters suffer. In my opinion, a how-to about writing that advised against making characters suffer—that would be the book to ban!

Ha! See? You’ll love this book.

You can read more about Gail Carson Levine on her website or blog.




May 10, 2011



Last weekend, I was looking for something fun and short to read, and a quick glance around my home led me to Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s How I Came to Be a Writer. It’s been years since I picked it up, and while reading it this time, I felt like I was cast under the author’s spell, though outwardly I kept one eye on guinea pigs, children, and a tennis-ball chasing dog frolicking around our sunny backyard.

In fact, the whole time I was reading it, I kept thinking, I’ve got to blog about this! There must be one of you at least who needs a jolt of writing inspiration, and this is the book to do it. Have you heard of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor? Her most famous work is Shiloh, which won the 1992 Newbery Award, but her long writing career has spanned seven decades as she’s penned over 130 books for readers of all ages. She’s definitely a good mentor for anyone longing to pursue the publication of fiction.

Ms. Naylor’s first writing break came when she was only 16 years old, and a former Sunday school teacher wrote to ask if she’d be interested in submitting a story to the church school paper she now edited. Right away, Phyllis came up with a sentimental baseball story called “Mike’s Hero.” Her teacher-turned-editor loved it and bought it for $4.67. (Since Phyllis was born in 1933, I’m assuming this happened around 1949.) She kept contributing more stories to church papers and magazines, then started her own humor column, told from the point of view of a 15-year-old boy named P.R. Tedesco. She wrote this for 25 years, and it helped her find her voice as a humor writer, as she describes:

Because I could write about anything at all in the column — friends, fears, parents, school, God — ideas were not hard to think up. By the time I discontinued the series, I had learned to write about serious subjects — segregation, prejudice, capital punishment, and the Vietnam War — in a sardonic way that would still interest teenage readers. The most difficult problem, strangely, was answering an occasional fan letter like this one:

Dear Mr. Tedesco,
You really tell it like it is, Man! What does your girlfriend think of your writing?

Naylor made the shift to publishing books in 1965, by submitting a selection of her short stories, which came out under the title, The Galloping Goat and Other Stories. This led to a another collection of short stories, and then at last, a contract for her first novel. I love how she describes the journey of moving from writing short pieces to writing a whole novel — since this is such a struggle for many writers. She said at first she made the mistake of “trying to throw in everything but the kitchen sink,” which caught the attention of an astute editor, who asked her to revise it. She rewrote the whole book following the editor’s suggestions for improvement, and What the Gulls Were Singing became her first published novel in 1967.

And she’s kept going. What I love about this autobiography is that Phyllis includes many of her early writings and then describes how she would improve them. She’s a writer who never stops growing, and this inspires me, because I can see that writing is a worthy passion of a lifetime. She didn’t stop and sit back on her laurels when she won the Newbery in 1992. She kept on going — in fact, Shiloh was only one book in the Shiloh trilogy.

Go Phyllis.

She is not a one-book wonder, like some of the great writers I’ve read in the past year: Margaret Mitchell, Harper Lee, J.D. Salinger. Here are authors who wrote one book and then lost the magic, or the muse, or whatever it took to get their work out there. Phyllis is nearly 80 years old, and she’s still writing. Her latest book came out this year.

I couldn’t find a website under her name, but I found that she’s actually blogging here at Alice McKinley.com. Alice is a character from another one of her popular book series, and is based on her own life. At this point, she’s published 27 books in the series, and she’s going to end it at book 28. From glancing through the blog, I can see she’s extremely popular in Germany. In fact, one of her fans wrote that she couldn’t stand the length of time she had to wait until the books were translated into German, so she learned to read them in English.

I’m not familiar with the Alice series, so I’m unable to endorse their content, but can’t we as writers learn something from an author who’s won the top award in children’s literature and kept on going to reach the hearts of readers? On her blog, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor says this about her writing process:

I guess they “just come to me.” I don’t have any process. I simply try to become whichever girl I’m writing about–the whole girl–what her family sees of her, what her friends see, how she feels inside, what she worries about–all the things that are going on in her life. Writing is always “striking a balance” with humor, serious stuff, body worries, boyfriend problems, philosophical questions…. I have a very good memory of myself growing up and what was happening to me–what I was thinking about–at all ages, and these probably form the basis of my books.

I would love to hear Phyllis Reynolds Naylor speak at a conference someday. I wonder if she still gets out and speaks. She is someone like Katherine Paterson, whose keynote I heard in New York several years ago, and it still stays with me. I don’t know that I’ll ever find the courage to finish the novels I’ve started and abandoned, like orphaned children, on my computer, but at least I’ve been inspired to share her journey with you!

And it all began with this little girl, Phyllis, being read to by her parents. Her father would act out voices as he read Huckleberry Finn, and her mother kept reading great books out loud well into her children’s teen years.

Which reminds me — summer is around the corner. And I know the perfect book to start reading my 8-year-old son as soon as school is out. I have it sitting here right beside me, and I’m thinking maybe I’ll even start reading it tonight.

Care to join us?





March 26, 2011

I’m happy to join in this week’s blog tour for CJ Darlington’s second novel, Bound By Guilt, which is being released this month from Tyndale. CJ has been a blogging/writing friend of mine for several years, and I had the exciting privilege of interviewing her here last March when her debut novel, Thicker Than Blood, released.

Once again, I’m amazed at the depth of CJ’s writing. She focused her first novel on the relationship between two sisters, Christy and May Williams, showing how years of estrangement are restored through the rich bonds of sisterhood and faith. In her second book, she delves even more deeply into the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters.

Much of the action in both books takes place on a horse ranch in Colorado or at a used bookstore, Dawson’s Book Barn, which is based on the real Baldwin’s Book Barn in Pennsylvania where CJ lives and has worked as a book scout. (Didn’t even know what that meant until I read about it!) It’s an actual five-story barn, which holds over 300,000 books. I would definitely like to visit there — doesn’t that sound heavenly for all of us book lovers?

Bound By Guilt picks up about a year after the events in Thicker Than Blood. We’re now introduced to a new character, 16-year-old Roxi Gold, a girl with a troubled past, caught in a life of crime. I had a hard time putting this novel down, as CJ carefully lays out pieces of a puzzle that all come together in the end.

This novel is all the more intriguing because it involves the theft of a first edition copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. I had no idea a rare book like that could be worth over $50,000! It was fun to learn about the world of antiquarian book scouting. The novel also shows how the little things we do, helping others, sharing a scripture or wisdom from the Bible, can go a long way toward giving someone hope. I really think this would be a great novel to pass along to teenagers, as well as any youth workers who spend time with teen girls.

Go CJ! We’re anxiously awaiting another book in the Dawson’s Book Barn saga!

Check out this beautiful cover and book trailer!

TitleTrakk.com Blog Tours Presents:

Bound by Guilt
by C.J. Darlington
Published by Tyndale House

Shuttled between foster homes, Roxi Gold will do anything to fit in. Soon she’s traveling the country stealing rare books from unsuspecting bookstores. Police officer Abby Dawson has seen the worst of society—and not just at work. One fateful night, both their lives are changed forever. One searches for justice, the other finds herself on the run. Will the power of forgiveness set them free?


***Here’s what others are saying about Bound By Guilt***

Great job! You kept me turning the pages.
Francine Rivers, Internationally best selling author

C.J. is a wonderful, talented writer . . . extraordinary . . .
Bodie Thoene, best-selling author of the A.D. Chronicles

This one engages your senses and reaches your heart.
Jerry B. Jenkins, NY Times best-selling author & owner of The Christian Writers Guild

Watch the book trailer:

About the Author:
C. J. Darlington won the 2008 Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel contest with her first novel, Thicker Than Blood. She has been in the antiquarian bookselling business for over twelve years, scouting for stores similar to the ones described in her novels before cofounding her own online bookstore. In 2006 C. J. started the Christian entertainment Web site www.TitleTrakk.com with her sister, Tracy, and has been actively promoting Christian fiction through book reviews and author interviews. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs and cats. Visit her website www.cjdarlington.com

QUICK LINKS:




March 22, 2011



I love to travel, don’t you? In my 20s, I enjoyed wandering the planet as an itinerant English teacher, but these days, I’m thankful if I get to travel a few hours from home. I do most of my globe trekking from the cheap seat of my armchair — and that is why I LOVED reading Sibella Giorello’s latest novel, The Mountains Bow Down.

Why? Because this author whisked me away to the wilds of Alaska! On a cruise ship, The Spirit of Odysseus. Where I got to see glaciers through sentences like this:

Smothered with evergreens, the steeps pointed to a sky so blue it whispered of eternity … And where a liquid silver sea lapped the rocky shore, a bald eagle surveyed the cold water for fish.

*Aah.*

Not only was the setting of this book thrilling, I also thoroughly enjoyed spending time in the mind of FBI agent, Raleigh Harmon, who uses the fascinating field of forensic geology to solve her crimes. And yes — a crime does take place aboard the ship. While most of the passengers are lounging, eating, and gazing at the gorgeous scenery, a woman goes missing and tragedy occurs. In the short span of a 5-day cruise, it’s up to Raleigh Harmon and her Tom Cruise-like sidekick, Special Agent Jack Stephenson, to piece together the mystery and put a monster behind bars.

So there’s a little romance on board, though Raleigh isn’t too swayed by Jack’s charm and stays focused on her mission of justice. As I read the book, I kept sneaking peeks at the author’s photo, thinking this book has to be somewhat autobiographical! Sibella Giorello grew up in Alaska and majored in geology. I could imagine her as the novel’s heroine, an FBI agent solving a crime based on microscopic dust fibers. It was so cool to learn how this is done. (Especially since I’m married to a geologist.)

Here’s the back cover copy of the book, if you’d like to learn more:

Everything’s going to work out. Time away always makes things better…

That’s what FBI Special Agent Raleigh Harmon believes as she boards a cruise to Alaska. A land of mountains and gems and minerals, The Last Frontier is a dream destination for this forensic geologist who’s hoping to leave behind a hectic work schedule and an engagement drained of romance.

But when a passenger goes missing and winds up dead, Raleigh’s vacation suddenly gets lost at sea. The ship’s security chief tries to rule the death a suicide, but Raleigh’s forensics background points to a much darker conclusion: Somewhere onboard, a ruthless murderer walks free.

Engulfed by one of her toughest cases yet, Raleigh requests assistance from the FBI and receives her nemesis-perpetual ladies man Special Agent Jack Stephanson. As the cruise ship sails through the Inside Passage, Raleigh has five days to solve a high-profile murder, provide consultation for a movie filming onboard, and figure out her increasingly complicated feelings for Jack-who might not be such a jerk after all.

And that’s only her work life. Family offers even more challenges. Joined on the cruise by her mother and aunt, Raleigh watches helplessly as disturbing rifts splinter her family.

Like the scenery that surrounds the cruise ship, Raleigh discovers a situation so steep and so complex that even the mountains might bow down before it.

I hope you have a chance to read this book, and if you click on the picture below, you also have a chance to win a getaway on your own Alaskan Cruise!

Sibella’s celebrating the release of The Mountains Bow Down with a blog tour, a Cruise prize pack worth over $500 and a Facebook Party! Don’t miss a minute of the fun.

One Grand Prize winner will receive:

  • A $500 gift certificate toward the cruise of their choice from Vacations To Go.
  • The entire set of the Raleigh Harmon series.

To enter click one of the icons below. Then tell your friends. And enter soon – the giveaway ends on 4/1! The winner will be announced at Sibella’s Raleigh Harmon Book Club Party on FB April 5th, 2011! Don’t miss the fun – prizes, books and gab!

Enter via E-mail Enter via FacebookEnter via Twitter

About the Facebook Party: Join Sibella and fans of the Raleigh Harmon series on April 5th at 5:00 pm PST (6 MST, 7 CST & 8 EST) for a Facebook Book Club Party. Sibella will be giving away some fun prizes, testing your trivia skills and hosting a book chat about the Raleigh Harmon books. Have questions you’d like to chat about – leave them on the Event page.


Sibella Giorello grew up in Alaska and majored in geology at Mount Holyoke College. After riding a motorcycle across the country, she worked as a features writer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Her stories have won state and national awards, including two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize. She now lives in Washington state with her husband and sons. Find out more about Sibella and her other books at her website. www.sibellagiorello.com




February 21, 2011




I just finished reading Kathi Lipp’s really fun book, The Me Project, and I’m happy to join in the blog tour to help spread the word.

I started reading it a couple of weeks ago without having any idea what my “project” might be. After slipping this book into my purse and carrying it around to basketball games, school pick-up lines, and doctor’s appointments, I feel like Kathi Lipp has become a friend, someone who wants me to seek God’s best for my life.

The book is divided into 21 “projects” that will help you take small steps toward dreams you may have on hold. It would be a great resource for women’s book clubs and church groups, since one of the main points Kathi Lipp makes is that friends can hold you accountable as you make progress toward your goals.

Here’s a little about the book:

Has that rush to make (and break) New Year’s resolutions already waned? According to Daniel Pink, author of 
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, taking small steps every day will not only help you stay committed to your goal, 
but will also help you ultimately achieve that goal when obstacles come up. Author Kathi Lipp wants you and your friends to live out those dreams—and have some fun along the way.

As women, we forget the goals and dreams of our younger years. The busyness of everyday life gets 
in the way. To-do lists replace goals. The Me Project provides women with fun and creative ways to bring back the sense of purpose and vitality that comes with living out the plans and dreams God has planted in our hearts. Kathi Lipp’s warm tone and laugh-out-loud humor motivates women to take daily steps toward intentional goals. The end result? We get back our lives and enjoy living in the confidence of a purposeful life in spite of our chaotic schedules.

This handy guide coaches women to do one simple thing toward achieving our goals each day for three weeks. A woman experiencing the exhilaration of a rediscovered life offers more as a wife, mother, friend, volunteer, career woman.

Now you get a chance to meet Kathi Lipp as she shares how you can get started on your own “Me Project.” And if you leave a comment below, you’ll be entered in to win a really cool Starbucks gift basket full of caffeine-loaded goodies that will certainly energize you and your accountability buddies to reach for the stars!



Three Super-Simple Ways to Kick Start Living Your Dreams — In the Next 15 Minutes
by Kathi Lipp

Is there a dream that God has given you, but you are waiting until the kids are grown and you have money in the bank before you get started?

You may not be able to enroll in a month-long pastry making class or take a week off of work to get started on your novel, but today you can take three little baby steps to making your dream a day-to-day reality.

1. Go Public with It.
It’s a little scary to tell the world what you want to do when you grow up — but this one little step could get you closer to living your dream than almost any other. Plus — it takes very little time, and you don’t have to raid your kid’s college fund to make it happen.

When you gather up all your courage and tell your best friend, “I want to learn how to paint,” suddenly she remembers an old art book she has laying around she would love to give you, or her friend from church who teaches art classes. The people you know and love want to be a resource. Give them the privilege of being a part of making your dream happen.

2. Join an Online Group.
This is one of the simplest — and cheapest — ways to start exploring your passion. Find out who else is talking about restoring antiques and listen to their conversation. Start by Googling your interest along with the term “online groups.” You’ll be amazed with the number of people who want to talk about the proper way to care for 1950’s lunchboxes as much as you do.

3. Don’t be Afraid to Pray.
I remember the first time I put an offer in on a house — I wanted it more than I had wanted almost anything else in my life. While I knew that I had dozens of other people praying on my behalf, I was too scared to pray.

I didn’t want God to tell me no. I was afraid to pray until my co-worker Kim asked me (in a loving, kind way), why I didn’t believe that God wanted His best for me. Don’t be afraid to pray — as with anything amazing in my life, the path is never what I expected, but it has always been obvious that God’s hand has been on it the whole way.

Kathi Lipp is a busy conference and retreat speaker, currently speaking each year to thousands of women throughout the United States. She is the author of The Husband Project and The Marriage Project, serves as food writer for Nickelodeon, and has had articles published in several magazines, including Today’s Christian Woman and Discipleship Journal. Kathi and her husband, Roger, live in California and are the parents of four teenagers and young adults. For more information visit her website.



Grand Prize Giveaway: Deluxe Starbucks Coffee Gift Basket

* Three 2.5-oz. bags of Starbucks coffee
(Sumatra, House Blend, and French Roast)
* Tazo black tea
* Starbucks marshmallow cocoa
* Almond roca
* Almond roca buttercrunch toffee cookies
* White chocolate and raspberry cookies
* 2 Starbucks mugs
* Keepsake black bamboo basket

$62 value




November 22, 2010



As a former English teacher and bonafide bookaholic, I’m always seeking like-minded souls who embrace classic literature. So you can imagine my joy when I stumbled onto The Red Blazer Girls, a brand new middle grade series, written by high school English teacher Michael D. Beil, whose characters are smart, wholesome, and literary.

I really wasn’t looking for anything new to read. My nightstand is already so full of books, I can hardly find my alarm clock. But as I breezed through the library with my kids the other day, The Ring of Rocamadour (book 1 of the series) jumped off the shelf at me. I couldn’t resist when I opened it up and read the first paragraph:

For as far back as I can remember, I have told everyone I know that I am going to be a writer. And it’s not just some idle dream. I have been a busy girl, and my hard drive is bulging with the results of this ambition: a heaping assortment of almost-but-not-quite-finished short stories and at least three this-time-I’m-really-off-to-a-great-start-and-I-mean-it novels. Unfortunately, every single thing I have written — until now, that is — is fatally flawed.

Ha! Did Mr. Beil sneak over to my house and read my diary? Or, since this is his debut novel, are we actually reading his diary?

This snappy writing continues throughout the book, and I couldn’t put it down. So, who are the Red Blazer Girls? Well, although the book cover only shows three, there are actually four girls in the group, in the seventh grade at New York City’s exclusive St. Veronica’s School: Sophie, Margaret, Rebecca, and Leigh Ann. In The Ring of Rocamadour, the girls find themselves caught up in a mystery when the quirky Mrs. Harriman asks for their help solving a 20-year-old puzzle. She’s seeks clues to a treasure hunt initiated by her father for the sake of his granddaughter, on her 14th birthday. Unfortunately, he died before giving her the card, and the birthday gift has never been found.

The Red Blazer Girls are in, and their adventures involve digging through old volumes of the Harvard Classics, quizzing their English teacher on his vast knowledge of Charles Dickens, and even math equations. In fact, several pages of the book take readers through a math problem that made the subject exciting and fun — even for me! I probably haven’t thought about the Pythagorean theorem since high school, but it comes in handy when the girls are trying to pinpoint a secret spot where the next clue may be hidden.

Sophie is an amazing narrator — I love her! I want more books narrated by her. Here’s what she says about herself:

Another confession: call me a geek if you must, but I just love books. I am absolutely obsessed with them. Go on, name any kids’ book or series of books, and I probably have it. I spend so much of my allowance at the local bookstore that Margaret thinks I have some kind of compulsive shopping disorder … Nothing against the library, but there’s something different about having the book within reach when, say, I absolutely need to go back and reread that part in Anne of Green Gables that makes me cry every time I read it. (And speaking of books, if you’re the person who borrowed my well-worn but much loved hardcover copy of The Secret Garden, please return it — no questions asked.)

Ooh… I love this writing. I can see why an acquiring editor at Knopf fell in love. As soon as I finished the first book, I had to start right away on the next one The Vanishing Violin. The clues here involve more verbal logic than math, but I also found this book a fascinating read!

I predict middle school English teachers and librarians will snap this series up — and hopefully publishers will keep up the trend of bringing out books that expand minds and build character in readers.

The Red Blazer Girls are good wholesome reading for girls — with no sleaze or vampires. Thank you, Mr. Beil! Keep ’em coming!