Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Mother's Secret

I received a copy of A MOTHER’S SECRET by Amy Clipston from Zondervan via BookSneeze.  It is the second novel in the Hearts of the Lancaster Grand Hotel series.  I chose this book because it involves an Amish community, and my mother enjoys reading about the Amish lifestyle.  I enjoy discussing the books with her once we’ve both read them.

I have mixed feelings on this novel.  For the good, it was a fast read.  I had to see what happened next.  I started it in the evening, which I shouldn’t have done, for it kept me up late, and then I tried to read more during lunch.  It was honestly hard to put down and I had to finish it when I got home.  The characters feel real and they aren’t all sweet and innocent like the people in most Amish fiction. 

With that said, there was some bad too.  The grandfather seemed too blinded to how his grandsons treated Ben and I never had a strong sense of the setting, nor of what people looked like, other than Carolyn who was described as attractive.  The book mentioned Bird-in-Hand market, which I’ve been to many times with my mother, so I was able to imagine that, but only because I have the memories and pictures.  I also felt like the characters repeated themselves often.  While they felt real, the situations felt contrived, as if the author had laid out a plan for the book and stuck to it steadfast.

Overall, I give the book three stars, and I will be getting the others in the series to discover what else will happen.  

Interview with Dee Yoder

On May 20th, I reviewed THE MITING, a novel about Old Order Amish by Dee Yoder.  Blog readers and I put together a set of questions for Ms. Yoder and she has graciously answered them.

Kissed by Literature: When did you decide you wanted to be an author?
Dee Yoder: I used to write “books” when I was in elementary school—drew funny little illustrations to go with them. I remember telling my mom when I was about 13 that I wanted to be a writer. But her hopes for me to be a nurse, with a good living, prompted her to reply “Well, that’s a good idea, too, but don’t forget that you can also be a nurse.” Somehow, that convinced me to be a nurse, though I changed my mind in college and earned a degree in Bio Science, instead. So writing didn’t come into play again until I hit my 50th birthday—I called it my “jubilee” year. Time to do some things I had put off doing! That’s when I rediscovered my love for writing. I searched for “Christian writing contests” online and found FaithWriters. What a wonderful way for me to jump back into the writing world. God certainly had my back on that one.

KBL: What steps did you follow before your story was accepted?
DY: I have to be honest and tell you that God, again, had my back on that one, too. I had a writing friend who discovered I had written a novel based on the experiences of the former Amish we both knew. It was a mess of a manuscript because I had written it over two years’ time in the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) contests. She had an agent. She queried him for me, and lo and behold, he was interested. I have an editor friend who mentored me through FaithWriters. She helped me spiff up the manuscript, I constructed a book proposal, and then sent the manuscript to Terry Burns. He assigned me to one of his editors, we worked together on the manuscript, and I then resubmitted it to Terry. He signed me to the Hartline Literary Agency. He began to “shop” my manuscript to publishers and that’s how Kregel Publications came to offer me a three book contract. It was an amazing, and totally unexpected, journey.

KBL: Do you have any advice about query letter writing?
DY: As you have learned from my previous reply, it always helps to have someone who is already with an agent to advance your name for you! But since I didn’t have to go the query letter route, I can’t offer much advice, except this: Be succinct. Be clear. Pray. I do know my agent has said he has hundreds of queries and proposals to read through every week, but he tries hard to give each writer a fair read. I think that’s amazing. Oh, and one more little piece of advice: Put your name out there in the cyber world. Blog, be on social networks, and be an online “presence” because folks in the writing industry WILL Google your name once they receive your letter and show interest. That really does help in this day of Internet working and living.

KBL: Do you worry about what the Amish will think of your book?
DY: Yes, I do. Because I do not mean to offend anyone, I am concerned that the honesty presented in my story could upset some Amish communities. But I also know the Lord was with me when I wrote this book, and the former Amish who have read it have given me the thumbs up that the story really does present their voices and experiences. That gives me great comfort. I also pray for the readers, especially Amish, if they read the book. My desire is that the story will bring some readers to reflection concerning their own relationships with Jesus.

KBL: What is your favorite moment from a book signing?
DY:  I’ve only had one book singing, so far, at The Amish Awareness Conference that Mission to Amish People presented. Since I also volunteer for MAP, it was a hectic two days. I hosted a book table and was also helping to cook food for the lunch and authentic Amish dinner we served. But it was a wonderful way to be introduced to the book signing world. I loved meeting my new readers and hearing how excited they were to read the book. I think one of the best moments was when a librarian told me there were several holds on The Miting at a big city public library, and the book wasn’t even there yet. It was astonishing to me! As authors, we often don’t know the reach of the books we write and it is always a delight to discover where the books land.

KBL: How hard was it to write your author bio?
DY: Oh, I’m laughing--it was hard! I think many writers experience the dreaded bio-syndrome and I was no exception. I have more than one bio saved on my laptop, that’s for sure. I’m still not totally satisfied, but I know things can be changed, and probably will be, in the future. It’s difficult to write about yourself in third person.

KBL: What has been your most rewarding moment as a published author?
DY: The most rewarding moments are when I read reviews and private emails from readers who have enjoyed The Miting. If you ask my husband, he will tell you that I shake my head in wonder that the story God helped me tell of my former Amish friends’ experiences has moved others, too. I love my former Amish friends. I admire their fortitude and determination to go forward in life, sometimes against all odds. I can’t tell you how many times I’m moved to tears over their struggles and their triumphs. I love celebrating their lives. I love how God has weaved their lives into mine. Though it’s sometimes difficult, these journeys, I’m blessed to know these wonderful people. Isn’t it amazing the adventures God leads us to when we simply hang onto His coattails and fly with Him?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


I received a copy of THE MITING: AN OLD ORDER AMISH NOVEL by Dee Yoder from Kregel.  I requested this book partly because my mother and I enjoy stories about the Amish – the Amish lifestyle fascinates her and I read them so we can discuss the plots together – and partly because this novel has a different spin.  Normally the Amish novels are romances where the characters fall in love, embrace the Amish faith, and live happily ever after.  I don’t want to say THE MITING is the complete opposite, but it is different than any Amish book I’ve read so far.

Leah accepts Jesus into her life as her Lord and Savior.  The others in her Amish community see this as a sin.  I found that shocking.  THE MITING opened my eyes to a new idea about what it means to be Amish.  I highly recommend this to anyone interested in the Amish lifestyle.  What I found most shocking was that Leah, who is seventeen, doesn’t want to leave the Amish.  She only wants to read the Bible.  I couldn’t wait to find out what happened at the end of the novel.    When you do, you will sigh and blink back a few tears.  

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sarah's Choice

I received a copy of SARAH’S CHOICE by Rebecca St. James and Nancy Rue from Thomas Nelson via BookSneeze/BookLook BloggersThis story captured me and refused to let go.  I told myself I would only read for a half-hour - I had many other things to do, but the cover was just too tantalizing to surrender – and two hours later, I closed the cover and sighed.  I really want to know what happens next in the lives of Sarah and Matt. 

Sarah is excited about a new career opportunity that will empower her to success.  Matt is her boyfriend, an overall good guy.  Sarah starts to feel ill, and soon discovers she is pregnant.  She confronts Matt with a choice: marry her or take her to the clinic.  Matt struggles to come to terms with what he is faced with, while Sarah is urged at work to have an abortion.  Her mother is strongly against that.  Sarah and Matt both turn to God to learn what path they must take. 

At the end of the book, tears were filling my eyes.  The characters grow and love, and the awakenings are sweet.  The book is filled with real emotions.  It is a situation many women face.  I highly recommend this story.  

Monday, May 12, 2014

Candle Bible Handbook

I received a copy of CANDLE BIBLE HANDBOOK by Terry Jean Day and Carol J. Smith, edited and revised by Dr. Tim Dowley from Candle Books via Kregel.  The pages include detailed illustrations, study guides, frequently asked questions, what to look for, outlines, maps, and other tools to help you think deeper about the Bible.  My mother and I were both thrilled with this addition to our library, as we often read different version of the Bible for religious study and discussion. 

We have been studying Ruth in depth, so we turned to that section first.  It tells the facts behind the Bible story and makes you think deeply, rather than moving on to the next story.  The writing is simple enough for a child’s enjoyment, but factual enough to keep an adult’s attention.  The handbook makes an excellent source of family discussion.  Many topics are ones you can further look up together for more detail, such as the profession of potters.

After Ruth, we read about David, for we recently watched a movie about King David.

I recommend this to anyone seeking a greater understanding of the Bible.  I hope this becomes a permanent fixture in our religious library.  

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Merlin's Nightmare

I received a copy of MERLIN’S NIGHTMARE by Robert Treskillard from Blink via BookSneeze.  When I first saw the novel, I was a little wary.  I love Arthurian legends, but sometimes they become repetitive, and you start to feel that it is just the same story over and over again.  Then, I decided to give it a go, especially because it is for young adults.  In my opinion, you can never introduce people to King Arthur young enough. 

This is the third installment in the Merlin’s Spiral series.  In it, Arthur is eighteen and Merlin is keeping a secret.  Chaos breaks loose.  Arthur steps up into a leadership role.  There is plenty of adventure and fantasy to keep the reader’s interest. 

I will keep watch for the other installments.  I loved how this novel brought the Christian religion into the mix, which other Arthurian tales I’ve read did not.  Oh yeah, and there were werewolves.  That was another new quality.  You don’t have to be a teenager to enjoy MERLIN’S NIGHTMARE; it will appeal to anyone intrigued by a fast-paced story.  It also comes with a pronunciation guide, for anyone unfamiliar with Arthurian tales.  For those who haven’t read the other books, there is a guide for a recap as well.  

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Casting the Net

I received a copy of CASTING THE NET by Pam Rhodes from Kregel.  It is the second book in the Dunbridge Chronicles and the first book I have read by her.  Judging by how I felt regarding this one, it won’t be the last.  I like to think of it as an all-around feel good book.  It makes you want to be a better person.  This book is definitely worth the time it takes to read it – which isn’t long, considering you want to see what happens next!

Picture sitting on the couch with the setting sun illuminating a lush, green lawn.  CASTING THE NET is about Reverend Neil Fisher.  As this is the second book in the series, it is about Neil’s second year in Dunbridge and all the adventures that go along with that.  My favorite character was Claire, who is the gardener for the church and not a Christian.  Neil questions his feelings for her, since they don’t share the same religious beliefs.  Then, of course, there is Wendy, who wants Neil all to herself.  Get ready to laugh, cry, and talk about how great this book is with other book lovers. 

I will keep my eyes open for books one and three in the Dunbridge Chronicles series.  

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Running Lean

I received a copy of RUNNING LEAN by Diana L. Sharples from Blink via BookSneeze.  This book had consuming emotion from the first chapter to the last.  While there were places where I laughed, overall this is a book that sucks you in and leaves you breathless.  My heart broke many times.  The book made me really pause to think, as I am going through many stressful situations with friends right now, but the situations are a little different. 

Stacey struggles with weight issues and Calvin struggles with the death of his brother.  The faith is strong in this book, and really opens your eyes to teenage emotions.  I recommend this book to older teens and adults.  For younger teens, they might want to read it with an adult, or at least have a conversation afterwards with an adult. 

I would have liked more information on some of the minor characters, but the main characters are strongly portrayed.  I have heard the book called chick lit, and I can see how it fits into that category, but more than that, I feel this book is young adult inspirational.  It encouraged me to reach out to friends and family, to support them in any way possible.  

Friday, May 2, 2014

Interview with Heather Munn

Hello, loyal readers!  Author Heather Munn was kind enough to agree to an interview.  She warned me that her answers would be long and I told her to go for it.  She did not disappoint!

1) Who inspires your writing the most?

This might not be the answer you were looking for, but I would have to say it's my characters. Magali, for example. We've had a complicated relationship. 
The truth is, I didn’t like Magali at first, and it made me hesitant about taking on the book. She kind of made me think of the “popular girls” I hated in high school, especially in the way she’s pretty insensitive with her shy friend, Rosa. I was pretty familiar with that as a teen–having friends who think you’re not really cool enough but are happy to hang around with you when the cool people aren’t available!

But one day I was out weeding strawberries (on the farm I worked on for awhile) and Magali just started talking to me. "I just didn't know war was going to be so boring," she said, and I had to go run for my backpack, which luckily had a notebook in it, and write it down. Later that day I wrote to Mom and said I would do the book with her. It was still a big journey after that, though. Magali is like that friend whose personality really doesn't match yours but who you've been through the fire with and that's what makes the bond. I've watched her suffer--to be honest, made her suffer--so much that in a sense that's how I learned compassion for her. Even people who are jerks to others can suffer, and suffer a lot. In fact that’s pretty much the human condition! Especially according to Christianity–we all hurt others, and we all suffer, and some of the very worst suffering comes in facing how much we have hurt others, but that’s the place where God redeems us. And I’ve experienced my share of that.

So because of that, I think, because of shared suffering, Magali is almost a real person to me. That's happened with other characters too. Including my very favorite character I ever wrote, who doesn't have a name. I'd like to share him with you, actually--it's a very short story, about the Resurrection. Here's the link: the secret place of thunder: Life Again: an Easter reading

the secret place of thunder: Life Again: an Easter readi...
The garden was wet that morning, the rich man's garden around his tomb cut into the rock. I remember that. You could still hear the earth drinking the rain. It had ...
Preview by Yahoo

2) Do you have any personal family history that you wove into the story?

No, because my family's history is not in France. We're mostly from Ireland, actually (especially Northern Ireland.) I think Mom may have given the Losier family an older boy and a younger girl because she herself had me and my older brother... but that's pretty much the extent of it. Julien is not much like my brother, and as I mentioned above, I actually had quite a hard time finding enough in common with Magali to really write her well. (It worked out though!)

3) How did you do your research?

Because of the way Mom and I worked together (she came up with the initial setting, characters & plot and I kind of took it from there,) Mom really did the bulk of the research. She got very in-depth--she's an in-depth kind of person--reading a lot of primary sources, first-hand accounts, etc. I could always call her up with a question, and she made me a timeline of events--both larger war events and really specific stuff about the camps, plus what's going on in the plot at the same time--I was spoiled, really. But I did do some of my own research, because I felt like I especially needed to understand the feel of the times for myself. I watched the documentary The Sorrow and the Pity, which is about the conquest & occupation of France and what it was like for French people, and I was going to watch Shoah, a six-hour documentary specifically on the Holocaust, but I'm embarrassed to say I chickened out. It was due back to the library before I worked up the guts to see that many death camp images--I've heard it pulls absolutely no punches.

Mom also passed on some of her reading to me, especially a French book called Those Children We Had to Save, about the young women who got children out of the camps, a book called Hidden On The Mountain, full of personal stories of the children who spent time in the children's homes in Le Chambon (the real town Tanieux is based on), and the journal of a young Swiss woman named Friedel, who lived as an aid worker in Rivesaltes, the internment camp that is portrayed in the novel. These were really important for portraying the camp and the children's homes accurately. There were lovely stories from the children's homes, a real saving grace after reading about the camp. If you put the photos of children in an internment camp & of children in Le Chambon up against each other--and remember that some of these could have been the same kids--that's about the contrast.

4) What is your favorite book?

I might give a different answer another week, but I recently re-read The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin. It's an incredible book--Le Guin is a great writer. It's not Christian at all, of course. But I actually think that some of the ideals the people in the novel are trying to embody--a sense of brotherhood, not eating while another is hungry, doing work for good work's sake and simply giving it to everyone who needs it--are very in line with what Jesus taught. But what I really love is that at the heart of the book there's this kind of profound praise of marriage--this idea that making promises and keeping them is what makes us human, what makes the years of our lives have meaning instead of being just one thing after another. There's the moment where the main character sees his wife again after they've been apart four years going through incredible hardship, and he looks at her and sees that she's gotten worn down and lost her beauty, but at the same time he sees her, you know, who she truly is, because he's known her so intimately for so many years--and at that moment he feels this desire for her so strong he can hardly handle it. I just love that as a picture of a real marriage.

5) What has kept you writing without becoming too discouraged since the process of becoming published tends to be difficult?

I love writing, for one thing. It's more complicated than that, though, because writing can be kind of agonizing too. When you're doing a rough draft and you're not quite sure exactly where this part of it is going yet, it's like having an itch you can't scratch, for days. But the good moments are so good--for me, it's the moment when a beautiful sentence or metaphor just comes to me out of nowhere, or when I write a scene, especially a turning point or a spiritual scene, and I know I nailed it. But there's a lot in between those moments. I think it's helped immensely to have my mom waiting on the other end for each chapter, actually! It put me under pressure to finish, and it meant somebody--besides me--cared. I almost think if I were a solo writer I would try to pick someone I trusted and who cared about my writing and just ask her if I could send her each chapter as I finished it. It might not be the same, but it'd be something, I think.

6) What was the first thing you did after you found out this book was going to be published?

It was such a convoluted process (because they expressed interest and then we had to negotiate about revisions) that I'm not just sure what I did at the moment I heard officially that my first book was being published--but I remember the meeting at which I began to believe it would be. I remember going back to where I was staying on the Chicago Metra train, late at night, and singing to myself. I'd just heard the song "Still Alive" for the first time. It's a crazy little jaunty song that comes from a computer game & is full of weird inside jokes, but its starts out, "This was a triumph... I'm making a note here: 'Huge success'..." And I just kept singing it to myself! I met a guy on a unicycle at one of the stops. It was quite a night.

7) How do you get over writer's block?

I'm not really sure I get over it any better than other people! On thing, though: in my experience, when I get writer's block on a specific project (as opposed to "I don't have any ideas") it means something's wrong. Generally writer's block for me means I start hating what I'm writing, I just don't have the spark, continuing to write is like trudging through knee-deep molasses, you get the picture. And it means something is wrong--that is, something's wrong with the scene, or the story. Maybe the event I'm writing is the wrong thing to have happen, or it's in the wrong place in the story, or the character wouldn't do that, or it's boring. So I have to remind myself, "Hey, this feeling means something's wrong with the story," and I have to step back and look carefully at it and figure out what it is. And let go of my hopes for how soon I was going to get the chapter done!

Or there's the other form of writer's block--burnout. I discovered this a few years ago when suddenly, for a while, I had all the time in the world. I discovered two things: never write more than four hours a day! It'll burn out this one specific area of your brain, to the point where you can't stand to even think about writing--but gardening or even, say, math, is fine. Also, if I'm truly stuck: staring at the screen for an hour without writing a word, just trying to force myself to think of what to write next, is way more tiring than actual writing is. I've learned that if I get to that point, forget it. Get up and go clean the house. Because if you keep forcing yourself and burn out, it will take you three days, instead of three hours, to recover.

8) What is your favorite time period (either to read about, to research, or to write about)?

It would have to be World War II. More than anything I'm interested in humanity and choices, good and evil and why people make the choices they do when they're under pressure. When the Nazis occupied a country, that was pressure all right! So I'm
 fascinated by the contrast between the choices people made under occupation. You take three or four "ordinary" people in France who before the war seemed pretty much on par with each other as human beings, and by the time the war's over: one has chosen to collaborate with the Nazis so he could keep his job, another has gotten rich by charging the highest price the black market would bear during food shortages, a third has secretly denounced the neighbor she couldn't stand and gotten her arrested, and the last has sheltered Jewish strangers at the risk of her life. Times like that expose the soul.

9) What is it like writing with your mother?

It's got its challenges, but it's been great. Mom writes the first version--providing the setting, characters and plot--and I re-write it in my own words, and sometimes make changes in consultation with her. That means the challenge for me has been taking someone else's work and making it mine--digging into it and finding ways to express themes I really care about in it--while also keeping it hers and being faithful to her vision as well. It's not easy, but I think it's been a fruitful process.

The best part about writing with my Mom is that it’s always kept us talking! We’ve always had a weekly phone date to talk about the books, and we’ve hashed out many a plot or pacing problem on a transatlantic call. (Because in fact I did make a lot of changes from her versions–but we always had to discuss them.) It’s been wonderful because in fact, we have a lot of respect for each other’s abilities and what they bring to the books. Mom’s initial plot choices established a depth for the books that I don’t think I could have brought to them on my own at my age, and she’s always respected my instincts for writing and my intuition about the characters. The characters we work with, and the true story they spring from, have become something we both care deeply about, so it’s a real joy to talk about them together. And of course it’s pretty fun to “talk shop” with your own mom.

10) What is your next project?

I'm currently researching for the next
 book in the series, because Defy the Night doesn't take us to the end of the war. It ends in 1942 and in the true story of Le Chambon--and of the war in general--that is actually when the truly dramatic things start happening. This one is still totally in the research stage--you can read my comments on the really interesting history I've been reading if you go to our writers' page on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/MunnandMunn#_=_)--but the general idea is that it will have more action and probably both Julien and Magali will be main characters. They've had their coming-of-age and they're ready to truly plunge into the work. And there's plenty to do. Among other things, this book will probably see one or both of them helping to lead groups of children cross-country to the Alps so they can be smuggled into Switzerland.

11) When did it finally sink in that you were a published author?

I think it was when they sent me the proofs to read. I had always heard of authors--like for instance C.S. Lewis--"reading the galleys" or "reading the proofs" and for some reason that was one of my vivid pictures of being an author. You know, picture Lewis sitting in his chair puffing at his pipe, with a pile of papers on his knee, right? Well, turned out it was a bit less romantic than that--they sent them to me as a PDF file! But actually that was OK, because with the layout & the font I could see how it was going to look in print--and that was so exciting.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Gathering Shadows

I received a copy of GATHERING SHADOWS by Nancy Mehl from Bethany House.  It is the first installation of the Finding Sanctuary series. 

Bethany House sends out an email asking the reviewer to choose which book to receive in the mail.  I read through the options with my mother, as I share most of the books I read with her afterwards.  We both agreed that GATHERING SHADOWS sounded the best.  Wynter Evans lost her brother nine years ago when he disappeared, and now she finds a photograph of him.  Um…can you say intriguing?  I hadn’t expected to read this book as quickly as I did, but I really flew through it.  It is one of those hard-to-put-down reads.  Once you start it, you’ll see what I mean. 

There is great suspense, and I might just be bad at picking the bad guy, but I never guessed who it was!  The whole idea of the town of Sanctuary was captivating.  Basically, you go there if you want to disappear.  There is so much creativity in this novel.  Nancy Mehl is truly a pleasure to read.  I highly recommend this book to fans of romantic suspense.  I’m quite ready to dive into the second book in this series.