Sunday, January 31, 2010

Blog Tour: Songs of Deliverance (review)

Songs of Deliverance is the latest book release by Marilynn Griffith.

Within the novel, Griffith weaves together the stories of four childhood friends, torn apart by the mistakes and tragedies of their past. Now as adults, they are reunited in their hometown of Testimony, Ohio, where they sort through the messy, real-life struggles of secrets kept hidden, lost loves and unknown futures.

The book features Zeely Wilkins - the one with the beautiful voice that earned her the nickname “Birdie,” when she was younger.  Now engaged to marry Jerry, her life seems to be back on track, though she struggles to bury feelings for her high school sweetheart.

Grace Okoye - who can make you hold your breath when she dances, but ever since that night more than a decade ago, she has pushed that dream—like so many others—aside.

Ron Jenkins, the lone white guy who once used to preach in the black church, has returned to Testimony, now as a lawyer. He questions whether he should be here, and when enough is enough when it comes to matters of the heart.

Brian Mayfield, with his long dreadlocks, had walked away from the church awhile ago. Only recently has he started to turn back to God and find strength for healing and patience. He never knew his biological mother but is determined to make a difference in the lives of the students at Imani Academy, with the help of his assistant, Grace Okoye.

The book focuses on how the friends began to help and encourage each other as they address the pains, heartaches and tragedies of their past—and get a second chance to make things right.

Though never easy, the friends experience a spiritual awakening as they begin to face their secrets and sorrows and offer their struggles over to God. They learn the beauty and strength in friendship, and the inexhaustible depth of God’s healing grace and redemption—no matter how hopeless or doomed things may seem at first.

What I Thought
First off, I liked the book in general. I thought Griffith wove the stories of four friends together in an interesting way. I also thought she kept the novel moving quickly, as things began to unfold in the lives of her main characters - Ron and Zeely. 

The book is a sequel - to Rhythm of Grace (see below for info about this book), but billed as a "stand alone" novel. Honestly, I think that billing is a disservice to the reader, and to Griffith.

I spent the first half of the book trying to figure out what was happening. The story jumps so quickly, that if you didn't read the first book, it was like coming into a play in the second act. I assume (haven't picked up the first book) that the first book lays the ground work so you can appreciate the direction, rhythm and flow of Songs of Deliverance.

With that said, I loved Griffith's description of worship - although, I'm not sure I've ever encountered a service with so much emotion and feeling. I also love how she describes the feelings and interactions between Grace and Brian and Zeely and Ron.

But, because I "jumped" into the story in the second book, I spent way too much time trying to figure things out, and understand why things were happening. Even now, as I reflect on the book, some questions are still unanswered, because the foundational elements were in her first novel.

I truly think, in order to enjoy this novel, you should take the time to first pick up Rhythms of Grace. Only then will you truly find the deliverance Griffith writes about - and appreciate the journey of faith the four characters take in the final manuscript.

I am pleased that this book came across my desk. It's introduced me to a strong, Christian writer. I look forward to seeing what Griffith comes up with next.

More About Marilynn Griffith
Marilynn Griffith is a freelance writer and conference speaker whose online columns and blogs reach thousands of women each year. She is the author of the Shades of Style series. Marilynn lives in Tallahassee, Florida, with her husband and their seven children.

Read more about Griffith by visiting her blog:

Find Songs of Deliverance on line at

Find all of Griffith's books at Amazon.

The First Book in the Series: Rhythms of Grace

Grace Okoye was a promising young dancer when her career was cut short by a brutal assault that left her scarred for life.

Twenty years later, when her past gets in the way of her happiness, she heeds the invitation of her dance instructor and returns home to help hurting children and rediscover the rhythms of grace.

What she doesn't expect is to meet a man who already seems to know her beat. But for all they share in common, the biggest thing in Grace's life is noticeably absent in his--faith. She's finally found the love of her life, but can she choose between him and God? Find it online at

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

How I Spent My Snow Day

The result of an unexpected snow day? 
A re-decorated and organized blog.....

Using the second kit, in the
Project 12 series I'm creating with 
Sue Cummings at

Project 12: Extraordinary Love


Obviously, you can do lots with the kit, 
besides creating amazing layouts.
As always, thanks to Amanda at  
for her great tutorials 
- which I use to refresh my 
brain in between make overs.

One of her tutorials is how 
I've added a signature at the 
bottom of each post!

(Pst...her amazing fonts are what 
I use for the header & labels).

Think of this as one giant enabling post.....

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Florida Bound: Make-A-Wish helps dreams come true for 2 local girls

Mandy & Drew Harris, and Alex and Emma Harris.
Editor's Note: This article was previously published as a Lifestyle feature, page 7, in the 1/27/2010 issue of the Siloam Springs Herald Leader. Read it online here.

Alex Harris
SILOAM SPRINGS — Two Siloam Springs girls are learning this week that sometimes, wishes really do come true.

Alex and Emma Harris, along with their parents, Drew and Mandy, left Sunday for a 12-day trip to Florida, thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of the Mid South.

The girls are receiving two separate, but complimentary wishes, through the foundation. Emma wished to meet Mickey Mouse, while Alex asked to swim with dolphins.

For Emma’s trip, the family will stay at “Give Kids the World Village,” and receive passes to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, MGM Studios, Universal Studios, Animal Kingdom and Sea World.

During Alex’s wish, the family will stay at the Renaissance Resort. Alex will get to swim with dolphins at Discovery Cove and receive a VIP tour of SeaWorld, as well as spend more time at the Disney parks.

Drew, a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, currently deployed stateside at Ft. Sill, Okla., was given leave by the military for the trip.

It was Drew, who first contacted Make-A-Wish, after his girls were diagnosed last year with Pantothenate Kinase-Associated Neurodegeneration or PKAN, a rare genetic disorder that allows for the accumulation of iron in a person’s brain.

Emma Harris
PKAN causes the girls to exhibit many of the symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease, including a rigidity of muscles, tremors and a lack of coordination. It also affects a person’s cognitive and developmental abilities.

One to three individuals for every one million births are diagnosed with PKAN. Alex and Emma are the first diagnosed cases of the disease at Children’s Mercy in Kansas City.

Most people with PKAN only live into their 20s or 30s. Individuals, like Alex, who present symptoms early in life, often progress with the disease at a faster rate.

“We wanted to do all we could while we were able, and they could enjoy it,” Mandy Harris said.

When volunteer “wish granters” from Make a Wish came to discuss possible wishes with the girls, Harris said she initially thought it would be one wish, for both girls.

“They made it clear that each got their own wish, and they didn’t have to share it and they didn’t have to agree on a wish,” Harris said. “We didn’t have to try to figure out how to make the wishes work together.”

Initially, Harris joked, 4-year-old Emma wanted to “go shopping.” Later, she said she wanted to “see Mickey Mouse” and be a princess.

Harris thought Alex would want to meet Hannah Montana, but the 7-year-old asked to “go swimming with dolphins,” because she wants to give a dolphin a kiss. Alex also wants to see Cinderella and give Goofy a hug.

Because crowds sometimes overwhelm Alex, who now spends most of her time away from home in a wheelchair, Harris said the Make-A-Wish volunteers planned the trip for January - a slow season in Orlando.

The Harris’ hopes the trip will allow their daughters to feel “special” for a good reason and take a break from the worries of therapy, medical treatment, daddy being in the Army and life in general.

“They will get to do fun things just because they are Alex and Emma,” Harris said.

Finding a diagnosis
Harris said they knew that something was different about Alex, from the moment of her birth.

Initially, doctors at Arkansas Children’s Hospital suspected Alex was not hitting normal childhood milestones because she was born with clubbed feet and hip dysplasia. Doctors believed she would begin to develop normally once corrective surgery was completed.

The possible diagnosis of an unknown, but genetic disease came when Alex was 24 months old. At that time, Mandy was 6-months pregnant with Emma.

Initially, doctors thought Emma was disease free, but after a year, she began to develop symptoms similar to her sister.

When Alex was 4-1/2, the Harris’ decided it was time for a medical “fresh start” and made an appointment for Alex with doctors at Children’s Mercy in Kansas City.

For two years, doctors continued testing Alex, trying to determine what disease caused her symptoms.

In February 2009, Alex’s case was referred to Dr. Jean-Baptiste Le Pichon, a child neurology specialist at Children’s Mercy.

After extensive testing, which again, ruled out all basic genetic diseases, a new MRI revealed an accumulation of iron in Alex’s brain. Those tests were sent for further examination, which led to the diagnosis of PKAN.

Emma, although her symptoms are not as severe as Alex, exhibits the same iron patterns in her brain and has been diagnosed with PKAN as well.

Life with PKAN
A self-defined “information junkie,” Harris limits what she reads online about PKAN, for her own mental well-being.

Instead of looking ahead at the possible life expectancy of her children, Harris relies on her faith, living in the present “one moment at a time.”

“My children are not defined by this, they are Alex and Emma,” Harris said. “They just happen to have this disease.”

The Harris’ are striving to raise Alex and Emma like two, regular little girls, who like pizza, the colors pink (Emma) and purple (Alex) and ask to eat at Chili’s restaurant.

The girls receive occupation, physical and speech therapy three days a week at Friendship Pediatric Clinic in Siloam Springs.

After the diagnosis, the Harris’ met with a developmental child psychologist after the diagnosis, to help chart a future for her girls.

The psychologist encouraged them to develop a list of things they wished to experience and make memories with their girls, to maintain a functioning, quality of life.

At times, Harris said, she likes to remember the Abraham Lincoln quote that states, “It’s not the years, in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”

Home schooling has allowed Harris to tailor her daughters’ learning experiences to their physical, developmental and cognitive ages, rather than chronological ages, 7 and 4-1/2.

Harris said participation in the children’s ministry at Elm Springs United Methodist Church, in Elm Springs, Ark., provides her daughter with a social outlet and a network of friends.

Drew Harris will finish his second deployment since Alex was born in April. His first deployment, when Alex was an infant, was to Iraq.

With 11 years of service behind him and retirement less than 10 years away, Harris most likely will re-enlist for reserve duty. The Harris’ will take a future deployment as it comes.

“There’s no guarantee with life,” Harris said. “We just happen to know our [years] are shorter than most, so we’re enjoying the time we have.

What is Make-A-Wish
Founded in 1986, the Make-A-Wish Foundation of the Mid-South, grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions to “enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy.”

According to information released by the Mid-South Foundation, the Make-A-Wish mission is about the life-affirming, hope-giving aspects of the wish experience. The words “terminal” or dying” are never used to refer to a wish child, nor do they emphasis a child’s illness, medical treatment or death.

Alex and Emma Harris’ wishes are among the 275 that the Mid-South Foundation plans to grant this year.

One of 65 chapters across the United States, the Mid-South group generally follows a fourstep process when granting a wish.

Children, between the ages of 2-1/2 and 18, who have not had a wish granted by another organization, are eligible for a wish. Medical personnel, parents or even a child can make a referral to Make-A-Wish.

Once the child’s acting physician helps determine medical eligibility - a life-threatening medical condition - the child (and his/her family) meets with volunteer Wish Granters.

The Wish Granters help identify and create the child’s wish. Wishes typically fall into four categories: to go (on a trip), to meet (a famous person), to be (a job/person) and to have (an item).

The average cost of a wish is $7,100. Seventy-eight cents of every dollar donated is allocated to wish-granting. Cash and in-kind contributions helps grant additional wishes.

During the wish, the Foundation covers all expenses, to give the wish kid and family a respite from the stress of dealing with the life-threatening medical condition.

For more information, call (501) 376-9474.

20 Questions

So, the newspaper (Siloam Springs Herald Leader) did this community profile section, and they asked "community leaders" (laughing as I type) to answer 20 questions about themselves.... I was a bit "honest" in my answers, and apparently, made a few people in the church laugh....

So, since the section isn't on-line, I thought I'd record my 20 questions here....enjoy!

1) What is your occupation?
Minister to families with children – basically, I coordinate the children’s ministry for First United Methodist Church in Siloam Springs.

2) What was your first car?
A Pontiac T-1000. A small tiny car that looked like a grey roller skate.

3) Which talent do you wish you possessed?
To speak another language – especially Spanish.

4) Are you a collector of anything?
Books. I also have quite a collection of movie soundtracks on my iPod.

5) If you were given $1 million, what would you spend it on?
I would pay off all of my seminary loans and my other outstanding bills, so I could live debt free. I would then set up a college scholarship for my niece and nephew. After that, I’d find ways to use my time and talents to help other people. I’d also travel to Ghana to see friends who are missionaries.

6) What is one thing not many people know about you?
Hum. My life is pretty transparent. That I want to make a significant difference in the lives that I touch.

Oh, and that I’ve started designing digital scrapbooking elements and papers with Sue Cummings under the pen name "kaytebug." Our first kit debut at Christmas time at

7) Favorite song of all time?
Miracle of the Moment by Steven Curtis Chapman

8) What bad habit drives you crazy?
Um…my own or someone elses? That I am not the best housekeeper in the world.

9) If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
The ability to add hours to a day. I never seem to get anything finished.

10) Conan or Leno?
Ah, Conan. Leno just needs to step aside. He’s had his turn in the spotlight. He needs to let someone else shine for a while.

11) What's your dream job?
 To become an amazing photographer like Annie Leibovitz or to write a novel like my friend, Hannah Alexander.

12) Most memorable Christmas present?
The “aggies” jacket my parents bought me my freshman year of high school. I wore it out. Although the iPhone they surprised me with this year is pretty cool.

13) Who is your role model?
Anyone who lives an authentic life.

14) Autobots or Decepticons?
Autobots all the way. You have to choose the good guys side.

15) If you had one day to live, what would you do?
Spend it with someone I love.

16) Do you keep food separated on your plate or all mixed together?
 My food can touch. Really, it’s ok if it does.

17) What is your favorite breakfast cereal?
Grits with cheese.

18) Can you play a musical instrument? If so, which one?
Not anymore. But I played the clarinet in school.

19) Do you sing in the shower? What's your favorite song?
Right now I’m in love with the soundtrack from Wicked. The song “Popular” keeps running through my brain (thank you Elizabeth Reisbeck!)

20) If you were stranded on an island, which CD would you want in your CD player?
Um...who has a cd player anymore??? Anything by Steven Curtis Chapman or Chris Tomlin.

Blog Tour: 50 Ways To Feel Great Today (review & info)

Take a nap, redecorate your home, become a mentor.

Those are three of the things authors David B. Biebel and James and Bobbie Dill, recommend a person can do to “feel great” today and beat stress.

In their new book, 50 Ways to Feel Great Today, the writing trio offers medical and spiritual advice regarding 50 things anyone can do to brighten their mood.

They include scientific research, scriptural references and real-life anecdotes, to help a person approach mental health and well-being from an emotional, spiritual and physical perspective.

“We can have a much greater effect on our moods than many of us realize,” the authors write. “Just by doing one or two simple things each day, we can feel better and be less stressed.”

Some of the suggestions include:
Do something creative. It will stimulate your brain and increase memory function.

Take a nap. A 20- to 30-minute break to snooze has been shown to increase work performance and alertness, relieve work-related stress and lower the risk of death from heart disease.

Listen to music. Music can offer healing by helping us identify with our emotions. An upbeat rhythm has been proven to reduce stress hormones by as much as 41 percent.

Decorate something. Our moods can be influenced by our immediate surroundings, so try bringing vibrant colors or meaningful objects into the rooms of your house.

Offer a helping hand. Giving increases the release of endorphins (which causes a natural emotional “high”) and impacts the way you feel about yourself and the world around you. Studies have also found that volunteering can have a great impact on your health and longevity, even a 44% reduction in early death.

Go fishing. It offers a chance to spend time outdoors, experience some adventure, or encourage quiet time and reflection.

Have a sense of humor. Laughing has been shown to increase pain tolerance, reduce stress, increase your immunity, and burn calories.

Make a nutritious meal. Healthy ingredients can boost your immune system, calm jangled nerves or even lessen aches, not to mention engage some creativity when trying out new recipes.

Their suggestions offer readers with a chance to find a way to “pick” themselves up, without overwhelming them with lots of things to do.

What Did I Think?
I found the suggestions easy to grasp, and in many cases, easy to implement into your life.

In fact, one idea “kidnap someone you love” seemed quite fun and adventurous. (Basically, you plan either a weekend get-a-way, or an afternoon adventure for someone you love – aka. a spouse, sibling, family member or close friend – and plan all of the details so they don’t have to worry about it. Then surprise them with the adventure in an unexpected way.

In all, while many of the suggestions in the book are not unique, the authors have woven together 50 helpful ideas that will remind people, male or female alike, to step back and take care of themselves.

Who knows, you might just find yourself flying a kite, if you take one of their ideas to heart.

About the Authors
David B. Biebel, DMin, is a minister, an award-winning author, a health educator, and the editor of Today’s Christian Doctor. He speaks often on health-related subjects and has been a guest on many radio and TV programs.

James E. Dill, MD, and Bobbie Dill, RN, were among the first husband-wife Christian medical teams to help establish a truly holistic medical practice. Jim is a board certified gastroenterologist and Bobbie is a nurse, certified in women's health. Currently, they reside temporarily in various places around the United States, from Massachusetts to Hawaii, as Jim provides “locum tenens” medical care, often for several months at a time.

Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, offers practical books that bring the Christian faith to everyday life.  They publish resources from a variety of well-known brands and authors, including their partnership with MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) and Hungry Planet. For more info, vist:

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Blog Tour: Jenna's Cowboy - Interview & Review

Callahan Crossing had changed some while he'd been gone. But then, so had he. A man couldn't fight for his country and not be affected by it.

With those opening lines, Sharon Gillenwater introduces readers to the first book in her newest series, The Callahans of Texas, which centers upon the lives of siblings Jenna, Will and Chase.

Set in a small Texas town filled with ranching, farming, football, patriotism, community, friends, family, God and country, The Callahans of Texas also contain themes of heartache, healing, faith, laughter and love.

The first book in the series, Jenna’s Cowboy, opens with Nate Langley’s return to Callahan Crossing after serving in Iraq in the armed forces. In the novel, Nate comes home from the war seeking peace and a normal life – only to be plagued by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.

“He has loved Jenna since they were teens,” Gillenwater said. “He wants to marry her and help mend her broken heart, but he thinks he may be losing his mind.  It's up to God and Jenna and her family—who are also Nate's close friends—to help him heal.” 

Gillenwater said she enjoyed developing Nate’s character. In fact, she thinks his character is what sets the book apart from others.

“I love to write about the people of West Texas, usually with heroes who are cowboys or lawmen,” she said. “I've never done a book where the hero is in love with the boss' daughter and thought that might add a little fun to the story.

“But mostly I wanted to write about a returning vet who had problems putting the war behind him and adjusting to civilian life.  He needed a heroine who had experienced emotional hurt.  A happy, everything-is-wonderful heroine wouldn't have understood his pain.”

This is the first time Gillenwater has made one of her main characters a returning veteran.

“I've read about many veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who are dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and my heart goes out to them,” she said. “I wanted to make people more aware of PTSD and how it affects not only the person returning from war, but family and friends as well. 

“Our soldiers and their families sacrifice so much for us.  It's a small way of maybe giving something back to them.”

In fact, Gillenwater knows first hand some of the struggles faced by Nate. Her husband returned home from serving in Vietnam with PTSD.

“He had nightmares for a while, although not as many nor as often,” Gillenwater said. “He was jumpy, always on the alert.  Some of that carries over even today.  It's not wise to walk up behind him if he doesn't know you're coming.  He's come close to decking a few people. The unexplained/unexpected anger was there, too, for a very long time.”

For the most part, Gillenwater used her personal experiences to craft the characters Dub and Sue, Jenna’s parents. Dub, a Vietnam veteran, also experienced PTSD. It’s only when Nate begins to exhibit the issues, does he share the diagnosis with his three children.

In the Jenna's Cowboy, Sue tells her children about a time when their father began to have a nightmare and kicked her out of the bed.

“My husband was a helicopter pilot, and he really did kick me out of bed once during a nightmare,” Gillenwater related with laugh. “The other things Nate deals with is a compilation of stories I've heard from veterans of the War on Terror.”

Dub and Sue are not the only characters Gillenwater based on real people. Jenna’s young son, Zach, is “completely based upon her grandson.”

“Almost everything Zach does in the book was something my grandson did at the same age,” she said. “I had a ball writing about that kid.”

While not a real location, Callahan’s Crossing is a combination of many small, West Texas towns, explained Gillenwater, admitting that much of the landscape and terrain around and south of Colorado City, Texas – her hometown – influenced the setting.

Gillenwater hopes readers take several messages away, once they finish reading Jenna’s Cowboy.

“I hope they understand that God is there for us no matter what, that He can bring peace and healing even to the most wounded minds and hearts,” she said. “I also hope they take away a better understanding of PTSD, and pray for our military folks.”

The Callahans of Texas will be a three-book series, with each sibling taking center stage in a novel. Gillenwater developed the series after Andrea Doering at Revell asked her to submit a proposal with a contemporary Texas setting.

“She remembered the Texas books I'd written for Multnomah back in the mid-1990's and wanted to see something with the same Texas flavor,” Gillenwater explained. “I'd had both the ideas for Jenna's Cowboy and for what became Will's story for quite a while but knew they would be too long to submit to Love Inspired who had published my latest book.  So I jumped at the opportunity to send the proposal to Revell.”

The second book, Emily’s Chance, is set to release in September 2010. In it, Chance has to convince Emily, whom he met in the first book, that marrying him and living in Callahan Crossing is more important than her five-year plan to get a job at a big city museum. Or he has to decide if he is willing to leave his small town and move to the big city with her. 

The third and final book, set for a 201l release, is Will’s story. When he meets Savannah, she is homeless, broke, pregnant and unmarried.  Will's challenge is to convince her that he doesn't care about her past—only their future.

So, who is Sharon Gillenwater
Gillenwater describes herself as a wife, mother and grandmother of two delightful children.

"[I'm] a country girl who finally moved back to the country after living in the city for thirty years," Gillenwater said. "I love Jesus and am blessed that I can serve God through the stories He gives me.  After twenty-two years at this writing gig, I'm still amazed that someone actually publishes them and people read and enjoy them!"

Gillenwater started writing after lecturing a friend, leaving for college, not to wait until she was in her 30s to decide what she wanted to do with her life.

"She astutely turned the tables and asked me what I wanted to do," Gillenwater said. "Without thinking, I blurted, 'I want to write.'  Once the words were out in the daylight, there was no turning back.  With my husband's encouragement, I followed my dream, which took a while—almost four years to sell my first book."

Since she started writing, Gillenwater said God has used it to draw her closer, and to give her more wisdom in some areas.

"His opening up the door with Revell has been amazing," she explained. "He literally handed me the opportunity out of the blue."

She said the birth of a new granddaughter, last October, also add to the excitement in her life.

"My husband just retired, so it's interesting to have him home a lot more," she said. "[It's] nice to have someone to talk to during the day besides the dog. It's fun to see him finally have a chance to relax and spend even more time in the Scriptures."

She encourages her readers to lean on Jesus and find their trust in Him.

"God knows what is best for us even when it doesn't exactly line up with our thinking!" she continued.

What Did I Think
I really enjoyed Jenna's Cowboy. I immediately fell in love with the town, the characters and Gillenwater's colorful descriptions of life on a West Texas ranch.

I thought the struggles she gave Nate were authentic and well written. As a friend whose husband is in the military once said, Army life is not a "drama." It's not a Lifetime movie special.

Nate's struggle with PTSD, and the other characters reaction to it, seemed genuine.

I found Jenna's struggle to piece her life back together, after being (not quite literally) kicked in the teeth by her "football star" ex-husband an honest portrayal of how a woman can literally pull herself up from the bottom of a pit, thorugh the help of family and faith.

Gillenwater's characters are real. They aren't full of saccharine. They could be the guy or gal next door.

One of my favorite scenes: the homecoming parade that takes place shortly after Nate returns home. Thanks to the "small town" grapevine, everyone finds ways to show that they care for Nate - through business marquees and other statements.

He is welcomed home, in the truest sense, not just because he's a returning veteran, but because everyone cares for him.

Callahan's Crossing, as a town, shows off small-town Americana at its best.

Jenna's Cowboy is a good read. Don't be surprised if you find yourself staying up late to finish it.

Find it Online
Find Jenna's Cowboy online at's Cowboy is also available through most regular and Christian bookstores, some Walmart stores, and Christian Book Distributors catalog or online. 

More about Sharon Gillenwater

Sharon Gillenwater was born and raised in west Texas, and loves to write about
her native state. The author of ten novels, she is a member of ACFW and Romance Writers of America. When she's not writing, she and her husband enjoy spending time with their son, daughter-in-law, and adorable grandson. She lives in Port Angeles, Washington.

Looking for other books by Gillenwater? While many are out of print, you can find them on-line through

Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, offers practical books that bring the Christian faith to everyday life.  They publish resources from a variety of well-known brands and authors, including their partnership with MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) and Hungry Planet. For more information, visit

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

DST Feature: ScrapHD: A new venture in web-based scrapbooking

Editor's Note: The following article was published in the January 2010 issue of DST Insider, a publication of

By Kaylea Hutson
With the launch of, siblings Ross and Katy Petersen hope digital and hybrid scrapbookers alike will find an Internet home to not only expand their craft on the Web, but also expose them to a variety of “brick and mortar” retailers through an on-site printing option.

ScrapHD, set to launch this month, includes an on-line layout builder – with an interface similar to Photoshop - along with a collection of more than 10,000 digital papers, elements and editable pre-designed pages from a variety of paper and digital artists.

Some of the items within the pre-loaded gallery include items from retired product lines, while others will be completely new offerings.

Paper companies represented on the site includes: 7gypsies, Mrs Grossmans, American Crafts, Piggy Tales, SEI, imaginisce, Art Gone Wild, Teresa Collins, My Minds Eye, Three Bugs In A Rug, Karen Foster Designs, Kaiser Craft, We Are Memory Keepers and Jenni Bowlin Studio.

Digital artists joining the ScrapHD design team includes: Danielle Young (A Cherry On Top, Oscraps), Amy Teets (A Cherry On Top, Scrap Wow), Laura Burger (Digital Scrapbook Pages, A Cherry On Top, Gotta Pixel), Kelly Shults (A Cherry On Top) and Donna Salazar.

“Ninety percent of our partner companies have never done anything digitally,” Ross said. “We hope this becomes really big.”

Adds Katy, “our vision is to promote and enhance the scrapbooking industry by being the most intuitive and technology advanced digital/hybrid scrapbooking site on the web"

It’s a Family Affair
ScrapHD grew out of a paper crafting distribution company owned by the Petersen family. For approximately 12 years, the family-run company has served as a distributor for more than 90 manufacturers.

After observing an increase in digital scrapbooking, the Petersens developed ScrapHD as a way to provide a “bridge” between digital and traditional scrapbooking retailers.

The site will have a large emphasis on hybrid scrapbooking – which combines the tools and techniques of traditional paper scrapbooking with the technology of digital scrapbooking.

“We are very happy in the traditional scrapbooking world, but it makes sense to embrace [digital scrapbooking],” Ross said.

The Petersens hope ScrapHD will allow people unfamiliar with the digital process a way to expand their hobby into a new area.

Ross serves as the president of ScrapHD, while his sister, Katy, is the vice president.

How it works
Scrapbookers have two options when joining ScrapHD: a free membership or a paid club membership.

Both memberships allow users to use photos straight from their hard drives or from web services such as Flickr or Facebook. Free members can upload one photo at a time, while club members can upload up to six at a time.

Once a user imports photos to the site, he or she can then use the layout builder to create a variety of layouts. All users will then have the ability to print individual pages or completed books through ScrapHD’s professional partners. Global shipping will allow users outside of the continental United States to use the professional printing services.

Both memberships include options to allow users the ability to share their creations through a variety of online sources through direct links or embedding codes.

Based entirely on the web, ScrapHD users will not need to download any software in order to use the layout builder. The Petersens hope the free membership will allow users to become comfortable enough to expand into the club memberships.

All members will also have access to the community section, which will encourage interaction among users. The Petersens hope to offer a variety of contests, which will allow users to vote on their favorite layouts in order to encourage site participation and to develop scrapper-driven themes.

Free vs. Club Members
The free membership allows users to access to a many of the pre-loaded items to create and store a limited number of pages.

With a club membership, users can access the entire gallery of pre-loaded papers and elements, as well as create and store “virtually” an unlimited number of completed pages. Members can also upload and use files from their digital stash, including items purchased from digital stores.

Additionally, club members can upload previously created layouts, as jpgs, in order to take advantage of the professional printing service.

One aspect unique to ScrapHD, is that club members can also access high resolution jpgs of their pages via e-mail. This, explained Ross, would allow hybrid artists to print their layouts to allow the “hands on” addition of embellishments.

A unique feature
Because ScrapHD is an online service, the Petersens are inviting traditional scrapbooking stores to become involved through the establishment of store-based printing kiosks.

They have identified four different printers, which retailers can use, with a limited setup cost, which will allow stores the ability, along with a computer, to entice users into their stores to print out layouts instantly.

Ross said this method would be helpful for hybrid scrappers, because they would have their completed page with them at the store, which will allow them to find embellishments to their newly printed pages.

The Petersens are also offering a version of ScrapHD that independent retailers can use directly on their websites, allowing users to develop a direct relationship with a traditional store.

The Costs
Club memberships are available at $9.99 per month or $99 per year. The club membership includes unlimited access to all papers, embellishments and pre-designed pages, as well as the ability to print from home.

ScrapHD will offer prints in a variety of sizes including the standard 12x12 or 8x8 layouts. Other sizes include 5x7 soft sided flip books, greeting cards or announcements, as well as pre-bound books hard or soft cover books in 8x8 or 12x12 inch sizes.

Initially, books will come standard with a minimum of 10 single-sided or 20 double-sided sheets, along with the option to add additional pages.

The printed pages use a thicker than normal stock, which is designed to provide additional durability and higher quality prints. The Petersens hope this will help prevent damage to the layouts when hybrid artists add physical embellishments to the page.

ScrapHD’s Estimated Prices

12x12 – leather bound book: $54.95
8x8 – leather bound book: $34.95
12X12 – hard bound, custom cover book: $49.95
8x8 – hard bound custom cover book: $29.95
12x12 – soft bound, custom cover book: $24.95
8x8 – soft bound, custom cover book: $15.95

12x12 – five individual pages: $10 (each additional sheet, $2)
8x8 – five individual pages - $8 (each additional sheet, $1.60)
5x7 – Custom Cover Flip book: $10.95
5x7 – folded card with envelope: $1.49
5x7 – flat card with envelope: $.99

Editor's note: is set to be live, no later than mid-January - in time for the Craft and Hobby Association winter trade show. For more information, visit

Note: As a freelance journalist, I am sometimes provided with products to review. However, no products were exchanged for this story - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Blog Tour & Interview: The Choice

Choices - good or bad - all have consequences. The ripple effects of one choice - and its resulting consequences - can impact the lives of numerous individuals.

Choices people make are the center of Suzanne Woods Fisher's first Amish novel, The Choice.

Set in the midst of an Amish community, Fisher's work examines the lives of Sol Reich, a young Amish man who wants to play baseball - at the risk of losing his entire family; Carrie Weaver, a woman who wants to be with the man she loves, but wants to protect her younger brother; and Daniel Miller, a man who wants to find a way to move beyond a very painful past.

"Almost every character is coping with decisions they’ve made, or how they’ve responded to circumstances," Fisher said. "I felt that God never gave up on anyone in the story. He just gently surrounded an individual who was hurting. To me, that’s how God acts. Far less judgmental and far more loving than we give Him credit for. 

"What none of [the main characters] ever dream possible is that the truth, brought into their lives by an innocent man serving time in prison would forever change their future."

While it is a novel, Fisher said there are some "true to life" threads running through The Choice.

"As I was writing the story, there were some tragic events of contaminated kerosene tanks blowing up and killing some Amish individuals," Fisher said. "The reason I chose baseball was because I drove by many Amish schoolhouses in Pennsylvania and saw Amish boys playing softball.

"During the same trip, I kept bumping into signage for the Lancaster Barnstormers. That’s how the story begins…as a baseball scout spots an Amish young man who throws a mean fast pitch."

In addition to the main characters, facing life-changing choices, Fisher also weaves into the storyline, Mattie, a strong minor character who she hopes serves as a positive role model for readers.

"She was so solid," Fisher said. "She never wavered in her ability to be a faithful friend to Carrie, even when feelings for Sol came between them. I liked what Mattie modeled for other girls. We have plenty of bad examples in books and TV; we need more good examples."

Why Amish
Fisher wrote about the Amish because of her family connections to the Old Order German Baptist Brethren - also known as the Dunkards. Her grandfather, W.D. Benedict, was raised Plain, a close cousin to the Amish.

"I've always had an interest in my Dunkard relatives and the reason behind their lifestyle," Fisher said.

She believes many readers have a similar fascination with the Amish's plain lifestyle, because of the simplicity of their lifestyle choices.

"There’s a direct correlation between how complicated our lives are—with all kinds of time-saving technology that oddly consumes time—and peoples’ longing for a simpler life," she said. "It seems as if people are hungry for margin in their lives—for leisure time, for fewer demands, for quiet, for peace.

"I’m not sure life ever has been simple, but there’s a perception that a rural, less materialistic life is more manageable. And who better personifies the simple life than the Amish?"

Being Amish
For the most part, being Amish means that a person is born into the community of faith.

"Very few people ever convert to the Old Order Amish," explained Fisher. "Being Amish is both a Christian religion and way of life that affirms their beliefs"

Those beliefs include the familiar: living a simple, non-materialistic life which include the rejection of electricity from public utility lines, a distinctive dress, a prohibition against television and computers and using a horse and buggy as the primary means of transportation.

Those living the Plain or Amish lifestyle also practice ending education at the eighth grade and meeting in homes for church.

Throughout all of her writings based upon the Amish faith, Fisher has tried to reflect the people she met during her research: well educated people with a deep and abiding faith.

"But there’s so much more to the Amish than the buggies and the beards," Fisher said. "The Amish are the first to say they’re not perfect people, but I do believe they have a tighter grasp on some important values that we could all benefit from observing."

The non-Amish or English definitely have some assumptions about the Amish, including legalism.

"But I have to say that the Amish people I met and have kept in touch with aren’t legalistic," Fisher said. "Yes, they do pay careful attention to tradition, and they highly value it, but I feel it has to do with honoring God. I think we emphasize different aspects of our faith."

For example, Fisher continued, the Amish do not evangelize. Instead, they believe their lives should speak as a silent example to others.

"Many get stuck on that point of non-evangelizing, and yet, look at how the world was touched by the Amish example of forgiveness over the Nickel Mines School Shooting," Fisher said. "Now consider this, most Protestant churches do not emphasize confession of sins.

"The Amish hold communion twice a year and one of their practices - prior to communion - is to admonish everyone to make amends with others so that they accept communion with a unified spirit. In other words, church members are encouraged to keep short accounts and resolve grudges. I’m sure there are Amish who accept communion while still holding a grudge, for example, but the high bar is a wonderful model. Feelings follow intention."

Fisher said she truly believes the Amish are, at their best, close to the heart of Christ.

"They love The Lord’s Prayer and the Sermon on the Mount," Fisher explained. "They desire to live as Christ would have them live—to put aside pride, to practice forgiveness on a daily basis, to avoid materialism and look to putting treasures in Heaven.

"There are so many principles, like those, that the Amish live out and ones we could (we should be!) incorporating into our lives. On a very practical level—even their uses of energy. They use all kinds of sources of energy: wind, sun, propane, kerosene, solar panels and cells, battery packs. I have a feeling we may all we living more like them in the near future."

Much of Fisher's knowledge of the Amish faith comes from immersing herself into the culture through studying its newspapers like The Budget, learning about its theology and developing relationships with its members.

She created the storyline based upon the close relationships that the Amish have not only with their immediate family, but also their extended, extended family.

"A few people have complained that too many people died in The Choice—a fair critique, but I was actually trying to create a realistic look at the Amish community," explained Fisher. "When a circle extends so wide, these tragic events do happen!

"The Amish keep track of each other—aunts and uncles, distant cousins, grandparents, etc. It’s amazing to read the letters in The Budget and see how many accidents/illnesses occur. They genuinely care for each other through the tragedies."

Life long desire to write
Fisher's desire to write began when she first learned to read. She later turned that desire into a career as a magazine writer.

"I have always loved reading and writing, and yet I was never identified as having any talent as a writer," she said. "Still, I persevered out of a passion for the written word."

"I assumed I was a non-fiction writer," she said. "As I ventured into fiction, I wondered why I had limited myself! My non-fiction writing has improved because of writing fiction—I’ve learned to jazz it up. And my fiction writing has an edge because I have research skills to give it credibility. I really think writers should be open to stretching their vocal chords!"

Fisher's first book, Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World, was released in 2009. The book contains the result of numerous interviews conducted among people living in the Pennsylvania and Ohio Amish communities. (Enabling alert - you can read an interview/review featuring Amish Peace by clicking here!)

The visits to Old Order Amish homes, as well as interviews with Amish experts became the foundation not only for her first book, but also the foundation for this new series of fiction books.

"I wrote from what I observed and learned; many story lines come from the families I met," Fisher said. "Because of that, I hope my books are very credible.

"The amount of research required for a non-fiction title is time-consuming, yet so critical to its credibility. I went back to every person I interviewed to have them review the story for accuracy (including every Amish person…and the Amish don’t have e-mail and they aren’t in a hurry. It was a slow process!). Fiction can move a little faster and with a little more freedom for the storyline."

Learning from God through Writing
Fisher said God has taught her many things through her writing, including four simple words: "Hangeth Thou In There.” 

"I [love] writing for the Christian market, I feel God has opened the doors for me to have a venue, and I am so over-the-moon grateful that I want to honor Him in every word I write," Fisher said. "The 'writing gig' isn’t easy, a lot of rejection, a lot of self-doubt and it’s difficult to become a public person. You’re 'exposed.' I described it once as feeling as if I’m standing in front of the world in my underwear!

"One thing I’ve learned is that God is with me 'in the process,' in each book contract, each public speaking event [and] each interaction with readers. No detail is too small," Fisher said.

More than a Novel
Fisher hopes people who her books feel closer to God at the conclusion of the story.

"I never want to whack someone on the head with faith," Fisher said. "I just want to encourage a reader to trust God a little more, rely on Him a little deeper and get to know Him in a fresh way.

"I believe that only the Holy Spirit can touch a heart. I want my writing to be an example to others to seek faith, and I always hope to honor God with my work. But my role is to be winsome; God’s role is in the heart-changing business."    

Connecting With Fans
One of the best things about writing, explained Fisher, is how it allows her to connect with people throughout the world.

"I love, love, love hearing from readers and developing e-mail/Facebook relationships with them," she said. "I like to pray for others and take that privilege seriously, and I enjoy encouraging aspiring writers to develop their craft.

"Lately, I’ve had a few connections that I feel are heaven-sent. A couple of people who have a loved one afflicted with Alzheimer's disease, in particular (my dad has AD). Sometimes I think…if that’s the reason I am writing, to help that one person in her journey, it would be worth it!"

She said meeting people through the various social medias has been "a surprisingly delightful experience."

"There are so many kind, generous, interesting people out there," Fisher continued. "I used to view a blog as “piano scales”…exercises for daily writing. Now, I feel as if I’m keeping up with my friends."

So What's Next?
There are three books in the Lancaster County Secrets series. The second in this series is called The Waiting, and it is set for an Oct. 1, 2010 release.

The book also takes place in Stoney Ridge, Penn., but during the 1960s. Jorie King is in love with Ben Zook—a fellow who has a tendency toward “fence jumping” and is currently serving in Vietnam as a conscientious objector. "Everyone assumes Jorie will marry Ben when he returns, but life in Stoney Ridge takes a few unexpected twists and turns," Fisher said.

The third book is written but hasn’t been officially titled yet. It will release Jan. 1, 2011.

Fisher just signed a contract with Revell for another three-book Amish fiction series, based on the lives of three sisters. (Each sister will take turns as a main character).

So What Did I Think?
One of the things I liked about Fisher's novel is that the characters seem believable - sometimes more so than other Amish novels on the market today.

Fisher said she is very deliberate about making her characters "realistic" for readers.

"Some of it comes from giving characters flaws, so that they become believable," Fisher explained. "Readers can identify with a character when he/she isn’t perfect." 

One of those realistic characters is Steelhead, who unexpectedly appears in the novel and shows his faith in a non-conventional, raw and emotional way.

"I don’t know if there could really be a guy like Steelhead, swooping in and falling in love with an Amish spinster," Fisher said. "I guess that’s where fiction steps in! But the reason I wrote that sub-plot was for contrast and surprise. Emma seemed so boxed up, so attached to rules, yet she dearly wanted to love and be loved. Carrie was so on the fence about so many things in life, yet her greatest need wasn’t love, it was finding herself."

In all honesty, I really enjoyed this novel. I loved how this book captured my attention from the first chapter.  (I can't always say that about a book.)

I also found that Fisher's background, gives her book an air of credibility. She's not just writing about a culture that is unfamiliar. She has lived and breathed this world - through her research and her family.

If you like Amish fiction, I believe you will love this novel.

It's a Book Bomb/Party

The Event Link

Join Suzanne for Author Talk, a LIVE Chat, on Monday, Feb. 15, at 8 p.m., EST! She's wrapping up the launch for The Choice and month long blog tour ( with an evening of chatter and fun.

The 15th is also the book bomb day - purchase a copy of The Choice on the 15th and send in your receipt to and your name will go into the hat for a $25 gift certificate to (They just need the info from your purchase receipt: name of store, and receipt number, number of copies purchased.) Each additional copy you purchase gets you an extra entry. (

More about Suzanne Woods Fisher
Suzanne Woods Fisher's interest in the Anabaptist cultures can be directly traced to her grandfather, W. D. Benedict, who was raised in the Dunkard Brethren Church in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Benedict eventually became publisher of Christianity Today magazine. Suzanne's work has appeared in many magazines, including Today's Christian Woman, Worldwide Challenge, ParentLife, Christian Parenting Today, and Marriage Partnership. She has contributed to several nonfiction books and is the author of  Amish Peace and two novels. Fisher resides in Alamo, California.

The Choice is available now through Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Revell offers practical books that bring the Christian faith to everyday life.  They publish resources from a variety of well-known brands and authors, including their partnership with MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) and Hungry Planet. 

Want to read more about Suzanne? Visit her blog at

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

2010 - One Little Word: Half-Full

H DSC07659 L26 letter F

Educational Brick Letter F U L letter L

For the past few years, I've participated vicariously, and with different levels of involvement, a project known as One Little Word. 

Created in 2007 by Ali Edwards, a digital/paper/hybrid scrapbooker, author and life artist, the project is quite simple.

Each year, Edwards decides on a word (or in some case words) that she is going focus on during the year.

Ultmately, the word you choose (or chooses you) has the potential of making an impact upon your life.

Since 2007, I've had six words impact my life. Typically I pick a word in January, that begins to shape my year. Then at some point, usually in the summer or early fall, a second word begins to emerge in my subconsious.

There's no scientific pattern or method, but these are the words that have impacted my world in the last three years.

This past year, as a reward to myself (thanks to lots of babysitting/dogsitting hours)

My words to date include:
2007 - Wonder & Seek
2008 - Simplicity and Joy
2009 - Dream & Hope
2010 - Half-Full & (do be determined)

So take a look at the glass pictured here. Is it half full or half empty? How you answer that question can make a world of difference.

Second Response - Helping In Haiti

Be part of the second response for Haiti.

Give generously. Give prayerfully.
Give with hope for a new day.

1) Give Generously.
100% your gift to the Haiti Emergency will go to help the people of Haiti.
* Want to Write a Check or Give Cash? Give through any local United Methodist Church. Checks should note UMCOR Haiti Emergency/Advance #418325 in the memo line.
* Give Online:
* Mail a Check: UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Remember to memo it: Advance#418325 Haiti Emergency

2) Send Health Kits
UMCOR is shipping health kits to provide basic necessities to people who have lost everything. Instructions for assembling and shipping health kits are online at

Kits are valued at approx. $12, and are distributed to those left without homes as a result of the earthquake (and other disasters).   

Note: If you are in NWA, the collection site is Elm Springs United Methodist Church. They are collecting completed kits through Wednesday, Jan. 27. You can also get the kits to me, by Tuesday, Jan. 26.

Please seal the following items in a one-gallon plastic bag:
* 1 hand towel (15” x 25” up to 17” x 27”. No kitchen towels.)
* 1 washcloth
* 1 comb (large and sturdy, not pocket-sized)
* 1 nail file or fingernail clippers (no emery boards or toenail clippers)
* 1 bath-size bar of soap (3 oz. and up)
* 1 toothbrush (single brushes only in original wrapper, no child-size brushes)
* 6 adhesive plastic strip sterile bandages
* $1.00 to purchase toothpaste (Toothpaste is purchased in bulk to be added to health kits to ensure that the product does not expire before they are sent.)

Please Note: Because the emergency kits are carefully planned to make them usable in the greatest number of situations and strict rules govern product entry into international countries, UMCOR requires that the kits contain only the requested items – nothing more. More info:

3) Prepare to Volunteer
There will be a great need for volunteers to help rebuild. Currently, it is not safe or possible for volunteers to go to Haiti. Those wishing to volunteer should contact their jurisdictional United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) coordinator about opportunities. Learn more at

4) Continue to Pray: Join the Online Prayer Wall
United Methodists everywhere are invited to share a prayer for those affected by the Haiti earthquake.  Visit the Facebook group for ( to lift up your praise or concern on the wall.

5) Stay Informed
Visit and for continuously updated information.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

By Jan. 11, my "New Year's Resolution" a.k.a. lifestyle change was already slipping...

Then I ran across this quote that Amanda used on a recent post at

"I work with a girl who absolutely loves Mondays. LOVES them. She says they give her a fresh start. Mondays that start a new month are even better.

"We were both at work yesterday and were thinking about coming into work next week. Not only will we be coming in on a Monday, but it will be Monday, January 4, 2010. We will be starting a new WEEK, MONTH, YEAR and DECADE. I think this is the perfect opportunity to start fresh; to make one attainable resolution (read: ONE and ATTAINABLE) and to focus on how that one resolution can feed into the other parts of your life." - Sarah at The Strength of Faith

I think that's an awesome way to look at life - a "half-full" option (more on this soon, I promise)...

Sometimes we let our "failures" dictate how we move forward. But by realizing that every day - especially Monday - can be a "do-over" or "re-start" we can move forward.

It's a new way to look at my favorite quote from Finding Nemo. As Dory put it, "just keep swimming."

Some days, you can only keep swimming, moving forward or taking one step at a time.

So, today is a New Week (yes it's Tuesday, but yesterday didn't count!), and a new start.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A laugh for the day

Silent Singing Monks....

You may have already had a chance to see this, but it definitely brought a smile to my face on this cold and dreary day....enjoy!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Blog Tour: Sweet By & By

Editor's Note: Looking for a way to start 2010 off with a bang? Why not check out the newest release, by the writing team of Sara Evans (country music star) and Rachel Hauck: Sweet By & By, the first of the new Songbird series, published by Thomas Nelson. In honor of the release - set for this week, Hauck took time to answer a few questions about the novel.

What happens when you combine a hippie mother, a daughter who has always tried to be the "responsible" one, a wedding in Tennessee and a whole cast of characters?

The result is the newest release, Sweet By & By, by the writing team of Sara Evans and Rachel Hauck.

The pair teamed up after the publishing house Thomas Nelson, approached Sara about doing a fiction project.

"When she agreed, they paired me with her to write the story," Hauck said. "The partnership was a blend of Sara explaining what she loved in a story and what she wanted to see in the characters and me offering back ideas and character/plot developments."

Hauck said it was fun and easy to work with Sara.

"She's very down to earth and creative," Hauck said.  "We pretty much agreed on everything!"

The pair named multi-book series "Songbird," in part because of the appearance of a bird within the first two books.

"I [also] suggested Songbird [as] a reference to Sara, a lovely and amazing singer," Hauck explained, "plus one of her most popular songs is 'Born to Fly.'  It just absolutely described her and the story."

The first novel focuses on the slightly dysfunctional relationship between Jade and her mother, Beryl, and is filled with a lot of drama and conflict.

"Jade is a strong woman but gazing through life through the lens of heart ache," explained Hauck. "[She is] fixed but not whole. She wants love and stability."

On the other hand, Hauck continued, Beryl is a wild child - a 'Summer of Love' hippie who "never really left
Haight Ashbury.

"She's selfish to the core, but fun and carefree, full of life, willing to challenge the norms."

Hauck said the themes of conflict, found within the first novel, are relevant to today's society, although Jade and Beryl are purely fictional characters of their imaginations.

Through out the novel, both Jade and Beryl have to face things they would rather forget.

"We  all have a past," Hauck said. "Many times, we bury issues - both good and bad - without acknowledging the impact on our lives. Many times it takes reckoning with the past to realize our future. That's what Jade and Beryl had to do."

Hauck said they hope that readers will walk away, after reading the novel, realizing that "God is willing, able and loving enough to bring us through any situation and strengthen us. And that it's never wise to ignore the past. But deal with it in love and forgiveness."

The next novel - a continuation of Jade's story (as well as Beryl's) is set for a January 2011 release. Jade's mother-in-law, June, will also take center stage in the drama.

"Sara and I have to talk about the rest of the books, but I know for sure they will be exciting," Hauck said.

What I Thought....
When the book arrived in my mailbox, I was ready for an easy read. In a way, this novel fit that bill - the writing style of Evans and Hauck really flows.

While it's an easy read, the book is filled with a variety of meaty topics.

I'll admit, I had trouble putting the book down - and I definitely wasn't ready for the story to end. (Is it really going to be a whole year before I know what happens next?).

I think, if you chose to pick up this book, you'll find a unique story that you will enjoy.

Want to find the book on-line?
The book is available from three on-line vendors: Barnes & Noble,, and Christian Book Distributors.

Want to read more about Rachel and Sara?
Check out Sara's website by clicking here.
Visit Rachel's website by clicking here.

Take Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Rachel Hauck. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


I just found out today that a devo (devotion) that I wrote in late 2009, will be published in the July/August 2010 issue of DevoZine.

DevoZine is the teen devotional magazine published by the Upper Room.

I'm so excited, because DevoZine is one of the first places that I published with (back in the mid-90s), as I moved into the Christian publishing world.

Some might see this as a "step backward" but honestly, I love this mag, and I love working with the staff and being a part of the team - even from the edges....

In 2009, I had two "working" words - hope and dream. My goal was to learn to "hope" again, and to "dream" impossible dreams - that only God could help turn into a reality.

In a way, the letter I received today in the mail, was a bit of a confirmation - that it's o.k. to hope and dream again.

It's small, but I'm writing & creating again.

(stay tuned..... for more details....)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year

Happy First Day of 2010....

Here's a wish for everyone in "my" corner of the world to have a happy, healthy and hope-filled new year.

May 2010 be a year filled with dreams, wishes and new realities.


I'll be back soon with some more book reviews....just wait till you see what's been arriving in my mailbox in the last few days....

12 Pearls: Winner announced.

Hello Bloggers!

Nearly 1,000 people entered the contest to win the pearl necklace -  amazing!

We're excited to announce that Carol from Carol's Notebook won the necklace!

Carol left a comment on Freda Man's blog!


Also, we'll be giving away five copies of the Pearl Girls book this week on the Pearl Girls' blog. All you need to do to be entered is leave a comment before 1/8/10.

The winner was chosen using random number

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