26 August 2016

Book Recommendation: Evan and Darcy by Melanie Coles

Amazon Description

Jane Austen gets a little dusty in this outback retelling of a beloved story about a man who learns that first impressions can be wrong when you’re looking for Ms Right.

Wheat farmer Evan Bennet is happy being single until his brother falls for the new girl in town, wealthy hotel owner Claire Bingley. Suddenly finding a girl seems more appealing…unless you’re talking about Claire’s best friend, pretentious lawyer Darcy Fitzwilliam. Her cold manners have Evan seeing red, and when a cute girl with links to Darcy’s past catches his eye, he’s even more determined to dislike her.

When a startling revelation turns Evan’s world upside down and he unexpectedly crosses Darcy’s path again, he’s forced to reassess his opinion of her. But just as he starts to open his heart, a crisis engulfs his family, threatening to destroy any hope of a future with Darcy.
With a cloud hanging over his family, Evan knows his chance of winning Darcy’s heart is gone… until some surprising news and a generous gift leave him wondering if her heart might be his after all.

My Review

I read an early draft of Evan and Darcy, and could tell at once that it was a great concept that would grab readers: a modern Australian retelling of the Jane Austen classic, Pride and Prejudice, but with the added twist of a gender swap.

Yes, Evan is now farmer Evan Bennet, the second of the five Bennet boys, and Darcy is now Ms Darcy Fitzwilliam, lawyer. The novel has all the other familiar P&P characters: the overbearing Mrs Bennet, the irritating younger Bennets (now brothers), the Bingleys, the de Burghs, Miss Collins, and Jemma Wickham. And none of them are any more likeable than Jane Austen's version.

This is probably the main failing of Evan and Darcy: too many characters are best described as cliche. But that's an unfair criticsm because it's also the strength of the novel: that the author has managed to capture the annoying essence of characters we know so well that they have become cliches, and recreate them in a modern setting.

The plot follows all the main high points of the original (including Darcy's cringeworthy proposal), but set in a farming community. Perfect Jamie Bennet is happy to remain on the family farm, but Evan's passion is wine—he'd love to own a vineyard and make wine (no, he's not a drunkard. He leaves that to his younger brothers). This works well.

Overall, this is a well-executed Pride and Prejudice variation, and I'll look forward to seeing what Melanie Coles can do with the rest of Jane Austen's novels.

Note: Evan and Darcy is a general market romance novel, and while it's true to the original and doesn't have any hot-and-heavy scenes, it does have occasional low-level language (what Aussie farmers would consider normal vocabulary, but which conservative Christians might not appreciate).

Thanks to NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. And a big thank you to Melanie Coles for her kind words in the acknowledgements!

You can read the introduction to Evan and Darcy here:

25 August 2016

Review: The Long Journey to Jake Palmer by James L Rubart


Jake Palmer is a management trainer who makes a living encouraging others to read what’s on their label rather than believing lies about themselves. But following a horrific incident, he finds himself on a journey to read his own label—to believe the truth about himself instead of the lies he’s been fed by the people he loved most, to the point he’s forgotten who he was.

The Long Journey to Jake Palmer is excellent. Excellent writing, excellent characters, excellent plot, and an excellent message about learning and believing the truth about ourselves, not the lie. It’s a novel of spiritual and emotional healing, subtly making the excellent point that the physical healing so many people search for is secondary to spiritual healing.

The metaphor (and I truly can’t believe I’m writing that in a book review!) of forgetting who we are is apt: I read an article yesterday which said most five-year-olds have creativity at near-genius levels. But we lose that as we get older until we become merely average. It’s the same message as Rubart shares with Jake Palmer’s story: we forget who we are, and we need to rediscover ourselves.

This is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. Recommended—although at over $10 for the ebook, you might want to treat yourself to the paperback.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about James L Rubart at his website, and you can read the introduction to The Long Journey to Jake Palmer below:

23 August 2016

Review: The Struggle: Mom and the Summertime Blues by the Smith family

The Struggle is Real.

Or so my teenage daughter informs me. And as I inform her, she has first-world problems. Patrice Smith has four teen and pre-teen daughters who also suffer from first-world problems, and any modern parent will recognise the “issues”. They will also know how difficult it can be to keep children entertained during the long summer holidays without taking out a second mortgage to pay for entertainment.

The Struggle is one of Patrice Smith’s solutions to that problem. She got her four daughters to co-write a book as a summer project. While the four daughters in the story are supposedly fictional, I suspect a good part of each daughter comes out (especially in their comments about their sisters!) That’s one of the best parts of the book—the authentic and original voices of each daughter.

The other best part is the content, which I found hilarious (from my point of view as the mother of teens. I suspect teens might have quite a different view). The sisters share their frustration at being forced to participate in horrific summer activities as math homework, weeding the garden, and running! In the morning! Basically, not having a vacation as it is defined by Google.

Mom makes things even worse by requiring that they eat healthy food, not eat junk food, and use natural remedies (which I mostly agreed with, but I do have to side with the girls when it comes to homemade sunscreen). As if things couldn’t get worse, Mrs Smith insists on punctuating these horrors with teachable moments (I’d insert a winky emoticon here if I could. But I’m not a teen, so I can’t).

Okay, so the plot wasn’t as cohesive as most fiction I read and the English often had that high school flavour … but that’s appropriate and to be expected in a book written by students aged 10 to 14 and published by their parents.

Mrs Smith, keep up the good work.

Girls, listen to your mother. One day you will wake up and realise you sound just like her … and that’s something to be proud of.

Homeschooling parents—this could make a great project for the year.

Other parents—kids refusing to help out? I’m sure they’d rather clean their rooms/the bathroom/the entire house than be forced to write a book.

Thanks to Patrice Smith for providing a free ebook for review, and for providing me with some amusing inspiration through the words of your daughters.

22 August 2016

Writing Helps to Heal Author Justine Johnston Hemmestad


by Justine Johnston Hemmestad

In 1990 my car was broadsided by a speeding city bus as I turned out of a parking lot - I was in a coma and had sustained a severe brain injury. I was paralyzed when I woke up from my coma, though I worked hard to walk again within a few months, and to relearn how to perform the basic functions of life.

I began to write when I was carrying my first child Megan, less than two years after my accident, as tool or a way to cope with feeling so alone in my disability and misunderstood. Writing, throughout the darkest part of my recovery—when everyone looked down on me and I had no one to talk to or relate with me—helped me to get my thoughts in focus, to learn new things, and to remember what was important to me. I felt bullied, my thoughts and perception were skewed, and I felt emotionally alone, isolated by my personal lacking (my speech was slurred; my reactions were slow, etc.).

http://faithbygracepublishing.com/products/truth-be-toldBut writing was my Savior. When I was so afraid and so filled with guilt for being disabled, writing offered me a safe and comforting place to go, where I could cry and feel loved. Writing was my confidante and gave me hope when the world was crushing me. Writing even helped me find out who I was, since everything about "me" seemed to have melted away with my TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). Writing helped me find my words to speak again. Writing was my purpose, and writing was my healing.

My novella, Truth be Told, is essentially the story of my recovery wrapped up in fictional characters in a different time and place. Everything is symbolic in my novella because symbolism itself taught me how to travel deep inside my thoughts and search until I found the answers. Symbolism aided my memory by the weight of its meaning.

The old man in my novella is symbolic of God, prayer, love of my children, and the inner truth I found when I dug deep, the challenges that stretched my mind and that I knew I had to face when I wanted to give up on life completely.

The Lady is the aspect of my recovery in which I felt lost, even to myself—I didn’t know who I was—but in prayer and meditation I learned to focus my mind, calm my thoughts (which were drowning in the guilt I felt for being disabled) and listen to God’s answer…what defines me?

The knight is the aspect of my recovery that was assaulted by PTSD. Not only was I recovering, but I was recovering amidst a torrent of fear, pain, and false persecution. He represents the survivor’s guilt I had for living as brain-injured, and the part of myself that felt I deserved the lies that people told about me simply because it was easy to lie about me. I illuminated my purpose— the purpose that any recovering person needs to be able to climb out of the darkness—symbolically as Jesus. When people lied about me, writing defended me and made the truth immortal. My purpose, as writing, was the well within me; writing saved me and gave me direction in life (even when I no longer had any sense of direction due to my TBI). There were people who tried to point me in the wrong direction, but my prayer, and written prayer, was always brimming with truth.

My purpose in writing raised me out of the darkness and set me on a new path. As my characters in Truth be Told founded one of the first Universities in Europe, my purpose led me to enter into college, to study tirelessly, and to set goals and reach them. For a person with a TBI, these things stretched my mind to the breaking point. And yet my savior, writing, was always there, so much that my purpose and my goals became intertwined. Every class I’ve had brought me new challenges; every professor’s pushing has helped me more than they were ever aware.

My husband and I now have seven children and I'm still writing, for both have truly been essential to my recovery. I've also earned a BLS through The University of Iowa and am now working toward a Master's Degree in Literature through Northern Arizona University. I’m grateful to have written a book that I felt so strongly, all along, could be of help to survivors, for them to recognize themselves in the characters and to know that they're not alone. I would have recognized myself in this story and it would have given me hope. My mission now is to give other survivors hope.

18 August 2016

I'm Reviewing at Reality Calling

Today I'm reviewing A Lady in Defiance. I was especially impressed by the spiritual content of this novel, so I'm reviewing it at Reality Calling in recognition of the redemptive nature.

Click here to read my review.