30 April 2014

Review: Whisper Goodbye by Myra Johnson

Strong WWI Romance

Gilbert Ballard lost his beau, Annemarie Kendall, because of his attitude when he returned home from the trenches of World War I France, and now he seems to be driving away another woman he loves, nurse Mary McClarney. For her part, Mary loves Gilbert but can’t trust him to not retreat into his vices—drugs, alcohol and gambling—in times of stress.

Whisper Goodbye is the sequel to When the Clouds Go By, the story of Annemarie and Army chaplain Samuel Vickeray. While the two can each be read as stand-alone
novels, there are mentions of certain incidents from the first book in Whisper Goodbye, so it would be better not to read them out of order.

I enjoyed Whisper Goodbye as it continued to show Gilbert’s personal and spiritual growth, but without being preachy (if anything, I would have liked a little more emphasis on that, particularly as Mary and her mother were plainly Catholic, while Gilbert and the other characters weren’t).

The plot was good, and I especially liked the way it brought a natural conclusion to the central romance while introducing more minor characters, perhaps to set them up for the sequel. The characters were strong, in that they each had distinct personalities, and each had their own issues to overcome.

Overall, Whisper Goodbye is a strong historical romance, set in a time period I enjoy reading about, and with some deeper themes to get me thinking.

Thanks to Abingdon and NetGalley for providing a free book for review. You can find out more about Myra Johnson at her website.

29 April 2014

Review: The Reign by Lynne Stringer

Gripping Finale

The Reign is the third and final book in the Verindon Trilogy, and it is best to read The Heir and The Crown first. In fact, if you haven’t read the first two and want to, you might be better going to my previous reviews to avoid spoilers.

Review: The Heir
Review: The Crown

All three stories follow Sarah, a teenage American girl who finds out she’s actually the heir to the throne on a far-off planet, and her best friend and teenage crush are actually aliens from her home planet, sent to Earth to guard and protect her (The Heir). Upon arriving on Verindon, she finds her life threatened by unknown forces, and learns she is required to marry but forbidden by law to marry the man she loves (The Crown).

The Reign begins with Sarah finally deciding which of her approved suitors she will marry, as her efforts to change the law have failed. Another attack on her life reveals information that will change everything—and place her in even more danger.

I’ve really enjoyed this debut YA series by Lynne Stringer. It’s not Christian fiction, but it is written from a Christian world view, so it doesn’t have any of the sex, violence or negativity so prevalent in contemporary YA fiction. The Reign pulls together all the plot points of the earlier books, and delivers a satisfying finale.

The books are all written from Sarah’s point of view, which has plusses and minuses. It was a strength in The Heir, because it meant the reader discovered the secrets of Sarah’s past as she did. I would have liked to have seen some alternate points of view in The Crown and especially The Reign, because both have strong male characters, and I would have liked to know what they were thinking!

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed this series and recommend it to fans of YA sci-fi.

Thanks to Wombat Books for providing a free book for review. You can find out more about Lynne Stringer at her website, or check out yesterday's interview

28 April 2014

Author Interview: Lynne Stringer

Today I'd like to welcome Australian author Lynne Stringer to Iola's Christian Reads, to tell us about the launch of her new book, The Reign, the final book in the Verindon trilogy.

First, please you tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?

I'm Lynne Stringer and I live in Australia with my husband and young son. I've lived here since I was two, having been born in London, England.

Which of your books is your personal favourite, and why?

My favourite of the three books in the Verindon trilogy would have to be The Reign (the last book in the series). I liked it because I was satisfied with the resolution I gave my characters and I enjoyed the way some of the plotlines were concluded, particularly when it came to one dilemma for Sarah's character. Resolving that was fun.

What was the last book you read? Would you recommend it? Why/why not?

The last book I read was Into the Whirlwind by Elizabeth Camden. While not my favourite of hers I still found it enjoyable. It was set during the Chicago fire of 1871, which provided a colourful backdrop for her characters.

Tell us about your latest book, The Reign. Who will enjoy it?

I think anyone who likes escapist literature will enjoy it. While my trilogy is science fiction, I've had a number of people who aren't science fiction fans read them and enjoy them. I think the stories cross over enough that fans of other genres can enjoy them. Also, if you like a bit of romance, there's some of that too, as well as the young adult angle, and we all know that young adult books are the best books!

What was your favourite scene in the book? What scene was the hardest to write? (Assuming you can answer that without giving any spoilers).

I'll answer that by giving my favourite chapter, which was chapter six. I can't tell you any of the details about it, but please don't skip forward to read it ahead of the five chapters before it! I think it will be clear why I like it when you get to it. The hardest part to write was a scene at the end where a character I love passes away. Those scenes are always the hardest because I love my characters.

All three Verindon books are written in first person, from Sarah’s point of view, which means you can’t show us what other characters (e.g. Keridan and Ardon) are thinking. Did you ever consider using third person, or introducing alternative points of view?

I think Sarah's point of view has proved best because it allows me to keep the audience in suspense a bit, as there's so much that Sarah doesn't know about. However, that means that sometimes a lot is left out, especially in the first book. I have written the story of The Heir from Keridan's point of view. It helped me when I was writing to know what was happening to him. I will be posting some scenes from his point of view both on my website and at Goodreads. If you have read The Heir and there is a particular scene you'd like from his point of view contact me and I will post it.

The Reign is the final book in the Verindon trilogy. Is that the last we will see of Sarah and her friends?

At this stage I think it is, unless there's so much interest in Keridan's side of the story that we decide to publish that too!

What are you working on at the moment? What other books do you plan to write?

I have been working on a new YA fantasy book called More than Survival. It's got more in common with books like Lord of the Rings and things of that ilk than it has sci-fi. It's a work in progess, though, and I don't know how long it will be before it's ready to go.

To purchase any of the Verindon trilogy visit www.verindon.com

Thanks for sharing, Lynne!

My review of The Reign will post tomorrow. Meanwhile, if you're interested in learning more about Lynne and the Verindon books, you can read my reviews of The Crown and The Crown, and our earlier interviews:

Review and Interview: The Heir
Review and Interview: The Crown

25 April 2014

Review: The Prayer Box by Lisa Wingate

Valued by the Lord

Tandi Reese has escaped with her two children to Fairhope, a small village in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She’s broke, trying to escape her controlling husband and hopefully find herself and reconnect with her children, Zoey and JT. She rents a cottage on the grounds of a run-down stately home, owned by a reclusive old lady, Iola Anne Poole.

Soon after moving in, she finds Iola Anne dead, and is given the job of clearing the house in exchange for rent. While cleaning, she finds dozens of prayer boxes filled with letters, prayers from Iola Anne to her heavenly father, in which she has poured out the details of her life.

I will admit I didn’t actually buy this novel based on the cover blurb. I bought it because it had a character named Iola (even though Iola is dead by the time the novel starts). Iola isn’t exactly a common name, and I was intrigued.

My curiosity was rewarded: The Prayer Box was certainly worth reading. It’s been nominated for the 2014 Christy Awards in the Contemporary Fiction category, and it’s got to be a strong contender. The plot is tightly-woven, the characters are real and interesting, and the writing is excellent.

While The Prayer Box is written by a Christian author and published by a Christian publisher, it’s not preachy come-to-Jesus Christian fiction, but the nature and theme of the novel—prayer—is certainly Christian. The Prayer Box is about a broken woman with a life full of mistakes trying to rediscover herself, slowly realising that her identity is about her, not about her boyfriend or husband:
I wasn’t looking for Iola in these boxes. I was looking for myself, for the answer to the question I’d be asking and avoiding for years. How do you finally move beyond the past?
I don’t know why Lisa Wingate chose Iola for her character’s name. I don’t even know if she knows the meaning of the name. It’s a fascinating choice that underpins the book. Common wisdom is that Iola is a Greek name, meaning “violet-coloured dawn”—which doesn’t fit at all.

But I’ve always been told my name was Welsh, and after some online research a couple of years ago, I found the Welsh meaning of my name. It’s not “violet-coloured dawn”.

It’s “valued by the Lord”. And that’s what The Prayer Box is all about: Iola Anne Poole, who I believe knew she was valued by the Lord despite what others said about her, and Tandi Reese, who learned she was valued by the Lord, that she was the carpenter’s daughter both literally and spiritually.


Here's Lisa Wingate talking about the inspiration behind The Prayer Box:

You can find more about Lisa Wingate and her novels at her website.

24 April 2014

Review: A Stillness of Chimes by Meg Moseley

Romance, Suspense and Small-town Charm

Laura Gantt has returned to her small home town of Prospect, Georgia, to settle up her mother’s estate. The town is abuzz with rumours: it seems her father, Elliot, has been seen—even though he’s been dead for years. Did he fake his death? If so, why? And if he really is dead, who is snooping around Laura’s house? Meanwhile, Laura also has to deal with Sean Halloran, her high school sweetheart, and Ardelle, her best friend’s mother, who seems to be losing her mind.

The story is intriguing from the beginning, yet it’s only in the very last pages that we see the significance of those first few pages. The plot unfolds slowly, giving us time to get to know the characters and to wonder, along with Laura, if her father really is alive, and to puzzle the other secrets that unfold as we get to know the characters.

A Stillness of Chimes is full of secrets and mystery, and captured my attention from the start. It’s the story of rediscovered romance as three childhood friends reunited as adults and coming to grips with grown-up problems including death, marriage difficulties and ageing parents. Well worth reading.

Thanks to Multnomah Books and Blogging for Books for providing a free book for review. You can find out more about Meg Moseley at her website.

23 April 2014

Review: Critical Condition by Richard L Mabry

Richard Mabry's latest medical suspense, Critical Condition, is receiving high praise. USA TODAY says, "Mabry combines his medical expertise with a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat."

Richard is celebrating the release with a Kindle HDX giveaway!


One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A Kindle Fire HDX
  • Critical Condition by Richard Mabry
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on May 11th. Winner will be announced May 13th on Richard's blog.

Don't miss a moment of the fun; enter today and be sure to stop by Richard's blog on May 13th to see if you won.

About the book

Dr. Frasier couldn't save the gunshot victim on her front lawn. Now she's fighting for her own life.

It began as a quiet dinner party honoring Dr. Shannon Frasier's colleague, but became a nightmare when a man was shot on her lawn, reviving emotions from a similar episode a decade ago. Then a midnight call from her sister, Megan, causes Shannon to fear that her sister is on drugs again.

Her "almost-fiancé" Dr. Mark Gilbert's support only adds to Shannon's feelings of guilt, since she can't bring herself to fully commit to him. She turns for help to her pastor-father, only to learn that he's just been diagnosed with leukemia. Shannon thought it couldn't get any worse. Then the late-night, threatening phone calls begin, the rough voice asking, "What did he say before he died?"

With everything around her in a critical state, simply staying alive will require all the resources and focus Shannon has.

My Review

Critical Condition starts with a bag (literally) as Shannon Frasier witnesses the gunshot that kills her long-term boyfriend Todd Richardson. Ten years later, she’s a surgeon in a Dallas hospital and history almost repeats when a complete stranger is shot on her front lawn, and dies in her arms. Things grow rapidly more complicated when Megan, Shannon’s sister, moves in with her after having a fight with her boyfriend … who then dies. Both Megan and Shannon’s fingerprints are on the murder weapon, and the police seemed convinced that one or both of the women know more than they are saying. One of the policemen seems to be paying Shannon more attention than is necessary, which causes friction between her and almost-fiance Dr Mark Gilbert.

This is a complex plot, a combination of mystery, suspense, medical thriller and romance (although I did feel the romance was definitely last place). There were lots of related points to keep in mind, yet not so many that I lost track of who was who or what was what. Shannon and Megan were both well-drawn characters, with Shannon as the ‘good’ older sister who had worked hard and done well, and Megan the more flighty younger sibling with a more mixed personal history.

I did almost feel as though the plot lost momentum at one point, but the climax certainly got the adrenaline pumping, and all the loose ends were tied up by the last page. Recommended for thriller fans.

About the Author

A retired physician, Dr. Richard Mabry is the author of four critically acclaimed novels of medical suspense. His previous works have been finalists for the Carol Award and Romantic Times Reader's Choice Award, and have won the Selah Award. He is a past Vice-President of American Christian Fiction Writers and a member of the International Thriller Writers. He and his wife live in North Texas.

22 April 2014

Review: The Miracle Thief by Iris Anthony

Something Different for Historical Fiction Lovers

Yesterday Iris Anthony talked about her writing. Today, I'm reviewing her new book:

The Miracle Thief is a historical novel following three women as they seek God’s will in France in the early 900’s:

Sister Juliana escaped to Rochemont Abbey many years ago, seeking to atone for her biggest sin. She serves in the shrine of St Catherine, helping the many pilgrims who come to pray for healing by the saint’s relics.

Anne is the newly-orphaned daughter of an impoverished noblewoman. With no home, she has little option but to obey her mother’s dying request and undertake a pilgrimage to St Catherine’s shrine to seek healing.

Giselle is the illegitimate daughter of a king, raised as a princess and about to be forced into a political marriage against her will. She asks to take a pilgrimage to the shrine of St Catherine to seek God’s will.

The Miracle Thief is an unexpected gem. The characters are real (really. It’s historical fiction based on real people and real events), and were brought to life with all their flaws and foibles. The plot moved steadily, and although (as with real life), the ending wasn’t necessarily what I’d have chosen, it was historically accurate, and it was from a time and place in history that hasn’t been done to death by other authors (*ahem* Tudor England).

Anthony has done an excellent job of melding historical fact with the creativity of fiction. I never felt I was being ‘dumped’ with historical facts or that the story was being manipulated to stay true to history, yet the note at the end shows the degree to which the story has been researched and is true to the historical record (which, admittedly, has a lot of holes).

Although The Miracle Thief is a general market book, there was still a strong underpinning of Christian faith (albeit featuring some very un-Christlike “Christians”), and it meets CBA standards in that there is no inappropriate language. It left me feeling grateful to live in a time and place where I have freedoms and choices women like Juliana, Anne and Giselle never had. Recommended for historical fiction fans looking for something a little different.

Thanks to Sourcebooks and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Iris Anthony at her website.

21 April 2014

Author Interview: Iris Anthony

Iris Anthony is an award-winning author who has just released her latest historical novel, The Miracle Thief, which I will review tomorrow. Meanwhile, Iris is visiting today to tell us about her writing. Welcome, Iris!

First, please tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?

I’m from just about everywhere! Before I graduated from high school, I had lived on both the East and West American coasts and in two Canadian provinces. After college, I married an Air Force officer and moved around some more to places including Paris and Tokyo.

It’s said that authors should write the kind of book they like to read. What is your favourite genre? Who are your favourite authors?

I tend to read quite broadly, though I prefer historicals in general. I grew up reading Louis L’Amour westerns but I’ll always go for a Cold War or World War II spy thriller. I loved Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series. I’ll always read Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell books and Lindsey Davis’ ancient Roman Falco and Flavia Albia mysteries. I wish there were more of Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael mysteries. Inspirational historical authors I love include Maureen Lang, Ginger Garrett, Susan Meissner, Tamera Alexander, and Jody Hedlund.

You write under two pen names, Iris Anthony and Siri Mitchell. Why do you use two names? What kind of books do you write under each name?

I use two names because I’m writing two different styles of historicals. My Iris books are set in Europe (France) and stylistically, they’re more experimental and complicated. They also have more POV characters. So far, they involve stories of separate lives slowly becoming intertwined within a larger story. My Siri books are generally set in America as close to the 19th century as I can manage and they feature young women as their heroines.

Tell us about your latest book. Who will enjoy it?

The Miracle Thief takes place in what some historians call the darkest hour of the Dark Ages, as the Carolingian empire crumbled and the first glimmerings of modern Europe started to appear. It tells a story of faith and miracles from the perspective of its three female characters: a princess, a pilgrim, and a nun. In an era where God often seemed silent, people tried to discern his will in all kinds of ways and they believed in the intercession of saints and the power of their relics.

This story centers around three women looking for redemption, rescue, and healing from a relic of St. Catherine at the same time an archbishop and a band of Danes (Vikings) are trying to steal it. Women’s fiction readers who also enjoy historicals will like it. I think it will appeal to readers of Mary Bilyeau and Sharon Kay Penman.

Where did the characters and story come from? What were your influences?

I read a synopsis of Furta Sacra by Patrick J. Geary and it mentioned armies of monks setting out to steal relics from each other. I read further and discovered that stealing relics not only happened quite often but that it was also condoned. It was felt that if you successfully stole a relic, then the saint it had belonged to wanted to come with you. If you weren’t successful, then the saint wanted the relic to stay where it was. Honestly, I just wanted to find out what it would be like to live in a world like that.

Many of the secondary characters are pulled from the pages of history. Of the three main characters, one was an actual Frankish princess (if old legends are to be believed). The other two are based on conglomerates of two different kinds of women of the period: nuns and pilgrims. I was greatly influenced by the stories of Carolingian women, especially by Dhouda, author of Handbook for William which she wrote for her son. As much as women back then were controlled by men, they weren’t completely powerless. I’ve always believed that in any given situation, there is always a choice. They might not be choices we want or approve of, but they are there just the same. In my historicals, I try to let the reader see what the choices were for women in eras past.

What was your motivation for writing The Miracle Thief?

I wanted to find out what lies at the end of a journey to faith. If you cast yourself onto the mercies of God, will He catch you?

The Miracle Thief is written in the first person, from three different viewpoints. What made you decide to take this approach, rather than third person?

As much as I would sometimes like it to be, third person just isn’t my natural voice. It tends to come out flat for me. I once tried to change my writing voice, but the result wasn’t worth publishing. I had to rewrite most of that novel. After that, I decided to stick with what I’m good at. In sixteen novels, I’ve only used third-person once and omniscient once (in A Heart Most Worthy).

When I’m writing my stories, I don’t observe my characters actions, I literally hear them speaking. Sometimes, as with Ellis Eton in Love Comes Calling or Jackie and Joe in The Cubicle Next Door, it’s all I can do to keep up with them! The Miracle Thief is the novel of three individual stories being woven together. The world looked entirely different to all three women in it. To do them justice, I had to keep their stories separate and tell each of them from the characters’ points of view.

You’ve obviously done a huge amount of research for The Miracle Thief. What was the most interesting thing you learned?

Just how little the Dark Ages looked and felt like the Middle Ages. It was truly a world apart in every sense. From its politics, to its architecture, to its social structures. Some telling examples are the castle and the fireplace. Castles were mostly built of wood in a motte and bailey construction and they were surrounded, not by thick stone walls, but by wooden palisades. And there were no chimneys back then. Chimneys are a relatively modern invention. During the Dark Ages, fires were built outside or kindled in the middle of a room. Holes were left in roofs for ventilation. That realization changed the whole interaction of my characters and the blocking of some of my scenes.

I often find historical fiction difficult to read because of the way women are often considered little more than possessions, subject to the will of the men who rule them (and they rarely get their happy-ever-after endings). The Miracle Thief is no exception, but I was intrigued by Andulf’s comment that men had little freedom of choice either. What inspired this?

One of the things which kept appearing in my research was an explanation of the feudal system. It wasn’t quite fully developed back then, but at its most basic, it involved an interlocking series of relationships and debts from the lowliest serf to the loftiest of kings. In concept, it was like a pyramid. The serfs were its base and at its pinnacle was God. The higher levels looked after the levels beneath them and you owed the levels above you something in return for their protection (crops, or soldiers, or entire armies).

Because kings were thought to reign by divine favour, they owed their thrones to God, for which they tried to conquer pagans and took upon themselves the role of Defender of the Faith. In theory, everyone’s life and work was owed to someone else; there was no free agency in anything. But then everyone was looked after as well. In practice, it resulted in all the worst abuses and excesses of the Middle Ages. And eventually in the Magna Carta of 1215.

The Miracle Thief illustrates many of the differences between contemporary Christian faith and how Christianity was seen and lived in the middle ages. What do you think of these differences? Are they for better or worse?

People in the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages actively looked for God in just about everything. They expected to find his hand (Providence) at work in their everyday lives. I think we’ve lost that concept of Providence and the idea that God is constantly at work for our good and his glory. I don’t think that’s for the better.

The other thing that always strikes me in historical fiction is the hypocrisy around faith and politics. The Miracle Thief has a Christian cleric prepared to force Giselle into a relationship that’s clearly outside God’s plan for marriage, all for the sake of politics. What do you think the motivation was?

Power and fame. We think of the ministry as a calling. Back then, people thought of the church as a position. It’s an entirely different perspective. As I researched this book, I often wonder how history would have been altered if the church had not involved itself in politics. At the beginnings of the Carolingian empire, King Pepin declared himself the defender of Rome, pledging to fight on behalf of the church in the rough-and-tumble politics of the day.

What might have happened if the pope had called on the name of God instead of the name of the king? Imagine how different the spiritual climate of Europe might be today. As it was, politics and the church became intimately intertwined to the point that kings appointed bishops and archbishops and even popes and the church was forced to endorse all kinds of sovereigns that it might not have otherwise condoned. A career in the church became one of the best ways in medieval Europe to amass personal wealth and political power.

With historical fiction, it’s important to readers that you remain true to the historical record (as far as possible), yet still create a readable book. Do you find this constraining in any way? Why/why not? Were you ever tempted to change the story, to move away from the known facts?

With this story, there weren’t very many facts to work with so when I encountered differing facts or opinions, I gave myself permission to choose those that fit my story best. Most often, in my other novels, I’ve allowed history to shape my books instead of ignoring it. In my other Iris novel, The Ruins of Lace, quite late in the process, I ended up shifting the setting of my story from the reign of Louis XIV to the reign of his father, Louis XIII, due to things my research had un-earthed. I don’t find history constraining so much as I find it fascinating!

What are you working on at the moment? What other books do you plan to write as Iris Anthony? As Siri Mitchell?

I’m editing next spring’s Siri release, Like a Flower in Bloom. It’s set in 1850s Victorian England at the crossroads of faith and flowers, amidst the burgeoning science of botany. I’m also doing research reading for my 2016 Siri release which will be set at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, also in the 1850s.

What do you see as the main differences between fiction written for the Christian market compared with the general market?

The Christian market is nicely defined. If I can write a book set in America of the 1800s, with a heroine who is young and single (not yet married or widowed), and if I can stay within the bounds of the genre’s expectations and the publisher’s guidance, I have a decent chance of a good reception for my titles. Third-person sells better than first. A lighter mood sells better than a more serious one. It’s a market that has defined expectations and a well-developed readership that is looking for books with answers to life’s questions.

In terms of the general market, I feel like I can be more experimental with the style of my writing. My first Iris Anthony historical, The Ruins of Lace, had 7 POV characters. One of them was a dog. I can indulge my love for France in the general market and I suspect I have a broader range of time periods I can choose from. With my general market books, I can also feed my fascination for tough questions. I can write about Europe when it was wholly Catholic. I can even write a book about miracles which I could never hope to sell into the Christian market. (Sounds, paradoxical, but it’s true.)

Though the markets are different, I find my books are still quite similar. My Iris books may be more complicated and set in Europe, but under both my names, I write about the concept of worth. I write novels which are heavily researched and feature women in conflict with their culture.

Is writing for the Christian market harder or easier than writing for the general market? Why?

In some respects it’s easier because I know what’s expected. In some instances it’s more difficult because ideas outside norm and stories outside the expected time periods and settings are a harder sell.

You are a Christian but write books aimed at the general market under the pen name Iris Anthony. What is the appeal of the general market for you?

I can investigate all of my ‘why’ questions and wallow around in them for a while. I can portray different time periods exactly as they were, without apology or fear of offending readers’ sensibilities. I feel like I can look for corruption where it’s least expected. I can empathize with villains even when they’re completely and morally wrong. I can find out not only why good people do bad things but also why bad people do good things.

How does your faith influence your general market writing?

I’m still the same me. Back several years ago, I read a general market contemporary that was beautifully written, but completely nihilistic and hopeless. I decided then that whatever I wrote and whomever I wrote it for, my words would always evidence my belief in redemption and grace. Even if my characters don’t reach for it, I always want to hold it out to them.

As you know, I also reviewed Love Comes Calling, your recent Christian historical romance. The Miracle Thief is quite different in setting and style, but has a strong faith thread—perhaps even stronger than that in Love Comes Calling. Why do you think that is? Why is The Miracle Thief targeting the general market, not the Christian market? Does that have anything to do with the miracles of healing—something the contemporary church is divided on?

On the spectrum from ‘complicated and brooding’ to ‘light and zany’, The Miracle Thief and Love Comes Calling are at extreme opposite ends of the spectrum. The funny thing is that I wrote them one right after the other! I’ve always been very susceptible to the time periods I’m researching. One of the benefits is that it allows me to write novels that feel true to their setting. But one of the consequences is that I’m constrained by my characters’ culture. I feel like the verbalizations of faith in my stories is that of my characters’, not my own. My own faith comes out in the ideas behind the story and the theme of worth which undergirds them.
The practice of the Christian faith hasn’t come down to us from the apostles without alteration.

The idea of Assurance of Salvation, for example, was blasphemous to America’s Puritan forefathers. We take it for granted, but they worked their fingers and souls to the bone because they were never quite certain they could count on God’s grace to save them. The development of concepts like ‘quiet time’ and ‘daily devotions’ are quite recent. Because of this, the way my characters’ portray their faith doesn’t always resonate with my modern readers. In ages past when preachers were appointed due to their political connections, what kind of sermons were people hearing in church? Probably not ones they’d remember. Perhaps not even sermons that had much to do with the Bible.

Often the political was more important than the spiritual. In Tudor and Elizabethan times, practicing your faith in the ‘wrong’ way could get you killed. To be an outspoken proponent of either the Catholic or the Protestant Church would just make you a target when the next regime came to power. For much of the last millennia, church wasn’t safe. And it wasn’t necessarily Christian.

I also often write about characters in the upper classes of society. As with most people at those levels, they aren’t really in dire need of anything and they aren’t usually in obviously desperate straits. There isn’t, then, the fervent faith that people like immigrants or pioneers or those in tougher physical situations would have had. In the 1920s in the Northeastern United States, where I set Love Comes Calling, the most popular churches in high society were Universalist. It was a very humanistic creed that emphasized doing and giving instead of believing. Where spiritual conversations weren’t common, I find I just can’t write them.

In the Dark Ages, in contrast, God was everywhere and in everything. Everything you did, everything you saw, everything that happened. Faith is so prevalent in The Miracle Thief simply because it was such a part of the world in which my characters lived. The Dark Ages weren’t dark because of the loss of faith. They were dark because of the loss of learning and education and because of the attacks against the former Roman Empire by outside groups.

The Miracle Thief is targeting the general market because of its setting. The era itself hasn’t been used much in novels. The spiritual setting would probably also be an uncomfortable one for some in the Christian market: the Catholic church, the belief in relics, the idea of miracles, and the medieval practices of faith. That said, I do think many of my Siri readers would like it. Its natural fit, however, is really the general market.

Wow! Thanks so much for sharing, Iris (Siri?). 

Readers can find Siri at http://sirimitchell.com , on Facebook, on Twitter @SiriMitchell, and on Pinterest as SiriMitchell.

Readers can find Iris at http://irisanthony.com , on Facebook, on Twitter @IrisAnthony, and on Pinterest as 1risAnthony.

18 April 2014

Friday Fifteen: Paula Vince

Friday Fifteen: Fifteen books which have influenced your life or your writing. Today, a warm welcome to Paula Vince, an author from South Australia (who has featured in several of these lists as an influence, so it's only fair we hear what has influenced her!).

1) Enid Blyton

When I was 6 years old, our teacher was reading us The Magic Wishing Chair. I was away sick for a week and missed a chunk. To cheer me up, my mother bought the book so I could catch up on the story myself. That was the start of my love of Enid Blyton’s books. I couldn’t figure out whether I preferred her fantasy or boarding school novels.

2) Laura Ingalls Wilder

It’s inspiring that she started writing when she was elderly. She clearly remembered what happened when she was a little girl and wrote the ‘Little House’ series. If she hadn’t done it, we would have missed fascinating stories about a pioneering family in America travelling west. She’s proof that it’s never too late to begin.

3) L.M. Montgomery

She must be one of the masters of how to make an episodic plot shine. In my teens, I devoured not only the Anne series, but everything L.M. Montgomery wrote. We may think of them as historical stories now, but for her they were contemporary tales set in her own familiar environment, something I have a passion for.

4) Emily Bronte

I read ‘Wuthering Heights’ when I was 15, and it became the text I kept returning to in my quest to figure out how to write well. I thought her plot was perfect and she made her setting shine. I must have spent hours delving into exactly how her second generation of characters in that story were a mirror of the first.

5) Harper Lee

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ was another text I tried to pull apart in my teens to figure out just how she did it. Using an 8-year-old narrator like Scout Finch to tell the story of how her father defended Tom Robinson seemed a stroke of genius. And the way Boo Radley’s story finished up tying together with the Finch family’s story was very well done.

6) Francine Rivers

She introduced me to the concept of writing contemporary Christian fiction. I read ‘The Scarlet Thread’ in the mid nineties and it resonated with me. Since then, I read all her other contemporary novels. (I enjoyed her historical novels too.)

7) Jane Austen

She proves that good writing may also be useful from a historical point of view. Her novels give us a perfect glimpse into the lives of young gentry in the Georgian Era. Her characters are masters of witty dialogue too. And she’s another author who was simply writing contemporary stories about places she knew well.

8) J.K. Rowling

The Harry Potter series are like a work of art in many ways. I was amazed that, even as an adult, I didn’t want to put them down. I’d be waiting at the door of K-Mart the first morning of every new release. I’d never bother until they came down in price. And I was prepared to tussle with my then 12-year-old son to hold on to the final one, for the thrill of being first to finish.

9) Charles Dickens

He continues to impress me with the volume he managed to produce. Most of his novels ended up as thick as bricks, yet he did all the necessary editing without the aid of a computer. His characters (not to mention their unique names) were often entertaining, and his stories helped to highlight the plight of poverty-stricken families in the Victorian era.

10) Daphne du Maurier

I went through a phase in which I was fascinated with everything British. I loved her exciting plots, with their dashes of mystery and romance.

11) Ruth Park

She did for Australia what many other authors have done for their countries. I loved her ‘Harp in South’ series about the poverty-stricken Darcy family who lived in Sydney during the Depression era. Her descriptions have a way of revealing the beauty of life, even when circumstances leave a lot to be desired.

12) Kathryn Kenny

She’s one of those authors whose name many of us may not recognise, even though we grew up loving her writing. She wrote most of the Trixie Belden series. I managed to collect all of those paper back novels. Her plots never failed to surprise me, and I loved Trixie and all her friends and brothers.

13) Joyce Lankester Brisley

She was the author of the Milly Molly Mandy books. I loved them when I was tiny, and re-read them to my daughter many years later. They are just simple stories about how little it took to impress a small girl who lived in an English village in the early 20th century. Brisley did her own gorgeous illustrations.

14) Janette Oke

She first made me aware that Christian fiction even existed, when I came across her books while browsing through a book shop in my teens.

15) Lynn Austin

Her Christian fiction is among my favourite. She seems to be able to choose any historical period and make it come alive, from the Bible to the Depression era. Her research must be enormous, but she still seems to manage to produce as many books as other authors.

About Paula Vince

Picking up the Pieces - winner of International Books Awards 2011

Best Forgotten- winner of CALEB Award 2011

Paula Vince is the award-winning author of several contemporary Christian romances with elements of mystery and suspense. She lives in South Australia's beautiful Adelaide Hills with her family. Her most recent novel, 'Imogen's Chance' was published in April 2014 (and will be reviewed here next week).

Would you like to contribute a Friday Fifteen? If so, email me via my contact page to set a date. Contributions are welcome from anyone—readers, reviewers and authors. It's an opportunity to share some of the authors (and books) which have influenced you, and to pick up some ideas for new authors to read.

17 April 2014

Review and Giveaway: A Sensible Arrangement by Tracie Petersen

Welcome to the campaign launch for Tracie Peterson's 100th book! A Sensible Arrangement launches Tracie's new Texas-based series, Lone Star Brides, that’s sure to please. As a special treat, devoted fans will be able to catch a glimpse of several popular characters from previous series.

Tracie is celebrating by giving away an iPad Mini and hosting a LIVE webcast event on 4/29.


One winner will receive:
  • An iPad Mini
  • A Sensible Arrangement by Tracie Peterson
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on April 29th. Winner will be announced at the A Sensible Arrangement Live Webcast Event on April 29th. Connect with Tracie for an evening of book chat, trivia, laughter, and more! Tracie will also be taking questions from the audience and giving away books, fun prizes, and gift certificates throughout the evening.

So grab your copy of A Sensible Arrangement and join Tracie and friends on the evening of April 29th for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven't read the book, don't let that stop you from coming!)

Don't miss a moment of the fun; RSVP today by signing up for a reminder. Tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 29th!

My Review

Widow Marty Olsen is leaving her Texas ranch to be a mail order bride for Jacob Wythe, a banker in Denver. He’s a widower looking for a sensible wife for a marriage of convenience, because the board members of the bank feel a bank manager should be married. They need to keep up appearances, after all.

My real problem with A Sensible Arrangement was that I expect a marriage of convenience story to have a strong romantic element. While in real life these situations were undoubtedly the challenge of two complete strangers learning to build a life together, in Christian fiction (and general market fiction), a marriage of convenience is two strangers falling in love. This was a real weakness in A Sensible Arrangement—I never felt Mary and Jacob spent enough time together to develop a lasting relationship.

If you leave aside the fact that A Sensible Arrangement
wasn’t a romance, it did have several strengths. Marty was an interesting character. She was a strong and independent woman who makes her own choices (as illustrated by the fact she left a steady existence for the uncertainty of being a mail-order bride in faraway Denver), yet she was a compulsive liar who constantly tried to reconcile her lack of truthfulness towards Jacob as being for the best. I did find her lying somewhat tiresome, as I didn’t understand her reason for lying for most of the novel (and when it was finally revealed, it seemed a little illogical).

The Christian elements were strong, with a clear message of salvation, and a sobering comparison of Christians as opposed to people who go to church for social reasons (I suspect not a lot has changed in this regard since the 1890’s). The background to the plot was the collapse of the banking industry in Colorado due to changes in national legislation, and I thought this was interesting. We’ve all heard of the 1929 crash which started the Great Depression of the 1930’s, but I hadn’t known there were others.

A Sensible Arrangement is the first in the start of the Lone Star Brides series, but I suspect it draws on characters introduced in previous novels as the backstory has that quality of delivering a lot of information in only a few words. It’s Tracie Petersen’s 100th published novel, and it shows in the strong writing and the way she seamlessly integrates the history into the plot.

Overall, while I enjoyed the historical aspects and the relationships between the minor characters, I wasn’t convinced by the romance between Marty and Jacob. However, I’m sure Tracie Petersen fans will enjoy it.

16 April 2014

Review: How Sweet the Sound by Amy K Sorrells

Excellent Debut

Anni’s childhood comes to an end the day her uncle rapes his sister, then witnesses her uncle murdering her father in a confrontation about the attack. Sunny and her mother move in with her grandparents, who are themselves grieving the loss of their two sons, but in different ways. Vaughan tries to comfort Anni and her mother, but Princella seems to think everything is the fault of Anni’s father.

The story is told from the viewpoints of Anni and Comfort, Anni’s aunt. It’s written in first person, but the two viewpoints are so different there is no chance of confusing them. Anni is thirteen, so her scenes are filtered through her adolescence and first love, while Comfort’s scenes are bleak to begin with, but thaw as the novel progresses, as she begins to hear from God and accept his healing.

How Sweet the Sound isn’t a light read. It moves between the present and the past, and as we read, we learn more about the histories of the characters and the events that have shaped them into the people we see. I have to say that I didn’t think a teenager (Anni) should be exposed to some of these facts, but she’s had to grow up fast. Princella was a fascinating character, one I find difficult to understand even now.

This is the debut novel from Amy K Sorrells, and I’ll certainly be keen to see what comes next. Her writing is excellent, particularly the feel of her words and her use of imagery, and she dealt with some difficult subjects in a sensitive manner. Worth reading.

Thanks to David C Cook and NetGalley for providing a free book for review. You can find out more about Amy K Sorrells at her website.

15 April 2014

Review: Death by the Book by Juliana Deering

Mystery in a 1930's English Village 

I’ve always enjoyed Agatha Christie novels, as well as Georgette Heyer’s 1930’s detective romps. They are well-written with clever plots, interesting characters, and their ‘contemporary’ setting now reads as a delightful step into days gone by (well, delightful except for the body count).

Juliana Deering’s Drew Farthering mysteries take place in the Hampshire village of Farthering St. John, a small village in which everybody knows everybody else (and their business), and the class system is alive and well. Death by the Book is the second in the series, following Rules of Murder, but can easily be read as a stand-alone—like all good mysteries, we do find out whodunit (and why) at the end, but there is also the ongoing thread of Drew’s relationship with Madeline.

We get straight into the mystery when Drew visits his lawyer in nearby Winchester, only to find he has been murdered and left with a cryptic note stuck to him with an antique hatpin. There’s no apparent motive, and no suspect. Chief Inspector Birdsong is again in charge of the case—and he doesn’t want any help from Drew. However, the lawyer’s widow asks Drew to look into the case, and he soon unearths

The story then moves back to the Farthering estate, where Drew finds Madeline’s aunt, Ruth Jansen, has arrived to take Madeline back home to the States. I have to say I found this abrupt change of pace jarring and I wasn’t convinced by Miss Jansen as a necessary character, as she seemed to detract from the plot rather than add to it.

However, the murder mystery was excellent. As usual, I didn’t guess the identity of the culprit, but in hindsight, the clues all make perfect sense. Recommended for mystery fans.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free book for review. You can find out more about Juliana Deering at her website.

14 April 2014

Trailer Reveal: A Long and Winding Road by Linda Brendle

Sometimes reality really bites. Alzheimer’s has wrapped Mom’s brain into knots, vascular dementia has attacked Dad, and instead of carefree retirees, we have become caregivers. Regardless, dreams die hard, and we somehow stumbled into the purchase of a forty-foot motor home. That’s when all four of us set out on this seven-week trek across sixteen U.S. states. Now, Dad stopped-up the toilet again, Mom wet her last pair of clean jeans, and David just announced that he was hungry. My head is beginning to pound, and I know this isn’t going to be the easygoing retirement we’d imagined for ourselves.

Linda Brendle takes you on a roller-coaster ride of emotional and spiritual challenges that many families are facing right now. Co-dependency, mental breakdowns, and finding love after divorce are just a few of the issues weaved into this journey of caregiving. Whether you’re looking for an inspirational story to help teach you how to “let go and let God,” considering becoming the caregiver for one of your own parents, or are just looking for an entertaining travel book, this story is sure to strike a tender nerve. 

Release Date: July 1, 2014

Author Bio:
After 15 years as a family caregiver, Linda began writing to encourage, inspire and amuse other caregivers. She loves to travel and since retiring has traveled mostly by motorcycle and RV. She and her husband live in a small East Texas town where she gardens, writes and attends church.

Yahoo Voices: http://goo.gl/NT0bdt
Red Letter Christians: http://goo.gl/xYSvRf


Author Interview: Rajdeep Paulus

Today I'd like to welcome Rajdeep Paulus, author of Swimming Through Clouds (which I recently reviewed) and the sequel, Seeing Through Stones.

Welcome, Rajdeep! First, please you tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?

Sure. I was born in North India, but celebrated my third birthday in NYC. Then my family moved to Canada, where I grew up until right before senior year in High School. Finished high school in Livonia, Michigan, studied English Lit at Northwestern near Chicago and met my husband there. Followed him to the Caribbean as he started Med School and that’s the reason we ended up in New York thirteen years ago. I spent close to a decade doing the full-time Mom thing, with a short break as a teaching assistant and now I’m finally doing what I always dreamed of: writing!

It has been said that authors should write the kind of book they like to read. What is your favourite genre? Who are your favourite authors?

Funny you mention this, because I am a huge Teen Fiction fan. I loved Hunger Games and Twilight and the Matched series. I also loved the books, The Book Thief and anything by John Green. But my all time favourite book is not Young Adult. A Thousand Splendid Suns is the book that changed my life as an aspiring writer. From the moment I turned the last page, I set out a goal to affect readers the way that book effected me. With an aftertaste of hope, if that makes sense.

Having read Swimming Through Clouds, that "aftertaste of hope" absolutely makes sense. 

What kind of books do you write? Where and when are they set?

I write contemporary Young Adult fiction, set in present day, and my first two books are set in and around Chicago. But ultimately, my goal as a writer is to write stories that stretch readers between two extreme emotional ends. And as they read my characters’ journeys, perhaps we can all learn a little about how to navigate the waters of the madness of this life. One minute amazingly sweet and the next a tragedy beyond our wildest imaginations. I’ve heard so many real life stories in the last decade that just break my heart, I know my stories barely scratch the surface of what’s going on out there, but I try to introduce some tough problems into my characters’ worlds and then advocate the power of kindness and hope of unconditional love.

Tell us about your latest book, Seeing Through Stones. Who will enjoy it? 

Sure. Seeing Through Stones continues the journeys of Talia and Jesse, this time telling the story from duel points of view, giving readers a chance to get to know the brother’s journey when the two go their separate ways. I think teens and women in general will fall in love with this story because of the unique cast that **SPOILER ALERT** shows up in the shelter where Talia checks into at the end of Swimming Through Clouds and in Jesse’s life as he searches for justice and purpose.

What was your motivation for writing Swimming Through Clouds and the sequel?

Simply put, I want to write great stories. Stories that give readers a whirlwind experience, break their hearts and fall in love. I also want readers to consider the madness of this life and how we are not in it alone. To perhaps find a Talia or Jesse in their own lives that is quietly suffering and extend a hand of kindness. And widen teen readers’ scope of understanding the world around them. Because a lot goes on in the lives of those around us. We just don’t see it, so we don’t bother worrying or wondering about it. In a country where it’s discouraged to get involved in others’ lives, I want to challenge readers to go against the norm and love someone that is easy to walk by and ignore. Everyone needs love. And everyone can use a little kindness. Everyone.

Where did the characters and story come from? What were your influences?

Truthfully, my imagination. And certainly there are seeds that start with various people I’ve come across in life. Certainly the physical description of Lagan is not too different from how my hubby looked when we first met some seventeen years ago, but I assure you, he never pursued me with Post-its. But he did send me a bunch of cassette tapes. Ha. What are those, you ask?? He was a deejay for his campus radio station and occasionally dedicated a song to me, would tape it, and send it me. And Talia, other than her taste in green clothes (which is my BFF’s favourite color,) her physical description, tastes and story are just a work of my crazy and overactive imagination.

Who is your favourite character and why? Do you have anything in common with him/her? 

Wow. Great question. I would have to say, and this might not make sense, but Rani, Lagan’s cousin. Only because she helped me to find Talia’s story. I wrote an entire book from Rani’s perspective before I ever penned one line of Swimming Through Clouds, so in some ways she was my first Fictional Love.

And there’s nothing like a first. Physical description and quirks of Rani (that barely come out in Swimming Through Clouds) were all me, although her story is not mine in any way, but in that first manuscript she was a freshman at Northwestern with long black hair, an addiction to chocolate and always misplaced things. That is me.

What are you working on at the moment? What other books do you plan to write?

Well, the truth I’m currently working on getting the word out about these first two books. Guest blogging, sharing interviews, and trying to enjoy the chatter about these first stories. I do have two books that are partially written or in first draft states, and I will get to those soon. I am also beginning a new blog this summer to document my hubby and his buddies who plan to bike form Seattle to NYC in the summer of 2015 to raise awareness and funds to combat childhood poverty and human trafficking. They’re calling themselves C4C Cycling 4 Change 2015. Best part about the new blog: I will be writing it with my thirteen year old daughter who is an aspiring author, so it will be a fun mommy-daughter venture. I hope.

Seattle to New York is a loooongg way! That's a huge undertaking, both in the planning and the execution. Kind of like writing a book, perhaps ...

You are a Christian but write books aimed at the general market. What made you choose this rather than the Christian market?

In a nutshell, I want to reach a wider audience. I did not grow up going to church and I guess I see myself more as a bridge builder, hoping to give readers questions to think about but not necessarily all the answers, if that makes sense.

Do your novels have an overt faith element? 

I think inevitably an author’s world view will slip into the story through the characters to some degree. So the faith element is part of Talia’s journey, but I don’t know that I have to take her “all the way,” if you know what I mean.

How does your faith influence your writing? How would that be different if you were writing for the Christian market?

I think my faith drives me to write generally clean fiction, in terms of sexual or profanity content, but more importantly, I feel drawn to write stories of hope, the source of hope not just human relationships. I haven’t read a whole lot of Christian fiction, so I suppose the overt use of church or the name of Jesus might not show up in my writing, but I don’t think that diminishes the power of the stories. If anything, I’m hoping that the story invites all types of readers, regardless of your faith background.

What do you see as the main differences between fiction written for the Christian market compared with the general market? 

Not sure to be honest. I love what Allen Arnold said at my first writing conference: He basically encouraged us to write the most compelling story we could. Make the story king. The message comes second. In fact, as a writer, any hopes to share any kind of idea will never happen if the idea isn’t packaged in a great story. I always sign my letters, Sincerely aware that great stories change lives. They’ve changed mine. As a writer, it’s my turn to change others. For the better. Of course.

For all the above questions, have a look at the recent blog post I wrote for CFOM (Christian Fiction Online Magazine.) I think it tackles the heart of these questions and will give readers a sense of how Playlist Fiction came about and what our hopes and vision have been for reaching teen and YA Fiction readers.

Here's the Book Trailer of the sequel, Seeing Through Stones:

Thanks for joining us today, Rajdeep. It's great to hear some more behind the story.

You can connect with Rajdeep on Facebook, Twitter, or her blog.

11 April 2014

Friday Fifteen: Elaine Fraser

Friday Fifteen: Elaine Fraser

  1. L.M. Montgomery with Anne of Green Gables
The Anne books gave me so much pleasure and helped me learn that even if you are a person who seems to get in trouble a lot, you can turn out to be a more understanding person as you get older. Visiting Prince Edward Island and walking along the paths Montgomery did, was one of the highlights of my life. I must admit, a few tears were shed.

  1. Jodi Picoult with My Sister’s Keeper
I love Picoult’s writing and have heard her speak a couple of times. I love the way she presents various pints of view about a moral dilemma and wraps it up in an absorbing story.

  1. Catherine Marshall with Christy
A beautiful story. As a teacher in a difficult, remote school I could relate to the story. Also, the idea of God giving us a ‘bundle’ in the form of a person to look after has stayed with me for a very long time.

  1. Louisa May Alcott with Little Women
Old-fashioned values and character never go out of style. I have read and re-read this book over my lifetime. Jo is one of those heroines I tried to be when I grew up!

  1. Tim Winton with Cloudstreet
I love Winton’s use of language and the way he creates a sense of place, time and soul. I saw the stage adaption and fell in love with it even more.

  1. William Shakespeare, especially Hamlet and Macbeth
I love a good tragedy. Both of these were on my high school reading list, and I subsequently taught them. So much wisdom and amazing language use.

  1. Harper Lee with To Kill A Mockingbird
My favourite book of all. I read it when I was sixteen and Atticus Finch became the sort of man I admired for his sort of justice and gentle ways. I also love the movie.

  1. Markus Zusak with The Book Thief
This book, by an Australian, is not only a wonderful story, it inspires me to be a better writer. Zusak’s ability to be profound and create beautiful images astounds me.

  1. Charlotte Bronte with Jane Eyre
As a brooding teenager, I visited Haworth and walked the Yorkshire moors. I loved the darkness of Jane Eyre and the complicated interplay of the characters. I’ve read this book many times and am drawn back into the brooding.

  1. George Orwell with Animal Farm
I also read this book as a teenager and was impacted by the history and political background to the text. I was studying Russian history at the time and it all seemed to work together. This book was part of my political education and an insight into the workings of power.

  1. John Steinbeck with The Grapes Of Wrath
I visited Monterey County and the Cannery Row a couple of years ago and loved seeing the landscape that inspired Steinbeck. This book was also part of my political education. I studied the Depression in History and this book rounded out my perspective of it.

  1. Aldous Huxley and Brave New World
For some reason I loved dystopian fiction as a teenager—similar the teens who love The Hunger Games today. I didn’t understand it fully until I was an adult. I must have been pretty innocent! However, the book stayed with me and, along with 1984, contributed to my suspicion of government control!

  1. William Golding’s Lord of the Flies
As a young Christian this impacted me as it showed me the power of unleashed sin. What happens when we don’t have any boundaries? When we are allowed to run free? I found it scary and it served as a warning to me.

  1. D.H. Lawrence and Sons and Lovers
My Dad’s family comes from Northern England mining background. This book gave me an insight into that life. When I finally got to visit the places my family came from, I already had a picture in my mind of the life my dad and his forbears lived. It also explained a lot of family politics and the relationship between my dad and his mother.

  1. Thomas Hardy and Tess of the d'Urbervilles
Another brooding book, but this one annoyed me. I felt Tess was stupid and allowed love to ruin her life—not always the accepted interpretation—but I really got angry with her. This book inspired me to be tough when it came to boys in my life. I was determined not to let a boy ruin my life. It’s funny how things influence you, isn’t it? 

About Elaine Fraser

After many years as an experienced and respected secondary school educator, Elaine began writing for young women. She sees the need to teach young people to have resilience, confidence and a strong sense of purpose.

Her husband, Steve is a photographer and they both spend significant time traveling the world gaining inspiration. Elaine also works for Transform Cambodia as an educational consultant. The role involves travel to Cambodia and the training of teachers.

Elaine has published two non-fiction books: Beautiful: beauty tips for the soul and Too Beautiful: more beauty tips for the soul. Her first young adult novel, Perfect Mercy, was released in 2012. You can find out more about Elaine at her website.

Would you like to contribute a Friday Fifteen? If so, email me via my contact page to set a date. Contributions are welcome from anyone—readers, reviewers and authors. It's an opportunity to share some of the authors (and books) which have influenced you, and to pick up some ideas for new authors to read.