Spring Splendors

Spring Splendors

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Launch of a New Post Series

In the tradition of Country magazine, Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives hosted by Guy Fieri, and the "Love Finds You" Christian fiction book series, "Seasons of Humility" brings you Sightseeing by the Seasons (working title). With this new post series, readers will have the opportunity to tour across America, visiting the back-roads and out-of-the-way places you've always wanted to travel to or won't want to miss in future journeys. Each business featured will be seasonal--like orchards and farms for the fall, Christmas shops for the winter, etc. So please join me in celebrating the seasons and supporting those unique small town business we love!

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What do you think? Above is the culmination of my latest brainstorming with my wonderful dad. It has been so much fun running ideas by him and talking about where this new feature could go!

Now I'm asking you, my faithful readers, what you think of the idea. Does it sound appealing to you? Would you be willing to help me in the future by letting me know what places you would like to see featured (and helping me get in contact with the owners in order to do an interview)? We're talking about anything from road-side stands to Bed and Breakfasts to small town stores. I'm so excited about the possibility of taking a continuous road-trip with all of you! This would not necessarily be a weekly feature--it would be a surprise as to when each new place would be featured (depending on participation, etc.).

Let me know what you think! I really value your opinions! If you don't have time to leave a comment, feel free to simply vote on the poll in the sidebar. Thank you!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Monday Movie Review: The Young Victoria

Here's a description of the movie from Amazon.com:

"Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend star in the lavish historical drama, THE YOUNG VICTORIA. Resolved to establish her authority over those who rule in her stead, a young and inexperienced Queen Victoria (Blunt) draws strength from the love of Albert (Friend), the handsome prince who’s stolen her heart. Based on the courtship and early reign of England’s longest-serving monarch, THE YOUNG VICTORIA is a majestic tale of romance, intrigue and power."

My Review:

The Young Victoria is a love story. The movie involves political intrigue, a beautiful setting, grand music, and gorgeous costumes. But the lasting impact of the movie comes from the powerful portrait of the love between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

The romance starts gently, beginning with an awkward but adorable first encounter and blooming into correspondence between trusting friends. Throughout the movie the romance builds, overwhelming the viewer with both its innocence and its abiding passion. I loved the lessons of partnership, perseverance, and especially humility. There was certainly much to learn from Victoria's own journey to maturity.

I confess that I don't know exactly how closely the movie follows the actual facts of Queen Victoria's life, but I did appreciate the way the movie drew me into history. Everything was quite elegant and proper, and yet emotional tension reigned enough to hold my interest.

I also loved that Queen Victoria was shown to be a real person. That is to say, she made mistakes and had to learn from them. She fought with her mother. She quarreled with Albert. She upset the people of her country. And yet, her growth both in knowledge and in willingness to listen were visible. I loved when someone told her that she was mistaking stubbornness for strength--something we as the viewers could be aware of in our own lives.

In the end, it seemed as though the movie might be rather short for the sweeping story it was trying to convey. It felt like there was so much more that could be said. However, I think it wouldn't have been quite as powerful if it hadn't emphasized only this one short period of her life. I really enjoyed the movie and was delighted with the message it shared about true love.

Note: "Mondays for the Military" will hopefully resume again next week with our first visitor from the military. I'm really excited to see where this feature goes!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pondering Possibilities for Posts

Don't you just love that alliteration? ;) That phrase is just a fancy way of saying that I've been thinking about my weekly schedule.

I'm so excited about "Mondays for the Military"! It is my hope that this feature is only going to keep on growing, and that we might have the privilege of meeting more military men and women and showing our gratitude to them.

As for "Sundays by the Sea," I love the process of writing these posts. It's such a blessing to be able to consider this part of God's creation and be inspired by it. I hope you are finding these posts to be comforting and encouraging!

"Fall Fridays" have just started, but I'm looking forward to talking about all the wonderful parts of autumn with you. It will be nice to discuss fall and its corresponding season of humility. I'm thinking that it will be a great way to relax (and it might prove to be a good opportunity to sip some hot chocolate or tea while dwelling on God's provision!).

All three of these weekly post themes thrill me! I'm looking forward to writing the posts and reading your comments.

But did you notice that I haven't mentioned "True Love Tuesdays"? For some reason, I haven't really developed any passion for those posts. I have enjoyed writing them, but I feel that it's starting to get repetitive. (Not that I've written enough of them to really know for sure!)

So . . . which would be better: coming up with a new weekly themed day or revamping the one I already have? Or should I just stick with the three I mentioned above and leave the other days for reviews and random thoughts?

I confess that I'm personally torn over this. When I first proposed the idea of "True Love Tuesdays," it seemed to be a popular choice. However, at the moment I'm not really passionate about it (whereas I am pretty passionate about the other themes).

So what do you suggest? Do you have any ideas for where "True Love Tuesdays" could go? Or do you have any thoughts on what could take its place?

"True Love Tuesdays" want to know: "Should I stay or should I go?"

Sunday by the Sea

"I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me; while they say daily unto me, Where is thy God? Why are thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God." ~ Psalm 42:9-11

God is unchanging. He stands strong forever. And yet we still go through difficult and sorrowful times, and we hear the voices of those who ask where God could be in the midst of them. Perhaps one of those voices is our own.

I'm still rather young, and I confess that while I complain, I become stressed over school, and I have had some hard times, I haven't been faced with a lot of tragedy. But I know that no matter the sort of heartaches or pain I've seen or will see, God my Rock will continue to be there--unchanging. And may I remember that if and when tragedies surge around me.

There is a song by Nickel Creek called "The Lighthouse's Tale." While it is a terribly sad song, it paints a picture of a lighthouse that continues to stand and guide sailors even when a horrible tragedy happens. Now, unlike the lighthouse God is omnipotent, and He is in complete control through all of the happiness and tragedies of life. However, like the lighthouse, no matter what happens, we can trust that God is still standing strong and shining His light. And while a lighthouse may erode away with time, God will never fade.

What a comfort! To know that no matter how the waves and the weather of life rage, God will still be our Rock. He is an everlasting Light that has been, is now, and will always be shining with love and hope. (Note Hebrews 13:8.)

"O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles. Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God." ~ Psalm 43:3-5

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Revell Blog Tour: My Review of A Hope Undaunted

Here's a description of the book from Revell:

"What happens when the boy she loved to hate becomes the man she hates to love?

The 1920s are drawing to a close, and feisty Katie O'Connor is the epitome of the new woman--smart and sassy with goals for her future that include the perfect husband and a challenging career in law. Her boyfriend Jack fits all of her criteria for a husband--good-looking, well-connected, wealthy, and eating out of her hand. But when she is forced to spend the summer of 1929 with Luke McGee, the bane of her childhood existence, Katie comes face-to-face with a choice. Will she follow her well-laid plans to marry Jack? Or will she fall for the man she swore to despise forever?"

My Rating: Spring/Summer

My Review:

After reading the "Daughters of Boston" series, A Hope Undaunted felt like attending a wonderful, crazy, and heart-warming family reunion! One of the best parts of the book was getting to know the O'Connor family again--catching up with all the older sisters and their families, as well as Patrick and Marcy, the exemplary parents. In every Julie Lessman book, there are a lot of powerful lessons about relationships, whether they be between a man and a woman, a daughter and a father, or a person and God.

This book doesn't disappoint when it comes to drama! There were times when it seemed a bit much to bear, but Lessman's characters always run deep. In any case, the book was filled with pain and passion, and it's hard not to sympathize with these characters. Their feelings are real and serve as a connection between the reader and the story.

I will say that there were some events in this book that felt rather abrupt, regarding romantic relationships. For example, one character seems to sort of disappear from the pages after a revelation in Katie's life, and I found it a little odd that the character simply left without a scene.

However, I really did enjoy this book, and I loved some of the subplots with other characters in Katie's family. It was a joy to get to see how characters from the previous series had grown, and also to see how love in a marriage can be both exciting and enduring! It was hard to read about some of the struggles within marriage, as well, but I appreciated learning more about understanding and forgiving one another.

This book is long, no doubt about it, but Lessman uses those numerous pages well to tell a beautiful story of hope and family. There is a sweet satisfaction after finishing the last page, and lovers of romance and history will be well-advised to pick up a copy of this great book!

*With thanks to Revell publishing for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.*

“Available September 2010 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.”

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fall Friday

Fall is officially here, now that it is near the end of September. But when do you personally recognize that fall is here (or almost here)?

Perhaps it is something you feel in the air--the hint of cold, and the longing for warm fires and warm colors. Perhaps it is the smell of woodsmoke or pumpkin candles. Perhaps it is the the return of Halloween decorations. (Oh wait--that happens in summer!)

I'm sure it's a combination of various senses for me. But there is one specific thing that really stands out in my mind. My first "taste" of fall is a sip of Clendenen's apple cider. Clendenen's Cider Works is in Fortuna, California, about 40 minutes or so from where I live. I'm so, so happy that they start selling the apple cider in August, so that I was able to have some before I left for school!

There is nothing quite like this apple cider. Truly, it is so sweet and flavorful that nothing really compares to it!

One of the hard things about being away from home during the fall is missing out on all the fun fall traditions I usually share with my family. I miss Fortuna's Apple Harvest Festival, specifically at Clendenen's, where they have hay rides through the orchard, apple tasting, a barbecue, music, and (of course!) apple cider.

But we also have some new traditions now. My parents and my sister will be coming up to visit me in October, and I'm sure we'll go to another Harvest Festival here in Oregon like the one we went to last year. So fun! I'll have to share more about that later!

If you would like to learn more about Clendenen's Cider works, click HERE. If you ever get to Humboldt County in Northern California in the fall, be sure and stop by there! Your mouth will thank you.

What is that first "taste" of fall for you? Is it a special event, a family tradition, or a nice cold glass of freshly made apple cider?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Welcome Autumn (with Giveaway)!

Happy autumn, everyone! I'd like to start this post with the first two stanzas of the poem I wrote entitled "Seasons of Humility" (where the title of this blog came from):

All that remains of a broken dream:
Shattered leaves strewn on the ground.

Once so whole, so vibrant, so green,

Faintly glowing without a sound
As darkness surrounds.

Just dead gold and red left on the tracks

And flying by the window in the wind.

Words that say, "No more lookin' back,"

But turn around and it's there again:

A plea to send.

(To read the whole poem, click the tab above called "Seasons of Humility.")

About half of the poem centers on "autumn." In the seasons of humility, autumn is the hardest time to go through. It represents the seasons in our lives when we are desperately clinging to our own way, aching as we refuse to seek God's will and submit to His plan. We have so many selfish desires, and we have so many ideas on what we think would be best for us.

It's also the time in our lives when everything seems to fall apart. Our dreams fall and fade away, and we don't see how we can ever have any hope again. And we stare at those "shattered leaves," unwilling to deal with the heartache of surrendering to God and thereby failing to see the possibility of spring.

We all go through this over and over, as regular and visible as the change in seasons in the world around us. I'm struggling with it even now--that longing to hold onto what I think is the best for me. I was consumed yesterday with thoughts of my future, and at one point last night I decided to look at the "Careers" pages on some Christian publishers websites to see if they had any internship information up yet. And that's when I came across it: a job description that broke my heart. It seemed so perfect--a job as a publicist, coordinating author interviews and blog tours (etc.) and maybe even getting to travel. The job called for those who had certain majors, English being among them.

I cried.

I cried because I knew that I still had another two years or more of schooling, and that job most likely wouldn't still be open by the time I was ready. I was already really emotional yesterday, and that revelation was the last straw. I'm so, so thankful that I was able to call my mom. She told me she would pray for me, and she reminded me that I would be able to do whatever it was God wanted me to do. And she urged me to pray. What a comfort! I cried and poured out my heart, and I was reminded that the Lord does indeed have a plan for my life. I can see only bits and pieces right now, as my passions are being revealed like different artifacts at an archaeological dig--not all at once, but slowly being unearthed and coming together.

I know I won't understand it all now. God's perspective is so far above mine, and I can trust Him. I'm learning more and more about who God has made me to be, and I'm excited to see what He has in store . . . what He will do with all these little odds and ends that make up the things I love to do.

One of those things I've really grown to love is getting to know military men and women, their stories, and ways that I can encourage them. I'm so excited about the new turn "Mondays for the Military" is taking on my blog! I have met someone just recently who said he was willing to be featured on my blog for "Mondays for the Military," and I've been contacting the Coast Guard in my home county, as well.

Which leads me to the explanation of the header picture this season. This was a picture I took when I was in Washington D.C. this summer of the Vietnam Women's Memorial. That particular memorial is so deeply moving, and it was one I used at the end of one of the videos of pictures I compiled from the trip. I confess that one of the first things that drew me when I was trying out different pictures was how well this fit with the color scheme. I know it sounds shallow, but I really think that the somber tone of the picture contrasts well with the brighter background, and it really evokes the emotions that are part of this season of humility.

But most important is what the picture and the memorial itself stand for. On my last "Monday for the Military" post, Julia wrote (in regards to "meeting" military men and women on my blog):

"I would love the opportunity to encourage and to know how to pray for them. There are so many that have sacrificed so much. I was just thinking it so fits your blog because of the sacrifices."

How true! Humility is all about sacrifices, and the military is such a profound example of that. This picture represent something so powerful, I can't describe it. But I do think that we can indeed learn from and be moved by its message.


Well, I've really written a lot for today! I hope it wasn't too overwhelming; there was just a lot I wanted to talk about regarding autumn. I do want to add that there will be a new addition to the weekly schedule called "Fall Fridays," which will continue this sort of theme--talking about the literal season of fall as well as that particular season of humility. I hope you'll be able to join me for those days!

Also, be sure and check out the "Coming Soon" feature in the sidebar! I'm really excited about "Bluegrass Festival" weekend, and I have a couple of guests lined up for that. Plus, bluegrass just fits so well with the idea of harvest festivals and the like!

If you've read this far, thank you! I really appreciate your time. And to celebrate this new season (and to thank you for reading so much!), I thought it would be fun to do another giveaway! I mentioned this book last week for "Mystery Week," and I would like to give one of you a chance to read it. If you would like a chance to win my gently used copy of Under the Cajun Moon, here are the rules:
  • Leave a comment saying you would like to be entered, along with your e-mail address.
  • This giveaway is open to U.S. and Canadian residents only.
  • Entries will be accepted through Thursday, September 30. A winner will be drawn on Friday, October 1.
  • You can get 2 extra entries by leaving a comment on the first "Fall Friday" post! *This will go up on Friday, September 24.*
  • You do not have to be a follower to enter, but feel free to become a follower if you would like to!
Here's a description of the book from the author's website: "What Secrets Can Be Found by the Light of the Cajun Moon?

New Orleans may be the "Big Easy," but nothing about it was ever easy for international business eti
quette expert Chloe Ledet. She moved away years ago, leaving her parents and their famous French Quarter restaurant behind. But when she hears that her father has been shot, she races home to be by his side and to handle his affairs—only to learn a long-hidden secret that changes everything she knew to be true about herself and her family.

Framed for murder, Chloe and a handsome Cajun stranger must search for a priceless treasure, one whose roots weave through the very history of Louisiana itself. But can Chloe depend on the mysterious man leading her on this cat-and-mouse chase into the heart of Cajun country? Or by trusting him, has she gone from the frying pan into the fire?

Following up on her bestselling Gothic thriller, Whispers of the Bayou, and Amish romantic suspense, Shadows of Lancaster County, Mindy Starns Clark offers another exciting standalone novel, one full of Cajun mystery, hidden dangers, and the glow of God's unending grace."


Note: The picture at the top of this post, along with the two new pictures in the sidebar, are ones I took on a nature trail here at Corban. Many of the fall pictures I'll be using in the near future will be from that same nature trail. It's lovely!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Change in Seasons and Blog Awards!

First of all, I'm sure you have all seen the new blog design. I love being able to change backgrounds and color schemes, as well as the header picture. (Thank you once again to Ashley for the suggestion of changing my blog design each new season!) Which leads me to a question: do you like the new blog design? Is there too much empty space, making it hard to read?

On Wednesday (which I believe is the first day of fall!) I'll do a full post to welcome the new season. In that post, I'll give you an explanation of the connections between the header picture and the new season (like I did with the summer mountain picture). I'll also tell you more about an addition to the blog schedule and some upcoming events. Be sure and stop by!

Now, I was pleasantly surprised when Gina from Hott Books passed on two blog awards to me yesterday! Gina is my newest follower, and I'm so touched by her interest in and support of my blog. Thank you so much, Gina!

Here are the two blog awards:


I guess the "rules" now are to tell you five things about myself. ;) So here they are:
  1. I am a night owl. Hence, the reason I'm working on my blog design and posting in the wee hours of the morning. ;)
  2. I just started helping out at the AWANA program at a local church. I never did AWANA when I was younger, but I really loved helping the "Sparks" (kindergarten through 2nd grade) this past Sunday, and I'm excited about this next year! To think that I get to do something like this for church service credit at Corban University--fun stuff!
  3. I hate mashed potatoes. Really. True, I haven't tried them in a long time, but I won't go near them anymore.
  4. I'm really enjoying my Petrine Epistles class this semester! This class is devoted to studying First and Second Peter in the Bible. I had the same professor last fall for Bible Study Methods, and he's very knowledgeable. I think many of my classes are opening my mind a lot this semester, which can be difficult but rewarding.
  5. I have a rather large TBR stack just waiting for me right now! ;) Oh boy, do I have a lot of reading to do--which is wonderful, even if it is a bit time-consuming!
I'm going to pass the Versatile Blogger award on to:
I'm going to pass the Honest Scrap award on to:
Ladies, you all have such beautiful, creative blogs! Thank you for encouraging, entertaining, giving to, and inspiring your readers!

Readers, be sure and check out these blogs if you haven't already!

P.S. I apologize for skipping "True Love Tuesday" this week. I got a little carried away with blog designs, blog awards, etc. ;)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Monday for the Military

When my daddy showed the videos I had compiled of the pictures we had taken in Washington D.C. to the people at the MOAA (Military Officers Association of America) meeting at the end of summer, I was surprised by a gift from the Coast Guard Captain (the meeting was held at the local Coast Guard station). Here are some pictures of what he gave me:

Above is the front side of the coin. Below is the back side of the coin. (Click pictures to enlarge.)

Honor. Respect. Devotion to Duty. The United States military embodies all of those ideals. I was so blessed that the Captain was touched by the videos (which, if you haven't seen them yet, you can find them HERE and HERE). And I have been blessed by his friendship and kindness since that day. My encounters with military and women have been wonderful--these people are such amazing examples of sacrifice, love, and patriotism.

Which brings me to a question I want to ask you, my readers: would you like to "meet" some military men and women through my blog? I have been thinking about using "Mondays for the Military" to profile some military and women, giving them a chance to share about who they are and what they do, and giving us a chance to encourage them and know how we can pray for them.

If I did follow through with this idea, would you leave comments for them? I think it would be wonderful if we could show just some of these military men and women our support and gratitude. What do you think?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

My Review of The Vigilante's Bride

Here's a description of the book from Bethany House Publishers:

"Is Her Kidnapper the Only Man Who Can Keep Her Safe?

Robbing a stagecoach on Christmas Eve and abducting a woman passenger is the last thing Luke Sullivan expected to do. He just wanted to reclaim the money stolen from his pa, but instead ended up rescuing a feisty copper-haired woman who was on her way to marry Sullivan's dangerous enemy.

Emily McCarthy doesn't take kindly to her so-called rescue. Still, she's hoping Providence will turn her situation for good, especially when it seems Luke Sullivan may just be the man of her dreams. But Luke has crossed a vicious man, a powerful rancher not used to losing, and Emily is the prize he's unwilling to sacrifice."

My Rating: Fall/Spring

My Review:

The beginning of this book really drew me in! There is some great imagery--some lines that really made me feel like I was there, experiencing the haunting and wild aspects of the West. And the anticipation, along with the action, made me power through the first half of the book, eager to keep on reading.

However, I must say that I was disappointed with some parts of this book. There were some great set-ups at the very beginning for some deep digging into emotional turmoil, but I sensed a loss of that toward the end, like the plot took precedence over characterization. The ending didn't really satisfy me, and the romance that seemed so prevalent at the beginning slipped to the back burner until some quick decisions were made in the last few pages.

Also, I was confused with some of the attitudes and actions of certain characters, like Bart Axel and the Sheriff. The last line of the back cover description seems to suggest that Axel would be more concerned and forceful when it came to Emily McCarthy, but she seemed to be only one minor detail in Axel's mind. And as for the Sheriff, I didn't understand his anger. At times I suppose he was humorous, but I don't know where his impatience came from. After all, he was the one who took the job, so why would he get mad if he had to actually work?

Overall, this book was entertaining. I enjoyed reading it, especially the first half, even though the book didn't quite seem to reach its full potential in my opinion.

*With thanks to Jim Hart from Bethany House Publishers for sending me a copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion.*

Sunday by the Sea

Last Sunday I had the pleasure of going to our school's annual Beach Party. Now, I know the risks involved when going to the beach. Besides the obvious danger of being carried out to sea (the real danger), some risks include getting wet, getting cold, and getting so much sand on you that you have to sit on a towel in the car and hope that you don't spread it everywhere like a virus.

Maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point.

So you can see why I don't always want to go to the beach--not because I don't love it, but because I dislike being so dirty, miserable, and freezing. (The coasts of the Northwest are nothing like what you normally associate with beaches--except for the sand and water part, of course. In other words--it's cold!!!)

But I am so, so glad I went to this year's Beach Party! Yes, I did get wet--drenched, really. Yes, I did get cold. And yes, I did get sand all over me. And yet I had a great time (aside from waiting in a super long line for dinner, but that's what happens when there's free food and lots of people).

In all seriousness, one of my favorite parts was getting into the water. I almost decided not to do "Ocean Rush"--the event where a bunch of students line up on the beach and then run into the icy cold waves all at the same time, in order to get a free T-shirt. ;) But the thing was, after getting back out of the water to get my T-shirt, I wanted to go back in. And that's when the fun began.

The waves were rather big, and I know you always have to be careful and watch for waves that will be strong enough to pull you out to sea. In this case, everything turned out fine. There was a group of us who played in the waves, feeling the awesome push and pull of the ocean.

I don't think I can describe in words (nor would I want to) all that was going on through my mind. But I will tell you this: I was in awe of the beautiful strength of the tide, amazed at what God had created. The water came at me, swirled around me, and rushed back out into the vast horizon. It was astounding to know that this part of creation was only a glimpse of the majesty of God and what He can do. Equally astounding was the reminder that God can see all. He knows all the places the ocean reaches, and yet He also stands with me and sees what I face: an unknown that is both exhilarating and frightening.

And to think that this is only temporary! I need to remember never to think of God as limited in any way. I can't even imagine what God has planned for eternity, and I'm glad. It is beyond exciting to know that I can trust Him and that I can be hopeful about His plan!

"For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him."
~ Isaiah 64:4

Saturday, September 18, 2010

My Review of North & South

Bliss. This is the feeling I was left with after watching North & South. It's a long, hard journey to that complete satisfaction, but it is one that is both necessary and wondrous.

From the very beginning, the music of this movie swept me away. It is grand and hauntingly beautiful, and it seems to echo long after the movie is over. The sounds truly capture the emotional depth of the various scenes. They emphasize the authenticity of the feelings and make them that much more moving and real.

But it wasn't just the music that stood out to me. It was a combination of a great many things, especially the acting and the cinematography. I was both drawn into the story and drawn close to the characters. The pain that they felt, the struggles they faced, and the hope that somehow endured . . . all of it was inspiring.

I simply loved how this movie portrayed real life--including the raw anger, the aching need to survive, the longing for justice, and the blossoming of passion. I was reminded of so much that I'm sure no matter how many times I watch it I still won't completely grasp all that I can learn from the movie. I was shown, not simply told, the importance of not judging others, of having compassion and being willing to seek understanding. Through the contrasts between the North and the South, I saw how people have different perspectives based on where they come from. Through the growth of John Thornton and Margaret Hale, as well as some of the workers, I saw how people could learn to respect each other and truly show love. And I loved every minute of it.

This is a movie that will stay with you and leave you with an ending and overall impression so beautiful, you will be in a state of bliss.

*With much appreciation to author Laura Frantz and those who follow her blog for introducing me to this wonderful, wonderful movie!*

Friday, September 17, 2010

Mystery Week: Conclusion!!!

Wow, this has been a fun week! I loved reading your responses, and I really appreciate your enthusiasm! I had a great time writing this story, so I'm glad to hear you had a good time reading it. ;)

I'll extend the suspense a little longer by starting with my acknowledgments. I want to thank my wonderful daddy for helping me edit my story so that it was a little cleaner and a little less sinister (go ahead--ask me about that one!). Thank you, Daddy!

I also want to thank my grandpa for all the work he has done to help maintain the actual nature trail in our home county. It's a beautiful trail, and I'm sure I'm not the only who has been inspired by it! Thank you, Grandpa!

And thank you to the generous friend who donated the books for this giveaway. You know who you are. ;) Thank you for being the kind, sweet person you are!

Now, for the winner! There were a couple of great responses, but the person who was the closest to the correct response (who officially entered the contest) was . . . ARIEL! Congratulations, Ariel! I hope it's alright if I share her response with you later on, so you can see just how close she actually was. Great detective work!


Thank you to all of you who shared your thoughts. You are all so clever! And both of the people who guessed about the T.V. show I based my characters' names off of were correct. That would have been an extra entry for both of them if I had needed to do a drawing.

My characters' names were from The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries show (the one from the 1970s)! Here's a look behind the names:

Callie: She's a friend of Frank and Joe Hardy. From what I recall, she mostly shows up at the beginning of the first season.

Ned: This was probably the name that clued most people in to what show I was referring to. ;) Ned is the name of Nancy's love interest in the Nancy Drew episodes (again, primarily in the first season from what I've seen so far).

Pamela: This one's a little bit trickier. The actress who played Nancy Drew was Pamela Sue Martin.

Parker: The actor who played Frank Hardy was Parker Stevenson. Oh, those blue eyes! (Note the reference to "bright blue eyes" in the fourth installment of the story!)

Carson: Read the conclusion to the story below to find out who Carson is in The Nature Trail. Carson was the name of Nancy's father in the show.

And the moment you have all been waiting for has arrived! Here's the final installment of The Nature Trail:


The Nature Trail (Conclusion)
By Amber Stokes

“Ned!” The man in shadows emerged to reveal her boyfriend, looking quite dashing in a black suit. Callie’s gaze shifted from Ned to her brother, hoping that someone would explain what was going on. But Parker led her straight to Ned and handed her off to him, giving them both a wink before heading back the way they had come.

"Ned?"

“Simplicity really is best, Callie. I should have listened to you when you told me that on our first date. Do you remember?”

“Yes, I remember.” But that didn’t answer any of her questions. Or did it?

“I wanted to take you out to the fanciest restaurant, go to the best show at the theater, and bring you jewelry and flowers, because I thought that would show you how much I love you. But all you wanted was simplicity—simple love, right?”

“Yes,” Callie whispered.

Reaching out, Ned stroked her long, curly ponytail. “Why didn’t I listen to you?”

“I don’t know.” Her words were so quiet that she wasn’t sure he heard her.

“I thought doing something elaborate would impress you. I tried to have a friend set up a scavenger hunt for you, like looking for buried treasure.” He smiled, a smile that matched the soft yellow light over the bay. “But you caught him before he could finish.”

“The necklace…?”

“It was meant for you. I bought it for you, Callie.”

Callie wasn’t sure whether she wanted to giggle or sob.

“So then I got the bright idea that it would be rather romantic to set up a candlelit path to the nature trail, starting in your driveway. Of course, you caught poor Carson again and he almost burned up your yard.” Ned grimaced. “I’m so sorry, Callie. I was waiting at the entrance to the trail, so I saw the whole thing. I should have known it was a stupid idea.”

Tears did start to fall then, but a strange laugh flowed out of her mouth, too.

“So now here we are, standing in your favorite spot on the trail. Nothing fancy, but it’s fitting, don’t you think?"

His fingers caressed her cheek, and then her lips. But just as he leaned in to kiss her, she asked, “Who’s Pamela?”

Ned jerked back. “What?”

“I got a rather intriguing letter from a girl named Pamela. I tried my best to ignore it.”

Laughter rumbled from Ned’s throat. He tilted his head back and laughed hard.

“What is so funny?” But Callie found herself smiling despite her words.

“Pamela is one of my co-workers. She had already sent the letter as planned before I could let her know that the first phase of my scavenger hunt had failed. I waited at the marsh for you anyway, just in case you showed up there for the second phase. But I like the way this turned out much better.”

“You’re ridiculous,” Callie said with a small smirk as she wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her sweater. Looking into Ned’s dark eyes, she asked, “But what is all of this for, anyway?” In the last bit of light from the sun for the evening, Callie repeated, “What have you been planning?”

“This.” Pulling a ring out of his front pocket, he knelt before her. In the white gold setting the lone diamond and the lone emerald, sitting snugly together, shined expectantly. “Our birthstones,” he explained as he held the ring out to her.

“Oh, Ned.”

“Will you marry me, Callie?”

The serene silence of nature was broken when Callie flung herself into Ned’s arms and said, “Oh, yes!”

Yes, the nature trail in the woods near her home was Callie’s favorite place in the world.



So now I want to know your final thoughts! Did you enjoy the story? Were you surprised by the ending, or did you see it coming the whole time?

Here is what Ariel (the winner) e-mailed me about her thoughts on what would be the conclusion of the story:

"For the ending, I think that Ned is going to propose to Callie, and give her the necklace, but something happened and the brother and mysterious man were supposed to help make it romantic and messed it up. The necklace was supposed to be buried and she would find it as a surprise, and the candle was also part of the romance. Just my thought :)"

She was pretty close, don't you think? ;) Again, great job, Ariel, and the rest of you who shared your guesses with me!

Hope you've enjoyed "Mystery Week!" I recently posted my review of a cozy mystery, so be sure and check that out, too!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

My Review of Polly Dent Loses Grip

Here's a description of the book from Amazon.com:

"Who says exercise is good for one’s health? Certainly not Polly Dent!

Polly Dent Loses Grip on the treadmill and takes a fatal spill that’s ruled an accident.


While helping her mother-in-law move into Bridgeton Towers Assisted Living & Nursing, LaTisha Barnhart’s nose smells trouble simmering. The residents’ gossip is revealing all kinds of motives for murder.

Gertrude Herrman is out looking for love in the form of Thomas Philcher (or is it love of his fat wallet instead?), and Polly’s fall eliminates Gertrude’s competition once and for all.

Otis Payne, the venerable director of Bridgeton Towers, is over a barrel when his wife demands cash—or else she’ll carry on without him.


Mitzi Mullins’s penchant for rhyme puts her in direct line as perpetrator of the crime, and Sue Mie’s mistake seals Polly’s fate.

Can LaTisha stay on her achin’ feet, and one step ahead of the villain, long enough to solve yet another crime?"


My Rating: Spring


My Review:


In an interview I did with the author of this book (S. Dionne Moore), I asked her what she enjoyed most about writing mysteries. She replied, "Always, always, always, I enjoy the characters first." Now that I've read one of her LaTisha Barnhart Mysteries, I know what she means! The characters in this book are fantastic--authentic, intriguing, and just plain fun!

LaTisha and her husband Hardy have a sweet relationship, and it was my great pleasure to be privy to their teasing and their teamwork. All of the characters, from the elderly in Bridgeton Towers Assisted Living & Nursing to the brief appearances of characters from LaTisha's hometown, have their own stories. I love how the author balances the humorous with the serious. These characters were real, with lots of laughs and even some heartbreak.

As far as the mystery goes, S. Dionne Moore kept me guessing until the very end! There were enough characters with motives to leave me practically clueless. Good thing there was an epilogue to explain everything for me!

This is an unconventional and entertaining mystery story! Don't let the book's small size fool you--it is fully developed and it has a big heart!

*With thanks to the author for my copy of the book.*

Mystery Week: Part Four

This is it! This is the last installment of the story before I reveal the conclusion! Which means that this is the last day for you to send me an e-mail with your thoughts on the final outcome. Some questions you might want to answer include:
  • Who do you think is behind all of this? Do you think it's the "mystery man" (from the first and third scenes), Ned, Pamela, Callie's brother, or someone else yet to be mentioned?
  • What do you expect to happen in the final scene? What are the reasons behind this whole mystery?
Don't forget that if your answer is close enough to be counted as an entry for the drawing, you can get an extra entry by correctly guessing the show that I got the names of the characters from!

E-mail entries will be accepted until midnight tonight. For a complete list of the rules, click HERE. Can't wait to read your responses! Remember that the prize is a three-book series!!!


The Nature Trail (Part Four)
By Amber Stokes

It was time to walk the trail. The rest of Callie’s dinner ended up in the garbage can she had righted outside, uneaten. For an hour or so, while the sky brightened with the sunset, Callie had cowered in her living room, paying little attention to the T.V. she had turned on. Instead, her mind had been consumed with doubts, and so now she decided she would go out on the nature trail and discover what she could. If anything, she would hopefully be able to relax.

Putting on her green University sweater and her comfortable sneakers, she walked outside and locked the front door behind her. Cynically, she wondered why she bothered. It probably wouldn’t be standing when she got back anyway, all because of an insignificant and unexplainable necklace.

Light still touched the edges of the sky, but once Callie entered the woods, the darkness spooked her. The familiar curves of the pathway as it wound uphill seemed to be hiding fearful future encounters from her view. She shivered and placed her hands in the one large pocket in the front of the sweater.

A branch snapped somewhere behind her then, but before she could scream a hand covered her mouth. Terror caused her to claw at her captor, and it took several moments for the sound her captor emitted to register in her mind. Why, he was laughing!

Wriggling out of his grasp, she came face to face with her brother. “Parker!"

Deep chuckles emanated from his mouth, seeming to increase in direct proportion to her frown. “I’m sorry, Callie. I couldn’t help it—you were always so jumpy. Can’t a brother have some fun?”

Apparently seeing the confusion on her face, Parker asked, “You did get my letter didn’t you? I told you I was coming to visit. Ned invited me to stay with him for a few days.”

It was then that Callie remembered the letter she had set on the passenger seat of her car. She was upset to think that it was still sitting there, unopened. When was the last time she had forgotten to open a letter from her brother?

“I’m sorry, Parker. I set it aside and never got around to opening it.”

Parker’s blonde hair flew about him as he shook his head in mock frustration. “I see how much I matter to you.” His bright blue eyes betrayed his amusement, though.

“You know I’m always glad to hear from you. I’ve just been…preoccupied…lately.”

Suddenly, Parker’s demeanor became serious. “Uh, would you like to take a walk with me? We could catch up on each other’s news.”

“I thought you didn’t like to go for walks.”

“I’ll make an exception for you. But you’ll owe me.” He smiled and set off down the path.

After reaching the summit of the trail, they began walking downhill through more redwoods. Callie found herself laughing at Parker’s stories of college life in Southern California. But she also found her mind wandering occasionally, flitting about from thoughts of the beauty of the trilliums on the trail in the springtime (which she was greatly anticipating, even though it was only the beginning of fall), to thoughts of the mystery she had become entrenched in. Now that Parker was here, though, she figured he would help make things right.

So she thought. But when they got closer to the view of the pastures and the bay at dusk, Callie’s favorite spot on the trail at Callie’s favorite time of day, she was startled to see a shadowy figure near the bench. And Parker was leading her straight for the silhouetted form, determination noticeable in his grip on her arm.

To Be Continued...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mystery Week: Part Three

Welcome to the third day of "Mystery Week!" For those of you who are just joining us today, please read Monday's post for a list of the rules for the giveaway/contest, as well as the first part of the story. Then you can read yesterday's post for the second part. Soon you'll be all caught up! ;)

Before I get to the latest installment of the story, I wanted to add a chance for you to get an extra entry in the contest. If your answer in the e-mail is close to the actual conclusion of the story (and you're not the only one who is close to the correct answer, which means I'll have to do a drawing), then you can get an extra entry by telling me what show I got the name of my characters from. It might be easier to guess after reading tomorrow's installment of the story. Please include your guess in your official e-mail entry. Hope that makes sense! If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section.

And now, for another part of the story:


The Nature Trail (Part Three)
By Amber Stokes

Her day went by unfulfilled. No word from Ned, and no answers to her questions. To console herself, Callie picked up Chinese food after work. Surely Kung Pao chicken, steamed rice (never fried rice), and a fortune cookie would make her feel better.

Of course, she preferred to eat Chinese food with Ned, but that would have to wait for another day.

At home, she grabbed a paper plate, dished out large portions of food, and ignored all of the uncertainties in her mind. Until she heard a noise outside, that is. Quickly shoving another bite of the chicken into her mouth, she pretended that it was simply a raccoon or a fox rummaging through the trash. Although a human could just have easily knocked over the garbage can…

Fine. She would check outside, and then go back to her dinner. Pulling back the curtain in her living room, Callie was startled to see someone in the yard near the gravel driveway. It was that man from the nature trail! He had a medium-sized cardboard box near his feet, and he was once again crouching over something.

Placing a hand over her heart, Callie ran to the front door. Hastily unlocking it, she rushed around to the driveway and yelled, “What are you doing here?” Was this simply déjà vu?

The man jumped and dropped something, but before she could call out to him again, he grabbed the box and ran down the road.

Callie’s heartbeat seemed to be racing with his retreating form. About to return inside and lock the door, her eyes landed on a spark in the grass where the man had been kneeling. No! The spark became a flame, and her heart came to a halt. She couldn’t think, couldn’t move.

“Callie!”

The voice spurred her into action. “Ned! The grass—it’s on fire!”

Ned came running from across the road where there was a path that connected to the nature trail. She ran to meet him, and watched as he took off his jacket and started to beat out the fire. In a matter of moments, the flame had disappeared.

Had he arrived any later, Callie didn’t want to know what would have happened.

“Oh, Callie.” Ned opened his arms and she threw herself into his embrace, letting the sobs break free from her terrified heart.

“That man could have set the whole yard on fire! My beautiful land…”

“Shhhh,” Ned comforted her, rubbing her back gently. “I hate to think what could have happened.”

Gulping, Callie pushed away from him, confused by the remorseful tone in his voice. His hand shook slightly as he grabbed his singed jacket from the ground. His almost black hair looked burnt in the soft light of early evening, and his face was rather red, like he was the one who had been set on fire, rather than her yard.

“What were you doing on the nature trail, Ned?”

His gaze met hers, and he shook his head. “I was just taking a walk, Callie.”

“I’m going to go finish my dinner. We can talk more later.” She didn’t care if she sounded absurd. She would be safe inside—at least, safer than out here.

And with that she turned around and headed back around the house to the door. But when she looked back once, she saw Ned crouched over the same spot where the other man had been. He looked sad as he picked up an item and walked down the driveway toward the road. Before he put the item in his pocket, she got a glimpse of it. It looked very much like a candle.

To Be Continued...

Mystery Week: Part Two

Welcome to the second installment of The Nature Trail, the mystery story I wrote in five installments specifically for this week. If you're just joining us today, please take a look at yesterday's post, as it includes all of the rules for the giveaway. Plus, you'll want to read the first part of the story before moving on to this second part, unless you really want to be thoroughly confused!


The Nature Trail (Part Two)
By Amber Stokes

He hadn’t answered. When was the last time Callie had called and Ned hadn’t answered? She couldn’t recall, and the disappointment together with the fear had kept Callie awake most of the night, afraid she would throw up. Maybe she had caught the flu from a co-worker. It was that time of year, right?

In any case, the morning found Callie more nervous than a tree would be in a lightning storm. But as she grabbed a breakfast bar from the cupboard to go along with her cup of milk, the phone rang. Finally. A small smile relaxed her face, and she reached for the phone. “Hello?”

It wasn’t Ned. “Ummm…I…”

“Hello?”

“The necklace…”

Callie stopped breathing for a moment. “What about the necklace?”

“It’s yours now. It’s supposed to be yours.” The man sounded uncertain, as if there was more he needed to say.

“What? Why? I don’t understand.”

But the man hung up without another word.

Why, oh why, didn’t she have caller ID? Not that it would have helped this time. What would she have done with an unknown phone number? The man could have called from anywhere.

Frustration surged through her as she unwrapped her breakfast bar, and she bit off a piece with vengeance. The fake food taste didn’t really make her feel any better. Maybe she should have had cereal instead.

After finishing her speedy breakfast, Callie decided to go to the post office. She could make it there before she was needed at work. And she was hoping to get a letter from her brother any day now, which would calm her troubled heart for sure. Her brother was always able to make her laugh and let go of her troubles.

Five minutes later and Callie was grabbing the mail from her box. Two letters were there, and one was indeed from her brother. Smiling with relief as she got back into her green Honda, she set that one on the passenger seat to savor later. Not seeing a return address written in the upper left hand corner of the other letter, she tore that one open.

It was from a woman named Pamela. Callie leaned back into the gray seat, searching her mind for any recognition. Unsuccessful, she finally scanned the letter once. And then again. Words raced through her mind, a veritable windstorm of confusion:

The necklace is just the beginning…go to the marsh during your lunch break on Tuesday…await instructions there…he’ll be waiting…

What craziness had she stumbled into? And how was it possible for this woman to know that Callie had the necklace—in enough time to send a letter, no less! Who was Pamela, and who would be waiting for her at the marsh? One thing was for sure, Callie didn’t intend to find out. She would rather take her chances staying far away from the whole mess.

Trembling, Callie threw the letter onto the backseat and started the car. She would drive to where she worked at the Foundation and hope that somehow all of this would go away. Maybe Ned would contact her at work. Maybe all of the questions she had would get answered. But most likely, neither of those desires would be fulfilled.

To Be Continued...

Monday, September 13, 2010

Mystery Week: Part One

Was it the reader with the book in the library? Or perhaps the blogger with the heavy laptop in the hall? Yes, dear readers, today is the first day of "Mystery Week," and I've got something different in store for you, which will require your participation! So grab your magnifying glass and notebook and join me in this five-part story of intrigue!

Rules:
  • During the next five days, I will be sharing a mystery story I wrote, divided into five parts so as to give only one piece of the "puzzle" each day. The story is set at an actual place in my home county, a nature trail which I love to walk on with my family--especially my grandpa, who recently had a bench dedicated to him because of his work on the nature trail. (Click HERE to read a post from the summer about his bench.) However, the story is a work of fiction.
  • This is not your traditional giveaway. That is to say, you will not be entered into the giveaway simply by leaving a comment on this post. In fact, while I encourage you to leave comments and share your thoughts, the only way to be entered into the giveaway is to e-mail me at: stokes[dot]a[at]suddenlink[dot]net.
  • You must e-mail me on or before Thursday, September 16, 2010. No entries will be accepted after Thursday (PDT).
  • Your e-mail must include your best deduction as to the conclusion of the story I will be sharing with you over the next several days. The answer closest to the correct conclusion will be the winner. If more than one person is close to the actual conclusion in their description, I will do a drawing from those names. The final part to the story will be revealed on Friday, September 17, 2010, along with the name of the winner.
  • Why ask you to e-mail rather than simply comment? Well, I do want to hear your thoughts through the comments, but I really want everyone's final "guesses" to be confidential, so that each person can come to their own conclusion without feeling like they are simply copying someone else or were influenced by someone else, if the person so desires.
What is the prize? Excellent question! Thanks to a very generous donation from a dear friend, I have all three books of the "Brides of Bonneterre" series by Kaye Dacus to give away!!! The books are gently used but still in great condition. One person will receive all three books--a whole series to add to the winner's bookshelves!


One more thing: I am opening up this contest to readers from the United States and Canada! So I'll be looking for your e-mails within the next few days--anytime before Friday when you feel confident in giving your best guess.

Following is the first part of the story. Let the detective work begin!


The Nature Trail
By Amber Stokes

The nature trail in the woods near her home was Callie’s favorite place in the world. She loved going there in the early evenings especially, when dusk settled upon the trees and made the world come to life like a page from a mystery novel—both engaging and a tad foreboding.

Unfortunately, the setting sun she loved so dearly was hidden this particular evening by thick clouds, and darkness was stealing away her beloved bewitching-hour. Ned would hate it if he knew I was out here at night. Of course, now that fall was approaching, Ned would just have to deal with her need for some form of relaxation after a long day at the Foundation. And it only made sense to walk the nature trail that stretched between the Foundation and her home rather than get a ride that would take all of five minutes.

Breathing deeply, Callie felt her whole body relax as she emerged into the clearing. Not too much farther to go, and then she would be able to call her boyfriend from the safety of her home while eating a few peanut putter Dove chocolates. There was no better way to end a day.

The smile that had slowly softened her face at that thought disappeared faster than the last remnants of daylight. Someone else was on the nature trail, up ahead a ways, coming out of the orchard that was heavily guarded by some small pines. That place was so overgrown; what would anyone be doing there? A transient. Of course. This county was filled with homeless people, and one of them thought he could stroll right into her refuge and take over. No way.

Calling to his now crouching form, she said, “You—what are you doing here?” As soon as the bold words left her mouth, Callie wished she wasn’t all alone, in the descending dark.

The man stood and turned to her. Even across the short distance his body registered panic. He dropped something he had been holding and bolted into the woods.

Callie stood as still as the trees that hid the man from view, clutching Ned’s jacket tighter around her. What had she just seen? After a moment, she walked down the narrow path of wood chips in the field, veering to the right when she saw the object the man had dropped. Kneeling in the grass, she picked up a small box. She shot a glance to the woods, wondering if she should satisfy her curiosity or simply leave the box for the man to pick up later. What if it was drugs? Shouldn’t she take something like that to the sheriff?

Swallowing hard, she let her hand hover over the lid. Odd. She pressed her lips together as she studied the elegant white box. It looked more like something someone would bring home from the mall, instead of a box used to house an illegal substance. One more look around and she opened the lid. She inhaled sharply as she lifted a beautiful necklace from the soft cotton it lay on. The pendant looked to be composed of diamonds and emeralds alternating in the shape of a teardrop. Grasping it tightly, questions raced through Callie’s mind. As her eyes lifted, she saw the entrance to the orchard. Standing up, she placed the necklace back in its box and held it as she pushed past the tree branches that worked as a door to the hidden place.

Sure, the place was covered with even more weeds, and the grass was browner and taller than it had ever been. But just as she was about to give up, Callie saw a newly dug hole not far from where she stood. Upon closer inspection, the hole appeared to be just the right size to hide the box she held in her hands. The man had been planning on burying the necklace!

Running her tongue across her bottom teeth, Callie walked out of the orchard and thought about what she should do. Was the necklace stolen? Was it the last keepsake of a love gone wrong? But why had the man run away if it was as innocent as that?

Callie frowned, but decided to carry the box back home with her. Ned would know what to do. Uncertainty rushed her steps as she tried to outrun the complete darkness of night along with the unanswered questions that hounded her.

To Be Continued...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Revell Blog Tour: My Review of Making Waves

Here's a description of the book from Revell:

"Sun, summer, and a scrumptious sailing instructor. What more could a girl want?

When spunky Marguerite Westing discovers that her family will spend the summer of 1895 at Lake Manawa, Iowa, she couldn't be more thrilled. It's the perfect way to escape her agonizingly boring suitor, Roger Gordon. It's also where she stumbles upon two new loves: sailing, and sailing instructor Trip Andrews.

But this summer of fun turns to turmoil as her father's secrets threaten to ruin the family forever. Will free-spirited Marguerite marry Roger to save her father's name and fortune? Or will she follow her heart--even if it means hurting the family she loves?

Full of sharp wit and blossoming romance, Making Waves will whisk you away to a breezy lakeside summer holiday."

My Rating: Spring/Summer

My Review:

This is not just one of those books with a fun, fancy cover without a fun, fancy story to go with it! I really enjoyed reading this story, and I was pleased to discover that it led me from the shallow end into the deeper waters of truth and love.

From start to finish I was intrigued with all the ways Marguerite found to “make waves,” from her unconventional passions to her penchant for hiding the truth. The lessons she learns about the freedom of honesty and the necessity of priorities are quite applicable to all of our lives.

As far as the romance goes, I was swept away by the charms of Trip, the sailing instructor, and I was happy with all the heart-racing moments scattered among the pages! Some parts could perhaps be considered too sweet or too unrealistic, but I don’t think that’s a problem for those readers who love a good Christian romance book.

Looking back I can say that I had a lovely trip to Lake Manawa with these wonderful characters, and I wouldn’t mind traveling back there again sometime through the writing of Lorna Seilstad!

*With thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.*

“Available September 2010 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.”

Friday, September 10, 2010

Whatever Comes to Mind

The official start of fall is fast approaching, and soon I'll be changing my blog background once again. Change is in the air, and I have some questions I want to ask you. If you have the time to share your responses, they would be much appreciated!
  • Do you think I blog too often? I love blogging and perhaps I get carried away sometimes. I don't want you to be overwhelmed by too many posts!
  • Do you like organization or do you prefer spur-of-the-moment posts? That is to say, do you prefer when I follow the schedule and do themed weeks, or do you prefer when I just kind of throw in random posts (like this one)? ;)
  • Do you have any suggestions for making this blog better? What is it you would like to see more (or less) of?
And this last question is one I would like to send out into the cosmic void, as Meg Ryan said in the movie You've Got Mail. I know I won't really get any answers for it, but I just would like to ask the question anyway:
  • Are there people who read my posts frequently without ever commenting? Are there people I can encourage even if I never hear from them?
Thank you for your time! I would love to have you stop by every day next week for "Mystery Week," because it's one of those things where you need to read every post in consecutive order. But I won't tell you any more than that! ;)

Finding the Clues: An Author Interview with S. Dionne Moore

It is my great pleasure to welcome author S. Dionne Moore to "Seasons of Humility!" She's here to help us get ready for "Mystery Week"--a task she is well-qualified for as the author of two already published cozy mysteries for the Heartsong Presents Mysteries line. One of these books, Polly Dent Loses Grip (published in 2009), was a "Carol Award Finalist for excellence in CBA literature," according to her website.

As this author goes by "S. Dionne Moore" for her pen name, I'll refer to her in this interview as "The Mysterious Mrs. S."--a title the author might regret ever using in reference to herself in an e-mail to me. It's just such a great title, even if I do happen to know what that "S" stands for! ;)

Amber: What do you enjoy most about writing mysteries? Do you ever find it difficult to bring all the clues together without giving anything away too early in the storyline?

The Mysterious Mrs. S.: Always, always, always, I enjoy the characters first. Intermingling their conflicts so that they bounce off the personality of the other. . .Oh, what fun! In a cozy, the mystery is secondary, with the town and the characters bringing more to the story than the actual murder or mystery. It is important though to weave in the clues. And difficult. Imagine having twenty-five loose threads to tie-up, and the larger the word count of the manuscript, the more difficult it is. Pacing the clues is paramount, but tying them up at the right time requires
some finagling and finesse. Wears me out just thinking about it. :)

Amber: Where did you get the ideas for your two cozy mysteries? Who or what inspired you?

The Mysterious Mrs. S.: I was inspired by my friend. She is the epitome of LaTisha. Saucey, bossy, fun-loving and big-hearted. To top it off, she is taller than her husband by a good four or five inches. That was the springboard from which I formed LaTisha and Hardy.

Amber: I've had a glimpse of LaTisha and Hardy in the first chapter of Polly Dent Loses Grip, and I just know I'm going to love these two! ;) Tell us, what is your favorite mystery show (ie: Murder She Wrote, one of the PBS series, etc.)?

The Mysterious Mrs. S.: Actually, I don't have one. I love to listen to dramatizations of the old classics though. Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. They are wonderful.

Amber: Have you ever solved any mysteries yourself? After all, you ARE "The Mysterious Mrs. S."! ;)

The Mysterious Mrs. S.: Many mysteries, actually. Anyone with a teenage daughter can relate to that!

Amber: Were you able to incorporate any mystery elements into your new historical romances?

The Mysterious Mrs. S.: Romance is a completely different genre than mystery, yet they are very much alike. Ha! Romance explores the mystery of emotion. Why does a woman think like she thinks, and vice versa. And when that question is answered. . .well, then you have a resolution. Mysteries tend to relate to the question of who did what, when, where, and how.

Amber: Do you have any mysteries you need us to help you solve?

The Mysterious Mrs. S.: Sure! Why in the world does the new Safari run SO slow! It's driving me crazy. Please, someone solve this mystery. Mac is too good a product to have such a lumbering Web browser. Oh, and please, what does a dog's paws smell like? I can't quite pinpoint the scent and what it reminds me of.

Amber: Well, there you have it readers! If you want to gain some practice solving mysteries to prepare for next week, go ahead and help "The Mysterious Mrs. S." out!

Thank you so much for joining us today, S. Dionne Moore, whose first name I will not mention in order to retain some sense of mystery . . .

Readers, be on the lookout for my review of
Polly Dent Loses Grip sometime in the near-ish future (hopefully)!

*Would you like to really solve a mystery and maybe win something in the process? Be sure and check out the comments section!*

Thursday, September 9, 2010

On the Verge of a Mystery

Yes, it is almost that time! Monday is the official launch of "Mystery Week," but I must say that it might be a little different than what you're thinking. Of course, you could ask me how I know what you're thinking . . . and I could answer you that I don't know, at least not for sure. ;) Either way, just think of it as all part of the mystery!

Now that I've thoroughly confused you, I thought it would be fun to talk about our favorite mystery books, movies, T.V. shows, games, etc.

As far as books go, one Christian fiction mystery book that sticks out in my mind is Under the Cajun Moon by Mindy Starns Clark. I bought it last year when I was at Walmart (a favorite hangout for the college student), and I really enjoyed it! I loved the setting and the characters--and the mystery/suspense kept my interest.

Here's a description of the book from the author's website:

"What Secrets Can Be Found by the Light of the Cajun Moon?

New Orleans may be the "Big Easy," but nothing about it was ever easy for international business etiquette expert Chloe Ledet. She moved away years ago, leaving her parents and their famous French Quarter restaurant behind. But when she hears that her father has been shot, she races home to be by his side and to handle his affairs—only to learn a long-
hidden secret that changes everything she knew to be true about herself and her family.

Framed for murder, Chloe and a handsome Cajun stranger must search for a priceless treasure, one whose roots weave through the very history of Louisiana itself. But can Chloe depend on the mysterious man leading her on this cat-and-mouse chase into the heart of Cajun
country? Or by trusting him, has she gone from the frying pan into the fire?

Following up on her bestselling Gothic thriller, Whispers of the Bayou, and Amish romantic suspense, Shadows of Lancaster County, Mindy Starns Clark offers another exciting standalone novel, one full of Cajun mystery, hidden dangers, and the glow of God's unending grace."

As for movies, I love Murder She Purred! This movie is great for animal lovers as well as mystery lovers--so cute and so fun!

Here's a description of the movie from Amazon.com: "A fun, spoofy thriller, MURDER SHE PURRED is based on a book from Rita Mae Brown's popular MRS. MURPHY mystery series! In the spirit of AIR BUD, a crime-solving cat named Mrs. Murphy talks with her canine counterpart, Tucker ... and together, they conspire to help their unsuspecting owner, amateur sleuth Mary "Harry" Haristeen (Ricki Lake -- MRS. WINTERBOURNE), get to the bottom of some baffling local mysteries! So when there's a suspicious death in their cozy little Virginia town, Mrs. Murphy and Tucker become the secret accomplices in Harry's investigation! Your entire family will be entertained as this intrepid threesome set out to sort through the bizarre events, wild rumors, and shocking revelations that stand between them and the truth!"

Plus, I have a fun story that goes along with this movie! I watched this when I was younger, and my cat (who stays at my grandparents' house) was simply called Murphy for the most part. After seeing this movie, my grandpa called my cat Mr. Murphy (to parallel Mrs. Murphy in the movie), and the name has stuck through the years. ;) Of course, his name is often shortened to Murphy or sometimes "Murfin" when I'm thinking about my sister's cat Muffin Man. But I digress . . .

There's only one obvious choice for my favorite mystery T.V. show (actually two if we're going to be technical): Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys from the 1970s! LOVE those shows, especially the earlier actors and actresses. Don't even get me started about Parker Stevenson, the actor who plays Frank in The Hardy Boys--talk about BLUE eyes! ;)

Below is a YouTube video I found with the introduction of one of the seasons of the show:



And as far as games go, there's nothing like a good game of Clue to get you in the mood for a mystery! I love the original version, but I confess that some of the newer versions, including Clue DVD, are pretty entertaining!

At this point I must add my love for Murder Mystery parties!!! Some of my high school friends and I have done a couple of these parties at my house, and they're always so much fun! We use the kits that come in a box, and my mom and I have a lot of fun planning, decorating, etc. The one we did last Christmas break, for example, was Mardi Gras themed, and we had lots of food (including jambalaya!), Mardi Gras themed plates and cups, decorations we had left over from my 10th birthday party, etc.

What really helps with these Murder Mystery parties is having a dummy in the house. ;) We have a dummy named Bubba (which my dad has used when teaching at the Police Academy at a local community college), and he's always good for a scare (and laugh!). Definitely adds another element to the party when you can see the "body"--and when you can hide it and have someone accidentally stumble upon it. Oh, the memories . . .

Here are some pictures from our last Murder Mystery party (my parents also got in on the fun!):

Note the food! Food is a very important part of every party. ;) As you can see in the above picture, everyone was getting into their roles and diving into the story.

Staying in character throughout the Murder Mystery party is key!!! This is what makes it fun. Everything you do or say can be a clue to all the other characters, and vice versa. Plus, it's just so entertaining being able to accuse each other! ;)

Have I already mentioned that Murder Mystery parties are fun? ;) Don't we look like we stepped right out of Clue? Note Bubba playing his role quite well on the floor! (As a warning, some of the kits can be somewhat inappropriate in their story content, so I just want to make sure you're aware of that if you have an interest in purchasing one.)

Well, I've gone on and on about mysteries, and I'm sure I could continue to do so. But now I'd love to hear your thoughts! Do you enjoy mystery stories--whether reading about them, watching them, or acting them out? Any favorites you want to share?

Be sure and stop by tomorrow for a fun interview with author S. Dionne Moore, who has written a couple of cozy mysteries for the Heartsong Presents Mysteries collection! (And yes, this is all just to get you excited for next week--it's not "Mystery Week" in the sense that I'm planning on quite yet--but soon!)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Tardy True Love Tuesday

First of all, I apologize for being late in posting this. I've been keeping busy with homework and such, so I didn't quite find time for it until now--and it's only 15 minutes until Wednesday! Talk about waiting until the last minute (or 15)!

I had been thinking about doing a post on North & South for today, but I think I might reserve that for another day. ;) I definitely need time to compose a well-thought out post for such a beautiful, grand movie as that!

So today (which will be Wednesday for most of you!) I thought we could talk about the examples of true love that we've seen in the books we've read recently or are in the process of reading right now.

*There might be spoilers in the next part of this post, so if you haven't read the books I discuss proceed with caution!*

I'll start with Love, Charleston. I finished this book last week, and as hard to read as it was, there was one especially memorable example of true love within those pages.

One of the main characters, Della, and her husband are going through a rough time. The country is in a recession, and both of them are "artists" (one's a writer and one makes sculptures) who don't make very much money. Della detests their home and the way they are forced to barely get by. She is especially concerned about the welfare of her daughter. And so, she finds herself giving attention to the man she had turned down years before--a man who can afford a comfortable, "normal" life.

The relationship between Della and her husband is put to the test. Will they remain faithful to each other? I think it's so important, especially for those of us who are still single, to consider the "happily ever after" part of the story--the part that comes after you say "I do." I haven't yet experienced marriage, but from what I can tell it can be both wonderful and at times very difficult. It is so important to have openness, honesty, and patience in any sort of relationship, especially in marriage.

For those of you who are already married, perhaps you can give some pre-marriage advice to those of us who have yet to experience it. ;)

One thing I really loved in Surrender the Heart was its reminder that true beauty lies in the spirit of a person, and true love will see beyond the outward appearance. What a valuable lesson for us to be reminded of in this day and age!

I also appreciated the reminder that true love doesn't judge. Perhaps true love will take time to fully grow to this point, but when it does it shows understanding and compassion, realizing that there is much that one doesn't know about the other. This can be applied to many different relationships, for sure, but it certainly is an important aspect of romantic relationships!

I think I'm a little over a third of the way through with Making Waves, and I've really been enjoying it so far! =)

The heroine and the hero are really fun, and some elements of true love that I've seen are the importance of caring for each other and the importance of recognizing each other's dreams and passions (and encouraging them!). This has mostly been on the side of Trip (the hero), as he has come to Marguerite's rescue, shown her that he is willing to stand up for her, and appreciated her apparent love for sailing.

As for Roger, the other potential love interest . . . let's just say that I've been reminded that true love isn't selfish and it respects the other person. (Take the hint, Roger!) ;)

So, what have you been reading lately? Have you learned or been reminded of anything about true love that you could share with us? I'd love to hear your thoughts!