Blue stained wood with crimson carnations

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Book Review: Rules of Murder

Quite a while back now I won a contest on Facebook and earned me a copy of Julianna Deering's "Rules for Murder", first book in the new Drew Farthering Mystery Series. When the book finally arrived the other week I was excited to sit down and give it a read!

Drew Farthering is an early 20-something English gentleman and heir to a comfortable estate and a sizeable chunk of his late father's chemical engineering firm. However, what's not so comfortable is the life he is living. Coming home one night to a houseful of guests, an unavoidable weekend soiree, and the hint of scandal following his mother around Drew wants nothing more then to pitch the whole lot of them out of his house and enjoy country life free of the trappings and expectations of high society. The weekend starts looking up though when his step-father's American niece, Madeline, and her two traveling companions arrive and bring a breath of fresh air, and a whiff of romance, to the place.
During the big party the next night a body shows up which sets police and amateur detective alike on the trail of the murderer, and for two mystery novel lovers like Drew and Madeline there is nothing like a good murder to solve to bring the two together! Through twists and turns and more unexpected shocks Drew, Madeline, and Drew's best friend Nick work their way past preconception and secrets to get to the truth and keep the culprit from slipping through their fingers! In the process Drew and his sidekicks find out if the mystery writers rule book is a tried and true assistant to their quest or whether is should be thrown out the window!

Speaking of the rule book, it is of note that at its heart this book revolves around early 20th century novelist's Ronald Knox's "Ten Commandments for Mystery Writers". This list is a pretty cool summery of mystery writing tropes from the golden era of detective stories (like Agatha Christie) that Knox believes should be avoided at all costs. To the modern reader the list comes off as pretty amusing as it is pretty dated content wise but for the backdrop of a period set novel it makes fantastic dressing! Even though all the 'forbidden' situations used in the book should be familiar to the well read mystery reader (such as hidden passages, Chinamen, and poisons) Deering has a light and easy hand with their use and as they rumbled past me I found myself smiling and not grimacing at their being clichéd.

One thing I really admired about this book was how well done the pacing was and how nothing felt too rushed or too lagging but was unfolded at precisely the right time. Stylistically too things just hummed. Deering was did a fine job of reflecting the culture of the time period with a combo of a wide 'vintage' vocabulary and her narrating descriptions. I also enjoyed how when moving from scene to scene the scene 'slid' from one thing to another like an old noir movie instead of having that page break-reset-and-reintroduce setup. It was a concept that fit the feel of the book well! The cover of the book was a delight as well as it features a striking graphic deco print that is eye catching and fun. Additionally, the whole feel of the book put me many times in mind of the charming and smart classic British favorite of mine, "Jeeves and Wooster", anyone who loves that series should give Deering's offering a try!

As far as the negative goes the only thing I can think to nitpick over (if I had too) was that the romance was a little bit too quick for me, but even having said that I don't think it was out of place for the time period and style that the author is writing in. Overall the book was a great one and I would happily recommend it to any mystery reader or any reader looking for a change of pace from their normal genre!

Rating: 4.5

I received a copy of this book from the publisher as a part of a contest and was under no obligation to review it. The above review is an honest opinion of the product.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Book Review: Forever Friday

Today I'm excited to be reviewing my first book for Waterbrook-Multnomah Publishers and the "Blogging for Books" program! When I went to pick my first book from this publisher I was a bit out to sea with the wide selection that I had to choose from- but then one caught my eye...

The plot of "Forever Friday" (by Timothy Lewis) is a simple one. Through this book we see the gradual unfolding of one couple's love story. Beginning in the 30's and spanning the decades, Gabe and Huck Alexander's love
story is one that begins with an instant spark and burns steadily throughout their 60 year marriage. As the years and decades pass Gabe's theory on "The Long Division" that separates couples and destroys marriages is fought off one week, and one love note poem postcard at a time.
This secret core of their love story is just what the crushed divorcee Adam Colby is looking for to unravel the failures of his own marriage and so after uncovering the postcard albums in an estate sale he is organizing he sets out to track down the closest person the Alexander's had to family and get his questions answered. Little does he expect the path his questions take him down!

I really enjoyed "Forever Friday", this book works on many different levels and hits just the right notes as the plot and characters are developed. I was impressed with the authors originality and ability to avoid recycling clichéd plot devices!  Much of the story focuses on the Alexander's side of the narration while occasionally dipping back to the present to Adam's side where a new round of questions set up a new slate of answers. This spiral storytelling style is appropriate to the tale being told and handled well. The switches back and forth are never jarring or out of place but feel very natural and I enjoyed traveling between the two and uncovering all that Adam discovered. I really love the cover design on the book, its soft sea tones and vintage feel capture the book well. As a reader I also appreciated the quality paper that the book is printed on. It's not a cheap paperback stock but something with better weight and feel and, in my opinion, that always makes for a better reading experience.

I did have one nitpick about something that happens in the book. Over the last number of years I have noticed that authors from Christian publishing houses are feeling freer to include intense scenes of violence in their work. It is a trend that I find disturbing as I don't feel it is integral to any ('inspirational') plot to have it included. Now I'm not talking having an objection to a good fistfight but rather an objection to several books that I have read where a rape or attempted rape takes place. That unfortunately happens in this book as well. While the attempt that takes place is not long and not described graphically it still rubs me the wrong way and I wish it wasn't included. Additionally, for being a 'inspirational' novel I found it surprising that the casual drinking of alcohol was included, as well as what I felt was a bit of a negative attitude towards having children (although this is explained within the story line).

Having said all that, I would recommend this book. It was a pleasure to read and of such good quality that I expect to see if snatched up by Hallmark for one of their trademark movies as this novel reads exactly in the same style as the best of their productions!

Rating: 4 (I took off half a star for my nitpick.)

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

What's in a Name?: An Open Letter to Moms

Dear Moms,
For a while now I have been wanting to write you something important that's been on my heart. Over the last number of years so many of you that I have grown up under (my friends mom's) or that I have met in various ministries like Bible Study Fellowship or Bright Lights have done something very flattering, and...peculiar...

You have asked me to call you by your first name.

Honestly, the most immediate reaction that is have to this request is "Oh no! Not again!" You see, this request, while I'm sure is meant genuinely and warmly, makes me highly uncomfortable. I have tried in many ways to explain myself and to not offend as I make my refusal but I don't know that I do a really good job of it and usually I'm left feeling rotten because I'm pretty sure I have confused- and offended you.

That's why I'm writing this letter.

I really want to explain myself and to share my reasons behind my refusal.

When I was a little girl my parents were very strict about their kids being respectful of their elders. Showing proper respect was important to them as it was an important element to cultivating and showing esteem for the person and the life that they had accomplished. Whether the person was married or not proper names and titles were always enforced- and woe be to the child who was disrespectful by using a non-sanctioned name! Now, before you go thinking my parents were a bit to harsh I want to share that there is always exceptions to the rules. For example, much of my younger growing up years was spent in a Southern Baptist church where (though there wasn't a lick of The South in 90% of the congregation) the preferred form of address was 'Miss insert-married-lady's-first-name-here'. It may not have been ideal to my parents but it was ok, and it worked. After all, the point of using formal address was upheld.
When I was a little older my family were annual attenders at Bible/homeschool conferences where  youth programs ran parallel to the adults. In those programs there were always friendly, young, small group leaders who again used the titles Mr. and Miss to distinguish themselves from the mass of grade school aged kids that they were serving. I loved using those titles- it felt so fancy, and old fashioned, and fun to be able to address someone like that, to show them honor and respect, and to be able to look up to them by using that title! It was sheer delight to me a few years down the road when I was one of those leaders getting called 'Miss Hannah' and having those kids look up to me! It communicated to me with every utterance that I wasn't just anyone but someone who was accountable to God for being a good example.

Just a few years ago as my grandparents were in declining health a new neighbor came into their lives. This middle aged woman thought nothing of addressing my nearly 90 year old grandparents in familiar terms and called my Gram by her first name. What's worse is that she called Gramps (Clifford) Cliffy.... Never in my 25+ years had I ever heard anyone call him that. It shocked my siblings and I, and to say the least, rubbed us the wrong way. Why? Well, in short, because of how incredibly disrespectful it was. If you knew my grandparents you would know of what value their lives were- and were to us.

Shakespeare famously asked if "a rose by any other name would still be as sweet". Scholars I'm sure have spent considerable amounts of time debating that small line and recognizing it for the great question it is. If a rose was called by another name would it be the same or would it loose something of what made it so unique? For me I think the answer is the former and not the latter. The beauty of the rose (or any other fine flower) is not solely in its character, but in the name we give to distinguish it. Anne Shirley bemoaned that surely a beautiful name like Cordelia could make her a better loved more beautiful person but we all know that 'just plain' Anne was a true treasure because her name fit her all on it's own with out her trying to be someone she was not.

So Mom's here is the point. I'm not doing it to be difficult, I'm doing it to be genuine.

When I look at you I see how wonderful you are, the beauty of your years, how much I look up to you, and how much I value you- and I want you to know that.
My best way of communicating that is to recognize you for everything you have become. I don't use Mrs. to remind you of your age, your laugh lines, or your mother-in-law. I do it because you have taken the name of the man who loves you and I am in awe of your representation of Godly marriage before me. (And if I'm being perfectly honest I envy you just a little bit for that.) I do it to show respect to my friends too because nothing is worse then hearing one of your peers informally address your mother without permission and feeling the sting of disbelief at how casually they value and respect the person who means the world to you. I do it for my grandparents because I take note that the age difference between them and 'that woman' is alike to age difference between you and I and I want to honor you.

So Mom's, the next time you consider asking me to call you by your first name would you stop a moment and reconsider? Would you take into account that I look at the world a little old fashionedly? That I mean no offence?
Would you allow me to honor you and our friendship by calling you Missus?

Thanks. It truly means the world to me.

With love,

Monday, September 2, 2013

True Confessions of a Conference Leader

Intense is probably the best way to describe the last few weeks months of my life.

For better or worse- lots of things are changing in my life and lots of events have been occurring. For instance:
  • My dear little sister is expecting her first child and I'm going to be an auntie again! 
  • I almost took a mission trip.
  • The friend I've partnered with for the past two years in Bright Lights is getting married and I've taken over leadership in that group as she moves away.
  • For the first time in my life I'm searching for a 'real' job, one that brings in some real dough for the family.
  • I planned a bridal shower and organized group gifts for my BL friend, Dani, in just a month's time.
  • And, I took a trip and worked with the traveling team from Bright Lights headquarters!

That last thing is what I want to share with you now. I know my whole (BL) group, and many friends, were praying for me and for the Bright Lights Conferences and so I wanted to run through the five days that I spent in Pataskala.

The beginning of August had three big things on my calendar: Our regular BL meeting which was gong to be my first full time teaching day, Dani's shower that same day (!), and then the next morning leaving for the Conference! It was quite the busy, stressful week!

Before the trip even got going though it was on rocky ground! I had originally planned to be traveling and working along side Dani, the expert Bright Lights traveling team member! :) However, Dani had been a bit tied up with wedding plans and wasn't able to make the trip! So there was the need to make other plans. :) Additionally, I'm not the kind of person to be too keen on experiences that put me outside of my comfort zone! So I took the only sensible approach and put the whole thing out of my mind until the Friday morning of the trip when I began to pack for fear I'd call the whole thing off! :)  

Friday, I had a lovely trip to Pataskala with three of the four Thompsen ladies of Daughters of Decision! These wonderful sisters in Christ are also fellow BL leaders in the area and have been a great source of inspiration and encouragement for me.
We got to the host church mid afternoon and were welcomed by several of the girls from the team. For the five days we were teaching I would be staying alongside the group at the church- another new experience for me! (I've never slept...erm...I've never spent the night in a church before! :D) I quickly got to snag myself a spot to make camp for the weekend in the large youth room the girls were sharing and continued to meet new people most of which when I met them went "Oh, you're Dani's Hannah!" Even at the leader's cool-down meeting that night Sarah Mally (the BL head cheese) asked the group during her announcements "Has everybody met Dani's Hannah?" It seemed that a girl's reputation proceeded her.....!

Sarah teaching...
Sarah's sister Grace leading the singing...

Jumping right into the Conference I discovered I had been paired with a girl named Nickie and we would be working with a group of 16-17 year old girls for the Radiant Purity sessions that night and the next day. The girls were great! I was a little surprised at how intent they were and how obviously they were there for answers! I hope they were able to get some as we worked with them.

One of the best parts of the conferences are the skits the team uses to drive home the principles.

On Saturday afternoon as Sarah talked about waiting for God's choice in your life a familiar face popped up!

On Sunday our group was treated to a really special dinner prepared by a lady from the church. Everything was set out in high style and the plates that were set down before us were a real treat! 
They included a Cornish Game Hen, a foil swan wrapped baked potato, salad & rolls, a yummy cherry cream dessert, and raspberry iced tea! It was fantastic- and so was the lady, Miss Judy, who prepared it!

Later that afternoon the whole Bright Lights group was shipped out to a nearby park for 'relaxation'. For myself, I'm used to a nice quiet Sunday and being able to take a nap and do restful things like reading and movie watching. I'm not really up for sports and wasn't interested in conversation so I found a nice shady tree and parked myself under it for the rest of the afternoon/evening. I started a new book on my Kindle app (for my iPad) and indulged in my own brand of relaxation while everyone else tired themselves out playing ultimate Frisbee. :)

Monday morning brought a late start and some great leaders training led by the stalwart Bekah. I was thrilled to be pared with my friend Melanie and that we would be leading a group of 10-11 year old girls!  I took lead on the group this time around and we had a great afternoon of planning out the time we would have with our young charges. :) Here is a few photos of our little band:

The 'Candles' small group making prayer journals!

Nickie and Bekah
I was so thankful that Melanie (who has taught at conferences before) had planned ahead and brought little cards for each girl telling her how much we loved having her in our group and how to contact us if she wanted to! With most of the work done I just had to write in my own info and sign it! I'm really glad that especially with this (age) group of girls that I was able to make that contact with them, I have fond remembrances of getting notes from leaders of similar bible conferences that my family attended when I was that age- and it was the highlight of my week! I really looked up to those girls, they made me feel special and I hope that I will hear from some of the BL conference girls too!

It truly amazing that while time can drag on in your down moments that once you hit the beginning of a conference that period of time can wiz by! Once you have caught the momentum of the wave you are carried along through to the finish like riding on air! Before I knew it the conference was done and it was time to head home!
Sarah doing a 'chalk talk' presentation...

My experience at the Bright Lights Conferences is one that I will not soon forget. It was by turns exhilarating and overwhelming. I love teaching, the more I do it I find the more I love it! Call it the big sister in me but I love standing in front of a group of people, engaging their attention, and communicating a truth. It's a feeling of terror, and excitement, and pleasure all at the same time and locking eyes with another soul and seeing that you are inside their head is one of the best feelings I've ever experienced! I love knowing that expositing truth brings about a mental turning point and readjustment.
On the other hand, there can be downsides to putting yourself out there like that. A teacher has great responsibility and the knowledge that they must expend effort in knowing and in living the truth that they teach. What's perhaps larger in some ways is that to make the most impact on a person you teach you must be willing to pour yourself into that other person. Discipleship isn't for sissies. At one point in one of our lessons I used a reference from Paul (I think in Romans but I can't find it again tonight) where he is talking about being poured out like a drink offering on the alter of sacrifice to God. It struck me in that moment that during the conference that is exactly what I had been experiencing. That final afternoon I was drained. Now, yes, there was that wave I was riding- one of momentum- of going whether or not by choice- and being swept through the time. But under that there was an undercurrent of bone weary, mental, and Spiritual exhaustion. The teaching was hard work, yes, but all the 'new' and 'uncomfortable' was worse. It was a rough couple of days for me because it seems that I teetered on the edge of being a known and unknown person to the group I was working with. Have you ever been in that position? To be just familiar enough to someone that they feel beyond small talk with you, but not familiar enough to you that you want to delve deeper with them? That is where I found myself. Multiplied by 15+ people... So I spent a lot of time answering a lot of questions...

Going to the Bright Lights Conferences were a real experience. An experience where it was good to learn as well as to teach. And isn't it just like God to put us in those positions? We go for one thing- and as great as that turns out to be- we're there for something else too...
  • Over those 5 days I learned what it was like to be the younger sibling. (You know, the one kid who has a phenomenally awesome older sibling that everyone loves?) I took away a greater sensitivity to my younger brothers and sister, and to those I serve where I'm dealing with ministering to both the older and younger from a family. Everyone deserves to be judged on their own merit and first hand character.
  • I learned that God hears my fears...and complaints, and chooses to give me blessings anyway. (I think He likes to hear "You were right" from our lips :)) I took away that my plan is smaller than His plans and my trust is sometimes very small indeed... 
  • I learned that laughter, and warmth, and common interest, and kindred spirits can be found in the most unexpected places! 

So that about wraps it up! For everyone who wanted to hear about my trip I hope you enjoyed hearing a bit of the behind-the-scenes of what a conference is like for a (or at least this) leader! Leave me a comment if I've forgotten anything!

Also, thought I know the next couple of weeks are going to be busy for me (starting BSF again!! woohoo!) I have several posts on my mind and several new 'blogger' books in my stack so be sure to check back with me soon for those reviews! :)