First Things First (Guest Post)

First Things First

by Steph Beth Nickel

Raise your hand if you’re crazy busy.

One, two, twenty … yep, that’s all of you.

Busy with holiday preparations. Busy with your day-to-day workload. And, if you’re a little crazy like me, busy trying to hit 50K in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

It’s so easy for our priorities to get all jumbled at this time of year. We try to keep up with our year-round responsibilities while adding countless additional ones. As trending punctuation would have us express ourselves … It’s. not. going. to. happen.

So how do we choose what stays and what goes on our To Do list? Let’s put first things first and ask ourselves some questions:

Keep first things first this holiday season.

Can it wait until after the holidays?

We must humbly accept the fact that we can’t do it all—not if we don’t want our health and relationships to suffer.

Let’s take a look at our agenda and reschedule what we can.

Does a particular project bring us joy or does it add stress and weigh us down?

While not everything we must do fills us with joy and anticipation, holiday preparations should—for the most part at least. Have we taken on too much? Because it’s expected of us? Because we always do whatever it is? Because we don’t want to let others down?

Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate our workload, committing to those things we truly enjoy (and a few we may not) and passing along some of the responsibilities we just don’t have the time or ambition to accomplish.

Can someone else do whatever it is?

This year I’m doing my Christmas baking via two young women I know. Both are raising money for a worthwhile cause by making homemade goodies. I get several dozen Christmas treats made with love, and it doesn’t add any extra work to my holiday season. Win-win!

Is there anything you could pass along this year? Baking? Cleaning? Decorating?

Would it be better for our family and friends if we spent time with them rather than spending hours cleaning, decorating, and baking for the holidays?

Sometimes sitting down to play a game or watch a Christmas movie would be a better option than spending another evening up to our elbows in sudsy water. (Sounds like a better option to me most anytime actually.)

Let’s look at all we want to accomplish, decide what’s the minimum we can get away with, and settle on something in the middle. And when we’re busy with our holiday responsibilities, why not do things together, making it a bonding time rather than just one more stressor?

And, as Christians, we must ask ourselves if our endeavours enhance or distract from our relationship with the Lord.

Are we neglecting our quiet time? Forgetting to pray? And making excuses to play hooky from church? Not good.

Let’s keep the reason we celebrate in the forefront of our mind and our preparations. Let’s keep first things first.

Tweetables

Let’s keep first things first this holiday season. (Tweet this)

Settle on something between all you want to accomplish and the minimum you’d be okay with. (Tweet this)

~~~

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel
(Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.

Review: Blind Justice, by James Scott Bell

Blind Justice, by James Scott BellBlind Justice, by James Scott Bell (Compendium Press, 2013. Originally published in 2000.)

While Howie Patino was confronting horror he could scarcely have imagined, I was trying hard to come up with one good reason why I should continue to breathe. [Page 7]

That’s how chapter two begins. Chapter one shows the murder Howie’s about to be charged with, and chapter two introduces Jake Denney, a disgraced, alcoholic lawyer who’s sitting in the corner of a tavern using a pen and yellow legal pad to list the pros and cons of ending his life.

Told in a snappy, noir-like first person with brilliant descriptions that show as much about Jake as they do about what or who he sees, this is a page-turning clean read with a background thread of faith.

Howie is a childlike man who’s helpless in the criminal system. Jake drinks his way through the book, sabotaging himself at every turn but unwilling to give in to the overly-strong pressure from the prosecutor.

Christian readers will pick up a sense of spiritual warfare, although Jake himself doesn’t believe. Howie’s sister, Lindsay, tries to convince Jake to clean up his act and consider the possibility that there’s more to life than what he sees.

Readers who like to see the character begin to change for the better by the midpoint will find their patience stretched, and I felt that much of the forward progress of the plot, including the dramatic resolution, depended on people around Jake rather than Jake himself. That seems to work with the spiritual warfare sense, that God is moving for Howie’s sake and for justice’s sake despite Jake’s stubbornness.

So, plot-wise, this shows as one of James Scott Bell’s earlier works. Voice-wise, it’s delightfully refreshing and it offers a great example to writers wanting to enhance their descriptive skills.

This was my first James Scott Bell novel, because I’m not a fan of courtroom drama. I’ve discovered that I am a fan of his writing style, and will be looking for more of his fiction. I’m already benefiting from his books on the craft of writing. For more about the author and his books, visit jamesscottbell.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Author Interview: Christine Dillon

Author Christine Dillon Christine Dillon was born in Australia but grew up in Asia. She now works in Taiwan as a Bible storyteller. Her book Telling the Gospel Through Story was voted 2013 Outreach Magazine Resource of the Year in Evangelism, and continues to inspire innovative and engaging Bible storytelling. Believing in the beauty and power of story prompted her jump into fiction. She loves reading, and keeps sane by cycling and swimming.

Janet: Welcome, Christine. Let’s start with some fun facts about you: Chocolate or vanilla? Coffee or tea? What’s your favourite season?

Christine: Vanilla. Tea. Any but winter.

Janet: As a Canadian, I’m curious what your winters are like, but I guess that’s another conversation! Tell us something you appreciate about where you live.

Christine: The incredibly generosity and friendliness of Taiwanese people.

Janet: Is there a particular song or Scripture verse that’s made a big difference for you?

Christine: 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 – God chooses the weak to shame the strong … so that no one can boast before him. If you feel weak then you qualify to be used. Grow close to Jesus and learn to rely on his spirit and you will be used (but probably not in the way you’d expect).

Janet: “Not the way you’d expect” – that’s practically a given! Your website says you didn’t intend to be a writer. What got you started?

Christine: I wrote my non-fiction to save myself having to answer every question one by one. I wanted to share what God had taught me and writing it down was the best use of my time. For Telling the Gospel Through Story we also set up a Bible storytelling website (www.storyingthescriptures.com) and that has become a ministry in itself with 7 languages and growing.

Janet: Congratulations on the release of your first novel, Grace in Strange Disguise, in October 2017. Was moving from non-fiction to fiction easier than you’d thought, or harder?

Christine: Much, much harder. Part of my life is facilitating seminars and so non-fiction is relatively easy. It took me nearly five years to write two practice novels and then plan, draft and edit (? 30 times) the final novel. I chose Biblical for the practice novels because I am a Bible storyteller and I thought it might be less of a jump. There were so many times that I thought, “It’s ready” and then a professional would show me it wasn’t.

Janet: We’ll have a full description of Grace in Strange Disguise at the end of this interview, but would you give us a few hints now?

Christine: It’s an Australian story about a physiotherapist who has a ‘golden’ life. And she expects to because her father has always preached ‘trust Jesus and you’ll be blessed.’ But what happens when ‘golden’ disappears? How do you make sense of it? Where is God in such times and what is he doing?

Janet: You’re tackling some very real issues in this novel. Readers may not face the same situation as Esther, but struggles are part of life, and God doesn’t always work the way we want Him to. What do you hope readers will take away from Esther’s story?

Christine: That God can be trusted. If he allows us to go through tough times it is not because he doesn’t care or has gone to sleep. It is part of his sovereign plan.

I also want to challenge us to know our Bibles and be able to stand against the lies that our world tells.

Janet: We do need to knowing our Bibles! Because you’re a Bible storyteller, I wonder… is Esther’s name significant?

Christine: I don’t even remember why that name was chosen. But actually when I think about it there are some similarities to Queen Esther. Both had to stand up and show courage in front of strong men.

Janet: Where did the story idea come from?

Christine: I was having a ministry half day of prayer in about 2007 and suddenly two ideas for novels dropped into my head – titles, main idea and setting. I was horrified because I knew writing fiction would be incredibly difficult and doubted I could ever do it. But I wrote the ideas down in the back of my prayer diary and said, “Lord, if those ideas were from you, you’ll have to make yourself clearer and give me all the resources I need.”

Over the next years, two non-fiction books were traditionally published. The pressure to start writing fiction just grew, until in 2013 I gave in.

Janet: When God’s in it, we need to do it. Congratulations on persevering! Do you have a favourite character?

Christine: This is a bit like asking ‘which child do you love most?’ I like Esther once she’s matured a bit. But there are lots of minor characters I like. The two men, Rob and Paul – because they are like so many non-Christian Australians I’ve shared the good news with. I love the ‘mentor’ character, Joy for her wisdom and courage. And Gina, because she is like some of the best friends I’ve had.

Janet: What was the best part of the story to write?

Christine: I enjoyed writing Joy’s story although it was tough to edit because it was long. I also loved writing all the dialogue between Esther and her skeptical medical specialist and other patients.

Janet: You’ve lived in so many interesting places, it must have been hard to choose a setting for your novel. What made you decide on Australia?

Christine: I think the initial ideas had this one set in Australia and the other in New Zealand. It wasn’t really a deliberate decision.

Janet: Is there another novel in the works?

Christine: One of my editors said, “This isn’t one book this is one and a half.” It was only 5 months before publication and I didn’t think I had the energy to cut off one third of the book and write a new ending. But she was right and with God’s help it got done.

So at the moment I see two more in this series.

Then there is another idea that was given in that initial prayer time and then the two practice novels could be rewritten. I don’t want to see any further ahead than that!

Janet: That’s enough of a to-do list for now! How do you juggle writing with your other work?

Christine: With great difficulty! Like many people in paid Christian ministry I struggle to know where work ends and what time can be used for writing. My non-fiction was written in intense bursts in my free time. At the moment, I’m trying to carve out one three hour block in a week. It often takes me the first hour to ‘get in the swing’.

Janet: Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Christine: Find experienced writers and LISTEN to them. There were so many times when I thought my writing was better than it was. It hurt to listen to some of the feedback and I nearly gave up several times but they were right.

There are also excellent craft books out there. Find a community of writers and ask for their best recommendations.

Janet: Thanks so much for taking time to chat, Christine, and all the best!

===

Grace in Strange Disguise, by Christine DillonGrace in Strange Disguise, by Christine Dillon

Physiotherapist Esther Macdonald is living the Australian dream, and it doesn’t surprise her.

After all, her father has always said, “Follow Jesus and be blessed.” But at twenty-eight, her world shatters. Everyone assures her God will come through for her, but what happens when he doesn’t? Has she offended God? Is her faith too small? So many conflicting explanations.

Will finding the truth cost her the people closest to her heart?

For more about Christine Dillon, her books and ministry, visit http://www.storytellerchristine.com

Review: Death of a Dead Man, by Karin Kaufman

Death of a Dead Man, Juniper Grove Mysteries book 1, by Karin KaufmanDeath of a Dead Man, by Karin Kaufman (2017)

Colorado native Rachel Stowe has fled a stressful job in Boston to return to her home state, specifically to the endearing small town of Juniper Grove, where the few square blocks that make up downtown are a four-minute drive from her home. She can live simply and write more mystery novels.

Rachel is single, in her forties, and has a fondness for casual attire and cream puffs. I like her a lot.

She doesn’t have it all together, but she’s made some good friends here and she’s not one to back down from a challenge. Like helping clear her neighbour Julia’s name from the local paper’s mud-slinging.

Julia’s husband has finally been declared legally dead after he robbed a bank and went missing seven years ago. Most people think he drowned with his partner. But some, like the paper’s editor, suggest Julia knows something about the missing money.

When the dead man turns up freshly-dead in Rachel’s back yard, she’s more motivated than ever to find the truth.

This is the start of a fun series. The books are short, the delivery is snappy, and there’s even an attractive police chief that Rachel butts heads with so regularly that you just know there’s a relationship coming here eventually.

An abundance of clues and details kept me guessing until the end. I’ll definitely be reading more of this series.

My favourite line, which both describes Julia and says something about Rachel herself:

Most of the time Julia had a grandmotherly air about her, and I liked that, but every now and then she transformed into someone you did not want to mess with. I liked that too. [Page 27]

Karin Kaufman is also the author of the Anna Denning mystery series. Death of a Dead Man is the first in the Juniper Grove mystery series. For more about the author and her books, visit karinkaufman.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Grace in Strange Disguise, by Christine Dillon

Grace in Strange Disguise, by Christine DillonGrace in Strange Disguise, by Christine Dillon (2017)

Esther Macdonald is diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer at age 28 – shortly before her wedding. Her fiancé doesn’t know how to handle it, and he’s too busy with his own reactions to take an interest in supporting her.

Her father’s even worse. He’s the polished pastor of the second-largest church in Sydney, Australia, and this is not in his script. When prayer doesn’t heal Esther, he blames her for harbouring sin or doubt.

Her mother is a more supportive, but having lived in the shadow of Esther’s father for so long, she doesn’t dare offer much in the way of original thought.

Help comes from an outspoken cleaning lady at the hospital, who overhears Esther’s frustration with God for not healing her. This lady, Joy, dares to suggest that asking in faith isn’t the only ingredient in a miracle.

Determined to prove her wrong, Esther searches in her Bible for the examples Joy gave. Reading more than her father’s sound-bites of Scripture opens her eyes to the context of his “victory” verses.

Joy becomes Esther’s mentor and friend, and shares Bible events with her through storytelling and simple, thought-provoking questions.

At this point you may be thinking “too preachy for me” and that the novel would read like a sermon. Not so – yes, faith and Scriptural themes are part of the plot, but it’s all driven by Esther’s situation and her need for answers.

Nothing is forced or dry. Instead, it’s one of those stories that kept me thinking about the characters when I wasn’t reading.

Esther is easy to care about, even in the beginning when she’s not operating from a place of truth. Readers see for themselves the flaws and blind spots in the characters and in the excuses Esther habitually makes for them until she begins to change.

Esther’s health crisis and the resulting fallout in her family make her a character we can care about, and seeing her learn to stand up for herself and apply truth to her life is encouraging. What’s heart-warming is to see her begin to share what she’s found with others. Non-Christians won’t get that part, but Christians will be inspired to look for more opportunities to share with the people around them.

The medical details have been carefully researched, and they’re sparingly revealed as Esther needs to know them. No information dumps here. The story is set in 1995, so some things will have changed in the real world. The only thing I was surprised not to see included was discussion of a prosthesis or reconstructive surgery after Esther’s mastectomy. Even if that’s not something that her body would have yet been ready for, she’d likely have asked. Side note: in Australia, radiation treatment is called radiotherapy. I like that much better – sounds less frightening.

Although the novel’s focus is relationships, another bonus is its setting. While most scenes take place inside, there are a few ventures into Australia’s gorgeous outdoors. I don’t expect to ever get there, so the virtual visit was a treat.

Favourite lines:

She might feel full of cracks but somehow her learned patters of behaviour were holding her together. Like a broken egg bound with string. [Kindle location 705]

The habit would have to be fought. It wouldn’t just roll over and die. [Kindle location 2187]

Christine Dillon has previously published the non-fiction books 1-2-1 Discipleship and Telling the Gospel Through Story, but Grace in Strange Disguise is her first novel. It doesn’t read like a first novel, and I hope we won’t have too long a wait for the next book in the series, Grace in the Shadows.

For more about the author, her books, and her Bible storytelling ministry, visit storytellerchristine.com. You’ll also find discussion questions for her novel.

[Review copy provided by the author.]

New Releases in Christian Fiction (November 2017)

November 2017 New Releases from members of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW):

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.


Contemporary Romance:

Rooted in Love by Valerie Comer — A divorcé with a set of rambunctious twins falls for the boys’ daycare administrator, but does he deserve another chance at love? (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

Prescription for Romance by June Foster — Though history teacher Scott Townsend made a commitment to the Lord as a teen, he can’t relinquish his bitterness toward his younger brother after he squanders their parents’ money. When a beautiful, young pharmacist seeks affirmation in a way that challenges Scott’s values, he must uphold his Christian upbringing. (Contemporary Romance from Forget Me Not Romance [Winged Publication])

Believing in Tomorrow by Kimberly Rae Jordan — Sammi struggles to accept the consequences for her actions and to live with her new reality—unwed mother instead of wife and then mother. Though it eats at her soul, she feels that the judgment she faces is her lot to bear. Can Levi get Sammi to see that their child deserves better? Or will she lose everything she’s dreamed of for her tomorrow because she can’t accept that forgiveness is hers for the taking? (Contemporary Romance, ACFW QIP)

Texas Christmas Twins by Deb Kastner — Miranda Morgan’s Christmas will be twice as busy now that she’s guardian of her sister’s sweet twin babies. But the celebrity photographer is happy to trade a glamorous LA lifestyle for motherhood in her small hometown of Wildhorn, Texas. Unfortunately, the twins’ handsome godfather, Simon West, is unconvinced. The brooding rancher isn’t thrilled about letting sunny, spontaneous Miranda into his carefully managed world. Though they disagree on almost everything, Simon and Miranda discover common ground as they work to make the twins’ first country Christmas cozy and bright. Could this holiday transform Miranda and Simon’s tentative friendship into a forever love? (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])


Historical:


The Legacy by Carol Ashby — A father’s martyrdom makes his son and daughter hunger for revenge on their brother who betrayed him and the people who led him to faith until God answers their father’s final prayer in unexpected ways. (Historical from Cerrillo Press)



Jerusalem Rising by Barbara M. Britton — When Adah bat Shallum finds the governor of Judah weeping over the crumbling wall of Jerusalem, she learns the reason for Nehemiah’s unexpected visit,God has called him to rebuild the wall around the City of David. Nehemiah challenges the people of God to labor on the wall and in return, the names of their fathers will be written in the annals for future generations to cherish. But Adah has one sister and no brothers. Will her father, who rules a half-district of Jerusalem, be forgotten forever? Adah bravely vows to rebuild her city’s wall, though she soon discovers that Jerusalem not only has enemies outside the city, but also within. Can Adah, her sister, and the men they love, honor God’s call? Or will their mission be crushed by the same stones they hope to construct? (Historical from Harbourlight Books [Pelican])


Historical Mystery:

Death at Thorburn Hall by Julianna Deering — Amateur sleuth Drew Farthering and his wife Madeline travel to Scotland for the 1935 British Open, but instead of a relaxing holiday, they find murder, mystery, and international intrigue. (Historical Mystery from Bethany House [Baker])

Waiting for His Return by Carrie Turansky — The daughter of a wealthy Tennessee doctor falls in love with an injured artist-correspondent on assignment to cover the battles near Union occupied Nashville. (Historical Mystery from Flowing Stream Books)

Historical Romance:

The Virtuous Viscount by Susan M. Baganz — Lord Remington falls for a woman he rescues and recovers in his home, but can Miss Storm trust his virtue when he risks his reputation to unbeknownst to her, saves her life. (Historical Romance from Harbourlight Books [Pelican])


Lord Phillip’s Folly by Susan M. Baganz — Lord Westcombe finds himself falling in love with his unexpected wife and having to rescue her from the devices of the Black Diamond with the help of his friends and newfound faith. (Historical Romance from White Rose Publishing [Pelican])

The Regency Brides Collection by Amanda Barratt, Angela Bell, Susanne Dietze, Michelle Griep, Nancy Moser, MaryLu Tyndall, and Erica Vetsch — Romance is a delicate dance bound by rules and expectations in Regency England…Seven couples must navigate society’s gauntlet to secure the hand of true love…. Charity and Luke are strangers who were forced to marry three years ago. Adelaide and Walter share a love of music and disdain for elitism. Caroline and Henry are thrown together by three orphans. Helen and Isaac harbor his unlikely secret. Esther is empowered to choose between two men. Sophia is determined not to choose a man like Nash. Jamie and William face a daunting London season together. Will their faith grow and love prevail in a time when both were considered luxuries the elite could not afford? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

The Sound of Rain by Sarah Loudin Thomas — Judd Markley is a hardworking coal miner who rarely thinks much past tomorrow until he loses his brother–and nearly his own life–in a mine cave-in. Vowing never to enter the darkness of a mine again, he leaves all he knows in West Virginia to escape to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It’s 1954, the seaside community is thriving, and Judd soon hires on with a timber company. Larkin Heyward’s life in Myrtle Beach is uncomplicated, mostly doing volunteer work and dancing at the Pavilion. But she dreams of one day doing more–maybe moving to the hollers of Kentucky to help the poor children of Appalachia. But she’s never even met someone who’s lived there–until she encounters Judd, the newest employee at her father’s timber company. Drawn together in the wake of a devastating hurricane, Judd and Larkin each seek answers to what tomorrow will bring. As opposition rises against following their divergent dreams, they realize that it may take a miracle for them to be together. (Historical Romance from Bethany House [Baker])


Legal Thriller:

Guilty Blood by Rick Acker — A desperate mother tries to prove her son’s innocence, but shadowy forces want to keep him in jail–and kill him there. (Legal Thriller from Waterfall Press)


Romantic Suspense:

An Unexpected Legacy by Amy R. Anguish — When Chad Manning introduces himself to Jessica Garcia at her favorite smoothie shop, it’s like he stepped out of one of her romance novels. But as she tentatively walks into a relationship with this man of her dreams, secrets from their past threaten to shatter their already fragile bond. Chad and Jessica must struggle to figure out if their relationship has a chance or if there is nothing between them but a love of smoothies. (Romantic Suspense from Tulpen Publishing)

Christmas Double Cross by Jodie Bailey — Undercover Texas Ranger Colter Blackthorn’s convinced Danielle Segovia is really a wanted criminal—until she’s nearly kidnapped right in front of him. Now Colter must keep her out of the clutches of the notorious drug cartel leader whose traitor sister is a dead ringer for Danielle. The drug czar wants the drugs he thinks the pretty shop owner stole from him. And with the younger brother Danielle is raising dragged into the crosshairs, Colt has to find a way to protect them both. But a showdown at Christmas—with Danielle as bait—may be the only way to make sure they all survive the holidays. (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright — Kaine Prescott is no stranger to death. When her husband died two years ago, her pleas for further investigation into his suspicious death fell on deaf ears. In desperate need of a fresh start, Kaine purchases an old house sight unseen in her grandfather’s Wisconsin hometown. But one look at the eerie, abandoned house immediately leaves her questioning her rash decision. And when the house’s dark history comes back with a vengeance, Kaine is forced to face the terrifying realization she has nowhere left to hide. A century earlier, the house on Foster Hill holds nothing but painful memories for Ivy Thorpe. When an unidentified woman is found dead on the property, Ivy is compelled to discover her identity. Ivy’s search leads her into dangerous waters and, even as she works together with a man from her past, can she unravel the mystery before any other lives–including her own–are lost? (Romantic Suspense from Bethany House [Baker])


Speculative:

Awakened by Morgan L. Busse — The monster has awakened. After her escape from the Tower and from her father’s experiments, Kat Bloodmayne wakes up to discover the dark power inside of her has grown stronger. Now more than ever she needs to find the doctor who holds the key to healing her, but the only one who can help her find him is Stephen Grey, the very man who betrayed her. Stephen Grey cannot change the past or what he did to Kat, but he will do everything he can to help her now. But will Kat let him? Or will his transgression be too much to overcome? Time races against them as they travel with sky pirates through harrowing storms and across the war-torn country of Austrium in search of the doctor who can cure Kat. But can he cure what is broken inside of her? Or will the monster inside of Kat consume her soul? (Speculative from Enclave Publishing)

Review: Kill Zone: 10 Deadly Thrillers

Kill Zone: 10 Deadly Thrillers | Christian fiction, thrillers, romantic suspense, novellas, box setKill Zone: Ten Deadly Thrillers, by Rick Acker, Christy Barritt, Patricia Bradley, Braxton DeGarmo, Luana Ehrlich, Heather Day Gilbert, Heather I. James, Robert Liparulo, Jordyn Redwood, and Jan Thompson (Georgia Press, 2017)

This is a powerhouse anthology with some seriously-acclaimed contributors, both traditionally- and indie-published. Of the 10 authors, I had previously read novels by Christy Barritt, Braxton DeGarmo, Patricia Bradley, and Heather Day Gilbert. And most of the rest were on my “to read” list. So I knew the collection was a safe bet.

Story by story, my thoughts:

Secrets, by Rick Acker: This a new-to-me author, and I’m glad to see he has a number of other books out. Very much a positive find, for me. Secrets is a high-stakes, high-tech international thriller that raises some disturbing possibilities. I enjoyed the voice, pacing, details… and the fact that it could be tense without scaring me. Special mention goes to Kevin, the autistic computer whiz. I love seeing characters who aren’t “ordinary” portrayed strongly in fiction. First on my Rick Acker to-read list will be another Kevin story.

The Wrecking, by Christy Barritt: When a serial killer returns to terrorize a small town, he pleads for help from the one woman he released. Personal and fast-paced romantic suspense, and what I liked best was the heroine’s determination not to let her past destroy her, and the story’s focus on sensory details.

Revenge, by Patricia Bradley: Romantic suspense that’s a sequel to Justice Delayed. It doesn’t give away the suspense plot for the novel, but you’ll know how the romance worked out. The heroine has a prescription drug addiction, and I don’t often see that kind of struggle in a protagonist. It was interesting to see how that played out in this story.

Ten Seconds Til… by Braxton DeGarmo: A vigilante serial killer with a talent for using explosives… it might be tempting for the police to let this one keep going, but they can’t. And investigating makes them targets as well. I enjoyed the tone of this one, as well as trying to figure out the puzzle.

One Step Back, by Luana Ehrlich: Titus Ray is a US agent under cover in Iran, recruiting sources of information. Most thrillers like this are too intense for me, and I enjoyed being able to read this one. Titus is an interesting character, and I enjoyed watching him carry out his covert operation in such a different setting.

Undercut, by Heather Day Gilbert: Romantic suspense, where the heroine, Molly, reconnects with former crush Zane Boone, a PTSD-scarred ex-military sniper turned lumberjack. Zane is convinced someone’s stalking him. He’s very much in alert mode, and it shows in his reactions. It didn’t take long for Molly to impress me, and she certainly carries the heroine role with courage.

Burn Time, by Heather I. James: After serving time for an act of revenge she insists her former boss deserved, Charlie discovers she’s a target: the man thinks she stole something she doesn’t have. Strong narrative voice for the heroine, although this one was a bit too dark for me. I also found the FBI agent kind of goofy, and was surprised to find some minor bad language. Still, a good read.

Full Draw, by Robert Liparulo: Fantastic descriptions, sometimes with a nice dash of humour. Fast-paced, high action, international contemporary thriller blending human and immortal characters. This story lets the characters Hutch and Jagger, from two different Robert Liparulo series, meet, which I found fun.

Malicious Intent, by Jordyn Redwood: When people around mystery author Lexie Sloan start dying in methods straight out of her novels, she becomes the prime suspect. This story lets us meet detectives Brett Sawyer and Nathan Long in their first case together, before the start of Jordyn Redwood’s Bloodline Trilogy. They look like they could be an interesting team.

Zero Sum, by Jan Thompson: A high-tech cyber thriller, where a team of hackers have been involuntarily implanted with devices that can kill them – can Cayson Yang stay alive long enough to find someone to get the technology out of his head? I had trouble figuring out what was going on in this story, in part because I haven’t read the author’s other books to know who the people and organizations were. At the end I’m still not sure who did this to Cayson and his team, or how. Or who some of the players were.

This collection was definitely worth buying. I did find some stories had typos, but most didn’t. I’ve found some new-to-me authors to follow, and read new stories from authors I already enjoy. It’s a mix of straight-up thrillers and romantic suspense, and the variety is a good thing in a collection this long.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

NaNO? NaYES! (Guest Post)

NaNO? NaYES!

by Steph Beth Nickel

Most of you are likely scratching your head.

What on Earth does that title me?

Well, those of you who are writers have likely heard of NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write 50K words in 30 days.

Crazy? Some may think so. But thousands of people all over the world are sharpening their pencils and limbering up their keyboarding fingers.

Although I have participated in the far more flexible Camp NaNo a number of times, I’ve never taken the plunge and actually signed up for NaNoWriMo. All that changed this year and I’m diving in.

Sh! Don’t tell anyone, but I hope to make significant progress on a story I’ve had in mind for a very long time. The point of the challenge is to write the first draft—or close to it—of a new novel during the month of November, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I really want to write My New Old Life.

So how can I set myself up to “win” NaNoWriMo? How can you set yourself up to achieve your goals—whatever they may be?

Learn from those who’ve gone before. (Tweet this.)

Although it may feel as if you’re alone, there are those who have gone before you, who know what you’re facing, be it an exciting new challenge or a heartbreaking situation.

I’m so thankful for those who have gone before, who know the pitfalls to avoid, who know how to plot a course (or a story), who know sometimes you just have to “feel the feels,” as the saying goes.

I would encourage you to learn from those with a positive attitude, who are further along on the journey. I have listened to some NaNoWriMo veterans on YouTube who shared great advice. I have also listened to some who share more about what went wrong. That’s not necessarily helpful or encouraging.

Plot out the journey—at least the highlights.

For the most part, I’m known as a pantser in writing circles. Come to think of it, I kind of live life that way as well.

I love paper planners and journals. They enable me to dream and pretend to be super organized. But I’m the kind of person who doesn’t mind getting to the end of the day not having checked everything off my To Do list. In fact, I can’t remember a time I actually accomplished everything I’d set out to do on any given day.

But when it comes to crazy big goals, like writing 50K words in a month, some plotting comes in handy. If I know the major plot points I want to hit in the story, it will keep me moving in the right direction.

And if we know the major points we want to hit along this journey called Life, we will have a better chance of achieving our goals as well.

Plan to succeed. (Tweet this.)

While it’s okay to participate in NaNoWriMo and write 30K, 20K, even a few hundred words—after all, it’s more than we had written at the beginning of November—it’s best to go in planning to win.

And that’s the way it is with other things in life as well.

I’ll never have a clean, organized home. So why bother trying? They’ll never hire me for that job. Why even apply? I’ll never be thin. Why bother eating healthy and exercising?

It’s so easy to give up before we even get started. Let’s set ourselves up to succeed instead and take one step at a time in the right direction.

Don’t give up when things don’t go as planned. (Tweet this.)

We all know that it doesn’t matter how carefully we schedule our day or plan our life’s course; things will always come up that have the potential to derail us all together.

While we may have to reconsider our plans and dreams, it doesn’t mean we have to abandon them altogether. We just have to be willing to reprioritize as needed, and, as Christians, we must believe the promise in Romans 8:28, that God is working everything out for our good.

Fireworks image with the words, "Celebrate the victories -- no matter how small."

Celebrate the victories, no matter how small.

Many NaNo participants set up a reward system for achieving word count goals during the month of November, the more words, the more extravagant the reward. This kind of system keeps some pressing on.

Whether or not you choose to reward yourself when you make progress toward your goals, it’s a good thing to celebrate in some way. Too often we become discouraged when we don’t achieve our ultimate goal, when we don’t cross off everything on our To Do list.

Let’s celebrate the “small” victories in our life—and in the lives of those around us. (Tweet this.)

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Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel
(Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.

40% off Secrets and Lies

If you haven’t read my romantic suspense novel, Secrets and Lies, now’s the time. You can grab a copy for Kobo at 40% off from October 26-30, 2017.

Don’t usually read on Kobo? No big deal. The reading app is a free download from the Google Play store or the Kobo site. New customers get a $5 credit, which means you get my book for free with some credit left over!

40% off Secrets and Lies for Kobo, worldwide. Oct 26-30/17

Review: You Are What You Love, by James K. A. Smith

You Are What You Love, by James K A SmithYou Are What You Love, by James K. A. Smith (Brazos Press, 2016)

This book is a call to “worship well. Because you are what you love. And you worship what you love. And you might not love what you think. Which raises an important question. Let’s dare to ask it.” [page xii]

With fresh, engaging language, the author explores the habits in our culture, in our lives, in our churches – especially churches which practice some form of liturgy. He points to the dichotomy between the way we intend to live, honouring to God and growing nearer to Him, and the way we often live instead, with habits and attitudes we don’t even know we’re carrying.

He asserts that we’re not just “thinking things” – we’re influenced by our desires and our loves. From that perspective, it’s vital that Christians identify what we most deeply value so that we can set our hearts on God. Calibrating our hearts to focus on God, James Smith says, takes practice. Habit is part of this practice.

For those in liturgical churches, a significant part of that practice is found in the creeds and prayers that have been unconsciously absorbed and now shape the believers’ worldviews. No matter what a believer’s background, the book encourages us to identify and evaluate the rituals in our lives and in our households, with a view to eliminating some and creating others that will lead to healthier and more worshipful spiritual lives.

I don’t come from a liturgical background, and I know that formality can often become rote and ignored, but this book helped me see more of the value of internalizing the tenets of Christianity through the creeds and prayers – and of course through Scripture memorization, which we can all work at on our own.

At a first read, I was disappointed, because the book called to a felt need in my life, to worship deeper and more truly, and I felt it raised the issue but didn’t give a solution. Discussion with friends helped me see that the solution is present all the way through the book instead of in a concluding summary like I had expected. Thus, it takes more work to find and apply, but that’s life. An author handing out a pat and easy, formulaic take-away would not be truly helping readers.

The take-away is this: a challenge to become aware of the influences on our hearts, and to take corrective action as necessary to develop new habits of the heart and spirit. In beginning to do this, I’m seeing small but healthy changes in my life, and I believe that new habits are forming.

If you’ve read You Are What You Love, take a look at the discussion questions, which include brief videos from the author as well as printed questions. I had already marked this as a book to re-read and allow to steep in my understanding, and this will definitely be an asset.

Award-winning author James K. A. Smith is professor of philosophy at Calvin College, Michigan. For more about the author and his work, visit jameskasmith.com. You Are What You Love received the 2017 Grace Irwin Award, Canada’s largest literary prize for a book written by a Christian author.

[Review copy from my personal library.]