Tag Archives: female journalists

Review: Dear Mr. Knightley, by Katherine Reay

Dear Mr. Knightley, by Katherine ReayDear Mr. Knightley, by Katherine Reay (Thomas Nelson, 2013)

Samantha Moore relates better to the characters in her favourite books than she does to the real people around her. Fired from her job for not “engaging,” she seizes one last chance: a master’s degree in journalism, funded by a mysterious benefactor.

The condition of the funding: she must write to “Mr. George Knightley” and keep him updated about her studies.

So begins a delightful story told through her letters and the occasional reply. It’s the story of Sam learning to let go of the walls she’s put up to protect herself, and discovering who she is.

It’s not as light and fluffy as the cover suggests. Sam’s past is very painful, and her struggle for identity can take hold of readers’ thoughts and not let go. There’s a lot of heart in this book.

It’s also well crafted and funny in places, laced with quotes from Jane Austen and other classics, and Katherine Reay adds plenty of quotable lines, herself, in Sam’s somewhat stream-of-consciousness delivery. Some of my favourites:

(Sam describing her new apartment) And it’s yellow. The way pale yellow should look, like sunshine and butter, mixed with hope and cream. [p. 73]

There are first moments when the eyes tell one’s real emotions, before the brain reminds them to bank and hide. [p. 176]

You can always talk more deeply when running because it feels safe. You can’t directly look at the person next to you. And you can’t hide much in so few clothes and so much sweat. Exhaustion also addles your inhibitions. [p. 232-233]

This is Christian fiction where the faith is subtle. There are Christians around Sam, but she doesn’t notice their gentle attempts to share “crumbs” of faith with her until about half-way through the book. She admires the love she sees in them, but she’s not convinced it would apply to her as well.

Dear Mr. Knightley is a heart-warming first novel from Katherine Reay, and it received multiple awards. For more about this and the author’s other novels, visit katherinereay.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Anna Finch and the Hired Gun, by Kathleen Y’Barbo

Anna Finch and the Hired Gun, by Kathleen Y'BarboAnna Finch and the Hired Gun, by Kathleen Y’Barbo (WaterBrook Press, 2010)

In 1885 Denver, Anna Finch is the youngest of five daughters, and the only one unmarried. She’s far more interested in being a journalist, but her wealthy father would be horrified if a member of his family was known to be employed. He’s frequently horrified anyway by her less-than-decorous behaviour.

When Mr. Finch discovers she’s been out on horseback alone again, disguised as a boy no less, he issues an ultimatum. Anna must marry and become her husband’s responsibility, not her father’s. Until that time, her father hires her a bodyguard.

Jeb Sanders thinks it will be an easy assignment, but that’s before he meets Anna – and discovers she’s the “boy” who shot him. Jeb has also seen Anna talking with the notorious Doc Holliday, the man who killed Jeb’s wife.

Anna is a feisty character, but Jeb is very good at his job. Can he keep her safe while using her connection with Doc Holliday to bring the man to justice?

This is a light-hearted read, but Jeb’s struggle to let go of his need for vengeance gives readers something to ponder.

Favourite line:

Jeb spent the next several minutes staring at the apothecary door, trying to decide just how bad an idea it was to go inside. His stupid side won out. (p. 48)

The novel is the sequel to The Secret Life of Eugenia Cooper, which I hadn’t read. If you plan to read them both, do it in order, because this one clearly refers to events in the first one.

Kathleen Y’Barbo writes both contemporary and historical fiction. Anna Finch and the Hired Gun is book 2 of 3 in her Women of the West series. The full series is also available as a single ebook, The Rocky Mountain Heiress Collection.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Catherine West, Author of Yesterday’s Tomorrow

Catherine West

Catherine West writes stories that connect with readers’ imaginations and with their hearts. Her novel, Yesterday’s Tomorrow, released in 2011 from OakTara Press, and she’s re-releasing it now as an independent author.

Because I loved the story, and because I’m also a newly independent author re-releasing a traditionally-published book, I asked Cathy if we could chat.

Janet: Welcome, Cathy, and thanks for taking time to join us. Congratulations on this second edition of Yesterday’s Tomorrow. Fantastic new cover, which we’ll talk about in a bit. For now, tell us about the story itself.

Cathy: Vietnam, 1967.

Independent, career-driven journalist Kristin Taylor wants two things: to honor her father’s memory by becoming an award-winning overseas correspondent and to keep tabs on her only brother, Teddy, who signed up for the war against their mother’s wishes. Brilliant photographer Luke Maddox, silent and brooding, exudes mystery. Kristin is convinced he’s hiding something.

Willing to risk it all for what they believe in, Kristin and Luke engage in their own tumultuous battle until, in an unexpected twist, they’re forced to work together. Ambushed by love, they must decide whether or not to set aside their own private agendas for the hope of tomorrow that has captured their hearts.

Janet: Yesterday’s Tomorrow is written from a Christian worldview, yet it’s gritty and real. Not the sweet sort of story many associate with the genre. I’m glad there’s room for stories like this. What’s the takeaway it offers to readers?

Cathy: I think readers can really take as much or as little from this story as they wish. The main theme that runs throughout is forgiveness. Both Luke and Kristin make life-changing mistakes they must come to terms with and grieve in their own way, but to truly move past those dark moments they must learn to forgive themselves and each other. I also like the theme of redemption that is ever present. God truly can take any situation and redeem it for good, sometimes when we least expect it.

Janet: Since it’s set during the Vietnam War, you didn’t have to update to match current technology, but did you make any changes for this edition?

Cathy: I worked with freelance editor Mick Silva, on this edition. Outside of one big change, the real magic was in the telling of the story, tightening tension, polishing the prose, and making the plot even more intriguing and motives more believable. I think at the end of it we have an even better offering. I hope readers will agree.

Janet: Do you have a favourite character in Yesterday’s Tomorrow?

Cathy: Ah. Of course. Luke Maddox will forever hold a place in my heart no matter how many books I write. He’s the type of guy you love to hate at the beginning, but by the first half of the book you realize just how wonderful he is and you can’t wait for Kristin to finally wake up and see that too. 🙂
Yesterday's Tomorrow, by Catherine West

Janet: The original cover was striking, but I think the new one is more so. And I like how it reflects both the war and the romance elements. What goes into designing a great cover?

Cathy: I love this cover so much. Dineen Miller did an amazing job! She had read the story, so she knew what I was looking for right off the bat. While still giving some hint of the era and the war backdrop, we really wanted to play up the romance, and I think the images we finally agreed on do that very well.

Janet: When did you decide to get your publication rights back and go indie? Was it a long process?

Cathy: It usually takes about six months for the process to be completed. My agent and I made the decision back in January.

Janet: There’s a lot for an independent author to learn, but more and more people are choosing this route. Do you have a few favourite resources to share?

Cathy: I don’t have a whole lot of experience going this route yet. I’ve joined a few Indie author groups on Facebook and I’m learning a lot from the folks there. I’m reading a lot of books on self-publishing and marketing, but I don’t know enough to make any recommendations yet.

Janet: What’s the most exciting thing for you as an indie author?

Cathy: I like having control over my books, I guess. It’s all so new that I’m not really sure yet. 🙂 It’s nice to know that if I want to do a free or 99 cent day offering, I can do that.

Janet: What’s the biggest challenge?

Cathy: I was fortunate to be able to work with my agency Books & Such, on this Indie venture, so they dealt with Amazon and all the formatting etc… I imagine that would be very difficult and I was glad not to have to do that! The biggest challenge, I think, will be marketing and making sure the book gets the best exposure. But that’s the same with traditional publishing as well.

Janet: Do you have any advice for beginning writers, especially those considering the independent route?

Cathy: Independent publishing is a viable option nowadays, but you really want to make sure you’re putting your best work out there. I highly recommend working with a freelance editor on any project, even something you’re planning to submit to an agent or publisher. It’s really hard to pick up mistakes, grammar or spelling, when you’ve read something over a hundred times! And objective, professional eye – an editor with experience – is worth the investment. There are many to choose from so ask around, get recommendations from authors you trust, and really make sure that you find someone you believe you can work well with, especially if you want a substantive edit rather than just a line edit.

Janet: Are you planning to re-release your second novel, Hidden in the Heart, as well?

Cathy: Yes, that is in process.

Janet: What other projects do you have in the works?

Cathy: I have four completed novels making the rounds at the moment, so we’ll see what comes next with those.

Janet: Life is more than writing. Tell us something you appreciate about living in Bermuda.

Cathy: I love the beauty of this island. The sparkling blue waters, pink sands, green hedges and colourful flowers everywhere, no matter the time of the year. I’m not a city person nor do I enjoy winter, so island living suits me fine. There’s also a slower place here, which I like. Nobody’s ever really in a hurry.

Janet: Are you a morning person or a night owl?

Cathy: Hmm. Neither really. I used to be a night owl, I worked well after midnight and still got up and functioned fine the next morning. Not so much anymore. I like to be in bed by 11pm at the latest. I’m definitely not a morning person though. I need my coffee and a couple hours silence before I’m ready to interact with the world.

Janet: What’s your favourite food?

Cathy: I would say chocolate pudding cake, but it’s a migraine trigger for me, so I have to stay away from it. Chilled lobster with hot garlic butter sauce is definitely up there on the list!

Janet: Sounds good to me! Thanks so much for visiting today, Cathy, and all the best with your new ventures. I hope many new readers discover and appreciate your fiction.


Yesterday’s Tomorrow, second edition, is now available in ebook and print formats through your favourite retailers. (The first edition is still available too, with the original cover, so be sure you get the new one.) There have been a few changes for this new edition, but the basic story is the same. You can read my review of the first edition here. I look forward to reading the new version soon.

Review: Out of the Blue, by Jan Wong

Out of the Blue, by Jan WongOut of the Blue, by Jan Wong (Jan Wong, 2012)

This book’s subtitle says it all: “A memoir of workplace depression, recovery, redemption, and, yes, happiness.”

Jan Wong was an award-winning journalist and best-selling author, on staff at the Toronto Globe and Mail, one of Canada’s largest newspapers. She was tough, focused, and unstoppable. Until national backlash to one of her articles triggered death threats and caused the paper to withdraw its support (despite having approved the story in the first place).

I love the title of this book, with its double meaning. The crisis hit “out of the blue” but also the book is Ms. Wong’s story of coming through and out of the “blue” of depression. In the preface she says, “I want to tell you that there is day after night, and hope on the other side.” [p. 10]

Oddly enough, I heard about the book in a conversation about independently-published works. Since I’m now an indie author myself, I listened closer, only to recognize the author from her syndicated columns in my local newspaper. I like her columns, and her story caught my interest.

Out of the Blue is a transparent look back at one person’s major depressive episode. Jan Wong is a gifted writer, and the text flows like a novel except where she adds portions of relevant research. Those never feel like info dumps, but they do remind us we’re reading non-fiction. The author has reconstructed this period in her life from detailed notes and conversations with family and friends, and she offers the disclaimer that her perception of events may not have always been accurate. (For example, was the doctor’s receptionist shrill and impatient or merely efficient? Hypersensitivity affects the interpretation.)

Although every person’s experience with depression is different, I learned a lot from the information she shared. Perhaps my chief take-away was that talk therapy is at least as important as medication, and that the sooner a person can admit they need help, the sooner they can begin to heal. I was startled to learn that one reason we don’t hear more about workplace-induced stress and depression is that employer/employee settlements routinely involve a gag clause forbidding the employee to speak of what happened. Imagine what that does for your healing! Fortunately for us, Ms. Wong held her ground against that clause in her own settlement.

As a Christian, I didn’t necessarily embrace the evolutionary theories in the book, but overall it gave me a much better awareness of the effects of depression. It was also an interesting read, and I was glad to see a positive ending. Because I normally review faith-based writing, I do want to include a language warning. Chapter 3 begins with a burst of profanity. If that’s an issue for you, just skip the first few paragraphs. These words are snippets of quotes from the overwhelming amount of hate mail Ms. Wong received in response to her news article. Their inclusion is to give us a sense of her circumstances.

Canadian author Jan Wong teaches journalism in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and is a columnist for Toronto Life. For more about the author and her work, visit her website: janwong.ca. If you visit, take note of the image showing that Out of the Blue made the bestseller list (despite being independently published) of the very newspaper that failed to support her as an employee in distress.

[Review copy from the public library.]

Review: Yesterday’s Tomorrow, by Catherine West

Yesterday’s Tomorrow, by Catherine West (OakTara, 2011)

It’s 1967. Journalist Kristin Taylor defies convention and flies to Vietnam to take up her father’s legacy of reporting from the war zone. She lands an assignment with a US-based paper and begins producing a string of high-quality articles. Her editor pairs her with Luke Maddox, a photographer with a painful past—and whom she suspects of working for the CIA.

Sparks fly between Kristin and Luke from their first meeting (he nearly shoots her) but so does an attraction that’s hard to ignore. Problem is, Luke’s still grieving for his wife and daughter. And Kristin’s on a mission that leaves no time for personal flings.

Luke’s driver and best friend is a Black soldier named Jonno, who developed asthma after he reached Vietnam but refuses to accept a discharge to go home. The banter between Luke, Kristin and Jonno is fast, funny and sometimes poignant. Jonno gives us a peek into the level of racial oppression going on in the US in the late 60’s.

Catherine West has written a strong debut novel, rich in the sights and sounds of the exotic Vietnam locales. She does a superb job of conveying Kristin and friends’ reaction to the horrors of the war without overloading the reader. And she provides places of respite, like the Saigon orphanage run by a missionary couple who befriend both Kristin and Luke.

The characters are real, and readers can feel their hurts. Yesterday’s Tomorrow is a compelling read that kept pulling me back when I needed to put it down. There’s a strong romantic element, but there’s also a lot of action. With point of view roles shared by Kristin and Luke, I think this is a novel both women and men will enjoy.

Bermuda-based Catherine West is a member of Romance Writers of America and American Christian Fiction Writers, and is a founding member of International Christian Fiction Writers. You can learn more about her at her website, or check out her blog about writing and life. Click here for my interview with Catherine West.

Review: Mirrored Image, by Alice K. Arenz

Mirrored Image, by Alice K. Arenz (Sheaf House Publishers, 2010)

Cassandra Chase loves her job writing an offbeat column with the Lakewood Journal. She’s not happy to be assigned human interest coverage on a recent murder—especially since she bears a strong resemblance to the deceased.

Lakewood is a small town; how can she and the murder victim have not known about one another? Especially when her investigation reveals so many common acquaintances?

Jeff McMichaels is an experienced homicide detective who’s recently joined the local police force. He doesn’t like the influential set’s untouchable attitude—even more so when some of them become key suspects. He also doesn’t like inflammatory journalists getting in the way of his investigation.

Cassie’s not out to cause trouble, just to do her job. But she won’t back down from the detective’s arrogant attitude.

Her home was broken into the night of the murder, and her own life may be in danger. With suspicion falling on those closest to her, McMichaels may be the only one she can trust. And their opposite personalities are definitely beginning to attract.

Alice K. Arenz has created such an intricate web of relationships and secrets that that one of the detectives complains he needs a scorecard. But everything unfolds clearly for the reader.

Cassie is a perky character and I liked her from the beginning, and while I couldn’t guess “whodunit” I had fun speculating on the various possibilities.

The puzzle is set in the prologue, where we see the victim dying. From her thoughts and those of at least two unnamed individuals, we have enough to lead—or mislead—us as we follow Cassie’s and Jeff’s investigation.

Mirrored Image is a romantic suspense that’s closer to the cozy end of the spectrum than the intense or frightening. The murder, and later events aimed at terrorizing Cassie, aren’t graphic or traumatic to readers. It’s a book that kept me reading, kept my mind guessing about the plot, without being too scary to read at bedtime.

I’ll definitely be looking for more from Alice K. Arenz. Her follow-up novel to Mirrored Image is An American Gothic, to release in October 2011. In the mean time I’ll be checking out her more comedic cozy mysteries, The Case of the Bouncing Grandma (a finalist in the 2009 American Christian Fiction Writers Book of the Year Contest) and The Case of the Mystified M.D. (which received the 2010 ACFW Carol Award for Mystery).

Alice is one of October 2010’s featured authors at the American Christian Fiction Writers’ site. To learn more about her and her books, visit the A.K. Arenz website.

[Review copy provided by the author in exchange for an unbiased review.]

Review: In Every Heartbeat, by Kim Vogel Sawyer

In Every Heartbeat, by Kim Vogel Sawyer (Bethany House, 2010)

Libby Conley and her friends Pete and Bennett formed a strong bond growing up together in a small orphanage. September 1914 finds them transplanted into residence at the University of Southern Missouri, sponsored by scholarships.

Libby dreams of becoming a famous journalist, Pete is studying for the ministry, and Bennett wants to dive into fraternity life. And although they’re on the same campus, each one carries goals and wounds that threaten to pull their friendship apart.

In Every Heartbeat brings a slice of American history to life. Social conventions carry great weight on- and off-campus. It’s a rarity for a woman to have a career as a writer (or to wear her long hair down, let alone wearing “britches”). And physical discipline is matter of course behind family walls—making abuse almost impossible to prove.

This is a delightful story of friendship, faith and love, and of learning to know God’s presence “in every heartbeat”. Libby (or Elisabet, as she wants to be known in journalism) is a feisty, unconventional young woman, and I enjoyed her.

I’d heard good things about Christian author and inspirational speaker Kim Vogel Sawyer, but this is the first of her novels I’ve read. It follows the award-winning My Heart Remembers, which featured the Gallagher siblings who are now adults running the orphanage where Libby and her friends grew up.

You don’t have to read one to read the other, but I now plan to go back and find out how Maelle, Isabelle and Matt came to be who they are. The hints about their past in In Every Heartbeat intrigued me, and I’d like to read more about Maelle.

I couldn’t find a sample chapter online, but the Bethany House site has an interesting Q&A with Kim Vogel Sawyer. You can also find her on her website and as one of the contributors to the Writes of Passage blog.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications Inc. Available now at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House,  a division of Baker Publishing Group.]