Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cover Girls

The winner of Jenny B. Jones' So Not Happening is (drumroll please...) a King's Daughter! So, please send me an email with info, and I'll get this in the mail to you!

This week's give-away is my own Speak Through the Wind--Book #2 in the Crossroads of Grace series. Now, since it's my own book, it seems a review would be in poor taste, but for those who aren't familiar with the story, here's the back-cover blurb:

When Reverend Joseph plucks a gravely wounded child from the mean streets of Manhattan’s rough Five Points District, he intends to give her a real home. And though Kassandra flourishes in the preacher’s house, learning Bible verses at his knee and going to school, as a young teenager she makes the first of many devastating decisions, running away from the only haven she’s ever known.What follows is a waking nightmare: life in a tiny room above a brothel, the loss of a child, a lover’s rejection, and finally, life as a prostitute. As circumstances lead her further and further from the reverend’s secure home, an ashamed Kassandra is certain that neither God, nor Joseph, will ever forgive her.Feeling as though she has nothing left to lose and nowhere to go, Kassandra leaves behind her hopes of redemption and heads west to California, where she is transformed into the woman known as Sadie. Unfortunately, nothing in her life is pointing to a happy ending, and Sadie is forced to grapple with the question: Once you’ve passed the point of no return, can you ever go back?

Now, while I'll somehow refrain from touting this as the greatest book ever, I will go on a limb to say that, of the three books in the Crossroads series, this one happens to be my favorite. A little deeper, a little darker than the others--different from a lot of what happens out there in the world of historical Christian fiction. I say this at the risk of a week-long empty comment box, but there you go. I have to say, too, that this book is possibly one of my favorite book covers, ever. Maybe I'm feeling a little nostalgic because this week I'm grappling with the design for my next novel, tossing ideas back and forth, trying to find just the right look that will appeal to both my fabulous audience and my own personal prejudice. I look at the cover of Speak Through the Wind and ask myself, "What is so intriguing about this cover?" and it comes to me.
It's the woman's face.
You can't see it.
As I was writing Speak Through the Wind, I wanted to bring forth an element of relatability. It's my prayer that nobody who reads this book is ever literally in the same situations that Sadie finds herself in, but there is a strong theme of accountability. How often do we find ourselves in dire straits directly because of the choices we made? Right now I'm raising my hand up high, thinking about a lifetime of some pretty stupid (and some downright reckless) decisions I've made. And, oh, how thankful I am every day for God's loving, merciful grace! I'd like to think that, having Sadie's face hidden, readers can actually connect with her on a deeper level.
But, that's just me.
So, what about you? What is it on a book cover that makes you pick it up off the shelf?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

On Ed, and Farrah, and Michael...

I was just going into my sophomore year of high school when MTV first planted its flag on the green-screen moon. I remember it being a premium channel, and begging my father to pay to have it added to our cable. I even offered to take a cut in allowance--but my kind-hearted daddy would have none of that, and by the middle of my Junior year, there it was, in all its weird 24-hour glory. I remember one night my friend Nan and I stayed up all night finishing a project for our Humanities class. We took turns at the typewriter--while one of us typed, the other watched MTV. Then we went out for breakfast and straight to school. It was one of the best nights of my life. The day? Not so much. I fell asleep and drooled in Humanities, and got a low score on the paper. Go figure.
I mention this in light of the loss of these three iconic entertainers, because in some way the birth of MTV ushered in an era that makes the kind of stars they were obsolete. Think about it--as Johnny Carson's side-kick, Ed McMahon's "Heeeere's Johnny!" signaled to people everywhere that it was time to wind down the day. MTV told the world it was perfectly fine to sit up and stare at crude, colorful, creepy mini-movies all night long. Farrah came onto the scene with a distinct style--a look so unique, yet so simple, no woman could ever dream of capturing it. MTV brought us hordes of identical back-up dancers, not to mention the Madonnas and Cyndi Laupers who presented images imitated by 3rd graders right down to the Kool-Aid-colored hair and lace gloves.
And, Michael Jackson. Face it--Jackson would not have had the career he did if not for Music television. How else would he bring his distinctive dance to the world stage? How else could he capture and share his multi-dimensional talent? Last night, MTV aired back-to-back videos, and my sons laughed at the simplicit of "Rock with You." Just Michael singing in front of a huge green screen of what looked like caramel candies.
"That's it?" The mocked.
"That was the beginning," I said. Later, we sat raptured through Thriller.
That was before you could YouTube your favorite videos. I told them about sitting around all night, because the MTV VJ said the Thriller video was coming up that hour. How we'd wait and wait and wait. Then, we'd dance.
I've had a hard time explaining to my boys (age 11 and 15) just how important these three people were, because they live in a totally different world than I did. Todays "stars" are so disposable. So interchageable. Michael Jackson had a distinct sound. Today it seems like all the artists sound alike. Nobody--nobody looked like Farrah. Today, I wouldn't know Megan Fox if she was standing in line next to me at WalMart. And Ed? Ed was a dying breed long before he was a dying man. Quick! Name another TV second-bananna with class.
I don't say this because I'm old--because I'm not. And I don't shun pop culture--I thrive on it. It just seems that with the constant bombardment of images and media, nobody has to work hard to stand out anymore. Why do we know who Heidi and Spencer are? Who will know them 20 years from now? They'll be long, long forgotten while my grandkids are moonwalking.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Mental Reunion

So...lots of great comments about our high school selves--all in great enthusiasm for Jenny B. Jones' book So Not Happening. And, I have to tell you, the reason I connected so much with this book (and there's another one coming...yay!!!) is totally due to the fact that the main character, Ella, is on her high school newspaper staff. With a fantastic opportunity for investigative journalism, and a cute editor-in-chief. Well, I was on our newspaper staff, too, but that's where my connection with Ella ends. Well, that and I had no fashion sense, style-less hair, and a boring, though in-tact, family.

Of course, all of these thoughts brought me straight to memory lane, and I had to ignore every household chore waiting for me and haul out the Mayfield High School yearbooks. I looked at every picture of me, living through the school events much as I did when I was a student--somewhat removed. I looked at pictures of football games I never went to, dances I chose to stay home from, clubs that never drew me in. I remember being not solitary, exactly, but I had a small group of friends--all of us content to have each other. I read the notes scrawled within the cover pages and realized I'm really pretty much the same person now as I was then. I affect people the same way. I'm still really smart, and really funny, and really nice. Really. Some might see it as a frightening thing to remain what they've always been, but not me. I just wish I had the confidence to embrace all of that about myself back then--without the constant worry about not being in the midst of the "in" crowd.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

So Loving this Book...

Congrats to Elizabeth--winner of Riven.

This week's give-away takes us in a whole different direction. It'll make you turn back the clock as quickly as you turn back the pages--back to high school, in fact. But, Bella Kirkwood in Jenny B. Jones' So Not Happening is soooooo not what I was in high school: she's everything I wanted to be.
Here's the blurb:

New York's social darling Isabella Kirkwood just woke up in a nightmare: Oklahoma. Problem is, it's right where God wants her.
Bella Kirkwood had it all: A-list friends at her prestigious private school, Broadway in her backyard, and Daddy's MasterCard in her wallet. Then her father, a plastic surgeon to the stars, decided to trade her mother in for a newer model.
When Bella's mom falls in love with a man she met on the Internet--a factory worker with two bratty sons--Bella has to pack up and move in with her new family in Truman, Oklahoma. On a farm no less!
Forced to trade her uber-trendy NYC lifestyle for her down-home charm, Bella feels like a pair of Rock & Republic jeans in a sea of Wranglers.
At least some of the people in her new high school are pretty cool. Especially the hunky football player who invites her to lunch. And maybe even the annoying--but kinda hot--editor of the school newspaper.
But before long, Bella smells something rotten in the town of Truman, and it's not just the cow pasture. With her savvy reporter's instincts, she is determined to find the story behind all the secrets.
How can a girl go on when her charmed life is gone and God appears to be giving her the total smackdown?

I loved, loved, loved this book. Maybe that's because my favorite moments in life were spent watching Molly Ringwald movies. The book is written for an audience of teen-age girls, and if you have one of those in your life, you should enter for a chance to win, because so many of the books targeted to them these days are, frankly, awful. A few years ago I saw every other girl reading a certain book so, intrigued, I read it for myself and felt immediately icky. Jones' book is sweet and clean, but with a comic edge so sharp, she cuts the grown-up chick lit attempts to shreds. I laughed loud and often while reading, all the while appreciating the subtle, but integral, message of faith. And, even if you don't have a teenager to hand the book off to, read it for yourself. It's a sweet summer break, and an opportunity to wish you could go back to highschool--even if only to meet the adorable editor of the newspaper.

Yeah--it was the high school newspaper aspect that hooked me. I, too, was a budding teen-age journalist. But the most interesting story I ever got to cover was the introduction of the cafeteria salad bar. Nothing like the exciting adventures of Bella. sigh...
That was me. Here's what Jenny B. Jones has to say about her high school life: In high school, I was the girl who knew I had a good thing going. I wasn't in a big rush to grow up and get out of school because I LOVED high school. Junior high and middle school I wouldn't do over again for anything, but high school was a great time. I saw my friends every day, I ate questionable food without caring, and I actually liked going to class. Except science. Ew. High school was a lot of fun. I remember giggling a lot and just being carefree. I was busy all the time--games, friends, studying, friends, the occasional job, friends. I loved that the world was all ahead of me. So many possibilities. I could be anything. I was also the girl who took a huge tanker of ice tea to school every day. It went with me everywhere like a security blanket. Me and Lipton. Together forever.

So, who were you back in the day?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Third Sunday in June

I am horrible with holidays. Really. If the entire world didn't remind me to get my Christmas shopping done, I never would. I've been known to forget my own birthday, as well as having been totally taken by surprise by those of my own children. So, these media-driven, Hallmark-created fauxdays? Hopeless. Not that we don't observe Father's Day. But, trust me, it's nothing to build a 7-minute morning news segment around. Gifts are always modest--think, $20 range. We go to church, go home, nap, then hit a restaurant after the post-worship lunch crowd has thinned out. It's basically the same as Mother's day, only we go to Chuy's instead of Outback.

Actually, in recent years, Father's Day has been pretty painful. Oh, I still have my own father, but my brother passed away a few years ago, and with every commercial hawking ties and grills, I think about my neice and nephew watching that same commercial with a hole in their heart. And this year...well, this is the first Father's Day since the death of my husband's dad, so I've been kind of dreading it. Turns out, though, God (and my father-in-law) had a plan.

See--this weekend, my hubby is in Las Vegas. Yep. Vegas, with his brothers. Courtesy of their father's last wish. See, in his will, he left money specifically for his boys to have a weekend together in his beloved vacation spot. Whether or not he intended it to be over this weekend...dunno. But this was the weekend that worked for everyone, so I think it's absolutely fine. I don't need a commercially-imposed celebration of the father my husband is. He's a terrific dad every day, and we love him and honor him 365 days a year. (OK, 364--I steal the spotlight in May.)

So, on Sunday, I'll be sitting around with my boys--maybe just eating pizza--and texting their father occasionally to remind him (and his brothers)to stay out of trouble. I'll know in their bizarre, Pittman way, they're honoring their earthly father even as my boys will be thanking their Heavenly father for giving them such a great dad.

Monday, June 15, 2009

This Week's Give-Away

First of all...the winner of Rose House is......Edna!! Congrats, Edna--this is a great book.

OK, this week's book comes to us from an author to whom all Christian novelists owe their gratitude. Jerry B. Jenkins blazed a huge trail with his Left Behind series, creating a path for others to follow. His novel, Riven, is a departure from that series, and let me tell you, this is a big ol' fantastic summer-read book. At 500+ pages, get ready to plunge into a story tailor-made for the dedicated, serious reader.

Here's the blurb:

You would never expect the paths of Brady Darby and Thomas Carey to cross. The teenage Brady is an outsider from the wrong side of the tracks who’s trying to find his place in life while still somehow protecting his little brother from their negligent mother. Thomas is a preacher without a flock, as he and his devoted wife, Grace, are forced to move towns once again after allowing membership at yet another church to dwindle under their watch. At every turn, Brady’s decisions seem to backfire, even when he tries change by participating in the high school musical. At the same time, Thomas and Grace are immediately rejected by their latest congregation for refusing to give in to politics, and their only child seems to reject them and their lifestyle. Several years later, the worlds of Brady and Thomas collide at a juvenile halfway house. They act as life forces for each other even as their individual worlds sink deeper into misery. Christian fiction author Jenkins covers much ground in this weighty book, and while heroes are made out of those who come to God, Jenkins avoids preachiness and, instead, lets goodness shine.

Now, confession time: I have not personally read this book, so I can't give my own review. But, I will give you a few snippets from the Amazon reviews:

Jerry B. Jenkins calls Riven the book he has always wanted to write, unlike anything he has ever written before.

Riven is a masterful work focusing on the human condition and redemption. Jenkins contrasts one who has tried to do right throughout his life and "failed" with another who has done everything wrong and refuses to take responsibility for his actions. Isn't that a current mindset? Surely, I am not responsible for what I have done? As the two main characters collide, a chain reaction ignites and races to fulfillment, resulting in a brilliant display of the greatest price ever paid, the ultimate responsibility. Both Christian and secular readers will find more than enough to ponder.

This book is by far the greatest work of Jerry Jenkin's life. It is his epic. When a person reaches the magnitude of Jenkins he becomes free to publish the story on his heart rather than the story that might sell. Riven is such a story.

I love that last statment, about Jenkins being able to publish the story of his heart. I've said all along that Stealing Home is the story of my heart. So, tell me about a book you've read where you could sense the author's love for the story and the characters. What other books have you read that are stories of the heart?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Happy New Year

...Might seem like a strange title for a mid-June post. Allow me to explain...we just got a new calendar. Yep. Until a few days ago, hanging in our kitchen was some winter scape and a row of boxes for December, 2008. I'm not exactly sure how it happened. Maybe I got too busy in the pre-Christmas shopping to pick one up? Maybe because we were travelling over the official New Year, so I wasn't out bargain shopping. Maybe I was relying on mom to get me one--although it's been years since she's abandoned that tradition. I guess I always figured at some point I'd be at the huge calendar kiosk in the mall, picking one up for 50% off...and then I never did. And let me tell you, this family needs a calendar!

So, since I had pictures on my mind this week, I went to Wallgreens on the web, uploaded a bunch of pictures, and ordered a calendar that runs from June-May. How fun is that? And they are all family Disney pictures, since we're one year away from our BIG vacation next year. (Dear followers, you may sicken of my Disney-esque dreams throughout the year...sorry!)

The point is, I'm huge believer in beginnings. I think every day is the first day of a new year. We have so many jumping off points--First Day of Summer, First Day of a New Age (as in birthday), First Day of School--so now I have a calendar that celebrates my year--stocked with images of memories upon memories.

How about you? Do you keep a family calendar? And do you theme it to your decor? Your passions? Or whatever freebie the bank gave away?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What's Worth a Thousand Pictures...

In the corner of my living room sit 4 of those huge storage containers. What's in them? Pictures. Old photo albums, framed portraits, loose photographs. All inherited from my in-laws' home months ago when I had every intention to get them all sorted, filed, albummed and re-distrubed to hubby's brothers. I still have the intention, and now I have a deadline--next weekend. But that's not what this post is about.

I was looking through one of the albums tonight, and they were, page after page of family and friends wearing short courdory shorts and OP T-shirts. Feathered hair, tube socks, orange furniture in a room decorated with a powerful conquistadore theme. Hubby wasn't with me as I looked, so I had noone to tell me who any of these people were. I could recognize his brothers, but that's about it. The cousins are all strangers.

Then, on the next few pages came the dogs. One after another, pictures of the family pets, each carefully labelled with its name and the date of the photograph. And I thought to myself, this is crazy! Who cares about the dogs? Who are these people? But then it came clear to me...I'm sure when Jean put these pictures on the sticky pages, it never occurred to her that anybody would have any trouble identifying the people in them. They were constant familiar faces in her life. They were comfortable in her home. They were family--blood and other.

Earlier today I spent the afternoon at a friend's house, my son and some other children swam in the pool for a good part of the day. Like the dutiful mother, I snapped pic after pic. As soon as I got home, I uploaded and emailed them. And I had this vision...someday, far in the future, is my son going to be zipping through a dusty hard-drive, looking at these images, vaguely remembering the day, and wondering...who are these other kids? Now, I can easily delete these, but I'm stuck with the dilemma of hundreds of photos and nobody (not even hubby) knows who's in the picture. It's a lot easier to delete than toss...

Monday, June 8, 2009

This Week's Book...

Congratulations, Carly--you're the winner of Ten Thousand Charms. Quick side note--a few evenings ago, I had the opportunity to just sit in a Starbucks and talk writing with my lovely friend Elizabeth, and I ended up talking about this book a lot--kind of like revisiting an old friend. So, Carly, I hope you enjoy!!
This week's give-away will take you down an intriguing, intertwining path. It's Rose House by the lovely Tina Ann Forkner.

Rose House is Fornker's second novel (a follow-up to Ruby Among Us), and in it she takes us back to the beautiful Californian wine country. Although there are a few returning characters, it's not a sequel to Ruby. Rather, it is its own haunting tale of woman still in the grips of mouring unspeakable loss, and the healing that comes through the faith she discovers and the friends who embrace her at a charming, although somewhat haunting, cottage. The whole time I was reading Rose House, I had this feeling of watching an old movie...you know, the one you stumble across on a Sunday afternoon and just get sucked in. So, while it would be a great read at any point during the summer, it's a fantastic book for that warm, rainy evening, or that quiet Sunday afternoon when everybody else in the house is napping.

One important element in the story is this beautiful, mysterious painting (and its charming, mysterious creator), and Forkner does a beautiful job bringing that painting to life. I can still see it. So, to be entered in this week's give-away, tell me about your favorite painting! One of mine is The Gleaners by Jean-Francois Millet--three women in a nearly barren field, thier faces obscure, their backs bent. It's a depiction of dignity in poverty, and a reminder of my favorite Biblical heroine, Ruth!

So...what's your favorite painting, and why? Doesn't have to be anything famous...truth be told, my absolute favorites are anything my son Charlie creates!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Last Day of School

When I was teaching, this day had a whole different meaning...It's somehow not nearly as much fun anymore. Today, my kids were actually only in school half-day, and I was so tempted to just spend the morning lounging around, watching Regis and Kelly (with Anderson Cooper), just soak in those final hours of solitude and silence. In fact, I went so far as to get back in my jammies and crawl into bed at 8:45. Then, the oddest thing happened...my cat woke me up. Now, our cat Clancie is not an affectionate cat. She treats all of us--me, especially--with barely contained disdain. Yet, the minute I was curled up in my jammies, she was at my side, nudging me and meowing. When I "lovingly" tossed her aside, she was back again. Nudge, nudge, nudge. And the thing is, she did the EXACT same thing on Tuesday. It's like she knows it's time to get up and work out.
Does she hate me that much?
So, yay me...I got up, put on my suit, and managed to be just 3 mintues late for water aerobics (that's my Tues/Thurs workout). Thank you, Clancie. I should have had you in the car with me and my gym clothes yesterday when I was out running errands; I might have actually made it to the gym!
And while I don't see actual pounds melting off, I'm feeling so much better. Gotta really get my diet under control for the poundage. But seriously, I didn't work out at all for the entire months of April and May (in May I didn't even walk Stella!), so it's a major back-track...I'm choosing to think of it as being back ON track, and hopefully my body will show me a little grace. In the meantime, I'm a snacker by nature, so tell me, what's the ONE healthy snack you can't do without? For me, it's raw almonds!
And--YAY!!!--My excercise ball I ordered from Amazon just got here! (like, literally, while I was typing).

Monday, June 1, 2009

Monday, Monday, Monday!

First of all, the winner of Stealing Home is turnermd1. So, turnermd1, please send me a private email so I can get your address!

So, look at what we have. It's Monday, June 1st. I know summer isn't "officially" here until the 21st, but how can you not think of kicking off summer on the first of June? So, it's my goal this summer to get everybody reading...something. And, don't worry, not just my books. I have a bunch of great books to give away all summer. However, I'm kicking it off with one of mine--my first book, actually, Ten Thousand Charms. It was the book that kicked off my writing career, so it seems fitting that it be the one to kick off the summer reading series. I won't be giving you a review, but really, I do rather like this one!

Personally, I have a stack of books in a basket by my bed. (don't we all?) But there are certain books that I have earmarked for summer. Frankly, there are some stories that seem less "summer" to me than others. For example, I really don't like to read historicals in the summer. Why? Don't know. Maybe the thoughts of all those petticoats when it's 100 degrees outside. No, when it's hot outside, I like a good comedy, or even a great, dark mystery. I like summer books that are huge and thick to read at home, and little, light romances to carry in my bag when I go to the waterpark.

Since I'll be showcasing so many different books this summer, take a minute and tell me what makes the perfect summer read for you! Your comment enters you in a drawing to win a copy of Ten Thousand Charms. Yeah, petticoats, I know. But you can read it under the air conditioning!