Category: books

While it’s true we ought not to judge a book by its cover, I can certainly affirm that we still pick up a book based on its cover. We may even buy it for its cover. The cover evokes a response. Pick me up! Pick me up!
And I have to say, I love the cover of my friend Beth White’s new book, Tour de Force. I like covers that combine a bit of the human element (not the whole body or even the whole face) an intriguing color palette, a font that communicates story, and a title that draws me, introduces hints of conflict with its very word choice.

Everything about this cover fits the bill for me, include the elegant toe shoes paired with the opposing word “force.” Here’s what the book is about.

A Passion for Dance ~
Gilly Kincade is a rising star on the New York ballet scene. Dancing is her life’s passion, second only to her love for Jesus, and she believes her faith sets her apart–but hasn’t held her back. Chosen for a plum role in a new ballet choreographed for her, it seems the sky’s the limit. Then she meets Jacob Ferrar . . .

A Passion for God~
Jacob Ferrar has left behind the glittering temptations of stardom in New York ballet. He has established a reputation as a brilliant, innovative artistic director of a regional dance company in Alabama, with a vision for choreography that glorifies God and encourages the audience. In fact, he’s certain nothing could make him go back . . .

When Jacob offers Gilly the lead in his original Easter ballet, she begins to reevaluate what she’s willing to sacrifice for dance. And he sees exciting potential of shining light on the world’s dark stage. But their brilliant first performance is destroyed by a terrible accident, and Gilly and Jacob find themselves facing an uncertain future. Together, they dance the fine line between personal vision and God’s will, listening for the beat of the Father’s heart.

Here’s Beth in her own words:

Q: Beth, what inspired you to write a novel about ballet dancers?
A: Gillian Kincade was a character in last year’s Off the Record. As the off-beat teenage sister of Judge Laurel Kincade, Gilly took on such a distinct personality (as characters often do) that she demanded a story of her own. Readers have written to ask if she follows through with her crush on musical heartthrob Tucker McGaughan…To be blunt, no. Too easy. But rest assured, Tucker makes his appearance in Tour de Force.

Q: So were you ever a dancer yourself?
A: If you could see the bruises on my knees just from trying to make it across the Wendy’s parking lot, you wouldn’t ask that question. But since you did…I once took tap, jazz and rudimentary ballet as a child. I learned just enough to pick up elements of the dance language. Everything I know about professional ballet has come from interviewing and observing real dancers, notably the exquisite Kathryn Morgan of New York City Ballet and Kathy Thibodeaux of Ballet Magnificat! in Jackson, Mississippi.

Q: What spiritual take-away is involved in a story about dancers?
A: I was interested in exploring challenges to Christian artists in general. The Scripture I kept coming back to is Luke 12:48: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Debates have gone one for decades (probably centuries, for all I know) regarding Christian art. For example, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, the story goes, discussed whether the world needs more “Christian writers” or “writers who are Christian.” The only way I knew how to tackle the subject was to create characters who must face those questions, take a stand, and either live for God—or not.

It’s my belief that flawed people are more interesting than perfect ones. They’re also more real. Though Gilly and Jacob aren’t “real” in the obvious sense, they do struggle to cope with universal issues. How much overt “witnessing” should a Christian performer or teacher do? What’s the line of grace between acceptance (“tolerance”) of the lifestyle choices of non-believing friends and sticking up for morality and truth? How should we respond when God seems to pull the rug out from under our dreams and desires? Are Christians allowed to feel disappointed? My job as a novelist is not to preach the answers to those questions, but to draw pictures of possibilities and to point readers back to God’s Word—the only place to find answers. If I

succeed in making readers think and pray, then I’m happy.

Q: This book has a subtitle, “A Love Story.” Is there significance to that?
A: Well, I’ve always considered myself a romance writer, but this one is truly focused on the development of relationships—not just between the hero and heroine. Tour de Force explores friendship, family love, and God’s love. It was a very satisfying book to write. I hope readers will like it.

Have a lovely weekend, everyone. On Monday, my thoughts on The Zookeeper’s Wife. . .

Today I am showcasing two new books by wonderfully talented writing friends, Christy winner Tamera Alexander, who writes romantic historicals, and Marlo Schalesky, a fellow Random House author and a 2009 Christy finalist.

Tamera Alexander’s latest release is Beyond This Moment, a Timber Ridge Reflections novel. Here’s a quick peek:

Lives are made up of tiny steps. Some are chosen for us; some we choose.
All hold the power to change who we become—but only if we let them.
When Dr. Molly Whitcomb, Professor of Romance Languages, steps off the train in Colorado Territory, she makes a choice—one that goes against everything she stands for. Yet it’s the only choice that offers her a chance to regain a fraction of all she’s lost.

Sheriff James McPherson’s instincts about people rarely miss the mark. He senses Professor Whitcomb is hiding something. He just doesn’t know what. When James learns Molly’s secret, his own reputation is undermined. But when Molly Whitcomb’s reinvented life begins to unravel, it threatens his job, the stability of Timber Ridge, and what he always knew to be true about himself.

What others are saying about Beyond This Moment:
“Pull up a comfy armchair! The main and secondary characters in Beyond This Moment instantly become people to care about, and the plot twists will keep you turning pages long into the night. The themes of racial tolerance and second chances are as timely today as they were back in the early days of Colorado’s history.” -Romantic Times, 4 1/2 star review

To learn more about Tammy, or to see her beautiful website, or to enter a contest for a free book, click right here.

And new from my fellow WaterBrook author and Christy-nominated friend, Marlo Schalesky: If Tomorrow Never Comes:

Childhood sweethearts Kinna and Jimmy Henley had simple dreams—marriage, children, a house by the sea…everything they needed for happily ever after. What they didn’t plan on was years of infertility, stealing those dreams, crushing their hopes. Now, all that’s left is the memory of young love, and the desperate need for a child to erase the pain. Until…

Kinna rescues an elderly woman from the sea, and the threads of the past, present, and future weave together to reveal the wonder of one final hope. One final chance to follow not their dreams, but God’s. Can they embrace the redemptive power of love before it’s too late? Or will their love be washed away like the castles they once built upon the sand? The past whispers to the present. And the future shivers. What if tomorrow never comes?

Marlo Schalesky is the award winning author of seven books, including her latest novel, If Tomorrow Never Comes, which combines a love story with a surprise ending twist to create a new type of novel that she hopes will impact readers at their deepest levels. Marlo’s other books include Beyond the Night (just nominated for a Christy Award – yay!), Veil of Fire (winner of the 2008 ACFW Book of the Year, historical category), and Empty Womb, Aching Heart- Hope and Help for Those Struggling with Infertility.

Marlo is also a California native, a small business owner, and a graduate of Stanford University (with a B.S. in Chemistry!). In addition, she has earned her Masters in Theology, with an emphasis in Biblical Studies, from Fuller Theological Seminary.

Marlo lives with her husband and five young children in a log home in Central California. When she’s not changing diapers, doing laundry, or writing books, Marlo loves sipping Starbucks white mochas, reading the New Testament in Greek, and talking about finding the deep places of God in the disappointments of life.

Susan: How did you come up with the concept for If Tomorrow Never Comes?

Marlo: “If Tomorrow Never Comes began with a single image that popped powerfully into my mind – an old man, walking along a foggy beach at dawn, bending to pick up an old locket from the sand. The rest of the story grew from there. The funny thing is, when you read the book, you’ll find that Kinna finds the locket, not an old man. But originally the image of the locket in the sand was so intriguing to me that I kept thinking about it until a story began to develop.”

Susan: How closely is If Tomorrow Never Comes based on your personal experience?

Marlo: “In If Tomorrow Never Comes, the main characters are struggling with the fall-out from infertility. I’ve spent most of my adult life – 15 years – dealing with infertility and miscarriage. I’ve had some successes along the way, and whole lot of failure, disappointment and pain.
So, as far as plot-line goes – what happens to the characters and how they’re changed and challenged through the book – that is uniquely Kinna & Jimmy’s story. But the emotions, the fears, the questions they face are things I drew from my own experience.

The longing for a baby that seems like it will never be fulfilled. I’ve been there. Month after month of trying and failing. Turning into year after year. I’ve been there. Frustration. Doubt. Wondering how God could possibly love me in the midst of this. Been there. Having to pry my white-knuckled fingers off my own hopes and dreams. Been there. Choosing to love anyway. Choosing to believe anyway. Choosing to trust God anyway. Been there.

It seems that just about every deep and meaningful thing I’ve learned about God, I can point to my journey through infertility and say, “Yeah, infertility taught me that.” It taught me that I’m not the god of my life. God is. It taught me there are things I cannot control, cannot achieve, no matter how hard I try. And sometimes we must choose to live the life God has given us, with love and hope, even when it’s not the life we dreamed.

Because infertility taught me that God calls us not to the pursuit of our dreams, but to love. “Love one another,” Jesus says. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” God taught me that through the journey of my own infertility. My hope is that If Tomorrow Never Comes will reveal the same truths to others as well.”

See you on Friday when I will lament the loss of interesting mail. . .

New from Terri Blackstock

My good friend Terri Blackstock, one of the loveliest and gentlest souls on planet, has a new book out that I am happy to chat about today. Terri is a gifted writer of suspense and knows her stuff. Here is the scoop on Double Minds:

Were the bullets intended for her?
As talented singer/songwriter Parker James struggles to make her mark on the Nashville music scene, she finds the competition can be fierce – even deadly. When a young woman is murdered at the recording studio where Parker works, Parker is drawn into a mystery where nothing is as it seems. Unraveling the truth puts her own life at risk when she uncovers high-level industry corruption and is terrorized by a menacing stalker. As the danger escalates, Parker begins to question her dreams, her future, and even her faith. Does stardom even matter anymore?

“Blackstock’s superior writing will keep readers turning pages late into the night to discover the identity of the culprit in this amazing mystery. The unique setting and peek into the Nashville music scene are fascinating. Suspense lovers are in for a delightful treat.” Romantic Times, February 2009.

Terri Blackstock’s books have sold six million copies worldwide. Known for her “Up All Night Fiction,” Terri has had over twenty-five years of success as a novelist. Terri makes her home in Mississippi, where she and her husband Ken are enjoying their empty nest after raising three children.

See the Video Trailer for Double Minds at www.terriblackstock.com

The mockingbird flies in for a visit on Friday. I promise.

The Face

A few weeks back I was thrilled to hear The Shape of Mercy was named to Publisher’s Weekly’s list of Best Books in 2008 and to be on that list with friend and fellow novelist, Angela Hunt. Angie’s a gifted storyteller and a veteran of the craft. Today on the Edge, we are talking to Angie about The Face, her latest book, and also one of PW’s favorites this year.

Here’s the teaser on the backcover: “Born to parents who died shortly after her birth, twenty-year-old genius Sarah Sims has been hidden all her life in a secure CIA facility. Yet her days of anonymity are limited because her aunt has discovered her existence and is determined to lead Sarah out of exile. But before she can leave the only world she’s ever known, Sarah needs what most people take for granted . . . a functioning face and the skills to use it. Will she remain in her secluded fortress or summon the courage to follow her heart?”

Edgewise: Your main character is a victim of Treacher-Collins syndrome, a rare disease that causes severe facial defects. Sarah literally has no discernible face and her disease is the vehicle for plot development. Did you have any personal connection with this disease or specific reasons for highlighting it in your novel?

Hunt: Last year I watched a special on the Discovery Channel about a real little girl born with Treacher-Collins. She’s still preschool age, but I was so touched by her plight and all she has had to go through to have a functioning face. A novelist naturally asks, “What if?” and so I found myself wondering what might happen if someone like this young girl had the same condition . . . and the story bloomed in my head. I’m also fascinated by the power of beauty, so the story gave me an opportunity to juxtapose the two conditions — beauty and facelessness.

Edge: Like your last novel, The Elevator, The Face is also written in alternating perspectives and in the present tense — rather unconventional. How do you feel that adds to the story and/or the reader’s enjoyment of the book?

Hunt: I like present tense because it adds an immediacy to the story—plus, unlike a past tense narrator who obviously survived to tell the tale, you’re never quite sure if the present tense narrator is going to make it through. I struggled a long time with the question of protagonist—was it Sarah’s story or Renee’s? And then I realized the story belongs to both of them.

Edge: The title represents more than just what the main character lacks. Faces are revealed and discovered through the course of the story. Why the significance on faces?

Hunt: Studies have shown that not only do our facial expressions reveal our emotions, but our emotions can be ignited by our facial expressions. In order to be fully human, Sarah not only had to learn how to communicate through a face, but to feel the emotions her face could convey. On a deeper level, her new face represents an emotional and spiritual rebirth. Because she receives a new face, she receives a new future and a new life.

Edge: Because she has been isolated all her life, Sarah has turned to old movies for her understanding of situations and emotions of the real world. Her idea of reality is based on things she has seen on the screen. Why movies?

Hunt: I like movies, old or new. I knew Sarah would want to know about the world outside her cloistered life, and movies were the most direct way for her to visualize things she could never see. By watching films, Sarah thinks she knows the world. She doesn’t realize that movies are only an imitation of life.

Edge: There is a fair amount of research that went into this novel, from CIA protocol to extreme medical procedures, all of which seem a bit fantastic but are true. How important is it to blend fact into your fiction and what does that do for the overall quality of the story? Is research fun for you?

Hunt: I cut my teeth writing nonfiction and I suffer from rabid curiosity so yes, research is fun for me. Why make something up if it really exists? So I do as much research as I can and travel whenever possible. I spent a week in the Amazon jungle to research one novel, and I visited the Spanish coast for The Face. When I saw an old monastery on an island off the coast of Spain, I knew I’d found the location for Sarah’s fortress.

Edge: What comes first for you, building the characters or building the story?

Hunt: I work with four elements to build a story: plot concept, character, setting, and theme. The plot concept usually shows up first, then the other pieces either fall into line . . . . or I give them a shove.

Edge: Thanks for stopping by, Angie. You can watch a book trailer of The Face on Angie’s website. Angie also has a great blog, one I visit often.

Have a great week, Edglings. See you on Friday.

Parting the Waters

I came home yesterday from a busy day at the day job to a box with books in it. That automatically made it a GOOD day. Inside were the copies of my dear friend Jeanne Damoff’s newest release, Parting the Waters.

I read the manuscript of this book a couple years ago and was moved by the telling of this true story. Jeanne is a gifted writer, that goes without saying. But because she lived this story — breathed it, mourned it and embraced it — the words very nearly seem wet. Wet from the lake water that nearly snatched the life of a beloved son and wet from the tears Jeanne cried at every wonderful and painful moment in the world she began living in when Jacob woke up.

Here’s what WinePress Publishing says about it: “When a tragic drowning accident leaves fifteen-year-old Jacob in a coma, the faith of his family and community is shaken to its foundation. Medical experts used phrases such as “persistent vegetative state” and “Jacob will never wake up,” but Jacob’s parents knew God would have the final say.

“Without sugar-coating the realities of pain and suffering, Parting the Waters presents the heart-warming, true story of what can happen when a community rallies around one wounded family. While Jacob’s parents struggle to preserve their faith and family, the prayers and innovative efforts of community members result in Jacob’s gradual awakening. Each dramatic milestone in Jacob’s recovery creates a new ripple, touching and changing many lives. Told from a mother’s perspective, Parting the Waters is a poignant tale of unexpected beauty found in brokenness.”

Anyone who’s traveled such a hard road could easily be a little grumpy — and who could fault them for it? But Jeanne, a sweetly-tempered Kristin Scott Thomas lookalike, is genuinely joyful. I love the bio on her website: “Jeanne Damoff has been married for 29 years to George, a biologist, poet, and musician. Their three grown children, Jacob, Grace, and Luke, are her favorite people in the world. She has degrees in social work, sociology, English, and secondary education, and has taught such varied subjects as English, Latin, art, music, and cheerleading. For eight years she taught pre-school through junior high Bible, using a curriculum she designed and wrote. Jeanne is a published writer, a professional choreographer, a musician, and a speaker. She loves to laugh and gives points to anyone who makes her laugh out loud. These points are very valuable. Everyone should strive to earn them, starting now.”

Got to love it!

You won’t want to miss her book. Especially if you’ve ever been broken. Or are broken.

Or breaking.

See you on Monday.

Coffee and joy

So my daughter and I are out strolling the mall near her lovely apartment and we stop for a pick-me-up at a cafe with a French name.

I see that cappuccino is written on the menu hanging above the teenage boy at the register. He is wearing a cobalt blue apron and it might possibly be his first day. I ask for a cappuccino.

He frowns. Not at me. Just in general. “Uh. We don’t have that anymore,” he says.

Wow. Okay. No cappuccino at a French cafe. I look up at the menu. Ah! Cafe au lait! French (very nearly) for cappucino!

“I’ll have a cafe au lait,” I say.

“Huh?”

He truly looks as if I’ve asked for a bowl of schnozberries.

“Cafe au lait,” I say.

He repeats what I’ve asked for as if saying the words for the first time in his life. Or perhapa as if he’s speaking to someone ordering from a French cafe for the first time in her life.

“Cafe au lait,” I say, very distinctly and I point to the menu hanging above his sweet head.

He looks at it.

“We don’t have that anymore,” he says.

I want to say, “How about some lembas?” But I don’t. “Can I have a cup of tea?” I say instead. He rewards me with a smile. Tea, they have.

We take our very American drinks to an outside table to enjoy San Diego’s sunshine and I murmur something like what’s the world coming to when you can’t order French coffee at a French cafe, even though I knew that kid was 100% SoCal with not a drop of French in him. “What in the world did he think I was asking him for?” I said to my daughter.

She cracked a grin. “I think he thought you were asking for a Cafe Ole.”

Cafe Ole. As in may I have a taco to go with.

Si! Verdad! Claro. Cafe Ole.

It was muchos minutos before we stopped laughing.


And now, it’s my pleasure to yak about my good friend Robin Lee Hatcher’s new book Bundle of Joy. Robin is one of the nicest people you will ever meet and a lover of happy endings. Here’s what her newest is about:

Alicia Harris says she’s happily married and expecting a baby—but only the last part is true. She can’t bear to tell the grandfather she loves that she’s about to become a single mother. When her grandfather, recovering from a heart attack, drops in unexpectedly to spend the holidays, Alicia is frantic to protect her beloved grandpa from undue stress. She needs to find a fill-in and fast. Childhood friend Joe Palmero fits the bill and is willing to play along. The longer they spend playing their parts, however, the closer Alicia and Joe come to discovering what love, faith and marriage truly mean.

Robin says she discovered her vocation as a novelist after many years of reading everything she could put her hands on, including the backs of cereal boxes and ketchup bottles. The winner of the Christy Award for Excellence in Christian Fiction (Whispers from Yesterday), the RITA Award for Best Inspirational Romance (Patterns of Love and The Shepherd’s Voice), two RT Career Achievement Awards (Americana Romance and Inspirational Fiction), and the RWA Lifetime Achievement Award, Robin is the author of over 55 novels, including Catching Katie, named one of the Best Books of 2004 by the Library Journal. And she really is one of the kindest souls on the planet. You can find her here on the web.

Hidden in the pages

A few years back I read Geraldine Brooks’ debut novel Year of Wonders, a story set in the time of The Plague, and was moved by her literary artistry. Somehow I missed March, which came out a few years later and won the Pulitzer. This one was based on Louisa May Alcott’s fictional March family in Little Women, and imagined for us what the Civil War taught the March girls’ father since in Alcott’s book, we read of his experiences only in his letters to his daughters. It received a starred review in Publishers’ Weekly.

I still need to read that one.

But I just finished her most recent work, People of the Book, and was again taken by Brooks’ ability to usher the reader straight into the complicated past – in all its beauty and ugliness.

In People of the Book, Brooks’ fictinalizes the finding of an ancient Jewish book known to contemporaries as the Sarajevo haggadah. (FYI, the haggadah is the text of the Passover seder and the Sarajevo haggadah is beautifully engraved with artwork, quite unique). Thought destroyed during the bombing of Sarajevo in 1992, it resurfaces in 1996 and Brooks’ character, a rare book expert named Hanna Heath, is called upon to prepare it for display.

When the pages are cracked open, the reader is sent on a secret trip through the centuries. In her restoration work, Hanna finds within the pages a white hair, an insect wing, missing clasps, a smidgeon of salt, a wine stain – all of which point to the haggadah’s 500-year journey. Hanna can only guess how a wing from an Alpine butterfly ended up in a Jewish tome penned in Spain in the fifteenth century, but Brooks takes the reader to the place Hanna can only wonder about. In between the chapters dealing with Hanna’s own peculiar struggles, the reader is let in on all the secrets of the haggadah. It’s sort of a “if-these-walls-could-speak” tale that makes you ponder if only for a second what any antique would tell us if given a tongue.

I imagine the first words across the board might be, “When will you people learn?!”

I was too tired most nights when I picked up People of the Book to read before bed, and I fell asleep more than once with its pages in my face, but I found remarkable satisfaction in being let in on mysteries the wise Dr. Hanna Heath could only speculate about.

Excellent read, Edglings. Off to find March. . .

What if I say something brilliant

Every now and then I pop over to Technorati to get a read on the pulse of my web presence. It’s a vanity thing. Like Googling my name. I tell myself I do this to see how my books are doing. But in truth I want to know if anyone really knows who I am. It can be a humbling experience. Or enlightening one. I don’t do it very often.

Anyway, there is a a quote from Matt Nolastname on the Technorati homepage that always makes me smile. It also kept me from creating my own blog for many, many moons. “71 million blogs . . . Some of them have to be good.” Perhaps you can see why I smile. And cringe. When I went live with Edgewise last week, the blogosphere went from 71,000,000 blogs to 71,000,001. There’s a touch of the absurdly funny there.

The world truly does not need another blog. This was my mantra all those months (okay, more like a couple years) while I read friends’ blogs and posted on friends’ blogs. The world does not need another new blog and I don’t need to have another child. What can I say that hasn’t been said before? Or will be said tomorrow?

Okay, stop right there. If I really believed that, I wouldn’t be writing books. Certainly not fiction. There are no new stories, only new ways of telling old tales. Every story has been told before. The remarkable task of the novelist is to discover new words to describe old plots. What can I say that hasn’t been said before is the wrong question to ask. The right question begins with the word how. How can I say what has already been said before? How can I reinvent Cinderella or Moby Dick or Tale of Two Cities? How can I tell a tale of redemption or quest or sacrifice using old words in new ways?

If there’s no way to to do this, then the world doesn’t need another new book, either. May it never be.

So. The truth is I finally realized I can live with knowing I am a just a voice among a million voices. How did I realize that? Because I am already doing it. With books.

And my other fear? That other thing that kept me from creating my own blog all those months? The fear that I would actually say something brilliant and no one would read it or, dare I say it, pay for it?

Let’s just say delusions of grandeur keep my world an interesting place and provide fodder for the muse. They remind me who I am. Eventually.