Saturday, July 30, 2011

‘The Blessed’ by Ann H. Gabhart – Book Review

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An area of interest to me since childhood is the lifestyle of those who live a simple life, including the Amish and the Shakers. ‘The Blessed’ by Ann H. Gabhart takes us into the world of a Shaker community in Kentucky in 1844 during the U.S. Civil War.

Here is the synopsis of this book:

Trapped by obligation, one woman longs for the freedom of true love. It is 1844 and Lacey Bishop’s life is a tangled mess. When circumstances move Lacey to a nearby Shaker village, she is not prepared for the new life that awaits her. In the midst of deep loneliness, Lacey works to fit in with this odd group. But everything shifts when she finds herself drawn to a Shaker man in a village where such relationships are forbidden.
Can Lacey ever find happiness in this mysterious place?

Here is the biography of the author:

Living just thirty miles from a restored Shaker village in Kentucky, Ann H. Gabhart has walked the same paths that her characters might have walked in generations past. Her thorough research provides a colorful background for her Shaker novels. Her first inspirational novel, The Scent of Lilacs, was one of Booklist’s top ten inspirational novels of 2006. Gabhart is the author of several other bestselling novels, including The Outsider, a finalist for the 2009 Christian Book Awards in the fiction category, The Believer, The Seeker, and Angel Sister.

At the beginning of the book, Mrs. Gabhart shares with her readers ‘A Note about the Shakers:’

In Kentucky, the Shaker villages of Pleasant Hill and South Union have been restored and attract many visitors curious about the Shaker lifestyle. These historical sites provide a unique look at the austere beauty of the Shakers’ craftsmanship. The sect’s songs and strange worship echo in the impressive architecture of their buildings. Visitors also learn about the Shakers’ innovative ideas in agriculture and industry that improved life not only in their own communities but also in the “world” they were so determined to shut away. (pp. 8-9)

Here is an example of their unique music style, as well as their architecture, from Pleasant Hill:

As is the case with other religious entities where there are a myriad of man-made rules, the Shaker community in this book was chock-full of hypocrisy. I was saddened to see so many people who were seeking after God beaten down by legalism. It grieved my heart and my spirit (which is powered by the Holy Spirit; imagine how He must feel).

Despite that pessimistic perspective, there were some Shakers who looked on the bright side. One of them was Brother Asa. Here’s a conversation between him and Isaac, a young man he encountered on one of his trips to town. Isaac begins:

        “I was going west. That was the path I wanted.”
“There’s opportunity there. Land for a man ready to work for it. Fortune perhaps”….
“Fortune.” Brother Asa shook his head. “Fool’s gold most often. Fortune brings no man happiness. Happiness must reside within one’s soul. Then we can reach for fortune in the gifts of the spirit.”
“Is fortune one of those?” Isaac asked. “A gift of the spirit?”
“Nay, not fortune as you speak of it. True fortune lies in the likes of these. Love for your brothers and sisters. The desire to give your heart to God and your hands to work. Tasks that satisfy the need to be useful to our society. Worship that fills your being with light. Songs of joy. Peace.” (p. 83)

I loved the perspective on prayer that Miss Mona (not a Shaker) had imparted to Lacey, the main female character:

Don’t think of prayer as a wish list to hand up to the Lord. You’ll be robbing yourself of Spirit power if you do that. Prayer is more than a list of things you get in your head and think you want. Miss Mona’s voice echoed in Lacey’s ears plain as if she was standing right beside her. Prayer is for asking the Lord to help you deal with whatever befalls you. And plenty is going to befall you. It befalls us all. But the Lord is only a prayer away. (p. 263)

I had the opportunity to read one other novel by Mrs. Gabhart, ‘The Seeker’ (you can read my review here). I really enjoyed that book, and knew I wanted to read this next Shaker book from her pen. It was worth the wait! If you’d like to learn more about the Shakers and their beliefs, I encourage you to read this interesting book!

You can order this book here.

Available July 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.  This book was provided by Revell for review purposes.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

‘The Key to the Kingdom’ by Jeff Dixon – Book Review

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I have been a fan of anything Disney-related for as long as I can remember. So when I read about a book called ‘The Key to the Kingdom’ by Jeff Dixon, I knew I had to read it!

Here is the synopsis of this interesting novel:

In this world, Disney trivia is no game…and the ancient key is the only way out.
Grayson Hawkes learns how imaginative and elaborate Walt Disney World is when he accepts an invitation that lands him in a world he never knew existed. Suddenly unraveling a perplexing puzzle and trying to solve a mysterious disappearance, Hawkes navigates through the kingdom where knowledge of seemingly unimportant Disney facts, and some divine help, are the only way he can discover the answers and get out.
Some of the lines between right and wrong begin to blur, and telling the difference between real and unreal becomes nearly impossible. Loyalty to faith, family, and friends are stretched to the extreme in a pulse quickening adventure through a magical place where dreams really do come true.

Here is the biography of this author:

Jeff Dixon was raised in Florida and has always been fascinated with the man Walt Disney and the theme park he created. Dixon feels that any guest who would take the time to look would discover a story that will never be completed. It is against this canvas that Dixon paints this mystery, adventure, and thriller. The epic drama carries the reader across the state of Florida to discover details that most people have missed. Each discovery and revelation will have the reader wondering if they are reading fact or fiction. In a quickening pace, the characters find themselves on a collision course with an unthinkable outcome! Fans of Walt Disney will love the history and tourists will find a travel guide that takes them on a trip most guests never get to take.
Jeff s a storyteller. Each week he researches ancient manuscripts and examines them for content, meaning, and understanding and describes his findings, using illustrations, to a crowd of listeners at Covenant Community Church in Central Florida. Some people might call this preaching (but that can sound so boring!).
Jeff brings an intensity and passion to communicating that incorporates his early years in Orlando, working at Disney World; his educational trek that landed him at Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas; and the latitudinal and longitudinal journey ministering in churches trying to impact the world. Jeff loves living in the heart of Florida with his family, his friends, and his annual pass to Walt Disney World.

Here is the book trailer for this adventurous tome:

Key To The Kingdom Trailer from Marc Percy on Vimeo.

And here is Jeff answering some questions about his book:

Key to the Kingdom: Questions Received About the Story from Marc Percy on Vimeo.

The main character in this book, Dr. Grayson Hawkes, who is a pastor, has a long history of Disney love. Here we learn some background information, as well as a peek at the magical kingdom created by Walt Disney:

Growing up in Orlando and taking more trips to the Walt Disney World Resort than he could remember gave Hawk a familiarity with Disney property that would rival any expert’s. The Key to the Kingdom tour was meeting at the City Hall on Main Street, USA. In order to get there as fast as possible, Hawk decided to park at the Contemporary Hotel and walk across to the entrance of the Magic Kingdom. Pulling past the security stand at the Contemporary and heading toward the parking area, Hawk took a moment and looked at the futuristic building rising up in front of him. When the Magic Kingdom resort opened, the Contemporary was one of the two hotels that were part of the grand opening celebration. The monorail track that stretch from the Ticket and Transportation Center to the Main Gate passed through the Polynesian Resort Hotel and the Grand Floridian on one side of Bay Lake and through the interior of the Contemporary Resort on the other. Each time Hawk remembered the first time he rode on the monorail as a child it brought a smile to his face. It has almost taken his breath away as he looked out the window when the monorail moved from the outside of the hotel to the interior. It was a childhood memory that was burned into his young mind forever. (p. 29)

That passage transported me back to my first visit to Walt Disney World, when I was about ten years old. Riding on the monorail through the Contemporary Hotel and staying at the Polynesian Resort Hotel are two incredible childhood memories.

One thing I learned about Disney World that I found to be extremely intriguing was Pal Mickey; I had heretofore been unfamiliar with this incredible invention:

…The design of Pal Mickey began in the year 2000 as Imagineers began to flirt with ways that wireless devices could be used to enhance the guest experience in the theme parks. This technology would allow the guest to receive practical and helpful information but also allow the Imagineers to communicate some of the rich stories and details that were such an important part of the design of each unique park. Throughout the Walt Disney World Resort hundreds of hidden infrared transmitters emit information to the toy. The end result is a transponder network designed to keep the Pal Mickey constantly receiving and able to dispense information. The computer system that runs the emitters as well as the computing power inside the doll itself is one that builds and stacks the information so it becomes a genuine interactive experience. (p. 69)

Unfortunately, this technology is no longer active inside the Resort, although Pal Mickey does figure prominently in this book.

Fortunately, Dr. Hawkes shares his faith in the midst of his great adventure. Here is a conversation between him and tour guide Kiran:

“I believe I have been called to follow Jesus. So I live my life based on trying my best to be a God follower. If I am serious about doing that, I have to trust the things that happen fit into God’s plan.”
“And that leaves no room for luck?”
“I guess not. Whatever happens good or bad, I remind myself God is in charge, and because He is in charge, I don’t spend a lot of time asking why. Instead I focus on what I should do or how I should react.” (p. 180)

This book makes me want to book a trip back to Walt Disney World TODAY! The last time I was down there was in January, 2009, when my husband Fred and I participated in the Walt Disney World Marathon (we passed through Epcot, the Animal Kingdom, the Magic Kingdom, and the Disney-MGM Studios). Unfortunately, after crossing the finish line, I had an extreme case of blisters on my heels (picture the skin of a shar pei pup; that’s what my heels looked like!), so wasn’t able to enjoy the Magic Kingdom after we completed the marathon. I greatly look forward to my next visit there!

'The Key to the Kingdom' is a natural for Disney fans! Mr. Dixon takes us behind the scenes, including a peek at the Utilidors, the nine acre network of tunnels underneath Disney World, where Disney characters can travel to their destinations, unseen by the general public, thereby keeping the magical mystique intact. I had heard about this secret aspect of Disney World, but had never ‘seen’ it the way I did in ‘The Key to the Kingdom.’

You can order this book here.

This book was published by Deep River Books and provided by Bring It On! Communications for review purposes. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

We Have a Winner of a Janice Thompson Novel!!

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The Random Number Generator has chosen a winner for your choice of a Janice Thompson novel; that winner is (drum roll, please!!):


Congratulations, Courtney! I will be in contact to get your mailing address.

Courtney had indicated she liked the looks of 'Love Find You in Camelot, Tennessee.' Looks like a great choice to me!

Thanks to Janice for the fun interview, and for the opportunity to share this contest with my blog readers!

There will be more contests to come; please come back often!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Interview and Giveaway with Janice Thompson!

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One of my favorite finds since I've been blogging is Janice Thompson, author of many terrifically entertaining books. I have a fun interview to share with you. And Janice is offering a book for giveaway; read on for the details!  

Let's chat with novelist Janice Hanna Thompson, author of Love Finds You in Groom, Texas (Summerside/Guideposts, June 2011).

Janice Hanna (also published as Janice Thompson) has published more than seventy novels and non-fiction books. She has also published more than fifty magazine articles and several musical comedies for the stage. Janice makes her home in the Houston area near her children and grandchildren.

Please tell us three random things we might not know about you.

My dad was the president of the University of Houston Cougar Cagers Club, so my birthdays, holidays, etc. were spent at basketball games. Our family traveled to Mexico with the U of H Cougars to watch them compete, which was great fun. When I was eleven, I got to play (for fun, of course) with the Harlem Globetrotters, who came to Houston for a visit. To this day, I love a good basketball game.

I once lied to a fellow camper at church camp, telling her that my dad (Billy Hanna) was William Hanna of Hanna/Barbara (Flintstones) fame. That lie still haunts me, though, to his credit, my dad did eventually work as a movie producer on our co-authored movie, Liar’s Moon. (Yes, it’s true. I got to meet and work with Matt Dillon. Eat your heart out, girls!)

I occasionally bake wedding cakes. In 2009 I baked a lovely four-tiered white cake with strawberry filling and cream cheese frosting that toppled less than an hour before the wedding. I managed to piece together two very messy/ugly layers. Thankfully, the bride did not murder me. It made for a great scene in a later book. (Nothing ever gets wasted, not even a mashed piece of cake.)

Please tell us a bit more about the plot of Love Finds You in Groom, Texas.

Always the groomsman, never the groom… It’s 1914, and Jake O’Farrell has gained an unusual reputation among the locals: He’s played the roles of groomsman and best man in all four of his older brothers’ weddings, but he’s never been able to find the woman to capture his heart. And now with the upcoming wedding of his best friend, Jake will become the last single man in the town of Groom.

Anne Denning has made the difficult decision to move with her sisters to Texas, but a train derailment forces them to seek shelter in Groom, near Amarillo. Mrs. O’Farrell, hopeful that Anne will catch her youngest son’s eye, invites the girls to stay at her home until the train is repaired and ready to pull out. Anne has no idea of the blissful chaos that lies ahead!

Why did you decide to write this story?

My editor at Summerside approached me with the name of the town because she knows I write a lot of wedding-themed stories. She wanted something lightweight/fun, and she knew me well enough to know I would enjoy a fun story. The only real question we had in the beginning stage was: “Should this be a historical or a contemporary?” We went with historical because I felt sure the story idea was better suited to the turn of the century.

Groom is a wedding-themed book. Why do you write so many stories with a strong wedding theme?

I have four grown daughters—Randi, Megan, Courtney Rae and Courtney Elizabeth. Yes, I really have two daughters named Courtney. (Long story!) All four of my girls got married within four years of each other. We’re told to write what we know. I know weddings, trust me! I helped coordinate all four weddings and even worked as a wedding coordinator at my church for a season. I was also tickled to be the “Wedding Planner Examiner” for the city of Houston for a spell. What fun! You’ll see me writing about weddings for years to come, so hang on for the ride!

What is it about your lead character that will make your readers care about her?

Readers will care about Anne because she’s been through so much and still chooses to move forward. They will also love her relationship with her younger sisters. She’s the only remaining parental figure and takes that position very seriously.

Why will readers enjoy your novel?

In spite of the lead character’s tough situation, the story is filled with comedic elements. Anne’s two younger sisters are a hoot. So is Maggie (the hero’s mother). She’s an Irish spitfire! I think readers will appreciate the romance between Anne and Jake. It’s filled with all sorts of sweet and comic moments.

Why do you like writing comedies with strong take-aways?

Comedy is a great outlet. We comedians can get away with a lot more than authors who play it straight. Want the reader to walk away with a little nugget of truth? Couch it in something humorous. I’ve found that light-hearted writing not only suits my personality, it’s the perfect vehicle for sharing the gospel.

If you were the casting director for the film version of your novel, who would play your heroine?

Because Anne (a one-time socialite from Denver) has dark hair and pale skin, I envision her looking a little bit like the character of Diana Barry in Anne of Green Gables. Diana was played by Schuyler Grant.

Tell us a little about your hero? Is he true hero material?

Jake is a hunka-hunka Texas man! He’s a railroad man who loves his job, loves his family and loves the heroine. He’s got a great sense of humor, which is perfect for this story, because the heroine’s little sisters are loaded with antics! Jake has a lot to deal with: he’s the town’s last single man, which has made him the brunt of many a joke. His older brothers (all married with children) taunt and tease. Jake can never catch a break. Unless he’s with Anne, of course. Then he catches far more than a break. . .he catches the woman of his dreams!

What about your sub-characters? Call you tell us about any of them?

I love writing stories with fun sub-characters! Those who read my “Weddings by Bella” series know that I spend a lot of time creating my cast! Love Finds You in Groom, Texas is no different. Some of my favorite sub-characters are Emily and Kate (Anne’s younger sisters). Emily was patterned after Margaret O’Brien’s character in “Meet me in St. Louis.” Lots of fun! Another fun-loving character is Maggie, Jake’s mother. She knows just how to get what she wants! Even sour old Uncle Bertrand turns out to be a fun guy. . .in the end.

Are any of your characters patterned after real people?

The characters are patterned more after characters than real people. I wanted the overall “feel” of the book to be a bit like that in “Anne of Green Gables.” If the reader is paying attention, he/she will notice a few Avonlea-esque images, including my heroine’s name. There are also a few nods to “Meet Me in St. Louis” in this story, as well.

You always seem to add animal to your stories. Any animals in this one?

Yes! Most of my readers know that I’m an animal lover. My two miniature dachshunds, Sasha and Copper, are my ever-faithful companions. They’ve made appearances in several of my books. Love Finds You in Groom, Texas, is set on a ranch in North Texas, so I couldn’t possibly write it without adding animals! The cattle are a part of the story, naturally, but so is the family’s collie, Ginger. My favorite animal/character is Frances, the hero’s mare. He’s so enamored with his mare (and so comfortable talking to her) that he ends up practicing his “love speech” on the mare while working up courage to deliver it to Anne.

What is the last book you read that you would recommend?

I was completely blown away by Judy Christy’s book Wreath, about a teen girl who lives on her own. I can’t tell you the last time a character impacted me like Wreath did. I read the book for endorsement. I’m pretty sure it releases in a month or two. Can’t wait to see what readers think!

What are you working on now?

I just turned in Love Finds You in Daisy, Oklahoma, a fun historical about a single woman in her late 30’s who moves from the Gulf Coast to the landlocked state of Oklahoma to become the director at an orphanage. It’s a love story, of course! She falls in love with the town sheriff, who has adopted two of the unruliest boys from the orphanage. I’m currently writing Wedding Belles, the first book in the Belles and Whistles series for Summerside/Guideposts.

What are your favorite things to do (besides writing)?

Honestly? I love hanging out with my grandbabies. They grow up so quickly and I don’t want to miss a thing! Maddy is four now. She’s the oldest. Avery is three. Peyton is three. Ethan is two. Boston is one and a half and baby Brooke turned one this week. I love them so very much. They keep me young (and give me plenty of fodder for books).

I heard through the grapevine that you direct theater productions on the side. Why theater?
I grew up doing musical theater and have always loved it. A good friend of mine (Brenda White) is a brilliant musician, probably the most talented I’ve ever known. She writes some amazing pieces. We co-direct at a local theater. I write the plays (mostly) and she does the music. We hold auditions and then rehearse for about two months. Our most recent production was Zaney Muldaney, on the Road to Kingdom Come. To check out the pictures on facebook, go here.

I notice you write under two names (Janice Hanna and Janice Thompson). Why?

Those who’ve been reading my romances over the past several years know me as Janice A. Thompson. My joy is mixed with a smidgeon of sorrow as I explain the change in my last name for some of my current releases. In 2006 I lost my father to bone marrow cancer. His last name (Hanna) is my maiden name—and it’s a name that means even more to me now that he is gone. In memory of my father, I use the Hanna name in my historicals. My Revell books will still release under Janice Thompson. I hope you my readers will stick with me, no matter which name I use!
Can you tell our readers about your recent road trip? Where did you go, and why?

In May of 2011 I went on a cross-country road trip to twelve different states. The goal, (as it relates to books, anyway) was to hit several key spots where I could speak to writers and teach on the subject of our God-given uniqueness. I also researched several locales for my new “Belles and Whistles” series while on the road. I took my mom along for the ride, and what a ride it was! We spent twenty-three days on the road, traveling from Texas to Oklahoma to Kansas to Colorado to Wyoming to Montana to Washington to Idaho to Utah to Arizona to New Mexico, then back to Texas. We met some amazing writers and readers along the way, and even got to spend a little time with my daughter, son-in-law and grandbabies in Montana. What a blast!

Anything else you want our readers to know?

Yes, I’m very passionate about my faith, which is why I write Christian books. I could no more leave out the faith elements than I could stop eating chocolate. They are integral…to my stories and my life. I’m a huge believer in stirring up the gifts that God has placed inside of us, which is what I hope to do through my teaching.

Any suggestions for writers who are trying to get published?

Learn the craft. Take courses. Go to conferences. Do the work. But don’t ever let what you’ve learned rob you of your natural, God-given voice. There’s only one you, after all.

Thanks for spending time with me! I had a blast!

I have a copy of this book that I would love to pass along to one of you!
There are several ways to gain entry:

1) Head over to Janice's website, and tell me which book looks good to you. Please make sure to leave your email address in this format – sample[at]gmail[dot]com.

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3) Tweet the following tweet once per day:

Win a book by @booksbyjanice from @andrealschultz. Details at Please RT!

Please leave a comment for each tweet, along with your email address in the sample[at]gmail[dot]com format.

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So there are several chances to enter! Please limit one entry per option except for the Twitter tweet option (which can be done once per day) , along with your email address in the sample[at]gmail[dot]com format.

This give away is for U.S. residents only. The deadline for entry is Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 11:59 p.m. EST. A winner will be chosen via the Random Number Generator on Wednesday, July 27, 2011 and will be contacted via email.  The best to all of you!

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