Monday, October 24, 2011

Introducing author Dina Sleiman

Over at Inkwell Inspirations, we recently celebrated fellow Inky Dina Sleiman's debut novel, Dance of the Dandelion. I'm reprinting my interview with Dina here, and including some questions and answers I wasn't able to include the first time. Dance of the Dandelion published by Whitefire Publishing is a work of inspirational fiction, set in Medieval England. I'll be giving away a copy of Dina's book to one person who leaves a comment and their email address so I can contact them. Just leave your comment before midnight on November 1st, 2011.

Dina is a multi-faceted woman who both inspires and fascinates me. In part it’s the wisdom and beauty in her blog posts, in part her poetic nature, and in part it’s the love and joy that shines through her when she’s worshiping and celebrating through dance. Not surprisingly, these elements are infused throughout Dandelion.

“Life is a dance, from the swirling cosmos circling earth, to the subtle harmony of bodies, to the measured cadence of minute particles hidden deep within…”
~~ Dina Sleiman in Dance of the Dandelion

Dina, your poetry is magical, and I absolutely love the poem at the beginning of the book. You incorporated a lot of poetry into this book. Can you tell us a little bit about this?

I fell in love with poetry in college when I had teachers who really helped me to "get it." It's such a lovely form. I define it as the art of words. Like a sculptor uses clay or an artist uses paint, a poet uses words to create a work of beauty. After finishing my M.A. in Professional Writing, I continued to take M.F.A. classes in poetry through a local university. At the time, the head of their poetry department was a Christian man who helped me to understand how to properly convey spiritual themes through poems. He also taught me about the medieval mystics, who are now my very favorite poets. They had such amazing intimate relationships with Christ, and they inspired a collection of poems I wrote in 1999. Several of those poems were published in small journals.

That is part of the reason I chose the medieval period for Dandelion. So it was only natural for me to include some of my poems. I changed them slightly to better fit the medieval form used by poets such as St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Sienna, Thomas Aquinas, and Hildegard von Bingen. Initially I used actual poetry by these historical figures, but I quickly realized there were too many issues with copyrights since I wanted to use contemporary translations. I also wrote some poetry specifically for the book in the style of the Islamic poet Rabia of Basri. You'll have to read the book to see how I incorporated that.

As for the poem in the beginning, at first it was just part of a prologue. Due to some changes in the structure of the book, the editor and I decided the prologue wasn't needed. But I couldn't bear to lose that section. We decided I should rewrite it as a poem. I'm very happy with the results. I hope I'll be allowed to start all of my books with poems.

What is your favorite historical setting to write in?

Definitely Medieval. I’ve tried to think of stories I would like to write set in America, and my mind always runs directly to hard to market topics like slavery, the oppression of the Indians, the early days of the American theatre. Maybe someday I’ll write something like that. I could also see myself writing in the Biblical era.

When did you begin writing?

Probably in 5th grade when I penned a short story about a Venetian alien who came to earth. By high school I was in love with fiction, and knew I would want to write novels at some point. In college I discovered you could actually get a graduate degree in writing, and I couldn’t dream of anything I would rather do. But after earning my Masters, I spent the next twelve years primarily raising (yes, I know it’s supposed to be rearing, but that’s just weird) my kids and being involved in church ministry. Finally, in 2006 I felt that God was guiding me to get serious about my writing. That’s when I wrote the first draft of Dandelion—which would be nearly unrecognizable at this point.

What is your favorite historical setting to read?

The main thing for me is that I want to feel like I traveled somewhere new and learned something exciting. So once I’ve read a few books in any given time and place, I’m ready to move on to the next. Prairie. Been there and done that with Jeanette Oake. Gold rush. Check. Clearly, I am not the typical Christian fiction reader. I love books set in India, Africa, and China. One of my all time favorite ABA romances was set in Afghanistan and India. I love history, but I don’t really enjoy research and nonfiction very much. For me, novels are a lazy way to learn history. LOL. I’m only partly serious. I feel like in a novel you can really absorb the culture and mindset of the people on a deeper level.

I will admit, though, that I do read anything I can get my hands on set in the middle ages.

Could you explain your "tagline" and the meaning behind it?

My tagline is: Dance with Passion. Because I write in several genres, I wanted something that would really capture me. My first try was “Lyrical stories that dance with light.” I shared this with marketing expert, Jim Rubart, in a class one time. He said it was too long, and I should focus in on dance since that’s really different and interesting. I tried out Dance with Passion, and it worked.

I’ve been leading dance worship ministries in churches for most of the last seventeen years, so dance has been a huge part of my life. For a long time, it was the way I best connected to God and entered into his presence. Dance provides an amazing opportunity to discover intimacy with Christ and to worship him with your whole being.

To me, Dance with Passion means to seize life. To do everything with all your might and heart. It means to live free from burdens and hindrances and to flow in the Holy Spirit’s unforced rhythms of grace. I think this is the message that shines through all of my writing.

Once I decided on the tagline, I dragged my husband to the beach for a photo shoot of me dancing along the shoreline. I then built my whole website around this concept. Jim Rubart heartily approved. LOL.

Are there any more medieval books in your future?

Good question. Anytime I write a book, the characters and settings stick with me. So I do have more ideas for medieval novels. Unfortunately, writing them is not necessarily the best career move for me right now (unless of course Dandelion picks up and sells like crazy—so if you like it, be sure to spread the word.)

What I might do, is work on some YA medieval romances. Sounds like this would be a better market for the time period. And, it will allow me to make my characters younger, which is actually more historically accurate.

Dina's lovely family
Her beautiful daughter graces the cover of Dance of the Dandelion
What can your readers expect next?

My next project is actually a contemporary series. Book one is called Dance from Deep Within. It’s the story of a veiled Muslim, a blonde ballerina, and a bi-racial hippie chick. All three are returning college students. They meet over a group project on diversity and search together for meaning and truth. On one hand it is sort of issue driven, but at the same time, each girl has her own romance and story arc, which keeps the plot exciting. The genre is very different than Dandelion, but the themes are similar. In it I explore worship, intimacy with Christ, and inner-healing just like in Dandelion, only against a contemporary backdrop.

I can’t wait to read your next book, Dina. Thank you so much for answering my questions today. I wish you much success with Dandelion, and with your writing career. In the meantime, I want readers to know that Dance of the Dandelion is lyrical, magical, and lovely. I didn’t want to stop reading, even when I’d reached the end.

I’ll leave everyone with the scripture quote Dina used in her book, and a link where you can view some of her awesome dance and worship videos.

“We played a flute for you, and you did not dance…” 
~~Matthew 11:17

You can visit Dina's website at:
You can visit Whitefire Publishing's website at:

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sharon Gillenwater's The Callahan's of Texas series

I'm reviewing Megan's Hero, book three of Sharon Gillenwater's The Callahan's of Texas series over at Inkwell Inspirations today (Saturday, July 16th). Stop by and leave a comment before midnight tonight, because I'll be giving away a copy of the book to one lucky person. In the meantime, I thought I'd reprint my reviews of the first two books in this series. 

Jenna's Cowboy

Let’s get the important stuff over with right up front. . . .

This is one gorgeous book cover!

If you’re the type of person who buys a book based on the cover…then here you go. This particular cowboy, with those devastating blue eyes, should have this book flying off the shelves. But while it’s fun to dish about cute guys on the front of a book, how many of you would really buy a book for that reason alone? There’s so much more to this book than just the good looking guy. There’s a very believable cowboy suffering from an emotionally painful, very real and heart-wrenching disorder.

My favorite books to read, whether historical or contemporary, are always set in small towns. The cozy hometown feel has such an appeal to me. I love the fact that everyone knows each other, went to school together, and watches each others’ kids grow up. They band together to celebrate the wonderful things and they help each other through the tough times. Yes, you have your quirky characters, snooty characters, busy-bodies, and the occasional bad guy. But those are all the special extras that give a book its flavor.

Lucky for me, Jenna’s Cowboy is set in just such a town. Actually, the setting is based on author Sharon Gillenwater’s actual hometown, in West Texas. Maybe that’s why it curled all the way around my heart as I read it. Or maybe it’s the truly wonderful spirit Sharon creates in her characters. Not that they’re perfect. Like all satisfying books, her characters must experience the ups and downs of life and grow stronger in both in spirit and in faith. It’s because of those characters and the way Sharon shapes them that I always look forward to her books.

Nate Langley is a hometown hero. And he’s a true-blue Christian romance novel hero, the kind of hero that makes even the most cynical heart melt. Of course, he doesn’t want any special recognition for the sacrifices he made while serving his country. He did what any man who loves his country would do. But now it’s time to come home and help his father run the farm, time to be a cowboy, and though he might not know it yet, it’s time for Nate to heal. It might even be time to win the heart of one very special woman—the woman he’s been in love with since he was fifteen years old.

Jenna Callahan Colby is a woman who also has a lot of healing to do. She knows first hand the pain of betrayal. Could Nate possibly be the cowboy who can help her through it?

Right at the beginning of the book as Nate watches Jenna interact with some local teenagers, this book stole my heart. Actually, it gripped me even before that, when I read the very special dedication at the beginning of the book followed by the beautiful passage from Isaiah.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the pain of divorce and betrayal, trusting the Lord to get through it all... All are very serious, very real issues, and Sharon handles them with the tenderness and sensitivity they deserve. She gives readers a deeper understanding for the effect war has on our young men and women, all the while leading us down the path of a blossoming romance.

This book is filled with heart-warming scenes and heart-aching scenes. I found my eyes filling with tears more than once.

When Jenna and Nate meet for the first time in the book, I couldn’t help but smile. It takes a special writer to blend serious issues with heartwarming romance and a touch of humor, and Sharon Gillenwater is just such an author. If you’ve read her books before, you know you’re about to read something special. If you’ve never read one of her books, you truly won’t want to miss this one. Her book Love Song remains one of my all time favorites, but I think Jenna’s Cowboy may have just pushed that one into second place.

I hope you’ll grab a copy of Jenna’s Cowboy, settle into your favorite reading spot, and let the entire world fade away while you escape to Small-Town-USA…my favorite place to be.

Emily's Chance

People in Callahan Crossing have a lot of pieces to pick up after a fire destroys much of the town. Emily Rose Denny is there to work on the town’s historical museum. And though Chance Callahan doesn’t see how restoring the museum will help the town recover after the fire, he’s glad to help, and even more glad that Emily is here to stay for a while.

The romance between these two characters evolves naturally and delightfully, and the book is filled with touching moments between Chance, Emily, and his parents. She doesn’t have the best of relationships with her own parents, and yet she fits into Chance’s family so perfectly.

Emily tries to keep herself from falling in love, knowing she’s only in town for the duration of the job. When it’s over, she’ll pack her suitcase and head for the big city, where she’ll try to land an even bigger job. But will she find that God has led her to this town for a different purpose?

When she makes a shocking discovery while restoring the museum, it causes Chance to question everything he’s ever believed in. And as he helps with the project, he hopes to convince Emily to give up her dream of being a curator at a large museum in Dallas and stay in Callahan Crossing—with him.

I love the small-town feel of this book, as well as every book Sharon writes. The setting is so vivid, I feel like I’m right there. The characters are so real; I can picture them laughing, talking, and interacting with each other. Sharon never fails to bring a smile to my face and evoke at least one tear from my cynical eyes.

Like I did, you’ll fall in love with these characters, and the charm of Sharon’s natural storytelling voice.

Sharon Gillenwater grew up on Thompson's Ranch in the Rolling Plains of West Texas, near Colorado City. Her father was ranch foreman, and her parents lived there for over fifty years. The six thousand acre ranch provided pasture for Hereford cattle and an occasional Texas Longhorn, as well as fields of grain and grass to feed the stock and the primary crop, cotton. Love and marriage took Sharon across the country to state of Washington, but Texas is still dear to her heart

Her books are honest down home love stories with laughter, conflict and sometimes tragedy that carries the reader along. The power of God working in the lives of the main characters is always evident as is their relationship to Him.

She again brings you the wonderful people, small towns and West Texas region she loves Jenna's Cowboy, Emily's Chance and Megan's Hero in the Callahans of Texas series.

For Sharon, writing romance novels is a ministry. God has given her the talent to write, and she uses it to serve Him. She depends on Him to give her stories that will inspire, heal, entertain and bring her readers closer to Jesus.

Visit Sharon’s website:
Read the Romantic Times Author’s Spotlight on Sharon:
To read some fun facts about how Sharon created the town of Callahan Crossing:

photo credits:
cowboy boots courtesy of scotsxc at
wild horses courtesy of guitargoa at
barbed wire courtesy of DawnAllynn at

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Q&A with Colleen Coble

Author of The Lightkeeper’s Ball

(I'm reviewing this book today, June 25th, and giving away my copy at Inkwell Inspirations. Visit and leave a comment if you're interested in being considered for the give-away.)

Q: Did you always dream of becoming a writer?  Why did you choose the romance genre?

I wrote my first story in the first grade.  It was about a horse that had twin colts.  The teacher praised it and the writing seed was planted.  I love illustrating God’s love through romance.  I especially love the suspense I put into all my books as well.  I have a strong streak of justice and it plays out in the suspense element.

Q: What inspired you to write a historical series based in the early 1900’s?  What would you have enjoyed about living in that time period and what would you have found the most difficult?

I happened to read an article about the Gilded Age and it mentioned how that era was so similar to today’s.  I was intrigued with that, plus I wanted to choose a time period that wouldn’t be too much of a departure from my contemporary books.  In that era, there were still cars and telephones!

I would have loved the simpler lifestyle.  However, I would miss my jeans!  How vain.

Q: Society at the turn of the century was very preoccupied with appearances and impressing other people.  How is that not so different than our society today and how can we keep from falling into that same trap?

That’s exactly right!  The parallels between the two eras are astounding.  I’ve been at the cancer hospital this week with a dear friend, and it was a reminder of how fragile this life is.  We seek THINGS when God wants us to seek Him.  We need to keep our eyes set on eternity and remember that THIS life is the real dream.  When we reach heaven, we will finally start to really live.

Q: Bitterness and unforgiveness led to the death of Olivia’s sister.  Why is it so important to forgive those who have wronged us?

An unforgiving spirit hurts us much more than the person we hate.  It makes us ugly and crowds out the love we want to show other people.  God is love, not hate.  Bitterness is the very opposite of the attitude God wants us to have.

Q: This is the third book in your Mercy Falls series.  Addie and Katie were the main characters in your first two books.  Olivia was given a true gift in the friendship of Katie and Addie.  What does it take to find trustworthy and loyal friends?  Why do you think that we all desire to find friends like these?

You have to first be a friend.  You have to be open and giving of yourself to have those kinds of friends.  A true friend tells you the truth in love, and that’s an important component of the give and take of real friendship.

Q: What do you hope that your readers will take away from reading The Lightkeeper’s Ball?

I hope the readers who feel they have to earn love will take away the realization that their true worth is that Jesus loves them and died for them.  They are valuable beyond comprehension.  When we can step into the role of daughters and sons, we can realize our true potential.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Pressing into Thin Places

It seems that each week another area of the country is hit with tragedy, leaving many hurting people struggling with loss. Whatever the situation or circumstance, author Margaret Wills offers readers hope and encouragement.

Is there sustaining comfort to be found for the suffering, perhaps flailing, faithful? Dr. Margaret Wills, Ed.D, asserts that there is, and in her book, Pressing into Thin Places (Brown Christian Press), she invites questioning, thinking, and hurting readers to recognize glimpses of wonder and to draw strength and find rest in the presence of a loving God.

Dr. Wills knows from her own experiences that life is not simple and that we all need encouraging words and reasons to hang on to hope. With transparency and refreshing gentleness, Wills tackles universal fears, disappointments, wounded relationships, and even death and beckons readers to pull aside the veil and to see into that “thin space,” as the Celtics called it, where all that separates heaven and earth becomes almost transparent.

Wills answers questions like, “How do we keep from falling into despair when pain and suffering weigh heavily upon us?” and answers honestly questions about doubt, mystery, and the experience of not knowing. Wills offers wisdom to cultivate a listening heart, encouragement for the downhearted, reassuring words for the faltering, and comfort and rest for those in any stage of their faith journey.   

Q&A With Margaret Harrell Wills, Ed.D
Author of Pressing into Thin Places

Q: Your book is titled Pressing into Thin Places. What is a “thin place”?

In the Celtic tradition, a “thin place” is the place where the veil that separates heaven and earth is nearly transparent. It is a place where we experience a deep sense of God’s presence in our everyday world. A thin place is where, for a moment, the spiritual world and natural world intersect. It can be a sudden momentary awareness or profound unexplainable experience.

Q: Pressing into Thin Places is a collection of stories, experiences, and learned truths expressed through poetry and prose. How are you hoping that readers connect with the experiences shared and those “thin places”?

Through the book I wanted to share a few “thin place moments” and encourage readers to have eyes to see the gifts of thin places through their own experiences. There are moments when we do feel the divine breaking through into our world. We feel unified and connected with God. It is not an intellectual knowing; it is felt in the spirit. Every once in a while, God draws the curtain and lets us see. He gives us reminders that, though we are tethered to this earth, there is another realm of reality just as real. Every once in a while, He lifts the veil. He thins the space between heaven and earth. He lets us experience the “thin place.” Ultimately, He helps our faith.

Q: Pressing into Thin Places gives readers permission to be authentic and to acknowledge doubt, questions, even depression. Often we experience guilt over these sometimes realities, fearing they show a weak faith. But how can facing these circumstances or emotions actually strengthen faith and reveal the presence of God in our lives?

We all have ups and downs. We are emotional beings. This is part of life. But can we dial up different thoughts? Can we change our feelings? Many times, I believe we can. Not too long ago I came across a verse in 1 Samuel 30. The chapter talked about a time when David was defeated by his enemies, rejected by all those around him and discouraged to the core. In verse 6, it says, “And David strengthened himself in the Lord.” How do we strengthen ourselves in the Lord? I believe we do what a verse in Psalms suggests: “And then one day I went into your sanctuary and thought” (Ps. 73:17). We strengthen ourselves in the Lord by going into His presence and letting Him guide our thinking. Many of the Psalms tell us that David worshipped and meditated on the scriptures. This was no exception. He received new purpose, vision, and authority. He waited patiently to become king.

Q: Why do you think we fear admitting doubt or struggles with faith?

Fear wants to rise and speak to the bottom corners of our mind. It will remind us not to be vulnerable. We will remember what happens when we risk psychological safety or abandon feelings of superiority. We will remember our nakedness. We will feel the wash of old fears and the pull of old attitudes and the temptations of old behaviors. But our heart, where our choice and our spirit live, desires our Father and His Kingdom. And our Teacher taught us to pray.

Q: It seems that more and more we all encounter people who profess to believe that God exists, but the crisis of faith arises in God’s goodness. What do you say to the reader who struggles to believe that God is good and loving?

Jesus says we can trust our Heavenly Father. We are safe, we are protected, and we are guided when we cooperate with God’s purpose and God’s way of doing things. We become participants in the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of God’s grace on earth. Jesus reminds us over and over again that we must have faith. We must believe in the fact that we are safe and that “good” will result as we submit our will to His Way. This submission is powerful. It defragments our life and gives us spiritual significance and wholeness of soul. This submission results in the process of spiritual transformation. Along the way, we are rewarded by “faith surprises” as resources of the Kingdom of Heaven are available to make changes in us, in others, and in the way things are.

Q: What do you hope that readers will take away from Pressing into Thin Places?

At the crux of this message of greater connection with God is the gospel message. Jesus encourages us to see our short space of time on this earth in the light of eternity. He instructs us to remember that there are two realities: a physical reality and a spiritual reality. We are first and foremost spiritual beings called to follow Christ’s teachings.

Pressing into Thin Places: Encouraging the Heart toward God
by Dr. Margaret Harrell Wills, Ed.D
Brown Christian Press – May 2011
ISBN 978-1-934812-99-0/208 pages/hardcover/$16.95

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Loved It, Loving It - A Different Sort of Book Review

Loved It:

Megan’s Hero – by Sharon Gillenwater 
I've been waiting o get my hands on this book ever since I first heard the storyline, and more-so after reading the first two books in this series. I just finished it, and am happily satisfied. This book was well worth the wait. Will Callahan, Megan Smith's hero, truly lives up to his title in this incredibly romantic story. And for all of you who read the first two books, the rest of the Callahan crew are on hand to help Megan through her crisis. I don't want to give too much away, since I'll be doing a complete review of this book at Inkwell Inspirations on July 9th. But you should know I absolutely loved this book and if you like homespun romance that makes you sigh, you will, too. 

The Lightkeeper’s Ball – by Colleen Coble
Set in California at the turn of the last century, this is also the third in a series. I've enjoyed all of Colleen Coble's contemporary suspense novels, and though historical, this series also has a generous amount of suspense woven in. I truly enjoyed this book, the setting, the suspense, and I especially loved the way the heroine, Olivia, throws herself into the goal of discovering the truth behind her sister's death. I also loved the discovering Olivia's secret goal and her longing to fulfill it. I will be doing a full review at Inkwell Inspirations on June 25th.

Witness on the Run – by Hope White
Hope White is one of the newer authors at Love Inspired Suspense, and I'm so glad she's there. Her novels are true romantic suspense, and I can't wait for more from her. After Robin Strand witnesses a murder, she suffers a head injury and amnesia. Jake Walters, former Homeland Security agent, now private detective, is just the hero to come to her rescue. Since I look forward to well-written Love Inspired Suspense novels each month, I can't help but hope there are more to come from this author.

Lawman-with-a-Badge – by Laura Scott 
Another premium Love Inspired Suspense by another fairly new author, and I can't wait for more by Laura Scott. This is the story of Megan O'Ryan, former crime scene investigator. Her sister was a victim of the St. Patrick's Strangler, and she helped convict him of the crimes. But someone's trying to kill her, and it appears to be the work of the the St. Patrick's Strangler himself. This is truly is an edge of the seat suspense, reminiscent of the old days of Harlequin Intrigue when they had M.J. Rodgers, Tess Gerritsen and Vickie York writing for them. 

…and speaking of Tess Gerritsen…

The Boneyard – by Tess Gerritsen 
Though not a Rizzoli and Isles story, Dr. Maura Isles is featured in the opening chapters of this book set in Boston. Not nearly as graphic in the forensic sense as the usual Rizzoli and Isles books, this story takes an interesting twist that I've never seen Tess Gerritsen do before. She skillfully and seamlessly weaves two stories together: one in the present, and one in the past where there’s a killer on the streets of 1830s Boston. To my knowledge, this is Tess Gerritsen’s only historical novel, and though it’s not Christian fiction, I felt as if I was reading a novel by Julie Klaasen. The other day at the Inkwell, Anita Mae Draper mentioned in a review how a particular book stuck with her for days. This one did the same for me. I was so caught up in the story, in the historical details, in the characterization, I did think about this book for a long time after reading it. I even woke up a couple of times while on vacation, thinking about it. I don’t often read books a second time, but this one, like Julie Klaasen’s books, begs to be read again.

Loving It:

Dance of the Dandelion – by Dina Sleiman 
I'm currently reading this book, which is not yet available in the print version. I wanted to make sure and tell people about it now, though, because the e-book version is available right now and you can download it for less than $4. That's a great deal, especially for this book, which is beautifully written in Dina Sleiman's trademark lyrical style. She has a touching poem at the beginning, which is a lovely prelude to the book. The cover is gorgeous, and especially special because Dina's daughter is the cover model. Even though I'm reading this on my Nook, I still can’t wait to hold the print version in my hand and celebrate with my fellow Inkwell Inspirations sister on her first sale. Hopefully I’ll be bringing you a full review and interview with this inspirational (literally and figuratively) author very soon. What I can tell you now, even before I've finished this book, is that Dina is destined to become one of my favorite authors.

Making Waves – by Lorna Seilstad
Just in time for the debut of her second book, Great Catch, I’m finally getting to read Lorna Seilstad's first book, Making Waves. It’s been on my virtual TBR for quite some time, and I’ve actually anticipated reading it for even longer...actually since the day I saw the cover in the publisher’s catalog before it even came out. I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but when I saw the cover, I knew instantly it was a book I wanted to read. In the two cases where I've bought a book based solely on the cover, I was absolutely right. Courting Miss Adelaide by Janet Dean, and this one, Making Waves. Both covers feature heroines in jaunty hats with a hint of spunkiness in their facial expressions; and both books feature lively heroines and great plots. I'm thoroughly enjoying this book, and looking forward to adding Great Catch to my TBR.

And since I mentioned are the covers from Lorna Seilstad's upcoming book, Great Catch, and Janet Dean's Courting Miss Adelaide - highly recommended if you haven't already read it!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Cowboy's Touch

Forced to take a leave of absence from her job as an investigative reporter, due to health issues, Abigail Jones soon finds herself in Moose Creek, Montana spending time with her great aunt. Before long, she's formed a budding friendship with a young girl in need of both a new nanny, and some serious attention from her father.

Abigail is desperate to help save her mother's magazine, so after she hears rumors that Maddy's father was once named the "Sexiest Man Alive" she sees no harm in seeking the truth. After all, if it's true, then Wade Ryan has been hiding from the public for a long time, and an article about him could just be the thing to bump up the magazine sales.

Soon Abigial takes the job as  Maddy's nanny, and finds herself falling for Wade in the process. But what will happen when the man who guards his privacy above all else discovers Abigail's true intention. Will love be enough to overcome the secret Abigail's been keeping?

Readers who enjoy Western-set inspirational romances will undoubtedly enjoy this book of love, pain and forgiveness.

Interview with author Denise Hunter:

Q: Have you always wanted to be a writer? When did you first begin to write?

I’ve always been an avid reader, but I didn’t start dreaming about writing a novel until I was in my early twenties. By then I was married and busy pursuing a degree. I put writing on the back burner until my grandfather became fatally ill. While I was visiting him in the hospital, I was struck by the brevity of life and felt God pressing on my heart to take the first step. I started my first novel a couple weeks later. I had two small children by this time, so I wrote while they napped. I wrote my first four books that way. Even if you can only write a page a day, by the end of a year you’ll have a complete manuscript!

Q: Are you a small town or a city girl? What inspired you to write a book about the life of a cowboy?

I’m a little of both. We live in a country setting just outside the city. It’s the best of both worlds. There’s something very earthy and organic about a cowboy’s life. I was drawn by the idea of living off the land. I think it takes us to a simpler time and place—even though the life of a cowboy is not necessarily simple! And Montana is such a beautiful state. I thought my readers might like to journey there with me through story.

Q: Can you tell us a little about what you have learned about the cowboy lifestyle while doing research for this book?

I learned a lot of fascinating details about the workings of a ranch: branding, breeding, cattle disease, etc. But what I came away with is a great respect for cowboys and their families. Those who choose this way of life do it because they love it. It’s not easy, and it’s not for the faint of heart.

Q: Abigail’s title at her job is “the Truthseeker.” What is the significance of this title, and what do you think a real truthseeker does?

I thought it would be interesting to write about a protagonist whose job was to seek the truth and have her find out that she was missing the real Truth the whole time. Since Jesus is the Truth, a real truthseeker follows Him.

Q: Forgiveness seems to be a recurring theme in your books. Why do you feel it is so important? Your main characters both dealt with forgiving their past mistakes. Do you think that it is just as important to forgive ourselves as it is to forgive the mistakes of others?

With sin rampant in all of us, this is something we need to get good at! Eventually, someone’s going to do something you struggle to forgive. I think this is partly because forgiveness is easily misunderstood. It’s not saying that what they did is okay. It’s saying that you’re not going to hold it over them anymore. I do think it’s just as important to forgive ourselves as it is to forgive others. Oftentimes, it’s even harder.

Q: Abigail and Wade both threw themselves into their work in order to escape their pasts. Do you believe it is easy to find an escape in work in order to hide from our problems?

No one likes to hurt, so I think the tendency is to avoid it however we can. Throwing ourselves into our work is certainly one way of doing so. But these things have a way of bubbling up to the surface eventually, no matter how hard we try to avoid them.

Q: What would you like your readers to take away after reading A Cowboy’s Touch?

Abigail was essentially trying to work off her guilt. She thought if she could just keep exposing other peoples’ wrongs, it would appease her own guilt. I’d like readers to see that only God can redeem us.

A Cowboy’s Touch by Denise Hunter
Thomas Nelson/March 29, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-59554-801-6/320 pages/paperback/$14.99

**Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

People Watching and Spiritual Truths

"But God shows his love for us in that we were still sinners, Christ died for us." ~Romans 5:8

I love watching people enjoy themselves, and often wonder what is going through their mind as they’re doing whatever it is they’re doing. I don’t know if other people do this, and sometimes I just have to wonder about myself. But perhaps that’s part of being a writer. I certainly get some good material from people-watching. And sometimes I even learn some valuable spiritual truths.

One day not long ago, I was standing behind two guys at the bank. I’m ashamed to admit I noticed right away that one or both of them didn’t smell very good. While they were talking together, the one closest to me received a phone call. He stepped out of the line, and I glanced at the guy who was now directly in front of me. I could still smell him, and it was almost overpowering. I put my hand up to my face, upset with myself as I tried to inconspicuously cover my nose.

As I watched him, I noticed two contrasting things. His ragged clothes were as filthy dirty as the rest of him, and the smile on his face radiated joy. Pure joy. It beamed from his eyes as well, and I stopped noticing the smell and wondered what he was thinking. He obviously had just finished doing some kind of manual labor. He must have been exhausted. In one dirty hand, he clutched a check. Was he thinking about buying something with his check? Getting home to his wife and kids? Watching a baseball game?

Or had something wonderful happened to him that day to fill him? And I do believe he was filled. No one can fake a smile that generates from your soul. I felt a tug at my heart, and at the same time, I had a flash of a thought. A basic thought that we all know and many of us learned as tiny children. Jesus loves us all. No matter what we look like, no matter the clothes we wear or how clean we are.
"By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." ~John 13:35

It doesn’t matter if we’re dirty, if we smell bad, wear rags, or even if we stand in line trying not to breathe because someone smells bad. He loves each one of us the same. I felt so unworthy at that moment, and yet blessed at the same time. I praised God for his profound love and forgiveness, and asked him to grant me some of that forgiveness for my initial thoughts toward the man in front of me. Then I prayed for the man, too, that he would continue to know joy each and every day. If he doesn’t know God now, I pray that one day soon he will.

"And above all of these, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony." ~Colossians 3:14

Friday, March 25, 2011

After the Darkness, Light...

 The Begotten, The Betrayed, The Blessed.
The Gifted Trilogy by Lisa T. Bergren

An ancient secret. Dark forces that want to keep the secret hidden at all costs. An unlikely group of God’s faithful followers who are willing to stand up to those dark forces…

If you love history, adventure, romance, sweeping landscapes, and spiritual truths, The Gifted Trilogy by Lisa T. Bergren, set in 1339 Italia is a must-read series that sweeps readers from Roma to Provence, and so many wonderful places in-between.

In Corinthians, Paul speaks talks about spiritual gifts. What if there was another letter written by Paul, one that didn’t make it into the Holy Scriptures? A lost letter that once revealed, foretells the gifted, whose powerful gifts include healing, wisdom, miraculous powers, visions and faith?

Lisa Bergren plunges readers directly into the intrigue as the series opens in Constantinople, in 731, where a faithful monk is willing to lose his life over his divinely inspired illuminations of a letter that appears to have been written by the Apostle Paul. The monk's determination sets into motion a series of events that, centuries later, will bring an unlikely group of people together on a holy journey.

1339 Roma…
While Lady Daria d’Angelo is taking refuge at a convent to heal from her broken heart she makes a surprising discovery. She has a gift of healing. A woman of incredible faith, Daria immediately recognizes this is a spiritual gift from God. Father Piero, a priest at the convent, also recognizes the gift and soon takes Daria into his confidence. She is one of the gifted.

Daria agrees to go along with Father Piero on this journey. As they leave the convent, they come upon an injured knight. Gianni de Capezzana, captain of the Knights de Vaticana, was on a mission to find the sorcerer, when he was wounded and left for dead. After his encounter with Daria, Gianni pledges his loyalty to her and withdraws from his service to the church. Gianni has a strong belief that God wants him here, guarding Daria from an unseen, but very real danger.

As the gifted ones begin to slowly discover each other, dark forces converge to conspire against them. Danger lurks everywhere, and Lisa Bergren doesn’t spare her characters with an easy out. After the darkness, light, becomes a concept they use to keep pushing forward as, for the glory of the Lord, they search for the strength to face their evil foe with their eyes focused on Him.

I must confess I’ve been a little apprehensive about presenting this recommendation, simply because this series is so captivating and powerful that I don’t want to risk doing a bit of injustice to the books or the author. The descriptions are breathtaking, the action heart-pounding, and the truth soul-stirring.

The journey begins in The Begotten. The battle is fierce in The Betrayed. Events happen in The Blessed that I never would have expected. Without giving anything away, as cliché as it sounds, the book lived up to the title and I truly felt blessed while reading it. In fact, several weeks ago, Dina Sleiman (from my group blog Inkwell Inspirations) asked if we’ve ever read a book that changed our lives. I was reading The Blessed at the time. It honestly changed something in me and opened my eyes to a new way to think about something I’ve been struggling with.

The Gifted Trilogy is an incredible series, and so worth every minute spent within the pages.

You can visit Lisa’s website at:, where you can read about her back list, her upcoming books, and so many other fun things. Lisa’s newest book, Waterfall, is the first book in her River of Time series.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Shy Girl's Guide to Communicating Your Way Through Life

Bashful. Shy. Timid. Reserved.
Quiet. Cautious. Wary. Guarded.

Do any of these words describe you? Who of us hasn’t experienced at least one instance of intimidation in their life? Or been afraid to speak up in a situation where you really wanted to? If it doesn’t happen to you very often, you’re one of the lucky ones who can explain it away and shrug it off as a one-time thing.

But if you’re even the slightest bit on the timid side, it’s so much more than a one-time thing. Shy girls almost never shrug it off. They carry it around with them, questioning themselves, thinking of all the witty things they wished they’d been able to say. Their hearts are too often filled with regrets. And in some cases, their timidity can be the direct cause of deep wounds.

photo by saavem courtesy of:
For those who aren’t typically shy, this can be hard to understand. In fact, shy people are often mischaracterized as being stuck-up. Oh, if those who are blessed with self-confidence only realized how far from the truth that really is. In fact, such a label can strike at the very depths of a shy person’s psyche and make it even harder for them to speak up.

Today I’m sharing tips for the shy ones among us. These tips come from someone who struggled with this for years. I affectionately refer to her as Her Shyness. If you guessed she is me, you’d be absolutely right. Today I’ll give you my personal insight into this often-times debilitating manifestation and share some tips on how I’ve been working to overcome it.

For all of my adult years (and most of my teen years), being shy has been as much a part of me as my height, weight and eye color. It has seriously interfered with my life, and did, in fact, cost me many things. A boy I really cared about in high school, a position in journalism that meant the world to me, friends, missed opportunities when I wanted so bad to speak up but sat paralyzed with fear of opening my mouth, and even respect from people I once held in the highest regard.

But, I must point out something very important. Being shy taught me many things about life, and as much as I want to banish it from my personality once and for all, it’s difficult to dislike a trait that taught me compassion and empathy for others, and strengthened my relationship with God.

… “Be strong and courageous… Do not be afraid or discouraged,
for the Lord God, my God, is with you…” ~~1 Chronicles 28:5

What’s Holding You Back?
This is one of the first things you have to figure out, because that is key to conquering the battle. Do some serious soul-searching. Did something happen when you were a child that dashed your self-confidence? Do you have issues with your self image? Would you be surprised to know people aren’t sitting around analyzing your looks? If they are, they have serious issues themselves. But truly, what does it matter what they think of you? It only matters what you, your loved ones, and your God think of you.

I can picture you all scratching your head. LIGMO? What could that possibly mean?

Let It Go. Move On. I don’t know how many times I’ve said this to myself since I heard it a couple of years ago. When you hold something inside, it doesn’t hurt the other person. It only hurts you. That person who embarrassed you or made fun of you in the past – how is your shyness hurting them now?


It’s not. So LIGMO.
photo by cempey courtesy of:
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. ~~ Phillipians 4:13

Self-Talk: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
I’m sure you’re all familiar with the expression “self-talk”. We use it all the time. It only makes sense that when we use self-talk, we start to believe what we’re telling ourselves.
  • “I’m worthless.”
  • “No one loves me.”
  • “This dress makes me look fat.”
  • “Do I really have anything important to say?”
  • “How do I even know they really like me?”
These really are bad and ugly, aren’t they? The list could go on and on because we say dozens of things to reinforce our negative feelings. Stop. Self-talk can make or break you.

Turn it around. Find the positive. Repeat it. Believe it. You have something worthwhile to say. Your input is just as valuable as the next person’s. You are worth something. You are smart.

What Language Are You Speaking?
Become a student of body language. What does yours say about you? Do you cross your arms when you’re sitting in a group? Slouch? Sit up straight? Make eye contact? Smile?

Do you project when you speak? Do you speak with confidence? If you speak in a well-modulated confident tone, and use positive body language people are more apt to pay attention to you.

How does a shy person accomplish this? I have a relatively unconventional method, but it works for me.

The Acting Studio
A lot of actors are basically shy people.
  • Jim Carrey
  • Kim Bassinger
  • Nicole Kidman
  • Tom Hanks
The surprising list of names is endless, proving if you are one of the shy ones, you’re in extremely fine company.
Elvis. Cher. Lucille Ball….

When an actor is playing a part, they’re pretending to be someone else. I used to love acting. Whenever I played a role, I forgot my fear of speaking in front of people and became the character. It didn’t matter how many people were watching, listening, critiquing. But would it work in real life? I decided to give it a try, and to my surprise, over time, it has helped. I’m growing more comfortable with each group setting I’m in. This method does, however, come with a caveat. First, you must be confident that you know what you’re talking about. Make sure you have your facts straight. And second, while pretending to be someone else might help you speak up in a group setting, as a whole, it isn’t constructive and should be used sparingly. Once you’re able to feel comfortable, you should be yourself and no one else.

We do, after all, want to be loved and accepted (and thereby comfortable expressing ourselves) for who we are. To achieve that, we have to learn to love and accept ourselves.

Stretch Yourself
Put yourself out there. Advising the shy person to put herself in a situation where she has to talk seems as unconventional as pretending to be someone else. It’s a bit like aversion therapy. The more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll become. Start with only one thing; a Bible study group, book club, a committee, a group blog. Get comfortable with those people and you can move forward from there.

The Magic Number
I once heard someone say you have to repeat something twenty-one times before it becomes a habit. That’s twenty-one times of forcing yourself to speak up. Don’t be disappointed if you lack a surge of confidence the first time. Your mouth might be dry and your stomach might feel like a dozen butterflies breaking out of their cocoon. This is perfectly normal, but will get easier each time.

Please don’t be discouraged, and don’t give up. Remember twenty-one times. Before long you’ll be a natural.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. ~~Isaiah 41:10

Remember, you never go anywhere alone. I know it sounds trite even to some Christians, but the truth is the truth. God is always with you. And through Him we can do all things. If God is with us, how can we fail?

You can be brave because you’re loved. Take courage in that and let it help you find your confidence. You’ll be surprised where it can take you.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Spiritual Nourishment

by Suzie Johnson

Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!
~~Psalm 105:4

Everyone knows exercise is good for us. It gives us strength; it keeps us physically and mentally fit. Aerobic exercise pumps oxygenated blood to our heart, and cause endorphins to send out good signals from our brain. Okay, that’s the short and sweet version without mention of mitochondria and all those other little organelles that are working in our cells to keep us healthy. The point is exercise is good for our physical and emotional health.

We all know what we’re supposed to do to get that way. Eat nutritious foods, exercise, and stop indulging in too much chocolate. Oh, wait. Sometimes that doesn’t seem very fair. Let’s just forget I even mentioned that part.

So we know we need to do everything we can to keep our bodies as healthy and strong as possible, but what about our spiritual health? How do we give that healthy boost to our soul? How do we stretch our spiritual muscles?

To me, the obvious answers would be to first and foremost pray, followed by studying and having fellowship with other Christians. These are all good and wonderful things that inspire and edify us.

There are no wrong answers if we’re seeking to know God and make Him known – if we’re trying to strengthen our relationship with Him.

When we stretch our spiritual muscles, we’re energized with something almost supernatural, something that makes us want to keep growing, keep striving for that deeper connection with our Lord.

Personally, I know I need to exercise all of my muscles; spiritual and physical. So I tend to combine my exercise with my praise and worship time. And if you know me at all, you know the very best place for me to do that is at the beach. There’s something about the water – the waves, the rocks, and even the seagulls – that fills me, inspires me, and draws me close to God.

Prayer. Praise. Worship.

For years, I had the best place to experience it all.

There is a trail behind the hospital where I used to work, that winds its way along a bluff overlooking several of the San Juan Islands. It is the most awe inspiring trail, path, bluff, beach I’ve ever walked on. It’s a three-mile round-trip.

For me, the starting point was always in the middle. I have a memory card full of Christian Praise and Worship music. So with my ear-buds in, and my favorite songs queued up, I’d go one direction, double back, and then go the other. One way leads into the woods, and the other way leads further up the bluff before coming down near the beach. I always turned left as I began, and I’d walk along the bluff until I was in the woods. At one point, there is an opening in the trees where you’re right over the water, with eagles flying overhead. As the trail journeys into the woods, it winds around until you’re back at that same spot over the water. But as you’re facing in the new direction, instead of facing windswept bluffs, you see the islands, with mountains far off in the distance.

Here’s where it always got magical for me. I don’t care what song was playing first when I started, or even how fast or slow I walked. It was as if God always orchestrated His perfect timing.

Do you know the song, Majesty? My favorite version is by Delirious? I would be walking along listening to these words:

Here I am, humbled by your majesty.
Here I am, humbled by your majesty,
Covered by your grace so free.
Here I am, knowing I'm a sinful man,
Covered by the blood of the lamb.
Now I've found the greatest love of all is mine,
Since You laid down Your life,
The greatest sacrifice.

Now here is where the magic would happen. I’d step out of the woods, often times with the sun beginning to slip behind the mountains, casting gorgeous shadows over the islands, and the music would swell and this same verse would play every time:

Your grace has found me just as I am
Empty handed but alive in Your hands
We sing
Forever I am changed by Your love
In the beauty of Your Majesty.

It never failed. There were a lot of amazing experiences out there, as I communed with God, but the timing of this, the beauty of this…it was just so soul-cleansing, so healing and humbling.

I wasn’t raised in a church where we raised our hands, and I don’t attend a church now that raises hands. But there was something so fulfilling when walking on the trail with the perfect timing of that song and the view and … I just had to raise up my hands every time. I guess you could say I’m a self-taught hand-raiser. I couldn’t not raise my arms up to Him. I know some of the people walking on the trail probably gave me funny looks, but I didn’t care. I did what was in my heart.

I’m not able to walk on that trail any longer, but I am blessed for the years I was able to spend there. I’ve found a new place to walk, also on a bluff overlooking the water, but it’s on the opposite side of the island. Clear or hazy, it’s still breathtaking and my heart delights in every minute I’m able to spend there.

It hasn’t happened yet that Majesty starts to play in a certain special place. Perhaps it won’t again. And if it doesn’t, that’s okay. I’m still exercising my physical and spiritual muscles, still walking along with God, and I know He’ll bring other wonderful experiences into my life.

We’re all unique individuals, each inspired and motivated by different things, so it makes sense that we would stretch our spiritual muscles in different ways.

So I’m curious. Is there something special you do that blesses you and fills your soul with joy as you praise God and stretch your spiritual muscle?

Majesty: Words and music copyright by Martin Smith and Stuart Garrard, 2003
Photos copyright Susan D. Johnson