Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Third Grace

Title: The Third Grace
Author:  Deb Elkink
Year:  2011
Pages:  306
Publisher:  Greenbrier Book Company, LLC
Note:  I received a complimentary copy for an honest review of this book.  The opinions shared in this review are solely my responsibility.  Other reviews can be read at http://seekingwithallyurheart.blogspot.com/ .  Also follow me on Twitter @lcjohnson1988
Just like Paul preaching at Mars Hill way back when, this wonderful debut novel weaves a modern story of choices.  What choices?  The same as the people in Mars Hill had…whether to believe in various idols or in the One True God.  Mary Grace was raised on a farm with her siblings in Nebraska.   At a young age, she decided that she wanted to live in the city.  A young man from France came to live with Mary Grace and her family as an exchange student when suddenly an event happened that changed lives forever.
                Mary Grace changed her name to one of the three goddesses depicted in the statute known as the Three Graces.  Mary Grace was brought up in a strong Christian home with her siblings, but the young man from overseas introduced her to Greek mythology.  All through Francois’ short stay, he was the center of attention as far as Mary Grace was concerned.  They shared some private moments together though thankfully each time something or someone prevented Mary Grace from going into dangerous waters.  Later in her young adult life, Mary Grace comes to know just how much she was protected by God when she learns of other events that involved Francois. 
                Working in the costume arena, with little formal schooling, Mary Grace now known as Aglaia earned a reputation that received attention from others worldwide.  Her knowledge and skill in sewing, material selections, and putting together accurate costumes garnered her great respect as she worked for a private company.  Mary has been carrying a secret love or is it lust?  When her mother learns Mary is going to Paris to present one of her costumes for display, she hands her François’ Bible to return to him and that sets in motion events of heart and life. 
                Lou is a woman who is driven by self ambition and unashamedly uses people for her own benefit.   Her working as a professor for a university is not all what Lou wants.  She is assertively and sublimely weaving a web to trap Aglaia in ways that are covert and meant only for her own gratification and tenure at the university.  Does Lou want Aglaia at the university to teach or make costumes or is there some evil plans made to ruin lives?  Whose lives will be changed?  Naomi, Mary Graces’ best friend since they were little girls, tries to mend the broken relationship with Mary Grace.  Why?  What secret has Naomi never told her best friend?  Why did Naomi move away on the day Mary Grace’s brother Joel was going to be laid to rest?
                There are many threads that the author brings together to weave a very gripping and poignant story of choices, forgiveness, love, and more.  Readers will enjoy this story from page one until the end.  Get a copy of The Third Grace, something to drink and enjoy a fresh and unique story.
My rating is 4 ½ stars.

Remember Me, a novel

Title:  Remember Me

Author:  Penelope Wilcock
Year:  2012
Pages:  217
Publisher:  Crossway
Note:  I received a complimentary copy for an honest review of this book.  The opinions shared in this review are solely my responsibility.  Other reviews can be read at http://seekingwithallyurheart.blogspot.com/.  Also follow me on Twitter @lcjohnson1988
                This is the sixth book in the “Hawk and Dove” series as well as the third book involving the monk, William de Bulmer, as the main character.  The author does a wonderful job of showing some of the intricacies of the relationships between some of the monks.  The story takes place at St. Alcuin’s Abbey.  She does a masterful job of showing us rich historical details as well as the struggles of people trying to live godly lives.
The life of a monk would seem to be rather routine, right?  Well, not for William.  He has fallen in love with the Abbot’s sister, Madeleine.  The Abbot is his boss as well as friend.  Remember monk’s take a vow of celibacy.  The Abbot speaks to both William and Madeleine about their blooming romance so as to put a stop to it.  Madeleine is living on the property of the abbey in a cottage at the charity of the monks.  If her feelings for William were made know, then she would be made to leave and has nowhere else to go.  The same is true for William.  He has been a monk since the age of 19, and is now 50.  He has known no other vocation so he couldn’t support himself outside of the walls of the abbey.  They try to end the romance, but are both miserable.
William makes a friend of Madeleine’s next door neighbor, an old widow also living in a cottage on the charity of the monks.  She asks him to be her confessor, but he also confesses to her.  She comes to love him as a son.  Madeleine helps to take care of her as well.  She knows those two still love one another, but what can she do to help?
William already has a broken heart and is trying to remain faithful to his vows when he receives a message that causes him extreme distress.  He tells Abbot John about the message and seeks forgiveness from his fellow monks.  Can they truly forgive him?  William then descends into his own personal prison of suffering.  He loses weight, can’t sleep and keeps away from the other monks.  How can he possibly make up for what he has done?
Penelope Wilcock does a wonderful job of portraying the real human emotions that everyone, including monks, feels:  love, fear, anger, hurt, kindness, mercy to name a few.  Some of the scenes are so very poignant.  Does William find forgiveness?  Will his heart finally be settled?  Don’t miss this great book!
My rating of the book is 4 stars.

Introducing the Novel: Remember Me

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Remember Me
Crossway Books (July 31, 2012)
Penelope Wilcock


PENELOPE WILCOCK is a full-time author living in Hastings, Sussex, on the southeast coast of England. Her blog, Kindred of the Quiet Way, is about a simple and spiritual Christian lifestyle. Her other books in The Hawk and the Dove series are The Hawk and the Dove, The Wounds of God, and The Long Fall.


Remember Me is the third of a trilogy of books focusing on the character of William de Bulmer, his conversion of life and heart, and the flowering of his ability to love. After the brothers of St. Alcuin take William into the abbey (in The Hardest Thing to Do), he falls in love with Abbot John’s sister (in The Hour Before Dawn) and now has accidentally lost all of the abbey’s money (Remember Me). Seasoned author Penelope Wilcock unlocks the story of one man’s struggles, mistakes, and heart’s longings, and traces the possibility of what it means to get things wrong and begin again. As with each novel in this series, the reader is encouraged to explore a universal aspect of the Christian faith—in this case, the cost of allowing God to do what is necessary to make one whole.

If you would like to read a chapter excerpt of Remember Me, go HERE.

Interview with a Budding Author Deb Elkink


Lisa: Welcome to my site, Deb. I hear you just got some great news, winning a significant literary award for your debut novel, THE THIRD GRACE.

Deb: Thanks for inviting me, Lisa. Yes, the Grace Irwin Award is a sort of “book of the year” designation, and at $5,000 is the largest literary prize given for Canadians who write from a Christian perspective—not that the cash is the most important thing! I was completely surprised and honored to receive this sort of validation from my peers through The Word Guild, who put on the national contest (see http://canadianchristianwritingawards.com/awards/grace-irwin-award/).

Lisa: Give us the blurb of your novel.
Deb: My main character, Mary Grace, fell in love with a French exchange student visiting her parents’ Nebraska farm the summer she was seventeen. François renamed her “Aglaia” after a Greek goddess, and whispered mythological tales into her ear to set her heart longing for something more than her parents’ simplistic life and faith. Then he disappeared from her life. Now, fifteen years later, Aglaia is still single and working as a costume designer in Denver. Her budding success in the city’s posh arts scene convinces her that she’s left the naïve country girl far behind, but “Mary Grace” has deep roots—as Aglaia learns during a business trip to Paris. Her discovery of sensual notes François jotted into a Bible during that long-ago fling combined with a silly errand imposed by her mother and the scheming of her sophisticated mentor conspire to create a thirst in her soul that neither evocative daydreams nor professional success can quench. THE THIRD GRACE follows a woman on a dual journey across oceans and time, torn between her rural upbringing and her search for self.

Lisa: How did you come up with the story idea?

Deb: The first time I went to Europe, over twenty years ago, I stood in the Louvre Museum in Paris before a marble statue grouping of the Three Graces and thought what a perfect icon they would be. But life at that time wasn’t quite ready to let me write my novel yet.
Lisa: Yes, I see from your website that you’ve enjoyed a fairly busy life. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you first came to write, back in the beginning.

Deb: Well, I love words—the way they feel in the mouth and sound in the air and look on the page. I spoke in full sentences before I walked, and my elementary report cards invariably stated, “Debbie is an excellent student, but she talks too much.” I lived under the shame of being a chatterbox until I figured out how to use my verbal tendencies to my advantage—by organizing the jumble in my soul through writing childish poems, high school assignments, college short stories, graduate research. Not that writing has slowed my talking much!

I grew up with four siblings in urban Canada under creative parents—a prolific artist and a yarn-spinning entrepreneur—and so I’m an extroverted and adventuresome city-slicker when it comes to shopping, social and cultural events, or travel. But my heart is in the bucolic countryside, my city heart converted when I fell in love with a cowboy and moved to an isolated prairie cattle ranch for two decades of horseback riding, cooking for huge branding crews, and raising a family. When our last of three home-educated kids went off to boarding school at age fifteen, I returned to school myself for a few years and, finally, no longer had an excuse to shelve my dreams of becoming a novelist. Today I write from a cozy nest on the banks of a creek in southern Alberta near the Montana border, looking out my kitchen window at the historic red barn on a green-hill backdrop.

So I think both my personality and my circumstances have primed me to write, compelling me to communicate what is in my mind and my heart.

Lisa: Well, what exactly is in your mind and heart?

Deb: My mom used to warn me against letting my imagination run away with me, so I know my fears and fantasies must have shown up early in my life. But I’ve always immersed myself into the experience at hand. A prof of mine, explaining the two types of people in the world, told about the roommates of a college boy who took off his stinky running shoe; his pain-avoiding roomie pushed back and said, “Keep that thing away from me,” while the pleasure seeker leaned forward eagerly to exclaim, “Here, let me smell!” I’m the second student: I taste-test the gravy a dozen times during the simmering, I rub silk fabric against my cheek to really feel the fibers, I even breathe deeply when driving past an excited skunk on the gravel road. My husband and kids tell me I’m addicted to experiences. I can’t help it—I love the sheer pleasure of the senses.

And yet, hedonistic as that might be, I’m convinced that chasing emotion-producing sensation as an end in itself is ultimately empty. It’s very useful in descriptive writing, sure—but I believe that message is more important than method. Of course, no one is going to read my writing if it’s boring, but message-driven story can use vivid technique. I’ve written in varying styles for differing purposes (editing scholarly dissertations, penning forlorn love letters, reporting journalistic information), but I’m infatuated with fiction. I’m striving to use the sensual (that is, method) in order to reveal the spiritual (message).

I’m still going through the learning stages in how to apply my purpose of retelling timeless truths. No story, I believe, is totally new but rather a reiteration of the four main plot points we find in the Bible: creation, the fall, redemption, and re-creation. I approached the writing of my first novel with this in mind, and I hope to increasingly engage the senses along with the more cerebral elements of metaphor and analogy through riveting plots and layered personalities. It’s so satisfying to create in this way!
Lisa: What was the most fun about writing this particular novel?

Deb: I just loved stitching the storyline together and doing the research—especially about Greek mythology and how it juxtaposes Christian theology. I found it extremely pleasurable as well to develop characters who mirror themes in my own life—Aglaia’s transfer between country and city living and her artistic passions, Lou’s academic avarice, Eb’s sacramental Christian faith, Naomi’s evangelical impulses. And, of course, character interaction was pivotal for me in real life, as well; I had a “François” of sorts in my own teenhood (as most girls do), and in my novel I was able to take that relationship to its logical conclusion. (Compare their first and last kisses on pages 93 and 207.)

Lisa: It’s a romance novel, then?

Deb: Not at all. THE THIRD GRACE does have an embedded love story and explores relationships, but the novel is about looking for spiritual meaning and place. A cool quote from G.K. Chesterton hints at my premise: “Man has always lost his way. He has been a tramp ever since Eden; but he always knew, or thought he knew, what he was looking for.”
Lisa: So what’s next, Deb? Do you have another novel in the making?

Deb: I’m just drafting a story about Libby, a single Minneapolis salesclerk pushing fifty and looking to finally purchase her first house. She’s being harassed on the one hand by a homeless bag lady and on the other by her zany younger friend, who’s enticing Libby to blow her budget on travel to international “sacred places” such as Mayan ruins in Mexico, a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, and a mosque in Istanbul. But, instead, a child’s antique Victorian ring lures Libby to a mansion museum in North Dakota, where her shadowy heritage is unveiled and she truly finds the meaning of home.

The author welcomes all inquiries, and she can be contacted through her email (deb@rolledscroll.com) or website (www.debelkink.com).
You can reach Lisa Johnson through her email (lcjohnson1988@gmail.com) or blog (http://seekingwithallyurheart.blogspot.com/).


Monday, July 30, 2012

Finding Soutbek

Title:  Finding Soutbek
Author:  Karen Jennings
Pages:  165
Year:  2012
Publisher:  Holland Park Press
Note:  I received a complimentary copy for an honest review of this book.  The opinions shared in this review are solely my responsibility.  Other reviews can be read at http://seekingwithallyurheart.blogspot.com/ .  Also follow me on Twitter @lcjohnson1988
This novel is a work of fiction that portrays life in South Africa.  The gulf that exists between its inhabitants is wide.  The reasons for this gulf are varied.  As the reader progresses through the novel, some of the facts for the division are revealed.  Finding Soutbek is Karen Jennings first novel, and she is currently working on another novel as well as working toward her doctorate.
                While trying to survive in the village, Pieter Fortuin as a young man decided he didn’t want to end up poor like his father.  He made the decision to rise above what was to be a bleak future of poverty to become mayor of the village.  How exactly was that accomplished?  He had wealth, home, food and was generous to a fault.  Yet, his past wasn’t something he could just ignore.  Pieter and a professor wrote a book about the history of Soutbek.  A publisher was promoting the book and the future would look brighter if the book would sell.  Shortly before the book was to be promoted, with a photographer coming to take pictures of the village, a fire had destroyed the poorest area’s homes.
                The poor lived their lives on the beach after the fire was over, slowly rebuilding with whatever materials were lying around.  This wasn’t the first fire the area had known, nor would it be the last.  Life’s struggles and hardships of the village’s inhabitants are shared in the book.  At one time, the village was a viable and thriving fishing and farming community; however, the present and future are very different.
Though it is an interesting short novel and easy to read in one day, I was disappointed.  Why do authors feel it necessary to darken the pages of a story with foul language?  Readers, please be aware there is foul language in this book, though sporadic it doesn’t add to the story.  There is also a sexual scene as well.
                The art of telling a good story can exclude the use foul language and sexual content.  Literature can and does influence readers in many ways, so authors need to be careful what to put in print.  All genres of literature can stir readers in many ways.  I hope authors will reconsider using such language in books with the hopes of influencing future generations to express themselves differently.
My rating is 2 ½ stars.