Wednesday, 30 September 2009

It's Not About Him by Michelle Sutton

When Susie discovers she is pregnant, she has no idea who the father is. She considers having an abortion, but decides to place her baby for adoption instead. Following through ends up being more wrenching than she'd imagined, but she's determined to do the right thing for her baby.

My take:~

Authentic and confronting, emotive and compelling, Michelle Sutton's It's Not About Him takes the reader on a journey of heartache and hope as Susie and Jeff battle fear, temptation and despair. Michelle vividly exposes the frailties of the human heart with a frankness rarely seen as her characters struggle with rape, alcoholism, promiscuity and failing God's call on their lives. Susie, Jeff and Tony experience the painful consequences of their choices, grappling with the true meaning of living by faith and the sacrifices love demands. Despite the difficult subject matter, hope and forgiveness lie at the heart of this novel, offering today's young adults the promise of a restored heart and mind through a relationship with Jesus. It's Not About Him is a brave and riveting story.

Relz Reviewz Extras

Review of It's Not About Me

Character spotlight on Jeff Rhodes

Interview with Michelle

Visit Michelle's website and blog

Buy Michelle's books at Amazon and CBD

Stretch Marks by Kimberly Stuart


Free-spirited Chicago social worker Mia Rathbun and her boyfriend, Lars, have a good thing going---until Mia becomes pregnant. Suddenly she finds herself on her own facing single parenthood. When her estranged mother, Babs, shows up to help, things get dicey. Can mother and daughter reconcile---and discover how God can create beauty from ashes?

My take:~

Every now and again I come across a book that is a pure treat! Stretch Marks is just that – humorous, poignant and honest to a fault. Kimberly Stuart’s writing is fresh, energetic and timely. Following the heartache of an unplanned pregnancy and the tension of a difficult mother/daughter relationship, Kimberly plumbs the emotion and conflict that results. Unique characters inhabit Mia’s neighbourhood and show their support with love and tenderness as she comes to terms with becoming a mother. A touch of romance and the joy of healed relationships, make Stretch Marks a delightful journey. I will be certainly be looking for Kimberly’s backlist.

Relz Reviewz Extras

Visit Kimberly's website and blog

Buy Kimberly's books at Amazon or Koorong

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Blog Tour of The Great Christmas Bowl by Susan May Warren with Aussie Giveaway

About The Great Christmas Bowl:

Marianne Wallace is focused on two things this holiday season: planning the greatest family Christmas ever and cheering on her youngest son’s team in their bid for the state championship.
Disaster strikes when the team loses their mascot-the Trout. Is it going too far to ask her to don the costume? So what if her husband has also volunteered her to organize the church Christmas tea.

When football playoffs start ramping up, the Christmas tea starts falling apart. Then, one by one her children tell her they can’t come home for Christmas.

As life starts to unravel, will Marianne remember the true meaning of the holidays?

My take:

As an Aussie, I don't know much about American Football, but I know plenty about family expectations, Christmas traditions and mother guilt! As a result I giggled and sympathised my way through this story of one mum's desperate attempt to keep her son happy and bring the family back home at Christmas. Susan's book is a little gem, overflowing with small town community - the good and the bad - a reminder of God's grace and the things that are truly important as we celebrate Christmas.

About Susan:

Susan May Warren is the RITA award-winning author of twenty-four novels with Tyndale, Barbour and Steeple Hill. A four-time Christy award finalist, a two-time RITA Finalist, she’s also a multi-winner of the Inspirational Readers Choice award, and the ACFW Book of the Year. Her larger than life characters and layered plots have won her acclaim with readers and reviewers alike. A seasoned women’s events and retreats speaker, she’s a popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation and the author of the beginning writer’s workbook: From the Inside-Out: discover, create and publish the novel in you!. She is also the founder of, a story-crafting service that helps authors discover their voice. Susan makes her home in northern Minnesota, where she is busy cheering on her two sons in football, and her daughter in local theater productions (and desperately missing her college-age son!) A full listing of her titles, reviews and awards can be found at:

The Great Christmas Bowl website

The website features a note from the author, fun updates from Big Lake Gazette, info on how to host your own Great Christmas Bowl Tea to benefit a local ministry or charity and a fun Recipe Exchange contest!

CONTEST: Be a part of the Great Christmas Bowl recipe exchange!

Susan loves getting recipes from friends, and sharing the delicious cookies, soups, breads and other fun fixings that go with celebrating the Christmas season. More than that, she loves the crazy stories about favorite Christmases – serious, touching, funny…whatever. Find the recipe contest here

Will you share your story and recipe with Susan and the readers of the Great Christmas Bowl? She will post your story and recipe on the FRONT PAGE of the Great Christmas Bowl website, and send you a link when it goes up so you can tell all your friends. Then, at the Great Christmas Bowl party (December 5th, 10am, online! Details TBA) she’ll make the entire cookbook available for download!

For every recipe/story you submit (up to 3), you will be entered in a drawing to receive one of SMW’s collections (Noble Legacy, Team Hope, Heirs of Anton, Deep Haven Series, Josey series, or THE ADVANCED COPY of Sons of Thunder – Susie’s brand new epic World War 2 novel, due out in January 2010!)

Go – run, get your recipe, then come back here and click on the link below to share your Christmas memories!

Blog Tour Schedule here!

Relz Reviewz Extras

Visit Susan's website

Buy the book at CBD or Koorong

Aussie Giveaway

To enter:~

1. You must have an Aussie mailing address

2. Post a comment by Sunday 4th October, 2009 telling me your favourite family Christmas tradition

The Potluck Club Cookbook ~ Tracy's Take

It is an exciting day in my world, when I am offered a new cookbook. One that teams with a great novel can only mean I am in for a real treat. I loved the inclusion of comments from the authors about each recipe. I feel like I have delved a little into Shepherd and Everson family traditions!

I eagerly tried two of the recipes from ‘The Potluck Club Cookbook’. First came the Chicken Cacciatore from page 56. This fabulously simple recipe belies the depth of rich flavour delivered by the end product. My refrigerator and pantry perpetually contain the ingredients for this Chicken Cacciatore, making the experience that much more enjoyable. The recipe’s serving suggestion calls for spaghetti or rice as an accompaniment. I can also attest to the fact that it teams perfectly with soft polenta as well. According to my family, this one is a keeper.

Next I decided that something sweet should come next. Grandmother Miller’s Teacakes on page 46 tempted my fancy this time. I was intrigued when I discovered the directions cutting out cookies. My image of a teacake is more…cakey. The result was more of a softly vanilla flavoured cookie that has a slightly cakey texture, rather than a crisp cookie. Everyone in our home has eagerly devoured every last crumb and asked if we can make those again. Always a sure sign of success!

One of the things that intrigued me most about this book also caused me the most challenge. This book is inherently American, for obvious reasons! As an Australian, I was captivated by what is enjoyed by a vast number of typically American homes. I thoroughly enjoyed this insight. The challenge came when trying to determine what a stick of butter might weigh and what was meant by tomato sauce or whipped topping. Thankfully, the internet is a vast ocean of information and all my questions were answered without too much effort.

The road testing of recipes won’t end here! I have plans afoot to continue my American cooking lessons with a little Southern Ambrosia and Sloppy Joes.

Available September 2009 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group

Guest reviewer:~ My friend Tracy from Beyond My Picket Fence

Relz Reviewz Extras

Review of A Taste of Fame

Visit the websites of Linda & Eva

Buy the books at Amazon or Koorong

Monday, 28 September 2009

The winners are..........

Love's Pursuit ~ Jen

Guardian of the Flame ~ Abi & Mark (USA) and Tracy & Jaana (Aus)

Congratulations ~ please email me your snail mail address within 7 days to claim your book.

On another note, unfortunately, I am unable to bring you the spotlight on The Call of Zulina at this time.

On Thursday, we will be back on track and you can look forward to a spotlight on James David Jordan's Ta
ylor Pasbury from the action thrillers, Forsaken and Double Cross.

A Taste of Fame by Linda Evans Shepherd & Eva Marie Everson ~ Tracy's Take

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Is America ready to meet the Potluck Catering Club on reality TV?

The women of the Potluck Catering Club have a growing business. They even became the subject of a budding filmmaker's class project. Problem is, they didn't read the fine print when they signed off on his documentary. When he enters the club in the reality show The Great Party Showdown, the ladies of Summit View, Colorado, must head to the Big Apple for the unexpected adventure of their lives.

Between navigating New York City, dealing with cutthroat contestants, and trying to maintain their close friendship in the surreal world of reality TV, the Potluck women must keep their eyes on the prize--a cool million dollars--and work together if they're going to make it back home in one piece.

A Taste of Fame serves up the perfect blend of humor, misadventure, and mouthwatering recipes. Fans new and old will love this exciting trip into the wild world of competitive cooking!

What I thought:

‘A Taste of Fame’ is filled to the brim with characters that appeal despite their flaws and the hilarious calamity the meets them at every turn. The authors have deftly infused the make-believe world of ‘reality’ television with women who seek to achieve their best despite personal adversity and lack of entertainment industry savvy.

‘A Taste of Fame’ is written in the first person, which each chapter from a different character in the Potluck Club. In the past I have found this format a little challenging to begin with, however, the deeper insight to the personality of each character soon overrode any of those feelings as I eagerly embraced each woman in a different way, just as each brings something different to their Potluck Club. For me, the most inspiring was Evie. It is Evie who reminds the group to get back to their roots and walk forward in prayer, rather than rushing ahead like fools.

One of the things the cook within me loved was the inclusion of recipes from the pages of the story. What a stroke of genius from these gifted authors, to indulge not only the imagination, but the taste buds as well. There is no need to merely dream now, you can jump in and taste along with the rest of the Potluck Club!

Despite the levity that permeates this novel, there remains a depth that comes from the real storms of life. As these women meet the difficulties in their lives head on, they prove the faithfulness of a God who loves harmony. They inspire the reader to value the things that are really important and to work hard to maintain strong relationships with the people we love most dearly.

Available September 2009 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Guest reviewer:~ My friend Tracy from Beyond My Picket Fence

Relz Reviewz Extras

Visit the websites of Linda & Eva

Buy the books at Amazon or Koorong

Drop back tomorrow for Tracy's delectable review of The Potluck Club Cookbook ~ yum!

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Love's Rescue by Tammy Barley

A Dividing Conflict

In 1863, the War Between the States is dividing more than just a nation. To escape the conflict, Jessica Hale and her family flee their Kentucky homestead and head for the Nevada Territory. Her brother, Ambrose, committed to the Confederates, rejoins the Kentucky militia and is disowned by his father. But the worst is yet to come.

The Heroic Kidnapper

When Unionists presume the family to be Confederate sympathizers, they set a devastating fire to their home. All alone and then "kidnapped" by cattleman Jake Bennett, Jessica is taken to a ranch deep in the Sierra Nevada wilderness. But, can Jessica overcome her resentment toward Jake for failing to save her family?

The Depths of Love

When Jake launches a plan to help Jessica's brother escape from prison camp, she sees him for the honest, good-hearted Christian man that he is and now knows the depth of his love for her. Through the lingering smoke and smoldering ashes from her ruined home and murdered family, will Jessica see a future with Jake?

My take:~

Tammy Barley has created intriguing characters, a multi layered, suspenseful plot and a sweet romance in her recently released historical novel, Love’s Rescue. Family tragedy and suspicions generated by the Civil War, permeate this story alongside the conflict and attraction that Jessica and Jake battle. Fascinating insight into the Paiute Indians as they adjusted to changes wrought by the new settlers adds to the depth of this tale. Love’s Rescue is a solid debut by this author and should garner her a faithful following.

Relz Reviewz Extras

Visit Tammy's website

Buy Tammy's book at Amazon or Koorong

Friday, 25 September 2009

Deborah Vogts ~ What's Cooking?

I LOVE sharing recipes. Here is an old family favorite--my grandma made this when I was a girl and we still love it.

Chocolate App
lesauce Cake


1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup vegetable shortening

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups applesauce

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

2 tablespoons cocoa

Topping: 1/2 cup chopped pecans, 3 tablespoons sugar, 1 cup chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In mixing bowl, cream together sugar and shortening.
Add eggs, vanilla and applesauce until mixed well.
In small bowl sift together flour, salt, baking soda and cocoa.
Add to creamed mixture and stir until well blended.
Pour into a greased oblong cake pan.
Sprinkle cake with topping ingredients.
Bake for 35 minutes or until cake is set. Yummy.

Mmmm...I can almost smell this one cooking :) Thanks Deborah!

Deborah's Books

Snow Melts in Spring ~ Seeds of Summer (May, 2010)

Relz Reviewz Extras

All things Vogts @ Relz Reviewz
Visit Deborah's website and blog
Check out more of Deborah's favourite recipes
Buy Deborah's book at Amazon or Koorong

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Character Spotlight ~ Melody Carlson's Hope Bartolli

Today the spotlight shines on..........................Hope Bartolli

Melody Carlson is such a talented author, writing across multiple genres in the adult and YA market. Her latest release is one of Summerside Press' Love Finds You series ~ Love Finds You in Sisters, Oregon.
Enjoy Melody's insight into the sister in the middle, Hope Bartolli!

Brief physical description

Hope Bartolli looks a bit more Italian than her sisters. Long brunette hair, brown eyes, even but interesting features. Taller than average. Kind of a Sandra Bullock

Strengths and weaknesses

Hope is an intelligent hard worker who takes life a bit too seriously. Her weakness is too much fear and caution which keeps her from fully living her life.

Quirk (if any)

In an effort to conceal some old hurts (thanks to her younger sister) Hope battles some jealousy and tries too hard to appear nonchalant.

Your inspiration for the character

The Three Sisters Mountains (our town's namesake) also share names with the three Bartolli sisters (Faith, Hope & Charity) along with some personality traits. One mountain (north, Faith) is slightly cool and aloof. The southern mountain, Charity, is somewhat volatile (recent volcanic activity). And the other mountain (Hope) is kind of stuck in the middle.

Background to the story

When Hope returns to her hometown of Sisters Oregon to attend her grandmother's funeral, she's forced to reunite with her two sisters. But after she inherits Nona's property, old feuds and jealousies are stirred up and Hope must decide whether to stay in Sisters or give up her inheritance and retreat to her previous and somewhat stagnant life.

Melody ~ thanks for finding the time in your busy schedule to share about Hope!

On Monday, I hope to bring you a spotlight on Kay Strom's Grace Winslow from her latest novel, The Call of Zulina.

Relz Reviewz Extras

Interview with Melody
Visit Melody's website
Buy Melody's books at Amazon or Koorong

Book trailer for Bob Hamer's Enemies Among Us

B&H Fiction and their new offshoot, Fidelis Books, continue to produce great trailers to go with their books!

Bob Hamer's Enemies Among Us looks like it is going to be a great addition to my collection :)

What do you think?

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

CFBA Blog Tour of One Imperfect Christmas by Myra Johnson

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

One Imperfect Christmas

Abingdon Press (September 2009)


Myra Johnson


Making up stories has been second nature to me for as long as I can remember. A select group of trusted friends back at dear old Mission High waited eagerly for the next installment of my "Great American Spy Novel" (think Man from Uncle) and my "All-American Teen Novel" (remember Gidget and Tammy?). I even had a private notebook of angst-ridden poetry a la Rod McKuen.

The dream of writing persisted into adulthood, although it often remained on the back burner while I attended to home and family and several "real" (read paying) jobs along the way. Then in 1983, while recovering from sinus surgery, I came upon one of those magazine ads for the Institute of Children’s Literature. I knew it was time to get serious, and the next thing I knew, I'd enrolled in the “Writing for Children and Teenagers” course.

Within a year or so I sold my first story, which appeared in the Christian publication Alive! for Young Teens. For many years I enjoyed success writing stories and articles for middle-graders and young adults. I even taught for ICL for 9 years.

Then my girls grew up, and there went my live-in inspiration. Time to switch gears. I began my first women's fiction manuscript and started attending Christian writers conferences. Eventually I learned about American Christian Romance Writers (which later became American Christian Fiction Writers) and couldn't wait to get involved. Friends in ACFW led me to RWA and the online inspirational chapter, Faith, Hope & Love.

So here I am today, still on this crazy roller-coaster ride. Still writing. Still hopeful. Writing, I'm learning, is not about the destination, it's about the journey. My current projects are primarily women's fiction and romance . . . novels of hope, love, and encouragement. Novels about real women living out their faith and finding love in the midst of everyday, and sometimes not so everyday, situations.


Graphic designer Natalie Pearce faces the most difficult Christmas of her life. For almost a year, her mother has lain in a nursing home, the victim of a massive stroke, and Natalie blames herself for not being there when it happened. Worse, she's allowed the monstrous load of guilt to drive a wedge between her and everyone she loves-most of all her husband Daniel. Her marriage is on the verge of dissolving, her prayer life is suffering, and she's one Christmas away from hitting rock bottom.

Junior-high basketball coach Daniel Pearce is at his wit's end. Nothing he's done has been able to break through the wall Natalie has erected between them. And their daughter Lissa's adolescent rebellion isn't helping matters. As Daniel's hope reaches its lowest ebb, he wonders if this Christmas will spell the end of his marriage and the loss of everything he holds dear.

If you would like to read the first chapter of
One Imperfect Christmas, go HERE

Watch the trailer:

Rel:~ I had hoped to have Myra's book read by this tour but it was not to be! However, I'm really looking forward to Myra's Character Spotlight which will be coming to Relz Reviewz in early October. Don't miss it!

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Book Club Interview with Siri Mitchell & Aussie Giveaway

My Book Club's September selection was Siri Mitchell's Love's Pursuit. It is a poignant tale of tender love and God's grace and is highly recommended to other book clubs. Siri graciously answered our questions and I wanted to share her insights into Love's Pursuit, writing and much more. Be warned there are some spoilers if you haven't read Love's Pursuit yet.

Love's Pursuit is available now from Bethany House.


Siri:~ First, thank you so much for choosing to read my book. I hope the time you spent between its pages let you immerse yourself in a different time and place. I also hope that it was thought provoking. Thanks too for forwarding all of these questions. I loved answering them because they made me think about the book in a different way, helped me to understand the ‘why’s of some of the things that I wrote (read on for surprising revelations!), and be more precise about what it was that I was trying to say (which can actually be very difficult for a novelist!) So, without further ado:

‘Love’s Pursuit’ is quite different from your other books to date, how challenging was it to write something with such a historical style of language, compared to the more contemporary language used in your other novels?

It’s always difficult to know exactly how true to the time to be. I agonized over A Constant Heart. Just how ‘Shakespearian’ did the characters have to sound, etc. I hardly used any contractions in that book in order to convey the more formal speech patterns. Love’s Pursuit was a bit more relaxed in terms of formality. And I had trouble in my next book (She Walks in Beauty) not making the dialogue sound too contemporary.

The most difficult part in writing historicals is limiting my words and my metaphors. In Love’s Pursuit, for example, I was writing about people who lived in a wilderness, who had limited interaction with the world at large. They didn’t have many past experiences to draw on. Think of things like describing a color. Turquoise is out. Garnets are probably out. As are emeralds. I definitely couldn’t use ‘sparkle like a diamond’ or ‘a pearl of a moon’. Imagine never having heard the sound of a piano or violin (which is something I tried to convey in one of the scenes at the Wrights’ house.) How do you describe the sound of a bird? Or the shape of clouds? And could thunder really sound like a cannon? (Maybe to people in Boston where there were cannons, but probably not to the people in Stoneybrooke. It probably just sounded like…thunder J) Most comparisons to machinery or the workings of such things were too modern to use. If the truth be told, one of the reasons I had Susannah be familiar with Boston was so that I could bring in some references and metaphors having to do with the sea.

Writing in contemporary language has its own problems. It’s always hard to know which words in current use will be later be seen as dated. ‘Groovy’ is pretty much tied to the 60s. ‘Hot!’ could also be ‘Cool!’ depending on the decade. Any references to popular culture will quickly date a book, but that’s also part of the appeal of contemporary stories – we relate to them so easily. The rhythms of modern speech, however, are much easier to come by.

One of the things I found challenging was the Puritan’s belief that one is best served by being busy all the time and that to rest during the day is squandering what God gives us, particularly when I spent a whole rainy Saturday curled up with this book! What kind of imprint did this part of the Puritan’s life make on yours?

I’m sorry I made you sin!

Honestly? I thought to myself, ‘What a bunch of hog-swallop! Those poor, deceived people!’ As a wife, mother, writer, daughter, and sister. Housekeeper, cook, taxi driver, grocery shopper, I feel like I deserve the breaks I take. And frankly, there aren’t enough of them! I went to an exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum lately on ‘The Art of Invention.’ They delved into the creative life of famous inventors. One of them came up with some of his best ideas floating on a lake near his house, on his back, cigar in mouth, staring up at the stars. I think when people are ‘doing nothing,’ they’re actually doing something, whether that something is contemplating theology or working out the solutions to their personal problems. In theory, the Puritan ideal sounds good. Especially as I contemplate raising a teenager (Idle hands, the devil’s workshop, etc.), but in practice, I think we all need to take breaks when we can get them. When else do we have the chance to appreciate the world around us and cultivate a sense of gratitude toward God?

You are quite open at the same time as being subtly tasteful about the intimate lives of the characters in ‘Love’s Pursuit’. While I felt that you handled the writing of those things beautifully, I suspect it has probably drawn a fair amount of criticism for you as well. How do you, as an author, deal with criticism of your work?

I have gotten some ‘Good book, but not for the single woman or teenager’ reviews. What I thought was interesting was how matter-of-fact people were about sexuality back then. It was just an expected part of life. I wanted to convey the idea that some things that we’re prudish about today were not at all looked upon that way back then. Not even by these pious, devout people that we can’t imagine ever doing (let alone enjoying!) such things.

How do I deal with criticism in general? It really depends on what the criticism is. Generally, I know where my books could have been stronger. If a review happens to mention those areas, then what can I say except that I’ll try harder next time. (Case in point: spring 2010’s book is going to be from one POV only. It will also have a happy ending J) Sometimes reviews mention something that surprises me. In those cases, if that comment keeps popping up, then I put in my basket of things to work on, whether it’s a technical issue or whether I just failed to communicate clearly. Sometimes reviewers seem to miss the point entirely. On one website recently, there were a whole host of reviews that criticized this book for completely lacking a Christian message. What else can I do with those but laugh? This is the most Christian book I’ve ever written. The whole point is Grace! Mostly, I just try to remember that everyone who reads my books has the right to have an opinion about them.

I felt very much for the character of Small-hope. It was a bold statement by her husband, Thomas, to buy her such a beautiful coat. The way her story unfolded was wonderful. It made me think of others who need a "red coat" when they feel they should stay in "gray". I am wondering where this character came from or how you found her.

I loved the character of Thomas. I considered, for a while, telling some of the story from his point of view; he saw Small-hope so differently than she viewed herself. But I decided, in the end, that hearing the story from her point of view would be more powerful. In giving her the red coat, I don’t think Thomas saw it as a challenge to her, I think he always saw her whole and he thought that she should have it. I love your statement, Jodie, about people needing a red coat when they feel they should stay in gray. I never really considered that scene from that perspective. But that red coat was such a dilemma for her. Should she stay the person she was or should she reveal herself to the world? It was one of my favorite scenes because Thomas didn’t realize what he was doing and Small-hope literally had to fight herself to accept that free gift. And, as happens when we accept grace, that gift changed everything. I wish I could tell you I set the whole thing up that way, but I didn’t really see it until right this moment.

Some other things I never really meant to write: Daniel as a Christ figure. My editor laughed when I told her I didn’t realize I had written him that way. I also never realized that Small-hope and Susannah were both really grappling with the same problem internally. Apparently this means that I have theme all figured out. (I wish I knew how I did it, because I might try it again some day!)

How I found Small-hope? Slowly. I honestly think she sort of shadowed me until I turned around and saw her. I wanted to have an insider’s and an outsider’s view of the community and she definitely fit that role.

The book was heart wrenching but I enjoyed it very much! What was the inspiration for this story and how did you come up with the names for the characters?

{I’ll answer the names question a bit later on…} My first contract with my publisher was for three historicals based on fashion elements. The first and third book ideas came quickly. A Constant Heart was written about the lead-based face paints Elizabethan women used. She Walks in Beauty (to be released in April) has to do with Victorian-era corsets. But I had to think up a third idea for the middle book. When I was shopping these ideas around, a different publisher said they wanted another American setting.

One of my favorite young adult books is The Witch of Blackbird Pond, set in Puritan New England. And one of the subplots involves an outsider dealing with the dress codes of the Puritans. I thought the dress codes would be interesting to write about. As I thought about creating a story around that, I knew I had to have a character get ‘caught’ wearing the wrong gown which would make the people in her town disbelieve everything they ever knew about her. The story specifics developed from there.

As far as the setting, I didn’t want to write about the Pilgrims (1620s) and I definitely didn’t want to write about the Salem Witch Trials (1690s) I didn’t think I had much to add to those two topics. I did want to use the colony’s Code of Laws which came into effect in the 1640s, but I didn’t want to set it during the period of conflicts with the Native American tribe in the area (1670s). I decided on the 1640s simply because it had what I needed: the Code of Laws and a point in time when the colony was still in its infancy.

Do you think it is a romance or a tragedy?

It’s such a hard question. That’s why I asked you guys! Can it be a tragic romance? That’s what my editor had in mind when he saw the proposal. He said he’d been looking for a good tragic romance. He thought the market was ready for one. So let’s go with that.

How did you come up with the characters names?

The farther back in history you go, the more limited the pool of names becomes. In England, at the end of the 16th century for instance, 72% of the women shared just 10 names: Elizabeth, Anne, Joan, Margaret, Alice, Mary, Agnes, Catherine, Jane, and Dorothy. In my historicals, I really try to be true to the times. For this book, I looked at digitized town and parish census records, ship logs, and other period collections of names. The Puritans had two main naming methods. Often, children were named after their parents (both mother and father). They were also named after people in the Bible (excepting the archangels or any name that Christ was called i.e. Michael, Gabriel, Emmanuel, etc.). Only those in the very strictest of Puritan sects named their children after extreme virtues (Fly-fornication, Search-the-scriptures, Fight-the-good-fight-of-faith, Makepeace, Helpless, No-merit, etc.). Small-hope’s name was one I actually discovered when I was looking through those old records. I thought it would be so sad to carry that name and wondered why anyone would name a child that. Much of her story was based on my imagined answers to those two questions.

Susannah, though not included in our Bible, is a name that would have been familiar to the English. It had long been part of the Roman Catholic Bible (Chapter 13 in their Book of Daniel). Although the Puritans would have had nothing to do with Catholics (they considered the story apocryphal since it had been written in Greek rather than Hebrew), the name had become part of English culture by then. Many artists during the Renaissance used Susannah’s story as inspiration for their art. Daniel is one of the people mentioned in that story. I didn’t start out trying to parallel it, but here’s the story in a nutshell (taken from Wikipedia):


As the story goes, a fair Hebrew wife is falsely accused by lecherous voyeurs. As she bathes in her garden, having sent her attendants away, two lusty elders secretly observe the lovely Susanna. When she makes her way back to her house, they accost her, threatening to claim that she was meeting a young man in the garden unless she agrees to have sex with them.

She refuses to be blackmailed, and is arrested and about to be put to death for promiscuity when a young man named Daniel (our Protestant ‘Daniel and the Lion’s Den Daniel) interrupts the proceedings. After being separated, the two men are questioned about details of what they saw, but disagree about the tree under which Susanna supposedly met her lover. The great difference in size between the two trees make the elders' lies plain to all the observers. The false accusers are put to death, and virtue triumphs.


I also decided to have Susannah be named after her mother to illustrate that naming tradition, since we rarely do that today. Another interesting tradition was to keep naming sons after their father until one of them lived past childhood. In the book I have Susannah noting that there had been several sons named John in her family before the baby had been born. In our modern era, we assign individuality to a child even before it’s born. During the Puritan era (and prior to it), child mortality was so common, that a child didn’t really assume an identity (or even their gender) until they were several years old.

Thoroughly enjoyed Love’s Pursuit. I was fascinated how you successfully entwined the different dialogues and views of Susannah and Small-hope without confusing the story or taking away from it. Did you write these at the same time or did you write the story about Susannah and then add Small-hopes thoughts later?

I’m so glad you liked it!

I wrote them at the same time. I wanted the contrast between how Susannah saw the village and how Small-hope saw it and also wanted a sense of immediacy between the two women’s points of view about the same situations. It seemed to work best when I wrote from the two points-of-view at the same time.

The Puritan belief that they must work to gain God's approval was very interesting. How did you research the Puritan church and was it difficult to do so?

I read quite a few books about the Puritans, examined their legal code, and read through court records. Two of my favorite books about them were:

Worldly Saints – The Puritans As They Really Were by Leland Ryken

Good Wives by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

What really surprised me, as I read their own words, is how sweet and sacred the marriage relationship was to them. So many of their leaders were completely and absolutely in love with their wives. The Puritans always believed in spiritual equality, that men and women were equal before the throne of God. That didn’t stop them from assigning men’s work and women’s work, of course, and women never had equal rights under their code of laws, but that idea of spiritual equality was truly radical for their time. They really rescued women from the Catholic bias against the female and the idea that Woman was Man’s downfall.

In some respects, Puritan New England placed women on a more equal footing than they would achieve for several more centuries. Carving a life out of the wilderness was such difficult work that husband and wife viewed each other as teammates. After the Eastern seaboard had been settled and leisure time was more abundant for more families, women retreated to the ‘Ornamental and Pretty Pedestal’ where they stayed for the next 200 years. I suspect there might have been a similar cultural pattern in the settling of Australia.

Through my research, I came to respect the Puritans. They were really quite devout and truly wanted to serve God in every way they could think of. Their tragedy is that they over thought their theology. They just couldn’t believe that God actually loved them. And when you take away God’s love and can’t quite trust in His grace, then you have to come up with some way to make God save you. The Puritans decided they could do that through works.

I was listening to a pastor talk about the Pharisees once. He said that in Biblical times, we would have liked them. They were smart, they were earnest. They were devout. They truly tried to live out their religion the way they understood it. I think the Puritans were a lot like that. They were the intellectuals of their time. They really just wanted to reform the church. They were tired of the focus being on fancy priests’ robes and ornate trappings. They didn’t see the point in repeating meaningless prayers or listening to sermons that had no connection to the reality of life. They thought faith, real faith, had more to offer. They were right, up to a point, but unfortunately, they ran right past it!

What challenged you to write about the Puritan life style particularly the treatment of women? (NOTE: this question was asked several times and in broader terms (why do I write historicals with contemporary issues?); I’ll answer all of them here.)

I think history has so much to offer the modern woman. In reading about our historical sisters, I’ve realized that throughout history, women have shared the same problems. We may have come up with different solutions to solve them, but the core issues remain the same. Inadequacy (She Walks in Beauty), Shame (Love’s Pursuit), Peer Pressure (A Constant Heart), Self-determination (Chateau of Echoes), Belonging (this next book I’m about to start writing).

I’m researching right now for a novel dealing with immigration. I could lift, verbatim, text from anti-immigration speeches and pamphlets and it would sound thoroughly contemporary. The way with deal with ‘Others’ has always been to draw a box around them and label them as sub-standard or different. This has been true from the Jew during the Middle Ages, the Irish during much of Britain’s history, the Italian in 19th century, and, I hate to have to say it, the Hispanic in 21st century America.

Sometimes looking backward through history helps to illuminate our own culture…and in a less aggressive, provocative way.

In this book, I think I’m trying to say that, like the Puritans, if we only understood how much God loved us, we could release ourselves from all kinds of burdens and the strain of striving.

How do you develop your characters? Do you choose names first then assign personality or vice versa?

In the proposal stage, when I’m hoping a publisher will buy the story, I have to give a general of idea of who the characters are and what their storyline will be. At that point, I make my best guess in terms of personality and names. But my names have been known to change. The heroine I proposed for A Constant Heart was named Arabella (instead of Marget), but as I wrote, it became quite clear that Arabella was a blonde and I needed that heroine to have dark hair…so back to the name lists I went and came up with a better choice.

In Love’s Pursuit, Susannah was originally supposed to be named Felicity, but as I started in on the writing, it didn’t seem to fit her. So I guess, the short answer to the question would be, ‘Personalities first, names later.’

I note you have signed a new contract for three more historical novels - congrats! Do you have any ideas on storyline, series or stand alones, etc?

Thanks! I’m excited to start writing them. I have storylines for the first two and some wisps of ideas for the third. They’ll be distinct stand alones. At this point, I don’t even see any connection in terms of themes. But usually those don’t become apparent until after my first drafts are done. I might surprise myself! The first book will be set among the Italian immigrant population in Boston in the 1917/1919 range (I’m still trying to peg the right year). The second book is in the proposal stage, but I’m hoping I get the green light to set it in 18th century America. The third is still anyone’s guess!

Can you share a bit about your third novel in this series, She Walks in Beauty?

Sure! The book is set in 1890s New York City in the upper levels of society during the late-Victorian era. When Clara Carter is told she’s to debut a year early, her social education shifts to high gear. There’s more than dance skills and manners that she’ll have to learn. There are corsets to be fitted and bosoms to be enhanced, for a girl so tall and gangly as Clara could never hope to attract a man by simply being herself. But the more enmeshed she becomes in New York City’s social scene the more she begins to wonder if this is the life she really wants. Especially when she’s pitted against her best friend for the hand of the most eligible bachelor in town. When she does manage to find a kindred soul, a man who seems to love her simply for who she is, her heart begins to assert its case. But there’s more at stake this social season than just Clara’s marriage and the future of her family depends on how she plays the game.

The more research I did into corsets and late-Victorian culture, the more their problems seemed to mirror ours. Women still go to dangerous lengths to ‘fix’ the way they look. Media still creates a celebrity-focused culture. Advertising still perpetuates unreasonable standards of beauty for women that lead to anorexia-inducing behaviors, and we still grapple with our attitudes toward and treatment of the poor. Most books about debutantes focus on the glamour of the lifestyle or the cattiness of the girls themselves. This books looks at the huge spiritual, physical, and emotional costs these girls were made to pay.

But really, in true Victorian fashion, this book does have a happy, heartwarming ending and I think there are scenes that will make you laugh and others that will touch your heart and make you cry (happy tears only, please!).

Will we see any more contemporary stories from you? You know Kissing Adrien remains one of my all time favourite novels!

Thanks – I think it will always hold a special place in my heart too!

I have lots of ideas for contemporaries and I hope that someday I’ll have the chance to return to that genre, but for now I feel like I have to breathe life into a backlog of historical ideas that I wasn’t able to write earlier because ‘no one was buying historicals’. The publishing industry is so cyclical that I’m sure historicals will fall from grace at some point and opportunities will open up again for contemporaries.

How do you balance motherhood and writing (and all your other commitments!!)?

I honestly don’t know if I do! The thing that works best for me is reminding myself that I can really only do one thing well at any given time. When my family is at home, that means spending time with them. When I’m at the gym, that means focusing on my workout. When I’m at home by myself, that means either writing or cooking and cleaning. And really, that’s about all that I do. I’m pretty good at saying no. Well…now that I think about it, I must be good at looking like I’d say ‘No’, because I haven’t been asked to volunteer for anything lately. Huh. How about that!

If there’s any secret to my life at all, it’s that it’s been pared way down to the extent that we’ve chosen to live in a small house with a small yard and live quite close to where my husband works (less time spent in the commute means more time to spend together).

I am an American living in Tokyo. I have lived in Japan off and on for 4 years. I have had many funny experiences here with things getting lost in translation. What is the funniest experience you had living in Japan?

My funniest story is also one of mistranslation. I always had a problem distinguishing between kakigori (shaved ice snow-cone like treat) and gokiburi (cockroach). This provided ongoing hilarity every summer when I often suggested that we walk down the hill for some refreshing cockroaches. It’s not that I didn’t think (hard) about my word choice…it’s just that I always chose the wrong one… Readers of Moon Over Tokyo will probably recognize that mistranslation from a scene in the book J

Siri ~ you have our deep appreciation for the time and effort you took to answer our many questions. It added to our discussion of you book and was a wonderful way to end our evening! Thank you from all of us at the RBC Book Club!

Aussie Giveaway

I have a copy of Love's Pursuit to give away to an Aussie

To enter, post a comment before Sunday 27th September,
2009 and be sure you leave contact details and you have an Australian postal address.

Relz Reviewz Extras

Reviews of
A Constant Heart, Chateau of Echoes, The Cubicle Next Door & Moon Over Tokyo

Character spotlight on Love's Pursuit's
characters and A Constant Heart's Marget & Lytham

Visit Siri's

Buy Siri's books at
Amazon or Koorong

Character Spotlight ~ Tamara Leigh's Piper Wick & Axel Smith

Today the spotlight shines on........Piper Wick & Axel Smith

There is something fabulously entertaining and engaging about Tamara Leigh's novels and her latest, Leaving Carolina, has it in spades! Axel Smith is one of my all time favourite leading men so I couldn't wait to see how Tamara saw him :)

Enjoy this insight:~

Brief physical description

Piper Wick (formerly Pickwick) is the 5’3” 30-year-old heroine of Leaving Carolina. She has short, fiery red hair and blue eyes. Though she struggles to maintain a good weight, she has attained a degree of fitness by running and watching her food choices. Her one downfall—pickled corn fried in butter J

Then there’s blue—and I do mean BLUE!—eyed Axel Smith. My hero is 35 years old, 5’10”, and well built. In contrast to his military years, he wears his long, sandy-colored hair in a ponytail. No tattoos, but he does have a goatee and a moustache. He also has a limp, but I’m not telling why J

Actor/famous person

If Piper resembles any actress, I would say it’s Amy Adams.

As for Axel, think Russell Crowe in Master and Commander. My, he looked good with that ponytail.

Strengths and weaknesses

Piper’s strength—determination—is sometimes her weakness. Whereas that particular quality helps her to make a new life for herself outside of the South, it makes it difficult for her to return to her hometown and accept that the past is truly in the past (and to make amends where they need to be made).

Axel’s greatest strength is that when he meets Piper, he has already worked through the weaknesses that held him back spiritually—bitterness and unforgiveness. Because of the example he sets, Piper is able to work through her own struggles.

Quirk (if any)

Two quirks: Piper’s pickled corn obsession (of course, the poor thing hasn’t had any since she shook the Pickwick dust from her feet 12 years ago) and her intense awareness of body language that goes with the job (public relations specialist).

Your inspiration for the character

My mother, Zola, is where Piper began, though not where she ended. My mother longed for a bigger life outside of her little North Carolina town, and when she finally did make it out west, the only time she went back was for brief family visits. Still, it’s true that you can take the girl out of the South, but you can’t take the South out of the girl. And that’s why the South is in Zola’s daughters. And one of them—me—lives in Tennessee J

Background to the story

Piper Wick left her hometown of Pickwick, North Carolina, twelve years ago, shook the dust off her feet, ditched her drawl and her family name, and made a new life for herself as a high-powered public relations consultant in LA. She’s even “engaged to be engaged” to the picture-perfect U.S. Congressman, Grant Spangler.

Now all of Piper’s hard-won happiness is threatened by a reclusive uncle’s bout of conscience. In the wake of a health scare, Uncle Obadiah Pickwick has decided to change his will, leaving money to make amends for four generations’ worth of family misdeeds. But that will reveal all the Pickwicks’ secrets, including Piper’s.

Though Piper arrives in Pickwick primed for battle, she is unprepared for Uncle Obe’s rugged, blue-eyed gardener. So just who is Axel Smith? Why does he think making amends is more than just making restitution? And why, oh why, can’t she stay on task? With the Lord’s help, Piper is about to discover that although good PR might smooth things over, only the truth will set her free.

Thanks, Tammy! Loved this look at Piper and Axel and can't wait to do it all over again for the sequel :) Hope you are writing quickly - LOL!!

On Thursday, the spotlight shines on Melody Carlson's Hope Bartolli from Love Finds You in Sisters, Oregon!

Relz Reviewz Extras

Character spotlight on Maizy Grace Stewart from Faking Grace

Reviews of Leaving Carolina, Faking Grace, Splitting Harriet and Perfecting Kate

Interview with Tamara

Visit Tamara's website

Buy Tamara's books at Amazon or Koorong

Monday, 21 September 2009

Guardian of the Flame by T L Higley


The year is 48 BC. Sophia, a woman hurt by past loss, guards the famous lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt, in order to hide herself away from a world she deems cruel and unloving. But there is no escape.

Political turmoil swells as Roman general Julius Caesar and his legion storm the city, and Cleopatra, Greek queen of Egypt , fights to retain her country against both Caesar and bloodthirsty rivals within her own household.

Sophia is caught in the middle between a loyalty to Cleopatra and her maddening interest in Bellus, the Roman soldier whom Caesar has instructed to overtake the lighthouse.

My take:~

T L Higley's third instalment in her Seven Wonders series, Guardian of the Flame has left me in the same state as Shadow of Colossus and City of the Dead ~ bleary eyed from reading way into the night and deeply satisfied from a fascinating journey to another place and time. Combining exceptional writing, accurate and interesting historical detail with unique characters, intriguing romance and dangerous adventure, Tracy Higley is truly a gifted storyteller you must not miss. Be assured there are no run of the mill characters in Tracy's books or poor plotting. Sophia, Bellus and even Cleopatra's uncommon personalities hold great appeal and the antiquity of the story is both eye opening and riveting. Guardian of the Flame is a tribute to Tracy's abilities as an historian and author, and to the amazing Wonders of the Ancient World.

Relz Reviewz Extras

Reviews of Shadow of Colossus and City of the Dead

Character spotlights on Tessa (Colossus) and Hemiumu (City)

Interview with Tracy

Visit Tracy's website

Buy Tracy's books at Amazon or Koorong


I have another fabulous giveaway thanks to the good people at B&H Fiction. I have two copies of Guardian of the Flame to give away to my North American readers and two copies for my Aussie readers. To enter:~

1. Post a comment before midnight on Sunday 27th September telling me which ancient city you would like to visit

2. Leave contact details and a USA or AUS at the end of your post so I know which draw to put you in.

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