I picked up The Christmas Heirloom, a collection of four novellas whose connecting thread is an heirloom brooch/pin, simply because it featured a novella by Karen Witemeyer. We all have those authors whose books we buy without needing to know anything about it, because we love everything they write. Karen Witemeyer is one of mine. Her novella, Gift of the Heart, is featured in this collection.
Gift of the Heart follows widow Ruth Albright and her daughter Naomi as they move to a new town for a fresh start in life. Due to low funds, Ruth ends up using the family brooch as collateral for a loan from the local banker, Bo Azlin. The more she gets to know the kind and generous man behind the stern business man, she hopes for a second chance at love.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novella. I loved the connection to the Biblical Ruth and Boaz story. I thought Bo's name, BO AZlin (emphasis mine), was a particularly clever touch. Karen's characters are always to relatable and down to earth, and I love that she often gives them flaws and quirks, either physical or personality wise, that makes them all the more believable and real.
This is a sweet and enjoyable story that's perfect for the holiday season. So pour yourself a cup of hot cocoa, cozy up with your favorite blanket, and enjoy this wonderful read.
I give it a 7/10.
I first heard about Becoming Mrs. Lewis through Anne Bogel's email newsletter. I had never read anything by Patti Callahan, but the title and premise interested me. I kept my eye on the book, which was released earlier this month, and ended up finding it on NetGalley and put in a request for an ARC. Thankfully I was granted one in return for my honest opinion. ;)
I was immediately drawn in from the beginning and couldn't put this book down. I read it in two sittings, putting it down only to sleep. Callahan's writing is superb. She writes as if she's sitting there with you, telling you a story. Though this is a fictional work, this novel captures both characters, Joy and Jack (C.S Lewis), perfectly. This novel is very realistic. The dialogue between the characters seems extremely believable and of course, an intellectual's dream come true.
As you read through Becoming Mrs. Lewis, you'll find yourself truly enjoying being able to be "present" for these excellent conversations and collaborations. C.S Lewis is such an interesting figure in Christianity's history and general history, but also fairly mysterious, especially when it came to his only wife, whom he married late in life. This novel aims to shine some light on some of the mystery and to help readers understand and get to know Joy Davidman.
This novel was written with the utmost respect for Joy and C.S Lewis, among the other people featured in the book. Each chapter opens with a poem, sonnet, or line that Joy Davidman wrote, mainly featuring sonnets Joy wrote to Jack aka C.S. Lewis. Callahan's descriptions of England made me want to visit and see the places for myself. I wanted to crawl into this book and live within its pages, never to leave. It is an excellent bit of fiction, one of the best books I've read this year. A must read for sure.
I give it a 9/10.
I had heard about a new book coming out that would act as a prequal to the beloved Anne of Green Gables series from Anne Bogel's email newsletter. It seemed that everyone was buzzing about this fabulous new book. So of course, I did what any self-respecting book nerd who runs a blog would do: I contacted the publisher to see about getting my hands on an advanced copy. Needless to say, I was extremely grateful to receive an advanced copy of Sarah McCoy's Marilla of Green Gables from HarperCollins Publishers and have been madly in love with it ever since.
I've lived with this book for over a month now and I still can't seem to let it go, place it on my "favorites" shelf, and move on to the next. I want to relive it over and over again, much like L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series, to which I go back to often. Let me assure all the die-hard Anne fans out there, Sarah McCoy's latest novel is 100% good enough to share a shelf with the Anne books. It is the perfect companion to the series.
McCoy weaves the tale of Marilla and Green Gables superbly. All the little burning questions that L.M. Montgomery left us about Marilla's past (particularly why she and John Blythe never married), and the backstory of Green Gables are answered within the pages of Marilla of Green Gables. The readers get a deeper look into not only Marilla's inner-workings, but also Matthew's, Rachel's, and the others. I found it so interesting to see a little bit of their adult personalities taking form throughout their youth, but also to see them more innocent, before the world had its way with them. You certainly gain a better understanding of why Marilla is the way she is in the Anne books.
This is clearly achieved through McCoy's superb writing abilities, extensive research, and her own admiration and love for the classic series. The reader can clearly tell that this novel was written with the greatest respect to the author who originally created the characters and the world they lived in. It reads as though McCoy worked alongside Montgomery, stepping into her world and her vision. It could easily be placed in the boxset with the original series, as though it was meant to be there all along.
Like the Anne books, you'll find yourself living beside these characters. You will laugh with them and cry with them, you will feel what they feel. I felt deeply for Marilla, especially towards the end (I'll give no spoilers). I felt for Matthew. Poor quiet, gentle Matthew. Though I was grateful to have him explained more thoroughly and to come out with a deeper understanding of the man. The reader can now see the depth of the similarities between Anne and Marilla, both in their personalities and their own histories, and how they intertwine.
Marilla of Green Gables serves to make the Anne books even sweeter, as it gives new meaning to Anne and Gilbert's relationship through that of Marilla and John's (Gil's father). History did not repeat itself, thankfully!
With beloved Aunts, tragedies and heartbreaks, fun and laughter, history unfolding with the coming of the US Civil War, Rebellion in Canada, the Underground Railroad, and more, this is a book you do not want to miss and won't want to put down. I highly recommend it. Guaranteed a place on 2018's Best Books list.
We've found another kindred spirit in Sarah McCoy and her Marilla.
I give it a 10/10.
Marilla of Green Gables releases Oct. 23rd. You can Pre-order the book on Amazon or anywhere else that books are sold.
As most of you have already gathered, I am an avid reader and a hardcore book lover. I average about 65 to 100 books a year, depending on the business of the year. Through the course of my reading life , I have learned a great deal not only about general info on history and such, but also about the art of writing, the English language, publishing, and how to live your best reading life. I'd like to share a few tips on living your best reading life with you today.
This first tip may sound weird or a no brainer, but for a lot of avid readers and bookish souls, it's a hard one to realize and accept. One of the hardest things for a lot of readers is allowing yourself to put down a book without finishing it. It is ok to not finish a book that you just can't get into. You do NOT have to torture yourself and stick it out. There seems to be a misconception that we must finish every book we start, and it's simply not true. Something I learned from author/podcaster/ blogger, Anne Bogel, is that life is too short to read bad books. If a book isn't your cup of tea, it's not worth your precious reading time.
Though, I will say, don't be afraid to go back to the book later if you liked the overall plot/story of the book, but just couldn't seem to get into it right then. Sometimes it's just a matter of being the right book but at the wrong time, therefore you may enjoy it during another season of life or time of year. Some books seem ready made for autumn or winter, while others are better received in the summer. It's just a matter of knowing it's not the right time. So my dear bookish soul, don't feel like you have to write a book off all together, maybe you'll go back to it at a better time.
Another tip that may seem obvious, but again, a lot of readers don't seem to know, is that it is very important to know your reading wheelhouse. What genres are your go-to genres? Are there one or more genres that you find it easy to find books that never disappoint you. For some it's Romance, for others it's Sci-Fi, and others it's YA. There's no such thing as a "wrong genre", we all have different tastes, therefore never feel shame about your favorite genre(s). In order to live your best reading life, it's important to know which genres work best for you so you can maximize your reading experience.
That's not to say you shouldn't or can't venture outside of your preferred genre(s). You never know when you'll discover a new genre that you adore. ;)
The last tip that I'd like to share with you today, is to keep track of what books you've read, are reading, and want to read. There are many apps out there that can help you with this, my favorite app is Goodreads on which you can track all three AND organize those books further into lists of your choosing. For the nerdier souls, like myself, you can keep an Excel spreadsheet. You can also keep it super simple and just keep a notebook with a simple list of books you've read and want to read. You tailor it to your needs and preferences.
I hope you find these tips helpful and will enrich your reading life the way they've enriched mine. Would you like more tips? Have any suggestions? Just want to chat about books in general, feel free to contact me through the social media icons on this page or through my contact page. Happy reading!
The Which Way Tree by Elizabeth Crook has been described as a book in the same vain as True Grit and The Lonesome Dove. Though I have yet to read The Lonesome Dove, I have read and loved True Grit many times, and I have to say, though I see a small resemblance, The Which Way Tree doesn't hold a candle to True Grit, and I don't think it's right or fair to compare the two.
The Which Way Tree is a novel that takes place in the remote hill country of Texas and is narrated by 17 year old Benjamin Shreve, through his plain-spoken voice. It tells the story of Benjamin's enduring love for his half-sister, albeit begrudgingly at times, and Samantha aka Sam's unshakable resolve to kill the panther that killed her mother, told rather matter-of-factly by Ben himself.
Ever since a panther, rumored across the Rio Grande to be a demon, killed Sam's mother and maimed her face, she's been relentless and obsessed about stalking and killing it, much like Captain Ahab and Moby Dick. Sam wears the mark of that fateful day across her face from where the panther attacked her and when her mother sacrificed her life to save Sam's. She doesn't have a lot going for her according to Benjamin's testimony, calling her not much to look at, especially with the marked up face, with a down-right disagreeable disposition to match and to top it all off, she's mulatto, but she's also blood kin, though only half blood, sharing a father.
Ben spent most of his young years looking after his sister, making sure people didn't mistake her for a runaway slave, and keeping her out of trouble. But her obsession with tracking down the panther made it awfully hard. Soon they are joined by a Tejano outlaw and a compassionate preacher with an aging but relentless tracking dog... Will they ever find and kill that panther?
I found this story a bit perplexing. It starts out with Benjamin testifying in person in front of a grand jury and judge on a matter that doesn't have much to do with the panther at all, yet the story itself is about the panther. In fact 95% of the book is formatted through letters written by Benjamin, his drawn out testimony on the matter of crimes committed by a Clarence Hanlin. The trouble is, the book touches loosely on Hanlin, and mostly on the panther. I just find it odd that Crook would choose to build the story this way and feel that there had to have been a better way of going about it. The story is a bit dry and drags on too much in most places, but there is just enough intrigue to keep you reading, though some less dedicated would probably put it down fairly quickly. I will say, the ending was one of the most interesting parts of the book.
Overall, it's definitely not among the best westerns I've read. If you're looking for an excellent, true blue western, I'd recommend books by Elmer Kelton, Charles Portis, Alan Le May, or Louis L'Amour. The book just simply didn't interest me enough to have made it worth my while, and for that, I'm disappointed. I was truly hoping to find a great read in The Which Way Tree, but I didn't. That's not to say someone else shouldn't give it a try. I picked it up on a recommendation from a friend, they loved it. I guess I'm just pickier about my westerns.
I will note: If you are sensitive to graphic or gruesome scenes, I'd skip this one.
I give it a 5/10.
Most writers know by now the importance of having another pair of eyes on your writing, but just in case there are some out there that still don’t know, here’s an argument for having a beta reader.
I have learned a great deal over the last few years about writing and all that it entails. One of the most important things I have learned is that you NEED to have at least one other pair of eyes on your work. You need someone besides yourself to read over your work, not only for spelling and grammar, but to also give good feedback on whether or not it works: Does it flow? Does it convey the message you’re trying to convey? Is the sentence structure well done? Do the characters seem realistic? Is there continuity throughout the story? Etc. No matter what you’re writing, whether it is fiction or nonfiction, articles, poems, essays, or novels, you need someone on your team to be with you every step of the process, reading through your work and giving you constructive criticism. Some may argue that it is the editor’s job to do this all, but it isn’t and you’ll be heaping a ton of unnecessary work onto your editor if you do this.
The ideal beta reader should know what is expected of them and should not be afraid to critique your work. It is preferred that they have a background somewhere in English, though it’s not a requirement as long as they have a good grasp on the English language and general grammar rules. Though I will note that most authors do not expect their beta readers to correct spelling and grammar, though if you come across errors, then by all means point them out. There's a difference between an editor or proof reader and a Beta reader. Beta's are mainly there to critique and help with the over all content, and aren't usually paid except with a free copy of the book or a small compensation.
I believe it is also important that they are a well-rounded reader. Someone who is an avid reader and who reads a wide variety of books is also preferred, simply because it gives that person a strong understanding of how a book should be written, what works and what doesn’t, and other taste-making details.
The second most important factor in an ideal beta reader is a two parter: knowing/being familiar with the genre/field that you’re writing in AND enjoying your writing style. In order to properly help you create the best work you can, they need to know what is expected within that genre or field. If you’re writing a historical fiction novel, they need to be very familiar with that genre, if you’re writing poetry, they need to be familiar with poetry (preferably from past and present), if you’re writing an essay, they need to be familiar with that field. Like any other person in a job/field, they need to know what they’re doing.
The second part to this factor is that the beta reader needs to like/enjoy the author’s writing style, otherwise it will not work out. We all have different tastes, and if you’re working for an author whose writing style isn’t really your cup of tea, you won’t be much help to them. For example, if a beta reader doesn’t know or like your writing style, then they are more likely to suggest things that do not fit your style of writing. A good example would be if they prefer a writing style that used pages and pages of emotive thoughts and therefore suggest you add them to your work, when that isn’t what you do. It just wouldn’t work. They NEED to like your writing style as well as the genre in which you write. This is why picking a beta reader is a very important and meticulous process.
Another important factor in finding the best beta reader for you is to make sure that they are not afraid of critiquing your work. They need to be able to give you constructive criticism without fear of hurting your feelings. Writers, this particular issue depends on the both of you. You need to have a great relationship with your beta reader so that they can feel that they can give you the criticism you need in order to better your work, and so that you can take that criticism for what it is, constructive, helpful suggestions, without it hurting your feelings. Remember, their criticism and suggestions are aimed at your work, not you personally. This is VERY important. Their main goal is to help you create the best possible art you can.
Beta Readers: Constructive Criticisms include pointing out grammar/spelling mistakes, a continuity issue within the story, maybe one part doesn’t flow as well as it could, a character needs more development, and suggestions of what you like and don’t like personally about the piece of work. Remember, you’re not only critiquing their work, you should also let them know what IS working, what you really like about the piece. Did you really like one scene? Do you relate to a particular character? Encouragement and compliments keep the writer going and helps them just as much as the constructive criticism. Also, if you’re working with the author from the beginning, chapter by chapter, it is super helpful to let them know where you see the story going, if you have a strong feeling about a certain character and where you see them by the end of the story, tell the author! It could help them see an even better plot progression than they had originally thought up.
I cannot tell you how much having someone to read through my work and give me feedback before publishing has improved my work. I have a good friend, who is a superb writer herself that has 7 books under her belt currently, who acts as my beta reader and I act as hers. While I currently write poetry and essays, she works within the historical fiction genre. We work well together and know each other well enough that we’re comfortable giving each other feedback on our work. There have been multiple times when I’ve sent her something only to have her see a flow issue or another issue that affects the quality of the poem, and after working it out with her, bouncing solutions and ideas off her, I’m able to come out with a far superior piece of work. I only hope that I’m half as helpful to her as she is to me.
I’d love to hear your stories and insights on beta reading, whatever side you land on. Did I miss an important quality needed in a beta reader? Let me know your thoughts!
** This article was written with the help and input of Linda Ellen, a talented author/writer in her own right, with 7 published books and one more due out in November. For more information on her, check out her website!
The beloved book, Christy, is considered a classic these days, and rightly so. Christy is a historical fiction novel written by Catherine Marshall, which is sent in the fictional Appalachian village of Cutter Gap, Tennessee, in 1912. The book is actually inspired by Marshall's mother, Leonora Whitaker, who worked with impoverish children in the Appalachian region when she was a young, single woman.
The novel explores faith, Christy's growth and struggles through her first year of teaching, and mountain traditions such has moonshining, feuding, and folk beliefs. It is rich with history and information about the Appalachian people. It goes into great detail about their ancestry, the origin of their beliefs and customs, their folk medicine, and why they are the way they are. The novel follows Christy Huddleston as she ventures into a territory completely unknown to her, tackling the struggles and problems that face her as she tries to help and understand the people of Cutter Gap. Other main characters include Alice Henderson, a Quaker woman with a faith of steel and a heart of pure gold; David Grantland, the reverend who is still trying to find his faith; Ida Grantland, David's sister; Neill MacNeill, the local doctor who is an agnostic that grew up in the mountains; the Spencer Family, the McHone Family, the Allen family, and the Taylors.
Together, Alice, David, Christy, and Doctor MacNeill work to stop the generational feuding, the moonshining, and to educate the people of Cutter Gap, not only on the core school subjects of reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also on faith, good hygiene, and how to put their talents and rich history to work for them in order to provide better incomes. Their goal is to help the people of Cutter Gap advance toward the progresses of the new century and to help them be self-sustainable, but they have their hands full for sure! Battling the dangerous business of bootlegging moonshine and the generational feuding and hatred between clans are their greatest trials. While both Christy and David come to the mission with big ideas and strong opinions on how to change things and improve them, Alice and Doctor MacNeill believe in taking a more subtle approach. They know the mountain people far better than both Christy and David, who are consider "outlanders", and know that the people of Cutter Gap don't take kindly to being told what to do by outsiders who know nothing of their ways.
Through murder, vandalism, and a typhoid epidemic, the community comes together and finally starts to learn that putting aside their grudges and feuds and helping and loving one another is a far better way to live.
Spoiler alerts! Skip the next paragraph if you don't want spoilers:
I went into the reading of this book having already seen the TV series based upon the book, though I must say, the book and the series differ a great deal, they still carry the same message. I thoroughly enjoyed Christy, and would highly recommend it. There's a great deal of wisdom to be gleaned from this novel, and the history of these people is fascinating. Marshall did a superb job of humanizing these characters and giving each of them their own voice. A few of my friends who had read the book before, told me that they were rooting for David (the Reverend) right from the start vs. the doctor. I'm afraid I have to disagree with them. I found David to be a bit of a jerk for most of the book, particularly to Christy. Why she ever thought that a marriage between the two could have worked is beyond me. I was rooting for the doctor all the way.
Really, my only complaint about the book is the ending. To me, it ended far too abruptly. I was hoping for the ends to be tied up a bit more neatly, for a more solid conclusion, but the end is satisfactory enough.
I give it an 8/10.
Liz Austin. Bibliophile. Writer. Book hoarder. I would rather be reading....