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Christy Catherine Marshall

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November 21, 2017



I grew up reading Guideposts magazine, which my mother and I both devoured, as we loved reading people’s first-person inspirational stories. After I moved away to college, my grandfather gifted me annually with subscriptions, allowing me to read it even in my dorm room. So it’s no wonder I’ve always loved and admired the non-fiction writings of Catherine Marshall. She was one of the great “classic” Guideposts writers, who also authored over 30 books, which sold millions of copies.

When I was an exhausted young mom, trying to manage two toddlers born close in age, my mom gave me another treasure of encouragement: a beautiful volume containing two complete Catherine Marshall works: Something More and A Closer Walk. I loved reading her personal stories, and I longed to capture an inkling of her deep faith and joy.

I reread that same copy a few years ago when I began trying to publish my own devotionals, and I especially enjoyed reading how Catherine followed God’s call to become a writer. This led to my decision to read her two novels, Julie and Christy, which promised to show me how a Christian writer weaves her faith through the voice of fictional character. I checked out a copy of Julie from the library and loved this amazing story of a young journalist who unlocks secrets to a mystery in her hometown. Next, I planned to read Christy, yet I somehow never got around to it.

Years passed, and I kept Christy on my “someday” list. Then I learned about this new 50th anniversary release from Gilead Publishing, which contains a preface from the author’s children, who grew up hearing stories about their grandmother, Leonora Whitaker Wood, the real-life inspiration for the novel’s 19-year-old character, Christy Huddleston. At age 19, both Leonora and her fictional counterpart Christy left home in North Carolina to teach poverty-stricken children in the mountains of Tennessee. From the preface:

It is the story of a proud, fierce, and lyrical people tucked away in a remote section of the Smoky Mountains in the early 1900s. Yet this story is every bit as relevant today as it was a century ago. It is the story of a young woman who yearns to make a difference. And it is the timeless tale of how in the experience of giving to others, she finds herself the recipient of so much more.

In the novel, Christy Huddleston leaves her respectful life in Asheville and arrives by train seven miles from Cutter Gap, Tennessee, where she plans to join a mission that includes a new church and school. It’s snowy January, and no one has arrived to meet her at the station, so she finds herself following along in the footsteps of the local postman, to make her precarious way to Cutter Gap. The inside cover of this beautiful new edition contains a detailed hand-drawn map of Cutter Gap, Tennessee which shows the important literary landmarks. There is also a list of characters and brief descriptions, which I referred to often in my reading.

Christy soon feels as if she’s transported back in time to another world. The Smoky Mountain community of Cutter Gap is trapped by poverty, superstitions, and a fierce clan-like nature that leads to grudges and feuding, often settled by shotgun. I was immediately captivated by the dangerous plot Christy becomes involved in, as Cutter Gap residents battle one crisis after another: accidents, disease, wounded pride, and violence.

Thankfully, she is mentored by Alice Henderson, a wise Quaker woman who rides on horseback throughout the mountains, bringing faith and courage to several local communities. Unexpectedly, the novel also becomes a love story, when Christy meets the handsome young minister, David Grantland. Yet she is also intrigued by the local physician, Dr. Neil MacNeil, whose difficult labors often involve sudden life or death circumstances.

Though the plotline is often action-packed, I felt captivated by Catherine Marshall’s lyrical writing, where she describes the natural beauty of each season in the mountains, especially as Christy befriends a local woman, Fairlight Spencer. The pages are also full of poetry, as the children begin memorizing great works of literature, such as when young Isaak McHone asks, “Kin I learn it by heart, Teacher? All of it?” the first time he hears Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan:”

In Xanadu did Khubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree;
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea…

The barefoot children have such a passion for learning, part of the plot involves Christy reaching out to the wealthy for donations of school texts, and her hard work of letter writing yields such treasures as a Lyon and Healy grand piano delivered to the mission house. Yet she encounters others who are angry at her infringement on the local community, especially when David begins preaching against the evils of “White Lightning,” the moonshine secretly brewed by local mountain men.

Reading the novel Christy for the first time is similar to how a reader feels when first encountering Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. It’s not just a book; it’s a phenomenon. The novel became a bestseller when it was originally published in 1967, then it was transformed into a TV series in the mid-90s starring Kellie Martin and Tyne Daly, and was later developed into three feature-length films. There’s an annual festival which celebrates the work every year in Townsend and Del Rio, Tennessee, where the novel was set, called ChristyFest. There’s also an award named after the novel, the Christy Award, which annually honors the most distinguished works of fiction written from a Christian faith perspective.

The story seemed familiar to me, since I remember watching the pilot of the TV show when I attended the Blue Ridge Mountains Christan Writers Conference in Asheville years ago, and hearing the show’s producer, Ken Wales, speak. He shared how it took him 19 years to bring the novel Christy to the screen, and even though he originally had hoped to turn it into a feature-length film, he realized millions more people watched it on TV. You can read his story here.

When Ken Wales dimmed the lights and showed us all the incredible pilot of the CBS series, it was like watching a full-length film for me. And guess what? I discovered you can watch it online for free now on youtube. I won’t link to it here since the link may change, but you can look it up. I think most of the TV episodes have also been posted online, so I look forward to watching them soon! You can also read an interview with the actress Kellie Martin here, on how she felt about her role in the TV series. The CBS series aired in 1994-95, though it was short-lived due to a network change in management, and it left audiences with a cliffhanger ending: who will Christy choose to marry? The doctor or the preacher?

In 2000, another producer decided to wrap up the ending by creating three feature-length films, which star Lauren Lee Smith. I’ve had no luck finding them viewable online for free, and they aren’t available for streaming on Netflix or through Amazon Prime. In fact, they’re incredibly expensive to buy used, so I’ve put the DVDs on hold from my local library and can’t wait to watch them!

They’re titled:
1. Christy: Return to Cutter Gap
2. Christy: A Change of Seasons
3. Christy: A New Beginning

After I finished the novel, I was of course curious as to how much of the book was true, and how much was fiction. I found a good article, Christy and Leonora: City Girl, Country Gal, that discusses this, and it does seem like Catherine Marshall embellished her mother’s real-life story a bit by adding in a few characters and plot sequences. Maybe I will have to make the journey to Christyfest someday to discover the truth on my own!

Exciting literary adventures ahead for those of us who love to explore beyond the pages of our favorite books! 🙂

Christy pin2

About the Author:

Catherine Marshall (1914-1983), The New York Times best-selling author of 30 books, is best known for her novel Christy. Based on the life of her mother, Christy captured the hearts of millions and became a popular CBS television series. Around the kitchen table at Evergreen Farm, as her mother reminisced, Catherine probed for details and insights into the rugged lives of these Appalachian highlanders. Catherine shared the story of her husband, Dr. Peter Marshall, Chaplain of the United States Senate, in A Man Called Peter. A decade after Dr. Marshall’s untimely death, Catherine married Leonard LeSourd, Executive Editor of Guideposts, forging a dynamic writer-editor partnership. A beloved inspirational writer and speaker, Catherine’s enduring career spanned four decades and reached over 30 million readers.
Find out more about Catherine at http://gileadpublishing.com/christy/.

Thank you to Litfuse and Gilead Publishing for sending me a complimentary copy for review. All opinions expressed are mine alone.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Books,Christian Living,Faith,Family,Travel | Permalink | Comments Off on Rediscovering Catherine Marshall’s Masterpiece, Christy



November 9, 2017

Some stories are evergreen, their themes and lessons standing the test of time and connecting with readers generation after generation. Reconnect with Catherine Marshall’s beloved Christy as it celebrates its 50th anniversary with a new edition! As nineteen-year-old teacher Christy struggles to find acceptance in her new home of Cutter Gap, some see her-and her one-room school-as a threat to their way of life. Her faith is challenged and her heart is torn between two strong men with conflicting views about how to care for the families of the Cove. Yearning to make a difference, will Christy’s determination and devotion be enough?

Celebrate the new 50th anniversary edition of Christy by entering to win one of TWO $50 Visa cash cards (details below) and by attending a Facebook Live party on December 5!

TWO grand prize winners will receive:

  • One copy of Christy
  • One $50 Visa Cash Card

Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on December 5. The winner will be announced at the Christy Facebook Live Party. RSVP for a chance to connect with authors who’ve been impacted by Christy and other readers, as well as for a chance to win other prizes!

RSVP today and spread the word-tell your friends about the giveaway and Facebook Live party via social media and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 5th!


By: Heather Ivester in: Christian Living,Education,Faith | Permalink | Comments Off on Christy’ Giveaway, Blog Tour, and Facebook Live Party



November 1, 2017

Entering November means the next two months will be super busy around my house! My calendar is already booked with upcoming school concerts and programs, holiday parties, and of course the need to get started on my Christmas shopping.

If you have someone on your list who could use some encouraging words in the coming year, I highly recommend a beautiful book I requested for review by one of my favorite authors, Sandra Byrd. She is one of the few Christian authors I actually discovered on the bookshelf of my local public library! My daughters and I loved her eight-volume Hidden Diary series, which have been repackaged with new covers into four books. Also highly recommended if you have girls in the 8-12 year tween age range.

Sandra Byrd’s latest release, The One Year Experiencing God’s Love Devotional, offers us a glimpse into the author’s heart as she shares stories from her personal life interwoven with the wisdom from scripture. Perfect reading for women of any age and season of life.

In the introduction, Sandra writes:

To experience something is to live it, to encounter it, to understand it, to explore it with our hearts, minds, and souls as well as with the five physical sense and our God-given spiritual ones. It means to join him in doing his work and to be the recipient of it too. In every action we do with and for God, every good day and bad day when we walk hand and hand with God, we experience him.

The book contains six days’ worth of daily devotions for each week, plus the opportunity to put new insights into practice in a hands-on way on the seventh day. You can read them on your own and be blessed individually, or you can share them with family, friends, book clubs, or any others in your path. I remember one year I was chaplain of a women’s service club in my hometown, and I was always looking for encouraging material to share at the start of the meetings. This book would have been a lifesaver as I sometimes scrambled last minute — and that was back when my kids were toddlers and in elementary school!

For example, today’s November 1st devotional is titled, “We’re All Saints.” Sandra provides us with some background about All Saint’s Day and the root word meanings of the word saint in the Bible. She shares the scripture, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). So as believers, we’re all saints, with a wonderful reason to celebrate “our” special day!

I’ve already started reading this month’s devotions, and I look forward to journeying through 2018 with this devotional book on my nightstand or kitchen table, as I share with my family new insights I learn. If you want a sample of Sandra Byrd’s writing, here is a link to her devotional on suffering, Why Didn’t God Stop It From Happening?

If you’d like to help spread the good news about this book on your social media accounts, Tyndale has created some beautiful memes and sticky notes here, which you are free to share. You can use the hashtag: #OYGodsLove








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About the Author:

After earning her first rejection at the age of thirteen, bestselling author Sandra Byrd has now published more than fifty books for kids, tweens, and teens, including the bestselling The One Year Be-Tween You and God Devotions for Girls. She continued her work as a devotionalist, this time for women, with The One Year Home and Garden Devotions. Her latest book, The One Year Experiencing God’s Love Devotional, released in October 2017.

Sandra is passionate about helping new writers develop their talents and their work for traditional publishing or self-publication. She has mentored and coached hundreds of new writers and continues to guide developing authors toward success each year via novelcoaching.com. Please visit www.sandrabyrd.com to learn more or to invite Sandra to your book club via Skype.

Thank you to Tyndale for sending me a complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Christian Living,Faith | Permalink | Comments Off on Need Encouragement? Read Sandra Byrd’s One-Year Experiencing God’s Love Devotional



October 28, 2017

I love reading middle grade fiction and jumped at the chance to review a new release that promised to transport me to the heart of Africa. The title of J.A. Myhre’s book, A Forest, a Flood, and an Unlikely Star, intrigued me, and I learned it’s the third book in the author’s Rwendigo Tales series. Since I missed reading the first two books, I wondered if I’d be able to catch up, but fortunately the setting in fictional Rwendigo is what unifies the series, since each book features a different protagonist.

As a long-time medical missionary to Africa, Myhre is in a unique position to offer readers an in-depth view of life on the front lines of the fight against poverty and disease. In her blog, Paradox Uganda, readers can view her stunning wildlife photography and learn more about her medical mission work with Serge. I found it helpful knowing a bit about the author’s background as I read her book, as several scenes take place in and around a healthcare clinic. I could easily sense her passion to raise awareness of issues affecting inhabitants of the continent.

In the introductory note, Myhre shares that the books were originally written as Christmas gifts to her own children. I would put the appropriate reading age range as 9 and up, since the story contains a violent scene that might be too scary for younger children. But the book is fascinating for all ages, especially teens and adult readers interested in travel and volunteering. The beautiful pen-and-ink drawings by illustrator Acacia Masso also bring the story to life.

The main character, 13-year-old Kusiima (which means “thankul” in the Luwendigo dialect), lives with his grandmother and toddler sister, Ngonzi (meaning “love”). Although he longs to go to school, Kusiima must work selling charcoal to help earn a meager living, especially since his sister has a debilitating illness. During his long workday, he stations himself near a school window, so he can hear the teacher and grasp at small scraps of knowledge. He enjoys listening to his grandmother, Mamba, tell stories of his childhood, and we learn that his mother, Rose, died a year ago and his father has abandoned him. Like a Horatio Alger tale, we root for Kusiima to make wise choices and rise above his circumstances.

One day, he is invited to join an older group of men going into the forest to obtain charcoal, and from here his adventure begins. Kusiima learns the group is stealing resources from national parkland, and we sense his fear and horror as one seedy character pulls out a gun to shoot an endangered species of gorilla. Kusiima escapes into the forest and later rescues a baby gorilla that he is able to take to a park ranger. The plot thickens as the poachers are bent on revenge.

At this point, I couldn’t put the book down. Both Kusiima and the park ranger’s lives are in danger. Meanwhile, his sister has weakened from malnutrition and a mysterious disease, and he must convince his grandmother to take her to the local healthcare clinic. But that is hard to do since his grandmother doesn’t believe in modern medicine:

She had grown up in an era when sickness was either cured by ritual and magic, or ended in death. He knew she suspected that evil forces were at work in his sister’s condition, and she would have sought mediation with these disturbing spirits if the fee were not so prohibitive.

Yet at last, his grandmother agrees the clinic may be their only hope. She has seen more death and sorrow than a person should be able to bear in one lifetime, losing three of her own sons as infants. At the clinic, Kusiima meets a local doctor who helps make the discovery that Kusiima’s family goats may offer a resource for healing his sister. As he spends time with the doctor, some mysteries from Kusiima’s past come to the surface. Why are there books in the doctor’s house with Kusiima’s name written in them? Does the doctor know his cruel, absentee father?

Despite being surrounded by darkness, the book offers hope through Kusiima’s growing faith in God. Readers will enjoy the magical realism of a mysterious donkey, Nsoli, which means “Star.” The donkey has an uncanny sense of always showing up in the right place at the right time, rescuing Kusiima.

When a flood comes to his town, Kusiima must make a choice that will change his life forever. Readers won’t be able to stop turning the pages to find out what Kusiima decides to do. Along the way, the author’s vivid writing makes us feel as if we’re right in the thick of his circumstances.

One of my favorite descriptive scenes comes from park ranger Luci’s point of view, as she observes a troupe of silverback gorillas in the forest:

Today was just a glimpse of her future as a park ranger, but she wanted to remember it forever. The hum of flies, the slant of the sun’s rays, the pungent smell of the gorillas as they burped, their slapping sound as they walked, the rustle of leaves, a rising cloud of tiny bright yellow butterflies. This glory of Rwendigo was what her work was all about — preserving this beauty, sharing its wonders.

As I read this exciting tale, I couldn’t help but hear the author’s own story woven through each chapter. The medical missionary in Africa, writing a Christmas gift for her children. It’s hard to say which story I liked more, especially after seeing the author’s blog depicting her real-life mission work. I learned so much about the problems of healthcare in these poor regions of Africa, as well as environmental and wildlife crises stemming from corruption and poverty.

The author shares her positive spirit in the introduction: “It is my hope that you will connect with these characters in a way that respects their resilience, and you will let this story inform your own story as you make your way into this world of adventures armed with a readiness to forgive and an expectation of wonder.”

With many schools today pushing to incorporate more multicultural literature into the curriculum, I think the Rwendigo Tales offer a firsthand glimpse into African culture and language. Throughout the book, the author describes food, customs, and healthcare terms in both the Luwendigo dialect and Swahili. The back of the book contains a glossary, which is helpful to use while reading. For example, I learned that AIDS is referred to as “slim disease” since infected people lose so much weight.

Young readers can also learn about the African educational system, which differs greatly from the U.S. In this region, students take the PLE at the end of seven years of schooling, which stands for Primary Leaving Exam. While most American students simply go to the school closest to home, results from the PLE determine where students in Africa will be placed in secondary school, or whether they will even be able to continue in school. From Kusiima’s point of view, we learn that school is a privilege denied to children in poverty, who must work from young ages to help put food on the table.

I was also fascinated by all of the descriptions of African food. I can imagine students giving a book report based on the Rwendigo Tales, enlisting them to look up pictures of local dishes, such as posho, described as “corn meal; usually cooked into a thin porridge with boiling water or hot milk and sugar, or steamed into a thick bread-like starch base for a meal.” Readers will also learn that sombe is “a sauce made of chopped cooked cassava leaves, similar to spinach.”

After reading A Forest, a Flood, and an Unlikely Star, I’m eager to continue journeying through Rwendigo in the first two books in the series: A Chameleon, a Boy, and a Quest, and A Bird, a Girl, and a Rescue, all published by New Growth Press. Best of all, the author plans to share a portion of her book royalties to a “fund that enables real children to emerge with resilience from childhoods threatened by poverty, rebel warfare, human trafficking, malnutrition, loss, and fear.”

Teen and adult readers may be curious to learn more about medical mission internships available through the organization, Serge, which the author serves in Africa. From Serge, we learn that a purchase of this book:

…enables orphans to receive an education, babies of HIV-positive mothers to receive food, children who have never held a book to receive a library, and much more. These small acts of justice and mercy have the power to bring hope and enable communities to write new endings to their own stories.

About the Author:

J. A. Myhre serves as a doctor with Serge in East Africa where she has worked for over two decades. She is passionate about health care for the poor, training local doctors and nurses, promoting childhood nutrition and development, and being the hands of Jesus in the hardest places. She is married to her best friend and colleague Scott, and together they have raised four children for whom many of her stories were written as Christmas presents.

I appreciate LitFuse and New Growth Publishers for sending me a complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Children's Books,Faith,Family,Travel | Permalink | Comments Off on Travel to Africa: A Forest, A Flood, and An Unlikely Star



March 18, 2017


Deborah Raney Home at Last

I started reading Deborah Raney’s five-book Chicory Inn series in the summer of 2014, and so it’s with a sigh I’ve reached the closing chapter of her Whitman family saga. It’s similar to how I felt while viewing the final episode of Downton Abbey.

In her author’s note at the beginning of Home at Last, Deborah Raney expressed similar emotions:

It seems like only yesterday that I was signing the contract for this five-book series. I could hardly imagine a day when the first book would be finished, let alone a day when I’d be writing “the end” on the final book! But here I am, and I must admit I shed a few tears saying good-bye to the Whitman family. We authors are strange that way. Our characters do become like family to us.

Over the past three years, the Whitmans have become like family to me, as I’ve worked my way through the series and gotten to witness the writing process a bit through Deborah Raney’s facebook posts. I plan to catch up and review the fourth novel once school is out for summer. These books have been sent to me by the wonderful team at Litfuse, but you can easily find them online or in stores like Wal-Mart or Target. I highly recommend the Chicory Inn novels for women who want to read something positive and uplifting.

Here are the five titles:
Book 1: Home to Chicory Lane
Book 2: Two Roads Home
Book 3: Another Way Home
Book 4: Close to Home (Review to come this summer!)
Book 5: Home at Last — here we are!

The stories follow the lives of Grant and Audrey Whitman, parents of five adult children (though one son was killed in action), and now grandparents of a growing brood. Each book is a love story, a midwest American version of what Lord and Lady Grantham have dealt with at Downton Abbey. Chicory Inn is the childhood home of the Whitman family, and in their empty nest years, Grant and Audrey have transformed it into a beautiful Bed and Breakfast.

Bi-weekly Tuesday nights at Chicory Inn are sacred and off limits for outsiders, with Grant and Audrey gathering their adult children and offspring for a home-cooked meal and fellowship. In Home at Last, bachelor Link Whitman becomes the focus of the story, as he’s the last man standing unattached to a spouse. I’ve enjoyed getting to know Link in the other books, so this story allowed me to delve further into his character.

Twenty-nine year old Link is not exactly unhappy at the beginning of the book, but in his six years since graduating from college, he still hasn’t landed a “real job.” He’s stuck in an entry level position testing electrical wire, exhausted from working double shifts and coming home to a bachelor pad studio in a not-so-great part of town. Something is missing in his life, and his sisters’ attempts at playing matchmaker leave him edgy and unsatisfied.

In a split second on an icy road, Link’s distracted driving (talking on his cell phone to his mom!) almost causes his truck to hit a small child. It turns out she is the five-year-old niece of the attractive Shayla Michaels, who works in the local Coffee’s On bakery. He’d met her at a nearby homeless shelter, where he’d volunteered his computer knowledge for a while. Link had been drawn to her, yet her mysterious life was unknown to him until the near tragedy causes their casual friendship to deepen.

Shayla’s life has always been a challenge, as she’s straddled two worlds, being the daughter of a white mother and African American father. Both extended families rejected the other, but after the death of her mother, she’s embraced by her father’s family. She bears the heavy load of raising her niece, Portia, since her brother is serving time in jail and the girl’s mother is out of the picture.

Link and Shayla begin a relationship, allowing readers to witness the difficulties they must face as a mixed-race couple. Reading the novel as part of a group will open up opportunities for conversations about topics such as interracial dating and parenting. As always, Deborah Raney includes a Group Discussion Guide at the back of the book, with questions that will allow readers to dig deeply into contemporary issues.

One of the best parts about finishing a whole series of books is that you can finally realize the author’s long-term vision as she commenced writing. When I began the series, I didn’t realize each book would focus on one of the Whitman offspring, so now I can understand how all the books tie in together. They take up a special place on my bookshelf, and I look forward to reading them again. Now, if only a producer would pick them up to make a Chicory Inn mini-series or film!

About the author:
Deborah Raney 2017

Deborah Raney’s novels have won numerous awards including the RITA, National Readers’ Choice Award, HOLT Medallion, the Carol Award, and have three times been Christy Award finalists. She and her husband, Ken Raney have traded small-town life in Kansas-the setting of many of Deb’s novels-for life in the city of Wichita.

Find out more about Deborah at her website here.

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Conclude Deborah Raney’s Chicory Inn novels with the final book, Home at Last, a story of acceptance, trying to overcome differences, and love. Everything changes for bachelor Link Whitman one icy morning when a child runs into the street and he nearly hits her with his pickup-and then the girl’s aunt Shayla enters Link’s life. Can Shayla and Link overcome society’s view of their differences and find true love? Is there hope of changing the sometimes-ugly world around them into something better for them all?

Join Deborah on Thursday, March 23, for a live author chat party in her Facebook group with fun prizes to be won! Click the graphic below for more details and to RSVP. Hope to see you there-bring a friend or two who loves to read!

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Christian Living,Faith,Family,Marriage | Permalink | Comments Off on Deborah Raney’s Home at Last Wraps Up the Chicory Inn series



April 20, 2016


Simple Pleasures

I confess I don’t know much about the Amish way of life, and so when I heard about this book, I couldn’t wait to read it. I hoped it would enlighten me as to how and why the Amish live the way they do, without electricity or automobiles. To hear it all told from a mother’s point of view seemed irresistible for me.

I love the image on this book cover — it’s a work of art! There’s an expression of intense concentration and joy on this child’s face as she quietly creates a secret world with her pencil and paper. It’s how I feel most of the time when I can squirrel away a few minutes with my own journal. Thank you to whoever you are who took this photo, and thank you to Marianne Jantzi for being brave enough to share your private family stories with the loud outside world.

As a member of the Milverton Old Order Amish community, the oldest and largest of ten Amish settlements in Ontario, Canada, Marianne Jantzi’s days are filled with chores most of us can’t imagine. Her home is heated by wood stoves, which she must also use to cook her meals. Her husband leaves for work before dawn, transported by a horse and buggy driver. The Jantzis own a shoe business, attached to the front of their home, and all transactions are recorded by hand.

Jantzi’s writing reaches readers all over North America via her much-loved “Northern Reflections” column in The Connection, a favorite magazine among Amish and Mennonite communities. She doesn’t have a computer at home to type out her thoughts. They’re written by hand and driven to town for someone else to type and edit. As a mother of four young children, the oldest in kindergarten, Jantzi’s days are incredibly busy. Yet she takes the time to reflect on the quiet simple pleasures that fill a home with love.

Reading her stories brought back happy memories of my own early days of mothering. Young children can be both exhausting and endearing, and I love how she takes the time to listen and record their conversations. I especially enjoyed reading about her gardening experiences and how she provides healthy meals for her family from her own backyard.

Her book answered many questions I had about Amish life, and it’s an important work to be added to Amish book collections, preserving our North American history. I found myself double-checking the copyright date in the front several times: was this really published in 2016? Yes, it’s a brand new book, and there really are people in the world who choose to live like Laura Ingalls Wilder in her Little House on the Prairie books. In fact, Jantzi enjoys reading that whole series out loud to her children.

Yet she doesn’t sugarcoat the frustrations of motherhood. Her children bicker at times and lose their shoes and socks. She worries about getting her home tidied up for a church meeting, which is no easy task with toddlers underfoot. But through her busy days, Jantzi finds strength in simple pleasures of family, fellowship, and quiet time with God.

I love her descriptions of the tight-knit Amish communal way of life. She is never lonely, being surrounded by people who have known and loved her family for generations. Here’s an example:

For my thirtieth birthday, my sisters put a quilt in a frame and invited…cousins in to quilt, visit, and eat. Since then, each glimpse of my lovely quilt reminds me of that wonderful day and the message it speaks to me. The quilt is filled with lovely blue flowered circles linking over a white background. Just like those flowery links, my friends joined around the quilt, blossoming from each other’s friendship and helping hands.

In the back of the book, she includes several of her family’s favorite kid-friendly recipes, and after reading her background stories, I can’t wait to try them out. She also has a section answering Frequently Asked Questions about Amish living, as well as “A Day in the Life of the Author.” I will treasure this book and add it to my collection of books written by mothers. She has helped me appreciate the “simple pleasures” in my own home and to savor my own gift of being surrounded by children.

I hope the Amish will continue being able to live the way they do, but at the end of the book, I began to feel a sense of tension. She describes how difficult it can be depending on others for internet transactions. For example, the Canadian government recently changed its methods of tax collection, and those who used to be able to send in paperwork by regular mail, now must make phone calls or submit electronically. Since Jantzi doesn’t have a phone in her home, she had a stressful day trying to handle this payment. I wonder what will happen in the future.

I also wondered about the children…what will they do about schooling once they graduate from the one-room Amish schools? Will the adolescents be allowed to learn to use technology? Will they be able to attend university? What kinds of careers will they be able to choose? I guess I finished the book with still more questions…but that’s what good literature is all about.

For now, I’ll savor the beauty of Marianne Jantzi’s writing, as she describes the beginnings of a Canadian summer:

We are busy reaping the fruits of the gift we longed and sighed for. For weeks, it was kept from reach, wrapped in deep, white layers of cold. Next we wished to quickly tear away the layers of chilly, soggy days…Those last layers were gradually stripped away by warm breezes and sunshine. Daffodils and tulips bloomed. Toes bared and leaves unfurled. There are barbecues and picnics, scooters and Rollerblades. Happiness reigns as we sing praises to God for this gift we’ve so graciously been given. Summer.

I can relate to that!

Simple Pleasures is part of the Plainspoken series, published by Mennomedia. These real-life stories of Amish and Mennonites include:

Book 1 – Chasing the Amish Dream: My Life as a Young Amish Bachelor, by Loren Beachy

Book 2 – Called to Be Amish: My Journey from Head Majorette to the Old Order, by Marlene Miller

Book 3 – Hutterite Diaries: Wisdom from My Prairie Community, by Linda Maendel

Book 4 – Simple Pleasures: Stories from My Life as an Amish Mother, by Marianne Jantzi

About the author:
Marianne Jantzi is an Amish writer and homemaker in Ontario, Canada. Formerly a teacher in an Amish school, Jantzi now educates and inspires through her “Northern Reflections” column for The Connection, a magazine directed mainly to Amish and plain communities across the U.S. and Canada. She and her husband have four young children and run a shoe store among the Milverton Amish settlement of Ontario.
Thank you to Litfuse for a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Books,Christian Living,Faith,Family,Gardening,Marriage,Motherhood,Parenting,Writing | Permalink | Comments Off on An Amish Mother Who Writes to Record Life’s Simple Pleasures



March 15, 2016

Happy Spring everyone! I hope you’re enjoying this beautiful season in your corner of the earth, wherever you are. When I first saw the cover of Gwen’s Smith’s new book, the title jumped out at me, like that sign was written to get MY attention.

I Want It All cover
I’m certainly guilty of feeling like I always want a little more, and so I thought this book might speak to me about learning to be more content, more satisfied with the gifts God’s given me. Instead, it pushed me into deep conviction.

I didn’t realize Gwen Smith is a singer/songwriter, as well as an author, yet I was soon mesmerized by her poetic cadence:

Lord, I want it all today
Every blessing you ordain
Every trial, every strain
Break and build me for your gain.

In fact, if you’ve never heard her speak or sing in person, I think you should stop reading right now, and listen to her voice share these words with you. I would not even call them words — they’re lyrics.

The book begins with a quote from one of my all-time favorite authors, Elisabeth Elliot, who wrote in Through Gates of Splendor: “I have one desire now — to live a life of reckless abandon for the Lord, putting all my energy and strength into it.” Every woman reading this knows our energy is limited, no matter how old we are. We can’t possibly say yes to everything asked of us and get it all done, so it’s a crucial decision: where are we supposed to put our energy and strength to live this life of reckless abandon?

Reading I Want It All will definitely give you ideas of your uniquely personal calling. It’s divided into three main parts: All the Faith, All the Power, and All the Impact. As you increase your faith, you’ll be able to tap into the power available to you through the Holy Spirit, and live with greater impact.

Each chapter begins with a personal story from the author’s life, so in many ways, this reads like a memoir, which is my favorite type of non-fiction book. I love it when a writer is brave enough to allow thousands of strangers to peek into her heart. She’s also deeply knowledgeable about Scripture and how it applies to the life of the 21st century woman. She says her three “go-to principles” for gaining wisdom are:

1. Fear God.
2. Ask God.
3. Seek godly counsel.

I’ve heard these statements before, but Gwen brings such a freshness and zeal with her personal stories about how she seeks wisdom as one digging for sparkling rare gems. “Look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God” (Proverbs 2:4-5).

This book would work great for a women’s Bible Study or Book Club, as each chapter ends with Reflection and Response questions. There’s also an extensive Study Guide in the back section that would make it very easy for anyone to pick up and lead. While reading, I realized that’s truly the value of inspirational books, when you can get together with others and share Truth.

Once again, I will defer to this energetic author, Gwen Smith, and let her share with you her purposes for getting this book into your hands!

I had to laugh at the title of her last chapter “Who Me? Yeah You? Couldn’t Be! Then Who!” I grew up in the 80s and played many rounds of “Who Stole the Cookie from the Cookie Jar?” In fact, this game worked well in my English classes when I taught junior high students years ago in Japan.

But Gwen’s point here really convicted me — sometimes we want to ignore the pricking of the Holy Spirit when God calls us to be open to opportunities He gives us. I was really amazed at reading some of her stories of how she talks to people in airports, coffee shops, and grocery stores, taking a few extra moments to realize God has put that person in her path for a Divine Appointment. I thought of how often I rush by someone with a smile and a quick “Hi!” instead of stopping to really ask how they’re doing. Yet, I’ve crossed paths with many people who are just the opposite, and have taken the time to really reach out to me.

Gwen writes:

Being salt and light and pointing people to Jesus doesn’t mean we need to start handing out Bible tracts on street corners…It means that you and I should be open to the random God opportunities He brings our way each day, and we should intentionally bless others on His behalf.

So, you can see why this book is easy to recommend — fresh, energetic, and inspiring. Definitely a great pick-me-up for Spring reading.

Enjoy!

About the Author:
Gwen Smith
Gwen Smith is an author and volleyball enthusiast who lives in sunny North Carolina and has been married to her college honey, Brad, for 23 years. They are tired parents to three competitive-sport-playing teens who keep them on their toes and on their knees. Her online friends meet at GwenSmith.net to connect and be encouraged, and her goal is to help women think big thoughts about God and be inspired to live out the grace and truth of Jesus. Gwen speaks, leads worship, and eats potato chips at women’s events everywhere, and she is a co-founder of the conference and devotional ministry Girlfriends in God.
Thank you to the wonderful staff at Litfuse for sending me a complimentary copy of this book for review.

By: Heather Ivester in: Christian Living,Faith,Marriage,Motherhood,Wellness | Permalink | Comments Off on When You’re Ready to Make an Impact: Gwen Smith’s ‘I Want It All’



December 18, 2015

Nearly ten years ago, I read Dianne Jacob’s book, Will Write for Food, after purchasing it from the Writer’s Digest catalog. It has become one of my favorite writing books, surviving year after year of ruthless culling of my bookshelves. I reviewed it then in my brand new blog, and it’s a bit staggering to look back on that post, as both I and my blog have aged an entire decade.

I’m still here, and I still enjoy sharing great books and writing resources. In 2009, Dianne Jacob entered the world of blogging as a way to update her book, and you can keep up with her at Will Write for Food.

Because of vast changes in the world of print and digital writing, Dianne Jacob’s new edition has been extensively revised to reflect current media trends. I enjoyed this 2015 release and found it brimming with practical advice for bloggers and photographers, as she offers a smorgasbord of ideas on how to become a professional in the field. That is, how to make money from your food writing.


Will Write for Food

In her introduction, Dianne Jacob shares:

Much has changed in the world of food writing since 2005, most notably in the widespread acceptance of blogging. Ten years ago, bloggers had barely emerged, and the print world did not respect them. Since then, a national food magazine asked a food blogger to write a monthly column…a food blogger got a show on the Food Network…more than a hundred food bloggers have book deals, and a few make a six-figure income. Learning good photography, social media skills, and self-promotion has become as important — maybe more so, if I’m being honest — than being an excellent writer.

Whether you’re a gourmet food aficionado or simply enjoy sharing your love of cooking through recipes and personal photography, this book has something to offer you. After devouring this new edition, I learned the field of food writing is still wide open, and if you have a passion for food writing, this book can help take you to the next step of becoming a professional.

Here are a few ways you can break into the huge market for food writing:

Start a Food Blog
If you’ve ever dreamed of writing a book, the best place to begin is by creating a blog. Then you can start immediately in finding your voice and audience, which will build your platform as an expert in your field. Chapter 4 of Will Write for Food is completely devoted to helping you get started. Jacob has interviewed dozens of successful food bloggers and shares their tips to help you.

Become a Better Photographer
Food writing works in sync with beautiful photography. Jacob explains, “Since the web is such a visual place, this is the best way to increase views. Of course it isn’t easy, but having terrific photos can propel a food blog to stardom.” She includes many practical ways to make your photo shoots look more professional.

Master the Art of Recipe Writing
“A well-written recipe is like poetry,” says Jacob. “Agents and editors can see a good one a mile away.” Who knew there was such an art to writing down your recipes? There is, and chapter 8 explains how you can become a master of the art. She includes a list of powerful action verbs that will bring your recipes to life. I especially enjoyed reading about how Julia Child captured the attention of legendary editor Judith Jones because of her strong knack for punchy verbs.

Compile a Cookbook
The world of cookbook writing has changed drastically in the past decade. Cookbooks are full of stories, which help grab a reader’s attention. “Many people read cookbooks in bed as though they were novels,” Jacob says. “They provide escape from daily life and a source of guiltless pleasure.” I confess I’ve done this very thing. I love reading descriptions of food, and especially the narratives behind them. Many magazines and websites have created sections to showcase the stories behind recipes. My favorite is Guideposts.

Write a Food Memoir
Ah… I love food memoirs. When I traveled to Tampa a few years ago to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the egg industry, I found myself spending the weekend with strangers who had one main topic in common: we loved reading and writing about food. So we discussed our favorite food memoirs, as we dined on scrambled egg burritos on the bus ride to tour egg farms. My all-time favorite food memoir is Julia Child’s My Life in France, which was co-authored with her nephew, Alex Prud’Homme. Julie and Julia sprang from the original, and I’m also a fan of farm-to-table memoirs such as Kristin Kimball’s The Dirty Life. There’s a never-ending market for weight-loss stories and recipes, and I reviewed Heidi Bonds’ Who’s the New Kid? here. Dianne Jacob devotes all of Chapter 9 to “Crafting Memoir and Nonfiction.”

Create Fiction Infused with Food
I love it when I’m reading a novel infused with descriptions of food. I can’t help it. I learn so much about characters and setting by visualizing meals in the story. Jacob writes, “In fiction, food is a device that helps you develop characters based on how they cook, which foods they like, and how they eat. It also creates a mood or sets a scene, and establishes the time.” Many fiction authors today include recipes, and several books I’ve reviewed have inspired me to try out a recipe I’ve discovered, such as Eva Marie Everson and Linda Evans Shepherd’s The Potluck Club and Cyndy Salzmann’s Friday Afternoon Club cozy mystery series.

I hope you get a chance to read Will Write for Food, and if you collect trade books on writing, this is one you’ll want to acquire for your shelves. Reading the updated edition ten years after the first has me focused less on myself and more on how I plan to incorporate food writing in my English/Language Arts classroom. I can’t wait to see what kinds of recipes and stories my teen students come up with. Maybe we’ll even compile a classroom cookbook or break into food blogging. The opportunities for sharing a love of good food and writing are endless!


Dianne-Jacob

About the Author:
Dianne Jacob is a popular speaker at food writing conferences and workshops in America and around the world. She judges for both the James Beard Foundation annual cookbook awards and the IACP annual cookbook awards. The coauthor of Grilled Pizzas & Piandinas and The United States of Pizza, and the writer of The Good Pantry, she lives in Oakland, California. She can be reached at her website and blog, where she covers food writing trends, issues, and technique.

Note: I received this book, complimentary, from the publisher for the purpose of review.

By: Heather Ivester in: Blogging,Book Reviews,Cooking & Recipes,Writing | Permalink | Comments Off on Dianne Jacob Offers Great Tips for Bloggers in Will Write for Food



November 6, 2015

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, friends and family are contemplating who’s going to cook the turkey this year, where everyone will gather, and why in the world Christmas decorations are already filling the shelves. It’s easy to forget this season is all about gratitude — being thankful for all the great gifts God has given us.
Another Way Home

Author Deborah Raney welcomes readers back to the Whitman family home for Thanksgiving in the 3rd book of her wonderful Chicory Inn series, Another Way Home. I’ve loved being able to read Book 1, Home to Chicory Lane, and Book 2, Two Roads Home.

In this series, Grant and Audrey Whitman have transformed their family home into a beautiful bed and breakfast, which they imagined would fill the autumn season of their lives with the joy of hospitality. Although they do entertain guests regularly, it is their grown children and grandchildren who continue to keep them completely busy and on the verge of prayer.

Another Way Home focuses on their middle daughter, Danae, and her husband, Dallas Brooks, who have been trying for years to grow their family, but have yet to be able to have a baby. Danae has visited fertility clinics for three years and is ready to consider adoption, but her husband, Dallas, will not even discuss it.

At the prompting of an inspiring sermon at church, Danae decides to begin volunteering at a newly opened shelter for abused women and children. She has no idea how this one small step of faith will lead her in a completely new direction. As Danae is finally learning to live her life with gratitude, heart-wrenching events on Thanksgiving weekend threaten to pull the entire Whitman clan into turmoil — and leave them all forever changed.

If you’re ready to kick back and read a relaxing book that will help you face the trials of life with an even deeper faith, I heartily recommend this series for you. I love all of Deborah Raney’s books because they’re clean — no disgusting language or vile images — and have the power to transform and uplift my faith.

As my own children are beginning to leave the nest and move to the next season of life, I’m eagerly learning from Grant and Audrey Whitman to see how they handle grown children and the choices they make.

Now I’m looking forward to the fourth Chicory Inn book, which will be released next June!

**********************

Enter here to win a copy of Another Way Home—five winners will be chosen! Click the image below to enter to win. The winners will be announced November 23 on the Litfuse blog!

Another Way Home Giveaway
About the Author:

DEBORAH RANEY’s first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title and launched her writing career after twenty happy years as a stay-at-home mom. She is currently writing a new five-book series, the The Chicory Inn Novels. Deb and her husband, Ken Raney, recently traded small-town life in Kansas––the setting of many of Deb’s novels––for life in the (relatively) big city of Wichita. They love traveling to visit four children and five grandchildren who all live much too far away. Visit Deb on the Web at www.deborahraney.com.
Deborah Raney
Here are more places where you can connect with author Deborah Raney:

Website: www.deborahraney.com.
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/deborah.raney
Twitter: https://twitter.com/authordebraney
Amazon.com: http://amazon.com/author/deborahraney
Instagram: http://instagram.com/deborahraney
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/deborahraney/
Blogs: http://novelgarden.blogspot.com
http://inspiredbylifeandfiction.com/
http://just18summers.com/category/a-happy-home/makeing-your-house-a-home/

Thanks to Abingdon Press and Litfuse Publicity for providing me with a complimentary copy.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Christian Living,Faith,Family,Marriage,Motherhood,Parenting | Permalink | Comments Off on Deborah Raney’s Chicory Inn Series Continues with Another Way Home



November 1, 2015

A Respectable Actress

One of our favorite spots to vacation as a family is St. Simon’s Island, off the coast of Georgia. Every time we visit, I learn something new about the history of the island, especially when we go exploring on rainy days. There’s a beautiful old church, Christchurch, that seems to pull me with a magnetic force toward its rich layers of drama and history.

When I heard about Dorothy Love’s new novel that takes place on St. Simon’s Island and Savannah, I couldn’t wait to travel through the pages of time into an 1870s murder mystery. I was completely intrigued!

India Hartley, a famous and beautiful actress, is now alone after her father’s death and embarks upon a tour of theaters across the South. Her first stop is Savannah’s Southern Palace. During the second night’s performance, something goes terribly wrong. India’s co-star, Arthur Sterling, is shot dead on stage in front of a packed house, and India is found holding her own smoking gun!

After she is arrested and put in jail, a benefactor hires Philip Sinclair, the best lawyer in Savannah, to defend her. A handsome widower, Philip is struggling to reinvent his worn-out plantation on St. Simon’s Island. He must increase his income from his law practice in order to restore Indigo Point. Hardly anything will bring him more new clients than successfully defending a famous actress on a murder charge.

Because India can’t go anywhere in town without being mobbed, Philip persuades the judge handling her case to let him take her to Indigo Point until her trial date. India is charmed by the natural beauty of the Georgia lowcountry and is increasingly drawn to Philip.

But a locked room and the unsolved disappearance of a former slave girl raise disturbing questions. Piecing together clues in an abandoned boat and a burned-out chapel, India discovers a trail of dark secrets that lead back to Philip, secrets that ultimately may destroy her or hold the key to her freedom.

What makes this novel even more interesting is that it’s inspired by the life of a real 19th-century woman, Frances “Fanny” Anne Kemble. She was an English actress who moved to Georgia in the 1830s and married Pierce Butler, a wealthy plantation owner. She kept a diary of her life on St. Simon’s, which was published in 1863, Journal of a Residence on a Georgia Plantation.

In an author’s note, Dorothy Love also explains that while Indigo Point is entirely a fictional creation, it is based on King’s Retreat, which is documented in the collected letters of Anna Matilda Page King. For anyone who is interested in Georgia history, A Respectable Actress may serve as a springboard into the lives of real characters who lived on St. Simon’s Island.

After reading A Respectable Actress, I realized this will definitely not be the only Dorothy Love book I read! I was fascinated to learn that one of the characters who appears in this novel, Celia Browning Mackay, is the main character in a previous work, The Bracelet. I love the city of Savannah, so I have added this book to my wish list!

Throughout this novel, the theme of grief is explored, as India Hartley works through her first year of losing her father. It’s helpful for anyone dealing with grief, and I was touched to read Dorothy Love’s account of how she learned to write through her own grief when she found out her beloved brother had terminal cancer.

I hope you will find time to read A Respectable Actress. Through encountering it, I have fallen even further in love with coastal Georgia, and I know you will too!

About the Author:
Dorothy LoveA native of west Tennessee, Dorothy Love makes her home in the Texas hill country with her husband and their golden retriever. An award-winning author of numerous young adult novels, Dorothy made her adult debut with the Hickory Ridge novels. When she isn’t busy writing or researching her next book, Love enjoys hiking, traveling, and hanging out with her husband Ron and their rambunctious golden retriever. The Loves make their home in the Texas hill country.
Find Dorothy online: website, Twitter, Facebook.

Thank you to Litfuse for sending me a complimentary copy of this book for review.

By: Heather Ivester in: American Authors,Book Reviews,Travel | Permalink | Comments Off on Falling in Love with Coastal Georgia in A Respectable Actress