I never cease to be amazed by how Philippa Gregory can turn out book after page-turning book, all based on well-known stories.  Talk about your ultimate spoilers!  And yet knowing the ending only enhances Gregory’s Tudor Court and Cousins’ War novels.

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The latest book in the series is no exception.  Based on the real-life story of Lady Margaret Pole, The King’s Curse is really a bridge between the Cousins’ War series and the Tudor Court.  While Margaret didn’t always have the front row seat that some of the other players already written had, her life is unique in its longevity.  Daughter of the ill-fated York brother George, Duke of Clarence and his wife Isabel Neville, Margaret’s life saw the height of the York reign, the tragedy of the Princes in the Tower, the fall of the Plantagenet dynasty, the rise of the Tudors, and especially the white-knuckle ride of Henry VIII’s rule.

I love how Gregory can take a story even she herself has told often and make it fresh and exciting.  It shows her true talent as a writer.  Margaret’s story is woven with a strong theme of survival at all costs and constantly pits the natural pride she has in her lineage with the necessity to fly under the radar of an increasingly paranoid king.  She never forgets her name, just as she never forgets her brother who lost his life for the sole reason of bearing that name.  It’s a tension Gregory keeps alive through the entire novel.

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Once again Philippa Gregory has penned a fantastic, gripping book that brings history to life.  I can’t wait to see which fascinating historical woman she tackles next.

Just over a month ago I announced that my book, Legacy of Faith, had won the Word Alive Press Publishing Contest and would become published.  Don’t worry, that’s still happening!  But after careful thought, the good people there felt that the title I’ve been using might be too common.  They also thought it sounds more like a memoir, which, though it is a true story, my book isn’t.  

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We talked about a few options, most of which centred on the idea of the ocean.  We’ve decided on Across the Deep, and here’s why:

  • All three of the book’s characters cross the ocean at some significant point.  
  • The ocean can be synonymous with trials, which figure prominently in the book
  • The ocean, in particular walking on it, is also a metaphor for faith
  • The idea of those who have gone on before us waiting on the “farther shore”
  • The nearness of God in trials as described in Psalm 42 – “deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfall” 
  • I’ve been thinking a lot about Hillsong United’s “Oceans” as a theme song for this book, and it’s influenced the choice of this title, too

So from now on, I’ll be referring to Legacy of Faith as Across the Deep, but it’s still the same story, and hopefully this title will get that story out more effectively.  

What are your thoughts?  Do you like the new title?

Seeing as I read this series one after the other, I thought I’d lump them all together and tell you what I thought.  

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I had previously read the Mortal Instruments series and didn’t like it much, so I didn’t have very high expectations of this prequel trilogy.  But I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.  I don’t know if Cassandra Clare has just hit her stride, or if she struck a particularly good story lode here, or if the steampunk touch was all she needed, but Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince, and Clockwork Princess captured my imagination and held it.

These three books tell the story of Tessa Gray, an orphaned young woman from New York who travels to London in the 1870s to live with her brother.  When she arrives, her brother is nowhere to be found, sparking a mystery that brings her into the sphere of the shadowhunters and reveals her own true identity.

I liked the characters, especially Tessa and the shadowhunter best friends Will and Jem.  They are deep, interesting, and make the reader genuinely care about their fates.  The story is delightfully twisty, with lots of unexpected departures and some lovely tension that holds till the very end.  

 

All in all, I’d have to recommend this series for lovers of a good fantasy story.  

I have long been a fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books, and this latest in the 8-part and counting series did not disappoint.

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This book continues the epic tale of Claire and Jamie Fraser begun in the first book, Outlander, as well as dozens of added characters picked up along the way like Brianna, Roger, Lord John, William, Jenny, Ian, Rachel, Buck, Fergus, and Marsali, to name a few.  Fans of the series will recognize the usual feast of relational tension, medical drama, mystery, action, and intelligent fantasy that has characterized Diana’s books.

Gabaldon gives readers some excellent plot twists in this book, too.  I don’t want to spoil it, so all I’ll say is the main twist is fantastic!  I didn’t see it coming at all and it really satisfied.  

Like all of her books, My Own Heart’s Blood is a meaty, sink-your-teeth-into kind of book that will get under your skin and stay in your head for a long time after.  And, like the other seven, I plan on reading this one over again.

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There will be more books in the Outlander series, but during the long wait for the next instalment, we can always console ourselves with the perfect new TV adaptation of Outlander.  And apologies if my review gets you hooked.  Consider yourself fairly warned.  

For those of you who like reading time travel romance and prefer shorter, easily digestible stories, my new story Circle Round the Sun is one of six in a new anthology: Twist of Time, from Highland Press.  It is currently out on Kindle and will arrive in print in the next couple of days.  

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Time = the fourth dimension and a measure in which events can be ordered from the past through the present into the future 

But what happens when two of those dimensions collide? 

Six stories of love past and present: from the breathtaking fjords and conquering 
Vikings of Norway to the lush green isles of Ireland and its ever-battling lairds; 
from the white sand dunes and sculptures of Egypt and the vanquishing Roman soldiers to a simpler life in the early USA, including the iconic Route 66. 

Participating authors: Cheryl Alldredge, Jean Adams, Erin E.M. Hatton, Cheryl Norman, Karen Michelle Nutt, and Susan R. Sweet

 

Find the book on Amazon

Word Alive Press interviewed me about my upcoming book Legacy of Faith and my process in writing it.  If you’re interested you can see the interview.  

 

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I’m breaking my long, unintentional silence to let you know something very exciting–for me at least! ;)  My longtime labour of love, Legacy of Faith, is finally going to see the light of day.  

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Legacy has won the Word Alive Press annual publishing contest.  Apparently the judges “fell in love” with the manuscript, and I hope you will, too.

 

Legacy of Faith tells the story of three generations of my own family who were involved in ministry and faced, and overcame, incredible hardships.  John Mackilligen is a Covenanter–an illegal Presbyterian minister in 1600s Scotland.  William McKillican is a minister too, and when his entire congregation emigrates from Scotland to the backwoods of Canada in the early 1800s, he follows them there.  And Jennie McKillican, a spinster nurse, travels to China as a missionary.  All three face challenges that shake their faith and inspire generations to come.

 

Here are some excerpts I shared while I was writing Legacy that you might enjoy.  

Meet John

Meet William

Jennie Under Siege

John and his Enemy

 

Keep an eye open for the release date.  I’ll be sharing news here.  

In this excerpt from my time-travel short story, Mason gets some advice from a famous painter.

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Mason spent the night under Botticelli’s roof, along with the apprentices and under-artists who lived there.  He lay awake through the few hours left before dawn, casting about between the wonder of where and when he was, and the heart-bursting delight of meeting Alessa.  

 

In the morning, he was haggard and sore from the hard bed, but eager to prove his worth in the studio of one of his greatest idols.  Sandro lent him the use of his canvas and oils and an easel, and he set to work making paints by hand, in the manner he’d studied at school, and began to paint.  

 

He started with vague shapes and free movements, not quite sure what he was going to paint until Sandro appeared at his shoulder.

 

“She made an impression on you, did she?”

 

Startled, he looked to the artist, then back to his canvas.  He hadn’t realized, but a figure was taking shape there, a dancer, with a smudge of golden hair and a green dress.  

 

He smiled ruefully and nodded.  

 

“Ah, love.”  Sandro sighed and sat on a nearby stool.  “I’d bet you’d give anything to know if you made the same impression on her.”

 

“Is it that obvious?”

 

“I myself am not a stranger to the pangs of love.”  A shadow crossed his expression, a faraway look came into his eyes.

 

Mason held his breath.  Was Sandro speaking of Simonetta Vespucci, the married lady he was rumoured to have loved?  He wanted to ask, but it would have seemed strange for him to know anything about it.

 

He settled for a safer question.  “That sounds like an interesting story.”

 

“A sad tale.  Not one, perhaps, for a man happy in the early days of love.”

 

“I like sad stories.”  

 

Sandro laughed bitterly.  “You wouldn’t like to live in one.”  He seemed to hesitate, as though deciding whether or not to tell.  With a quirk of his lips, he began his tale.  “There is not much of a story.  Everyone knows it, perhaps.  But I loved a lady once.  She was the most beautiful woman who ever lived.”  Mason noticed his eyes wandered to his own half finished painting, lingering on the face of Venus newborn from the sea.  

 

He continued.  “But she could never be mine.  She was married already when I met her, and so I never revealed my heart for her.  But I like to think, to console myself with the thought, that if she had been free, she might have loved me.  I’ll never know.  She died.”

 

“I’m sorry.” 

 

The artist looked up and met his eyes.  “As am I.  Sometimes I am sorry I never declared my love for her, even in secret, even knowing nothing could come of it.  But it would have distressed her, I think, and so I’m glad I didn’t.  I’ve never loved another since her, and I don’t think I will as long as I live.  I want to be buried at her feet when I die.”  He glanced out the window, in the direction of the Church of Ognissanti where Simonetta Vespucci was entombed.  Where he would one day be entombed.

 

“You’re right,” Mason said.  “It is a sad story.  And I wish you hadn’t lived it, for your sake.”  He held out a hand to grasp the artist’s shoulder in brotherly solidarity.

 

“I don’t.”  Sandro smiled sadly.  “Whatever cruel hand fate has dealt us, love is still worth the pain.”

 

“’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, eh?”

 

Sandro looked at him oddly.  “An accurate sentiment.  Eloquently put.”

 

“I can’t take credit.  It’s from a poem.”  Mason realized with a twinge that the words were from a poem written nearly four centuries from now, written by a man who had yet to draw his first breath, let alone feel any pain of loss.  He couldn’t get used to that feeling.

 

“I suppose what I want to impress on you, young Mason, is that you do not know if you have tomorrow.  I was not free to confess my love to Simonetta.  But your way is clear with this Alessa.  You should tell her how you feel.”

 

Mason glanced at the vague shape of the dancer on his canvas, drawing in his breath and holding it.  

 

Did he love her?  Could he possibly know after one brief meeting?  

 

With a quickening of his pulse, he admitted such a thing might be possible.  But there was only one way to find out.  He must speak with her again.  And soon.

 

After all, it was a miracle he’d ended up in the Renaissance in the first place.  He had no guarantee how long this supernatural glitch would give him.  

 

It was more than a mystery now, more than tracking down La Bella Ragazza.  Now that he’d found her, the draw of her was so much more than a beautiful painting.  

 

He let out his breath, slumping his shoulders slightly.  

 

Sandro clapped him on the back.  “Go to her!  No one would fault you for it.”

 

Mason glanced back at the master for confirmation.  But he didn’t need to be told twice.  

 

With a grin, he unrolled the sleeves of his chemise and rescued his borrowed doublet from the corner of the workshop.  Sandro tossed him a hat.  

 

“Go and get her,” the artist said. 

 

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As always, please feel free to let me know your honest opinion.  :)

Have you ever heard the expression “jump the shark”?  It’s a term from television, stemming from the moment when the show “Happy Days” passed its peak.  Now people use it to describe that tipping point of any TV show.  I’d like to suggest we writers can jump the shark, too.

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It’s all about keeping tension in your work.  If you lose the tension, you lose the story.  Too often I’m guilty of this.  So here’s a look at a few things that might help keep that tension alive right to the very end.

1) Keep it messy.

I’m a fan of the happy ending.  I like things all neatly put together and wrapped up in a pretty bow.  So the temptation I have to avoid in my writing is resolving problems too soon.  Don’t give your characters a break unless it’s absolutely necessary.  In fact, load on the problems as much as possible.  Let the relief come at the end, where it belongs.

2) Play on emotions.

The feels!  I love a good story that makes me weep and mourn along with the characters.  Do that.  Make the feelings raw and deep.  If your reader feels along with the characters, they will be more invested in the outcome.  

3) Dangle a carrot.

Don’t be a mean writer, though.  Your characters – and your readers – have to have some hope to cling to.  Show them that there is a big payoff waiting at the end, if they can just be patient.  Dole out hope in carefully measured portions along the way.  Then they have something to look forward to.

 

Don’t forget how you suddenly lost interest when your favourite TV couple got together too soon, or how disappointed you were by how easy it was for that book character to finish his quest.  Don’t do that to your readers!  Keep that tension alive!  

My 12-year-old son, a voracious reader, recommended this YA dystopian book to me.  Here’s my opinion.

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Thomas comes to himself in an elevator, his memory wiped, and emerges into a boxed in area called the Glade.  Inside are a bunch of young boys with their own cobbled-together society and their own slang.  Their objective: to survive, and to find a way out of the giant, shifting maze that surrounds their home.  Thomas soon learns that they are hunted by frightening creatures called Grievers, and watched by the maze’s creators, but no one will tell him much else.  But despite the giant holes in his knowledge, Thomas is driven to unravel the mystery and help the Gladers escape the maze.

The Maze Runner is a fun, gripping mystery that keeps the reader guessing right up to the end, and beyond.  The story is filled with great twists and steady pacing, the characters are interesting, and the setting is imaginative.  Fans of the Hunger Games or Divergent will especially like this one.

Like most young adult fantasy novels, this one is going through the Hollywood machine, too, so if you want to read it first before seeing the movie, act fast.  It looks like it will adapt well to the big screen.

I’m looking forward to reading the two sequels to this one, which I’m told give up few answers until much later, and the prequel that explains how the Gladers got in the maze.  I’ll be reviewing those as well, so keep an eye on my blog in the future.

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