Thursday, 16 December 2010

Book review: Dining with Joy by Rachel Hauck

Book Title: Dining with Joy
Author: Rachel Hauck
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
ISBN: 9781595543394

I'm the girl who messed up her stove by leaving potatoes to boil and boil and boil … So right away I related to Joy Ballard, a popular cooking show host with a secret—she cannot cook.

The book opens as a new agent secures a prime time slot for Joy's show on a national network. Luke Redmond, who moved to the lowcountry to regroup after declaring bankruptcy, enters the scene. He can cook and becomes Joy's co-host. Joy sees him as her "kind, selfless knight in a white chef coat" and, on impulse, acts accordingly. This leads to interesting developments.

 Joy has a card in her truck with Jesus' words "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me."  She yearns to find God's will and follow it, but she cannot do this as she's living a lie.

Circumstances threaten to reveal her secret while it becomes ever more imperative that she keep it. Will Luke find out? Will her viewers discover she can't cook? How will she resolve her dilemma?

If I had to liken this book to a dish, I'd choose a salad—it's light, enjoyable and delicious. Joy and Luke's lives are the fresh crisp ingredients seasoned by their mutual attraction to each other. Characters such as Mama and Miss Jeanne add the color. The spiritual thread is the dressing which gives the salad its delectable flavour.

Did I enjoy this dish? Yes.

Would I recommend it to fellow diners? I would.

Would I like to taste other dishes from Rachel Hauck's  kitchen? Yes, I would.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Meet Cathy Liggett, author of "Beaded Hope" - Part 2

Welcome back to the second half of my interview with Cathy Liggett The first part can be read here.

Mama Penny and Jaleela, two of the South African ladies in Beaded Hope, are very strong characters. Are they based on real people?

Yes and no. :)

A man I met before we left for South Africa told me he thought the people were the very best thing about the country. After visiting Mamelodi myself and meeting the people there, I couldn’t have agreed more. That’s why in every South African character depicted in the book—most especially Jaleela—I  tried to portray the strong faith, warmth, and congeniality of the South African people we were delighted to meet.

Cathy and her husband, Mark, in South Africa with some of the children they met.

But one character—Mama Penny—was not totally fictional. She was inspired by a woman named Mama Peggy, who, as you’ll see on the Beaded Hope Website, is called “the Matriarch of Mamelodi.” I don’t know how the woman can possibly do all she does. She’s well educated and could be doing many other things with her life. But instead she has dedicated herself to the people of Mamelodi and has her helping hands in everything—hands that never seem to stop moving.

Also, for anyone who has read the book, you may be wondering about Mighty too. Yes, there is a “real” Mighty. In fact, once again if you go to Beaded Hope Website you’ll see some of the South African Beaded Hope ladies there, Mighty included. But the “real” Mighty is a mother who has a daughter close in age to the fictitious Mighty. I just loved that name so much and couldn’t find anything in the Thesaurus I liked better. So I asked Mighty’s permission to use her name and, luckily, she was thrilled. 

I wondered if there was a “real” Mighty.

How did you weave in a spiritual thread to make it relevant to your readers without being preachy?

Honestly, I don’t think there’s anything intentional that I did. I really feel like there was such a blessed spirit that exuded from the South African people I met that it spilled over into the writing of this story.

Did you have any particular Bible verses running through your mind as you wrote this book?

I had a list of about eight verses that seemed to resonate with the theme of the book and capture the spirit of the South African ladies as well. Two verses from that list ended up making their way into the book. There was 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 which came to Gabby’s mind in Chapter 29. Also, Hebrews 11:1 was used in the opening pages of the book. My editor and I took a “vote” and decided that familiar yet awesome scripture,“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see,” fit the book perfectly, especially in regard to Jaleela’s faith. 

What do you hope your readers will take away from your book?

I’ve tried to write a meaningful book, but at the same time, I’ve tried to inject the pages with smiles and some laughable scenes too. So while I hope there are certain things readers will experience in the book, a joyful sigh at the end is sure one of them!

I don't know what readers will glean from the book, but I can tell you what I've learned on this Beaded Hope journey. That is:
that women half-way around the world, living in the most deplorable conditions, still have the same desires at heart that I do—happy, well-fed children who know God and are hopeful with dreams for their futures.
and that often when you think you’ve been sent some place to minister to others, don’t be surprised when you are the one who is ministered to.
that God’s timing really is worth waiting for! And no matter how little our knowledge, no matter how imperfect our hearts, He continues to pursue us to join Him in His work, just because He loves us so. (Lucky us!)

I’d love to know what happened to Gabby , Cassandra, Heidi and Katie after their return to Ohio. Is there going to be a sequel to Beaded Hope

Well, I guess only time will tell. I do have their stories swirling around in my head if the opportunity for sequels presents itself.

Tell us about your current book/project.

My current WIP is another women’s fiction set in the U.S. around Lake Michigan. Right now I’m calling it “Always the Wedding Planner” so we’ll have to see what happens with that.

If you were given an all expenses paid holiday anywhere in the world to research a novel, where would you choose to go? Why would choose this location?

Oh, gosh. My husband always says I have a hard time making decisions and he is so right. I can’t seem to choose just one! I would love to go to Ireland. And to Jerusalem. Australia. Italy. And even some places in the U.S. too! Some places seem spiritual. Some romantic. Some historical. An archeological dig anywhere would be fun too!

Does anyone out there have a specific place anywhere in the world where they’d like to visit?

Thank you for chatting to us today, Cathy, we’ve enjoyed reading about your experiences and writing. 

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Meet Cathy Liggett, author of "Beaded Hope"

Greetings from South Africa. Today it's my pleasure to introduce Cathy Liggett.

Cathy Liggett has been a Midwest, Ohio, girl all her life – except for those 5 years when her one true love married her and whisked her off to live in New York City. Once the couple began a family, however, hometown ties tugged and they moved back to Ohio to raise their two children. Some twenty-plus years later they still make their home in the aptly-named Cincinnati suburb of Loveland. A Communications major and former advertising copywriter, Cathy feels blessed just thinking about the places the writing journey has taken her and all the wonderful acquaintances she’s made along the way.

Hello, Cathy, welcome to our blog.

Hi, Ruth Ann.  It’s so sweet of you to invite me!

Please tell us about your book, Beaded Hope, and what inspired you to write it.

Beaded Hope is a story about the power of faith and friendship. It’s about three American women—who are strangers to each other when they embark on a mission trip from Columbus, Ohio to Mamelodi, South Africa, each for their own self-serving reasons. Gabby is a Director of Children’s Ministries at her church and is running from a devastating loss—she can’t conceive a child. Cassandra is single, childless a bit older and is trying desperately to save her news anchor career by bringing back a great story. Heidi is a young widow who is hoping the trip will help bridge the gap that has separated her from her stepdaughter. What none of the American women expect is how profoundly their lives will be changed by the women they meet in SA, women who combat disease and poverty daily, yet still manage to embrace life with joy.

I was inspired to write the book after meeting a lady named Jennifer Davis about five years ago at my work. I work part-time at a hospital as a registrar and one day Jennifer sat down across from me at the registration desk, sporting a red beaded pin on her jean jacket. I couldn’t help but ask where she’d gotten the pretty piece of jewelry. After introducing herself, Jennifer told me the pin was crafted by a woman in South Africa and said she’d just started a nonprofit called Beaded Hope to help South African women provide for their families by selling their beaded jewelry in the United States.

I was thrilled to buy a pin from her that day, but I never really expected to see her again. It seemed, however, that God had a different plan. Jennifer and I kept “accidentally” crossing paths until finally it seemed too coincidental to ignore and we made plans to meet and chat. As Jennifer shared her photos and journal entries from her earlier trips to South Africa, I felt pressed to write about the people she spoke of. I'd published some romances prior to that and figured this would be a sweeping romance, covering two continents. But it just didn’t work in that genre. The book (I realized after many revisions) had to be more than romance. It had to be all about women bonding with one another through their struggles, dreams, hopes, and faith.

Have you always wanted to go on a mission trip to South Africa?

Jennifer will tell you that she always wanted to go to South Africa since she was a little girl. But I can honestly say traveling to Africa was never really a thought in my head. In fact, I’d already had a couple of rejections for Beaded Hope  by the time she called me out-of-the-blue, February 2008 and I’d put the project on the backburner.

When Jennifer called she said she knew it was last minute, but she was making a trip back to Mamelodi, SA at the beginning of March and felt drawn to invite me to go. At that time, my husband and I were planning a trip to Destin, Florida. Something drivable and restful—and more affordable. Africa seemed too extravagant.

But Jennifer also said in order to get decent airfares to SA we needed to make the reservations by that Friday—in just a couple of days. However, we could still cancel the reservations on the following Monday without a penalty if we felt we needed too.

With that option in mind, crazily we said yes, deciding we’d talk about it more over the weekend, figure out our finances and so on. So I called and made the reservations Friday morning and on Friday afternoon two things happened. Our daughter came home from college with a check for tuition we’d apparently overpaid. And in the mail not two hours later, we got an unexpected royalty check from my husband’s business. Together, those two checks equaled our airfares.

After that we didn’t question our going again. The fact is, though I longed to sell the idea of this book years before, I believe God knew I had to go to Mamelodi and meet face-to-face and hug-to-hug the women Jennifer held so close to her heart. My limited imagination would’ve never been able to depict the warmth, irresistibility and spirit of these ladies otherwise. 

Do you have any funny or interesting South African experiences you would like to share with our readers? Have any of these found their way into your book?

I didn’t have any funny incident that made its way into the book, but I did learn something interesting (the scary way!!). I learned what’s big and gray and wet behind the ears!

I became privy to that tidbit of knowledge when we went on safari in the Pilanesburg during our trip to South Africa.  We were so lucky to be able to take the “real” Mama Peggy and Mighty with us. They’d never done such a thing before, so it was a first experience for all of us.

It was bright and sunny when we got to the park that afternoon. After getting something to eat and letting the monkeys that populated the grounds entertain us for a while, we prepared for our safari that evening. By the time we set out, however, the clouds were rolling in. And, by the time we got to the furthest point along the dirt path, rain teemed down. Since the caravan (which held about 12-15 people I’d say) was canvas topped and had canvas sides, we were drenched and freezing in our shorts and spring parkas. Kindly, the driver high-tailed us back to the lodge and gave us a raincheck—good for the 6 a.m. safari the next morning.

It was our first night in a bed that felt like anything comparable to home. Even so, we climbed out of that comfortable spot (a bit reluctantly, I admit) at around 5 a.m. and set out in the van in the darkness once again.

It was truly breathtaking to see the sun rise over the African grassland and hills, and to see the animals in their natural state as well. Lion cubs with their moms rose up out of the tall grasses, stretching …giraffes dipped their necks to breakfast on leafy tree limbs … impalas slowly made their way to waterholes for morning drinks. Oh, and the birds we saw were incredibly beautiful! I love the cardinals, orioles and bluejays in my backyard in Ohio—but what a treat it was to see a European Roller—a bird many of you are probably acquainted with. Its colors are so magnificent!

Anyway, I’m not sure why but about halfway through the safari, the driver stopped the van and turned off the engine. I think he wanted us to look around and see some of the animals in the distance. My husband and I, along with a South African man with a huge camera, and a South African family (mom and son in one seat, and dad and daughter in a seat across the aisle), occupied the last two rows of the van which, again, was completely open, no windows, and had only canvas that ran around the sides.

Turning around to look out the back, our rear rows did see an elephant in the distance. An elephant that kept getting closer and closer and closer… The man with the camera had been on many a safari and knew the elephant was a young male and could tell from the seeping coming from his ears (just to let you know how close the creature had gotten!) that he was a young male during mating season and could be very easily agitated.

Oh, and the elephant was! Noticeably perturbed, he came about twenty yards from the van and kept ducking and raising his head, like he was trying to tell us that we really needed to be moving along. We thought he was completely right!! We began calling up to the driver to start the van! Please! But … the driver was preoccupied and talking, and no one at the front of the van seemed to hear us.

As we sat there, the elephant moved closer. Ducking his head some more, he didn’t look at all happy with us. We yelled to the driver again. By this time, he seemed to hear us, but wasn’t comprehending the situation at all. Oh, but the young male elephant was! He saw we weren’t moving, so he started to! He began to stomp determinedly down the path toward the van.

All of us in the back seats screamed at the driver some more. My husband (I’m guessing in an act of chivalry) pushed me out of the seat and into the aisle, away from the open back area. And, I’m telling you in all honesty, by the time the driver got the van moving, the elephant was a foot from the van, his head lowered and looking ready to charge. I can truly feel my pulse quickening right now, just remembering it!

I learned that when you drive away from a beast like that, you’re supposed to zigzag so they have a hard time catching you. Luckily, that’s what the driver did. He started the engine and gunned it out of there, zigzagging away from the young male who only ran after us for a little ways. The South Africans, who knew better than we did, had much to say to the driver when we got back to our lodging, and it wasn’t nice. The driver should’ve never cut the engine, they told us. What if when he went to turn on the van, it wouldn’t start again?

Whew! I’m just so very thankful it did! 

What a frightening experience!

Mama Penny and Jaleela, two of the South African ladies, are very strong characters. Are they based on real people?

Please come back tomorrow to read Cathy's answer.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The Big Catch- A Fishy Tale

Earlier this year, my husband and I visited a discovery park in Ireland. On a crisp spring morning we walked along the nature trails which wove through the wooded valley. We explored a cave and admired the weathered wood sculptures dotted along the way.

We strolled on the banks of a river and discovered two angling lakes linked by a series of cascades. Fishermen stood on the edges and cast their lines into the water. We watched for a while to see if they caught anything—I have to admit I hoped they wouldn’t have any success. Yip, I’m on the fishes’ side.

We went into the visitor center to have a cup of coffee and snack in the café. My husband chatted to a fly fishing instructor in the reception area. She gave him a rundown on the facilities and fishing opportunites in the park. She boasted that a large rainbow trout, all of 17 pounds, had been caught the previous day.

Later we sat in the café and as we finished our food, the instructor walked in with a large leather pouch slung round her neck. She came over to our table and with a big grin unfastened the top of the pouch.

I caught my breath. What was it? Yesterday’s big catch? I really didn’t want to see the poor fish, but I couldn’t look away.

We craned our necks to see inside the pouch, but only saw folds of fleecy fabric. The instructor moved the fleece apart slightly and revealed a dark fin-like structure.

She eased open the rest of the fleece. Two dark brown eyes stared at me from the recesses of the pouch.

“What is it?” I asked.

She drew out . . . a little wallaby. It snuggled up in her arms.


Bet you thought it was a dead fish, just as I did. The fin-like structure was not a fin, it was a paw.

What was a baby wallaby doing in Ireland? Well, the instructor explained, it had been born in her front garden. Yip, that sure solved the mystery.

She saw our puzzled looks so explained that his parents had been sent to Ireland when a zoo closed down. Their new owners didn’t have a permit to keep them, so she had been authorized to look after them. The wallabies had settled down very well, so much so that they refused to stay in the warm during winter and loved to play in the snow. Eventually they produced the furry little fellow we were now stroking.

So what does this story have to do with reading and writing?

If you’re like me, you enjoy reading a story which ends with a good twist. Have you ever wondered how authors produce these surprise endings?

I discovered that often a writer plots the end before writing the book. Then, as he writes, he deliberately includes details and events which make readers form misconceptions. These wrong assumptions produce an expectation of a very different conclusion to the real one. At the end of the story, he turns the readers’ assumptions on their head. He reveals how the details and events actually culminated in an ending which the readers didn’t anticipate. And there’s the twist in the tale.

When I wrote my wallaby-in-the–middle-of-Ireland story, I hoped to surprise you. Did I succeed? What did you think was in the pouch?

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Have You Ever Met a Story World Character?

We often hear about the importance of a writer belonging to a critique group. Over six years ago, ICFW's Shirley Corder founded a non-fiction group called Truth Talk. I had the privilege of being one of the five initial members. Shirl and I lived in South Africa, but our homes were two days' drive apart. Jan and Yvonne were on opposite sides of America while Elaine lived in a small English village.

None of us had broadband or Skype in those days, but strong bonds of friendship developed among us as Truth Talk emails flew to and from our computers. We honed our writing skills, prayed together and became a close-knit unit supporting each other in our daily lives.

After several years I visited England with my husband and younger daughter. Elaine's village was one of the proposed places on our itinerary as a much loved aunt also lived there. I asked Elaine for her phone number and we planned to meet if possible.

I called Elaine from my aunt's house. I waited for her to pick up the phone and my anticipation grew as I imagined a flurry of excited squeals of joy and laughter as we spoke to each other for the first time.

Elaine answered my call and I said, "Hello, Elaine, this is Ruth speaking."

There was no response.


"Hello, Elaine. Are you there?"

Still no response.

I was about to put the phone down when she spoke to me in a rather vague manner. I was nonplussed by her initial lack of reaction, but as we chatted the words came tumbling out. Elaine gave me directions to her house and later I visited her. It was so good to meet her at long last and give her a big hug.

Later I discovered the reason for Elaine's stunned silence. She had been totally immersed in the story world of the book she was writing. As she wrestled with a dilemma involving one of her key characters, who happened to be called Ruth, her phone rang. When she answered the call she was startled to hear a voice saying, "Hello, Elaine, this is Ruth speaking." Her first reaction was that her character had  phoned to give her side of the story!

We often laugh about this incident, but it gives an insight as to how characters become real people to their creators.

Has there ever been a time when your characters have come to life? This could be from a book you're reading or writing. If so, please leave a comment and tell me about it.

Wednesday, 08 September 2010

Review: Cast of Characters by Max Lucado

Cast of Characters
Written by Max Lucado
Published by Thomas Nelson
ISBN: 978-0-8499-2155-1

How do you bring Bible characters to life for today’s readers? Many authors take us back in time and show the folk in Bible days, but Max Lucado uses an innovative approach. He blasts them into modern society—then tells their stories with modern twists. For example, Matthew, the first-century tax collector, becomes the guy who's never invited to the neighborhood cookouts or high-school reunions.

“Cast of Characters” is gleaned from Max Lucado’s best-sellers. The Bible folk are chosen from the Old and the New Testament, and include lesser known people like Mephibosheth and heroes such as Paul. It was exciting to see myself in the book—if these peoples’ lives counted, then mine, with all its shortcomings, also counts in the hands of a loving God.

Max Lucado’s conversational style is a pleasure to read. The chapters are short and stand alone. They start with a Bible reading and then retell the character’s story set in modern society and laced with anecdotes from Max Lucado’s life. Questions for discussion and reflection end each one.

 I found this book ideal for a quick read during a coffee break as well as a great tool for my devotional time. It also lends itself for use in a Bible Study group.

I enjoyed “Cast of Characters” and highly recommend it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, 07 September 2010

Book Review: "The Boy Who Changed the World" written by Andy Andrews and illustrated by Philip Hurst

The Boy Who Changed the World
Written by Andy Andrews
Illustrated by Philip Hurst
Published by Tommy Nelson, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4003-1605-2

This book, suitable for children from six to ten years, opens with happy pictures of a little boy playing in the cornfields with his sisters. It features the stories of four boys, not one as the title suggests. They are Norman Borlaug, Henry Wallace, George Washington Carver and Moses Carver who respectively became Nobel laureate, Vice President, inventor and farmer. Their lives illustrate The Butterfly Effect by showing how each life is interwoven by the decisions made by other people.

“The Boy Who Changed the World” can be read as one story, or as four short stories. I found it choppy to read in one sitting as it jumped around in time. I think it would flow better and provide clearer understanding for children if it followed the chain of events chronologically.

The illustrations are superb. Rich in color and detail, they are sure to appeal to children. Butterflies adorn most pages and the book closes with a cloud of these beautiful creatures.

I recommend this book to adults to read and discuss with children—it’s interesting and has a clear message that children’s lives are important to God. Every action a child takes matters and makes a difference in the world.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Only in Africa

Greetings from South Africa.

Today I thought I'd give you a taste of Africa to whet your appetite for novels set in this beautiful continent.
I'm writing a Christian cozy mystery, Polka Dot Feathers, which has a South African background, so I'm always on the lookout for interesting characters and situations that could be found only in Africa.

Recently my husband was admitted to hospital for surgery on his feet. He went to the bed allocated to him, drew the curtains and changed into one of those stylish gowns with ties at the back that our hospitals issue. It was only for a couple of hours, so he donned it without protest, but he balked when it came to the voluminous pair of bloomers compulsory for surgical procedures- were they designed with Sumo wrestlers in mind? He decided his own cotton briefs were much more suitable. He placed the bloomers in all their glory on the table that straddled the end of the bed and I opened the curtains.

The ward sister waltzed in to see if all was in order. She snatched up the bloomers and said, "You're not wearing your G-string."Our mouths dropped open as she plonked the “G-string” on her head. Then she stuck out her bottom denture and danced round accompanied by the laughter of all in the ward. As the finale she placed the bloomers back on the table and drew the curtains with a flourish.

My husband and I looked at each other. Now what? Was he expected to wear the bloomers after they'd been part of the dance routine?

"Are you ready?" enquired our dancer.

I peeped out of the curtains. "There's no ways he's wearing this pair. Bring him a new pair and he'll put them on.”

So she did and he did.

What a way to prepare a patient for theatre. What a wonderful character. Only in Africa would this happen.

Thank you for visiting my blog and please drop by again.