Tuesday, December 13, 2011

12 Pearls of Christmas

Welcome to the 3rd Annual Pearl Girls™ 12 Pearls of Christmas blogging series!

We've gathered several of today's most beloved authors to share their Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom"! Please follow along beginning tomorrow (Wednesday the 14th) through Christmas day as Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Rachel Hauck, Sandy Ralya, Sibella Giorello, Susan May Warren and more, share their heartfelt stories of how God has touched their life during this most wonderful time of the year.

If you'd like to share the 12 Pearls of Christmas with your blog readers too, just email Christen and she'll send you the series.

AND of course there is a giveaway! Beginning tomorrow you and all your friends can enter to win a PEARL NECKLACE and EARRINGS valued at $450! The winner will be announced on New Year's Day! Pearls - a tangible reminder of God's grace to us all.

Just a quick note before the series begins on the 14th ...

As I write this, I imagine that we are sitting at my kitchen table and chatting over a cup of coffee while familiar Christmas carols celebrate the Season. My twelve year old Chihuahua, Pongo, barks for a pinch of pound cake while my Shih Tzu, Lilly, patiently sits by the chair and waits for a crumb to fall.

My name is not Martha Stewart, and I will never receive a neighborhood beautification award. Just look at my front stoop. Yes, my never-had-time-to-carve-the-pumpkin-that-now-suffers-from-frostbite slouches next to the front door which is decorated with a Christmas wreath. I plan to roll this large orange ornament to the garbage pile tomorrow. For now, however, I will pretend that my front stoop is a contemplative modern art exhibit capturing the essence of contrast.

Actually, I love the concept of juxtaposition – placing things together that don’t seem to belong together, yet somehow ultimately make sense being paired. A personal example for me this season is the phrase: “comfort and joy.” Having just completed my manuscript for New Hope Publishers about the aftermath of grief, I fully understand the contrast of those two words. How can comfort bring joy? How can one find joy in loss?

Perhaps, dear reader, you have experienced loss this year – loss of a loved one, loss of friendship, loss of health,  loss of financial security, loss of trust, loss of love, or loss of direction. Even with the best intent, words of encouragement shared by others can somehow seem insufficient to address an inconsolable loss.  A spoken word cannot fully restore joy to a broken heart; however the Word can. And that’s the bottom line message of Christmas! God gave us the most amazing gift: His Son -  the Word of God, the Holy Comforter.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but shall have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).

You are not alone this Christmas, dear friend. Juxtaposed to the unexpected grit in life is the gift of God’s grace wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. This year I purposely placed a pearl in the Nativity scene as a metaphoric reminder. When we place our grit into the hands of the Lord, His grace transforms our pain into a pearl.

 “Joy to the world!”  

Thank you so very much for sharing the JOY of the Season with us this year.

God Bless,



Margaret McSweeney lives with her husband, David and two teenage daughters in the Chicago suburbs. She is the founder and director of Pearl Girls. For more information please visit www.pearlgirls.info. Margaret is fast at work on several fiction manuscripts. Her book Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace was written to help fund the Pearl Girl Charities. She is also the host of weekly radio show, Kitchen Chat. Connect with Margaret on Facebook or Twitter.

Interview and Launch Party for Karen Baney

Hello again Karen Baney and thank you so much for talking with me today! To begin, could you just tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a software engineer by day and author by night.  I love how both of these careers allow me to use my creative thinking.  I know everyone thinks programmers are all like Spock or Data from Star Trek.  But, we’re not.  We are creative problem solvers.

My hubby and I have been married for over 11 years and love living in Arizona, where we met.  Before I started writing, we used to hike all over the state of Arizona with our two dogs.  I would take hundreds of pictures on my camera.  Yeah, I’m a photography nut.

How long have you known that you wanted to be a writer?  Did you receive a clear “calling” from God or have you always had a desire to write?

In early 2010, I went through some rough health issues.  I ended up having surgery on my hand to remove a cyst.  Then, just as I was on the mend, my back went out.

Through these trials, I learned a new level of dependence on God.  I didn’t have the physical strength to do even normal daily activities.  I cried out to God and let him work on my heart.  As he dealt with me on some things, I gained the courage to ask Him a question that had been weighing heavily on my heart for several years.  

I asked, “God, since you haven’t called me to be a mom, what have you called me to do?”
He answered.  “Write.”
I had no idea what to write.  I’ve always had a journal.  Sometimes, I wrote short Bible studies or supplemental material for a study I was teaching.  But, I had never written a book.

Then, He gave me the story for A Dream Unfolding.  Some of it came in a dream.  On March 25, 2010, I sat down at my computer and I began with the most dramatic scene in the middle of the book.   Though I didn’t publish A Dream Unfolding until December 2010, I was already a writer.
Everything since has been an amazing journey—one that I sometimes feel like I’m just along for the ride!

Who has inspired you the most?

My parents have always been a source of inspiration for me.  Both of them went through some really bad stuff as children and teens.  Yet, they came to know Christ and the broke the cycle of generational sin.  They gave me, my sister, and brother a home life so completely foreign to the ones they knew.  I never had to look very far to see what a life changed by Christ looked like.

What are 2 things that people wouldn’t normally know about you?

When I was a teenager, I wanted to become an artist.  I studied art in high school, built up a portfolio, and even went to a fine arts school in Philadelphia for a year.  Life got in the way and I eventually gave up oil painting for the less-messy hobby of photography.

I always wanted to collect stamps.  I liked the cool artwork on stamps when I was growing up.  But, since my brother was collecting stamps, my parents told me I had to pick something else.  So, I became a coin collector instead.

You recently have had a book published, would you take this time to describe it to us?  How and where can readers buy your book? (versions and locations)

I am so excited to announce the release of Nickels. 

Niki Turner is a software engineer—yeah, not much of a stretch for me to write this one.  She’s suffered some real heart ache and loneliness in her life.  The one thing she has going for her, her career, suddenly becomes threatened when Kyle Jacobs, a blast from her past, ends up working at the company where she gets assigned.

She slogs through a mess of emotions and baggage, ultimately coming to the realization that something big—she doesn’t know what—is missing from her life.

This is my first contemporary romance novel.  Readers will smile at some of Niki’s snarky comments, they’ll cry as she lets go of some painful things, and they’ll rejoice when she finds what she had always been looking for.

I’m also pleased to announce that for a limited time, readers can purchase Nickels for $0.99 on their Kindle.  Please visit http://womensliterarycafe.com/content/december-2011-book-launches for more details.

Is there a spiritual message in your book?  If so, what is it and what can readers expect to get from reading it?

The biggest spiritual message in this book is about life change.  There are examples of this through Kyle Jacobs’ life.  It is one of the things that Niki struggles to understand.  How could the man who tormented her in high school be the same as the generous, kind man before her?

I think this is something that many of us struggle with when we know someone before they came to Christ and after.  You know all the bad stuff about that person.  Have they really changed?

What’s your favorite part of the story?

Though it’s not my favorite (that one would spoil the story), one of my favorite scenes is where Niki is having a bad day.  The tire blows out in her car during the hot Arizona summer.  She has to rely on Kyle for help, thus exposing her to one of the first examples of how he’s changed over the years.
I also like the revealing of where the title of the book comes from.

What was the hardest part to write?

I really struggled with the ending of this book.  I got to a certain point in the story and I couldn’t figure out how to tie it all together.  The first ending I had came across more like a suspense novel and didn’t fit the rest of the book.  I had to rip out almost a quarter of the book and start over.  After two tries, I finally had the right last quarter of the book.

Do you have any other books in the making?

I am currently working on the conclusion to the Prescott Pioneers Series, A Hope Revealed.  I hope to take the readers on an intense ride to close out the series.  I promise I will fulfill the cliff hanger I left you with in A Life Restored.

After that, I have ideas for about 10 other books, some historical and some contemporary.  So, have no fear, you’ll see many, many more books coming your way, God willing.

Would you give us your blog or webpage so everyone can check it out?  Anything else you’d like to share?  (promotional information)

On Mondays, I feature interviews with new Christian authors.  I like introducing readers to some of the great people I’ve gotten to know over the past two years. 

Typically, on Wednesdays, I like to feature either characters from my novels or more information about the history behind my novels. 

Fridays are reserved for topics about writing and self publishing.  I love sharing what I’ve learned with others.
Thank you so much for hosting me today, Courtney.  I hope your readers enjoyed this glimpse into my life.

Here are a few fun questions:

Chocolate or Vanilla? 
Chocolate.  And not just any.  Dark chocolate is my favorite.  If it’s paired with caramel—delightful!

Pepsi or Coke? 
Neither.  I hate soda but love unsweetened iced tea (which is really ironic since my MC makes fun of another character for that).

Cats or Dogs?
Dogs.  Ginger and Max are my babies.

Summer or Winter? 
Ooo.  Before I moved to Arizona, it was definitely summer.  Now, I love winter!

My Review of Nickels:

Have you ever been hurt by someone in the past and even though they seem like they might have changed, you struggle with letting go of the hurt and your opinion on the way that person used to be?  I know I have.  Nickels is story about Niki, a young software engineer that just scored her dream account at Helitronics.  The hard part is she will directly be working with Kyle Jacobs, a friend from the past that she isn’t sure she should trust.  And with all the loss she’s had in her life she can’t take any chances on a broken heart.

Niki’s character is so dynamic!! She is struggling with forgiving the past and moving forward and she is very lost, which makes this character so realistic and interesting.  She needs healing and she needs to trust in love again.  Kyle has been through some serious tough situations also, but in the process has found God and is hoping that Niki will see his new attitude and personality as appealing!

The whole story is primarily focused on Niki and Kyle completing this computer code for Helitronics by a certain deadline.  The boss keeps changing the deadline and seems to have it out for destroying Niki.  You can tell Baney knows what she is talking about when describing the software aspect of the story. 

Nickels is fast-moving, thought provoking, spiritual, sweet romantic, full of God’s restoration and healing, forgiveness, and a match-making friend making this story one amazing Christian Contemporary novel.

I have read all of Karen Baney’s historical novels and loved them but I was little nervous to see if she could pull off doing both historical and contemporary! I had nothing to worry about, Nickels was truly amazing!! I will keep reading whatever genre Baney decides to write!!

Disclosure:  I received a free copy of Nickels in exchange for my personal and honest opinion.  All opinions are my own.  I was not required to write a positive review.


Monday, December 12, 2011

FIRST Wild Card Tour: God Gave Us Love

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

WaterBrook Press; Brdbk edition (December 20, 2011)
***Special thanks to Laura Tucker, WaterBrook Multnomah Publicity, for sending me a review copy.***


LISA BERGREN is the best-selling, award-winning author of more than thirty books, with more than two million copies sold. A former publishing executive, she now splits her time working as a freelance editor and writer while parenting three children with her husband, Tim, and dreaming of the family’s next visit to Taos.

Visit the author's website.


As Little Cub and Grampa Bear’s fishing adventure is interrupted by mischievous otters, the young polar bear begins to question why we must love others… even the seemingly unlovable.

In answering her questions, Grampa Bear gives tender explanations that teach Little Cub about the different kinds of love that is shared between families, friends, and mamas and papas. Grampa explains that all these kinds of love come from God and that it is important to love others because…

“Any time we show love, Little Cub, we’re sharing a bit of his love.”

This sweet tale will warm the hearts of young children as they learn about all the different sorts of love, while the gentle explanations of each provide a valuable opportunity to encourage children to share with others a “God-sized love.” Now in a sturdy format, ideal for the littlest hands at storytime, bedtime, or anytime. Would make a great Christmas gift!

Product Details:

List Price: $6.99
Reading level: Ages 0 and up
Board book: 22 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press; Brdbk edition (December 20, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307730271
ISBN-13: 978-0307730275

Here's an excerpt from the first book in the series: God Gave Us You (Board Book). (Click on images to see them larger):

My Review of God Gave Us Love:

I love the God Gave Us books by Lisa Tawn Bergren. They are favorite books for my kids even though they are ages 8 and 5. God Gave Us Love board book is best for those tiny little toddlers, however, the story is great for any age. This book teaches us how God wants us to love those that find difficult to love as well as those that it's easy to love. It's a great reminder to love all those around us.

I thought the message of how God loves us therefore we are called to love others was portrayed in a fun and easy way for kids to understand. I got a kick out of how the little cub didn't want to love the otters!!

Pictures are great and the story is funny, engaging and educational!! I highly recommend this great book for young kids!

Thank you to FIRST Wild Card Tours for providing me a free copy of the book in exchange for my honest and personal opinion. All opinions are my own!


Friday, December 9, 2011

The Christmas Singing....the perfect christmas book gift

The Christmas Singing (Chapter 1 Excerpt)

My review of The Christmas Singing:

I am a big fan of Cindy Woodsmall so when I got the opportunity to read her latest book I jumped on it! I was a little nervous though with it being a novella because I read her trilogy’s and I am always sad to see them end so I was worried how I would feel after this one ended in under 200 pages!!

I was really satisfied with the length and the story line!! As always with Cindy Woodsmall she creates these deep and meaningful characters that you just can’t help falling in love with!! I especially fell head of heels in love with Gideon!! He is such a tender hearted man and I admired how he repeatedly thought of others over himself. Mattie was also great; she was a scatterbrained baker that I could totally relate to. I myself bake and decorate cakes so I understand her really well!

Like all other books by Cindy Woodsmall there is a lesson to learn; this being that the truth is always the best answer to all. Lying to someone you love, even just to protect them, can do more damage than you thought possible!! Gideon had to learn this the hard way! Not only was this a lesson of lying but also of forgiveness! While forgiveness can be hard it is what we Christians need to do!

One of my biggest issues with novellas is that they don’t really get deep in to the story and you just feel short changed on the people and the story. I did not feel that way at all about The Christmas Singing. It was deep and emotional, humorous and overall charming! Overall I felt warm, cozy and satisfied with The Christmas Singing and I will be anxiously awaiting Cindy’s next book!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Waterbrook Press. 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.

Special Bargain:  30% off and free shipping on The Christmas Singing (and any other title) when your readers use promo code CHRISTMAS11 at checkout on WaterBrookMultnomah.com. The coupon code expires on December 20th, 2011.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

To Die For by Sandra Byrd

Book Blurb:

To Die For, is the story of Meg Wyatt, pledged forever as the best friend to Anne Boleyn since their childhoods on neighboring manors in Kent. When Anne’s star begins to ascend, of course she takes her best friend Meg along for the ride. Life in the court of Henry VIII is thrilling at first, but as Anne’s favor rises and falls, so does Meg’s. And though she’s pledged her loyalty to Anne no matter what the test, Meg just might lose her greatest love—and her own life—because of it.

Meg's childhood flirtation with a boy on a neighboring estate turns to true love early on. When he is called to follow the Lord and be a priest she turns her back on both the man and his God. Slowly, though, both woo her back through the heady times of the English reformation. In the midst of it, Meg finds her place in history, her own calling to the Lord that she must follow, too, with consequences of her own. Each character in the book is tested to figure out what love really means, and what, in this life, is worth dying for.

Though much of Meg’s story is fictionalized, it is drawn from known facts. The Wyatt family and the Boleyn family were neighbors and friends, and perhaps even distant cousins. Meg’s brother, Thomas Wyatt, wooed Anne Boleyn and ultimately came very close to the axe blade for it. Two Wyatt sisters attended Anne at her death, and at her death, she gave one of them her jeweled prayer book—Meg.

My Review:

I have never read anything before that retells the story of what life would have been like for Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. I have heard the story before but it was really enjoyable to read a fiction based side of what Meg and Anne’s friendship would be like. Of course most of the time I just wanted to strangle Henry VIII myself but I think that is what makes this an accurate description!

I had a bit of a hard time reading about what life was like for Meg and Anne. I really admired how strong of a women Meg was and how much she sacrificed for her friend. At times though I just wish that Meg was able to have her happily ever after and of course I wept and hurt will all the pain that Anne went through.

Meg’s love story is what really kept this book engrossing for me. I felt all the turmoil that she went through with her relationship with Will. The kisses that were shared were passionate and I felt like crying when he had to say good-bye to her. I wanted to scream, God this is not fair. I was really happy that the author concluded Meg’s story and it left a smile on my face to see some happiness brought to her life.

This novel was more than I expected it to be! The history was detailed yet the story was engaging. The faith portrayed was inspiring. I wanted to cry, I wanted to smile and at times I was grossed out, but I thought it was a great story and if I have time, I will be reading it again. It’s one of those stories that you probably would get more out of it every time you read it because there is so much there! Great story!!

Content: A bit gruesome with the be-heading and some heated kissing. There was also a lot of conversation of married life – recommended for adults.

Thank you to Sandra Byrd for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for my personal and honest opinion. All opinions are my own.

About Sandra Byrd:

Best-selling author Sandra Byrd has published nearly three dozen fiction and nonfiction books including her new Tudor-set series, Ladies in Waiting. Book 1, To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn launched in 2011. Book 2, The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr will debut in June, 2012.

Her other titles include the French Twist series, which includes the Christy finalist Let Them Eat Cake (2007) and its sequels, Bon App├ętit (2008) an Piece de Resistance (2009) as well as the London Confidential series for tweens.

For nearly a decade Sandra has shared her secrets with the writing students she mentors and coaches.

Before turning to full-time writing, Sandra was an acquisitions editor. She lives in the Seattle, Washington, area with her husband, two children, and little dog.