Book Review: The Grace Crasher

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516arGS316L._SX331_BO1204203200_It’s been a long time since I’ve laughed so much while reading a book. This story has so many hysterical parts! I absolutely loved it!

The Grace Crasher opens with Julia and her best friend Robin in a Christian store, shopping for things that can help Julia look like she’s evangelical. She desperately wants to get an apartment but the landlady is a born-again Christian.

At one point, Julia tries on a shirt and turns her backside to Robin.

“Does this Jesus shirt make my butt look big?”

“Not big, just …trapezoidal.”

Then they move to the Bibles. Julia grabs the plain one that simply said Holy Bible because it seemed like the most Bible-ish one.

We soon learn more about Julia, her family, and her interests. She has a crush on Dylan Heath, the lead singer of a local indie band, but when she sees cute Mark, the store’s manager, she decides it’s a good idea to have a backup crush.

I must admit: it was Carolyn Astfalk’s review of The Grace Crasher that compelled me to get a copy for myself. Her book reviews are thorough and reliable, and I think we have similar tastes.

I cracked this book open (actually I read an ebook, so that phrase doesn’t really work) expecting to find a light, humorous, enjoyable story that I could read a little at a time before bed, and I was not disappointed. Author Mara Faro pokes fun at both Evangelical and Catholic Christians, but not in a mean way. It was all gut-busting fun! But as the story developed I also found surprising depth of character and story-line. The main character faces trials many can identify with and goes through a beautiful transformation.

Well-developed and realistic characters, along with the continuous humor, and the deeper spiritual insights made this a fantastic story that I highly recommend.

Other Reviews:

“A great take on infatuation vs. love, speaking the truth in love, and being true to yourself.” ~

“Julia’s path is a relatable one, and in her flaws and the flaws of the characters around her, we see ourselves and our own brokenness with delightful clarity.” ~

“Loved it! Fun, inspiring, quirky,…I had lots of laughs reading this!” ~Amazon review

Funny, insightful, and brilliant!” ~Vera A. Velk

A hilarious, poignant story that sets the broken love among families, friends, lovers, and fellow believers against the backdrop of God’s unfailing, patient, perfect love.” ~

You can learn more about the author Mara Faro at her website.

You can get the book on Amazon in both paperback or ebook format.

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A to Z blogging Challenge: J is for Jeanette Levellie

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“J” is for Jeanette Levellie

….who gets her life, talent, joy, and power from Jesus!

Let’s face it, every single day we face hardships, failure, and disappointment of one kind or another. It helps lighten the load and lighten your mood if you can step back, see the bigger picture, and even laugh about it . . . at least some of it.

Jeanette Levellie does just that!

I had the privilege of meeting her and hearing her speak at the North East Ohio Christian Writers Conference April 1, 2017. Yes, April Fool’s Day! Jeanette struck me as a sincere, down-to-earth, and joyful Christian who has found the key to joy and wants to share it with others. She inspired us to use humor in our writing and she shared “laughing exercises” with us. (If you’re not familiar with those, let me assure you, they are hysterical!)

I have been reading one of her books, Two Scoops of Grace: with Chuckles on Top. This book has 72 short stories that make you laugh and make you think. Rather than sit down and read this book all at once (as I have been known to do with a good fiction story), I am reading a few short stories at a time. The stories are so entertaining that I can hardly wait to see what the next one is about. But I want to make this book last. I come away from every story with a lighter mood and thinking about the spiritual message. I need that lift and perspective every day. Just like my daily cup of coffee, I’m getting addicted to Two Scoops of Grace and laughter.

Jeanette has an incredible knack for finding humor in the challenges and difficult moments of her own life. And then she goes deeper and finds the spiritual message that God has for her, and the universal message that we can all benefit from.

I love her humor and perspective on life and can’t wait to read more from her. I highly recommend her books. And if your church or group is looking for a speaker who will make them laugh and also look deeper at life, Jeanette Levellie is your speaker!

jeanette-levellie-wagon-wheel-soft_1“Nutty with a Dash of Meat” best describes Jeanette Levellie’s writing, speaking, and life.

A spunky pastor’s wife and former History teacher, Jeanette authors a weekly humor/inspirational column, God is Greater, a popular feature in her local newspaper since 2001. She has published hundreds of stories and articles in anthologies, Christian and secular magazines, greeting card verses, and poems. Jeanette is also a prolific speaker for both Christian and secular groups, and has a unique flair for finding humor in unlikely places, bringing laughter and hope to her audiences.

Jeanette is the mother of two grown children, three grandchildren, and servant to four cats. She lives in Paris (not the French one), IL. with her husband, Kevin. Her hobbies include dining out, talking baby talk to her cats, avoiding housework, reading, and watching old classic movies.

Her debut book, Two Scoops of Grace with Chuckles on Top is a humorous inspirational look at God’s bottomless heart. Just like Jeanette’s life, it’s full of mayhem, messes, and miracles. Sample chapters include Drive up Diapers, Crawzilla, The Ice Cream Snatcher, and Can Preachers Have Sex on Sundays?

The Heart of Humor: Sixty Helpings of Hilarity to Nourish Your Soul is Jeanette’s second book. These servings of humor are topped with a wee slices of inspirational thoughts and comical drawings by her son, Ron, a former animator.

Jeanette’s third book, Shock the Clock: Time Management for Writers and Other Creatives is a unique approach to time management based on personality types. It includes tips from well-known writers and editors such as James N. Watkins, Jody Hedlund, and Cecil Murphey.

Touchable God: Finding the Lord’s Friendship Through Prayer is Jeanette’s fourth book. It details her lifelong journey in prayer with warm, poignant stories and offers 25 prayers for friends—or yourself—going through crises.

Find Jeanette’s mirthful musings on her blog, Hope Splashes, at www.jeanettelevellie.com , Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

Blogging from A to Z Challenge: Letter G ~ Guam

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“G” is for Guam

When I accepted the blogging from A to Z challenge, I intended to post about writing and books. What does Guam have to do with it? Every writer began their journey as a writer somewhere and mine began on Guam.

My father entered the Coast Guard at a young age. He was a radioman.

So our family moved around often. While my earliest memories are from my preschool years in California, I have a thorough recollection of my time in Guam. Living on an island was fun! Although, I admit I had no idea just how tiny Guam is.

My sister and brother and I loved exploring the woods behind our house and playing with strange bugs and with our friends. We did the same things any kid does, playing on playgrounds and riding bikes.

But my sister and I also played games that led to me becoming a writer. We played roll-playing games, using our favorite characters from movies and TV shows.

1978 TV programming: The Hardy Boys Mysteries, Battlestar Galactica, Welcome Back Kotter, Little House on the Prairie, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, The Incredible Hulk, Wonder Woman…  And of course our favorite movie was Star Wars (A New Hope), which came out in 1977.

These games developed over the years. We created many of our own characters, and we started writing our stories down and illustrating them. I wish I had all our old stories and pictures! But I still have some of the characters that we developed in those early years. Modified versions of them are in all of my stories!

Faith was a natural and joyful part of my life back then. I believed everyone in the world was good and knew Christ. We attended Santa Barbara Catholic School with the sweetest sisters I’ve ever met. Several Chomorro women used to teach us how to make treats with coconut and how to weave baskets and mats from palm fronds.  It seemed to me that everyone on the island participated in our celebrations and processions and gatherings.

Life was exciting and fun and good back then. And I hold those memories dear and close to my heart. But I also want to share elements of it, if I can. So in all of my stories, I try to capture something of the joy of adventure, faith, and goodness.

So Guam is where the inspiration began for me. Where did it all begin for you? What inspired you to become a writer?

Blogging from A to Z Challenge: Letter F ~ Founding Fathers

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F is for Founding Fathers

When God made me, He decided when I’d come into the world and where. He chose the year 1966 and He chose America. According to some statistics, a billion children live in poverty today, 400 million do not have safe access to water, and 1.4 million die from poor sanitation. And of the 194 countries in the world, forty-nine are under dictatorships. 36% of the world population does not have freedom. And another 24% has only partial freedom.

But I was born here. And I am proud to be an American. While our country isn’t perfect, I believe it was founded on solid principles that were designed to protect our freedoms and God-given rights, and give us every opportunity for success.

Our Founding Fathers had strong faith. I wish more in government office had similar faith, courage, and humility. The proud and arrogant push their own agenda, which inevitably leads to destruction. But the humble, those who readily admit they cannot do it alone and who turn to the Lord and Giver of all victory, bring blessings to the land.

Here’s a quote from George Washington:

“Thursday the seventh Instant, being set apart by the Honourable the Legislature of this province, as a day of fasting, prayer, and humiliation, to implore the Lord, and Giver of all victory, to pardon our manifold sins and wickedness’s, and that it would please him to bless the Continental Arms, with his divine favour and protection’ – All Officers, and Soldiers, are strictly enjoined to pay all due reverence, and attention on that day, to the sacred duties due to the Lord of hosts, for his mercies already received, and for those blessings, which our Holiness and Uprightness of life can alone encourage us to hope through his mercy to obtain.”

                             ~General Orders, March 6, 1776

The Founding Fathers believed in freedom. One of my favorite quotes is by Patrick Henry, from his Speech to the Virginia Convention at St. John’s Church, Richmond, Virginia, March 25, 1775

“Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

I have a shirt with this quote on it. It makes me think how tragic it is when we try to compromise with evil to get things we want, including so-called peace and even life. Did you know that according to the Vatican some 100,000 Christians are murdered for their faith every year? This far surpasses the numbers during the Roman Empire persecutions.

Having never been tested, I do not know if I have the courage of the martyrs or of our service men and women to lay down my life for the faith, for our country, to save another, or for what is right. But I hope I do. I hope to always have the strength to be on the side of truth and goodness and to allow no compromise.

So what does it take to secure freedom? Here is a quote by Samuel Adams:

“If virtue and knowledge are diffused among the people, they will never be enslaved. This will be their great security.”             

                      ~Letter to James Warren, February 12, 1779

Not just knowledge, but virtue and knowledge. I pray for an increase of faith and for “holiness and uprightness of life” in our country that we may receive those blessings that the “Lord and Giver of all victory” has prepared for us.

Remember, everyone who is reading this blog, you were made for this time and this place. God has a purpose for you.

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Blogging from A to Z Challenge: Letter D ~ Dystopia

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D is for Dystopia!

A dystopia is an imaginary society that is undesirable or frightening.

Who wants to read a novel about such depressing stuff and why would anyone write about it?

I wrote my Chasing Liberty dystopian trilogy as a way to consider where certain ideologies might lead. We all believe in caring for the earth, but some very influential elitists believe that the earth is more important than people, population numbers need drastically reduced, and humans should be corralled into contained cities.

So…if the earth was elevated above man, what does that look like?

These highly influential special interest groups also believe that faith in God and the traditional family stand in the way. Let’s face it: when you have faith and family, you care about the world around you and everyone in it. You think about right and wrong. Stuff matters. Crush faith and family, and a government can rule without opposition.

So…what does a society look like when faith and the traditional family have been suppressed?

Perhaps all dystopians are written to warn people about current ideologies or trends that could lead to a frightening future.

Here are a few modern dystopians, including my own:

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This is a reboot of a classic! Born not in a past of corsets and bonnets but into a future of cloning and bioterror, could Jane Eyre survive? This Jane is an “unclaimed embryo,” the living mistake of a reproductive rights center–or so her foster family tells her. At age ten she is sold into slavery as a data mule, and she must fight for freedom and identity in a world mired between bioscientific progress and the religions that fear it. What will happen to a girl without even a name of her own? (available on Amazon)

The third one is hot off the press! Cadain’s Watch: Michelle and Jason escaped the wreckage of their beloved hometown and are determined to live free. Though they are hunted by the totalitarian bureaucracy, they vow to resist oppression no matter the cost. But insidious evil still threatens. Once proud Americans are hopeless and unwilling to fight, making it that much harder for the rebels in their quest for Liberty. And so, God intervenes, and the angel-warrior Cadáin is sent to watch over those whose spirits are unbroken. (available on Amazon)

Chasing Liberty dytopian trilogy – This novel explores the loss the individual faces when government is allowed to grow too big and reach too far. The traditional family is nonexistent. Human life loses value. The earth is elevated above man. It shows the importance of faith, family, and freedom through a story about a society devoid of all three.  Available in paperback and ebook on Amazon or through your local bookseller.

Do you enjoy reading dystopians? What are your favorites and why?

Blogging from A to Z Challenge: Letter C ~ Creating Compelling Characters

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2017 BadgeToday I will focus on an important element of good fiction writing: creating compelling characters!

In order to hold a readers attention, writers need strong, interesting characters. Ablue-boy-1514731 well-developed character has strengths, weaknesses, secrets, fears, goals, dreams, hobbies, obsessions, and even little quirks. This can be accomplished in so many ways! One of my favorite ways to develop a character is to write a character interview. I’ve done that for a character in Roland West, Loner, Peter Brandt, Roland’s new friend. You can read it here.

And I’ve interviewed Caitlyn Summer in Life-Changing Love:

Character interview of soon-to-be fifteen-year-old Caitlyn Summer, conducted by author Theresa Linden. This interview took place at Caitlyn’s house before the camping trip. (You can read the interview below or on my website)

 Smiling and giddy, Caitlyn hangs up the old phone on the kitchen wall. Her big green photo-1445295029071-5151176738d0eyes swivel to the dining room and latch onto me. Her smile shrinks a bit, but the news she received from the phone call must’ve really made her day because it seems like she can’t stop smiling.

I smile back. Mrs. Summer has been kind enough to invite me into her home for this interview, so I’m sipping hot Constant Comment tea at the dining room table. Stacks of laundry sit on one end of the table. A plate of chocolate chip cookies sits before me, but the long red hair sticking out of the cookie on top keeps me from taking one.

Mrs. Summer carries baby Andy and an armful of fresh laundry as she cruises through the little house, heading toward the bedrooms. A spring-fresh scent trails behind her. As she passes Caitlyn, she says, “Oh, Caitlyn, you have a guest. Mrs. Linden would like to speak with you for a moment.” Mrs. Summer glances at me and smiles. Then she rounds the corner and disappears, leaving Caitlyn and me alone.

“Oh.” Caitlyn gives me a sort of deer-in-the headlights look. Her eyes are so round and sparkling green, a nice contrast to her long red tresses. I wonder if I’ve captured them right in my stories.

“Care to join me at the table?” I say. “I’d like to ask you a few questions.”

“Oh,” she says again, glancing to either side. The house is relatively quiet, but her younger sisters and brother are laughing and talking in the backyard.

Caitlyn runs a hand through her hair, wipes the front of her skirt then approaches with slow steps. “Are you from River Run High? I was supposed to meet with a counselor sometime this year. To talk about my future plans, I guess.” She tugs a chair back and eases herself into it. “Is that who you are, a counselor?”

“Um, no.” I wonder if it will freak her out to hear the truth. “I’m an author. And I just wanted to ask you a few questions.”

“Oh.” She’s studying me now, making me feel like I should’ve put on something a bit nicer than sweatpants and my favorite ratty jacket with the burn hole in the sleeve. “So, what do you write?”

“Different things. I wrote a dystopian trilogy, and I also write Christian fiction for teens.”

“That sounds interesting.” She grabs a cookie, takes a bite, and makes a face. Now she’s pulling a hair from her mouth. “What did you want to talk to me about?” she says with her mouth full. She shoves the rest of her cookie under the edge of the plate.

“Well, I wanted my readers to get to know you a little better. So if you don’t mind . . .” I’m talking quickly now, hoping she won’t get paranoid like Peter had done when I’d interviewed him. “I have just a few questions. First of all, I noticed that you seemed very happy after getting off the phone. Care to share why?”

Her smile returns and her eyes light up like two emeralds under a jeweler’s lamp.

I briefly wonder if my mental description of her eyes is too flowery.

“Oh,” she says, “that was my friend Peter. He finally got back to me about a camping trip we’re going on.” She dips her head and a tangle of red curls falls in her face. “I was hoping that Roland . . . a, uh, a new friend of ours was coming.”

“So, I guess he is then? Roland’s going camping?”

Still smiling, she pushes the hair from her face, twirls a red curl around her finger, and nods.

“Would you tell me a bit about Roland?”

“He’s new to River Run High, and we recently became friends.” Her smile wavers. “I really like him, but he’s very shy.”

“Is that a problem? That he’s shy? I think that’s great that you’re willing to reach out to a shy kid, especially someone new to your school.”

“No, I like that he’s shy.” Caitlyn glances over her shoulder in the direction of the hallway that leads to the bedrooms. “It’s just that, well, he’s so different from everyone else, and I really like him.” She stresses the word ‘really’ and gives me a serious look.

“Oh.” I nod. “Like a boyfriend.”

Her eyes pop open and she spins her head to peer over her shoulder. Then she faces me again and whispers, “No, I can’t have a boyfriend. When I’m older, my parents want me to practice courtship.”

“Oh, so what about now? You can’t see boys?”

She shrugs. “I can see them in groups. Which is why I’m glad he’s going camping.” Her smile comes back and she reaches absentmindedly for a stack of t-shirts, part of the folded laundry Mrs. Summer had left on the end of the table. “You see, we’re friends already. So I was hoping we . . .”

The stack of t-shirts slips off the table. Caitlyn twists and whisks both arms out, trying to catch them, but it’s too late. Mumbling, she leans and ducks under the table. Something bangs and she says, “Ouch.” A few seconds later she pops up with a sloppy pile of shirts and a weak smile.

“I just was hoping we could get to know each other better, you know, get closer without actually dating.” She stands and carries the shirts to the kitchen bar counter. “Though, I don’t know what I’d do if he really liked me, too.” She places the messy pile onto the cluttered countertop and folds one of the shirts. “I mean, I don’t know why he would, but . . .” She sets the folded shirt next to the messy pile and grabs another shirt.

“Why wouldn’t he like you too?”

“I don’t know. Some girls seem to have it all. They’re pretty and comfortable around boys . . .” She’s not even looking at me now. She’s folding shirt after shirt and putting them in a new stack, but the stack keeps inching back. “My best friend tells me I’m cute, but I don’t feel cute. And I’m certainly not pretty. Or hot.”

I find that I’m gripping my teacup, worried about that moving stack of folded shirts. It seems too close to a pretty glass pitcher—

The crashing sound of glass on a tile floor shudders through me. Caitlyn shrieks then stands frozen.

I get up to help.

Before I get around the table, Caitlyn shoves her hands into her tangled red hair and groans. “Oh, who am I kidding? The new rules won’t matter. I’m not even girlfriend material. I’m a clumsy mess!”

I’m not sure whether to clean up the broken glass or to comfort Caitlyn first. “I think every girl your age—”

“What was that?” Mrs. Summer flies onto the scene. She no longer carries Andy. Her round eyes shift this way and that, her gaze darting all over the kitchen and dining room. “Are you okay? What broke?” She looks at me. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Liden . . .”

“Linden,” I correct. But I understand what the look and tone of voice mean. The interview is over, and it’s time for me to go.

 

If you’ve read to the end, thanks! I hope you enjoyed the interview! 

 

April 1st Northeast Ohio Christian Writers Conference

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This Saturday, April 1st, is the Northeast Ohio Christian Writers Conference.

If you are local or don’t mind the drive, it’s not too late to register! This conference is packed with so much. You don’t want to miss it!

I will be there too, presenting a book cover design workshop! Hope to see you there!

Location: Heritage Presbyterian Church, 515 N. Leavitt Rd., Amherst, Ohio 44001

Panels & Workshops:

Toying with Your Writing Dreams – Keynote Speaker, Jeanette Levellie
Self-Publishing 101 – Cassandra Morgan
The Spectrum of Christian Publishing Opportunities – Panel discussion
Write Your Non-Fiction Book in 24 hours – James O. Barnes
Creating Eye-Catching Book Covers – Theresa Linden
The Author as Marketer – Christine Benedict
The Things People Say: Finding the Funny – Irv Korman
Adding Light into the Darkness: Humor in More Serious Subjects – Debra Rose and Kelly Boyer Sagert
How Do You Deal With Writer’s Block? – Panel discussion
Storytelling: the Critical Elements – Panel discussion
Creating Characters Your Readers Will Love – Debbie Alferio
Buried Treasures: The Secret to Unearthing Hard to Find Information – Wendy Koile

Come to the reception at 6:oo PM, Friday, March 31st. Jeanette Levellie will be presenting “Humor Helps (And it Sells!)”  This event is open to the public. Come and mingle with other conference attendees, coordinators, presenters, and sponsors the night before the main event.

Learn more about keynote speaker, Jeanette Levellie.