Book Review: The Tea Planter’s Wife


tea-planters-wife

Two things attracted me to The Tea Planter’s Wife at first glance: the beautiful cover and the intriguing title. I wanted to know who this woman was and what her life was like. In the cover art she looks troubled and deep in thought. With no other information about her other than her husband’s profession I wanted to read what was it that made her sit on this balcony looking quite forlorn.

And the book didn’t disappoint. I loved it! The characters captivated my interest from the very beginning, and the slow reveal of everyone’s secrets kept me reading with great anticipation of how all of this was going to work out in the end.

I mentioned secrets. There’s several secrets in this book, which kept me pondering most of the time. Even when I knew the secret, I wondered how on earth the other characters were going to respond once the secret was out. Author Dinah Jefferies doesn’t just come out with the secrets either, but draws them out with subtle hints and sometimes just enough details to lead you to guess 2-3 different possibilities. This is very skillful storytelling on Jefferies’ part.

The relationships in the story are quite complicated too, from a sister who is over-attached to her brother and gets in the way of his marriage relationship, to a secret child whose very existence threatens to tear apart the marriage, to the tea planter himself still grieving the loss of his first wife and child. I like reading about complex relationships because struggles like that usually reveal characters’ true selves along with their strengths and weaknesses.

Having not read much historical fiction set in the 1920s, I enjoyed the time period, with mentions of ’20s fashions (flapper dresses!) and the worldwide impact of the Great Depression in America comes into play as well. The story is not set in America (plays out in Ceylon, modern Sri Lanka, an island off the coast of India) yet investors around the world were impacted by the American market crash.

Overall I’d say it’s a fun little piece of historical fiction.

I received this book free from Blogging for Books for this review.

 

Reading Rules


This Book Riot post about reading rules and personality inspired me to think about my own “reading rules.”

At first I didn’t think I had any, and the whole idea sounded a little too formal to me. But the more I thought about it I realized that I do I have rules, or maybe just how I do things, I just never codified it.

Til now.

So here we go:

  1. Always finish a book you start. I’ve only made exception to this about twice when the book was just so bad and going absolutely nowhere that I just couldn’t take it anymore! Even if I’m not loving it, I have to finish it just in case it gets better and I would miss the “better” by quitting. Also, not knowing how a book ends would drive me a crazy, even a bad book. Note: I’ve softened a little on this the last few years, concerned that there are so many great books to read I shouldn’t waste my time on a so-so book. I still can’t bring myself to just quit though.
  2. Give a book 100 pages before deciding if you’re into it or not. Anything less than 100 pages might be too soon. But certainly after 100 pages an author should have reeled me in. If it hasn’t happened by 100, probably not going to happen at all.
  3. Read more than one book at once. Sometimes I have several books going — one that’s serious, one that’s frivolous, one that’s deep, one on audio for when I’m driving, etc. — and that’s OK. Sometimes I don’t have a lot of time or I’m not in the mood for a real involved read so I keep a light and easy read going and save my deeper book for longer stretches of reading. Friends ask how do you keep the plot lines and characters straight when reading more than one book at time? The same way I keep TV characters separate on two different TV shows.
  4. Read the book before the movie. Otherwise the movie actors become the book characters in your mind and you’ll never have the opportunity to see what your imagination would have come up with on its own.
  5. If buying a series, buy all hardback or all paperback; don’t mix and match. This has more to do with bookshelf aesthetics than anything else but it’s still my personal rule.
  6. Never buy the movie cover. The original covers are so much prettier!
  7. Always underline and dog-ear favorite passages. Books impact our worldview, and if a story or description stands out to you mark it in some way so you can come back to it at a later time and see if it stands out to you still or if you think differently about it after you finish the book, if/when you the read book again or years down the road if you just pick it up off the shelf and thumb through.
  8. Loan your books! To trustworthy friends who will return and take care of them of course. Books are meant to be shared. Share them!
  9. Write your name in your books. I have fancy little “from the library of” stickers and I have a stamp with my name on it because that’s my style. Another idea is an embosser or maybe you just pencil your name or initials in the front cover. This serves two purposes: One, when you loan your books, your friends know who to return it to; and two, someday, if your books end up in a used bookstore or a thrift store, a buyer will know the name of the person who used to own it. I love buying used books with the former owner’s name and imagining who they were, did they like book, why did they get rid of it, etc.
  10. Document the year you read a book in the inside cover. Sounds silly but it’s kinda fun if you go to loan out a book or pick it up again for yourself to see what year you last read a book, recall what was going on at the time you last read it, and compare it to what’s going on now, noting changes in life and sometimes reading interests.

Book Review: Prayers for New Brides


This book is the kind of book I wish someone would have handed me back in 1999 when I was preparing to get married or after the wedding when I was struggling to figure out what in the world I was doing as a new wife.

My impression of marriage back then was love, living together, sex, and doing whatever we wanted together. It’s the thing you did when you loved someone and didn’t want to ever be apart from them. Isn’t that how they portray it in books and movies? Attraction, romance and a pretty dress, a honeymoon and happily ever after. That’s all there is to it.

Despite both my husband and I being believers in Christ, I didn’t really understand back then how marriage is supposed to be a picture of Christ’s relationship to the church, and even now, after 11 years of marriage and five years widowed, it’s still something I’m trying to figure out. Better pre-marital counseling, a Godly wife as a mentor, and a resource like Prayers for New Brides: Putting on God’s Armor After the Wedding Dress might’ve helped me recognize that sooner and resulted in a more God-honoring marriage.

What I like about Prayers for New Brides is that it’s organized in short, 2-3 page chapters that make it easy to use as a daily devotional. With 40 chapters, this book works nicely as a 40-day devotional, complete with suggested prayers and Scriptures.

You know what would be a great way to use this book if you’re a bride planning your wedding and about to say “I do”? Adopt this a group study, of sorts, for you and your bridesmaids to do together, reading, discussing and praying for your marriage in the 40 days leading up to your wedding. Bonus: Involve the mother of the bride and your future mother-in-law.

What if you’re already married? Well, every marriage could use prayer and a little refreshment, so use the 40 days like touch up paint to strengthen the marriage you’re in.

Single? Whether you’re single and waiting for the right one or single again on the other side of a divorce or death, the prayers and discussions about God’s design for marriage are healthy considerations for determining what kind of future marriage you desire and for understanding what went wrong in a first marriage or how to do things different if given a second time around.

Prayers for New Brides would also make a nice addition to an engagement or bridal gift or even to a recently married woman who could just use a little encouragement.

I’m giving away my review copy to a randomly selected bride, whether you’re recently married, soon to be married, or married many many years. To enter, simply comment on this post with your wedding date and year. Winner will be randomly selected on Oct. 1, 2015.

Best Book Launch Ever!


20140604-195731-71851802.jpg

The Bold They Rise book launch, for me, was the high point of everything it took to write and publish this book.

It was a day to bask in the feeling of accomplishment, first that it was done. It feels amazing that it’s just done.

But beyond that, I could bask also that it’s a good work.

A few months ago, I was scared for people to read it. What readers thought would be the true test as to whether or not we did well what we set out to do. But we’ve had nothing but good reviews so far, which has added to my confidence that we did a good thing.

The epitome of that, though, is that the astronauts who spoke at the launch — Robert “Hoot” Gibson and his wife Rhea Seddon — had heard of Bold They Rise even before I contacted them to come talk for us. Not only had they heard about it, they’d pre-ordered a copy and by the time of our event Hoot had read most of it.

He read words that I/we wrote about his experiences and he liked  the words that he read.

That’s a HUGE compliment.

It’s great that the lay reader likes it. But when the person who lived the story likes it, that’s something else all together.

I loved hearing them talk. Both of them, but especially Rhea Seddon.

Below is her sharing the story and photo of her first spaceflight and the giant hug her son gave her upon her return. Isn’t this photo just precious?

20140604-195734-71854422.jpg

I was fascinated that this couple both pursued very demanding careers yet also had a family, and even after retiring as astronauts continued to have very full careers, she as a doctor and he as a pilot and businessman. They were the first astronaut couple, and 30-plus years later they’re still together. The accomplishments of the space shuttle is an amazing story, but so are the accomplishments of these individuals and the family they represent.

It was fun, during the down time, to ask Rhea about her children and grandchildren and what they were doing now, about their love story — “did he ask you out?” — and even silly things like “do you call him Hoot at home?” The answer is no; she calls him Robert.

Having them headline the release of Bold They Rise was as good as I could make it, and a satisfying point on which to to end this journey.

 

Thoughts on Writing ‘Bold They Rise’


20140415-084245.jpg

Now that it’s here and I can hold the finished product in my hand and the work is all done, I can actually reflect a little on the journey to here. And by here I mean the point at which I hold in my hand a hard-bound volume of words — aka a book — that I co-authored.

Many people have asked me questions that are typical when someone publishes a book. How did you come up with the idea for the book? What was it like finding a publisher? Why did you write about that topic?

But of those experiences I can offer nothing of value because this project came to me, I didn’t go to it. I was asked to help with Bold They Rise when other authors were unable to stay on the project. So my book-authoring and publishing experience is quite a-typical. The idea, title, scope, publisher, method, everything was already decided.

When I signed on, though, the initial manuscript was due in six months; it took us 12. We spent the next year to a year and a half in the editing phase where reviewers read the manuscript and gave us feedback, and then we made changes, deletions, additions, etc. based on that feedback.

Finally, this past year the publisher approved it for publication and the task list has varied from reading grammar and punctuation edits, to proofing the final layout, to gathering photos and photo captions, to soliciting the foreword and promotional blurbs.

Bottom line? It’s a whole heckuva lot of work to publish a book.

It was a marathon not a sprint.

There were times I wanted to quit. In fact, there were times I tried to quit because some of the personal things that were going on in my life were making it extremely difficult to continue. So if there’s one lesson I’ve learned from this it’s endurance.

I have friends who thought this book was never going to come out — I thought that too sometimes — because every time they’d ask about it I’d say, “we’re still editing” or “we’re waiting to hear back” or “one more round of reviews.” One friend even commented that she had two babies in the time it took me to write one book. It was, at times, quite the stressful experience.

So now it’s all done, and I’m quite happy with how it turned out. I’m really hoping people like it. Truth be told: I’m kinda nervous for people to read it.

It’s a uniquely told story about the space shuttle program from the earliest ideas all the way through its first major failure, the loss of Challenger. The story tellers in “Bold They Rise” are the astronauts that flew on the shuttle. Who better to tell such a story? They are candid, sincere and often funny as they tell anecdote after anecdote about their experiences. It really has been a fun story to capture.

While Bold They Rise will certainly make you laugh, I hope it also opens readers’ eyes to a realization that what these guys and gals did was extraordinary. Risky. Bold. Awesome. It’s my hope that as people read it they will journey back in time and experience a little bit of real spaceflight adventure alongside the astronauts who where there.

A Book’s First Words


20140217-195735.jpg

“Done right, the opening line can set the whole tone for the book, capturing the reader almost immediately. Done wrong and it can have the opposite effect.”

I ran across this comment somewhere online recently and it made me wonder  — what are the first words to my book?

And by my book I mean Bold They Rise: The Space Shuttle Early Years, 1972-1986 , coming out in just a few months. (shameless plug).

I mean, this is the kind of thing an author should know about their own book, right?

So I quickly pulled up the latest version and here’s what I read:

“On the one hand is the idea. On the other, the reality.”

I was impressed. Those are some pretty darn good first words of a book, if I do say so myself.

They’re very apropos of the book’s subject matter — the space shuttle — thus why they were written (and not by me, I should add, but by the Bold They Rise co-author.) I mean, when the space shuttle program was first envisioned it was gonna fly 50 times a year. That was the idea. Reality? There were only 134 missions total over the entire program. And there were other ideas of how the space transportation system would work that didn’t exactly turn out as planned too.

The idea versus the reality is true also about the process of writing Bold They Rise. I was brought on to the project  at what I thought was the end but what in reality was the middle. I signed contract six months before the first deadline, but running over deadline and then the review and editing process and all the final details has taken 4 years.

So, a question for discussion: do you pay attention to the first words of books and if so what are some of your favorites?

Book Review: The Gospel of Yes


What if we looked at God’s word and the Christian life as a series of yes’s instead of a list of “thou shalt not’s”?

This is the theme Mike Glenn explores in his book The Gospel of Yes.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group to review, but the reason I chose this title is because my pastor has preached for years “put your yes on the table,” meaning telling God yes to whatever he has for you instead of limiting God with fear-based no’s. But the book wasn’t really about us saying yes but about God saying yes.

This is a paradigm shift for those of us who grew up with our faith being about all the things we shouldn’t do — what I refer to as the “thou shalt not’s.” It is true that there some things God says no to. Glenn writes,

“God said ‘no’ to sin because it violates his holiness, but wanting us not to break his laws is not his number-one reason for opposing sin. He hates sin because it destroys the people he loves.”

Glenn’s point is that in a way even His “no” to sin can be looked at as a “yes” to something better.

But avoiding sin alone is not enough, is not true Christianity, i.e. following Christ. For one, we can’t avoid sin completely. We are born sinners and we will struggle with sin of all kinds as long as we are on this Earth, in Satan’s lair. So living a faith that’s based on performance of what we don’t do isn’t going to work.

Glenn turns that idea around and looks at the things to which God says “yes” and he finds yes’s in creation, in the cross, and to us.

God is never going to say yes to sin, so this isn’t a book that will leave believers thinking they can do whatever they want in the name of God being a yes-man. But it challenges us to look at God’s word in a new way and explore how God might be trying to give us a “yes.” This book will certainly challenge and expand your thoughts.