Sixty Acres and a Bride by Regina Jennings

Last year, I opened my inbox to an email from someone I didn’t know. She introduced herself and said she’d just signed her first book contract--with Bethany House. She had some questions, which I tried to answer. We corresponded a few times and when she ended up coming to my area with her family while her husband was here on business, we met for lunch. By the time we parted, I felt as if we’d been friends for years. 

Please allow me to introduce you to my friend, Regina Jennings. She blogs at www.reginajennings.com/blog, where, I have to say, she posts some really funny stuff! But today I want to tell you about her debut novel, Sixty Acres and a Bride. 

This was such a good book for so many reasons. For one, it is a Ruth and Boaz story--and is there anyone who doesn’t love that? Add in the whole Texas ranching element and it just gets plain fun. 

Rosa comes to Texas from Mexico with her mother-in-law, both of them widowed when a silver mine in Mexico caved in. But there’s a ranch waiting for them in Texas. And family. Except the ranch has back taxes owed. And the family? They are headed up by a strong and faithful cowboy bent on protecting his land and his kin, but who still blames himself for his wife’s death five years earlier. 

In spite of curtailed reading time due to writing, I found myself itching to pick the book up in spare moments. I was completely captivated by Rosa, the loyal and faithful daughter-in-law straddling two cultures. 

Sixty Acres and a Bride is a fun, quick read that will remind you again how wonderful it is to have a kinsman redeemer, not only to pay the debts out of our reach but also to save us from ourselves. 


A Sunday Psalm

You turned my wailing into dancing;
You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing to You and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give You thanks forever.
      --Psalm 30:11-12


The Ratings Dilemma

So maybe y’all can help me with a dilemma. I really, really, really like the concept of Goodreads, the social networking site for readers. When it comes right down to it, some of the most meaningful conversations start over books. So this concept appeals to me, both as a reader and also as a writer. I mean, how awesome to connect with people who have read your books--and enjoyed them!

So in case you aren’t familiar with the site, here’s a huge simplification. You have a couple of different virtual bookshelves. Books you’ve read and books you want to read. For the books you’ve read, you are supposed to rate them, 1-5 stars. 

I get the reasoning. This way you find people whose reading tastes are like yours and you can judge beforehand whether or not you’d like to a read a title based on their rating. But here’s where things get dicey for me. Rating the books I’ve read. If ratings meant the same to everyone, there wouldn’t be a problem. But they don’t. Some rate a book 5 stars if it holds their attention and elicits an emotion. Some rate a book 5 stars based on the amount of romance between the main characters (even if it isn’t a romance!) Some rate a book 5 stars if it is a book struck a deep enough chord that they intend to keep on their shelves instead of give away or sell to a used bookstore. Some rate a book 5 stars if it is, well, brilliant. As in, a classic, a work of literature that has (or will) stand the test of time. 

Ok, maybe I’m the only one that falls into that last category. Do you see my issue? To me, a 5 star book is along the lines of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Gone With the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, Bleak House, LIttle Dorritt, War and Peace--and even titles like Anne of Green Gables, Secret Garden, and Little Women. And yet, I know that many authors and readers would be appalled if I rated the books I often read in comparison to these. Giving a book 3 stars is almost the equivalent of hating it, or so many authors and readers think. If I want to find people who enjoy what I enjoy, my ratings have to have some correlation with theirs. 

So where do I set 5 stars? How do I rearrange my thinking so as to connect with readers, not alienate my writer friends, and yet still give my honest opinion? It becomes an especially weighty question when I know others are asking these same questions in regards to putting a rating on my books. (This is why I don’t do bookseller site ratings, either.)

For example: one reader gave me 1 star, saying that after only a couple of pages the reader realized the book wasn’t for them. Ok. So that 1 star didn’t mean the book was bad (because it never got read more than a page or two to find out), it just wasn’t what that reader wanted to read. Should they have rated it at all? Or does the 1 star simply serve to show others who have similar reading tastes that my book doesn’t fall into their category? 

Thus is my dilemma. Do I dive into Goodreads, figure out my own rating system (whatever that might be, even if others don’t always understand it) and become a part of a huge reading community? Or do I try to navigate Goodreads without actually rating any of the books I read? Yet I want others to know when there are books I enjoy. And I do enjoy books that aren’t necessarily genius. 

Please help! I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Overlapping Generations

Did you know that Abraham was still alive when Jacob and Esau were born? For some reason I just realized that today. Check out out Genesis 25. Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 years old. (Gen. 21:5) Jacob and Esau were born to Isaac when he was 60 years old. (Gen. 25:26). Abraham died at 175 years old. (Gen. 25:7) Therefore, Abraham lived until Jacob and Esau were 15 or so. I guess I just assumed since we were told of Abraham’s death before Jacob and Esau’s birth that they happened in that order. I hadn’t taken the time to do the math!

Why is this significant? I have no idea. I just find it interesting to imagine young Jacob and Esau interacting with their full-of-faith grandfather. 

Have you ever noticed this before? Do you bring your imagination with you when read Scripture? 


Cherry Blossom Capers

I’m not usually a novella reader. Or a contemporary romance reader. But since two wonderful writers I know--Cara Putman and Gina Conroy--comprised half of the novella collection Cherry Blossom Capers, I figured I’d try it. (I’ll definitely be on the lookout now for Lynette Sowell and Frances Devine, because their stories were great, too!)

Of course it tipped me over the edge when I read that all the stories were set in Washington, D.C., the place where my husband and I met twenty-seven years ago this summer. For me, D.C. will always equal romance. But it was the stories themselves pulled me and wouldn’t let go. 

The first one involved a White House chef and an FBI agent. How could I resist that when my daughter almost has her culinary degree? The second involved two attorneys. Again, right up my alley since I’m married to one! The third story’s heroine worked at Mount Vernon--only one of my favorite historical sites. And the fourth owned a coffee shop and inherited an old house. How could you not like that? 

Add in the fact that every story had it’s own mystery to solve and I thoroughly enjoyed my romantic return to D.C. via the pages of this book. If you’ve never tried a novella collection before, this might be a good one to start with. 


A Sunday Psalm

The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.
The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous.
They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.
        --Psalm 19:9-10


Writing Workshop at McKinney Public Library

Camy Tang, Ronie Kendig, Mary DeMuth--and me! 
(How in the world did I manage to get in with that group of wonderful writers!) 

Bring Out the Book in You: A (free) Writing and Publishing Workshop

McKinney Public Library
101 E Hunt St  McKinney, TX 75069
 Sunday, January 22, 2012

We'd love to see you there!


Movie Music

I can’t write in quiet. I just can’t. I have to have background noise. Music, to be more precise. But words distract me. (My brain tends to focus on the words already written rather than the ones I need to write.) So I need instrumental music. I tried classical music, which I often enjoy, but the mood just wasn’t right. Then I heard other writers talking about movie score music. And I found a match made in heaven. 

I love writing to movie soundtracks. The music is made for story. It evokes emotion. So just as score music is the perfect complement to a story on screen, it also provides the perfect background for creating story on paper. As I looked toward diving into this second first draft of my 2013 book, I decided it was time from some new writing tunes since I’ve written the last three novels with the same playlist. So I thought you might like to see what music is fueling my writing these days:

Downton Abbey
(Not only is it great music, it’s the same time period my stories.)

War Horse
(Ditto above. And of course now I really want to see the movie!)

(One of my favorite movies. One my son’s favorite movie composers.)

So much for the new. Here are some that are still among my favorites:

John Adams

Sense and Sensibility

Little Women

Schindler’s List



Next time you are looking for some fun background music, whether for writing or just for ordinary days, check out some movie scores. Like me, you might find something new that you really enjoy. 


The Maid of Fairbourne Hall by Julie Klassen

It’s no secret that, being the Anglophile I am, I love Julie Klassen’s books. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that her newest release, The Maid of Fairbourne Hall was one of the three books I ordered on Christmas morning after opening my Barnes and Noble gift card from my in-laws. 

When it arrived on my doorstep a few days later, I was giddy with excitement. Of course I had to finish the book I was in the middle of reading, first. But I did. Then I curled in front of the fire ready to enjoy a jaunt into 1800s England. 

As usual, Julie did not disappoint. Margaret Macy, a spoiled rich girl, had to get away from her step father’s attempts to marry her to his nephew in order to gain her inheritance. But Margaret did the unthinkable. She not only ran away, she got hired in a country house as a maid. In the house of the man whose proposal she’s refused two years earlier!

Of course besides all the fun of the peek inside the worlds “above stairs” and “below stairs” there is the constant tension of wondering if Margaret— now Nora Garret— will be found out. 

It was a delightful read, one I had trouble putting down. Well done, Julie! I’m already looking forward to the next one! 


A Sunday Psalm

The Lord reigns forever;
He has established His throne for judgment.
He will judge the world in righteousness;
He will govern the peoples with justice.
        --Psalm 9:7-8


Trying to Make a Good Thing

I thought this book, which will be my third published novel, would go much like the last two. Write a draft, do a couple of extensive revisions in light of my critique partners’ and my editor’s comments, then mark it done. 

Think again.

After slogging through draft number one in November and December, I knew the story had major issues in structure. I still liked the characters. And I could tell the story was in there somewhere, fighting to be set free. But no matter how hard I looked at it, I couldn’t see how to fix it. 

I read books on story structure. Made notes. Looked at my story through new grids. And finally— after asking for and receiving some brainstorming help— things took a turn. I had a plan for the story. The characters became more focused, their journeys more definite. I can’t believe how excited I am now to tell their story— now that I can see it. 

For the next six weeks I’ll hunker down and write, praying that when I look up again I’ll have something decent from which to start those two more extensive revisions before marking the story done. Of course you won’t see the result until, Lord willing, the fall of 2013. But good things come to those who wait. At least I’m trying my best to make it a good thing!


Proverbs 9

I read one of my most favorite chapters of Proverbs the other day. I love what it says, but as much or more, I love the way it says it. 

Let me explain.

Proverbs 9 begins with a personification of Wisdom. She builds her house, sets up her pillars, prepares her food, mixes her wine, sets her table. She’s ready host a party! So who does she invite? Well, we are told “she calls from the tops of the heights of the city: ‘Whoever is naive, let him turn in here!’” (v. 3) Sounds to me like an open invitation— at least to those who desire to know her. Again, she addresses those who need what she has to give. “To him who lacks understanding she says, ‘Come . . . eat . . . forsake your folly . . . proceed in the way of understanding.” (v.6) Wisdom isn’t given only to an exclusive set of people. It is given to anyone who chooses not only to hear, but to act on what they have heard.  

Next comes a five verse interlude that talks about correcting and reproving the foolish and the wise and the benefits of gaining wisdom, the beginning of which is the fear of the Lord. (v. 10)

But v. 13 is where it gets really interesting. The first six verses of the chapter stand in direct contrast to the final five. Now we see a picture of the Foolish Woman, who also desires to entertain. She isn’t as deliberate in her preparations and when it comes to invitations, she sits in the doorway of her house “calling to those who pass by, who are making their paths straight.” (v. 15) Her target is not the masses, like Wisdom’s, but those who are trying to do right. And guess how she lures them in? With the same words as Wisdom! “Whoever is naive, let him turn in here.” (v. 16) She, too, addresses “him who lacks understanding,” but her message is of stealth and secrecy. Inside her house is death. 

What strikes me is the similarity between the two scenes. For those who have not visited Wisdom’s house often, the invitations can sound the same, even if they are on a straight path, trying to do right. And yet the results are so very different. Do you see why I love this chapter? The word pictures (show, don’t tell!) are so vivid in their portrayal of Wisdom and Folly. I can see it play out like a movie in front of my eyes. The repetition of even the same phrases drives home the point. And when the truth of Scripture creates that kind of picture in my mind, it sinks more deeply into my heart. 

What about you? Do you have a favorite word picture in Scripture? 


A Lasting Impression by Tamera Alexander

My sister has been trying to get me to read Tamera Alexander’s books for the past couple of years. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, it was just that I had so many new titles to read that I rarely took the time to read an older one. 

Then came the Fall 2011 Baker Books catalog. The minute I saw A Lasting Impression, I knew I had to read it. It didn’t release until November— right as I was in the middle of trying to pound out the first draft of what will be my 2013 release. So I held it until our quick pre-Christmas trip. 

Set in post-Civil War Nashville, most of this story takes place at the Belmont Mansion— a fabulous location that I now can’t wait to see in person. Memorable characters people a story filled with romance, a bit of suspense and some just plain fun. And of course I learned things I didn’t know— like that party planning is not a new profession! 

I can’t even explain all the things I enjoyed about this story. I only know it was one I hated to see end and yet, when I closed the back cover, I felt entirely satisfied. Don’t know what Tamera’s next book will be, but you can bet I’ll read it!


A Sunday Psalm

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners or sit int he seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on His law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in its season and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
         --Psalm 1:1-3


Coming in 2012 part 2

Of course I knew I'd forget some! Ugh!

Here are a couple more I remembered:

Summer of Promise by Amanda Cabot

Firethorn by Ronie Kendig

Coming in 2012

Did you get an Amazon or Barnes and Noble (or other bookstore) gift card for Christmas? I did! And while I’ve already ordered a few titles, I’m saving back some of that money for novels by a few of my favorite people that release in the first half of this year. (This is not an exhaustive list, by any means, just some titles I’m greatly anticipating.) Of course that money won’t cover all of these, but I’m sure I’ll scrape together more! 

The Rose of Winslow Street by Elizabeth Camden (1/1/12)

Sixty Acres and a Bride by Regina Jennings (2/1/12)

Heart’s Safe Passage by Laurie Alice Eakes (2/1/12)

Promise Me This by Cathy Gohlke (2/1/12)

The Mother Road by Jen AlLee (4/1/12)

My Stubborn Heart by Becky Wade (5/1/12)

Stardust by Carla Stewart (5/15/12)

Short-Straw Bride by Karen Witemeyer (6/1/12)

Bees in the Butterfly Garden by Maureen Lang (7/1/12)

Veil of Pearls by MaryLu Tyndall (7/1/12)

(Aren't they all beautiful covers?)

Authors with books due out later the year:

Marybeth Whalen
Laurie Alice Eakes (her second book in the Daughters of Bainbridge regency series)
Jody Hedlund
Tamera Alexander
(I’m sure there are many more that I can’t think of right now!)

Happy Reading in 2012!