Tuesday, September 27, 2016

AMONG THE STACKS: Jennifer Lamont Leo


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Hi, Jennifer.  Welcome to The Gal.  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
I grew up near Chicago and now live in a remote area of northern Idaho.  I'm married and enjoy books, music, paper crafts, and gardening.  I am a servant to my cats.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are five things most people don't know about you?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
When I'm not writing fiction, I'm a marketing copywriter and book editor.  I sing in a community choir and volunteer at a local history museum.  I could live for many years on peanut butter.  My favorite movie of all time is The Elephant Man.  Is that five?  I'm terrible at math.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is the first book you remember reading?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
A children's book called The Gingerbread Man.  Before I could read on my own, I used to chase unsuspecting adults and beg them to read it to me.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
 What are you reading now?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon.  I just love Father Tim.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn't expect you to have liked?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What made you decide you want to write?  When did you begin writing?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
Writing was always what I did best in school.  I loved writing reports, and wrote short stories to amuse myself.  When I was in fifth grade, the author Marguerite Henry (Misty of Chincoteague) visited our school.  That's when I decided on writing as a vocation, although it took many years to get there.  I wrote church drama sketches and plays before I tackled fiction.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have a special place you like to write?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
I have a writing room in my house.  I live on a mountain, so the view is quite pretty.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
I love to write to music, instrumental only with no lyrics.  While writing You're the Cream in My Coffee, I played 1920s music to put me in the mood.  I also keep a piano keyboard in my writing room and relax by playing a tune or two during writing breaks.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
Getting started.  Once I get started, I'm fine.  But I can procrastinate endlessly.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's the most satisfying thing you've written so far?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
Writing You're the Cream in My Coffee has been hugely satisfying.  But I also love to write plays, because I can hear the audience laugh.  I love getting that immediate reaction.  Maybe someday I'll rewrite You're the Cream in My Coffee as a play.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What books have most inspired you?  Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
I'm especially fond of mid-20th-century women authors like Cornelia Otis SkinnerEmily KimbroughBetty MacDonaldBarbara Pym, and E.M. Del afield.  They're largely forgotten now, which is a pity, because their writing is bright, witty, and full of charm.  It's time to bring them back into the spotlight.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you think makes a good story?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
When there's an engaging hero or heroine whom I genuinely like and care about, I'll follow them anywhere.  And I like to be surprised by plot twists, but not shocked in a negative way.  I think a good story should leave the reader feeling optimistic and hopeful, not filled with despair.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What does it take for you to love a character?  How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
I love about characters the same thing I love about real people: kindness, cleverness, a quick wit, and a winsome personality.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
Marjorie, for sure.  She keeps finding herself in a pickle, but she means well, and she has a kind heart, even if she does mess up from time to time.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Are you turned off by a bad cover?  To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
I appreciate beautiful covers that are pleasing to look at, but I'm not usually turned off by covers unless they totally misrepresent the book inside.  My publisher was gracious about letting me have a lot of input into my cover.  I know that's not always the case.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What have you learned creating your books?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
I can endlessly tweak and fuss and make it just a little bit better.  At some point I have to say "stop" and move on, or I'd never finish anything.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
Fights and break-up scenes are hard for me.  I want everyone to get along.  But that wouldn't be much of a story, would it?

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
Many novels set in the 1920s celebrate wild living and make vice look glamorous.  I try to show another side.  Gangster and flapper stereotypes aside, not everyone was drinking bootleg gin and dancing in fountains.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
Like covers, titles should tell the reader something about the book, and should also be somewhat memorable, so that later she can recommend it to a friend without resorting to, "I don't remember the title, but it's a red book with a picture of a girl on the cover."  You're the Cream in My Coffee is a song title in the 1920s.  It's a bouncy, catchy tune, and the lyrics are clever and romantic - qualities I hope the reader will find in my story.  My working title, Thoroughly Modest Marjorie, was a disaster. I was trying to riff off of an old Julie Andrews movie set in the 1920s called Thoroughly Modern Millie, turning "modern" into "modest" to reflect my non-flapper character.  But most people either got the title wrong, or had never heard of the movie and thus misunderstood the reference entirely.  I'm very glad that I was encouraged early on to change it.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
It's hard to say.  A good short story is an art form in itself, and not as easy as it seems.  But writing a novel is like climbing Everest.  So probably the novel is more satisfying in the end, although short stories are fun, too.  I write both.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
I write clean historical fiction with plucky heroines.  "Plucky" is a term not used much these days, but to me it means a brave and resourceful person who goes after what she wants without losing her charm, grace, and femininity.  I hope my stories dust off some of those old-fashioned virtues like honor, duty, and common decency that seem to grow scarcer by the day.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
I wanted to write a Christmas scene but it didn't fit.  So I turned it into a short story called "The Christmas Robe."  Also, in the earliest version of the book, Marjorie was a nurse, not a sales clerk.  I liked the hospital setting and may use it in a future book.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is in your "trunk"?  (Everyone has a book or project, which doesn't necessarily have to be book related, that they have put aside for a 'rainy day' or for when they have extra time.  Do you have one?)

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
I'm writing a sequel to You're the Cream in My Coffee, also set in the 1920s.  No title yet, but for those who've read You're the Cream, it's Dot's story.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What can we expect from you in the future?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
More historical fiction that revives the best of the past.  I'll probably stick with the early 20th century for the time being because I love that era.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Where can we find you?  (You know, STaLKeR links.)

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
I maintain a blog where I write about all things vintage.  Readers can also sign up there for my newsletter, called "A Sparkling Vintage Life."  My main character, Marjorie Corrigan, also maintains a blog, Miss Marjorie's Guide to Life, where she comments on life in the 1920s.  I'm also active on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Thanks for stopping by today, Jennifer.  I look forward to reading the sequel when you finish it.
            Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you'd like to say that we didn't get to cover in this interview?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
Just a heartfelt "thank you" from me and Marjorie for reading our story!


About the author:
Jennifer Lamont Leo writes from her home in the mountains of northern Idaho, where she lives with her husband, two cats, and as much wildlife as she can attract.  Passionate about history, she volunteers at a local history museum and writes history-themed articles for regional publications.  She is also a playwright, blogger, and marketing copywriter.  You're the Cream in My Coffee is her first novel.
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REVIEW: You're the Cream in My Coffee


You're the Cream in My Coffee
By: Jennifer Lamont Leo

Genre: Women's Fiction, Contemporary Women, Christian, (Romance)
Publisher: Smitten Historical Romance
Publication date: 9.15.2016
Pages: 292

Recommended by: Electively Paige, Read 2 Review
Date read: 9.17.2016


You're looking at the genre and wondering what in the world I was thinking, aren't you?  I know, I know - me and romance books are like pickle juice and chocolate chip cookies.  The cover caught my attention, though, and the storyline seemed pretty interesting.  

The story is set in the roaring 20s (though there wasn't much talk of that, or much description either, minus the fact that prohibition was going on, the word "speakeasy" was used a few times, and their fashion choices) in the city of Chicago.  Marjorie is a girl that needs to find herself and figure out what to do with her life, so when she bumps into who she swears is her ex-boyfriend, who died in the war, and spends a couple of days enjoying the art museum, she decides to stay in the city instead of heading back home to her small town, her family... and her fiance.

I really enjoyed this book... and actually had a hard time putting it down.  I liked Marjorie quite a bit, even though she was a bit of a goody-goody and was very set in her Christian ways.  Her new friend, Dot, who she met at work in Chicago, is the complete opposite of her, and they both learn a lot from each other as the story goes on.

Helen (Marjorie's sister) and Charlie (their brother) were both well-written characters, who grew in these pages, but Pop... he was my favorite.  There wasn't much of him in the story, but when there was, he was exactly what Marjorie needed.

I consider this book more historical fiction and mystery than I do women's fiction, but I can see why the author chose to justify it as such, what with the mystery of Marjorie's future being discussed, and some of the things that her and Dot went through in the story.  Finding out just who Peter was took Marjorie on an adventure (filled with inner turmoil) that gave the story more depth than I originally had expected.

Definitely a good story that I would highly recommend if you like those coming-of-age type things.  Do keep in mind that there are some Christian points to the story.  Marjorie and her family come from a God-fearing, church-going small town and there is a lot of speak of God, which I happened to enjoy.

Back to the topic of that book cover catching my eye.  I wish it had actually depicted one of the two main characters.  I had that girl (on the photo) in mind, but never once did what they were wearing ever coincide with that.  I think, had the cover artist used the yellow hat or the blue gown (to find out more you have to actually read the story), it would have really tied that in more and gave me an aha moment (besides when the title was used in the story).

I absolutely loved the descriptions of working in the department store and all that she did there.  What fun, and though not completely historically accurate with this particular store at this particular time, the author's description is pretty spot-on with things I have read.


About the book:
In 1928, Chicago rocks to the rhythm of the Jazz Age, and Prohibition is in full swing.  Small-town girl Marjorie Corrigan, visiting the city for the first time, has sworn that coffee's the strongest drink that will pass her lips.  But her quiet, orderly life turns topsy-turvy when she spots her high school sweetheart - presumed killed in the Great War - alive and well in a train station.  Suddenly everything is up for grabs.
            Although the stranger insists he's not who she thinks he is, Marjorie becomes obsessed with finding out the truth.  To the dismay of her fiance and family, she moves to the city and takes a job at a department store so she can spy on him.  Meanwhile, the glittering world of her roommate, Dot, begins to look awfully enticing - especially when the object of her obsession seems to be part of that world.  Is it really so terrible to bob her hair and shorten her skirt?  To visit a speakeasy?  Just for a cup of coffee, of course.
            But what about her scruples?  What about the successful young doctor to whom she's engaged, who keeps begging her to come back where she belongs?  And what, exactly, is going on at the store's loading dock so late at night?
            Amid a whirlwind of trials and temptations, Marjorie must make a choice.  Will the mystery man prove to be the cream in her coffee - the missing ingredient to the life she yearns for?  Or will he leave only bitterness in her heart?

About the author:
Jennifer Lamont Leo writes from her home in the mountains of northern Idaho, where she lives with her husband, two cats, and as much wildlife as she can attract.  Passionate about history, she volunteers at a local history museum and writes history-themed articles for regular publications.  She is also a playwright, blogger, and marketing copywriter.  You're the Cream in My Coffee is her first novel.  You can visit her website here.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

AMONG THE STACKS: Jill M. Richardson


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jill M. Richardson:
I'm a writer, speaker, pastor, and mom of three girls (women).  I like to travel, grow flowers, kayak, break into random musical numbers, and read.  I love cats, oceans, the Cubs, dark chocolate, Earl Grey, my family, and God, not necessarily in that order.  I have an unnatural love for Middle-Earth, fish tacos, old musicals, and chocolate marzipan.  I've written five books, hundreds of articles, a fair number of Facebook rants, and blogs on the topics of empowering women and girls, listening to the next generation, and loving annoying people.  I've been an associate pastor for nineteen years but a senior pastor for only four months.  It's scarier than I thought.  I have a degree in English and Secondary Education from Washington University in St. Louis, a master's of Divinity from Bethel in St. Paul, and I'm completing a Doctorate in Church Leadership in a Changing Context at Gordon Conwell.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are five things most people don't know about you?

Jill M. Richardson:
Most people don't know a lot about me since I'm such an introvert.
  1. I have played Mother Superior (Sound of Music), Mrs. Potts (Beauty & the Beast), Addaperle (The Wiz), and other things on stage.
  2. My favorite bird is a rose-breasted grosbeak.
  3. I have been to Paris three times, which is not enough, but I think my favorite city might be Vancouver.
  4. My first pet as an adult was named Loki, before that name was cool, because he was a very mischievous cat.
  5. I graduated first in my seminary class, and I don't think a woman has done that before.
The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is the first book you remember reading?

Jill M. Richardson:
I remember my favorite book as a small child was Ferdinand the Bull.  I understood that he felt different.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are you reading now?

Jill M. Richardson:
Oh wow.  I'm reading a ton of books at one time, which is very uncharacteristic.  For fun, I'm reading The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown and Essentialism by Greg McKeown.  For work, I'm reading Good Faith by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons.  And also Rick Steves' Spain because we're going there soon!  That's enough to mention.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn't expect you to have liked?

Jill M. Richardson:
When I coached Battle of the Books, I read The House of the Scorpion, a YA futuristic thriller, not at all my thing.  I loved the deep issues the author brought out and how well she did it.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What made you decide you want to write?  When did you begin writing?

Jill M. Richardson:
I kind of fell into writing.  I always knew people said I was good at it.  When I couldn't get a teaching job because I was too mobile, I started writing magazine articles instead.  The first one I submitted was to Discipleship Journal, and they took it.  I was hooked.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have a special place you like to write?

Jill M. Richardson:
I have a recliner that's supposed to be good for my back.  That's usually the spot.  If home is too distracting, then the library (I like to go to lots of different libraries) or a cafe.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Jill M. Richardson:
Other than the usual too many distractions until I finally put words on the page?  Not really.  I used to absolutely have to write with pen and paper, but NaNoWriMo made me lean to compose on the computer.  I do tend to research a topic to death, so I put off the actual writing too long.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Jill M. Richardson:
Outlining it all is a comprehensible form to begin with.  That's the hardest part.  I always am certain that it will never, ever come together and this one will be a failure.  And then it does, and the rest is much easier.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's the most satisfying thing you've written so far?

Jill M. Richardson:
It probably is this Hobbit book, because I've gotten such much correspondence from parents who have seen it bring their teens or college-age kids back into scripture.  My life mission is to bridge the faith divide between older and younger generations, so when I hear people tell me something I wrote made young people want to read the Bible more?  Want to explore faith again?  I can't even say what that means.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What books have most inspired you?  Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Jill M. Richardson:
My favorite authors are TolkienVictor Hugo, and Jane Austen.  I am inspired by the first two because of their themes of grace, second chances, and everyday heroism.  That's my heartbeat right there.  For nonfiction, which I read far more often, I like Malcolm Gladwell's work.  I love figuring out why people behave like they do or history happens as it does.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you think makes a good story?

Jill M. Richardson:
A good conflict.  A story has to have something worthwhile driving its dilemma.  If it's just someone's personal issues, it might be fun reading, but it's not a story in a timeless sense of the word.  And characters I can actually like, even with and more because of their flaws.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What does it take for you to love a character?  How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Jill M. Richardson:
For me to love a character, she has to have real fears yet real courage.  She has to be quirky, funny, smart, and want to do good, even if she fails at that sometimes.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Are you turned off by a bad cover?  To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Jill M. Richardson:
Yes!  If the cover looks unprofessional, I assume the inside is as well.  If it looks like the graphics were designed thirty years ago, that tells me something about the writing.  For the books I self-published, I gave my concept to my daughter, who does graphic design, and she came up with what I thought was beautiful work.  For the Hobbit book, I also gave ideas, they showed me theirs, and I loved what they did.  I especially loved the gold writing around the hobbit door.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What have you learned creating your books?

Jill M. Richardson:
I've learned that not everyone will love me or my books, but for those who do, we have a relationship.  I have their trust.  I never want to violate that.  I want to give the best I have not because I'm a perfectionist and it's all for me (I do have those tendencies) but because these are my people, and their hurts and needs and hopes mean something.  Writing is a dialog.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Jill M. Richardson:
I wrote a scene in the YA novel I'm working on where the protagonist's friend is verbally assaulted with racial slurs.  That was hard for me to write.  I hated it, and I had to get it right, no matter how awful it felt.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes your books different than others out there in this genre?

Jill M. Richardson:
I hope my books do a good job of blending humor and serious theology.  I don't talk down to my audience.  I believe in their intelligence.  I also believe in not taking everything too seriously and having fun while we learn from one another.  One critic called me "constructively irreverent."  I'll take that.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Jill M. Richardson:
I did not choose it.  It is immensely important, and I am terrible at coming up with titles, so I happily let my publishers do that for me.  They know more than I.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Jill M. Richardson:
My tagline is "Reframed: Repicturing Faith with the Next Generation."  That's the mission out of which I write.  The hobbit devotional was an attempt to bring teens and college students who might be drifting from faith toward something that connected to them on a pop culture or literary level and then talk about God.  My book on short term missions tries to help families do mission together, not segmenting off in separate generations.  I want readers to talk to one another about how they can do faith together, regardless of issues that divide them.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is in your "trunk"?  (Everyone has a book or project, which doesn't necessarily have to be book related, that they have put aside for a 'rainy day' or for when they have extra time.  Do you have one?)

Jill M. Richardson:
Hmmm... my trunk right now has to be a different kind of book - I need to make a wedding photo album for my daughter and new son-in-law!

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What can we expect from you in the future?

Jill M. Richardson:
I am working on a book that is a dialog between baby boomers and millennials on faith and how we do church together with love.  I'm also trying to find a home for my first YA novel, a book about a high school girl who just wants to disappear but instead gets entangled into issues of immigration and its legalities while she learns to be a brave friend.  A collaborative devotional written by 75 women that I am compiling and editing.  Lots of articles on church leadership, especially for women.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Thanks for stopping by today, Jill.  One last thing before you go.  Where can we find you?  (You know, STaLKeR links.)

Jill M. Richardson:



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REVIEW: Hobbits, You the Spiritual World of Middle-Earth


Hobbits, You & the Spiritual World
of Middle-Earth
By: Jill Marie Richardson

Genre: Christian, Devotionals, Youth Ministry
Publisher: Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas
Publication date: 3.25.2016
Pages: 110

Recommended by: Electively Paige, Read 2 Review
Date read: 9.25.2016


This book caught my attention because it combines both Lord of the Rings (one of my favorite trilogies) with the teachings of the Bible to help teenagers learn to live a life that Jesus would be proud of.  The author painstakingly compares different beloved characters from LotR with people from the Bible, telling a story from both, then asking questions to help the reader take a deep look at the life they are living.  As you go through the book, you are reminded of why you loved the characters in the books so much and find yourself looking at them in a new and unique way, especially when you remember that J.R.R. Tolkien was a deeply religious man himself.


About the book:
What can the bravery of a hobbit, the faith of an elf, or the greed of a dragon teach us about ourselves?  How can their stories lead us to the real Kingdom where God is weaving His fantasy world into reality?
            In Hobbits, You & the Spiritual World of Middle-Earth, Jill Richardson overlays the Bible with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, giving us a peek into God's fantasy world - a world of wonder and awe.
            Discover the deep spiritual truths found in J.R.R. Tolkien's classic characters and learn how to apply them in your own epic story.

Excerpt:
Paul encourages Timothy: you've been chosen to do this by the God who raises the dead!  That's all you need.  It doesn't matter that you're young.  It doesn't matter that you don't know all I know.  God chose you - are you willing?
            That's the secret of Bilbo's victory, too: he's been chosen.  He doesn't know why.  He probably thinks all of Gandalf's fireworks have shaken the wizard's brain too much.  But, just knowing that someone so great picked him makes him gather his small courage and believe he has a shot.
            Then, he takes the next step.  He decides he's willing to do whatever he has to do for the job.  Steal from a dragon?  Carry out a wild river raft escape?  Negotiate peace between forces at war?  Take on giant spiders?  (That's where you'd lose me!)  He just does it, because someone has to, and he's been chosen.

About the author:
Jill has a degree in English and Secondary Education from Washington University in St. Louis, a Mater's of Divinity from Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, and is completing a Doctorate in Church Leadership in a Changing Context at Gordon Conwell.  Jill is the author of five books with several more in the works.
            She is a lead pastor near Chicago and speaks at a variety of events around the country.
            She also enjoys travel, gardening, musical theater, reading, kayaking, sitting near the ocean, and spending time with her husband and three daughters.  She believes in Jesus, grace, restoration, kindness, justice, Earl Grey, and dark chocolate.
            Her passion is her tagline: Picturing Faith with the Next Generation.
            Jill is represented by Diane Flegel at Hardline Literary Agency and she blogs here.


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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

REVIEW: A Cheesehead Devotional


The Cheesehead Devotional:
Daily Meditations for Packer Fans
By: Judy DuCharme

Genre: Football, Christian Living, Devotionals
Publisher: Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas
Publication date: 6.13.2016
Pages: 108

Recommended by: Paige from Electively Paige, Read to Review, Blog Tour
Date read: 9.14.2016


I am a huge Packers fan and enjoy reading devotionals, so when I was asked if I would be interested in this blog tour, I went ahead and said yes.

I usually like to read one devotional a day so that I have time to think on the subject matter and work to add that into my life, but this was a last minute thing and I sat down to read it in one sitting.

The book is a light read, but has some substantial information in it.  Each chapter is short (two to three pages), beginning with a story about the Packers, and then adding information on the subject in an easy to read manner, helping you to take a look at your life and live in a way that God would want you to.

I like how the author incorporated the stories into the subject and how she explained each thing in a way that is easy to understand, plus the fact that each chapter ends with a small prayer.

Throughout the book, though, I wondered how the two go together.  Yes, Reggie White - as well as the rest of the Packers - have always been religious, but it seemed like an odd thing to mix together, football and prayer.  As I continued reading, though, I was reminded of just how much, when I was growing up, the two were combined, and was glad to see that prayer had not been forgotten in football.

It was a good book, one I plan to go back and take a look at as I make some of these a part of my life.


About the book:
"The Cheesehead Devotional is a great adventure for those who may not pick up a Bible for guidance." ~ Dara White, wife of the late Reggie White

Sometimes humorous and sometimes serious, Judy DuCharme shows us that walking with God is as fun as watching a Packer game.  By combining the love of football with insights from the Word of God, readers will find this book fun, inspirational, and even life-changing.

"I have always believed the Packers were religions in these parts.  The Cheesehead Devotional brings that spiritual message to life." ~Wayne Larrivee, American sportscaster and current play-by-play announcer for the Green Bay Packers

"I am certain you will love this little book.  Judy has captured the true heart of a Christian Packer fan!" ~Rev. Arni Jacobson

"A witty, uplifting and truthful approach that all Packers fans will appreciate.  It's definitely a must read for all Cheeseheads." ~Joy Lang, owner of Jerry's Flowers

"Family, Our Faith and The Green Bay Packers.  Judy has captured the true meaning of our Lord being in our daily lives, not only on the football field but in everything we do.  This book is very inspirational as well as being educational.  I highly recommend it to all Green Bay Packer fans young and old.  GO PACK, GO." ~Bonita Favre (Brett's mom)

About  the author:
Judy loves the Lord and loves her Packers.    She became a Packer fan in 1984.  In The Cheesehead Devotional, she uses Packer events to lead readers into God's presence.
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Saturday, September 10, 2016

BOOK SPOTLIGHT + EXCERPT: The Dragonward


The Godsfall Trilogy 1:
The Dragonward
By: Michael Meyerhofer

Genre: Dark Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing
Publication date: 8.9.2016
Pages: 324

Three years after the War of the Lotus, alliances have already begun to unravel.  As Rowen Locke struggles to maintain peace, troubling news reaches him from every corner.  Persecution of the Shel'ai has reignited in the south, spurred on by a fanatical priest.  To the north, the Isle Knights are withering under the leadership of mad Crovis Ammerhel.  Old friends fight each other when not drowning their sorrows in taverns.
            A new threat emerges from across the sea, dispatched by the same exiled Dragonkin who have been plotting their revenge for centuries.  Rowen and his companions soon realize that the target is the Dragonward itself: their one and only defense against an evil so vast even Knightswrath could not vanquish it.


Rowen Locke paused to wipe the sweat from his brown then swore as his opponent's sword angled for his throat.  Rowen moved to block, but his enemy's sword changed direction misdoing and rattled off his armored thigh.  Rowen backed up and swung, hoping to keep his adversary at bay.  Instead, his opponent drove forward.  One armored twist knocked Rowen's sword aside while the other hand stabbed toward Rowen's face.
            Rowen managed to parry the blow, but a second stab gouged his azure tabard and rang off the kingsteel cuirass underneath.  His frustration turning to anger, Rowan swung as quickly as he could, but his opponent had already danced away as though his armored body were made of smoke.
            Onlookers applauded, and Rowen blushed.
            I deserve that.
            He gripped his sword with both hands.  Rather than attacking, he waited, eyeing his enemy - a younger man with a stoic, handsome face and a dark braid trailing behind him.  The  young man circled cautiously,  half a dancer.  After a moment, Rowen realized his opponent did not mean to attack at all but to wait until Rowen's frustration go the best of him.
            Rowen did not have to turn to feel all the onlookers eyeing him with impatience, and he realized he couldn't blame them.  Rowen had been taking the worst of the duel, which meant it was up to him to either turn the tide or concede.  He had no intention of doing the latter, but his arms already felt leaden.  He rotated steadily, to keep his adversary from getting around him.  Then he shrugged one shoulder and winced, feigning a muscle cramp.  As he'd hoped, his opponent tensed, about to spring forward.
            Rowen answered by throwing his sword.
            He had the pleasure of seeing his opponent's eyes widen a split second before a deft swing knocked Rowen's sword out of the air.  But Rowen was already charging.  He grabbed the young man's sword and tried to twist it out of his hands.  Though Rowen was stronger, his opponent held on with an iron grip.  Then iron turned to water, and somehow, Rowen found himself pitching toward the ground.
            He landed in a roll and came up as quickly as he could, but it was too late.  Rowen felt a sword bash his shoulder, his cuirass, and then his other shoulder.  Then the sword stopped, the tip poised at Rowen's face.
            "Do you yield, sir?"
            Rowen bit back a curse and nodded.  "I'd damn well better."
            His sparring partner withdrew his sword, reversed it, and tucked the wooden blade under his arm.  He bowed, then held out his hand.  "Apologies, sir."
            Rowen let the younger man pull him onto his feet just as the onlookers applauded.  "Dammit, Sang Wei, you're not supposed to apologize when you beat me.  And when I lose... which the gods know I always do... I'm supposed to bow first."
            "Apologies," Sang Wei repeated.  He picked up Rowen's wooden sword and handed it back to him with a second bow.  "Fine move at the end, sir.  I've never seen someone throw their sword like that before."
            "Desperate men will do almost anything."  Rowen took Sang Wei's arm and raised it aloft.
            The onlookers applauded again.  That time, it was Sang Wei who blushed.  Rowen sensed that the younger Knight was as uncomfortable receiving praise as Rowen was being bested by his subordinate.
            "Consider this payback, you quicksilver bastard," Rowen muttered, still smiling.
            He kept turning, forcing Sang Wei to turn with him, then stopped.  In the distance, among Knights and squires, one of the onlookers was a young man with angular features, tapered ears, and brilliantly purple eyes.  The Shel'ai was applauding.
            "You have an admirer," Rowen whispered.
            Sang Wei's turning an even darker shade of red.
            Rowen let go of his arm, suddenly feeling guilty.  He'd seen the young Shel'ai and Sang Wei exchange more than a few glances over the past few months though something told him the young Knight was more than a little reluctant to pursue anything.  Rowen wondered why.  While some kingdoms frowned on romantic relationships between people of the same gender, that was perfectly acceptable among the Shao.
            Then again, Maddoc isn't just a man.  He's a Shel'ai.
            "Enough," Rowen called loudly, catching everyone's attention.  "As Sword Marhsal of Cadavash Temple, I declare Sang Wei, Knight of the Stag, to be the fastest bastard who ever lived!"  As the onlookers cheered again, Rowen added, "If anyone can prove me wrong, I'll exempt him from an evening meditation and give him enough wine to keep him sodden for a week."
            As the onlookers cheered yet again, Rowen clapped Sang Wei on the shoulder then stepped out of the practice ring, tossing his sword to the nearest Knight rushing to take his place.  He forced himself to smile as he made his way toward a woman at the far end of the practice ring.  Unlike the others, who wore armor or loose-fitting fighting garb, Igrid wore a short fighting skirt, high boots, and a barely adequate fighting top, the sight of which quickened his blood.
            She offered a lopsided grin at his approach, brushing one hand through long red curls that hung well past her waist.  "How much pain are you in right now?"
            "Sweet gods, you have no idea."  Rowen smiled with clenched teeth, tapping his chest through his armor.
            Igrid's green eyes flashed with mirth and a touch of worry.  "Did he break anything?"
            "Maybe a rib or three.  I'll have Maddoc take a look later."
            "Are you sure you don't want him now?"
            Rowen shook his head.  "My pride stings enough as it is.  I can wait a while."
            "If you say so.  I don't think he ever looked my way, but I was hoping to distract him so you'd win for once."  Igrid winked.
            For a moment, Rowen thought she meant Maddoc but then realized she was referring to Sang Wei.  "No offense, my love, but you might be the wrong gender for that."
            Rowen saw no need to point out that he knew Igrid was lying.  She wore her eye-catching attire because she intended to join in the sparring matches - she was still an Iron Sister, after all - and part of her fighting style involved using her appearance to distract men into making a mistake.
            Igrid said, "If I beat him, do I get that wine you promised?"
            Rowen turned.  Sang Wei was busy fighting off a man his own age - a powerful, newly minted Knight of the Crane named Berric, whose barrel chest and thick arms barely fit inside his armor.  The man bellowed each time he swung.  His swings were powerful but quick.  Two drove Sang Wei backward.  The third shattered Sang Wei's wooden sword.  The crowd applauded.  Sir Berric held his arms aloft, cheering.
            "He shouldn't do that," Rowen muttered with disapproval.
            Maddoc stepped forward, a new wooden sword in hand, and handed it to Sang Wei.  When the Knight of the Stag took it, the Shel'ai leaned forward and whispered something.  Sang Wei blushed, and Maddoc backed away, smiling.  When the duel resumed, Sir Berric came at Sang Wei in a bellowing blur of speed and steel.  That time, though, Sang Wei dodged every swing and thrust and rained blows on his opponent's legs then one on his backside that nearly knocked Sir Berric off his feet.
            "He's not holding back this time."  Rowen wondered how much the young Knight had been holding back when he'd fought him and decided he'd rather not know.
            Sir Berric bellowed again - in frustration that time - and doubled his attack.  But Sang Wei moved even faster, as though his speed were limitless.  Seconds later, the burly Knight found himself disarmed and forced to one knee, with Sang Wei's sword held in a reverse grip against his throat.
            For a moment, Rowen feared that Sir Berric would answer with rage.  Instead, he laughed.  "I yield!  Gods, I yield!  Now somebody get me a tub of ice to sit in."  He stood up, laughed again, and hugged Sang Wei as if they were brothers.
            The onlookers cheered.  Sir Berric tried to get others to take his place, but Sang Wei bowed and refused to fight any more.  The Knights and squires paired off to practice with each other instead.  Sang Wei wandered off toward the temple in the distance, still holding his wooden sword.  After a moment, Maddoc followed.
            Rowen was about to ask Igrid to help him back inside when another familiar Knight ran toward them.  Rowen noted that he was coming from the direction of the gates and wore a serious expression on his face.
            "Trouble," Rowen whispered to Igrid and went to meet the Knight halfway.  "What is it, Issa?"
            Sir Issa bowed, out of breath.  "Visitors, Sword Marshal."
            "Dragon-worshippers?"
            Sir Issa shook his head.  "Not this time, sir.  Looks like Sons of Maelmohr this time."
            Gods, is that better or worse?  Rowen glanced past Sir Issa and made sure the gates of Cadavash were still closed.  He noted as well that the few Knights standing watch along the walls were standing straight as lances, looking out over the battlements.
            Meanwhile, Igrid moved to a nearby weapons rack, snatched up a sheathed adamune with a sword belt, and brought it back.  She handed it to Rowen.  "Want me to get Sang Wei and Maddoc?"
            Rowen faced Issa instead.  "How many?"
            "Just five, Sword Marshal."
            "Don't bother," Rowen told Igrid.  "I'll just go and insult them until they go away."
            Igrid raised one eyebrow.  "No diplomatic pleasantries this time?"
            Rowen shook his head.  "If Gaulgodd is going to keep threatening the people under my protection, I think it's safe to say we're not ever going to be the best of friends."
            Igrid's lopsided grin returned.  "I should ask Sant Wei to trounce you more often."
            Rowen winced as he girded his sword.  When he started toward the gates, Igrid followed.  Rowen considered ordering her to keep back.  After all, the Sons of Maelmohr disapproved of many things - including women who wore swords and dressed like Igrid.  But he reminded himself that he was in no shape for a fight, and he could think of no one he wanted by his side more than her.
            Sir Issa jogged ahead and ordered the gates to be opened.  By the time Rowen arrived, a squad of Knights stood ready to escort him.  He glanced over his shoulder and saw still more Knights turning from the practice yard to see what was the matter.  Rather than wait for a larger audience to gather, he ignored the pain from his ribs and strode through the gates to greet their guests.
            Outside, five figures on horseback scowled.  They had gray skin and unusually dark eyes.  Though short, all were muscular and clad in armor made of scales so deeply red that they appeared almost black.  He saw no sigil until the Dwarrs rode closer and he noticed the armbands tied around their bulging biceps: black armbands depicting black dragons surrounded by what was either red flames or a cloud of blood.
            One of the figures dismounted.  He appeared younger than most of his comrades though his eyes shone with unrivaled malice.  Almost as an afterthought, he unslung a long axe from his back and handed it to the rider next to him.  He approached Rowen on foot, one hand on the hilt of a wide-blared shortsword.
            Rowen rested one hand on his sword hilt but forced a smile.  "Welcome to Cadavash, m'lord.  I don't think we've-"
            "A message from the Scion."  The young Dwarr thrust forward a rolled-up piece of paper as though it were a weapon.
            Rowen took it but didn't unroll it.  He considered passing it to Igrid then handed it over his shoulder to Sir Issa.  After all, if a fight broke out, he valued Igrid's sword arm more than anyone else's.
            The unnamed Dwarr stood on the plains for a moment, arms crossed, then said, "The Scion deserves an answer."
            "And I am happy to provide one," Rowen said.  "Tell the Scion that on behalf of the Knights and Shel'ai at Cadavash, we accept his apology."
            The young Dwarr narrowed his eyes.
            "That is what this message is about, is it not?"  Rowen reached back and took the scroll from Sir Issa but still did not open it.  "Forgive me, I assumed the Scion wanted to apologize for that last message he sent, presumably while drunk or throwing a tantrum."  He glanced at Igrid.  "What did it say, my love?  Something about children with purple eyes being damned to Fohl's hells..."
            "And us, too."  Igrid fixed the Dwarr in a murderous stare.  "I was partial to the bit about us drowning in our own blood unless we agreed to turn the Shel'ai over."
            The Dwarr ignored Igrid, fixing his gaze on Rowen.  "Magic is an abomination.  Magic is responsible for the destruction of Stillhammer and the near annihilation of my people, not to mention countless deaths among the Free Cities.  Do you deny this?"
            "Since I saw most of this firsthand... not in the least."
            The Dwarr blinked, clearly surprised by the answer.
            Rowen continued.  "But here's what you're forgetting: magic is also responsible for the destruction of Chorlga and his Dragonjol.  Magic is why you're still alive.  As for the Shel'ai, they had nothing to do with what happened at Stillhammer - especially those Shel'ai children who are under my protection."
            The Dwarr answered quickly, as though he'd already been waiting to give his carefully prepared answer.  "All magic's the same.  That's how it's been since the days of the Dragonkin.  It is a corruption of the natural order of things.  The Scion requests that you repent your sins and join him so that this land may be cleansed.  Do so, and you will be forgiven."
            Despite the pain in his ribs, Rowen took a step forward.  Though he stood half a head taller than the Dwarr, the latter met his gaze without blinking.
            Rowen said, I've seen women and children butchered by steel, yet still you wear a sword."
            The Dwarr frowned.  "Is that your best answer?"
            "No, this is my answer."  Rowen stepped back and drew his sword.
            The Dwarr recoiled, but Rowen already had the tip of his adamune resting against the Dwarr's throat.  The riders behind him tensed as though about to charge but changed their minds when Igrid and the other Knights drew their own blades and stepped forward.
            Rowen waited until the commotion died down.  "I'm told I have a temper.  I don't like that, so I'm willing to repeat myself from time to time.  But this is the last time I intend to say this.  These children are under my protection.  If your so-called Scion has a problem with that, tell him he can ride to Cadavash to discuss it with me in person.  I'll be waiting."
            Rowen sheathed his sword.  His Knights followed suit though Rowen noted that Igrid kept his shortswords drawn and a derisive gaze locked on the Dwarr, as though daring him to strike.
            Instead, the Dwarr shook his head and backed away.  "We came in peace, Knight.  You had no cause to act this way.  But still, forgiveness is possible.  We serve the gods.  Repent - or next time, we'll come with fire and steel."
            Rowen watched as the Dwarr mounted his horse, wheeled about, and led the others away in a haughty gallop.  Then Rowen unrolled the scroll.  He'd hardly begun to read it when he stopped, tore it in half, and let it fall from his hands.
            Igrid snickered.  "Not an apology, I take it?"
            "No, but they're getting more open with their threats."
            Rowen waved the Knights back inside, noticing as he passed through the open gates that nearly the entire population of Cadavash - Knights, squires, and Shel'ai - had gathered in the courtyard.  A handful of violet-eyed children stared up at him with worry.  Murmuring filled the courtyard, but all fell silent as Rowen stood before them.
            Rowen scooped up one of the Shel'ai children and held her.  Though painfully aware of the many eyes on him, he forced himself to speak anyway.  "Humans, Sylvs, Shel'ai... all are welcome here.  If any fool insists on testing that... well, I wouldn't say much for his chances."
            Someone laughed.  Someone else cheered.  His Knights picked up the cheer, and a few clapped him on the back.  Rowen winced with pain but forced himself to smile.  He set the child down and watched her run away.  A few Shel'ai in the distance stared at him with indecipherable expressions before they turned and walked away as well.
            He turned to Igrid.  "Help me back inside."
            Igrid slipped one hand around his waist.  "As you say, m'lord."  She winked again.

About the author:
When he's not researching medieval weaponry or the personal life of Ray Liotta, Michael Meyerhofer teaches Creative Writing to college kids who have never heard of Credence Clearwater Revival and all drive way nicer cars than he does.  In his spare time, he writes books.  He's the author of four poetry books and a fantasy trilogy, with a second trilogy forthcoming.  His work has appeared in Asimov's, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, Strange Horizons, Ploughshares, Planet Magazine, Hayden's Ferry, Rattle, and other journals.