Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill, by Julie Klassen (Review & Giveaway!)

Gabrielle Here:

Do you have a favorite author (or maybe several) that you read, regardless of what they write? I sure do. One of those authors is Julie Klassen. I originally found her first book, The Lady of Milkweed Manor, when it was first published and ever since then, I've been a big fan.

My daughter and I with Julie at her last book signing event.
Julie is not only one of my favorite authors, she's also become a dear friend. We both live in Minnesota and we're both part of the MN N.I.C.E. ACFW writing group, which meets once a month and also enjoys several other outings each year. When I first met Julie, she mentioned that she wanted to write a series. All her other books were stand-alones, but she had an idea for a series of books set around a coaching inn. Two years ago, we were at a writing retreat and I had the pleasure of brainstorming with Julie and a few other writers about this story. It's fun to finally see it in print.

Julie's first book in the Tales From Ivy Hill series released in December. I had the pleasure of attending her release party and it was standing room only! It was so much fun to see so many of Julie's readers there to celebrate.

Julie, Blogger and Book Reviewer Rachael Wing,
Bethany House Publicist Amy Green,
and myself at Julie's book release & signing.
The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill introduces us to Jane, a young lady who married beneath her station and is now widowed and left to save the coaching inn that belonged to her husband. We also meet many other secondary characters and are welcomed into the charming village of Ivy Hill. Each of the characters are unique and well-developed, the charming town is brought to life with businesses and people who become like neighbors, and each story thread is woven together in a beautiful tapestry. Some of those threads wrap up nicely, while others are left to dangle for the reader to wonder what will happen in book two (due December 2017--although I know it's already written! I spoke to Julie about it at our last writing meeting...). :)

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill has a slower pace, which makes it an easy, gentle read. It took me a little while to get into the story, as so much of the beginning was meant to bring the reader up-to-date on what had happened in Jane's life to bring her to this point. But once the characters and their goals were established, the story began to take flight.

Overall, this was a fabulous read and a perfect start to Julie's new series.

I would love to give a copy of The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill to one blog reader. Please enter the Rafflecopter below for your chance to win!

Question for you: Are you familiar with Julie's writing? If so, what is your favorite book?

About the Book:

The lifeblood of the Wiltshire village of Ivy Hill is its coaching inn, The Bell. But when the innkeeper dies suddenly, his genteel wife, Jane Bell, becomes the reluctant owner. Jane has no notion of how to run a business. However, with the town's livelihood at stake and a large loan due, she must find a way to bring new life to the inn.

Despite their strained relationship, Jane turns to her resentful mother-in-law, Thora, for help. Formerly mistress of The Bell, Thora is struggling to find her place in the world. As she and Jane work together, they form a measure of trust, and Thora's wounded heart begins to heal. When she encounters two men from her past, she sees them--and her future--in a different light.

With pressure mounting from the bank, Jane employs innovative methods to turn the inn around, and puzzles over the intentions of several men who seem to have a vested interest in the place. Will her efforts be enough to save The Bell? And will Thora embrace the possibility of a second chance at love?

About the Author:

Julie Klassen loves all things Jane—Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. Three of her books, The Silent Governess, The Girl in the Gatehouse, and The Maid of Fairbourne Hall, have won the Christy Award for Historical Romance. She has also won the Midwest Book Award, the Minnesota Book Award, and Christian Retailing’s BEST Award, and been a finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Awards and ACFW’s Carol Awards. She blogs at
Julie and her husband have two sons and live in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota.

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Gabrielle Meyer
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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

My Book Club - The Dewey Decimators

Late last year, I joined book club spearheaded by friend and fellow history geek, Peter Leavell. He named the club The Dewey Decimators. :)

We're a totally online book club, meeting up only in a Facebook Group. The rules are simple:

1. Each month a new book is chosen.

2. Members read the book over the first two weeks of the month. You are free to post about your progress or tangential subjects or about the author, but no spoilers.

3. After the 15th of the month, the book discussion gets underway. Plot, characters, theme, motives, discoveries, disappointments, anything you want to say about the book is fair game.

4. Be nice. This one hasn't actually been said aloud, it's sort of assumed...and everyone is nice! But literature is subjective, and everyone has different opinions about the works we're reading.

So far, we've read and discussed these books:

We're currently making our way through

The books chosen have been challenging, especially the last two, The Chosen by Chaim Potok and Orwell's Animal Farm.

One of the reasons I am enjoying the book club is that it gives me a reason to read books I either haven't read in a long time (A Christmas Carol and Animal Farm) or that I have never read (A Wrinkle in Time and The Chosen.)

And the discussions! I love reading everyone's thoughts on the books. Some books lend themselves to more discussion, some less, but always informative, educational, and entertaining.

I have enjoyed borrowing the audio versions of some of these books from my local library, so I can listen to them while I cross stitch or sew or crochet.

Do you belong to a book club, either in person or online? What are you reading right now? (Even if you don't belong to a book club, I'd love to hear what you're reading.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentine's Day Unnoticed

It's the day of la-la-looooooove!!! What special traditions do you?

Would you like to know a secret? Our family doesn't really celebrate Valentine's Day. Wait, wait. Before you gasp and choke on your coffee, allow me to explain!

It has nothing to do with religious reasons, or any type of statement. In fact, my very first Valentine's Day as a married woman just about crushed me.

You see, I grew up in a home where Valentine's Day was just about as large as Christmas! I awoke to red and pink streamers, pancakes in the shape of hearts, construction paper or poster board cards made by my dad, lacy notes made by my mom, and even my brother would pen a note that said "Happy Valentine's Day".

But my first married Valentine's Day? I awoke with a flourish. To a quiet house. No streamers. No cards. My new husband was making lunch for work and with a "see ya later", he left the house. I knew he was planning something for later, so off to work I took myself, a tiny twinge starting in the pit of my stomach. When I returned home . . . still nothing. Supper was frozen pizza. We watched some TV. I kept casting glances at a very oblivious new husband. Then, came the tears. I cried in the darkness while we watched the flickering crime show on the television screen.

"What's wrong?"

Darn it. Cap'n Hook had spotted the tears.

"Umm, today?"

"What about it?"

"It's VALENTINE'S DAY!" My wail floated across the county, bounced off the State Capital, flew to NASA and hit the moon after reflecting off of a satellite.

After collecting myself, my blindsided husband explained himself. I think many women wouldn't understand, and some might consider it ogre-ish, but to me, it was what I needed to hear. Because it was the essence of who he is, the man I love.

"Honey, I can get you a card and roses. But I'd rather do something to show you I love you on my own terms, in my own way, when you're not expecting it. Valentine's Day coerces men to show their love and then accuses them if they fall short. I want to love you the way I love you, not the way Hallmark tells me I should."

So Valentine's Day? I still love it. My parents still give me Valentine's Day cards, and candy kisses, and sometimes I get streamers and roses in my office when my Mom sneaks in. But see, that's OUR day.

But LOVE Day? That's the day Cap'n Hook leaves a rose in the fridge when I get home after work, in the middle of winter blahs, on a day when it's unexpected. That's the day he does the dishes, puts the laundry away, and makes sure I have time to write on my book after the kids go to bed. That's the day he sends a text uncoerced that says "love ya". That's the day, that he chooses, to show me his love.

And I love being loved . . .

Is Valentine's Day a super special day for you, or does it slip by unnoticed?


Jaime Jo Wright
Professional coffee drinker & ECPA/Publisher's Weekly best-selling author, Jaime Jo Wright resides in the hills of Wisconsin writing spirited turn-of-the-century romance stained with suspense. Coffee fuels her snarky personality. She lives in Neverland with her Cap’n Hook who stole her heart and will not give it back, their little fairy TinkerBell, and a very mischievous Peter Pan. The foursome embark on scores of adventure that only make her fall more wildly in love with romance and intrigue.
Jaime lives in dreamland, exists in reality, and invites you to join her adventures

Monday, February 13, 2017

Valentines? Romance vs. Real

Judy Jordan wins the free copy of Season 1 of PBS's Victoria! 

Anne here. Tomorrow is Valentine's Day. 
It evokes a response, whether wanted or not. 
Expectation. Flowers. Cards. Dates. 
It evokes a reaction, whether wanted or not. 
Loneliness. A silent space. 
Broken dreams of could be, would be, might have been. 

Let's face it. We are made to love. We were made in the image of God. And we were made to love. I don't care how cheesy that sounds. There's evidence for the fact. The whole world watches with an appetite for believing as the Royals marry. Romance fiction is written and devoured. Chic flicks aren't just for chics. Everyone celebrates a good wedding--even Jesus did. 

But we all live in reality. Where heroes and heroines are anything but perfect. Life is messy, and all of us have to decide if we will become the heroes and heroines in our own stories. Just look at our culture's obsession with reality t.v.--we are holding our collective breath, waiting to be told we too can live real lives full of honor, truth, and victory in our messes. We love the stories that dare us to keep believing there's still hope. 

But being the leading lady in your own story, becoming the hero in your own battle--doesn't happen in a sterile, boring, ethical, perfect life. It happens in the real. The messy. The pain. It happens in cancer. It happens in failure. The empty. When death stings. It happens in the annoying. Like when you have to turn someone's dirty socks right side out for the nine hundredth time. Or when you aren't sure you feel special, chosen, pursued. Or when you let your loved one down. 

(Trust me, this was the brightest spot of our mundane, grumpy day!)

In those moments we must all ask the question if we still believe? 
Do you? I do. 

Ridiculous? Perhaps. Illogical? Yep. Against all odds? Probably. 

Because love isn't common sense. But it's real. 
We were made for love.

So, the challenge? Tomorrow, which ever side of real or romance you find yourself. Dare to look into the face of real, and find a space for love to grow. If you're reading a romance, watching a chic flick, planning a perfect date, waiting to meet that someone, or watching a heroic drama...or trudging through grief and loneliness--be daring enough to invite love into the real and scandalize it like Jesus did when he dared to bring love and life into this old dark world. 

Scandalize it? Wait. Isn't that, like--bad? Perhaps yes, if you think of the word in a pop culture sense. But I was reminded this week in an article about Flannery O'Conner, that to scandalize can be positively interpreted. It can be the skandelon, or "stumbling block" that trips up and makes one fall. How will you stand again? The New Testament suggests that Jesus came to trip up the unbelieving. So, shake up any unbelieving ideas that have seeped into your "real"...dare to get up. Dare to believe.

Dare to love. Dare to let Christ be incarnated into your real mess.
Be a story, read a story, write a story that dares...
Blog post by Anne Love-
Writer of Historical Romance inspired by her family roots. 
Nurse Practitioner by day. 
Wife, mother, writer by night. 
Coffee drinker--any time.
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Friday, February 10, 2017

Interview & #Giveaway with Author Sarah Varland

I'm (Jaime) SUPER STOKED to have Sarah Varland on the blog today!! She's my writing seeeeeeester and a great writer of Love Inspired Romantic Suspense. So meet Sarah and enter to win a copy of her just released novel!


Thank you so much for visiting us today here at the CCC blog! Can you tell us about your latest release and what inspired you to write the story?

I’ve been writing books set in Treasure Point for years and so when I was planning to write this last book in the series there were a lot of thoughts that went into that. I wanted the museum to be opening up—that old house has played a role in every book in the series, some larger or smaller than others, but it’s always been important. I also wanted one of the Hamilton’s, sort of one of the town’s founding families, to be a lead in the story.

Of all your characters in this story, which one did you enjoy writing the most and why?

I really enjoyed Kelsey Jackson, the heroine of the story. She is one of the most-unlike-me characters I’ve written so there was an interesting element to writing her and getting inside her head. She’s much more practical and levelheaded than I am, and braver for sure. At some of the times in the book where I’d have been running she’s just standing there taking it. I’m a big fan of Kelsey. She’s pretty cool.

If you could cast your characters in a Hollywood adaptation of your book, who would play them?

Chris Evans and Hilarie Burton. I could picture Hilarie Burton right away, but Chris Evans took me awhile to settle on. An author friend of mine suggested him to me.

How did you decide on the setting/location for this novel?
This is the fourth book in sort of a series set in Treasure Point, Georgia, so for this particular book it was sort of decided already. But I started setting books in this imaginary town after a trip to the beach a few years ago. We were driving through some coastal towns and something about the way the coastal landscape blends with the thick pine trees of south Georgia made me think I could totally set a book there…So I did.

Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it and why?

Hm. It’s not exactly a subject but I’m not going to kill any dogs, does that count? I’ve read literally one suspense book where I felt the dog dying worked (no spoilers on which book, but it was by Tim Downs), and it amazed me that while I was sad I was okay with it. I’ve read other books and not read another book by that author again because I felt a dog’s death was a poor attempt to make me more scared of the villain. It’s just not my preference.

Moving on from your story, tell us a little about yourself. We’ll help! What literary character is most like you and why?

Oh, I love this question! Like most people, I’m sort of a combination I would say. I look at the world a lot like Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird and relate to people a lot like Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice. It’s a bit of an odd combination, I suppose, but that’s how people are right? Odd combinations of different personality types with little twists that make us all unique.

What strange writing habits do you have? Like standing on your head while you write with a pen between your teeth?

Just that one. ;) Hahaha. I think my strangest writing habit is the occasional need to close my eyes.
While that’s probably relatively normal, the problem is that I hardly ever do it at home, I do it in public. So I’ll be sitting at a coffee shop writing, realize I need to visiualize a scene better, close my eyes and then start typing really quickly while I sort of move my head around…

Okay, yeah, it’s as weird as it sounds isn’t it? Hahaha.

Do you have a writing mentor, or another author who has inspired/encouraged you in some way?
My author friends inspire and encourage me all the time. I’m not sure I have one writing mentor I can thank more than others though.

We talk a lot about faith and how it weaves throughout our fiction, here at the blog. How has your faith affected/or not affected your writing?

My faith affects my writing a lot, and it’s funny, I’m never sure exactly how it will until it’s already affecting it. For example, I can’t write a synopsis and fully articulate the spiritual thread because I don’t know it yet. I might know hints based on my character, but until I figure out what I’m learning and what God is teaching me (which I usually figure out mid-story, like “heyyyy, that’s what I’m learning! What a coincidence ;) ) I’m not sure exactly what my character is learning either. I do think though that faith ends up really woven into my stories, even if it’s more overt in some than others.

Because Jaime has some darker elements to her split-time historical and contemporary romantic suspense coming out this year, she likes to ask weird questions. So, if you were responsible to write your own epitaph for your tombstone, what would it say?

Well, my name. And the dates. Those would be good. Besides that, I don’t know, it’s not something I often ponder. (Jamie knows me and is now laughing at the idea of me trying to find an answer to this.) I could see a Bible verse, probably. How’s that?

Anne is an insatiable romantic with a serious vintage aura in all she writes. Do you have fabulous love story in your family history that you could share with us in a few words? If not, what about your own?

Well, I do know that my family loves food (seriously, our vacations have been known to center around food) and I’m able to better understand the depths of my parents’ love when I remember that when my parents were first meeting, my mom was heading to get breakfast before a scuba diving class they were both participating in (though they didn’t know each other yet. She saw my handsome dad pull up in his Datsun 280ZX and said to herself “no breakfast for me” and went to where he was instead. Maybe not the most romantic start for some people, but giving up breakfast? In my family that’s basically love at first sight.

Erica and Gabrielle both write sweet historical romances. How does romance influence your own writing?

I tell people sometimes I don’t think I could write romance without the suspense (though I love reading it), but you know what else? I don’t think I could write suspense or anything else without romance. I love the chemistry between characters, especially when they’re both good and stubborn and trying to keep from falling in love, and I love watching two characters overcome obstacles to live happily ever after.

We’d love you have you share a snippet from your novel to entice us and hook us! J Please share something below:

Here’s the teaser/snippet in the front of the book:

Brave. That was how Kelsey looked to Sawyer right now.


Sawyer watched her draw in a breath, look behind her again and hurry toward him. When she finally reached his side she stopped.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

She shook her head. Then nodded. “I’m not sure. I’m alive, but…”

“But someone tried to kill you again.”

Whoever this was meant business. Those notes weren’t meant to intimidate, weren’t just bluffs. The killer had told her if she didn’t leave town he’d kill her. Clearly he meant to follow through on his promise.

He glanced around. “You don’t see anyone out there anymore, do you?”

“No, but that doesn’t mean he’s not hiding somewhere. I still don’t know where he came from.”

“Let’s sit, then.” Sawyer said.

Sawyer tried to keep his distance, or at least do the best he could when he was determined not to get farther than a couple of feet from her since she was in danger. But he wasn’t touching her, wasn’t even close.

Until he noticed her hand was shaking. The he reached out and took it in his.

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Thank you so much for visiting today! It was a blast! Don’t forget to include your book cover 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

10 Things About Gabrielle Meyer

I've been enjoying a segment some of my author friends are doing at Inspired by Life...and Fiction blog. They are sharing ten little known facts about themselves. It's fun to learn something new about my favorite authors and friends. I thought it might be interesting to share ten little known facts about myself.

First, I have to say, there are few little known facts about me. I'm (excuse the pun) an open book. My husband often says I wear my heart on my sleeve, and it's true. I'm an extroverted, relational-type person and I enjoy sharing my life experiences with others. With that said, I'll try to dig deep and see if there's something I haven't already shared--or, at least, haven't shared too many times. ;)

1. I'm the fourth generation to live in my hometown--and I've never wanted to live anywhere else. I love Minnesota, even with all it's cold weather and mosquitoes. Those are really my only two complaints. The people are kind, the change of seasons is refreshing, and the landscape is varied and beautiful.

The kids and I at a state park last fall.
2. I grew up on the banks of the Mississippi River at a historic estate. My dad was the caretaker and we lived in the original carriage house. It's now a conference and retreat center and I host an annual writers retreat there each summer. It used to be my favorite place in the world, until six years ago when my husband and I bought our own house on the banks of the Mississippi (about a mile south of the estate). Now, my backyard is my favorite place.

We love our backyard so much, we invite our friends and
family to have campouts with us!
3. I have a large extended family. My mom is from a family of ten siblings and my dad is from a family of nine siblings. That makes for some loud, exciting family gatherings! I have thirty-six first cousins, many of whom are married with children. I also have scads of second and third cousins who live in the area. It's hard to go out into the community without bumping into one of my cousins (or my husband's cousins). My husband is also the fourth generation in his family to live here, and his grandma and my grandpa grew up on neighboring farms. When we started dating, I sat down with my mom to make 100% certain we weren't related somehow. We're not. :)

4. I was homeschooled for six years. I attended public elementary school until fourth grade and then I started homeschooling in fifth. I went back in eleventh grade and finished my degree with a year of post-secondary education. I loved homeschooling so much, we decided to start homeschooling our children once they reach third grade. That means I currently have my two daughters at home (6th & 4th grade), and my twin boys are in a private school in 1st grade.

This is what a typical day looks like in our classroom. :)
5. I'm gluten-sensitive, which means I have to avoid gluten 100%. It took a while for me to wrap my brain around that one. No wheat, barley, or rye. Thankfully, there are tons of great products that are gluten-free and lots of restaurants now offer a gluten-free menu. Still, it's hard to eat out, so we don't go out as much.

6. A couple months before I became pregnant with my twin boys, my mom had a dream that I was going to have twins. (I laughed at that notion.) On the day of our ultrasound, we stopped at her work to tell her the news and she met us at the front door and said: "You're having twins, aren't you?" You could have knocked me over with a feather!

My mom meeting the boys for the first time.
7. My earliest memory is from when I was two-years-old. It was a hot summer day and I climbed out of my crib, went down the stairs, and found my mom and aunt talking in the sunny kitchen. That's all I remember, but it's very vivid.

8. My husband is the only man I've ever kissed, and we shared our first kiss when we were seventeen. We started dating that summer and were married almost exactly four years later at the age of twenty-one. This June will mark the 20th Anniversary of our first date. That's crazy!

This was a few months after we started to date--and it
happens to be the very couch where he kissed me
for the first time.
9. I started practicing ballet when I was sixteen and took lessons until I was eight months pregnant with my first child at the age of twenty-four. I love ballet and wish I had the time to take lessons now.

10. When I retire, my dream is to take an RV on a trip across the United States. My husband's dream is to take the trip in a corvette. We have an agreement that whoever writes the check can choose how we travel. :)

There you have it! Ten little known facts about me.

I'd love to hear some of yours! What is your earliest memory? Where did you grow up? Big family, or small? Did you marry the first man you ever kissed? What's your retirement dream (or reality!)?

Gabrielle Meyer
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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Closet Cleanse

Erica Here:

First, house-keepity thing: Pam Kellogg, you won a copy of The Bounty Hunter's Baby! Congrats!

Now, onto other things:

I don't have a clothes dresser. Everything I wear goes into the master closet in cubbies, small baskets on shelves (socks and unmentionables) and on hangers.

I recently did a closet cleanse. I pulled everything out of my clothes closet and sorted...and sorted...and sorted.

So. Many. Clothes!

You see, my closet had become a 'cram it in and hope it doesn't topple onto the rest of the house' sort of Jenga Puzzle.

Which is odd, since I'm not a clothes horse, and don't have anything remotely approaching a personal 'style.' Unless you call jeans and a t-shirt style.

This ISN'T my closet, I just found the picture
on morguefile. :) 

Though I don't seem to have trouble throwing other things away, I apparently don't like to get rid of clothes. However, it was beyond time, and I started hauling things out of my closet and dumping them onto the bed to sort.

There were three categories of clothing on my bed:

Things to keep.

Things to donate.

Things to throw away.

And in my mind, there were a few other categories as I sorted:

Why did I buy this?

Why haven't I thrown this tatty old thing out?

When am I ever going to wear this again?

Where did that come from? 

I found some treasures that had gotten pushed to the back, and I found some things I had been hanging onto for sentimental reasons but would never wear again. 

Joy of joys, I found that some things were too big for me now, and some things I had been saving for 'when I would fit into them again' actually fit! Go me!

Again, not my closet, but illustrative!

It felt so good to only put back into the closet the things for which I knew I had a use. Everything had a place, and there was space between my blouses and dresses to actually see what I had. So freeing!

(One notable exception. I kept a pair of jeans that I wore when I was at my heaviest ... FIFTY pounds ago! It's a good reminder of where I've come from and where I never want to return to again!)


I donated a lot of clothing to the Salvation Army, and I got rid of old, worn out stuff. Now my closet is nice and tidy.

An added that my side of the closet is organized and it is easy to see where things go, when my husband folds the laundry (don't be jealous, I know how awesome he is!) he also now puts away my clothes instead of leaving them on the bed for me to put away. (And by put away, I mean cram into whatever space I could find on the shelves.)

I've also found since cleaning out my closet and inventorying the contents, that when I am out shopping, I am much more judicious about what I buy. Do I need this? Where will I wear it? Do I have something in my wardrobe that already fills this function? What will I purge from my wardrobe and replace if I purchase something new?

How about you? Have you ever done a wardrobe purge? Is your closet organized?

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