Book Review and Signed Book Giveaway! *CLOSED*


My job has made me a pessimist--about books, at least. Or, to be more specific, about authors I've never heard of. I don't judge a book by its cover, but I do judge it simply on the fact that it's an unknown book by an unknown author. Unless I get a recommendation from someone I consider a legitimate source (i.e. someone who reads books on a regular basis), I assume it's probably not good. 

I realize this might be wrong of me, but I've been jaded, used, and deceived too many times in the past to trust only the title or the cover art or even the praise of a biased party. (Let's be honest. Your mother is always going to tell you she likes something you've done. She's not to be trusted.) Writing is hard work, and it's not for just anyone with a computer and the ability to type.

So when I heard that Regina Jennings, a woman from my church--someone I knew; someone who had come to our wedding, in fact--had gotten published with Bethany House and signed a three-book deal, I was skeptical. I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt, but I just wasn't sure. Then I heard it was Christian historical romance, and I was even more skeptical. It's a hard genre to execute well.

I do, however, have a soft spot in my heart for the CHR genre that harkens back to my high school days spent reading Lori Wick and Francine Rivers and Catherine Palmer. It was my guilty pleasure, and since one should be nothing else if not honest in a book review, it still is my guilty pleasure from time to time. Having just completed book two of George R.R. Martin's thrilling A Song of Fire and Ice series, I figured this was the perfect time for a quick pleasure read.

Sixty Acres and a Bride is the first in Regina's three-book series chronicling the lives of characters in a small Texas town, circa late 1800s. This novel mirrors the Ruth/Naomi story and follows Rosa Garner, a beautiful Hispanic woman, and Louise, her kind but often flighty mother-in-law, as they move from Mexico back to Louise's Texas hometown after the death of their husbands.

As Rosa does her best to acclimate herself to the unfamiliar American culture, the two women also work desperately to keep their ranch from getting repossessed by the government for delinquent tax payments.

And of course--this is a romance, after all--there's the quiet, brooding cowboy named Weston--the Boaz of the story--who, despite his best efforts, finds himself drawn to Rosa.

Jennings has personal experience with cattle and stockyards, and that might have been part of the reason for her choice of setting. But it's also clear that she did her own research on the time period, which I appreciated. Research on the book's topic/setting/time period is a vital part of putting your readers in the story. This is something that cannot be under emphasized to anyone who's considering writing a novel.

The use of Spanish words throughout the text is a clever addition. Rosa is Hispanic, so it makes sense that she would use Spanish words and phrases. (For example, at one point she calls herself a pastora--shepherdess.) My only critique about this is that I wish there had been more.

The characters are likeable but not perfect, which is just what I like to see, since perfect characters are not fun to read about. Rosa and Weston both have flaws: Rosa's being that she wants so hard to fit in but keeps doing things wrong (wearing brightly colored, loose-fitting clothing sans corset, for one thing); Weston's is a secret from his past, which makes him keep himself at a distance from the townspeople...and from another romantic relationship.

As with all Christian romances, it's difficult to write a romantic, sexually charged scene without some cheese. But overall I think these scenes are well done. Jennings plays with romantic tension throughout, and even though I know from the start that the two main characters will end up together, there are enough twists and turns to keep a tight hold on the romantic suspense until the end.

Predictable? Yes. But again, this is a predictable genre, so I won't fault her for that. It's even more so because most readers will be familiar with the biblical story off of which this novel is based. 

The question is, did I want to keep going even though I knew where it would lead? The answer is yes. 

There's a strong sense of Christianity throughout. The characters pray, both out loud and silently, and there are a few discussions about faith and God, etc. This is to be expected and fit well within the genre standards.

One element that I found distracting were amount of rhetorical questions. I don't mind a well-placed question or two, but I did wish there were fewer overall. Questions like: What would the other woman think? Should she be worried? are better as internal thought in most cases, because rhetorical questions take readers out of the story to consider the question itself when they should be remaining in the story to get inside the character's head. (What will the other woman think? Should I be worried?)

Also, the point of view switches between Weston and Rosa, which is, at times, distracting. The distraction mainly comes when there isn't a section break to note a change of POV, so the reader is forced to jump back and forth between two characters' thoughts in the same scene. It's best to keep the point of view as clear as possible and allow readers a chance to fully embrace the specific character they're reading.

All that to say, despite my initial skepticism, Sixty Acres and a Bride ended up exceeding my expectations as a well-written Christian historical romance; I, for one, am looking forward to her second installment, which will center on Molly Lovelace, a character we meet in book one. Ultimately, if you're not a fan of the genre, this book might not be for you. But if you're looking for an enjoyable, quick read (and you're anything like me), you'll be reading this before bed and find you don't want to put it down.

***Now, you get the chance to win a FREE signed copy!*** 

--The giveaway will be open until Tuesday, February 7. 9:00 p.m. CST. 

Three chances to win: 
1. Mandatory: Leave a comment answering this question: What was the last book you read?

Extra entries:  
2. Follow this blog.
**Leave a separate comment letting me know you're a follower. (If you already do this, it does count.)

3. "Like" Regina Jennings on Facebook. 
**Then, come back and leave me a separate comment. (Again, if you already do this, it does count.)

One winner will be chosen via and announced here on Tuesday night.

Good luck! 

Fending off Carpal Tunnel...with a Mouse


I worry about getting carpal tunnel. It's a thought that crosses my mind at some point every single day. Yes, I know that's sad. 

It never even occurred to me that my problem might be my mouse. My computer mouse, that is. Then one day in early December last year, I noticed a coworker with a strange mouse. It was tall and straight and looked nothing like a mouse at all!

"What is that thing?" I asked, pointing at it in awe.
"It's my mouse." 
"That's a mouse?" 

She proceeded to tell me that is was a special mouse designed to be better for your wrist. 

I demanded she send me the link so I could buy one for myself. I then immediately forwarded it to Jordan with the subject line CHRISTMAS PRESENT. I realize it is strange to request a mouse for Christmas, but I was desperate to escape from the perpetual dark cloud of carpal tunnel hanging over my life.

There may not have ever been nor will ever be someone so excited to receive a computer mouse as a Christmas present.

The point of all of this is to say that if you are worried about your wrist; if it hurts sometimes at the end of a long day; if you, like me, live in the depression that is hypochondria, there is hope. I've been using this mouse for almost a month now, and I could not be happier. I don't have scientific studies to prove that this mouse is the reason my wrist doesn't hurt as much, but I'm willing to bet on it.

(Oh, and in case you were wondering, yes that is a mouse pad with Jordan's face on it. I ordered it from Shutterfly for $10. Now I have a handy 2012 calendar within eyesight at all times. Win.)

New Camera Day!


It's been seven months in the making, but I am finally the owner of a new camera! Yes, it's true. I sort of can't believe it.

In case you're interested, I'll tell you what I ended up buying and why. But understand that I don't know all that much, just what I've researched and talked about with other camera owners. So if you know about cameras and think I've made a bad decision, just don't tell me about it, because I'm ridiculously excited.

First, I went with a Canon EOS Rebel t2i (body only).

There's a lot of talk about Canon vs. Nikon, and based on what I've read, you can't go wrong with either. A lot of it is what you've learned on or what you grew up with. There are pros and cons to both, but I ultimately went with a Canon because a lot of the photography blogs I read have great Canon tutorials. I realize that's not the greatest reason, but so be it.

Maybe at some point I'll upgrade to a bigger, badder version of the Canon, but for now I think the t2i will be a great starter for me. What I also like about this model is that it plays video too!

I went with the camera body only. If there's one thing I learned from my research, it's that it's a better use of your money to not buy the kit lens. For that good blurry background, you want a lens with what's called a fixed aperture. It's wise to get the camera body only and then find a specific lens you want. I got a lot of my info from here and here and here. These posts were super helpful for someone like me who doesn't know anything

Now, for lenses. 
First up, the 50mm f/1.8.

In conversations and research, the 50mm just kept. coming. up. Reviews say it's a quality lens for the best price you can find. Of course, I'm not under the illusion that this is the best lens out there. It's not by a long shot. But you wouldn't believe how often I ran across this lens. Earlier this week I was talking to someone at church about buying a camera, and she said, "Did you get a 50mm?" I was like, "Yes!"

It's got the recommended fixed aperture and also a fixed focal distance, so you have to literally move forward or backward with your feet to get closer or farther away from a subject. No zooming here. You can get a 50mm f/1.4, which is a lower aperture and thus will get you more of that cool blur, but it's more expensive, and for my purposes (and budget), the 1.8 will be perfect.

The third purchase was* the Tamron 28-75 mm f/2.8.
Again, fixed aperture. This lens has a zoom that's supposed to be good for portraits and also scenery, which is basically what I'll be working on as I learn the ropes.

*I actually haven't bought this one yet. Jordan (rightly) thought I might be overwhelmed at first and should just start with the 50mm initially. Also, I wanted to make sure I had enough money to buy a camera bag and a memory card, since those are sort of necessities. So the Tamron's not in my hands yet, but it's next up.

 So that's it! Now I'll get back to reading my manual.
 (And for those of you who do know about cameras and such, I'd love any advice about how to get started and also where's a good place to buy a camera bag.)

So Close


I'm so close. So, so, so close.
It's been months and months and months of saving, but I'm finally in the home stretch. 

I love pictures and have wanted a fancy camera since forever. Or, at least since I knew that by "fancy camera" I meant DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex). 

Recently, I was talking to a friend about my upcoming camera purchase, and she applauded me for being "old fashioned" in my approach to this purchase. In a world of credit cards and interest rates, I could have just bought my camera already. But I wanted to make sure I had the money in cash, so it could be completely mine without regret. 

I've done my research and know exactly what I want to buy. Now I'm just waiting to get paid for the freelance edit I've been working on for the last few weeks, and then I'm ordering my camera!

Birthday money, Christmas money, leftover money from my monthly budget, money from giving violin lesson, and some freelance work. 

And since I don't have a child or a pet, I'll just have to find other fun things to take pictures of with my fancy camera. (Watch out, Jordan.)

This Blog's 11 Must-Read Posts of 2011


I had planned on writing a post featuring my favorite posts of 2011. But then I got busy and fell behind on basically everything. Then I just got lazy. And then I wasn't going to do it because it's already the middle of January (umm, what?). But then today decided that I'm still going to do it. And, guess what, after I was all done picking my favorites, it turns out there were 11.

It's a sign.*

My 11 favorite posts of 2011.
(This is not to be confused with my favorite moments of 2011.)

These are in chronological order January-December. Not to toot my own horn, but seriously, people. These are posts worth reading. You will laugh.

(Intriguing Synopsis) Oklahoma had a blizzard, and everyone in the state started stockpiling canned goods and dairy supplies, leaving me to fight the crazies at the supermarket while I shopped for 3 eggs with which to make cupcakes.

(Intriguing Synopsis) I went tanning for the first time ever and got slightly dramatic about it.

(Intriguing Synopsis) A spider tried to attack me, and I got slightly dramatic about it (this is apparently a theme with me).

A Tale of Two Honeymooners, Parts One, Two, Three, and Four
(Intriguing Synopsis) Jordan and I went on our honeymoon. We almost killed each other a few times, we almost got lost, we ate a lot, we got free stuff, we generally had a grand old time.

(Intriguing Synopsis) I went to the SS office to legally change my name. In the process, I forgot my own birthday and where I was born. 

(Intriguing Synopsis) I got up early to work out, but it didn't work out how I thought. (See what I did there?)

(Intriguing Synopsis) Jordan's flannel pajamas. That's all I'm saying.

(Intriguing Synopsis) Little details I remember six months later. (Not your usual wedding details, mmkay?)

(Intriguing Synopsis) While on a family camping trip, we busted open my twelve-year-old Tweety bird pinata. This is complete with pictures. I wouldn't lie to you.

(Intriguing Synopsis) My family invented a game during our camping trip. It involves raw eggs. Also complete with pictures.
(Intriguing Synopsis) My first installment in a twelve-post series on improving your writing. Spoiler alert: this is not a post about weight loss. Also spoiler alert: this post is only sort of funny. But mostly it's not. Bad writing makes me cry.

That's it! 

Also, a cheesy thank you to everyone who reads and comments. If it weren't for you...well, let's face it. I'd still write all this down. Crazy stuff happens to me. What can I say? It must be documented. In 2,500 years, someone will find my blog books, and I'll become posthumously famous for being hilarious. Of course, by then we'll also be flying around in robot cars, avoiding all the dead bodies. Just something for our children's children's children to look forward to.

*Yes, I realize the "Polishing Your Prose" post is actually from 2012, not 2011, so the whole "it's a sign" thing is bogus. But whatever. Just go with it.

2012 Scrapbook Resolution


One of my goals is to finish my wedding scrapbook by the end of 2012. I've been working on it fairly regularly for almost 8 months, and I'm just over halfway through. I love being creative in this way.

Here's a spread I recently completed. It's one of my favorites so far:
{click on the picture for a larger image}
I bought those yellow paper flowers at Hobby Lobby to put specifically with the wheat field photos, and I was so excited to finally use them!

The words "love of my life" on the left page is actually a rub-on sticker I found on clearance, also at Hobby Lobby. When it's on, it looks like it's handwritten directly onto the page, not like a sticker at all. If you're into scrapbooking, you should check out rub-on stickers.

You can find the rest of the pages I've done here.

Polishing Your Prose, Part One--The What, Why, Where, and Hows of Removing the Flab


(Note: This is the first installment of the "Polishing Prose" series. I will post one article each month this year, highlighting some of the major issues I see every day as an editor.)

I love being an editor. I love reading books and giving aspiring authors suggestions to improve their work and make it something they can be proud of. My job is tough, but it's also rewarding; I love seeing a book move through the editing process and (hopefully) come out better in the end. There is a lot of creativity that goes into an editor's job, and there are so many elements that go into creating polished prose. 

One of the most important is what I like to call removing the flab. That means, essentially, cutting the unnecessary words from a first draft that just don't need to be there.

Understanding why these words need to be taken out and how they will help the narrative, and learning to recognize what they are and where they are often found is vitally important for the integrity and readability of a manuscript.

The Thing About Funerals


I went to a funeral on Saturday. New Year's Eve. 

The reason we were gathered there--the death of my grandmother--was not in itself completely unexpected. She was 88, and we had all seen her grow thinner over the past year. Ever since the cancer diagnosis last November, the reality had been moving ever closer. Still, when it was finally happening, it didn't feel like I was actually sitting there on an unfamiliar church pew between my cousin Jake and my sister, Sarah, listening to them speak about my grandmother in the past tense. She was. She would have. 

But wait, I wanted to say. I just saw her last week. Why are you using those words? She is. 
But she's not. 

That's the truth that kept smacking me in the face all weekend.
And, truth be told, I wasn't even that sad about her. 

She lived a good life.

My grandpa ended a family prayer with this line: "Thank you for preserving her sound mind to the end."
What a blessing. 

There were no long hospital stays. There was no memory loss. There wasn't a wheelchair to push around or a nursing home to visit. 

It was my grandma and my grandpa. Together for 65 years. Living in their house together. Visiting their children and grandchildren together. Taking trips around the world together. 

The only thing they couldn't guarantee was dying together, which is why my heart breaks for my grandpa. Through a series of circumstances I won't go into, that night after the funeral, I ended up taking a drive with him. Just the two of us for about an hour.

We sat in comfortable silence for most of it, and later he thanked me for coming with him. He said he needed the escape but that he was glad to have company. He would simply break the silence every so often to whisper, "Amanda, I can't believe your grandma is gone. I just don't know what to do." 

And I'd start crying all over again.

As we drove, I thought about all the things she's taught me. Of course, she wasn't perfect. No one is. But my grandmother was a woman after God's own heart. She rarely complained. She never spoke negatively about my grandpa to others. She served and witnessed and was inside and out a beautiful person.

You see, the thing about funerals is that they're sad. Really, really sad. There's no way around it. But it's also beautiful, because that's when you celebrate a life well lived. It's also when family gathers, and that's always a good thing (at least, it should be). No matter how far you've gone, you come back. 

And it's not really for the person who has died, although sometimes it is. Mostly, though, it's for those who are left behind. It meant so much to my grandpa to have all 17 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren travel from as far away as Alaska to be there this past weekend. My grandma would have loved it. 

We caught up on life and shared stories about Grandma and took pictures. A lot of pictures.

The thing about funerals is, it allows you to take a break. Stop and really think about life and what kind of legacy you want to leave with your children and grandchildren. Think about what's really important. And about whether or not we're ready to go.

That's what this weekend was about, really.
So many hugs. So many tears. So many memories about a wonderful woman.

65 years ago, my grandma and grandpa married.
And 65 years later there were:

4 sons
4 daughters-in-law
17 grandchildren (+8 grandchildren-in-law)
14 great-grandchildren (+ one on the way)

Oh, how she would have loved this.

My Motto for 2012 (in Numbers)


I ran with my Garmin watch for the first time one year ago yesterday. It was a Christmas present from Jordan, and I love it. Definitely worth the money. It keeps a history of all my workouts, and that's how I know that in the past 365 days, I have:

run 144.2 miles
in 24 hours, 13 minutes, and 43 seconds
and burned 16,739 calories

That's not even counting the times I've run on a treadmill either during a winter blizzard or the 100+-degree heat of summer. I know there are many who've run longer and farther than that. But it's more than I ran in 2010. They say running is addictive, and I'm beginning to believe it. 

Which brings me to my motto for 2012: 
I run so I can eat dessert. 

Can I get an amen?

Here's to 145 miles and 17,000 calories.