Sustaining Grayce [book review]

Sustaining Grayce

Remember when you were 14 years old? Remember how hard it was? Let me assure you, Grayce’s 14th year was worse. Here’s a shy, nice girl using all her energy just to keep it together when the school principle asks her a favour—carry co-student Peggy’s books to and from all her classes while she adjusts to her crutches. Grayce agrees to the task, not seeing much alternative, and is surprised when a friendship develops with the pretty, lively, now-one-legged girl.

Through 14 chapters we observe the birth, life, and death of a best friendship. We see how love can cover pain, and how prayer can make us strong. We see how telling the truth releases us from shame and takes power away from our secrets. We see how acting in kindness and obedience are scary but lead to good in the end.

Sustaining Grayce by Sandra Hare is a beautiful story you can read in an afternoon. It’s well-written and gripping. I did find it interesting how an unchurched 14-year-old had become such a master at biblical interpretation and correlation—that would be a miracle in itself—but most of the plot was engaging and believable.

If you’re looking for a sweet story about saying the important things and being vulnerable, I recommend this book.

Sustaining Grayce

Grayce is coping with as much stress as a fourteen-year-old can handle, and then she is asked to help Peggy, a fun-loving teen who happens to be fighting cancer. Share the laughter and heartache as Peggy and Grayce try to live normal lives amidst the craziness that swirls around them. Set in Lancaster, Pennsylvania during the late 1960’s, Sustaining Grayce explores how two girls with totally opposite religious beliefs and very different families can learn to love each other and the broken people surrounding them. Their story is a miracle made possible only by God’s sustaining grace.

Are We Happy Yet? [book review]

Are We Happy Yet? Eight Keys to Unlocking a Joyful Life

Are we happy yet

What would you say if I told you there’s a formula for happiness? What if I told you happiness is available to all but isn’t something you’re entitled to? Would you believe me if I told you happiness comes from inside and not from anything external—not stuff, not people, not circumstances?

What would you say if I told you the keys to unlocking happiness were available in paperback?

Are We Happy Yet? author Lisa Cypers Kamen says happiness comes from the transformative power of self-mastery, and that happiness isn’t the destination but a byproduct of the journey.

Curious? There’s more.

In her book, she confronts common objections for why we aren’t or can’t be happy. Trauma, genetic depression, real problems, etc. Not discounting the challenges we face, there are ample exercises and quizzes to help us gauge where we’re at happiness-wise and arm ourselves with the data we need to move forward, towards a happier life. She challenges us to deal with the mental horde of stuff packed away in our attic and take a more emotional minimalist approach—let it go!

Eight Keys to Unlocking a Joyful Life

  1. Life is tough, but happiness is available to us all
  2. Your inner child is your inner sage available to guide you
  3. More is not always better
  4. We cannot control life, only ourselves
  5. Our happiness is our personal responsibility
  6. Choose activities and people that foster happiness
  7. Treat yourself the way you wish to be treated
  8. Happiness is an inside job. Happiness is your inside job

Each of the eight keys is defined, explained, and unpacked using storytelling, clear language, and motivational exercises. If you’re wondering where your happiness roadblocks are, this book will help you define, deal with, and move past them.

The new revised edition of Are We Happy Yet? Eight Keys to Unlocking a Joyful Life releases March 20, 2017.

Are We Happy Yet? Eight Keys to Unlocking a Joyful Life

Are We Happy Yet? Eight Keys to Unlocking a Joyful Life is an exciting fusion of science and heart, offering a guide in creating our own personal “happiness revolution.”
Lisa Cypers Kamen, an internationally known applied positive psychology coach, lifestyle management specialist and Harvesting Happiness Talk Radio show host, gives us the keys to her breakthrough system for cultivating sustainable wellbeing and happiness in our lives from the inside out— regardless of external circumstance. Lisa’s techniques combine mental, emotional and spiritual muscle-building training for greater resiliency, self-mastery and optimal living.

Her inspiring and practical tips, keys, and exercises will boost your “Happiness-Factor” to new levels and show you how to tap into the joy and peace you deserve.

You’ll learn how to:

  • Accept the past for what it is—a reference point, not a destination
  • Embrace the truth that while life is tough, you can be happy
  • Transform your relationship with yourself from enemy to ally
  • Appreciate why less is often more
  • Focus on what’s right with your life, not what’s wrong
  • Control the only person you can—yourself
  • Invest in yourself to become more mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually fit
  • Use your newly discovered joy to become a more positive and productive influence in the world—and much more

Are We Happy Yet? Eight Keys to Unlocking a Joyful Life is available at your favourite neighbourhood or online bookseller.

Canadian Pacific: Creating a Brand Building a Nation [book review]

Travel Canadian Pacific

If you know anything about Canadian history you know the Canadian Pacific Railway company played a role in shaping it. Marc H. Choko’s Canadian Pacific: Creating a Brand Building a Nation tells the story based on CP’s publicity output—their marketing and graphic design in particular. It’s a unique take on telling a brand story while educating readers on how public and private interests can align for the greater good. In this case, forming a unified Canada.

Being raised in Canada, I learned about CP’s scandalous beginnings from a political point of view. I imagined the private company as the big baddie, trying to monopolize the rail industry by outbidding all competitors and making backroom deals with politicians. While it’s not not what happened, this book adds another side to the story, the part where provinces (NS, NB, BC) refused to join the Canadian Confederation without the promise of a railway linking them to (now) Ontario/Quebec and how the British government wouldn’t/couldn’t fund it. Also added was the HUGE obstacle of the Canadian Shield and Rocky Mountains—and even once CP had the contract they were near bankrupted several times finding ways across these untamed wilds.

Canadian Pacific: Creating a Brand Building a Nation cover

Oh, and if the railway didn’t happen out west then the United States would have annexed BC—the history of the Pacific Northwest (up until 1846 this was Alaska-California under the control of British North America) was interesting in particular as the motivation for keeping British Columbia under British control was for two reasons: 1) it seemed like a shorter route to Asia and 2) gold rush. Those were the only reasons because everyone out east thought the west was worthless.

CP had an uphill battle because this opinion was so prevalent. So the company advertised. They convinced their workers to talk up the west whenever they returned home to their families and communities, they brought in influencers (sorry, travel journalists) and gifted them all-inclusive luxury vacations so they would return to Europe and share their adventures. They built stunning hotels and created a steamship line to lure wealthy travellers across the sea and continent. And over time they even created mid-range accommodation so the new middle class could come too.

Duchess Steamships Newest and Largest

Building a national railway was all well and good but CP was a for-profit company and therefore needed profits. Tourism was one thing, but to keep the rail lines safe and to increase land values they needed more people living out west. So they advertised. They worked with the government. And they built ready-made farms for people.

Because the (eastern) Canadian settlers had such a poor opinion of the west, CP reached out to Americans and Europeans instead, offering amazing deals and door-to-door (ish) travel. This was of interest to me because this is how my great grandparents came to the Canadian prairies—the promise of affordable land, a farm, and a home. I knew they got a good deal on the land but this is a whole other layer to their story.

Own Your Own Home in Canada

For 374 pages of Canadian Pacific: Creating a Brand Building a Nation, take in the history, complexity, and ingenuity of a company created from a prime minister’s vision for a transcontinental railway. Learn how the company overcame devastating obstacles like political scandal, sabotage, financial ruin, the Great Depression, two world wars, recession, competition, and critique by holding on to a clear vision, creative marketing, influential graphic design, and diversification.

One note: I read a PDF review version and must say, I have missed out. I thought this was a marketing book so didn’t mind the digital format but more than half the pages are images of CP advertisements and historical photos. If I had the hardcover I would have enjoyed this book much more. As it stands, it was a joy to read, even if it did take me six months.

Fast Fiction: A Guide to Outlining and Writing a First-Draft Novel in Thirty Days [book review]

If you’re like most writers, you want to write a book.

Fast Fiction book review

Fast Fiction: A Guide to Outlining and Writing a First-Draft Novel in Thirty Days by Denise Jaden

Even if you don’t call yourself a writer you might want to write a book. There are so many stories waiting to be told and, who knows, you might be the person to tell it.

What’s great about author Denise Jaden’s latest book Fast Fiction: A Guide to Outlining and Writing a First-Draft Novel in Thirty Days is she makes you feel like digging out the story deep inside you is possible. And the 30 days thing? Bonus.

I’ve wanted to write a book for a while now, maybe forever. As a kid I drafted a 100-page Choose Your Own Adventure of twin girls who get lost in Mexico while trying to find an orphanage (scary part—I experienced this trip IRL 10 years later with a friend…) and for the last two years I have felt like it’s time to try for real.

And I have. Tried that is. But I keep getting stuck and I have never known why. Fast Fiction tells me why: I didn’t know how to write a book. I didn’t plan it beforehand, I just sat down at the computer and expected it to come together. After reading Jaden’s book I finally get it. I do have a book in me I just didn’t have the tools to dig it out.

This practical, well-written guide is broken into three manageable parts. Before, during, and after.

Before the Draft

This section is all about preparing to draft—the most important part of writing your book!

I love how Jaden approaches drafting. It’s a time to dream, to think outside the box, and to try new things. After you collect your dreams and ideas you can begin narrowing your story idea into once sentence.

Then, you determine your plot. This is such valuable information. She breaks down the plots of familiar stories and shows you the practical progression a story needs to take in order to work. It makes so much sense and adds much-needed order to an otherwise overwhelming process.

Part one continues and covers characters, theme, setting, symbols, scenes, and story. I found this section not only valuable but inspiring. My notebook overflowed with ideas while reading this section. This likely says more about where I’m at in the writing-a-book process than anything else but I can’t wait to read through this again when I plot my actual book.

During the Draft

I skimmed part two because I am not writing my book right now. However, I came away with the assurance this would be what I needed to help me break up my writing schedule into achievable chunks. Part two also breaks down where you should be after each day of writing, and gives you prompts and questions to think about if you’re stuck.

There’s a handy summary of the progress breakdown at the end of this section so you can have a guide if you don’t require all the explanation and prompts. Jaden thought of everything!

After the Draft

Part three it scheduled to happen after your 30 days of writing in part two. So although the title suggests a 30-day project you’ll have to set aside more time than that to follow the plan laid out in Fast Fiction. What’s great about this is if you follow the plan you will have a first draft in 30 days and you’ll have planned it properly in advance (in part one). So when you reach part three (aka revisions) you will know your characters, plot, story, and purpose inside and out. Revisions might…even…be…fun?

One of the strongest tips in this section is the Why Should I Care? test. You read through your draft and think like your reader. Ask yourself this question and if you can’t answer it, this section or idea needs strengthening. Jaden suggests all sorts of ways to help you revise weaker sections like adding new characters and conflict.

Oooh conflict.

This section also suggests what to look for when reading through your draft. This is helpful because it helps you figure out why something doesn’t work. Once you know why, you can fix it.

I’m happy to give Fast Fiction: A Guide to Outlining and Writing a First-Draft Novel in Thirty Days a five-star rating. I think the only thing left to do here is test out the formula for myself. Is there a book in me? We’ll find out soon.

Denise Jaden is the author of Losing Faith (Simon and Schuster, 2010) and Never Enough (Simon and Schuster 2012). She lives in British Columbia with her husband and son, and is currently at work on another young-adult novel, which she fast-drafted during the 2012 NaNoWriMo. A portion of profits will benefit National Novel Writing Month.

This book was provided for review by the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review (or even publish one).

Murder Simply Brewed [book review]

Murder Simply Brewed

Murder Simply Brewed by Vannetta Chapman

Just listen to this description of Murder Simply Brewed (An Amish Village Mystery) by Vannetta Chapman.

Spring has arrived in Middlebury, Indiana, and Amber Wright is optimistic about the growing profit from her collection of Amish shops—until she receives a call that Ethan Gray is dead. Hurrying over to A Simple Blend, she finds a solitary hole in the front window and the store manager lying next to the espresso machine, dead from an apparent heart attack. All the money is still in his register. When Amber hires a young Amish woman, Hannah Troyer, to take over the shop’s duties, the two women become fast friends—as well as amateur sleuths.

What now? As soon as I read the synopsis I exclaimed “I have to read this book!”

To which my husband shook his head.

An Amish murder mystery is not in my regular reading repertoire, not even close. But I was intrigued. Nay, hooked. What’s there not to love? Set in modern times this old-school teenager teams up with an Englisher to discover if the grumpy coffee-shop worker really did have a heart attack…or if he was murdered.

Of course he was murdered. It’s in the title.

I don’t know much about Indiana or the Amish culture but it didn’t distract me from enjoying this well-written book. Sure, people fell in love after, like, three days but how is that different from any other romance novel? And there’s a murder mystery! It was entertainment bliss.

It was!

The pacing was good, the characters were interesting enough (although I wish Hannah was the main character instead of Amber, I thought Amber was boring…but maybe Hannah will get to star in the next book), and I really couldn’t guess who the villain was.

Spoiler alert!

Although, if I’m honest I got lost when the culprit was revealed. Where did the snake come from? And what was that whole sugar-swapping thing again? How was that not a problem for anyone else? Oh yeah, and what was the whole Larry thing about? That didn’t even make sense! I mean, I know it was explained but it felt like an afterthought. Oh…and the solve seemed a bit too easy after all the mystery and intrigue and suspense building up to the climax. And, was anyone even punished? Did I miss that part?

But I liked the book enough to let all that stuff go.

I also enjoyed how the Amish facts were weaved into the storyline and I didn’t feel like I was in school. Most of the details weren’t random but instead elements to help move the characters towards solving the murrrrrder.

Would I recommend this book? Sure! Have fun, but don’t for a second take any sleuthing tips from Amber and Hannah. Would I read the sequel? Oh yes. Especially if Hannah is the star!

Murder Simply Brewed (An Amish Village Mystery) is available on Amazon, Zondervan, Barnes & Nobel, and Booksamillion in paperback, e-book, or audio book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review.