A Picture is Worth A 1,000 Words: The Meeting Place

Do any of y’all remember when I used to write “A picture is worth a 1,000 words” posts? The idea was to find a random picture on Pinterest, and then set my timer and see how fast I could come up with a thousand-word story inspirited from said picture. The purpose was to help me learn to write short stories and to practice my coming-up-with-ideas skills. Plus, the story had to be exactly a thousand words, so that made the challenge more…challenging. (By the way, no brainstorming is allowed before starting the timer. That means I find the picture, like how it looks, copy it, and promptly start the timer.)
Well. I haven’t written any of those stories for a long time, a fact that became all too clear to me when I sat down to write one this morning. The story that plopped into my head was rather trite and cliché, but hey, I’ll get better as I continue practicing. 
I’m posting my story from today, even though it’s not stellar, so I can look back after I’m back in practice with these stories, and see the difference. (You can read previous “A picutre’s worth a 1,000 words” posts herehere, here, and here.) And, if any of y’all want to be a part of the challenge, you can join up and post your story (just leave a comment with the link), or you can share it with me at aidylewoh@gmail.com.
Date: 8-24-16 
Time: 26:49
Hardest Part: All of it, I’m out of practice
Title: The Meeting Place
source
I stared at the bench, my breath coming in puffs of whiteness. This was the spot. These were the street lamps. The trees. The hedge of bushes. Cold seeped in through the multiple layers I had piled on, yet I didn’t mind it. The shocking weather lent an air of disbelief to the world around me, as if it, too, believed that tonight was merely a fairy tale, a figment of my all too overactive of an imagination. 
Leaning closer, I could see that some tracks had been made in the snow in front of the bench, although doubtlessly not recently. The wind was blowing with strong gusts and would have completely covered them if much time had passed. I looked back at my own tracks leading through the knee-high white fluffiness. The energy I had exerted making my way to our meeting place was far less than I’d spent arguing with myself for the last three days, trying to decide if I should come or not. 
And now that I’d taken the leap and come? Well, perhaps she wouldn’t show after all. Maybe I would have to turn and trudge my way back to the street car. Maybe I would get lost in the drifts and have to build myself an igloo. Maybe this episode really was a dream and before long I’d be waking up in my cozy room, snuggled under the covers, having left my windows open, hence the cold I was feeling. 
Stomping my feet to keep the blood moving, I surveyed the bench, tilting my head first one way, then the other. I could always displace the mounds of snow it was buried under and sit down while I waited. Or I could turn around and leave. I’d done my duty. I’d kept my promise. I’d come and with time to spare, but did she show? No. And it shouldn’t have been a surprise. It wasn’t a surprise. She’d been leaving me in the cold for as long as I could remember. Still, it hurt. The rejection fell over me in little freezing particles, much like the snow was doing at the moment. 
Most people don’t get to choose their families. They don’t choose their parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles. And they most certainly don’t choose their siblings. But I had. And sometimes I wondered if that was the reason I struggled so much. 
Although we’d been adopted by different families, I had insisted my sister and I never forget each other. When the rest of the bonds I had felt to my former world dissipated in the erosion of time, I held firmly to the ideal that one day we would meet up again, that we would stay together. Our visits were infrequent and proceeded each time by my excited anticipation, then followed by heartbroken tears as I came to the realization that I wasn’t needed. My sister got along fine without me. She had melted and melded into her family in a way that seemed perfectly natural. It hurt to know she’d moved on, that she’d found a new life, a new world, one in which I didn’t fit. 
You’ve got to make an effort, Lilly. My sister’s words were the same each visit. They love you, you love them. They’re your family and you need to start acting like it. There was a time when she even refused to visit me for several years. Finally my begging and pleading had gotten to her, and I’d found comfort in knowing I was among my real flesh and blood. 
Then we’d had a falling out. I finally had had enough of her mincing and bossing. She’d declared me immature. I’d declared her un-loyal. She’d declared me a girl who could only look backward, I declared her someone who professed to be too good for her roots. And the argument had gone on. When we left, it was without a backward glance. My last words were that she could move on with life. I would never try and see her again. She was dead to me, as if we really weren’t blood sisters after all. As if we hadn’t had the same beginning in life. 
That was when we were sixteen. Her bitter accusations stayed with me for two years, haunting my memory, making me angry. Then I had learned to let go. Not only to the anger, but to the past. She had been right after all. We lived different lives. Our blood wasn’t enough to keep us connected forever. There were times when I even pondered the possibility of her planning out the fight so we’d have a falling out and I would finally move on with life. The thought, while painful, did have merit. After all, she’d finally succeeded in forcing me to stop using her as the crutch she’d been in my life. 
Standing under the stinging coldness, my thoughts chased each other around and around. It had taken me nearly three years to finally admit that she was right. That our argument might have been for the best after all. And of course that’s when she contacted me. Her first initiation at reaching out to me. And it turned my finally-in-order world back into a land of chaos. I was scared of the reaction I would face when I finally saw her again, hence the reason I had nearly been absent. But I was here now, and she wasn’t. 
“Lilly?” The voice was soft. 
I swallowed hard and turned toward the voice. 
“You came.” 
“Of course.”
Reaching out, she wrapped her arms around me. “I was wrong.” 
I returned the hug then stepped back. “Wrong?” 
“Family is important.” 
I sucked in an icy breath. 
“Adopted and blood family.” 
I gave a simple nod. 
“Can you forgive me? Be my sister once again?”
I nodded. 
“I missed you during the last four years.” My sister smiled at me. 
And the cold didn’t feel so cold any more. 

A Beauty Refined By Tracie Peterson: Book Review & Giveaway

Hey y’all! I get to be part of another book release blog tour today. How much fun is that? So, without further ado, here we go: 
A Beauty Refined 
By Tracie Peterson 

Find it on: 

Third-Person
4 Points of view (I think)
Fiction
320 Pages


About the Book (Backcover Blurb):

Phoebe Von Bergen is excited to accompany her father when he travels from Germany to purchase sapphires in Montana. Little does she know that her father’s plans–for the gemstones and his daughter–are not what they seem.

Ian Harper, a lapidary working in Helena, finds the young woman staying at the Broadwater Hotel more than a little intriguing. Yet the more he gets to know her, the more he realizes that her family story is based on a lie–a lie she has no knowledge of. And Ian believes he knows the only path that will lead her to freedom.

Meeting Ian has changed everything. Phoebe is determined to stay in America, regardless of her father’s plans. But she may not be prepared for the unexpected danger as the deception begins to unravel.

Why I Choose this Book: 

I’ve read a couple of other Historical Fiction books by Tracie Peterson that I enjoyed a lot. Historical Fiction is one of my favorite genres to read, as long as they aren’t too romantic. Note: After I read this book and didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would, I looked back and saw I only gave two stars to the last Tracie Peterson (co-authored) book I read… 

What I Thought About this Book:

Hum… This book. It had so much promise. And then it fell rather flat for me. It still (barely) squeaked 3 out of 5 stars for me though (4 out of 10), and so I figured the best thing I could do was write a pros and cons list for you. 
Reasons I liked the book:
* The plot was intriguing 
* I liked the main character (at least to begin with) 
* The writing style felt unique to me. For a while I couldn’t tell if the writing was actually a pro or con, but it drew me in and kept my interest, so I decided it was a pro
* Although I wouldn’t say the main characters were unique as far as characters go, they were easy to distinguish from each other and I never got them confused 
* I liked Kenny and felt as if he was well-written 
* Hearing about the jewels was interesting 
* I liked where it was set and reading about the lifestyle the FMC (female main character) was used to
* As someone who cooks a lot, it was pretty cool to hear all the meal descriptions 
Reasons I didn’t like the book: 
* It felt like the author took a great story and massacred it. I’m pretty sure I would have enjoyed the story far more if it had just been told from one point of view. As it was, we saw something happen, then heard about it as the next character found out about it, and then again with a third character. It was tedious and made the book feel really slow
* The Romance. Oh help us all… It wasn’t that anything necessarily inappropriate happened between the FMC and MMC (male main character), but wow. I have a huge, huge, huge problem with the romance in most books because it’s like “Oh, look! A good-looking human. I’ve never fallen in love before even though I’m twenty-two years old, but I think I’ll do so at this very moment after seeing him twice in my life.” Please, no. I would consider what they had to be infatuation, or a crush. Not love.
I don’t think the book would have lost anything if it would have taken out the “romance” and it probably would have garnered at least half a star more from me. (I don’t recall the romance being a huge part of the story, it was just glaring.) 
* A lot of the story ended up feeling trite and cliché and made me want to shake my head
* I wish we wouldn’t have had so much of the MMC’s backstory… I found the FMC much more interesting 
Conclusion:

There was a little bit of violence near the end, but not too much detail. There were certainly good points in the book, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, mostly because I didn’t enjoy it. 
Rating:

I’m giving A Beauty Refined 3 stars out of 5, and 4 stars out of 10. 

*I received this book free from Litfuse in exchange for an honest review*

Oh! And yay, happiness! There’s a giveaway. (Remember, just cause I don’t like a book doesn’t mean you won’t!) Enter the giveaway here

The Ringmaster’s Wife by Kristy Cambron: Book Review

Yay, everyone! I get to be part of a blog tour. How much fun is that? Today I’m posting a book review for Kristy Cambron’s latest book, The Ringmaster’s Wife. 

Back when I signed up to review this book I never imagined I would be sitting in a hospital waiting room in North Dakota with my adopted dad in open heart surgery as I wrote this review. I guess it’s true that life is full of surprises. 

The Ringmaster’s Wife

Find it on: 

Third-Person
4 Points of view (I think…)
Fiction
368 Pages



About the Book (Backcover Blurb):

What is revealed when you draw back the curtain of the Greatest Show on Earth?

Rosamund Easling is no stranger to opulence. As the daughter of an earl, she’s grown up with every comfort money can buy. But when hard times befall the family’s Yorkshire estate in the aftermath of the Great War, Rosamund’s father sells her beloved horse, setting the stage for a series of events that would extend beyond even her wildest dreams.

Though expected to marry for a title instead of love, Rosamund feels called to a different life – one of adventure outside the confines of a ladies’ parlor. She abandons all she’s known and follows in pursuit as her horse is shipped to the new owner – an American entertainer by the name of John Ringling. Once introduced to the Ringling Brothers’ circus and knowing she has much to learn, Rosamund agrees to a bareback riding apprenticeship in the shadow of the Ringlings’ winter home—Ca’D’Zan. It is at that mansion, in what would become the last days of the enigmatic Mable Ringling’s life, that Rosamund finds a deeper sense of purpose in the life she’s been given, and the awakening of faith in her heart.

With a supporting cast of characters as mysterious and dazzling as the Ringlings’ big-top world, Rosamund’s journey takes her from the tradition of the English countryside to the last days of America’s Roaring ‘20s—a journey that forever changes what one life might have been.
Why I Choose this Book: 

I’ve read Kristy Cambron’s other two books and really liked one of them, and was rather disappointed in the other. I figured I had a 50/50 chance on either really liking or feeling “meh” about her third book.

What I Thought About this Book:

Humm… I think I’ve done so much editing recently that I’m having a hard time just appreciating a book, so please keep that in mind throughout this review. 

Scene by scene I enjoyed the book. There were some beautiful word pictures, the setting was fairly well developed, and there wasn’t questionable content (yay!). The characters also started out with promise. 

Unfortunately, the story didn’t exactly make sense to me. It felt disjointed, as if a bunch of scenes were thrown together to create a partial story that didn’t have much of a plot line  I kept waiting for a lightbulb moment to go off and have everything make sense, but that never happened. There was a slight lightbulb moment around page 330, that if it would have been at page 30, it would have totally changed the trajectory of the book and would have made a huge difference. Since that didn’t happen though, the book was a fail for me. 

Conclusion:

I’ve seen a lot of 4 and 5 star reviews floating around for this book, which means my assessment isn’t very popular and therefore you probably shouldn’t take my word for it. Instead, y’all should read some other reviews and see what other readers are saying about the book. 

Rating:

I’m giving The Ringmaster’s Wife 3 stars out of 5, and 4 stars out of 10. 

*I received this book free from Litfuse in exchange for an honest review*

In the Field of Grace By Tessa Afshar: Book Review

In the Field of Grace
By Tessa Afshar 
Find it on: 
Third-Person 
Two (?) Points of View
Fiction
290 Pages

About the Book (Backcover Blurb):

Destitute, grief-stricken, and unwanted by the people of God, Ruth arrives in Israel with nothing to recommend her but Naomi’s, love. Her loftiest hope is to provide enough food to save Naomi and herself from starvation.


But God has other plans for her life. While everyone considers Ruth an outcast, she is astounded to find one of the most honored men of Judah showing her favor.  Long since a widower and determined to stay that way, Boaz is irresistibly drawn to the foreign woman with the haunted eyes. He tells himself he is only being kind to his Cousin Naomi’s chosen daughter when he goes out of his way to protect her from harm, but his heart knows better.

Based on the biblical account of Ruth, In the Field of Grace is the story of a love that ultimately changes the course of Israel’s destiny and the future of the whole world.

Why I Choose this Book: 

The first Bible Study I attend as a little girl was hosted by my older sister and we studied Ruth. Ever since then I’ve found her story to be fascinating and somewhat mind-bloggling. When I saw the chance to review a biblical fiction book about Ruth, I was pretty excited.
What I Thought About this Book:
Ah, Ruth! This book portrayed familiar characters in unfamiliar ways, and really helped them to come alive. Although the author obviously took liberties and added huge sections to the short account in the Bible, I found the book to be happily (as far as I remember) above reproach when it came to the actual scriptural part of the story.  
Although the writing wasn’t as tight as I thought it could have been, I found the descriptions to be lovely and really could imagine the time period and what all was happening. I could see the fields and almost feel the dust and heat. I could imagine the hurt and longing. The book did a good job at coming to life for me and helped me think thoughts about the account in the Bible that I hadn’t really had before. 
The account of Ruth has always been somewhat confusing to me, probably since I don’t fully understand what the culture was like back then. It’s amazing to me how people lived their lives and conducted business and just went about day after day. This book spurred on a bunch of random thoughts regarding life back then and life now and how different, and similar, life is the world ’round, even centuries apart. 
I enjoyed the story a fair amount, and the first half of the book a lot. Toward the end I felt my interest waning a good bit and wished that the book would have ended sooner than it actually did, that alone was enough to take the book down a notch or so in my estimate. 
Conclusion:
There was obviously romance since this is about Ruth. Overall though, I really felt like the romance was handled carefully and didn’t come across wrong. There were a few scenes that I didn’t appreciate, but other than that I thought the book was good. 
And, as I mentioned earlier: I enjoyed the first half of the book more than the second and think it dragged two much at the end. 
Rating: 
I’m giving In Fields of Grace four out of five stars, seven out of ten. 
*I received this book for free from Moody Press in exchange for an honest review*

Counted with the Stars By Connilyn Cossette: Book Review

Counted with the Stars
By Connilyn Cossette 
Find it on: 
Third-Person 
One Point of View
Fiction
352 Pages

About the Book (Backcover Blurb):
Sold into slavery by her father and forsaken by the man she was supposed to marry, young Egyptian Kiya must serve a mistress who takes pleasure in her humiliation. When terrifying plagues strike Egypt, Kiya is in the middle of it all.
To save her older brother and escape the bonds of slavery, Kiya flees with the Hebrews during the Great Exodus. She finds herself utterly dependent on a fearsome God she’s only just beginning to learn about, and in love with a man who despises her people. With everything she’s ever known swept away, will Kiya turn back toward Egypt or surrender her life and her future to Yahweh?
Why I Choose this Book: 

I have a kind of love-hate relationship with Biblical fiction. When an author clearly upholds the authority of scripture and has done their research, I really like how the Bible comes even more alive to me through their imagination. At the same time I can’t stand it when someone stretches Biblical truths to make their fictitious story work better. I decided to give Miss Connilyn a try and see how true to reality her book was.
What I Thought About this Book:
The book was enjoyable and I liked it a lot. A list of things that made me happy: 
* I felt like everything mentioned in God’s Word was held in high authority and the Miss Connilyn really wanted to uphold the truth 
* The characters were well developed and different from each other 
* The historical time period felt very well researched
* The world was painted with bright colors and came alive to me
* Although I basically knew the story, there were still a few things I didn’t see coming, so the surprise was good
Despite all the good, there were a few things about the book that made it less than stellar. One of those would be the grip factor… Although I enjoyed reading it, I was able to put it down easily which isn’t a plus. I’m pretty sure that was mostly due to the fact that I knew the original story so well. It would have to be difficult to take something like the Exodus of Egypt and put a new twist on it while leaving it historically accurate. Miss Connilyn did do a good job of putting in a few twists though, so good for her. 
For most of the book I felt like there was a good small balance of romance, but then near the end there were a few scenes that I didn’t agree with or feel were necessary. That seems to be the reoccurring theme in my reviews though, so… 
Conclusion: 

A few of the ways she depicted Biblical themes weren’t they way I imagined them, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because I’m pretty sure it’s just my imagination against her imagination. 
I liked this book and hope to read more books in the series. 
Rating: 

I’m giving Counted with the Stars four stars out of five, and seven out of ten. 
*I received this book for free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review*

Yankee in Atlanta By Jocelyn Green: Book Review

I finished multiple books during the last few days and so this Monday is going to be my “Review Day” where I post three or four of them. I hope y’all enjoy seeing what I’ve been reading and maybe choose one or two books to add to your own reading list. To see a complete list (and reviews) of the books I’ve read in 2016, you can check out my Goodreads list. If you have any books you’d recommend, I’d be delighted to hear from you. 
It’s that time again where we get to choose where Annie goes for this week in our Friday Series, Around the World in Fifty-Two WeeksAnd our destination is… Bosnia and Herzegovina!

Yankee in Atlanta 
By Jocelyn Green

Find it on: 

Third-Person, Multiple Views
Fiction
416 Pages


About the Book
(Back cover blurb)

When soldier Caitlin McKae woke up in Atlanta after being wounded in battle, the Georgian doctor who treated her believed Caitlin’s only secret was that she had been fighting for the Confederacy disguised as a man. In order to avoid arrest or worse, Caitlin hides her true identity and makes a new life for herself in Atlanta.

Trained as a teacher, she accepts a job as a governess to the daughter of Noah Becker, a German immigrant lawyer, who enlists with the Rebel army. Then in the spring of 1864, Sherman’s troops edge closer to Atlanta. Though starvation rules, and Sherman rages, she will not run again. In a land shattered by strife and suffering, a Union veteran and a Rebel soldier test the limits of loyalty and discover the courage to survive. Will honor dictate that Caitlin and Noah follow the rules, or love demand that they break them?


Why I Choose this Book: 


It appears to be a spy book and starts out with the MC masquerading as a man to fight in the Civil War. Now that, my friends, is a big grab for me. 

What I Thought About this Book:


I had such high hopes for this book and it started out SO well. I read the first two books in the series just so I would be ready for this book and not miss out on anything. Both books 1 (see review) and 2 (see review) received three stars and I was pretty sure this was going to be a four star book because it was so promising… And instead it barely squeaked in with three stars. What in the world?

First of all, I was wrong about the premise. Caitlyn isn’t a spy. She’s only a solider during the prolog. She’s a governess. (I must confess, I didn’t read the whole back cover blurb because I like being surprised. After reading the book I guess I would have had lower expectations and therefore might have enjoyed the book better if I had finished the back cover.) Still, the book was still redeemable, despite the two most exciting elements not panning out… Yet, it wasn’t redeemed. 

Instead I felt like there was far to much focus on romance and some of it was too detailed and I ended up skim reading sections. A fair amount of one of the sub-plots was how one of the characters from a previous book dealt with being abused and (sorta) forced into prostitution. I’m guessing that if I was working with ladies who were dealing with those issues this book might have come in handy, but I’m not, and it didn’t. (Hence the skim-reading.) 

The ending was also an eye rolling experience for me. I felt like one of the characters jumped out of character and did something that in reality, they would never do. And then *boom* so many pieces fell into place at just the right time for a happy-ever-after. Obviously that kind of stuff can happen, and when it does in real life it’s so cool, but in fiction it feels very… fictional. 

So, with all of these issues why did the book still garner three stars? Because, despite all that^, the book was captivating at times and the characters really came alive and were well developed and individual. I liked the story, although it wasn’t what I was imaging, and I enjoyed finding out what the characters were doing after the last book. 

I learned a lot about the war and how the civilians lived in Atlanta and all the problems they faced. The book reminded me once again how horrible war is. This series has brought the Civil war alive from the perspective of the women during that time. I commend the author on what seems like through research. 

Conclusion: 


I was pretty sure I wouldn’t read any more books in the series… But, then I saw the next book IS about a spy, so we’ll have to see. I sadly won’t recommend this book because of the romance I had to skim-read, but other than that I think it was nice. 

Rating: 


I’m giving “Yankee in Atlanta” 3 out of 5 stars, 4 out of 10 stars. 

*I received this book for free from Moody Publishers in exchange for an honest review*

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks Week Fifteen: The Grand Cayman Island

Hey folks! Happy Friday. This morning I had posted for the A to Z Challenge, and now this evening we get our weekly segment of the fictional story, Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks. I might or might not be currently hosting quite the sunburn from my own snorkeling experience…

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks 
Week Fifteen: The Grand Cayman Island
The salt water crashed into my face, filling my mouth, nose, ears, and eyes. I blinked rapidly and coughed, feeling a stinging sensation as my sinuses filled with the saline liquid. I gasped for a moment, treading the small waves and feeling a bit overwhelmed, then a peaceful sensation calmed me as the water settled into placid ripples.  
I tightened my messy bun on the nape of my neck and then rinsed out my goggles and slipped them over my head. I made sure to only breath out of my mouth as I fit my snorkel into place so I wouldn’t fog up the goggles. Dipping my face under water it felt like I had entered a whole new world. It was gorgeous. 
The captain of the boat we’d been on had told us that if a shark showed up we should punch it in the face. I’d been hoping he was joking, but decided to keep the advice handy in case I did see one of the scary creatures approaching me. 
Christopher Columbus discovered Little Cayman in 1503 when his ships were blown off course by a strong wind. (I’d be pretty pumped if that happened to me when I got lost!) The islands were so full of turtles that he originally named the islands “Las Tortugas” which “The Turtles” in Spanish. The name “Cayman” (which is what the islands are now called) is from the Carib word for crocodile, and has been used since before 1586. The Cayman Islands are a British overseas territory and the capital of the Cayman Islands is named George Town after King George III of England. 
In total there are three islands, Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, and Cayman Brac. The trio of islands are about 200 miles away from Jamaica and are outcroppings of the Cayman Ridge, which is formed mostly of limestone and goes from Cuba to Belize. 
I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going and nearly ran (or I should say swam) into the flippers of the person in front of me. I turned to the side and lifted my face out of the water for a minute. I took my mouth piece out and breathed deeply, then closed my mouth and dove downward, gliding through the water and past a school of fish who darted to make way for me. I stretched out my fingers and followed the now divided school. They were little fish, probably no more than an inch long, but there were literally thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of them. After around thirty seconds I went back to the surface and filled my lungs with air. 
Seafood is quite common on the island which made total sense. It felt slightly strange though, snorkeling and following the fish around, marveling at their beauty and knowing I was going to eat their relatives (so to speak) within a few hours. I’d been offered the traditional national dish when I first arrived, which was sea turtle. That was a bit hard to swallow because I’ve always loved watching turtles swim around. They are so graceful and beautiful. I even have swimming sea turtles as the screen savor on my laptop. I only took one little nibble of turtle so I wouldn’t offend the chef at the restaurant where they were treating me like royalty (in exchange for a review on my blog, but still…). 
The food I was most looking forward to was key lime pie, conch fritters, and heavy cake which is a dessert made with starchy vegetables such as yams. I’d heard people talking about how delicious the food ways and so far I had to agree. Oh, and of course I couldn’t wait to try fresh coconuts. I was going to throughly enjoy the leisurely island experience for a week.
I continued snorkeling, enjoying all the breathtaking sights. My eyes widened as a sea turtle swam past me, close enough to touch. If I hadn’t been underwater with my mouth full of the snorkel, I’m pretty sure I would have gasped. It moved past me with languid movements and I marveled that the creature had no clue how beautiful it was. I was suddenly glad I’d only eaten one bite of turtle. 
My goggles were fogging up so I surfaced again and cleared them out. After putting them back on though, I unfortunately didn’t have them adjusted correctly and so water began leaking in. In my confusion I dipped my head to far down and the top of my snorkel went under water so I received a mouthful of water. To top it all off my foot began to cramp from the flipper. I quickly lifted my head off and yanked off my headgear. I held the goggle strap in my teeth as I pulled the top of my foot toward me, trying to release the foot cramp. It wasn’t an easy feat, but after a minute I succeeded. It took several moments to calm my rapid breathing and clear my nose and mouth from the salt water. My eyes still stung, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. The amazingness I was experiencing was more than worth it, though. 

Eventually I’d used up all my energy and swam over to the boat and climbed up the ladder onto the slippery deck (climbing with flippers is a challenge, by the way). The crew offered me and the other returning snorkelers cold water which I thankfully gulped down. I was planning on taking in all the varying hues of blue and green as the water and sky met as we traveled back to the dock, but the comforting motion of the boat rocking gently in the waves was too much for me to stay awake with. It wasn’t long until I found a relatively quiet place near the bow of the boat and curled up with my sunglasses on and fell asleep. I was excited that I had six more days to enjoy the island and the nature surrounding it, because I was already looking forward to my next snorkeling adventure. 

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks, Week Eight: Falkland Island

Hey folks! Happy Friday. Here we are with the eighth week of our fictional story, Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks. “Visiting” the Falkland Islands was fun and eye-opening for me (and Annie) and I hope you enjoy it as well. Looking forward to see where we go next! 

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks 
Week Eight: Falkland Island 
I was officially homesick. Except for Guatemala (which hardly even counts because it’s in Central America) I hadn’t even been on my home continent for seven weeks. And, despite the many emails and Skype calls, I was feeling very distanced from my family. 
The moment I landed on the Falkland Islands and saw the delightfully picturesque landscape I would be thriving in for the next six days I burst into tears. That turned out to be extremely ill-timed because there was a newspaper reporter waiting to get my first reaction (apparently my year of adventure was beginning to pick up speed in the media arena), and I’m pretty sure tears weren’t what he was expecting. 
After my tears turned to mortified laughter, I agreed to answer some questions for an interview after settling into the seaside cottage Sophie had set up for me to stay in. Apparently the reporter already knew about my accommodations and offered to take me there along with Kara, an Exploration Airport personal who had been assigned the role of my tour guide for the week. That was my first indication that this country was a pretty small piece of real-estate. (Actually, I had learned as much while studying in the airplane, but it hadn’t really hit me until I arrived.) 
“Why did you burst into tears?” Jimmy, the reporter, asked after I had changed into fresh clothes and the three of us were sitting around the sitting room drinking tea. He had explained on the drive over that it was actually his day off, but he had wanted to cover my story so had decided to work anyway, although it wasn’t official. The weekly newspaper he worked for was called “The Penguin News” and was the only newspaper on the island. 
I smiled, relieved to have a diplomatic and very honest answer, “I miss my family a lot and when I saw how gorgeous this island is I wished they could be here with me.” I pulled out my notebook and pen. “Would you be alright with this being a joint interview? You can ask me about my adventures and I can ask you about your island?” 
“That sounds dandy.” Jimmy gave a nod. 
I pulled my phone out and clicked on the voice recorder and set it down on the end table. 
“Let’s play a game.” Kara stood in front of us. “I’ll ask a question and the first person to answer it gets a point. Jimmy’s answer needs to be true to the Falkland Islands, and Annie can answer from any country she’s visited this year.” 
Jimmy and I looked at each other. 
“Why not?” Jimmy shrugged. “This could be fun.” 
I laughed, amazed at the easy going and fun attitude. “Okay. Let me set my camera up real quickly. We can use some of the footage on my blog.” 
As soon as I was set up, Kara began asking her questions. “Question number one, What’s the population?” 
“Less than 3,000.” Jimmy and I answered the question in unison. 
“Hey, what country are you answering for?” Jimmy asked. 
“These islands.” I sat up a bit straighter in my chair. “Kara said I could answer for any country I’ve been to this year.” 
Jimmy sat up straighter, too. “We’re ready for the next question, Kara.” 
Seeing Jimmy’s determined pose I suddenly wished I had spent the whole flight over studying instead of breaking it up with a long nap.
“How many sheep are there?” 
That took a moment. “Fourteen million.”
“Five hundred thousand.” 
“What country has fourteen million sheep?” Kara pointed her pencil at me then hovered it above the score sheet she had started. 
“Mongolia.” 
“Well, you get the point.” Kara looked impressed. 
Jimmy scowled. 
“How many digits long are the telephone numbers?”
“Five.” Jimmy answered the question before I even had time to begin counting my cell number. 
I ducked my head slightly, conceding. 
“How many different types of penguins breed on the island?” 
“None!” I was so into it I shouted the answer instead of saying it. 
“Five.” Jimmy looked over at me victoriously. 
“Wait a second.” I held up my finger. “Kara said I could answer from any of the countries I’d been to this year. I’m answering for Guatemala, so, therefore, I think I get the point.”
“What about zoos?” Jimmy narrowed his eyes at me. 
I laughed. Jimmy reminded me so much of my younger brother that I couldn’t help but feel like an older and somewhat annoying sister while hanging out with him. “That wasn’t the context of the question and you know it.” 
“Annie wins the point.” Kara sided with me. “Alright, next question, what is one unique feature about the island?”
“There are no chain stores here.” Jimmy’s answer was so prompt there was no doubt that he won. 
“The Falkland Islands are still littered with mines from the last war 1982.” Even though I couldn’t win the point I could still show that I knew something about the islands. Besides, it was an interesting piece of information. 
We continued playing the game for about ten more minutes and by the time we were done we were all laughing and I even had tears in my eyes, good tears this time. Jimmy won, but I had learned an impressive amount of facts, so that was pretty cool. That night I re-watched the video footage and scribbled down some of the facts:
*The islands are about 4,700 square miles big.
*90% of the island claims British birth or descent.
*There are no ATMs on the island, and just one bank.
*There are few trees on the island, and the only trees that do exist have been imported.
*English is the official language, though there is a small number of Spanish speakers. Many people on the island learn Spanish as their second language.
The Falkland Islands are claimed by both Argentina (which they are only 250 miles away from), and the British. Almost 99% of the population consider themselves to be British though, and that fact was pretty evident as I explored the island. The islanders laughed when I asked them about being British and told me if I stopped and thought about it they were more British-y than the British people who lived in England. As strange as that sounded, it made sense. 
Each day we had what they called “smoko” which is a midmorning tea or coffee break, and the the diet reminded me so much of England I could hardly believe we were so far away from Europe and so close to South Amercia. Mutton was part of the staple diet (unsurprising, seeing how many sheep the island hosts) and eggplant, tomatoes, lettuce and other salad greens are popular too. At the snack bars in Stanley I chowed down on fish and chips, mutton burger, sausage rods, pizza and pastries. Plus tea, lots of tea. So very British in every way.
I was excited. Kara and I were going to go see penguins! It took us about two hours Thursday morning to travel to the part of the island where we would get the best experience with them. Then we took four-wheelers over some rough terrain that jolted me enough to make me feel as if I were back in Mongolia or Guatemala. The weather was slightly gray and quite windy, but I enjoyed it an immense amount, snuggled down in the warm clothing I had brought along. 
The strong wind brought the salty smell of the ocean rushing toward me, and I breathed in deeply, each inhale stinging slightly and making me feel quite like an island dweller. 
The islands have a climate and landscape similar to that of the Scottish Shetland Islands with a subArctic climate that hovers around 51 Fahrenheit in the winter months.
The islands have a high humidity rate, and suffer from permanent high winds, keeping the islands relatively frost free and with little or no snow and making me happy for how non-windy it is in the parts of the USA where I grew up. 
The islands coastline is jagged and rocky made up of hundreds of small fjords. I could hardly wait to get to see the fjords. For years I’d wanted to see them because the word sounded so cool, but in reality I wasn’t even sure what they were. I knew they were some kind of natural waterway, but after Kara explained them to me I liked them even better. 
“A fjord is a long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs that are created by glacial erosion.”
Imagine that. The fjords were beautiful indeed, and I enjoyed standing there, gazing at them, the wind whipping around me, making me feel quite at home and like I could fly away on the wings of my imagination. 
Then I saw the penguins. There were hundreds of them. Cute, waddling, darling little creatures who exhibited a complete lack of fear for Kara and I. I’m nearly sure we could have gone up to them and actually petted them, but we observed the requested distance and gazed at their adorable features from off to the side. 
All in all it was a wonderful week and by the time I left I still missed my family, but between Jimmy and Kara and a host of other thoughtful islanders I felt as if I was leaving some new family behind. 

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks Week Seven: England

ENGLAND! So, England is another place that I visited while traveling across part of Europe a couple of years ago. It wasn’t until I was writing this blog post though that I realized I never ended up posting about England on here which is kinda crazy since it’s one of my most favorite places I’ve ever been. 
I am incredibly thankful for one of Noveltea’s long-time readers, Hannah, for the amazing help she was with writing this chapter of the story. She lives in England and helped me out magnificently with figuring out where Annie should travel and what all she’d see. Thank you, Hannah!
And now, for the seventh segment of my fictional story, Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks:

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks 
Week Seven: England 
I couldn’t help my squeal of delight; this was very nearly too good to be true. I tried to compose myself as we continued walking down the street… I didn’t want to come across as a total tourist. 
“That’s Big Ben.” Hannah, the daughter of some of my parent’s long-time friends and my personal tour guide for the week, pointed ahead of me. “Actually, the tower is officially named the Elizabeth Tower.”
I stopped walking and turned all of my attention to the iconic clock tower. “Big Ben is just a nickname?”
“Yes. For years the real name was just The Clock Tower, but they renamed it in 2012 in honor of Queen Elizabeth.”
Pulling out my notebook I jotted down the information. “Was there any special reason they changed it?” 
“The Diamond Jubilee.” Hannah gave me an incredulous smile. 
“Right, right, that makes sense.” I continued walking. A week before I would have probably considered the day a bit windy, but after my sojourn in the Netherlands windy had taken on a new meaning. 
We meandered down the street, stopping every minute or two for me to snap another picture or take more notes. In my teen years I had been a serious reader of the classics and to be in the same country of some of the worlds most famous authors left me feeling slightly breathless. The summer I turned twenty I’d gotten in a WW2 Historical Fiction kick and had read about twenty books that were set (at least partly) in London. Seeing the streets, buildings, bridges, and other sights that had been described with such vivid detail made the books spring alive to me. 
I closed my eyes for a moment and I could almost hear the wail of bombs descending from Nazi aircraft and the panic surrounding me as mothers raced for bombing shelters, dragging their small children along behind them. I sucked in a mouthful of cold air and felt the race of antiaircraft men running to patrol their stations. Time stilled as I tipped my head back and searched the sky for the deadly planes.  
“Let’s ride the London Eye.” 
Hannah’s voice jerked me back to reality. I opened my eyes and shook my head, trying to clear the scenes that had seemed so real from my brain. “Sounds good to me.” Somehow my voice came out calm. 
It was less than a ten minute walk to the London Eye. I was surprised at how large of a crowd there was in line. 
“We are going to be in for a long wait.” I craned my neck to try and see the price for a ticket. “Yikes, and it costs a lot.” I looked at Hannah a bit askance. 
Hannah laughed, “You don’t know how the London Eye works, do you?” 
“What do you mean?” 
“First of all, we shouldn’t have a very long wait because twenty to twenty-five people ride in each capsules. Second of all, it’s not like a normal ferris wheel. Instead, this one goes around really slowly so people can look out over London. Some people even rent out a whole capsule and set up a table to eat a romantic dinner while seeing the sights.” 
“Now that sounds legit.” I wondered how much that would cost. 
“Yeah, sometimes people even get married in them.” 
And Poof, just like that I had my dream wedding planned. “How long of a ride is it?” 
“About 30 minutes.” 
Definitely enough time to perform a wedding. I was so coming back one day. 
Once we got in the London Eye the view was incredible. We were right near the Thames River and could see for what felt like miles on either side of it. I only took about five hundred pictures and I also had Hannah film me as we shot a few segments that I would eventually send off to my video editing team to make into a vlog. 
After the London Eye we visited the Tower of London where there are over 23,500 jewels, including the Crown Jewels. I read a plaque there that said each evening at 9:53 pm, a ceremony takes place to lock the Tower of London. This is how it works: an armed escort of the Queen’s Guards go along with the Chief Yeoman Warder to lock all the gates. One of the sentries call out to the escort and says, “HALT!, Who comes there?” and the Chief Warder replies, “The Keys.” Next the sentry asks “Whose keys?” “Queen Elizabeth’s Keys,” is the reply. After this the sentry allows the escort to pass by saying, “Pass Queen Elizabeth’s Keys, and all is well.” This has happened each and every day for hundreds of years; it is the oldest military ceremony in the world. Craziness.  
When we were done with the Tower of London we went to Westminster Abbey. There are 450 tombs and monuments in Westminster Abbey, including the tombs of Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, and the Brontë sisters. It was quite mind boggling thinking of the literary talent represented at the Abbey. 
One of the coolest facts I learned while there was that the original church was built on an island more than a thousand years before. Over time the Thames changed enough that eventually Thorney Island no longer existed.
Another neat snippet of history that we could actually see was an oak door that is near the Abbey’s Chapter House. It’s supposedly the only Anglo-Saxon door in England and was recently dated to around 1032 AD. Now that’s impressive. 
Next we found a cute little restaurant where we ordered steak and kidney pie for a late supper (not my favorite meal ever…) then headed back to our hotel where we crashed into bed for the night. 
The next day we went on a whirlwind tour of museums: the Art Museum, London Museum, and Science Museum. (The London Museum was my favorite.) After that we grabbed a quick lunch on the go of fish and chips (how much more English can you get?) and headed out on the two hour drive to Stonehenge. Thankfully Hannah had a car so we didn’t have to take public transportation which Hannah informed me would be a bit of a trek. 
Stonehenge was really cool. We paid to have an audio guide on headsets and they did a fantastic job of explaining the history behind the famous landmark. I had no clue that Stonehenge was so old. People, it’s older than all the pyramids of Egypt! Yikes. It’s such an iconic English place that I knew I had to visit it, but I hadn’t been exactly thrilled about the prospect. After we got there though, I was really glad I had went. (It was even nice and windy which reminded me of the Netherlands.)  
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Hannah and I stayed at her parent’s house (Hannah is a student and had the week off for half-term), and spent each day traveling around to different villages. They were so quaint and I pretty much decided then the English countryside must be one of the most beautiful and fetching places on earth. 
“There’s literally so much to see that you’re going to have to just soak in as much as you can and not worry about the rest,” Hannah told me when I started off Thursday morning at a fast pace. “Why not just relax and enjoy each moment? These villages are so wonderful that they’ll send you into raptures of delight… As long as you aren’t constantly moving on to the next thing.” 
What Hannah said made sense so I took a couple of deep breaths and calmed down. The next few days were packed full of indescribable beauty. They even have stone cottages with thatched roofs. For real. Who knew those actually existed? 
The village of Castle Combe was literally so cute and gorgeous that I had to wipe tears of joy out of my eyes. You have got to visit it. One day I want to go back and curl up with all the old English classics and deliciously hot tea (which every. single. place. serves), and read for several weeks straight. 
The village of Lacock was amazing cause part of Pride and Prejudice as well as several other well-known movies had multiple scenes shot there. And also Bath. Bath got it’s name because of some Roman baths that date back to when the Romans inhabited England a long time ago. (Who would have guessed?) Do you have any clue how many well-known classics talk about Bath? It’s a very literary place. After Bath we visited Stratford-on-Avon where Shakespeare was born, and the Lake district up north where Beatrix Potter lived. (Growing up I was a huge Peter Rabbit fan; much more so than of Shakespeare.) 
A lot of the week was gloomy and gray, yet for some reason that didn’t bother me. There was so much to do indoors, exploring and reading and of course drinking tea, that the gray weather almost seemed to add to the charm. 

  On Sunday we went to church then had tea together one last time before Hannah drove me back to London where I spent the night in a hotel close to the airport. England was going to be an extremely hard country to leave and the most probable one for me to come back to. It was incomparable. 

Susanna Don’t You Cry Book Review and Giveaway

Susanna Don’t You Cry
by Zachary McIntire 
Find it on: 

Third person; Omnipresent
Fiction
180 Pages


About the Book 
Back cover Blurb
“I’ll never forgive him – never!”
Chuck Kincaid made a vow of hate the day his father walked out, and he still keeps it ten years later. His sister’s bad choices, his mother’s drug addiction – he knows who to blame for all of it.
But when Susanna and Kelly get their lives turned around by Jesus, Chuck doesn’t know what to think. And why is the rich stranger with the scarred face so interested in being his benefactor?
Failure and restoration. Hate and forgiveness. What is broken can be put back together, one small piece at a time.
Why I Choose this Book
A year and a half ago I had the privilege of hosting an Elisha Press author on Noveltea to celebrate the release of his first book, and I’ve also reviewed a couple of their books in the past six months. So when Elisha Press contacted me in December to see if I wanted to be part of the fun and festivities of the release of their newest book I jumped sat the chance. (Book releases are so special, and I always feel honored to be a part of one.) 
What I Thought about this Book 
What I Liked: 
1. How the brother and sister interact when they are younger. I grew up being really close to my next-older brother, so books with that element in it make me happy. 
2. The book contains good foreshadowing. One of my big pet peeves in books is when something happens very conveniently, yet not very realistically. This book was delightfully void of those occurrences to the best of my memory. 
3. Not only is there good foreshadowing, but there is also good set-up for why the choices that were made, were chosen.
4. There were a couple of times that I was like, “Oh, such and such a thing is about to happen” and then it did. It was nice getting to “know” the characters enough to predict their actions a little.
5. The author doesn’t go into needless details about the “issues” the book deals with (divorce, drugs, etc…), yet they weren’t glossed over either, I thought he hit a good balance.
6. There was good character development. All of the main characters ended the book very different from how they were in the beginning, and that is something that can be hard for an author to succeed with.
What I Didn’t Particularly Like:
1. There was a relationship that did not feel “right” to me; not that there was anything morally wrong with it, because there wasn’t, but it lacked depth and therefore believability.
2. Throughout the book I felt like the subject of money, success, and drive were not handled well (or, I at least didn’t agree with the conclusions). I ended up emailing with the author about the book as a whole and when we talked about the problems I had with these parts, I realized we saw more eye-to eye on this matter than I had thought. So that means I probably just misinterpreted what he was trying to say, but it still raised a red flag for me.   

Rating 
I’m giving Susanna Don’t You Cry Three Stars.
Conclusion 
Susanna Don’t You Cry wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, although I did find it interesting and an easy and enjoyable read. Elisha Press recommends the book for ages 12 and up due to themes such as divorce and drug addiction. 
Giveaway! Giveaway! Giveaway!

I’m happy to announce that as part of the celebration of a new book coming out Elisha Press is hosting a giveaway that will run for the whole month of February. Enter it for your chance to win one of the three copies of Susanna Don’t You Cry that they are giving away.
About the Author 
Zachary McIntire is a homeschool graduate, entrepreneur, and history lover. He lives in the Missouri Ozarks, where, in between business and ministry activities, he occasionally finds time to write.

                               * * * 
Congratulations,  Zachary! I’m excited for you and your new book today. *cue happy smile*
Noveltea readers, good news for us! Zachary has kindly agreed to take part in the first Author Interview of 2016 (yay!), so keep an eye out for that. 
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This book was given to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions were my own.