I’m generally in awe of debut authors who make such a good first impression. And Kristy Cambron’s novel The Butterfly and the Violin makes a great introduction to a new writer. (Disclaimer: In exchange for my review, I received a free copy of the book through Litfuse Publicity Group.)

Butterfly and ViolinThis book is a work of art, not just because it centers on a lost painting. It’s the kind of story that makes me want to slow down and read the words over and over again so I appreciate the nuances of how they’re put together. I get the feeling that the more time spent with this story, the more details and layers I’d discover. Not unlike most pieces of art.

The Butterfly and the Violin combines the stories of Adele von Bron, a Viennese violinist during World War 2, and Sera James, a New York City art dealer in present day. Sera has been obsessed with the painting since she saw it a gallery in Paris when she was 8. Her life’s mission after her life crumbled has been to track down the painting. She and her assistant have hit a dead end when William Hanover, the heir of a wealthy California family, makes an offer to aid her search in an effort to save the family business. Sera and William try to piece together the clues to the painting’s owner and the story of Adele while each trying to patch up their broken pasts.

Adele’s story is woven into the contemporary storyline, a method of storytelling I love when it’s done well. And Cambron excels at it.

If you’ve read Susan Meissner’s The Girl in the Glass, you’ll find a similarly mesmerizing story in this book. The Butterfly and the Violin is part of the Hidden Masterpieces series, which is good news for those of us who want more stories that blend past and present.

About the book: A mysterious painting breathes hope and beauty into the darkest corners of Auschwitz—and the loneliest hearts of Manhattan.

Manhattan art dealer Sera James watched her world crumble at the altar two years ago, and her heart is still fragile. Her desire for distraction reignites a passion for a mysterious portrait she first saw as a young girl—a painting of a young violinist with piercing blue eyes.

In her search for the painting, Sera crosses paths with William Hanover, the grandson of a wealthy California real estate mogul, who may be the key to uncovering the hidden masterpiece. Together, Sera and William slowly unravel the story behind the painting’s subject: Austrian violinist Adele Von Bron.

A darling of the Austrian aristocracy, talented violinist, and daughter to a high-ranking member of the Third Reich, Adele risks everything when she begins smuggling Jews out of Vienna. In a heartbeat, her life of prosperity and privilege dissolves into a world of starvation and barbed wire.

As Sera untangles the secrets behind the painting, she finds beauty in the most unlikely of places: in the grim camps of Auschwitz and in the inner recesses of her own troubled heart.
Purchase a copy: http://ow.ly/zhXo3

About the author: Kristy Cambron has been fascinated with the WWII era since hearing her KCambron-238grandfather’s stories of the war. She holds an art history degree from Indiana University and received the Outstanding Art History Student Award. Kristy writes WWII and Regency era fiction and has placed first in the 2013 NTRWA Great Expectations and 2012 FCRW Beacon contests, and is a 2013 Laurie finalist. Kristy makes her home in Indiana with her husband and three football-loving sons.

Find Kristy online: websiteFacebookTwitter

Sometimes it’s hard to wade through all the words on the Web and find the treasures among the trash.

Let me help you.

I’ve read some great posts lately that challenge and encourage and inspire me. My hope is that they’d do the same for you.

Here are five posts (and some excerpts from their posts) you should take time to read this weekend.

1. When Love is the Last Thing You Feel by Alison McLennan. I was touched by these words that challenged me to keep loving when it’s hard.

“Which is the greater sacrifice: to keep a vow when keeping it is a pleasure, or to keep a vow when keeping it takes everything you have?”

I don’t know, in God’s economy, if one is greater than the other. Certainly it is a divine gift to love with ease, to take pleasure in our work, to pour ourselves out for others and find joy in serving.

But what about when we don’t? Is it any less of a gift to labor in those things?

2. #scotus and other stuff by Erika Morrison. (the life artist) Ever disagreed with someone about a controversial issue? Yeah, here’s a good guideline for how to survive that as friends.

So this is my guideline for myself, take it or leave it; adjust and tweak if you so desire: Pray down low. Don’t move until you’ve changed. Suspend your assumptions and walk yourself to the inside of someone else’s skin and story. See that everyone is carrying the weight of their own history; an entire world riding piggy on their backs and everyone is fighting their own battles, wearing their own scars, bleeding from their own wounds, pushing through their own struggles. And move those real live people from the coldness of your cranium to the beating place between your ribs bones and share food and communion there. Look into each other’s soul-windows and watch the Messiah materialize in the image they bear. Hold hands and hug for dear life – all we’ve got is each other. And maybe from this place of kindness and safety, thoughts and convictions can be mutually shared without scathe or savagery or “you’re stupid” words.

3. I hate this day by J.J. Landis. Written in the wake of a local tragedy, J.J. is frank about how our efforts to comfort fall short.

I know in my head what I believe about how the world works. I know we’re fallen and sin screws us up. I know people die, but seriously, it really sucks.

4. Why I Don’t Believe in Grace Anymore by Dr. Kelly Flanagan. Hands-down, when Kelly writes something, I want to read it. This is one of two he wrote recently that I could have recommended.

This is the brilliance of grace: it welcomes our darkness into the light and does nothing to it, knowing that it doesn’t have to, because darkness thrives on hiddenness, and it’s at the mercy of the light. Light drives out darkness, not the other way around.

When we no longer have to push our darkness back down beneath layers of shame our darkness doesn’t stand a chance.

5. Independence by Heather B. Armstrong (dooce). (Warning: This post contains pictures taken inside brothels in Southeast Asia. They are appropriately shocking, but I don’t want them to come as a surprise.) Yes, it’s an uncomfortable subject and it’s hard to talk about and look at, but that’s one reason I’m so glad there are bloggers out there like her who do their part to shine a light on this perverse evil.

Often when we think of that freedom we immediately go to thoughts of our right to free speech, to peaceably assemble, the free exercise of religion and the right to bear arms. I would guess that rarely do we seriously reflect on some of the very basic privileges afforded to us as well: the ability to leave our rooms and homes, the ability to live with our families and the years spent watching them grow, freedom from having to sell our bodies for sex.

Read more: http://dooce.com/2014/07/02/independence/#ixzz37ftn0ZCF

What would you add to this list?

When my husband and I first started cooking together, I was amazed at his ability to take common, seemingly unrelated pantry ingredients and turn them into a meal. It’s a method he learned growing up in a house where he cooked a few dinners a week. Food Network’s spin on that method is the show Chopped, where contestants open a basket of mystery ingredients and are tasked with making an edible appetizer, main dish or dessert out of them. It’s addicting.

choppedWhich is why when I found out Food Network was offering a Chopped cookbook, I pretty much freaked out. Because there are nights when I look in the pantry and I’m sure I don’t have enough stuff to make something tasty. Now, I have no excuse.

(And even though I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my review, I believe this cookbook is worth every penny you might pay for it. But keep reading because I have a surprise for you!)

The Chopped Cookbook is everything I’ve ever wanted in a cookbook: Tantalizing pictures, creative ideas and doable recipes. And did I mention flexibility? Most cookbooks want you to follow their instructions to a T. This cookbook emphasizes flexibility based on a basic knowledge of how foods work together. It gives you the building blocks and says, “Go, create.”

As of writing this post, I’ve paged through the entire book and tried two recipes from it. The first was Marinated Tilapia Tacos. I lacked some of the ingredients but improvised a bit and still turned out a tasty meal. Even the kids ate it! The second was Quick Skillet Kielbasa Pork and Beans, which again, I lacked some of the ingredients but was able to improvise. And it was good! (Seriously, my husband rarely raves when I experiment and both of these dishes gained his approval.)

The instructions are easy to follow and some recipes look more complicated than others, but there are 188 recipes in this book and I want to try them all.

A few of my favorite features:

  • The pantry list at the beginning. It gives you a foundation on which to build. Many of the recipes assume that you have some basics on hand. But again, the emphasis is on flexibility. No points lost if you don’t buy everything on the list.
  • The theme. “Use what you’ve got to cook something great.” It’s a confidence builder and ought to be a theme for life in general.
  • The variety. Scattered throughout the book are “go-to guides” for pan sauces, salad dressings and grains. This is where the creativity and versatility come in.

It’s been a long time since I was this excited about cooking.

And I’m even more excited because due to a processing error, I received an extra copy of this cookbook and I want to share it with you!

To enter to win, leave a comment answering ONE of these questions (and leave your e-mail address, if you don’t mind so I know how to notify you if you win):

What’s your one must-have in-stock pantry item?

What one ingredient would you hate to see in your Chopped basket?

What one ingredient would you love to see in your Chopped basket?

I’m going to leave the contest open till Sunday, July 27, when I’ll pick a winner. (Because of shipping costs, I have to limit winners to continental U.S. only.)

Happy cooking!.

Last year, we sent the kids to their grandparents for two weeks out of necessity. As in: this move is NOT going to happen unless I get these kids out of here. I’d come to the end of my abilities to pack boxes and clean and move stuff with two summer-lovin’ children under foot, so we begged (I mean, it didn’t take much) the grandparents to find it in their hearts to save these poor children from their stressed-out parents.

They obliged. We moved. And we all lived happily ever after.

Then summer happened again, only this time there was not a pressing need to send the children away. But work schedules being what they are, Camp Nana and Papa as we’re calling it, has become our summer thing, and this year it again stretched almost two weeks because that’s what had to happen.

I’m writing this now while the house is still quiet and the kids are off visiting baseball’s greatest stadium (Wrigley Field, if you didn’t know) for the first time, but by the time you read this, we’ll all be together again in a van hugging the mountainous curves of Pennsylvania on our way back home.

I’ll admit: I felt selfish when I told people the kids were going away for two weeks. I mean, it’s not like I have another job and need someone to take care of them for me, and even though it’s hard sometimes and I’m exhausted, it’s not like I wasn’t going to survive summer if they didn’t go. I didn’t need them to go, but I wanted them to go, and I will tell you without hesitation that I look forward to days when my time is more flexible on a regular basis.

But I will also tell you that the idea of nearly two weeks without my kids terrified me. I had plans, no doubt, but I was worried that with so much time, I would end up doing none of the things I had planned.

Do we look too eager?

Do we look too eager?

That partially came true. My house is still messy in spots. I have not cleaned like I thought I would. I talked myself out of having a yard sale and took the stuff to Goodwill instead. (Because really, an introvert’s nightmare is inviting strangers to stop by your house all morning and dig through your unwanted stuff and maybe make conversation.) I barely kept the dishes clean, which happens during an average week in our house.

This vacation was not a total loss, though. Far from it.

Here are some things I learned:

  • My friend Alison invited me to share her favorite writing spot so we could be introverts together.

    My friend Alison invited me to share her favorite writing spot so we could be introverts together.

    Alone time is good but it can easily turn into loneliness. I enjoy solitude. And quiet. And with a husband who works a full-time job with sometimes odd hours, I got a lot of that. I read many books. I wrote. And eventually, I got lonely. He would come home from work and I’d talk his ear off for 20 minutes straight because I hadn’t uttered a single solitary word out loud all day. When my life is busy with kids all day, I don’t think I need anymore of people. But, as it turns out, I might be lonelier than I think. News flash: introverts need people, too. We just don’t always need them as much as extroverts.

  • I have a lot of feelings. The first day without my kids, I was tired from a long day of driving and dealing with a lot of emotional thoughts. I cried for the better part of a day. I’m not usually a frequent crier because I don’t make regular space in my life to deal with my emotions, so when a major event triggers the tears, a flood of biblical proportions occurs. When I’d gotten past that day, I figured I was good to go. Then one night, Phil came home from work and I just cried without a reason, at least not one I could identify. I concluded that I had more time to think and feel and think about how I feel, which set me off again. I don’t think these are bad things, at all. I think it’s a sign that maybe I need to let myself sit with my feelings more instead of pushing them into a back closet because I don’t have time to deal with it.
  • My mom is a superhero. I’m pretty sure this has been true my whole life, but I’m only now seeing the irrefutable evidence. Every day, she posted pictures to Facebook of all the fun things they were doing. Legoland with their uncle! Parade! Carnival! Splash pad! McDonald’s for every meal! Fireworks! Gardening! A trip to Wrigley Field! It wore me out just thinking about it. (And did I mention she doesn’t drink coffee? She MUST have a superpower called unlimited endurance.) I’ve slept in past 8 a.m. more days these last two weeks than I’ve probably done in the last six years. She makes it look easy, but then again, I am just getting the Facebook version. (No offense, Mom. You’re still a star in my book!)

    Let's make our own Tie-dyed T-shirts! Why not?!

    Let’s make our own Tie-dyed T-shirts! Why not?!

  • I’m not responsible for an unforgettable summer. When school ended, we had plans. We were going to do family things and go on adventures and make summer memorable. And now it’s halfway through July and we’re headed to the beach soon and we’ve barely come up for air since the first week school was out. Then I remembered all the fun things the kids have been doing with grandparents (see above) and the experiences Phil and I have had with and without them and our upcoming beach trip. And I realized: they’ve ALREADY had one heck of a memorable summer! So, thank you, grandparents all around, for making memories with our children so I don’t have to wear  myself out entertaining them daily.

My kids have been my best teachers these last six years. Now I know their absence can serve as the same.

Have you ever been separated from your kids, spouse or parents for an extended period? What did that time teach you?

I did something this week that I’ve only dreamed of. I wrote “the end” on a story I’ve been crafting for years now.

The End fancy

I knew it was coming soon; I just wasn’t sure how soon. And I know that might sound weird but if I’ve learned anything from this process of writing a novel, it’s that it’s nothing like I expected. I can’t explain how it happens, that even though I’m the one writing the story, I still didn’t know when it would end.

What has surprised me most is the outpouring of support and enthusiasm I’ve received from family and friends and Facebook acquaintances. I have written a book that needs a lot of work and is far from finished and yet people tell me they can’t wait to read it.

That’s frightening. And humbling. And encouraging. But mostly frightening.

They are cheering me on and I’m not even sure the game has started. I still feel like a spectator sometimes, watching other people pursue their dreams, or if not a spectator then a benchwarmer. I’m observing, learning and waiting my turn.

So these people, the ones who encourage and cheer like I’m actually already in the game, they scare me with their unconditional belief in me. Or maybe they can see something I can’t. I don’t know. I don’t want to think about it because then I might turn in my uniform altogether and try to forget I ever thought I could do this.

Because I don’t want to disappoint people. It’s okay if I disappoint myself. I’m used to that. But those cheerleaders? Bless them. I don’t want to let them down. And I’m afraid that I’ve written a big pile of stinky manure and the cheerleaders will hold their noses and turn away when they realize what it is.

Or that they’ll give up cheering because it might be a while before these words go public.

Writing is a marathon sport. Even if the novel was ready today, I couldn’t publish it tomorrow. Even if I had a contract from a publisher that I signed today, it might be a year or more before the book became something I could hold in my hands.

So, I’m afraid these dear people trust me too much and expect too much and will give up when the journey is long. I’m afraid of the same things for myself: that I put too much pressure on me, that I expect too much too soon, that I will give up when the waiting is long.

Please don’t stop encouraging me. Having written the two most important words of the novel–the end–is really just the beginning. A lot of hard work is behind me but a lot of hard work is yet to come.

I wish I could tell you that this book will be published and give you a date. I wish I could show it to you in all its edited, cleaned up glory. I wish writing “the end” meant it was truly over.

But it’s not.

So just hang on with me? Wherever this writing journey takes me, if you’re willing to stick it out and come along, I’m glad to have you. I can’t promise it’ll always be exciting. Some days it might be downright depressing. But it won’t be boring.

It means the world to me to have people in my corner. If that’s you, then thank you. I’ll keep you updated when I know what’s next. In the meantime, you can pray that I would see where God is leading and be faithful with the time and words He gives me to write.

Again, thank you. We’re in this together, and I couldn’t do it without you.

Every time I read and review a Jody Hedlund book, I feel like a recording with my praise. So, if I haven’t convinced you historical fiction fans to read one of her books yet, consider these reasons to pick up her latest, Captured by Love, or any other book she’s written. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my review.) captured-by-love-662x1024

1. History. Duh. She writes historical fiction, right? But each of her novels leaves me wanting to know about the historical events she’s writing about. In this one, she focuses in on the War of 1812 and the British occupation of what we know as Mackinac Island in the Michigan Territory of 1814. I feel like I get an interesting history lesson when I read. But if history’s not enough to convince you, how about …

2. Hunky heroes. In Captured by Love, Pierre is a fur trader from the Michigan island settlement of Mackinac, which is currently occupied by the British. He’s the manliest of men with charm to spare. I’ve read all of Hedlund’s published books, and no two heroes are the same. I appreciate the diversity in character development as well as the predictability of some of their charms. Still, it’s fun to see how these men woo the women and also how they change. (My favorite hunky hero is from A Noble Groom. I’m swooning as I type.) But they’re not all typically hunky. Take Ben, who is modeled after John Adams, in Rebellious Heart. He woos with his words and his commitment to political change. That’s hunky in its own way. It’s not just about the men, though. Let’s not forget the …

3. Spunky heroines. This was a question posed by another historical fiction author recently: Do you like spunky heroines or more genteel ones? And honestly, I like them both for different reasons. Hedlund’s heroines are a mix of both but they lean toward spunky. They are not weak, damsel-in-distress types, though they do get rescued quite often. They are strong, passionate women with goals and ideas. In Captured by Love, Angelique has had to fend for herself for some time while also taking care of Pierre’s nearly-blind mother. She holds her own among the men in her life, even when she has little choice or say in matters. I appreciate female characters who earn the admiration of the men because of their minds, not just their pretty looks. Which is good because they face plenty of …

4. Peril. Hedlund’s stories are not sweet romances. There is danger, and the characters face opposition from without and within. Sometimes their lives hang in the balance. The stories are full of adventure and hold-your-breath moments, the kind where you know (you think!) things are going to turn out okay but you’re not sure how. Hedlund keeps me turning the pages and isn’t afraid to put her characters through the worst of circumstances for the sake of a good story.

And finally, you should read her stories …

5. To believe in love again. I know not everyone agrees that reading inspirational romance is a worthy pursuit, but don’t we humans love a good love story? I love reading true stories of love that lasts and weathers storms, and I’m grateful for authors who can write stories that reflect that real-life truth. Hedlund’s books are intense sometimes, and they are entertaining, but they are also pictures of undying and sacrificial love. These are not fluff romances meant to give readers a temporary thrill. They are stories that stick with you and rekindle the belief that love conquers all.

So, there you have it. Five good reasons to pick up a Jody Hedlund novel. She writes the stories I want to read, and frankly, I wouldn’t even have to know what the book is about beforehand as long as her name is on it. If you’re looking for a new author to love, give her books a try. And if you need further incentive to read Captured by Love, head on over to Goodreads and enter the giveaway for a chance to win one of 15 copies.

We huddled on a blanket as fireworks launched over our heads in a burst of color and sound, the literal kind of fireworks that are so prevalent on the Fourth of July, not the figurative kind lest you think me some kind of sappy romantic. (Okay, sometimes I’m guilty.)

fireworks 1

I watched with lips parted, uttering the occasional “oh” and “wow.”

I’ve seen dozens of fireworks displays through the years, some better than others. Maybe it was the absence of our kids or the gathering of friends or something yet unnamed, but this show of sparkle and sound left me in awe.

Moments earlier, a Civil War-era cannon brigade fired 16 times during the 1812 Overture, leaving my heart pounding as I giggled like a teenager and clung to my husband.

It was, all of it, a celebration of freedom and life and even as we sat in traffic waiting to leave the mall parking lot, I was grateful.

For this and so much more.

A year ago, we sat on the edges of the group who’d gathered, unsure of ourselves and our place and how we’d fit in. We were moving soon and this would become our family and though we couldn’t stay for the entire picnic, we dropped in to say “hi” and introduce ourselves. Our kids played on the playground and we met new people and we left with hope that this whole moving to a new city thing was going to work out okay.

Later that week, people we hardly knew showed up to our house, driving nearly an hour on a Saturday to sweat and lift and pack up the life of a family they had no blood connection to. They chauffeured our stuff to our new house where Phil and I sat amazed at the amount of work accomplished in so little time.

It took us months to settle in (in truth a year later, we still have unsettled areas) at least where our “stuff” is concerned but our hearts are a different story. They began to settle that day when near-strangers adopted us as family and ushered us in to our new community with grace, love, sweat and sore muscles.

But it was only the beginning.

fireworks 3

It’s been one year. One. Year. We’ve spent a whole year of our lives in our new home, our new community, and some days I can hardly believe it’s only been a year. The people who fill our daily lives have deeply embedded themselves in our hearts.

I am always amazed at the people God brings into our lives when we move to a new area, people I can’t imagine having never known. People who love us and our kids. People who challenge our thinking and encourage us in our struggles. People who offer us tangible support and friendship.

I used to let people in only so far, never knowing if we would be sticking around only for a few years. If I didn’t get too attached, it wouldn’t be too hard to leave, I told myself.

But this year has taught me that love with abandon is deep and fulfilling. It’s scary and wild and no guarantee against hurt or disappointment.

It is overwhelming, too.

In one year I have more people I can call “friend” than I did in multiple years when we first moved to Pennsylvania. It is good and yet I am forever falling short in maintaining and investing in these relationships.

Perhaps my goal for the next year will be that.

There are years I look back on and wonder how we survived. And I marvel at the work God did to bring us through and how He has changed us.

And then there’s this year of living in Lancaster. Not perfect but altogether good, without any soul-crushing low points.fireworks 2

And I can’t hardly put into words what I feel–how a year can be filled with such goodness, not because we deserve it or have earned it but because it is a gift.

This year, it has been a gift. Better than any wrapped present or expensive purchase. It has been a year to renew our hope, restore our relationships and heal our hurts. And just as those years of trials have changed us, so has a year of goodness.

We are moving toward our best selves, the people God wants to make us. We are healthier in our whole selves, not just getting by but taking tiny steps toward thriving. We are thankful. Less grumbling. Less bitter. More aware that this journey is not about us and the plans we’ve made but about God and the dreams He has for us.

It is not perfect because we are not perfect, but it is good and I will rest in that.

And a year from now, let it be said that we embraced each day knowing that God was at work for good.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,498 other followers

%d bloggers like this: