An Uncertain Choice by Jody Hedlund (Zondervan, 2015)

New Christian YA Books with Historical Focus {plus giveaway!}

I’m a firm believer that adults can learn from and appreciate middle grade and young adult novels as well as the intended audience. Good middle grade and young adult focus on growth, observation of the world around, reflection on one’s place and how to affect that world, and the heart. They’re powerful genres.

Experienced Christian fiction novelist Jody Hedlund is branching into the young adult (YA) world with her newest release, An Uncertain Choice (Zondervan, 2015), set in 14th century.

An Uncertain Choice by Jody Hedlund (Zondervan, 2015)

 

I particularly love how Jody obviously researches every time period she writes about, so I’m going to highlight a few historical facts she incorporates into the story throughout this post.

Only on her parents’ deathbed does Lady Rosemarie find out about an ancient vow her parents promised in order to receive special blessing from the monks to have a baby. She must enter the convent at age eighteen and live a life of celibacy and service.

When her father’s most trusted friend enters her kingdom just one month before Rosemarie’s 18th birthday, he brings news of a second option within that ancient vow – if Rosemarie falls in true love and marries before her 18th birthday, she is excused from the convent vow. With this news, he brings three of the bravest knights and challenges her to give them each a chance and see if she falls in love. As the month progresses, foul play and conflict escalate, and Rosemarie battles with which choice she should pursue: marriage and possible betrayal of a faithful vow or true love with a husband to serve God jointly.

From the first chapter, Jody incorporates specific historical setting details, like “fresh rushes strewn across stone floor.”

Did you know? “Fresh rushes” were long green stems covering the floor and usually sprinkled with herbs to aid cleanliness and insulation in wealthy person’s castle. The stems may have been loose or some may have been woven into mats. Rushes may have been left for up to three months, which would have made truly “fresh” rushes to be particularly pleasing. (Sources: here and here)

In classic Jody Hedlund-style, numerous conflicts are present throughout the entire novel, keeping the reader turning pages to find out what happens. Jody successfully offers three varied personalities between the three knights, and allows the reader to learn about all three and watch Rosemarie’s growth.

Did you know? Marriages in medieval times were often arranged, though some were chosen by one of the spouses. Several components of wedding ceremonies practiced in medieval times are still common in traditional Christian marriages today, like the exchange of rings and the woman standing on the left, the man on the right. (Source)

Jody keeps the reader guessing for a while on the identity of the main enemy, as well as what Rosemarie’s final choice will be.

Did You Know? Monks practice tonsure – or shaving their heads – likely for a variety of reasons, including to show their renouncement of modern fashions and concerns, to emulate possible practices of Christ’s disciples, and to affirm their commitment to the monastery. (Source)

Jody includes conversation on marriage, choosing your own path, reflecting on God’s purpose for you, and living truthfully. Teens and young adults will enjoy reading this book for the topics, character emotion, and history.

“Marriage doesn’t put an end to one’s ability to serve God and bring him glory. In fact, I’ve seen many married couples who have done more for God together than was possible as individuals.” – p. 98, An Uncertain Choice

Jody also prefaces An Uncertain Choice with a novella titled The Vow. I definitely suggest reading this brief story first to get acquainted with Lady Rosemarie’s world, meet her parents, and understand the background of the circumstance she finds herself in when An Uncertain Choice opens. Even in a short novella, Jody knows how to ramp up the internal and external conflict!

"For it is often the hardest tasks that build the most character." - from An Uncertain Choice by Jody Hedlund

Be sure to visit Jody’s Events page for more giveaway opportunities and unique content on the Noble Knights Blog Tour.

Noble Knights Blog Tour for An Uncertain Choice by Jody Hedlund

Now, a giveaway! Jody is graciously offering one signed copy of An Uncertain Choice to one of you! (US residents only, sorry!) Enter through the Rafflecopter widget below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Terms of giveaway: This giveaway is open to US residents only and will end at the end of the day (Eastern) April 2, 2015. All entrants must be 18 years old or older. Enter through the Rafflecopter widget above. Incomplete entries will be deleted. Once a winner is selected, I will contact them via email. If the winner does not respond within 72 hours, I will select another winner.

What medieval story do you know most about? What fascinates you about this period in history?

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book as a part of Jody Hedlund’s launch team. All opinions expressed are my own, and this is an honest review.

I am an affiliate for Amazon Associates. If you click on an Amazon link and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Shine Like Stars series on Philippians 2 at DoNotDepart.com

What it Means to Work to Shine

At Do Not Depart this month, we’re studying Philippians 2:1-18 together. It’s one of my favorite chapters of the Bible, and it’s always good to study it repeatedly.

I’m at Do Not Depart today sharing about what I’ve learned from Philippians 2:12-13 and what working with God can mean.

Join me at Do Not Depart today and check out the rest of the posts from this month on our Philippians 2 study!

Shine Like Stars series on Philippians 2 at DoNotDepart.com

5 Picture Books on Season Transitions {undergodsmightyhand.com}

5 Picture Books About Season Transitions

It’s March 4th – the first Wednesday of March! And that means it is World Read Aloud Day!

LitWorld.org hosts World Read Aloud Day as a way to communicate the need and importance of reading aloud with students and children. Reading aloud provides a model for reading, improves literacy, facilitates connection between parent (or teacher) and child, and celebrates and encourages creativity.

Visit LitWorld online for more information about World Read Aloud Day, as well as resources for home, school, and community. Join in on the fun on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #WRAD15 to find book recommendations and celebration ideas and post your own!

World Read Aloud Day 2015!

Need some ideas for World Read Aloud Day?

How about picture books on transitioning seasons?

5 Picture Books on Season Transitions {undergodsmightyhand.com}

5 Picture Books that Discuss Transitioning Seasons

Hi, Koo! by Jon J Muth

Hi, Koo! by Jon J. Muth (Scholastic, 2014) – This book of haiku poems (get it? Haiku… “hi, Koo!”) offers 26 poems on the four seasons while following an adorable panda bear through seasonal adventures. The haikus are gentle and fluid, and the illustrations are exquisite. Great for read alouds!

Tap the Magic Tree

Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson (Greenwillow Books, 2013) – This picture book remains one of my kids’ favorites. The book takes an interactive form and gives readers directions to follow (tap the tree and turn the page, etc.). As readers complete each action and turn the page, they see their actions “produce” results! Perfect for preschoolers, this book is fun to read aloud and have one or many kids help the tree in the illustrations transition through the each season.

Bunny's First Spring by Sally Lloyd-Jones

Bunny’s First Spring by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by David McPhail (Zonderkidz, 2015) – Sally Lloyd-Jones is the author of The Jesus Storybook Bible, one of our family’s very favorite children’s bibles. She is able to tell a story with strong emotion and beautifully fluid, yet active phrases. Bunny’s First Spring introduces the reader to a young bunny who bounces in adoration of a spring world full of life and new growth. As the year progresses, the bunny grows and wonders if a tree dropping its fall leaves is sick or if winter means the earth is dying. The bunny’s mother and father assure that waiting will reveal the answer, so the bunny listens and watches nature until its own hibernation period. With a soothing rhythmic tone, this book is perhaps particularly appropriate as a read aloud for parents/guardians and preschool children.

Leaves by David Ezra Stein

Leaves by David Ezra Stein (Putnam, 2007) – This sweet book follows a young bear at the very end of summer and the wonder and discovery of fall. While the book focuses on autumn, all of the seasons are covered, ending with jubilation at the new growth of spring. Preschoolers again will love rejoicing with the bear in this book.

The Lion and The Bird by Marianne Dubuc

The Lion and The Bird by Marianne Dubuc (Enchanted Lion Books, 2014) – This book is plain beautiful, heart-wrenching, and endearing. Rather than the seasons being the focus, the book centers on the unlikely and perfect friendship between a farming lion and a journeying bird. The bird gets hurt and Lion helps bandage it, but the bird is unable to fly away with its migrating flock. The lion helps the bird recuperate through the cold winter as they enjoy a strengthening friendship. However, when spring returns, so does the bird’s flock. What will become of their friendship? This book also leans heavily on illustrations over words allowing younger readers to help narrate the story in their own words. My favorite line: “But winter doesn’t feel all that cold with a friend.” A beautiful book everyone needs to read – together.

How about you? What books will you be reading this World Read Aloud Day?

I am an affiliate for Signing Time and Amazon Associates. If you click on a Signing Time link or Amazon and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

What Love Sees

What Love Sees

We’re doing a series on “Love Songs” at Do Not Depart this month. But, before you cringe and turn away, know that these aren’t your ordinary love songs.

We’re talking about God’s love and loving others this month and sharing some of our favorite traditional and contemporary worship songs that inspire us to remember His love and share that love more.

My post today references a great song from Jason Gray and talks about the opportunities love sees.

This post has a lot of my heart in it. Please join me over at Do Not Depart today and share your experiences.

What Love Sees

A review of Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

Insights from Author Susan Meissner {Plus book giveaway!}

On Friday, I posted my review of Susan Meissner’s stellar new historical fiction novel, Secrets of a Charmed Life. (If you want to read what the book is about or missed that review, click here to read it!)

Today, I’m honored to share some of Susan Meissner’s insights to writing this novel. (Plus, stayed tuned to the end of the post for information on a book giveaway!)

Q&A with Susan Meissner

Susan MeissnerSusan Meissner is the author of seventeen books, including A Fall of Marigolds, named to Booklist’s Top Ten Women’s Fiction titles for 2014, and The Shape of Mercy, named one of the 100 Best Novels in 2008 by Publishers Weekly. She is also a speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. She and her husband make their home in Southern California. (Caroline’s addendum: Plus, she’s super sweet and genuine when you meet her in person! She kindly dealt with my introverted-ness at She Speaks years ago. Thanks, Susan!)

(Susan’s answers are beneath the bolded questions.)

A review of Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

Susan, where did you get the idea for Secrets of a Charmed Life? 

The story began first as an image in my head of an impoverished girl on the brink of adulthood sketching wedding dresses in the tiny bedroom she shares with a younger half-sister. I could see her in my mind’s eye imagining a life far different from the one she is living. She wants a fairy tale life where love and comfort and happiness are in abundance, and for her, that charmed life begins with a wedding dress worn on that blissful day a girl’s childhood dreams come true. I decided to set her in London at the start of the war because I knew that even for a young woman not yet sixteen, war is a crucible. It is a tester of dreams and desires and determination. I knew the London Blitz was an opposition that would bring out the very best and the very worst in this girl, as war so often does.

What drew you to include in your story the evacuation of London’s children?

Prior to researching for this book, I was only minimally aware of what London’s parents did to keep their children safe during World War II. I’d long ago read C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia and I knew the four children in those stories had been sent out of London into the countryside at the start of the war. But I didn’t know that for tens of thousands of children just like them that stay in the countryside lasted for the duration of the war. We’re talking five years. How difficult it must have been for the parents and their kids to be separated from each other – with just occasional visits – for half a decade, and during a time of fear, danger, and deprivation. From a storyteller’s standpoint, the emotional pull of this situation is intense. I knew I wanted to explore what this scenario might have been like for two young sisters.

Evacuees

Photos via Susan Meissner

The Cotswolds

The Cotswolds (countryside where Emmy and Julia were evacuated) – Photos via Susan Meissner

What is the significance of Emmy’s wedding dress sketches?

Those bridal gown designs represent Emmy’s naïve notions about the happily-ever-after life that she believes begins for a girl on the day she wears a dress emblematic of bliss and perfection. Emmy sees her unwed mother as someone on whom fate has frowned and that she is somewhat to blame for that. Emmy’s vision for her future is to rise above the constraints of her mother’s unlucky life. But those sketches blind her at first to the larger forces at work. And there are always larger forces at work.

Many authors accumulate way more research than what actually makes it into the book. Roughly how much of your overall research do you think is included in Secrets of a Charmed Life? What is one piece of research that didn’t make it into the book that you’d like to share with readers?

I bought or borrowed perhaps twenty different books and read most of them, which makes me think that I perhaps ended up using only half of the content I learned. That’s pretty typical for me, though. I don’t actually know what I will need in the beginning when I am in research mode, so I collect it all. And it’s as I am researching that I find I make the biggest decisions on where the story will go. The one bit that I mention only briefly in the book that was actually a big deal was when the Germans started using V-1 flying rockets in the summer of 1944. These highly destructive missiles were also called harmless-sounding “doodlebugs” but they were nothing to joke about. Londoners knew a V1 was nearby by the rasping, grating noise from the jet engine which powered the missile. They also knew that if this noise continued off into the distance then they were safe. If that sound suddenly cut off however, then there was about 15 seconds to run for cover. Nearly nine thousand people died during the Doodlebug summer.

What were you most surprised by in your research for Secrets of a Charmed Life?

I think many of us who were born after World War II have a limited understanding of what England suffered because there were so many other more shocking situations, like the slaughter of millions of Jews, the occupations of nations like Poland and France, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the storming at the beach at Normandy, and the Bataan Death March, to name just a few. I didn’t realize the magnitude of what London suffered until I took a closer look. The city was never occupied by Hitler’s forces but it was bombed relentlessly. Seven of Christopher Wren’s beautiful churches were destroyed, as were thousands upon thousands of homes. More than sixty thousand civilians were killed in the whole of the British Isles. Those are staggering losses. And yet the British people were and are resilient. Their rallying cry of Keep Calm and Carry On (I truly can’t stand trivializations of this motto!) is truly the hallmark of that resiliency. You can go to London’s East End now and see street after street of 1950’s-era buildings, framed by a quiet horizon of much older buildings that the war did not flatten. London, Coventry and the other bombed cities rebuilt what was destroyed and moved on. The memories of the war aren’t in the streets but in the museums, and in national cemeteries, and sometimes, if you look closely enough, in the faces of those who survived it.

Little girl on bombed streets of London

Photos via Susan Meissner

Authors know a book comes alive when a reader reads it, so themes within are important. What would you especially like readers to take away from Secrets of a Charmed Life?

The title of this book, which I love, is meant to cause the reader to wonder if there really are secrets to living a life that has happily-ever-after written all over it. The title seems to suggest there are hidden truths to being able to have everything you’ve always wanted. But in actuality, and what I hope readers will take away, is that a happy life is not made up of what you have chased and achieved, but rather who you have poured your life into, who has poured their life into yours, and the difference you’ve made in the lives of others. Most of the dreams we pursue don’t have intrinsic worth, but people always do. It’s not a perfect world, and we can only play our own hand of cards – if you will – but if we play the hand as best we can with love for others as the motivation, I think we can rest content.

————————————————————————-

I love Susan’s answer for that last question! See my review from last Friday for some of my personal favorite quotes from the book, including some poignant thoughts on fear and hope.

Susan has graciously offered one signed copy of Secrets of a Charmed Life for one of you! Enter this giveaway through the Rafflecopter widget below. (For shipping reasons, this giveaway is open to US or Canada residents only.)

This giveaway is open from Monday, February 9th through Saturday, February 14th, 2015. See full terms for the giveaway when the Rafflecopter widget. (If you’re an email subscriber, you may need to click over to the actual post to enter the giveaway.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Since we’re talking history, What is a historical event you want to learn more about? (Share your response in the comments below!)

I am an affiliate for Signing Time and Amazon Associates. If you click on a Signing Time link or Amazon and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.