Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Action and Adventure + Faith and Forgiveness = A Great Summer Read

Part 2 of an Interview with Andrew Huff,
Author of Cross Shadow

Looking for a fast-paced, action-packed summer read? Look no further than Andrew Huff’s Cross Shadow, the follow-up to the A Cross to Kill, a nominee for ACFW’s Carol Award in the Debut category.

The Shepherd Suspense series features John Cross, a former CIA assassin turned small town pastor who keeps finding himself in precarious situations. As much as he wanted to leave his old life behind, he comes to the realization that you can never really leave the Central Intelligence Agency. Is he really where God wants him to be?

Huff’s characters wrestle with faith, forgiveness, and redemption in middle of a plot packed with danger. He wants his series to take the Bible and the church seriously while offering the same kind of jaw-dropping action some of his favorite novels and films such as Mission: Impossible, Jason Bourne, and James Bond excel at.

Q: How did John and Christine, the leading lady of Cross Shadow, meet?

On occasion, John would accept the call from the CIA to participate in rescue missions during his off time from serving the church. He was dropped into Amman, Jordan, on one such mission only to discover that the person he’d been sent to exfiltrate was Christine Lewis, a beautiful American journalist about to be executed by her captors. Using only a stun gun and his hand-to-hand combat skills, John stayed the execution and escaped with Christine. After he disappeared and all knowledge of his existence was denied, Christine made it her mission upon returning home to locate the man who saved her life.

Through a contact in Washington with mysterious ties to the intelligence community, Christine was given a hint to John’s true identity in the form of an address. She’s instructed to go there on Sunday, and when she arrived, she found John preaching a sermon in the small country church. John’s instinct was to run, but something caused him to trust her and reveal his story. Christine wanted to protect his secret, but forces beyond her control appeared, and she was caught in the middle as a choice from John’s past came back to haunt him.

Q: Trying to protect Christine from danger puts John in the middle of some moral quandaries. How does he handle himself mentally and spiritually in those situations?

The battle waging in John from the beginning is the tension between who he is now and who he was trained to be. His focus has been singularly placed on the act of killing. But what he’s suddenly faced with as he pursues a relationship with Christine and continues to serve as the pastor of his church is that the instincts drilled into him carry other moral prices as well. The more the situation in Dallas unravels, the more out of control John begins to feel with his own mental and spiritual status.

At the same time, he’s committed to protecting the innocent and preserving life, so he works to redirect his instincts to achieve those two goals. That’s what complicates his relationship with truth. If he’s convinced that what he’s doing is for the greater good, he’s quick to compromise on deception and manipulation. This is a struggle I have and have seen in others. By lying to ourselves about our intentions, we can sometimes make choices that are inconsistent with what we say we believe.

Q: Does John’s prior profession and the choices he made ever come back to haunt him?

Oh, all the time. The truth about the Central Intelligence Agency is that you never truly leave the Central Intelligence Agency. So, John keeps getting pulled back in, even when he says he doesn’t want to. The only problem is that he was really good at what he did. And not just the assassination part. Which begs the question: Should he go back? Was he only running from guilt when he decided to leave?

In Cross Shadow, we also examine his choice to accept the pastorate at his church despite being young in his faith and untrained for the ministry. From the outside looking in, he doesn’t seem like the best candidate to truly lead the church toward growth. Those were real questions that not only were present when I was writing the first book but have also been asked by readers afterward. I can’t wait for you to see how the story continues for him.

Q: What kind of research goes into writing about a CIA agent?

It does get tricky, especially when writing about members of the Special Activities Center (the CIA’s division for covert operations). The most important thing for me about writing these characters is to never make it feel like they’re learning any of it for the first time. Since we’re often in their perspective, there are certain actions they might take or things they might say that need to be second nature to them. That needs to be balanced with making sure the reader can follow along. This means I need to know my stuff!

A lot of my research comes from scouring the internet. (I’m sure the CIA knows how many times I visit their website.) But I also research movies and books too; other writers before me have done their homework, so I love to learn and be inspired by how someone else might have crafted the world of the United States Intelligence Community. A great book specifically on the CIA’s targeted killing programs is called Surprise, Kill, Vanish by Annie Jacobsen. It didn’t come out until 2019, so I didn’t have it as a resource for the first book, but I surprised myself with how accurately I was able to write some things with the then more limited knowledge about this particular aspect of the CIA.

Q: How long have you been working on the Shepherd Suspense series, and have you always wanted to write?

I worked on A Cross to Kill for several years beginning in 2014. The series didn’t start to take shape until two years ago after I signed with Kregel Publications for the book to be published. I originally wrote A Cross to Kill as a stand-alone novel, though I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t already thought about what I might do to continue the story with the characters. What I found most helpful in planning out the series was asking myself what lingering questions I had from the first story, and there were enough that the plots for the second and third books came relatively easy.

While I didn’t start attempting to write until I was an older teen, my passion for storytelling has been a part of my life from an early age. One of my favorite pastimes growing up was to tell stories using action figures (mainly to myself, but often with my brothers). I was also into art and would occasionally adapt those stories into drawings. I even made some short films based on stories I would write. In some ways, novels feel like a more recent addition to my repertoire of formats to tell stories in.

Q: What can readers expect from the final installment of the Shepherd Suspense trilogy, Right Cross?

A Cross to Kill featured a small-town setting with international intrigue. In Cross Shadow, I flip the script, and we get to go with John and Christine to a bigger city to solve a personal mystery. With Right Cross, both the locations and plot go big. I like to try and write the thrills of a Mission: Impossible movie onto the page with my novels, and the final book in the Shepherd Suspense series is the most M:I of them all.

At the same time, the characters have grown. They’re no longer wrestling with questions of identity and purpose. With a newfound confidence in their standing before God, they get a chance to be who they were ultimately created to be. And I’ve had so much watching that unfold. I can’t wait for readers to do the same!

Learn more about Andrew Huff and the Shepherd Suspense novels at www.andrewhuffbooks.com. He can also be found on Facebook (@huffwrites), Twitter (@andrewjohnhuff) and Instagram (@andyhuff).

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Battle Belongs to the Lord

I went way back six year's ago on this one. This was on Peyton's 10th birthday, and she turns 16 next week. I won't talk about how hard that is to believe. All these kids are going to be sophmores and juniors when school starts back. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Kind Words Are Like Honey

Part 2 of an interview with Bonnie Clark,
Author of Taste Your Words

Teach kids about the power of words and the importance of kindness with Bonnie Clark’s charming picture book, Taste Your Words (Worthy Kids), that cleverly illustrates why we should think before we speak.

Amera’s having a bad day. Her best friend ruined her cupcake and they both said mean things. When Amera brings her bad mood home with her, her mom tells her to “taste her words.” Amera’s mean words taste like rotten eggs, spoiled milk, and lemons! As Amera realizes that her mean words make her feel bad and others feel worse, she starts saying the kindest, sweetest words she can find.

Taste Your Words is an excellent resource for parents who want to teach their kids to think before they speak. With humorous text and lively illustrations by Todd Bright make it easy for even the youngest children to understand the power of their words.

Q: The concept of tasting our words is Biblical. Where can we find that idea in scripture?

Proverbs 16:24 (NLT) says, “Kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” This verse was a big inspiration when writing the manuscript for Taste Your Words because I loved the imagery of kind words tasting sweet!

I really wanted Proverbs 16:24 to show up subtly within the illustrations and not overtly in the text. In the spread when Amera is home sulking about her yucky day, there is a hand-lettered chalkboard hanging on the wall behind her with Proverbs 16:24 written on it. I hope it gets noticed by the readers, especially the adults. I actually have a chalkboard like that one hanging in our kitchen, and I hand-letter family verses often. This verse has made it “on the board” quite a few times.
While I chose that particular one as inspiration for the story, the Bible is full of verses about the power of words:
  • Proverbs 18:20 (NLT) – “Wise words satisfy like a good meal; the right words bring satisfaction.”
  • Proverbs 15:1 (NIV) – “Wise words satisfy like a good meal; the right words bring satisfaction.”
  • Proverbs 15:4 (ESV) – “A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.”
  • Proverbs 18:4 (NLT) – “Wise words are like deep waters; wisdom flows from the wise like a bubbling brook.”
  • Proverbs 18:21 (ESV) – “Death and Life are in the power of the tongue.”
  • Proverbs 25:11 (CEV) – “The right word at the right time is like precious gold set in silver.”
  • Ephesians 4:29 (NIV) – “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
We can impact the world and be a part of bringing God’s kingdom to earth, beginning with the words that we speak to one another.

Q: How can using the sense of taste help parents teach kind speaking habits?

Taste is a primal sense that is developed very early in life—infancy, in fact. It is after the introduction of food (what we put in our mouth) that kids learn about using their words to communicate (what comes out of our mouth), so it is an easy and fun mental leap for a child to imagine that words can have a taste. A yucky taste from food elicits a strong negative response in the mind and body. A yucky word can have the same effect on the person to whom the unkind word is spoken as the person who is doing the speaking. Taste Your Words creatively demonstrates that the words that we speak nourish our souls in the same way the foods that we eat nourish our bodies.

This review that came from the parent of a “sensory seeking” child, really means a lot to me. “This book totally captivated the attention of my two-year-old and my four-year-old and caused them to laugh out loud during the yucky parts. [It was a] super helpful tool for my sensory-seeking/sensory-avoiding (SPD) son who lacks natural empathy towards others. All other books are pushing kids to imagine what the other children feel when a mean word is said, but this book uniquely turns the experience inward in a sensory-rich way which totally resonated with my son (FINALLY!). This book is a gift for parents. We've been using, “How did that word taste?” successfully in my household already, and we just got the book yesterday.”

Q: How is the message of Taste Your Words relevant today in light of the current cultural climate?

I try to practice “social media distancing,” especially when it comes to controversial discussion and heated debate. I was already bracing myself for a stormy presidential election year because four years ago I had to get off all social media to stay sane. This year my first book debuted in the middle of COVID-19. I do have to be online to homeschool my three kids, sift through the news, and promote my book, but it’s hard to not see the hateful discourse.

While the book is a children’s book, the message has never been more relevant for adults as well: Taste Your Words. No matter your position or politics, choose your words carefully. Nothing is either/or. People are fearful about different things, and we should all be respectful. Listen and respond with love. That’s the only way we can possibly be the UNITED States. I’m hopeful. I’m grateful.  Taste Your Words is my contribution to 2020.

Q: The illustrations for the book are fantastic. Can you tell us about the illustrator for the book, Todd Bright?

This is my favorite part of my story to publication. My illustrator is Todd Bright, who I mentioned is my stepbrother. My dad and his mom married about 12 years ago, so we didn’t grow up together, but I have always admired his work as an animator. He has worked for Disney/Pixar and others on ridiculously big animation projects such as Tarzan, Lilo & Stitch, Curious George and others. When I started writing picture books years ago, I had the crazy idea that Todd could illustrate a book for me. (I’m driven remember?)

First of all, I was unaware that that’s not how it works—you don’t get to pick the illustrator when you’re an author. Second, I was a newbie, and he was a seasoned vet. And third, the book I pitched to him wasn’t very good. He politely declined. I kept on writing new stories (because the whole driven thing) and was well into the process when somehow the subject of my latest project was brought up between he and my sister on a family beach trip. This time he expressed an interest in illustrating the story, and I jumped at the opportunity.

Q:  Is there a special reason why the family depicted in the book is a blended family?

Taste Your Words has become a special gift—a blended family collaborative since I was able to work on the book with Todd. The main character, Amera, has the likeness of my youngest daughter Amera. I didn’t make this request because I wanted him to have creative liberty to see the illustrations as he wanted them to be, but it was a sweet surprise. I named the little brother in the story Remy, which is Todd’s son’s name, and he looks like him too! I love that the family depicted in the story is a blended one. Amera and Remy have different skin tones in the illustrations and in real life! I hope children who are a part of a blended family pick up on this subtle story within the story.

Q: How did you get into writing children’s books and why is it such a passion for you?

I’ve always enjoyed writing and journaling to get my thoughts out of my head. I feel lighter and clearer after I’ve poured my heart out on paper. In high school, my favorite classes were always literature and writing.  I have a business degree from Georgia Tech, but the only classes I remember enjoying were my English/writing classes and one on Shakespeare. I guess I didn’t pursue writing professionally because I didn’t think that was an adequate profession. So, I was over-educated and under-prepared for the toughest job of my life—stay at home mother to three kids (ages 3 and under).

My mom recently found the very first picture book I wrote and illustrated: The Lifeguard Who Couldn’t Swim. It was so fun coming across this and sharing it with my kids because truly the whisper of writing has followed me through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. This should have been a clue over the years to pursue writing as a career! Having children of my own made me fall in love with picture books again and re-discover what I wanted to be when I grew up.

When I had my firstborn, I wrote another picture book, Sleepy Town and had it printed and bound just for him. As I had more children, and we would frequent the library, I started to wonder what it would look like to be a “serious” writer of picture books. I was in the throes of raising littles, but I also call this stage “research.” In 2015, I joined a kid lit critique group and my pursuit and dream of becoming a published author began.

It is my hope that children who read my books will see themselves somehow in the story, the illustrations or in the emotions and feelings that come up. I want my books to be a safe space to explore emotion, to feel encouraged to like who they are, and to be inspired to make the world a better place by being themselves.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Small-town minister John Cross can’t seem to keep himself out of danger

 Part 1 of an Interview with Andrew Huff,
Author of Cross Shadow

All journalist Christine Lewis wants is the truth. There’s always more to the story, and she can’t rest until she uncovers it. All pastor John Cross wants is to avoid the truth. Given his prior life, he thinks hiding the truth can protect those he cares about. A journalist out for the truth and a pastor avoiding it sounds somewhat backward, but that’s where Christine and John find themselves in Andrew Huff’s Cross Shadow (Kregel Publications), the second installment of the Shepherd Suspense series.

When Christine hears that her stepbrother has been arrested for murder in Texas, she vows to get to the bottom of the crime and prove his innocence. Christine wants to investigate on her own, but when John arrives, they team up again to discover the truth about the crime. Untangling a web of intrigue, the couple finds themselves in the center of another dangerous situation and in trouble far deeper than they expected. A chain of events reveals a bigger conspiracy than either could have imagined involving a robotics defense contractor, a private military company, and an assassination plot.

With an assassin on the loose, a trusted colleague acting as a double agent, and unreliable artificial intelligence connected to mercenaries who have Cross on their hit list, these two may not get out of the Lone Star State alive. In the face of danger, will John’s former instincts kick in? Will he turn back to his old ways?

Q: For those who may not have read A Cross to Kill, tell us a little bit about John Cross and his past.

CIA assassin John Cross found himself at a crossroads in his life during a covert operation in Spain. He walked in on a Catholic Mass at a historic cathedral while tracking his target and couldn’t help but get caught up in the majesty of the building. Instead of fulfilling the requirements of the mission, John found an English Bible at a local bookshop and spent the night reading it. Convicted by his sin, he gave his life to Christ and resigned from the agency.

In an effort to pay penance for the targeted killings he was personally responsible for, John embedded himself in a small church community in rural Virginia and served the various needs of its members night and day. Impressed by his commitment to caring for them, and in need of leadership, the congregation offered him the chance to be their pastor. Thinking it might be another step toward paying the price of his past sins, he accepted, though he continues to hide the truth about who he used to be from the members of the church.

Q: What are some of the relationship challenges John and Christine contend with? Why does Christine seem to be second-guessing their dating relationship?

Throughout the events of A Cross to Kill, John and Christine are drawn to each other like two magnets. After Christine gives her life to Christ, they decide to see if a dating relationship will work. What they find, however, is that neither is sure what such a relationship should look like as new believers. While the chemistry is still strong, their dates are consumed by John’s compulsion to train Christine in survival skills. Christine loves the small community of Rural Grove Baptist Church, but blossoming spiritual relationships and potential job opportunities keep her tied to New York City. Christine begins to wonder if her connection to John was anything more than an infatuation with his story.

While both are struggling to separate their identity from each other, the biggest challenge in their relationship comes from the lack of communication, both in the sense of the distance between them and also a lack of trust. John struggles to reveal more of who he really is for fear of driving Christine away while Christine struggles with planning her life around John for fear his plans might not align with hers. The tension in their relationship stems from their hesitancy to be truthful with one another when simply sharing their feelings would bring many of these struggles to light.

Q: Both John and Christine seem to have a problem with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Why does this keeping popping up as an issue throughout the story?

John’s life prior to Christ was built on one lie after another, and he’s been oblivious to how that has continued to be the case, even in the wake of his conversion. For him, there’s also an objective to the lie, because he is convinced that he needs to deceive others in order to protect them. John thought his only lie was hiding his past from the members of his church when in reality he’s been lying to himself about who he is and what he should do about it. Finding forgiveness for the lives he took was only the first step of John’s journey toward becoming the new man God has called him to be.

Christine has less of a problem telling the truth and more of a problem obsessing over it. To her, there’s always more to the story, and she can’t rest until she uncovers it. Sometimes, however, she finds herself willing to bend the truth in order to get at the truth on something else. New to Christianity, Christine is still learning about the balance between grace and truth, too often erring on the side of the latter at the expense of the former.

Q: Without giving away too much, can you tell us about the situations they encounter this time around in Cross Shadow?

With the first story, A Cross to Kill, we were introduced to the characters and saw what happens when John’s cultivated small-town life clashes with the fallout from his previous career. For the second book in the series, I wanted us to spend more time with Christine and see how her past might draw them back into a world of danger. Only now she sees the world from a new perspective based on her relationship with John.

On her way to an interview with a new network, Christine spots a suspicious character on the subway who turns out to be a suicide bomber. With the aid of an off-duty NYPD officer, Christine “defuses” (not literally; John didn’t train her to do that!) the situation and is thrust into the spotlight a second time. As if that wasn’t enough, in the middle of it all she learns the shocking news that her stepbrother has been arrested for murder in Dallas, Texas. Christine vows to get to the bottom of the crime and prove his innocence. But when John arrives to shadow her, it starts a chain of events that reveals a far deeper conspiracy than either could’ve imagined involving a robotics defense contractor, a private military company, and an assassination plot.

Q: Christine is a national news reporter and in Cross Shadow has some opinions of her coworkers and how the network covers certain stories. What do you think her take would be about the current news of the day and coverage of events?

Before her kidnapping in Jordan, Christine felt at home among her colleagues at the network news division she works for. But upon her rescue and return, she can’t help but feel like most of the work happening in news is less about presenting truth and more about shaping it. I think she’d sense the same in the way news is covered currently, and she would be bothered by that. At the same time, she’s committed to the profession, and I think she would want to work to effect change from the inside.

When I created the character of Christine, I saw her as someone who went into the job believing she was an agent of change in the world, only to be stripped of her idealism by her captivity. Rather than turn cynical, the experience grounds her in reality and opens her eyes to the possibility that human beings can’t fix what feels broken about the world. That’s how her journey leads to John, then ultimately to Christ. She’s searching for something truly good and right. I think because of that, she’d be less interested in the sensationalism of today’s news and more in understanding the reality beneath the headlines.

Q: What has been the biggest surprise for you as a new author following the release of your first book?

The biggest surprise has been the season following the release. I looked at the specific date of release as something akin to a movie’s opening weekend and expected there to be a lot of excitement over it immediately. I don’t know if you know this, but a book is very different from a movie, and while the release day was exciting, it’s been really fun to watch new readers discover the book over the months following its debut last October. I’m still getting reviews and messages about it (which is probably laughable for other authors to hear, but hey, I’m still new at this).

Another surprise has been how much I enjoy hearing the varied aspects of the book that different readers enjoyed. Of course, I know and love that each reader is their own unique person, but as an author, you are always trying to reach as vast of an audience as possible. And while many readers have let me know how much they love similar things, it’s been a lot of fun to hear the personal connection each individual has to certain themes or characters.

Learn more about Andrew Huff and the Shepherd Suspense novels at www.andrewhuffbooks.com. He can also be found on Facebook (@huffwrites), Twitter (@andrewjohnhuff) and Instagram (@andyhuff).

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Kum Ba Yah

Another throwback video that was originally titled, "Dead People Don't Get Treats." You never know what might come up in class. 

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Seek Ye First

Since I still can't get new videos, I'm going back to some of the earliest videos that I have of songs.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The Power of Story Can Lead to a Number of Spiritual Takeaways

 Part 2 of an Interview with Erica Vetsch,
Author of The Lost Lieutenant

Who doesn’t need to be swept away to another place and time every now and then? After all, there’s never a bad time for a good story. For readers ready to take a trip back to early nineteenth-century England, The Lost Lieutenant (Kregel Publications) by Erica Vetsch is a perfect means of transport.

The first release in Vetsch’s Serendipity & Secrets series, The Lost Lieutenant tells the story of Evan Eldridge and Diana Seaton. Evan never set out to be a war hero—he just wanted to fight Napoleon for the future of his country. After being injured while saving another man on the battlefield, all he really wants is to get back to his regiment. Instead, his act of bravery leads to him being made the Earl of Whitelock. When the life you save is dear to the Prince Regent, things can change in a hurry, and you don’t say no to the Prince Regent.

Lady Diana Seaton has little say over anything in her life. She finds herself in an untenable position trying to keep her promise to her deceased sister while also obeying her controlling father. It’s debutant season in London, and Diana’s father intends to marry her off to the man of his choosing—one who will go along with his less than honorable plans. She finds herself between the proverbial rock and a hard place. When the Prince Regent steps in with a plan all his own, the members of the Seaton family must fall in line, because it’s worth repeating, you don’t say no to the Prince Regent. Will the arranged marriage to the new Earl of Whitelock make matters better or worse for Diana?

Vetsch shares more on the themes of The Lost Lieutenant in the following interview.

Q: In what situations do your characters find themselves at the beginning of the story?

Diana is in the untenable position of trying to keep her promise to her deceased sister while also obeying her controlling father. Is it permissible to lie if your motives are pure? Her father is forcing her to go to London for the Season so he can marry her off to the suitor of his choosing, and Diana is torn between what she promised to do and what her father is forcing her to do.

Evan is recovering in the hospital after being wounded in battle and shipped home from the Peninsular War. All he wants is to return to his regiment, but the Prince Regent has other plans. Evan is made a peer of the realm, and his hopes of returning to military duty go up in smoke.

Q: Diana and Evan both find themselves caught in circumstances beyond their control. How do they each handle themselves?

I think they each arrive at the same conclusion, that God is sovereign and God is good, but by different routes. Diana is used to being bossed and coerced by her domineering father, and she has less trouble with God’s sovereignty and more issue with whether God is good to someone like her—someone who keeps secrets and lies, even though she means well.

Evan continually wonders if God really intends him to be an earl, to have a wife, to abandon the life and career he built for himself. And if so, now what?

Through their circumstances, and through learning to love one another, each teaches the other the truth about God that they know, and they also discover a few truths together.

Q: What lessons in loyalty and responsibility can we learn that would benefit us in today’s culture?

Loyalty is an underlying theme. Evan is loyal to his regiment and other soldiers who had suffered injuries in battle. I especially like the relationship between Evan and his former sergeant, Shand. They’re loyal to one another, and Shand is the voice of reason and wisdom that Evan needs from time to time. Though Evan doesn’t realize it, especially at first, he is a natural leader, for whom responsibilities are a part of life. He feels the weight of them, but that doesn’t keep him from assuming them.

Diana’s responsibility is to her sister’s child, the child she promised to raise as her own, and she’s willing to go to great lengths to protect him. She’s loyal to her sister’s memory and, as a result, lavishes love on her sister’s child. Her loyalty creates her feelings of responsibility, and she doesn’t shirk her duty, and in fact embraces it.

Q: Evan never planned nor wanted the title and position he was given. What did he learn about nobility along the way?

Evan is slow to embrace his new title and position because he feels he was given them under false pretenses. He cannot remember what he did to earn them, and he’s fearful that someone will find out about his amnesia and his post-traumatic stress and consider him insane.

He considers much of what is “required” as aristocratic behavior to be either idle, empty action or downright wrong. He’s not even sure he wants to be considered part of the nobility.

In the end, Evan learns that nobility isn’t about the title you bear but the actions you show. Along the way, he’s got several helpers, especially Diana, who show him this truth.

Q: Is there a spiritual takeaway that you hope will resonate with readers?

Q: Can you give us just a little tease about the next book in the series?

The Gentleman Spy is the story of Marcus, Duke of Haverly, and a crusading bluestocking named Charlotte. Readers first meet Marcus, who becomes a good friend of Evan, in The Lost Lieutenant. Marcus marries Charlotte and thinks he can relegate her to the margins of his life so he doesn’t have to change too much, but Charlotte is not one to be pushed aside and ignored.

Learn more about Erica Vetsch and her books at www.ericavetsch.com. She can also be found on Facebook (@EricaVetschAuthor), Twitter (@EricaVetsch), and Instagram (@EricaVetsch).

Sunday, June 7, 2020



By John W. Thompson; © Kruger Organisation
Used by permission. CCLI # 1132191

(girls echo)
Oh Lord prepare me, to be a sanctuary
Pure and holy, tried and true.
With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living
Sanctuary for You.

It was you Lord, who sent the Savior
Heart and soul Lord, to every man.
It is you Lord, who knows my weakness,
You refine me with Your own hand.

Lead me on Lord, through my temptations
You refine me from within
Fill our hearts with the Holy Spirit,
And take all our sins away.

Lord teach Your children, to stop the fighting,
And start uniting, all as one.
Let’s get together, loving forever
Sanctuary, for You.

And when He comes with shouts of glory
And our work on earth is done
O, how I long to hear Him saying,
“Faithful servant well done.”

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

What if you could actually taste your words?

 Part 1 of an interview with Bonnie Clark,
Author of Taste Your Words

Our words have power and make an impact on the people around us. Some words are nice and kind while others are mean and hurtful. Parents can teach kids about the power of words and the importance of kindness with Taste Your Words (WorthyKids), a charming picture book written by Bonnie Clark that cleverly illustrates why we should think before we speak.

Clark tells the story of young Amera who is having a bad day. Amera’s best friend, Maddie, ruined her cupcake by accident, and they both say mean things. When Amera brings her bad mood home with her, her mom tells her to “taste her words.” Amera’s mean words taste like rotten eggs, spoiled milk, and lemons! As she realizes that her mean words make her feel bad and others feel worse, she starts saying the kindest, sweetest words she can find.

When Amera notices the difference in the words she uses, her attitude changes, and the whole day starts to turn around. The next day, she greets Maddie with sweet tasting words and an apology. By sharing kind, yummy words everywhere she goes, Amera’s day goes much better than the one before. “I’m sorry.” “I’ll help.” “I love you.” The words taste better and better, like cherries, bananas, ice cream and chocolate.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your new book, Taste Your Words.

Taste Your Words is a flavorfully fun picture book about speaking kind words. In the story, the main character exchanges mean names with her best friend and when she comes home upset, her mom gives her some advice: “Taste your words.” Through a series of yucky events, Amera discovers that unkind words taste gross—like spoiled milk and rotten eggs! When she finally realizes that it’s her poor choice of words that are leaving unpleasant tastes in her mouth, she makes an important choice to speak kindly. From then on, Amera decides to use her palatable power for good and make the world a sweeter place one kind word at a time.

Animator Todd Bright knocked the illustrations out of the park! Each imaginative and colorful spread pulls the reader/listener into the story and helps them feel and see what the main character is experiencing.

Q: What age is the book written for? At what age did you start teaching your own children about tasting their words?

Everyone! Kidding. Sort of. The book is geared towards five-to-eight-year olds, but I’ve heard positive reviews from three-year-olds and twelve-year-olds! The concept of bad flavors being tied to unkind words and good flavors being tied to kind words is something that kids understand very quickly. There is also mention of adults tasting their words, too, which was important to me to include. We could all use the advice to “taste your words.”

The idea for Taste Your Words originated with my children when they were much smaller and learning how to use their words to communicate. Inspired by Proverbs 16:24, I would tell them to taste their words before they let them out of their mouth. The idea that we could taste our words was fun, and I was surprised at how quickly they understood the concept. There are few things that kids really understand, and one is food, especially sweet treats. It became a game in our home to politely encourage each other to taste our words. (The whole family needs reminding!) I thought that if my kids can get it, then other kids might also like the idea of tasting your words and choosing sweet kind ones.

Q: The main character in the book, Amera, is named after one of your children. Is there a backstory about your own daughter that inspired the book?

Amera is my youngest daughter’s name, but there isn’t a backstory specifically involving her. However, I had no idea that the book character would necessarily look or act like my Amera. Lucky for me, my stepbrother is the illustrator, and although the main character is his creation, I think he intentionally illustrated her to resemble my daughter. It was a sweet surprise. Now when I read the story, I totally think of my Amera. She has a very spunky and expressive personality, and even her body type and face look like the character! How many second graders can come to school dressed as themselves for Book Character Day?

Q: What important lessons does Amera learn about talking to friends and family, especially when having a hard day?

The biggest is kindness. We can never have too much discussion about being kind to each other, starting with our words. We may not be able to control our circumstances or what others say to us, but we can always choose to be kind and considerate.

One discussion point that I hope others will notice is the ripple effect of words. Amera has a bad day at school and, when she comes home, she takes it out on her little brother! Sometimes that happens. So, when someone says something unkind to you, it may just be that someone has recently (or repeatedly) been unkind to them! We can stop the cycle and choose our words carefully. The opposite is also true: Kindness is contagious!

Q: Have you ever found yourself in a parenting experience where you had to take a moment to taste your words?

Yes! Just ask my kids! Seriously, this why I included the mom tasting her words in the story.  The message is for all of us, perhaps adults especially! I get reminded as much as they do to taste my words. I think the close quarters of quarantine and navigating homeschool have certainly added to the family stress. But I do think that the idea of tasting our words has been a fun way to talk about and understand the importance of speaking kindly. I can definitely appreciate their teasing, and if I can dish it out, I can take it!

Q: What are your personal favorite and least favorite tastes?

Ah! I love chocolate of course, but my favorite flavor from the book is caramel. I can eat it on anything or just by itself!  Actually, an interesting fact from a book creation aspect is that the initial manuscript was a little too sweet so to speak. There were a lot more candy flavors, and there was concern that that would not be well received by health-conscience parents and professionals. (A valid concern!) So, with that feedback, the team added in more fruit! After all, fruit is sweet, delicious and healthy! One example of a change that was made is in the caramel spread. Instead of ooey-gooey caramel blocks, dipped-apples and popcorn were added!

Q: Where can our audience find out more about you and your books?

You can find out more about me and my books on my website, bonnieclarkbooks.com.

There you can sign up for my newsletter to stay up-to-date on any book news and events. If you are an educator or parent, you will find color pages and activities that go along with Taste Your Words under the “Fun Stuff” tab. There are discussion questions, a kindness activity and even a Mad Lib.

I also created a YouTube channel for my readings of Taste Your Words, including the American Sign Language version and the #TasteYourWordsChallenge. Go to YouTube and search for Bonnie Clark Books.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Win a copy of Cross Shadow by Andrew Huff

Enter the giveaway at the bottom of the post

Over the next few weeks, the I Read with Audra reviewers will be featuring Cross Shadow by Andrew Huff, the second in the Shepherd suspense series from Kregel. 

Read more about the book and enter to win a copy for yourself!

I'm in middle of reading this one right now, and can't wait to finish it.

About the book:

All journalist Christine Lewis wants is the truth. All pastor John Cross wants is to avoid it.

Former CIA agent turned evangelical pastor John Cross is busy caring for the small community of believers he ministers to in Virginia. Journalist Christine Lewis is busy with the demand for her talents from top news agencies in New York City. Neither has any time left for their relationship, which began eight months before when they paired up to prevent the detonation of a chemical bomb in the nation's capital.

But when Christine hears that her stepbrother has been arrested for murder in Texas, they team up again to discover the truth about the crime. Untangling a web of conspiracy, the couple finds themselves in the center of another dangerous situation-and in trouble far deeper than they expected.

With an assassin on the loose, a trusted colleague acting as a double agent, and unreliable artificial intelligence connected to mercenaries who have Cross on their hit list, these two may not get out of the Lone Star State alive.

Learn more about the first book in the series, A Cross to Kill, by clicking here.

About the author:

Andrew Huff spent ten years in local church ministry as a youth pastor and creative arts pastor before pursuing God’s calling into creative storytelling and media production as the product director at Igniter Media, a church media company (ignitermedia.com).

He is a two-time finalist in the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Genesis Contest for unpublished authors (2014, 2017) and also won the best screenplay award at the 2015 48 Hour Film Festival in Richmond, VA. A Cross to Kill and Cross Shadow in the Shepherd Suspense series are his first releases.

Huff holds a bachelor of science in religion degree from Liberty University and a master of arts in Christian education from Dallas Theological Seminary. He resides in Plano, TX, with his beautiful wife, Jae, and their two boys.