Monday, November 30, 2020

A View from Amy Willoughby-Burle's window! a year of thorns and honey.....

 Having never read your novels, I was immediately caught up in the lives of Nina and her family.  Can you tell me what inspired this set of characters?

This novel actually started as a short story that appears in my collection, Out Across the Nowhere. I most often get an image or a line of dialogue pop into my head and the story forms around it. It's like seeing something shiny poking out from the dirt and then brushing, digging, pulling until you get the whole thing up.  The spark for this one was actually a memory inside a memory wrapped around something fictional. Nina appeared to me as me, inside a Texaco bathroom while on a trip to Disney world with her family, only she wasn't a child and her father had died. I thought, wait, that's not me. Who is that? What happened? And it grew from there. I started to "hear the voices in my head," which my mother thought sounded like I might be crazy, but writers know what I mean. The voices were Lola and Ray, her brother and sister. I also have one brother and one sister, so the dynamic was familiar, but Lola and Ray are not my brother and sister. I started writing to find out the story for myself. That's the fun part for a writer. We don't know what's going to happen either.

What character are you most drawn to in this novel, and why?

I think my favorite character is Oliver--Father Finley. I love that he's so human and at the same time so much a source of peace and comfort representing the church and Christ. I think he's  funny and real and he reminds me how approachable Christ is to us. I like that he represents the ability to have a very personal relationship with God.

Will there be more stories built around this same set of characters in the future?  Are you already at work on another story?

Well, actually, this is a stand-alone follow-up to The Lemonade Year where we first meet all these characters. You can totally read The Year of Thorns and Honey by itself, but it's actually the second in a series. And yes, I am already working on book 3! It will likely be a stand-alone as well, but totally the continuation of this book.  I think of them as season on a show--back in the day before you could binge watch the whole thing on Netflix. You might come to something in season 2 and be able to follow right along.

Can you share a bit about your own writing process?  Do you outline? Do you let your characters tell the story? 

Yes and yes. But the other way around. I let the characters tell me  quite a bit about the story in their own order and time and then once I think I have a handle on what's happening, then I start outlining and piecing things together, filling in the gaps.

How long have you been writing?  Tell readers a bit about your journey to publication.

I have always known I wanted to be a writer. When I was a child, my grandmother used to tell me the continued stories of Hansel and Gretel. They were elaborate and wonderful. I asked her one day what book they were in because I wanted to read them again. She said. "Oh, sweetie, I'm just making these up as I go along."  That blew my world wide open. As an eight-year-old, it hadn't occurred to me that anyone could write a story. I already loved to read. Books were my jam. I just didn't know that anyone could write one. I started writing right away. I would get a diary and number all the pages and "write a book." 

I wrote all through middle school and then in high school I discovered boys and forgot about writing for a while. (Ladies, boys are nice and all, but don't forget who you are.) I came back to it full force in college when I "sneaked" and took a writing class instead of something more practical. I was hooked all over again. I started writing short fiction. I took more and more of those writing classes and after I graduated, I kept working on the craft. Life moved forward and there were seasons where I wrote more and wrote less. After my first child was born in late 2001 I really got serious about publishing. I published my first story in 2006. (This is not a fast industry.) I published about a dozen more in various journals. In 2012, I had a collection published. By that time, I was also working on novel length stories. Most things come to me as short pieces and some of them keep nudging at me to dig deeper.  That shiny object is sometimes bigger than I think it is. I got an agent in Dec of 2015, Julie Gwinn of The Seymour Agency, and she has been my champion since then.  The Lemonade Year came out in 2018. Now, this one in 2020. She has about four other novels of mine that she's shopping around and there are more in the works even.

What words of encouragement would you like to share with your readers?

When you feel drawn to something, when you're naturally "good" at it or inclined toward it--I believe that thing is a gift from God. I believe that he gave you that thing--whatever it is-- singing, writing, crafting, organizing, dancing, teaching, even math(ing) to be used to lead people to Him. So don't let mom (or dad!) guilt, laundry, the opinions of others or whatever it is, keep you from exploring and using that gift. It's not about being great at it, it's about doing and dealt her another blow--but she keeps on looking up. Keep looking up. This--mess we're all in it with a passion for people and for Christ. Also, life is wonky right now to say the least. My mom said of the title of my new book as it applies to 2020, "enough of the thorns, let's see the honey." Then life went together-- it too shall pass. God is in control and He is ever with us. I love that we're headed into the Christmas season. Boy do we need to be reminded of the gift of Christ right now. He is ours and we are His.

Please visit Amy's website to learn more about her books!  You will be so glad you did!!

Sunday, November 29, 2020

the year of thorns and Honey by Amy Willoughby-Burle - REVIEWED

 About the Book:

Nina is a photographer who really appreciates control. She likes to set up just the right shot with the perfect composition, but life is not always as pretty as her pictures. The lighting is off, the timing is wrong, and the subjects just won't do like she wants them to.

She's engaged to her ex-husband, her teenage daughter is testing all the boundaries, and her childhood memories have a For-Sale sign on them. She's also keeping a secret about the chance of a lifetime, but what she'll have to give up to get it might not be worth it. Just when she thinks she's got it all figured out, an important someone resurfaces and forces her to take a hard look at what she really wants and why.

Life can be as prickly as it is sweet. Will Nina be able to let go of the perfect picture she had in her head and let her heart find the sweetness that life has to offer.

About the Author:

Amy Willoughby-Burle grew up in the small coastal town of Kure Beach, North Carolina. She studied writing at East Carolina University and is now a writer and teacher living in Asheville, North Carolina, with her husband and four children. She writes about the mystery and wonder of everyday life. Her contemporary fiction focuses on the themes of second chances, redemption, and finding the beauty in the world around us. Sara Gruen says of The Lemonade Year, “When life gives you lemons, read this book. It’s a delicious glass of humor, heart, and hope.”  Amy is also the author of a collection of short stories entitled Out Across the Nowhere and a contributor to a number of anthologies.

My Thoughts:
"Sticky, beautiful, sweet and messy.  Life."  (p, 377)

Nina and I are uncomfortably similar in our need to control every aspect of our world to feel safe.  Nina's control issues run up against a brick wall with everyone in her life, because everyone else has pushed beyond their fear and embraced the reality of their own life choices.  For Nina's sake, and my own, grace and mercy has never looked sweeter!

This author does a masterful job of fleshing out every character's personality and how the need to have control over the uncomfortable choices they have made (and are making) play out in their closest relationships.  Nina pretty much stays at odds with everyone; her daughter Cassie, her mom, her sister and brother-in-law, Father Finley and her ex-husband Jack.  Within those relationships, the reader sees another layer of struggle for control, and the strain and heartbreak that result.  There are some scenes - like the one with the moving van and the night Cassie seeks solace outside her parents' awareness - that illustrate the extreme lengths the human heart will go to in order to avoid dealing with painful emotions.

Every single relational conflict in this story is universal nature, and every reader will identify with one or more of the situations.  I think I saw myself in every single one! Talk about felling your toes stepped on by the weight of truth! Ouch!  I could not put this story down, and quickly found myself involved in the lives of each character.

Second chances are often never offered in our lives - to ourselves or to others - because we're never willing to boldly face our own shortcomings or become willing to risk rejection.  I hope you can "hear" me when I say this: take a risk and read this book!  You will leave its pages challenged and satisfied.  This story is every bit as sticky, beautiful, sweet and messy as life can be!

Bravo, Amy Willougby-Burle!

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

The Conqueror by Bryan Litfin REVIEWED

 About the Book:

AD 309. Rome teeters on the brink of war. Constantine's army is on the move. On the Rhine frontier, pagan Germanic barbarian Brandulf Rex joins the Roman army as a spy. Down in Rome, senator's daughter Junia Flavia finds herself embroiled in anti-Christian politics as she works on behalf of the church.

As armies converge and forces beyond their control threaten to destroy everything they have worked for, these two people from different worlds will have to fight together to bring down the evil Emperor Maxentius. But his villainous plans and devious henchmen are not easily overcome.

Will Rex and Flavia live to see the Empire bow the knee to Christ? Or will their part in the story of Constantine's rise meet an untimely and brutal end?

About the Author:

Bryan Litfin is the author of the Chiveis Trilogy, as well as several works of nonfiction, including Early Christian Martyr Stories, After Acts, and Getting to Know the Church Fathers. A former professor of theology at the Moody Bible Institute, Litfin earned his PhD in religious studies from the University of Virginia and his ThM in historical theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. He is currently a writer and editor at Moody Publishers. He and his wife have two adult children and live in Wheaton, Illinois. Learn more at  

My Thoughts:

"Be strong and courageous, brave warrior...and wait to discover the plans of God."  (p.490)

This novel, The Conqueror, is a majestic piece of literature that sweeps the reader back into the history of the early church.  Rome is the target of conquest, and the warring parties are filled with much darkness and a malevolent greed.

Among all of this, there is a young Speculator named Rex who rises in favor with his general to become a spy.  Embedded in the imperial horse guard, Rex is tasked with gathering intelligence to feed to the Emperor Constantine in his quest to free Rome from the tyrannical rule of Praetorian prefects Pompeianus and Emperor Maxentius.  That storyline alone is RICH!

BUT there is Flavia, a daughter of another aristocratic leader, and also a daughter of King Jesus.  The Christians are still reeling from persecution when they find themselves in the middle of a war they neither want or can ever begin to slow. Flavia finds herself a pawn between rulers and winds up as a fugitive for her very life when Rex intervenes at a particularly deadly moment!

These two characters serve as a rich center point upon which  Litfin builds a saga quite unlike anything I've ever read!  Every character, whether emperor or common slave, comes alive on the page! The passage of time and change in scenario is seamless, and your own life and time passes over you with little notice! (think late nights that you don't mind at all!)  This is such a treasure!!  Greater's the first in a series! You will be so glad you chose to spend time with this novel!  It will change your heart!!