Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Single Guy Reviews a Chick-Flick: A Walk to Remember

Guest blogger Calvin Chase
Hello everyone, this is Calvin, CJ’s son, and this is the first in my little series: a single guy reviews chick flicks. On today’s agenda is the 2002 film A Walk To Remember. My parents warned me before watching this movie that, according to critics, this movie would make me cry. But, shrewd analyzer that I am, I shrugged off their warnings with the claim that I don’t cry easily and braced myself for emotional drama. However, when the movie started, the very first thing I saw was a bunch of punk teenagers engaging in… explicit bathroom and lewd humor. My natural reaction to that was to be both surprised and unimpressed, but I settled in and waited to see what direction the film would take.

A Walk To Remember is about a popular high school senior named Landon, who holds a grudge against his father for divorcing his mother, and Landon’s unpopular Christian classmate Jamie. After Landon is involved in an accident that seriously injures a fellow student, the principle threatens to expel him unless he agrees to tutor other kids on Saturdays and participate in the school play. The grumbling teenager accepts these responsibilities, but puts no enthusiasm in his work. Jamie, the local pastor’s daughter who also participates in these activities, tries befriending him and encouraging him to make his life more meaningful. At first Landon rudely rebuffs her kind gestures, but as the play draws closer, he starts to worry about making a fool of himself onstage. Landon therefore asks Jamie for help learning his lines, and she gladly agrees with one condition: that Landon not fall in love with her.

At the time this agreement is made, Landon laughs and says that he definitely will not fall in love with Jamie, but as time passes and he gets to know her, he begins to see something attractive in her. The potential budding romance swiftly ends, however, when Landon’s friends make fun of Jamie and Landon makes no move to stop them. Jamie instantly loses all hope that there is anything good about Landon and refuses to speak with him anymore, let alone help him. Landon in turn realizes he has fallen in love with Jamie and seeks to redeem himself in her eyes by working harder to memorize his lines and tutor the kids.

On the night of the play, Landon does an outstanding job portraying his character, but has a hard time remembering some of his lines when Jamie comes onstage wearing a beautiful white dress. Even so, the play is a smashing success, but Jamie leaves after Landon kisses her at the end of the play. Landon tries to go after her but loses track of her when his father, who’s trying to repair his broken relationship with his son, cuts him off to say how well he did. Landon huffs away from his father with barely a word.

In the days that follow, Jamie continues to ignore Landon, but then Landon’s ex-girlfriend, jealous about the attention he’s giving Jamie, convinces the other popular kids to bully her by posting her face on a pin-up poster and handing out copies to the whole school. Landon arrives to find one of the school jocks rubbing it in her face and stands up for Jamie by punching the bully.  After a short fight, Landon goes after Jamie, confronts her, and confesses his love to her. He asks her to go out with him, but even though she also confesses love for him, she replies that she’s not allowed to date. Landon therefore goes boldly before her father, the pastor who greatly distrusts him, and asks him politely but vehemently to let him date Jamie. After a heated argument, Landon convinces the pastor to allow it. From that point on, Landon does everything he can to make Jamie happy, particularly in his efforts to make her list of dreams come true.

Now, up until this point in the movie, I was rather unimpressed. This story wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either; quite frankly it seemed too predictable for my taste. But then, just as I considered falling asleep, Jamie revealed a dark secret which changed my entire perspective of the movie. I’m not going to say what it was because that would spoil the latter half of the movie, but I will say that it made the movie worth watching in the end. Nonetheless, the twist comes late and most guys watching the movie would have fallen asleep long before then. Frankly if I had not been watching the movie for a review, I would have left and watched some anime instead.

This movie is rated PG but could have been PG-13 for cursing and vulgarity. The depictions of Christianity in this secular film seem stereotypical Hollywood at the beginning (judgmental pastor, etc.), but stick with it. This perspective changes as Landon’s attitude about faith improves.

The final verdict? This movie is good for a girls-night-out, but you probably shouldn’t invite a guy to watch it with you. And if he does agree, take it as a sign he really likes you.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Book Reviews: What's Helpful, What's Not

by Susanne Dietze

Ah, book reviews. Love 'em and hate 'em at the same time? You're not alone.

This has been a big topic of conversation lately among some of my friends, women who are readers and women who are readers/authors.

Among the things I've heard from readers (and perhaps even thought to myself while I'm perusing book reviews for potential reads on Amazon):

"I really want to know what people think of a book, but some of these reviews sound like they were written by the author's friends. That means their reviews aren't honest."

"Why did this reader give it a 2-star rating and then say they liked it?"

Or, from an author's perspective:

"Someone gave my book a 1-star rating based on the packaging, not the story!"

"Someone gave my book a 1-star rating! It's fine they didn't like it, but why did they have to be so mean about it?"

Earlier, I posted on my blog on ways to help an author. Writing book reviews is one of the things I mentioned specifically as something that can help authors gain new readers--by letting readers know if the book is of a genre they like or worth their time, especially considering the price of purchase.

Reviews are also sometimes viewed by others in the industry, like editors. I'm not saying editors read every review (they're busy people) but some editors pay attention to authors' social media stats and reviews, along with sales and awards.

I'm not saying reviews make or break an author's career. But they can prove influential to prospective readers, and they often let authors know what's working in their writing...and what's not.

(Full disclosure: I only have one book out, and it's an anthology. Others are waaay more qualified to speak on this point, but here goes anyway.)

So what's helpful (according to the people I talked with) when writing a book review?
  • Know that readers, authors, and editors appreciate the time you're taking to write a review. Your gift of service is a blessing!
  • Some sites, like Amazon, require a review to accompany a rating, but others, like Goodreads, don't. Try to write a few words to explain your rating, anyway. I recently contemplated purchasing a sequel to a book I enjoyed. The reviews let me know that several readers finished the book feeling frustrated about their perceived regression in the characters' developments. That told me so much more than a 3-star review without an explanation.
  • State the facts about the story and why you enjoyed it/didn't enjoy it. Was the story engaging? Was there a specific reason you didn't like it? Is the issue you have with a book a major stumbling block... or personal preference? I've liked a few movies that critics graded an F, and disliked a few well-regarded movies, but I'd read reviews in advance and determined the critic and I judged on different merits. Same with books. One reviewer's three-star rating might be my perfect cozy afternoon read. Saying something's just not your cup of tea is perfectly ok.
  • Consider the book's audience. It's not fair to criticize a book for being what it's supposed to be, ie, by disparaging the spiritual elements in a Christian book, finding the hero too young when the book is a YA, or for bemoaning the lack of blood and gore in a cozy mystery.
  • Mention if you received the book in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. This is the law.
What's not helpful when writing a book review?
  • It's not an unhelpful thing, but don't stress about recapping the book. Some reviews summarize the plot or back-cover copy, which can be helpful to readers, but it isn't necessary.
  • Don't rate the packaging, shipping speed, book cover, or other things an author has no control over. Sometimes this extends to the title, too.
  • Refrain from spilling the author's private info. You may be the author's Facebook friend. Or their relative. You may know where she went to high school or where she gets her hair cut. This information, spread on the world wide web, is an invasion of her privacy, and to many readers, it negates anything positive that was mentioned in the review because it makes a review sound inauthentic or biased.
  • Just like sharing personal info about the author makes it sound as if a positive review is done by a positively-biased crony, cruelty or foul words can make a negative review sound equally biased, but to the other extreme. Harsh language isn't polite.
  • Avoid spoiling the plot. Announce if you're divulging anything twisty or pertaining to the end with an all-caps SPOILER ALERT.
Some other facts about book reviews?
  • Yes, authors do review their friends' work sometimes. Authors are big readers, too.
  • Mean-spirited reviews do hurt authors' feelings sometimes. Other times, not so much. But I think it's fair to say authors don't expect everyone to love their books, but nobody likes to be called names.
  • Book reviews last forever. Or until the internet explodes. Just as in real life, our words stick around.
What do you think when you read book reviews? Do you often review products you buy?

Susanne Dietze writes historical romance. You can find her on her website,

Friday, July 17, 2015

Ode to My Hymnal

by C.J. Chase

When I was a girl…no, wait, not even that long ago, congregational singing at church involved a piano, an organ, and a hymnal. The music leader would announce the next song and the hymn number, then we in the congregation would reach forward to grab the volume of songs from the rack on the pew in front of us. If you were daydreaming and missed the announcement, it was generally okay because most churches also posted the numbers on a board at the front of the church.

The hymns themselves were almost always in four-part harmony. Four verses and a chorus was a common pattern, although there were variations (like three verses and a chorus, or four verses and no chorus). At some churches, we sang all the verses all the time; at others, the minister would instruct the congregation to only sing selected verses—usually because he ran overtime on the sermon. (Later, as an organist, I discovered I had to pay special attention during this time. And yes, I am guilty of both the started-an-extra-verse after the congregation finished and the didn’t-start-the-last-verse while the congregation gamely tried to sing without me mistakes because I’d miscounted verses.)

I knew the era of hymn singing was coming to a close when I recently attended my mother’s very small, very traditional church in a yet-rural part of the country. The words are now on a screen and a bass guitar accompanies the piano and organ. While the congregation hasn’t yet exchanged the old hymns for modern praise music or added drums to the ensemble, I figure it’s only a matter of time. How much longer before hymnals disappear from sanctuaries altogether? I expect it to be within my lifetime.

And I find that rather sad. I always enjoyed checking out the hymnal when I attended to a different church. You could tell so much about a congregation just by peaking through those pages of songs, recitations, catechisms, responsive readings, and service forms. Do the stately hymns and precisely-worded forms suggest I will get a formal, liturgical service? Will the congregation recite creeds? Or are those pages filled with handclapping, power-in-the-blood, old-time-religion songs? And since I can read music, the printed notes and rhythms let me participate even if I encountered a new-to-me tune.

Typical hymnbooks were arranged by subject—all the Christmas songs together, for instance. In addition to the music itself, most listed the names of the composers and lyricists, sometimes with their birth/death dates. Oh, the names I saw over and over: Fanny J. Crosby, Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, Philip Brooks. Some books included a tune name (if the music was composed at a different time from the words), a suggested introduction for the accompanists, and the meter. Meter is the number of syllables per line—for example, “Amazing Grace” and “O God Our Help in Ages Past” both have a meter of 8 6 8 6. You could sing either lyrics to either tune and come out with the correct number of notes. (Go ahead, try it. It really works. In fact, the 8 6 8 6 meter is so frequently used, it’s also known as “common meter.”)

Hymn singing is on the decline, particularly among evangelical Protestants (I did a Google search on “hymn singing decline” and got almost half a million links), which is rather ironic given that the hymns themselves were designed to be sing-able. They had simple melodies and straightforward rhythms so ordinary people wouldn’t find the range beyond their ability or the rhythm too complicated for a group of people with widely varying skill levels. The music is relatively easy for a keyboardist of intermediate ability to play (a necessary quality from the time when many churches were small and lacked professional musicians), and yet, the songs are complex enough they can be arranged for virtuoso musicians with amazing results.

While I enjoy contemporary Christian music (in fact, I enjoy most music, except perhaps bluegrass, rap, and jazz), I feel like something valuable is rapidly disappearing from our culture. Protestants have been praising God through hymns for nearly 500 years, since Martin Luther penned “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” shortly after he nailed those 95 theses to the door. It was revolutionary at a time of Latin-only services—common people praising God in their native languages. During our Sunday singing only old hymns (from the screen, remember), I noticed that my younger two sons were a bit lost. I’m sure they’ve heard the songs since our church incorporates a mixture of music into services—but they just weren’t familiar with them like I was at their age.

I have somewhere around a half dozen different hymnals in my house. Sometimes I open them up to random pages and play favorites I haven’t heard in years. Here are two versions of a favorite (one of too many to list) I love to pull out and play. The first version, performed by a small a cappella group, shows the simplicity of the song. The second, an arrangement for virtuoso organ solo, demonstrates what a proficient musician can do with such a seemingly simple piece.

Please share some of your favorite hymns. I'll be happily humming them over the weekend.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Summer Plans Hits and Misses

by Anita Mae Draper

Back in Feb I posted about Write Canada and other Summer Plans including all the touristy things I wanted to do on my June trip to Ontario. Well, I'm back to tell you what I was able to do/see and what I had to miss.

Ontario Trip 2015 along Great Lakes North Shore

All total, I put 7,000 km (4,350 miles) on my Ford Flex without a single mechanical or tire mishap. Gas prices were cheapest here in Saskatchewan, and most expensive in Northwest and Northern Ontario, followed closely by the Greater Toronto Area.

Icebergs on Alona Bay, Ontario

My main goal was to attend the Write Canada Conference in Toronto and hopefully win an award. I attended, but came away empty handed. 

Because I drove along the northern shore of the Great Lakes I wasn't able to:
- Drive past CFB North Bay 
- Ride the 1908 Herschell-Spillman carousel, North Bay 
- Ride the Portage Flyer Steam Locomotive, Huntsville
- Cruise Muskoka on a steamboat 

Due to my writing schedule and lack of time, I wasn't able to:
- Take a one-day Apprentice Workshop at Black Creek Pioneer Village, Toronto
- meet Inky Deb and Inky Barb at Niagara Falls 
- visit my aunt and cousins on the northern route

However, by skipping all the touristy things, I was able to attend the Ontario Genealogical Society (OGS) Conference in Barrie and part of that was a tour and research afternoon at the Simcoe County Archives. From information attained there, I visited area cemeteries and took photographs of headstones belonging to my husbands' family, early pioneers in the Dalston area. 

With the OGS conference over, I headed south and made my home base in Newmarket. From there, I travelled the main thoroughfares and backroads of Georgina and East Gwillimbury. I especially wanted to photograph the family headstones so I could use the pics on my blog and ancestry without infringing on anyone else's copyright. But that was a tall order in itself. Take the Queensville Cemetery as an example... of the 1050 interments, about 300 headstones belong on the Draper family tree. 

French Silk Lilac and Hemlock at Queensville Cemetery

And speaking of trees, everywhere I looked the French Silk lilac trees were in bloom, filling the air with their perfumed scent. In the photo above, the huge hemlock, so important to our pioneers, will be a constant reminder of my time in Ontario for we don't have them growing out here on the prairies. 

Deuce-and-a-half Student Driver, near Angus, Ontario

One day I travelled to Wasaga Beach to meet with one branch of the family and afterwards as I headed back to Newmarket, I got in behind a deuce-and-a-half with a Student Driver sign on the back. What a flashback to October 1975 when I spent 3 weeks driving up and down these very same roads while taking driver training with staff from Camp Borden. At  2 1/2 tons, the deuce-and-a-half was the largest vehicle I learned to drive, but I also learned to drive a jeep and a regular staff car which happened to be a station wagon in those pre-van days.

Peacekeepers Park, Angus, Ontario

I kept an eye out for Peacekeepers Park while driving through Angus because a cousin of mine had served and died in Afghanistan back in 2008 and I'd seen pics of his name on the memorial. Pte Colin William Wilmot was a 24 yr old medic when he died after an explosive device detonated near him. Thank you, Angus Legion, for creating this memorial.

Another meeting that made the trip special was visiting Myrtle Jean, a 1st cousin 1x removed of Nelson's, who had celebrated her 100th birthday just 3 wks before. I have to say that I asked many questions of life back in Myrtle Jean's day and thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. 

Every 2-3 days I had scheduled meetings with family members, etc, and since I had to pass the Queensville Cemetery along the way, I would stop off along the way and spend an hour or two graving - that's headstone hunting - and I'd quit when my knees and back hurt too much to continue. Even so, I wasn't nearly done by the time I had to drive back home. 

Most headstones face east because people are buried with their feet facing the east. And then there's the Holborne-Glover Cemetery with the Glovers on one side facing off with the Holborne's on the other. What's even funnier is that about 99% are in hubby's family tree. 

Lake Simcoe, Ontario, 2015

I drove along Lake Drive on the southern shore of Lake Simcoe while travelling to cousin Dee's house. As I drove, I took pics of the lake as well as the range of residences lining the road, dreaming of a time when I'll get to relax on a lakeside dock, sharing time and memories.

Family memorials at St Georges Church, Sutton

I visited St Georges church in Sutton where an episode of Murdoch Mysteries was filmed, and took many photos including those pertaining to the headstone of my husband's 1st cousin 1x removed, Cliff Thompson, his wife Hope Sibbald Seale, and their son, Danny. Now that I have my own photos, I need to go to my post, Murdoch on Location in Georgina, and update the images. 

Georgina Pioneer Village Office & Archives

Two full days of research kept me at the Georgina Pioneer Village & Archives where curator, Melissa Matt, called me a sponge for soaking up everything she put in front of me. Thank you, Melissa and girls for helping me with my research. You are a treasure!

Georgina Pioneer Village & Archives

Several more days were spent at local libraries where I devoured local history books, bound newspapers, microfiche, etc. On the whole, I thought the libraries were very good except for one librarian who insisted I use the modern name of Town of Georgina when referring to the old township of North Gwillimbury. I said that all the history books haven't changed because we have to use whatever name it was at the time. She didn't seem to understand and still insisted I refer to it by its new name. Since it was soon apparent that I knew more about the local history of the area than she did, I decided she just wasn't into history and left it at that. 

The tools I used to capture photos and documents while on this trip were my Samsung Galaxy tablet for the bigger ones, and my FlipPal 5"x7" scanner for the smaller stuff. I am so thankful I have these, an I can say that several people were amazed at the portability and ease of the FlipPal. 

I was gone for 35 days and it went by too fast. Like I said earlier, I didn't get all the graving done that I wanted, but I had to hurry home for a deadline and work must come first.

So, what are your summer plans and do you think they'll turn out the way you planned?


Anita Mae Draper is retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan, Canada with her hubby of 30 plus years and the youngest of their four kids. Anita's short story, Here We Come A-Wassailing, published in A Cup of Christmas Cheer, Volume 4, Heartwarming Tales of Christmas Present, Guideposts Books, October 2014, was a finalist for the Word Guild's 2015 Word Awards. Anita is represented by Mary Keeley of Books & Such Literary Management. You can find Anita Mae at

Monday, July 13, 2015

Lessons Learned From A Rescue Dog

By Niki Turner

A little more than two weeks ago I adopted another dog.
Willabea, in front, and Archie in back.

I've been looking for a rescue Westie for several years. A little girl Westie, because we're short on females at my house. Westies tend to be hard to find around here, so when I asked the random person in line behind me at Copy Copy carrying a poster for the local animal shelter if they had any Westies and she said yes, I figured something was up. (Note: Those divine connections often come with natural frustrations... it was my second trip to Copy Copy that day because I couldn't find my file on my flash drive. And our big community summer festival was that day, so traffic was insane. All this after a month of switching computers thanks to a hard drive failure, and in the midst of missing the Internet for six days after a lightning strike. Just because God orchestrates it, that doesn't mean it's going to be easy!)  

Willabea is eight-ish. She's been in and out of the shelter several times in the last four years, after coming in the first time as a stray. She's leash-trained, polite, and knows the meaning of "no," and she doesn't beg at the dinner table (meaning her manners are better than the rest of our dogs). She's also a "hot mess." When her previous owners surrendered her, she had multiple skin infections, a double ear infection, lots of missing hair, and a bedwetting problem. All possibly allergy-related.

When I went to meet her, all her hair was missing on her neck, chest, side, and rear end. I was told she would require twice daily meds for the bedwetting problem, and the ear problem, and twice-weekly baths for her skin issues, as well as a very pricey prescription dog food. When I brought her home she drained the water bowl and gave every indication she might be diabetic. But she'd climbed in my lap and licked my nose. Who can say no to that?

For the last two weeks, I've been catering to the needs of this new doggy. After 24 hours she turned up her nose at the overpriced prescription food and refused to take her pills. So I went to the grocery and bought meat and veggies to make homemade dog food, and started wrapping her pills in the fancy goat cheese spread I like for my bagels. I spent two hours poking holes in fish oil capsules to create an EFA oil blend to help her skin and coat. She itches. A lot. But if you're petting her, she stops itching, so I've spent a few midnight hours on the couch snuggling her.

And in the last two weeks I've watched her perk up. Her hair is growing back (which probably adds to her itchiness). She plays with toys now. She terrorizes my big Westie, Archie (which he needs). She's getting better, I believe. And I'm relieved. She came to me for a reason. I'm grateful for the opportunity to adopt her.

The adoption process was quite intensive. I had to sign several agreements, and pay an adoption fee (which just happened to be 1/3 of the regular fee on the day I picked her up... another coincidence? More like confirmation!) I walked out with Willabea, her fancy prescription food, her two kinds of ear drops, her fancy shampoo, and the meds to stop her incontinence problem. Her baggage. 

On the way home I stopped at PetCo and bought grain-free treats, a new doggy bed, and some toys. More baggage.

And for the last two weeks I've thought about how God says He adopted us. 

God sent him (Jesus) to pay for the freedom of those who were controlled by these laws so that we would be adopted as his children. (Galatians 5:4)

Jesus paid our adoption fee, rescued us from our cages, and brought us home to the Father's house. He did all of that in spite of our issues. Or maybe because of them. And He has faith that we will respond to His love, and His care, and His goodness, and that we will grow and thrive in that love. And what is it that he wants for us? For us to live out the fullness of our days in joy and peace with Him, because He loves us. Unconditionally.

Sometimes in our quest to follow Jesus, to be a "good Christian" and a servant and minister of Christ, in all our daily efforts to "be better" (which isn't bad, we should work to improve ourselves in every area), but sometimes I think we forget that God chose us, just like I chose Willabea. That he chooses to love us. That he knows we're a mess, and yet He calls us His own and loves us.  He'll do everything in His power to help us, for the rest of our lives.

We all have "issues." But God, in His amazing love and mercy, takes us in with all our baggage, all our hangups, all our bad habits and failings and weaknesses, and loves us in spite of ourselves. We're adopted. And we should be proud to say so.

Blessings to you today!

Niki Turner
Sadie's Gift (2014) - Available on Amazon and Nook
Santiago Sol (2015) - Releases in October, Pelican Book Ventures
The Skiing Suitor (2015) - Releases in September, Forget-Me-Not Romance

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