The Gospel According to Paul by John MacArthur


The writings of the apostle Paul make up a majority of the New Testament. He is a self-proclaimed defender of the gospel. So, what does Paul have to say about the gospel? John MacArthur lays out Paul’s message, calling upon his writings and the other apostles’ to make the case that Paul’s gospel truly is the gospel of Christ.

The teaching in this book is sound, but I was not able to get through it. I listen to John MacArthur on the radio and I’ve read and enjoyed a couple of his books, but the writing in this book was off. Maybe a book of this brevity wasn’t the right format to present this topic. Maybe it was the structure. I’m not really sure, but it didn’t leave me looking forward to picking the book back up.

1) Is it understandable = 5
2) Presentation of Information = 3
3) Quality of Writing = 4
4) Overall Enjoyability = 3

Average score of 3.75 out of 5

Where to buy the book: CBD | Amazon | B&N

I Am a Writer: Mission Statement


My mission is to create fiction that will entertain readers while sharing the Gospel in some form. I have always admired writers, and have dabbled in creative writing since about age nine. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve written longer stories that have caused the urge to write and publish a novel to grow until it could no longer be ignored. I see great fiction as a portal to another world inside of our minds, and hope to succeed in helping readers find that portal through my words.

Writing Goals:

  • 300+ words per day
  • “show, don’t tell”
  • avoid filter words
  • First rough draft by the end of 2017

Writing Schedule:

  • Mon – Fri: 7:00pm for one hour
  • Sat & Sun: 3 hours per day (finds times that work best and keep me most productive)


I crafted this mission statement as part of a writing exercise in The Dance of Character and Plot by DiAnn Mills.

Alyssa Palombo: Author Q&A + Giveaway

Historical novelist Alyssa Palombo, whose second novel The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence is out now, graciously agreed to answer a few questions on writing. You can read her answers here, and be sure to check out the giveaway at the end of the post.

1) What drew you to write about Simonetta Cattaneo?

There were a few things: the first is that I learned that she is the woman depicted in Botticelli’s painting The Birth of Venus, which is my all-time favorite painting. I love novels that tell the story (or imagined story) behind a famous work of art, so it seemed natural that I would write a story like that myself. The second thing is that, in my preliminary Googling of Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci, I learned that Sandro Botticelli had been so in love with her that he asked to be buried at her feet when he died – and he actually was! This seemed such a romantic detail that suggested more than a simple artist-muse relationship, so I knew I had to write about it. Lastly, I don’t think there is nearly enough historical fiction set during the reign of the fascinating Medici family, so the opportunity to write about that era was very exciting to me as well.

2) Did you find it easier to write your second novel?

Absolutely not; it was much harder than the first. Even though The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence took me MUCH less time than The Violinist of Venice, it was more difficult in every other way: I knew, by then, all the work it takes to make a book ready for publication, so I knew exactly how daunting the task that lay ahead of me was; it was the first book I’d written KNOWING it would be published (as it was the second book of my two-book deal with St. Martin’s Press); it was tough to transition from working on Violinist for so long to writing something new; and having sold Violinist I started to be plagued with doubt that I could write something as good that my agent and editor would love as much. I definitely got in my own way on this, but I now know this is a common occurrence for published writers writing their second book (or first under contract).

3) Do you type or handwrite your first draft?

Always type! I tend to write long and then need to cut down (although The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence was an exception in that the first draft was the shortest, and it kept getting longer as I fleshed it out in revision and in edits with my editor) so if I hand wrote, I don’t even want to think about how long a draft would take me!

4) What is your favorite part of the writing process?

I love both drafting and revising, because both are exciting in their own way, but I think revising is my favorite. I love the feeling of taking the words I’ve already put on the page and polishing and shining them until they really sparkle. That said, there’s no feeling like writing the first draft of something you really love. And probably the BEST feeling is when you finish a first draft 😊

5) Is there an aspect of writing you struggle with?

Most of my struggles do tend to come during the drafting process, when I have those days where it just feels impossible to get any decent words on the page. I always hit a bit of a lull in my creative energy in the middle of a draft, because that’s when it starts to feel the most like a slog – I’ve been working on the draft for a while and still have a long ways to go before I get to the end. The good news is that I’ve done this enough times now that I know that feeling is coming and can mentally prepare myself to push through it and not let it get me down.

6) Describe your daily writing routine.

I don’t write every day, so I don’t have a daily routine – and I don’t have much of a routine at all, either, come to think of it. What with working full time (and having the same family/personal obligations as anyone else) I just have to make writing time whenever and however I can. I usually write a few nights a week after work and most weekend days when I don’t have other plans. When I’m on deadline or really rolling on a project I also will write on my lunch breaks at work. I also have a writing group that meets Wednesday nights at a café, so that helps me plan writing time into my week and show up and get the work done.

7) Are there any authors who have influenced your writing?

Absolutely! Philippa Gregory was the author who inspired me to write historical fiction. Other big inspirations for me are Sarah Dunant and Margaret George. And, though she’s not a historical fiction writer, I love Ann Patchett and strive to write sentences as beautiful as hers. Her novel Bel Canto is one of my all-time favorite books.

8) When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

When I was pretty young – maybe eight or nine? I used to write little one page stories (some made up, and some about things that happened to me throughout the day) and give them to my family and friends. In middle school and high school I started seriously trying to draft novels – those ones were handwritten, because I used to write during my classes when my teachers thought I was taking notes! 😊

9) Name three authors you read for entertainment.

Only three?! Okay, here are some recent favorites: Vanora Bennett, Michelle Gable, and Donna Leon.

A BIG thank you to Alyssa for taking the time to answer my questions! Be sure to check out her latest novel, The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, on sale now at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other stores.

Palombo-ViolinistOfVeniceNow, on to the giveaway!

The novel up for grabs is Alyssa’s debut novel, The Violinist of Venice. I chose to do this novel because it left such an impression on me. I knew in the first few pages that I was a fan of the writing, and the story just pulled me in. Click the cover to the left, and you will be taken to the giveaway, hosted on Amazon.  The giveaway ended May 20, and the winner was contacted by Amazon. You can still click the cover to the left to bring you to the giveaway page.

Be sure to visit Alyssa’s website for more information on her novels, and her great posts on art and Italy.

The Silent Songbird by Melanie Dickerson


After the death of her parents, Evangeline is left in the care of her cousin, King Richard II. When she learns that the king has promised her as a wife to his advisor, Lord Shiveley, Evangeline runs away.

Knowing that they will come after her, and that she is known for her beautiful singing voice, she pretends to be mute and joins a group of servants who are journeying back to their village.

Westley is leading the servants, and he takes the mute young maiden under his protection. They grow closer, finding ways to communicate other than speaking, but when the truth comes out it could tear them apart.

As events unfold, Evangeline’s future, Westley’s life, and the fate of England hang in the balance.

This novel is part of Melanie Dickerson’s Fairy Tale Romance series. It’s a retelling of The Little Mermaid, minus the mermaids and magic. It’s a light read that will keep the pages turning with action and romance.

My only negative with this one was that the characters’ thoughts often summarized events that just occurred within the last few pages. It wasn’t necessary, as the action played out well, and this retelling took away from it.

Other than that, it’s a good read for those who love a clean, action-filled romance.

1) Overall Plot = 5
2) Characters = 5
3) Flow/Pace of the story = 4
4) Is the story easy to follow? = 5
5) Overall Enjoyability = 4

Average score of 4.6 out of 5

Where to buy the book: CBDAmazon | B&N

I received a copy of this book from BookLook in exchange for an honest review.

The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence by Alyssa Palombo


Simonetta Cattaneo knows she is beautiful. She has been told so all her life. So, when Marco Vespucci shows interest in marrying her she knows that is part of it, but she also finds in him a man who is not turned off by her love of literature and learning. She happily agrees to marry the handsome young man, and she and her parents move to his hometown of Florence until the wedding.

Marco is friends with Lorenzo de Medici, a wealthy and powerful man who entertains artists, philosophers, and poets. It is at one of his parties that Simonetta meets the painter Sandro Botticelli, where he asks that she pose for him.

The two form a close bond as she sits for his painting, leading to an intimate relationship and her likeness being capture in Botticelli’s famous painting, The Birth of Venus.

I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is about Palombo’s writing that draws me in and refuses to let go. There’s something about it that can take the happenings of everyday life and make it feel magical, yet very, very real. She writes characters in such a way that even in the middle of their worst flaws you can’t quite hate them. Her descriptions are just enough to help you see everything in your mind, and so well done that you see quite vividly.

Like her first novel, The Violinist of Venice, I couldn’t put this one down. There were mixed feelings of wanting to get to the end to see how it all turned out, yet not wanting it to end.

As for content, there are a couple of instances with harsh language, and the love scenes in this one are more descriptive than The Violinist of Venice, but they are not drawn out and do not dominate the novel.

Ms. Palombo knows how to tell a story that will keep the pages turning, and I look forward to her future novels.

1) Overall Plot = 5
2) Characters = 5
3) Flow/Pace of the story = 5
4) Is the story easy to follow? = 5
5) Overall Enjoyability = 5

Average of score 5 out of 5

Where to buy the book: Amazon | B&N

The Pursuit of Pearls by Jane Thynne


Germany is on the brink of war, and actress turned spy Clara Vine must decide if she will stay in Germany as it grows more dangerous, or return to England.

She is shocked when Lottie Franke is murdered. Lottie was an aspiring costume designer who apprenticed at Clara’s film studio, and a student at the prestigious Faith and Beauty school, which trains girls to one day be the wives of top Nazi members. Clara begins to find clues that Lottie’s death could be tied to those in the highest ranks of the Reich.

This is the fourth book in the Clara Vine series.

There’s not too much I can say about this one. I have the same issues with this one that I had with The Scent of Secrets: too much scene setting and unnecessary detail. This one, however, was also a lot slower. I was able to finish Scent of Secrets with some interest in the outcome, but I wasn’t able to make it past the quarter mark in this one. I don’t think I’ll be reading any more books in this series.

1) Overall Plot = 2
2) Characters = 4
3) Flow/Pace of the story = 1
4) Is the story easy to follow? = 4
5) Overall Enjoyability = 1

Average score of 2.4 out of 5

Where to buy the book: Amazon | B&N

The Scent of Secrets by Jane Thynne


It’s 1938. Germany has become a police state. The citizens are under constant scrutiny. Jews must be home by curfew and are no longer allowed to hold many jobs.

Clara Vine is an actress, half-German, half-English. Her career allows her to travel in and out of Germany with a little more freedom. Both of these things make her an ideal spy for England.

Her new assignment is to get close to Eva Braun, Hitler’s girlfriend, and find out everything she can about Hitler’s plans. The problem is that Braun is kept hidden, and under almost constant guard.

First things first, this is book three in the Clara Vine series. I didn’t realize that until after I started reading, though I didn’t feel like I was missing any important information as I read. I bought this one, thinking it was the first in the series, after I bought “The Pursuit of Pearls” which I thought was a stand-alone novel at the time. The back cover led me to believe that “Scent of Secrets” is the first in the series, but it’s not.

That being said, the novel it ok. The plot keeps you on your toes, and I enjoyed the characterizations for the most part. My biggest issue was the constant scene-setting. Clara walks into a room and we get a long, detailed description of colors, furniture, people, etc. There also seemed to be a lot of unnecessary historical detail. The novel was obviously amazingly researched, but these things really took me out of the story and slowed the pace.

The subplot with Rosa felt a little overdone for me, but the main plot kept me intrigued enough to finish.

The best parts were when the characters were interacting. The dialogue was crisp and kept me turning pages.

If I hadn’t already purchased “The Pursuit of Pearls” I may not read any more Clara Vine novels, but I’m going to give it a shot.

1) Overall Plot = 3.5
2) Characters = 4
3) Flow/Pace of the story = 3
4) Is the story easy to follow? = 4
5) Overall Enjoyability = 3

Average score of 3.5 out of 5

Where to buy the book: Amazon | B&N

My Fair Gentleman by Nancy Campbell Allen


Jack Elliot grew up at sea, doing what he could to provide for his mother and sister after the death of his father. His fortune takes a turn when his grandfather, an Earl, names Jack as his heir. The problem? Jack must give up his dream of one day captaining his own ship and impress the aristocracy. If he fails, his mother and sister will be stuck in poverty.

Ivy Carlisle has been tasked with teaching Jack the ways of high society. Good manners and etiquette are a must, and Ivy wonders if she can turn the sailor into anything resembling a gentleman.

Working closely together, the two begin to bond, and the attraction grows, but there’s danger in the air. Ivy hides a secret, and Jack’s life is being threatened.

This is truly a proper romance. The characters are well drawn, and the story flows well. This clean, Regency romance offers a cute tale with a bit of action and mystery. It kept the pages turning and made for a light, easy read.

1) Overall Plot = 4.5
2) Characters = 4
3) Flow/Pace of the story = 5
4) Is the story easy to follow? = 5
5) Overall Enjoyability = 4

Average score of 4.5 out of 5

Where to buy the book: Amazon | B&N

Creation of Character

I’m ready to get to know my characters!

If you’ve been around my blog long enough then you probably know that I think great characters can save a weak book. If I can latch on to a character, I’m more likely to follow through to the end. That’s why getting the characters right in my novel is so important to me. This is part of the reason I decided to step back and really dive into the creation of my story (or pre-writing processes) before I write any more of my novel.

The more I study the craft, the more I realize how important this pre-writing time is, even for someone who has always considered herself a pantser.

As I work on creating my characters, I’ll be using several resources:

Characters, Emotion, & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress – This book I plan to read in full, before any of the others, since it’s all about character. Viewpoint has been a source of angst for me, so I can’t wait to see what’s in here. I’ve already skimmed through, and it looks like lots of valuable information inside, along with exercises (some of which seem a little scary, if I’m being honest). I’m starting this one tonight.

Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Linda N. Edelstein, PH.D. – This book is one I will probably use throughout my writing as reference, but I think it will be a helpful tool in the pre-write process as well. This one breaks down personality types, traits, disorders, and more, giving example behaviors and characters. Like the book by Kress, this one also has some exercises to guide you to use the information in writing.

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card – Card’s book is important, since the novel I am writing is in the fantasy genre. Chapter 3 is set aside for Story Construction, which begins with character information. This book will be useful to me later on as well when I get into world building, but for now I’ll be focusing on character.

Writing the Breakout Novel (Workbook) by Donald Maass – It’s a workbook, so there are exercises galore! Part 1 is devoted to character development, broken into multiple sections.

Story Trumps Structure by Steven James – I’m looking forward to reading this one in full when I start world building and working out the details of my story, but there is also a section on characterization that I want to read before then.

The Dance of Character and Plot by DiAnn Mills – I just ordered this over the weekend after watching DiAnn speak about writing. I share her belief that characters and plot are inseparable, and that a character’s choices must drive the story forward. I’m really looking forward to reading this, and I plan to do so right after I’m done with Kress’s book.

Are you writing? Are you working on your characters or are you beyond that point now? Do you like creating characters or is it the worst part of writing for you? Tell me struggles and victories.

The Truth of the Cross by R. C. Sproul


Was the death of Jesus on the cross necessary? Was it the only way for people to return to God? The answer is “yes,” and R. C. Sproul explains why.

Using scripture from both the Old and New Testaments, Sproul shows how our fallen human condition leaves us separated from God, what happened to Jesus on the cross, and why it was absolutely necessary for our salvation.

The thing I like about R. C. Sproul is that he simplifies even the most complex theological ideas without talking down to his audience. He doesn’t leave theological terms out of the discussion, but he explains them as needed for the average reader. This little book is by no means an in-depth look at the work of the cross, but it is packed with information for a foundational understanding of the atonement. I suggest every professing Christian read this book.

1) Is it understandable = 5
2) Presentation of Information = 5
3) Quality of Writing = 5
4) Overall Enjoyability = 5

Average score of 5 out of 5

For a limited time (which may be over soon since today is Easter Sunday) Reformation Trust, through Ligonier Ministries, is offering free e-book copies of this book. Click here to check out their blog post with links to download you free copy.

Where to buy the book: CBD | Amazon | B&N