A Conversation with Melissa Jagears

Today, the INSPY Awards warmly welcomes author, Melissa Jagears. Her novel, A Heart Most Certain (Bethany House) is on the 2017 shortlist in the Historical Romance category. Please join us in welcoming Melissa.

Today, we read about the inspiration for A Heart Most Certain learn about her nightstand reading and where she does most of her brainstorming – plus more!Melissa Jagears INSPYs

A Fresh Voice in Historical Romance!

Lydia King knows what it’s like to be in need, so when she joins the Teaville Moral Society, she genuinely hopes to help the town’s poor. But with her father’s debts increasing by the day and her mother growing sicker by the week, she wonders how long it will be until she ends up in the poor house herself. Her best chance at a financially secure future is to impress the politician courting her, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that the moral society’s president is her suitor’s mother. Her first task as a moral society member—to obtain a donation from Nicholas Lowe, the wealthiest man in town—should be easy . . . except he flat-out refuses.

Despite appearances, Nicholas wants to help others but prefers to do it his own way, keeping his charity private. When Lydia proves persistent, they agree to a bargain, though Nicholas has a few surprises up his sleeve. Neither foresee the harrowing complications that will arise from working together. When town secrets are brought to light, this unlikely pair must decide where their beliefs—and hearts—truly align. – Goodreads

Author Interview with Melissa Jagears

INSPYs: What inspired you to write, A Heart Most CertainI started brainstorming this book back in 2012 when I was not published. I lived near Coffeyville, KS which has this wonderful mansion residing where you would least expect one. Every time I passed it, I thought a mansion in the middle of nowhere would be a great setting for a story. But the mansion only belonged to one family, so I couldn’t use its actual history for a romance. Another time I was driving by, I was pondering how a lot of fairy tale retellings were getting published. (I do a lot of brainstorming in the car!) And while passing the mansion, I was trying to come up with fairy tale/classic stories that hadn’t been done in a Christian novel retelling and thought up Scrooge and Aladdin. Then I wondered if I could combine the two. That’s where it started. How to put Scrooge and Aladdin in a middle-of-nowhere Kansas mansion. The pictures on the series covers are of the actual Brown Mansion which is my Lowe Mansion’s inspiration.

What are some of the challenges/benefits of incorporating faith in your stories? I love theology. I’d go to seminary just for fun if I didn’t have to pay for it. I love reading pages upon pages of theology discussion, BUT not in my fiction. Back in the old days where Christian fiction would plop in an entire sermon delivered from a pulpit? Yeah, I’d skip right over those to get back to the story. So there’s the challenge for me not to go too gung-ho on the theology discussions when they happen in my stories because it’s just so fun to discuss, but I know when reading fiction that’s not what I’m looking for and I don’t want to write anything I myself would skip!

As for the benefit, I mentioned I wrote this book in 2012. When I started editing it again in 2015 for Bethany House, one of the Biblical messages in the book spoke straight to me. God used a book I’d written years before to help myself years later. I think addressing the spiritual in stories make them timely no matter when it’s read.


1. What are you watching? Sorry I’m not that fun, I don’t have a television and the only movies I overhear are geared to preschoolers. I do watch youtube videos sometimes…..

2. What are you reading or what’s on your nightstand? Last book I read was Love’s Winter Hope by Naomi Rawlings, and I’ve been itching to read The Lady and the Lionheart by Bischof.

Face-off Questions

1. Print or Ebook? I like both. They each have pros and cons, but if I had to choose one, I’d choose print because if there’s an end-of-the-world Apocalypse coming, I could read without electricity.

2. Dark Chocolate or Milk Chocolate? Milk Chocolate

3. Coffee or Tea? Neither, but if it were a life and death situation where I was forced to drink one, I’d choose tea. I’ve actually lived through an entire cup of tea, but I can’t make it past a sip of coffee.


Carol Award-winning author Melissa Jagears is a homeschooling mom who writes Christian historical romance into the wee hours of the night. She’s the author of the Unexpected Brides series and Love by the Letter, a free prequel ebook novella. You can learn more about Melissa, her books, and where she hangs out online at www.melissajagears.com.

Thanks so much for joining us on the INSPYs.com blog today, Melissa. It was a pleasure to host you and spotlight A Heart Most Certain.

A Conversation with Sarah Sundin

INSPYs 2016-Sarah Sundin

Today, in the first of our 2016 shortlist author interviews, favorite historical fiction author, Sarah Sundin joins us. Author of multiple WWII series’, Sarah has established herself as a respected novelist. Her novel, Through Waters Deep (Revell) is on the 2016 shortlist in the Historical Romance category.

We chat with Sarah about what inspired Through Waters Deep, her favorite TV show (Editor’s Note: I totally understand this addiction), plus she gives us a sneak peek into what’s next!

It is 1941 and America teeters on the brink of war. Outgoing naval officer Ensign Jim Avery escorts British convoys across the North Atlantic in a brand-new destroyer, the USS Atwood. Book - Through Waters DeepBack on shore, Boston Navy Yard secretary Mary Stirling does her work quietly and efficiently, happy to be out of the limelight. Yet, despite her reserved nature, she never could back down from a challenge. When evidence of sabotage on the Atwood is found, Jim and Mary must work together to uncover the culprit. A bewildering maze of suspects emerges, and Mary is dismayed to find that even someone close to her is under suspicion. With the increasing pressure, Jim and Mary find that many new challenges–and dangers–await them.Goodreads | Amazon

INSPYs: What inspired you to write Through Waters Deep?

I was fascinated by what was happening in the United States in 1941, while war was raging in Europe but America remained neutral. I was surprised to learn that US warships escorted Allied convoys in 1941, and that five American cargo ships and a US destroyer were sunk by U-boats—before Pearl Harbor! Meanwhile, Americans were bitterly divided between isolationism and interventionism, with many rumors of sabotage and espionage.

Sarah's 2015 research trip: a USS Cassin Young destroyer at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston.

Sarah’s 2014 research trip: a USS Cassin Young destroyer at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston.

In Through Waters Deep, Ensign Jim Avery serves on a US destroyer escorting convoys and fighting U-boats while the nation clings to neutrality. Meanwhile, Mary Stirling works as a secretary at the Boston Navy Yard. When evidence of sabotage surfaces, Jim and Mary work together to find the culprit…and their long-time friendship promises to blossom into something more.

INSPYs: Can you give us a sneak peak into what’s coming next?

The second book in the Waves of Freedom series, Anchor in the Storm, just released. For plucky Lillian Avery, America’s entry into World War II means a chance to prove herself as a pharmacist in Boston. She loves the wartime challenges of her new job but spurns the attention of society boy Ens. Archer Vandenberg. As Arch’s destroyer battles U-boats along the East Coast, Lillian uncovers a black market drug ring. Arch and Lillian work together on the investigation, but can he ever earn her trust and affection?

I’m working on the edits for the third book, When Tides Turn, which will release in March 2017. It features the oldest Avery boy, Dan, and Mary and Lillian’s friend Quintessa Beaumont. It was a lot of fun to write!


  • What are you listening to?

Right now? Silence. I can’t listen to music when I work. I start humming or singing, and I want to get up and dance. Rather distracting. But in my car, I have big band music playing—Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Harry James—I love it all.

  • What are you watching?

I don’t control the remote in our house, so I catch up on my shows on Thursday nights when my husband’s at choir practice and our son’s at youth group. I’ve been super-busy this year and I’m so far behind. I’m only on Episode 6 of the final Downton Abbey season! Do NOT tell me how it ends.

Sarah Sundin TBR pile 2

  • What are you reading or what’s on your nightstand?

I just finished three wonderful novels. Karen Barnett’s Through the Shadows is set in the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco, and it’s rich with history and character depth. Kara Isaac’s debut novel, Close to You, is a fun romance featuring a woman who leads Tolkien tours in New Zealand. And I read another debut, Jennifer Lamont Leo’s You’re the Cream in My Coffee for endorsement. It doesn’t come out until September, but keep your eyes open—a delightful story set in Chicago in the Roaring Twenties.

I also have a ton of research books on my pile, since I’m digging in to my new World War II series which follows three estranged brothers who fight on D-Day on the sea, in the air, and on the ground.

Thank you so much for joining us today, Sarah. It was a pleasure to talk with you, and learn more about the behind-the-scenes happenings of your writing.

MEET THE AUTHORSarah-Sundin-green-1-187x300

Sarah Sundin enjoys writing about the drama and romance of the World War II era. She is the author of the Waves of Freedom series (Through Waters Deep, 2015, Anchor in the Storm, coming May 2016, When Tides Turn, coming March 2017), the Wings of the Nightingale series (With Every Letter, 2012, On Distant Shores, 2013, and In Perfect Time, 2014), and the Wings of Glory series (A Distant Melody, A Memory Between Us, and Blue Skies Tomorrow). She also has a novella in the WWII Christmas collection Where Treetops Glisten (WaterBrook, 2014).

A mother of three, Sundin lives in northern California. She works on-call as a hospital pharmacist and teaches Sunday school and women’s Bible studies. She enjoys speaking to community, church, and writers’ groups.

Author Website | Facebook | Twitter


The INSPYs Advisory Board Announces the 2016 Longlists


For the INSPY Awards, change was the word as we began 2016.

To help simplify our nomination process, we made some adjustments to our awards program. To that end, instead of publicizing our long list of nominations as they poured in, the Advisory Board kept the list private since the method of nomination involved a process of popular vote. The number of books that received the most nominations (the top 15 from each category) came out as the winners, which then determined the long lists.  

After some behind-the-scene delays, today we are thrilled to announce the results from those votes. From the lists below, the Advisory Board will be narrowing these respective lists down to five books per category which will become our 2016 short lists. From there, the same judging process and practices will follow.

Grab your favorite beverage, and enjoy browsing through the books that YOU nominated, propelling them into “phase two.”

Contemporary Romance / Romantic Suspense:

  1. Pesto and Potholes by Susan M. Baganz (Prism Book Group)
  2. Moments of Truth by Sandra D. Bricker (Bling! Romance)
  3. Together with You by Victoria Bylin (Bethany House)
  4. Anna’s Healing by Vannetta Chapman (Harvest House)
  5. Legitimate Lies by Julie B. Cosgrove (Prism Book Group)
  6. The End Begins by Sara Davison (Ashberry Lane)
  7. No Place to Hide by Lynette Eason (Revell)
  8. London Tides by Carla Laureano (David. C. Cook)
  9. To Dance with Dolphins by Bonnie Leon (Ashberry Lane)
  10. Rising Darkness by Nancy Mehl (Bethany House)
  11. The Dandelion Field by Kathryn Springer (Zondervan)
  12. Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Beth K. Vogt (Howard)
  13. A Love Like Ours by Becky Wade (Bethany House)
  14. The Wonder of You by Susan May Warren (Tyndale House)
  15. Her Brother’s Keeper by Beth Wiseman (Thomas Nelson)

Debut Fiction Longlist:

  1. A Light in Bailey’s Harbor by Bethany Baker (Mantle Rock Publishing)
  2. The Thorn Bearer by Pepper D. Basham (Vinspire Publishing)
  3. Whitewashed by Amy Blake (Mantle Rock)
  4. To Soar on Eagle’s Wings by Renee Blare (Prism Book Group)
  5. Angelhood by A.J. Cattapan (Vinspire Publishing)
  6. Jaded by Varina Denman (David C. Cook)
  7. Blood of a Stone by Jeanne Gassman (Tuscany Press)
  8. A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter (Bethany House)
  9. Love’s Rescue by Christine Johnson (Revell)
  10. Irish Meadows by Susan Anne Mason (Bethany House)
  11. Cavernous by Monica Mynk (Mantle Rock)
  12. Broken Dolls by Tyrolin Puxty (Curiosity Quills)
  13. The Sound of Diamonds by Rachelle Rea (Whitefire Publishing)
  14. Finding Mia by Dianne J. Wilson (Harbourlight)

General Fiction Longlist:

  1. Hidden Storms by Nancy Shew Bolton (Prism Book Group)
  2. A Sparrow in Terezin by Kristy Cambron (Thomas Nelson)
  3. A Cup of Dust by Susie Finkbeiner (Kregel)
  4. The Art of Losing Yourself by Katie Ganshert (WaterBrook Press)
  5. Secrets She Kept by Cathy Gohlke (Tyndale House Publishers)
  6. Spy of Richmond by Jocelyn Green (River North)
  7. Tea & Crumples by Summer Kinard (Light Messages Publishing)
  8. The Dog that Saved Stewart Coolidge by Jim Kraus (FaithWords)
  9. The Tomb by Stephanie Landsem (Howard Books)
  10. The Road to Terminus by Catherine Leggitt (Mountainview Books)
  11. Water From My Heart by Charles Martin (Center Street)
  12. Chapel Springs Survival by Ane Mulligan (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)
  13. The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay (Thomas Nelson)
  14. The Five Times I Met Myself by James L. Rubart (Thomas Nelson)
  15. Final Grace for Reverend G by RJ Thesman (CrossRiver Media)

Historical Romance Longlist:

  1. A Light in Bailey’s Harbor by Bethany Baker (Mantle Rock)
  2. The Wood’s Edge by Lori Benton (Waterbrook Press)
  3. A Thousand Shall Fall by Andrea Boeshaar (Kregel)
  4. Not by Sight by Kate Breslin (Bethany House)
  5. The Captive Imposter by Dawn Crandall (Whitaker House)
  6. The Memoir of Johnny Devine by Camille Eide (Ashberry Lane)
  7. The Mistress of Tall Acre by Laura Frantz (Revell)
  8. Brentwood’s Ward by Michelle Griep (Shiloh Run Press)
  9. Where Two Rivers Meet by Londa Hayden (Tate Publishing)
  10. Luther and Katharina by Jody Hedlund (Waterbrook Press)
  11. A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter (Bethany House)
  12. Guardians of the Heart by Loree Lough (Whitaker House)
  13. The Sound of Silver by Rachelle Rea (Whitefire Publishers)
  14. Through Waters Deep by Sarah Sundin (Revell)
  15. Promise to Keep by Elizabeth Byler Younts (Howard Books)

Literature for Young Adults Longlist:

  1. Season of Fire by Lisa T. Bergren (Blink)
  2. Rise of the Fallen by Chuck Black (WaterBrook Press)
  3. A Time to Speak by Nadine Brandes (Enclave Publishing)
  4. Lightning by Bonnie S. Calhoun (Revell)
  5. Shades of Doon by Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon (Blink)
  6. The Choosing by Rachelle Dekker (Tyndale)
  7. The Golden Braid by Melanie Dickerson (Thomas Nelson)
  8. The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest by Melanie Dickerson (Thomas Nelson)
  9. See No Evil by Mary Hamilton (HopeSprings Books)
  10. The Sound of the Stones by Beth Hammond (eLectio Publishing)
  11. An Uncertain Choice by Jody Hedlund (Zondervan)
  12. Chivalrous by Dina L. Sleiman (Bethany House)
  13. Dauntless by Dina L. Sleiman (Bethany House)
  14. 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status by Cynthia Toney (Write Integrity Press)
  15. Siren’s Fury by Mary Weber (Thomas Nelson)

Mystery / Thriller Longlist:

  1. The Last Con by Zachary Bartels (Thomas Nelson)
  2. Whitewashed by Amy Blake (Mantle Rock)
  3. Gone without a Trace by Patricia Bradley (Revell)
  4. Murder Freshly Baked by Vannetta Chapman (Zondervan)
  5. Deadly Doll by Brooke Cox (Mantle Rock Publishing)
  6. A.D. 33 by Ted Dekker (Center Street)
  7. Honor at Stake by Declan Finn (Eternal Press)
  8. Vendetta by Lisa Harris (Revell)
  9. Taken by Dee Henderson (Bethany House)
  10. Falcon by Ronie Kendig (Shiloh Run Press)
  11. Where Hope Dwells by Elizabeth Ludwig (Guideposts)
  12. Desperate Measures by Sandra Orchard (Revell)
  13. The Bones will Speak by Carrie Stuart Parks (Thomas Nelson)
  14. Shattered Trust by Chris Richards (Prism Book Group)
  15. Ashes to Ashes by Mel Starr (Kregel)

Speculative Fiction Longlist:

  1. The Methuselah Project by Rick Barry (Kregel)
  2. Heir of Hope by Morgan L. Busse (Enclave Publishing)
  3. The Shock of Night by Patrick W. Carr (Bethany House)
  4. Angelhood by A.J. Cattapan (Vinspire)
  5. The Curse of Crow Hollow by Billy Coffey (Thomas Nelson)
  6. Valley of Decision by Lynne Gentry (Howard Books)
  7. The Sound of Stones by Beth Hammond (eLectio Publishing)
  8. Embers by Ronie Kendig (Enclave Publishing)
  9. The King’s Scrolls by Jaye L Knight (Living Sword Publishers)
  10. The Sword and the Song by C.E. Laureano (Nav Press)
  11. Waking Beauty by Sarah E. Morin (Enclave)
  12. Cavernous by Monica Mynk (Mantle Rock)
  13. Found and Lost by Amanda G. Stevens (David C. Cook)
  14. Take and Give by Amanda G. Stevens (David C. Cook)

…and there you have the 2016 INSPYs longlists.

We’d like to congratulate all of the nominated authors and thank all of the bloggers and readers who put forth their favorite reads of 2015.

We’re ready to get to work and find the top five in each of these categories.

2015 INSPY Award Winners

After our panel of judges careful consideration, the INSPYs Advisory Board is pleased to announce the 2015 INSPY Award Winners. Below are the seven winning novels in their respective categories and a statement from our judges on the reason why they felt it was worth the award…

Book - Miracle in a Dry SeasonDebut: Miracle in a Dry Season (Bethany House) by Sarah Loudin Thomas: 
We chose Miracle in a Dry Season not only because of the talent of the author, but because it is a unique and engaging story. A refreshing tale of miracles, love, and laughter set in the 1950s, Sarah Loudin Thomas pens an intriguing take based around the miracle of Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand. Through the story, characters – led primarily by a male character, Casewell, and events we gain a deeper understanding of faith and what it means to embrace the gifts and blessings God has given us.
Contemporary Romance/Romantic Suspense: Meant to Be Mine (Bethany House) by Becky Wade: Book - Meant to be Mine

Meant to Be Mine by Becky Wade is the epitome of Christian romance. The chemistry between Ty and Celia is fabulous, and we could feel the sparks in every interaction between them! While the romance is spectacular, this book has so much more to offer. Beautifully written, it is an emotional experience in the best way. Wade’s descriptions of the characters brought them to life, and their relational, emotional, and spiritual journeys rang true. The other four novels in this category are wonderful, but Meant To Be Mine’s excellence is unable to be denied.


saving amelieGeneral Fiction: Saving Amelie (Tyndale) by Cathy Gohlke: 

What a challenge, to pick one winner from five fabulous titles including Biblical, historical and contemporary fiction. We are delighted to announce the winner of the 2015 INSPY Award for General Fiction is Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke, which impressed us all with its complex characters, fascinating historical detail, and bold yet subtle Christian message. The story is set in Germany in the early days of World War II, and plot centres on rescuing the deaf Amelie, from her father and from a regime which prized “perfection” over the sanctity of life. The characters face danger, hardship and uncertainty over the course of this thought-provoking and sometimes harrowing read. We were particularly impressed with the sensitive way Gohlke showed how God can use ordinary people in the bleakest of circumstances.

Book - Mark of DistinctionHistorical Romance: Mark of Distinction (Tyndale) by Jessica Dotta: 

We chose Mark of Distinction because it exemplifies the historical romance genre and confronts unique spiritual themes. Jessica Dotta has woven a story with a captivating setting and characters. The writing style and mystery of the plot draws the reader from the beginning into a Victorian society of restraint, secrets, and consequences. At its center is the theme of full surrender and trust in God. With complex characters and a unique voice, the story unfolds with unexpected twists and romance.

Book - Storm SirenLiterature for Young Adult: Storm Siren (Thomas Nelson) by Mary Weber:

Our panel decided to choose Storm Siren as the winner for the YA category. Nym deals with insecurities about her elemental powers and wondering why she was born with such a curse. This makes Nym relatable to young women all over the world and from every generation – we have all dealt with insecurities at some point in their lives. To see Nym have to come to terms with how she was created and to use those powers for the greater good shows tremendous character growth. Another reason we chose Storm Siren was because of the amazing and magical world that Mary Weber created. World building is one of the first things in a Fantasy novel that draws you into the story. Oh…and who doesn’t love a map inside their book!Book - A.D. 30

Mystery/Thriller: A.D. 30 (Center Street) by Ted Dekker:

A.D. 30 is a fast-paced adventure that keeps you turning the pages until the very end. Ted Dekker delivers a powerful, faith-filled story that brims with perils – each with their own kind of mystery and suspense, struggles, and most importantly hope. Dekker takes us on a journey to Jesus through the eyes of the daughter of Maviah, a gentile and an outcast, readers rediscover the message of Yeshua, experiencing it as never before. Dekker masterfully conveys the depth of God’s love for us — a knowledge we often hold in our heads, but fail to carry in our hearts. Warring kingdoms, power-thirsty adversaries, and fickle rulers are only a few of the obstacles in Maviah’s journey that keep the reader flipping pages. Whether she will succeed in her quest is a mystery. An uplifting and simple message, encased in a sweeping historical epic, is the primary reason it was selected A.D. 30 to be the winner of this year’s INSPY award.

Speculative Fiction: Spirit Bridge (Thomas Nelson) by James L.Rubart:

Book - Spirit BridgeSpirit Bridge is a brilliantly written story that was thought provoking and yet easy to follow as a standalone novel, though it is the third and final book in the Well Spring series. The story-world was populated with an excellent group of lead characters who were complex and easily relatable in their struggles in both the physical and spiritual realms. Their struggles challenge the reader to examine aspects of their own lives.  The story’s message, dying to self and keeping the enemy from gaining a foothold, was clear throughout, not getting lost in the suspense and action of the story. Spirit Bridge fully satisfies the reader’s expectations of the genre. It is a powerful spiritual thriller, with the speculative elements underpinning the novel and not requiring any further explanation to better understand it. Spirit Bridge is very worthy of the INSPY for Speculative Fiction.



We’d like to thank our judges for their hard work and careful consideration of each title.

Congratulations to the winners and all the nominated authors! 

Up Close and Personal with Stephanie Landsem

We continue this week’s short list author interviews with Stephanie Landsem. Stephanie’s novel  The Thief (Howard Books) is on the short list for the Historical Romance category. Below we chat with Stephanie about her talented musical family and their love of superheroes.

Goodreads SummaryBook - The Thief

Nissa is a Jewish woman with a sharp tongue and no hope of marriage. Abandoned by the God she once loved, her only recourse is to depend upon Mouse, the best thief in Jerusalem, to keep her blind brother, Cedron, fed and the landlord satisfied.

Longinus is a Roman centurion haunted by death and failure and is desperate to escape the accursed Judean province. Accepting a wager that will get him away from the aggravating Jews and their threats of revolt, he sets out to catch the thieves harassing the marketplace.

When a controversial teacher miraculously heals Cedron, Nissa hopes for freedom from her life of lies. But the supposed miracle brings only more misfortune, and Longinus, seeking to learn more about the mysterious healer, finds himself drawn instead to Nissa, whose secret will determine the course of both their futures.

Cedron, Longinus, and Nissa are unexpectedly caught up in the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus. As danger closes in on them from every side, they must decide if the love and redemption Jesus offers is true or just another false promise. How can the so-called Messiah save them from their shackles, when he cannot even save himself?

What are you listening to?

Since I live in a musically talented family, there’s seldom a quiet moment in our house. With a son home from college and his band re-connecting in our basement (which means I’m always out of food), I hear a lot of indie rock and jazz. My husband’s band plays an eclectic mix of 80s and current rock on weekends. With another son playing guitar and daughter playing bass, well . . . let’s just say the dishes are usually rattling in the cupboards. I love hearing my family’s music but when I get  quiet moment, I tend to savor the silence.

What are you watching?

Right now I’m re-watching a series called Grand Hotel. It’s a little like Downton Abbey but set in a hotel in Spain with mucho more drama, backstabbing, literal stabbings, revenge, heartbreak, and—unlike the stoic Britsplenty of manly crying. I absolutely love it. One warning to anyone who might be tempted to watch: the last season is not yet subtitled in English so after a cliffhanger episode you will have to wait to see what happens or learn to speak Spanish. With my kids, I’m watching all the Marvel/Avengers movies again before going to see Age of Ultron at the theater. We love our superheroes! Then we’ll do the same before the new Jurassic Park comes out this summer.

What are you reading?

I have several books going and a pile to read this summer. I’m happily catching up on some biblical titles I put off while I was writing The Living Water Series and have Pharaoh’s Daughter by Mesu Andrews on kindle now. On audio, I’m listening to classics that I somehow missed in high school and am halfway through The Brothers Karmazov. On my nightstand is Innocence, by Dean Koontz and I’m loving it. If you’ve always thought of Koontz as a horror writer, you’d be surprised at the themes of faith, hope, and forgiveness that are coming out in his latest works. As for nonfiction, I’m reading The Grace of Yes, Eight Virtues for Generous Living, by Lisa Hendey for a summer bookclub and Created to Relate, God’s Design for Peace and Joy, by my lovely friend Kelly Wahlquist. I’m always browsing a new cookbook and right now it’s The Ancestral Table by Russ Crandall — the blend of history and food is deliciously compelling.

Here’s my reading stacked up on my nightstand. As you can see, I always keep industrial strength earplugs handy in case band practice goes later than my bedtime 🙂

nightstand books

Thank you so much for joining us today, Stephanie. It was a pleasure to host you here. Learn more about Stephanie: Facebook ǀ Twitter ǀ Website

Up Close and Personal with Elizabeth Camden

Hello, everyone. Today, we have the pleasure of welcoming shortlist author Elizabeth Camden. Elizabeth’s novel  With Every Breath (Bethany House) is on the short list for the Historical Romance category. Below we chat with Elizabeth about her addiction to Pandora, get a sneak peek at her TBR and learn about the inspiration behind With Every Breath.

Goodreads SummaryBook - With Every Breath

In the shadow of the nation’s capital, Kate Livingston holds a respectable position as a government statistician when she encounters a rival from her past, the insufferable Trevor McDonough. A Harvard-trained physician, Trevor never showed the tiniest flicker of interest in Kate, and she’s bewildered at the way he suddenly seeks her out. Surprising even herself, Kate agrees to Trevor’s entirely unexpected and risky proposal to work side-by-side with him in his quest to rid the world of tuberculosis, a contagious and deadly disease.

As Kate begins to unlock the mysteries of Trevor’s past, she realizes there is much more to him than she could have imagined. His hidden depths may fascinate her, but his most closely guarded secrets and a shadowy enemy lurking in the background carry a serious threat to their future.

When the truth of the past comes out, threatening to destroy everything they hold dear, how will Trevor and Kate ever overcome all that stands in their way?

Novel Inspiration for With Every Breath.

I read a lot of memoirs from the late 19th century, which often triggers my plot ideas. A few years ago I read a fascinating memoir by Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau (1848-1915) about his quest to cure tuberculosis, a painful and usually fatal disease. He knew he risked his life each time he treated a patient, and although I have tremendous admiration for such courage, I started to wonder how his wife felt about that! Personally, I’d be terrified, but what a heroic man! I knew I had the makings for a terrific love story, but I did not want to model it after Dr. Trudeau, who did indeed eventually contract tuberculosis and die from the disease. I tend to be a happily-ever-after kind of writer, but I love putting my hero and heroine through an emotional wringer before they earn a happy ending. As with all my novels, I tried to inject notes of subtle humor, hope, and inspiration throughout the novel.

– Elizabeth Camden

Interview Questions:

1.) What are you listening to? I am addicted to Pandora, which is an online music service that lets you customize your own music preferences. I love film scores and made a station filled with gorgeous, moody, elegiac music that gets me in the perfect mood to write turbulent romances. You can listen to my music station here: http://pdora.co/1E2jYug You don’t even have to subscribe to Pandora to listen in. Just click the link and the music should launch.

2.) What are you watching?  I don’t watch much TV, but confess to enjoying Judge Judy while I cook dinner. There’s something about listening to her rip into scoundrels that appeals to my need for a little guilty pleasure. Complete trash, but I love it!

3.) What are you reading or what’s on your nightstand? Here is a snapshot, which gives a good cross-section of what I read for pleasure and what I’m researching for my next novel. I usually write a book about two to three years before it goes to print, so the book about the pearls won’t see the light of day until 2017.

Camden's reading

Thanks, Rissi, for asking me on some really off-the-beaten track questions!


Thank you so much for joining us today, Elizabeth. It was a pleasure to host you here. Learn more about Elizabeth: Facebook ǀ Website

Up Close and Personal with Jody Hedlund

Good afternoon, INSPY readers! We have the pleasure of welcoming shortlist author Jody Hedlund today. Jody’s novel Captured by Love (Bethany House) is on the short list for the Historical Romance category. Not only has Jody been shortlisted (and won) more than once, this year she debuted as a YA author and has a brand-new book due out this coming month. Below Jody shares about re-watching historical classics and what helped inspire Captured by Love.

Goodreads SummaryBook - Captured by Love (Hedlund)

It is 1814 and the British have taken hold of Mackinac Island and its fort, forcing American residents to swear an oath of loyalty to the British crown in order to retain their land. Pierre Durant is a voyageur–a fur trader who left his family home to find freedom and adventure. He’s been gone five years and when he returns, his family’s farm is at the mercy of the British invaders.

Torn between the life he’s grown used to and guilt over leaving his brother and mother, he’s drawn back into the loyalist fight against the British–and into a relationship with Angelique Mackenzie, a beautiful local girl who’s been befriended by the daughter of the British commander. As tensions mount and the threat of violence increases, both Angelique and Pierre must decide where their loyalties rest, how far they will go to find freedom, and how much they will risk to find love.

Interview Questions

1.) What are you listening to? While I write, I listen to my Piano Guys station on Pandora. I love piano, cello, and violin music and find them very inspiring as I write.

2.) What are you watching? This past year I’ve re-watched some “classic” historicals with my teen daughters including Last of the Mohicans, The Patriot, Dances with Wolves, etc.

3.) What are you reading or what’s on your nightstand? Currently I’m reading Small Town Bachelor by Jill Kemerer and Allegiant by Veronica Roth. But I’m excited to read Becky Wade’s newest book, A Love Like Ours. I also just recently listened to the audio version of Ruby Red a YA by Kerstin Gier and liked it so much that now I added the next two books in the series to my TBR pile.



Mackinac Island

When asked what the inspiration behind Captured by Love was, Jody responded with this answer:

The story is set on Mackinac Island, a popular tourist destination in the Midwest. It’s my hope that the book captures the beauty of the area along with details of the fur-trading era. I also wanted to portray all of the difficulties that came during the British rule of the island during the War of 1812–starvation-like conditions, blockades, threats by the British captors, and an impending battle against the Americans who wanted to retake the island.

– Jody Hedlund


Thank you so much for joining us today, Jody. It was a pleasure to host you here. Learn more about Jody: Facebook ǀ Twitter ǀ Website

Up Close and Personal with Tamera Alexander

Today the INSPY Advisory Board is happy to welcome USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Tamera Alexander. Her novel, A Beauty So Rare (Bethany House) is on the short list for the historical romance category. Read on below for a fun, new Q&A format we’ve introduced with Tamera in which she proves she has the same bookish conundrum we all do: too many books on that TBR pile.

Goodreads Summary: Book - A Beauty So Rare

Plain, practical Eleanor Braddock knows she will never marry, but with a dying soldier’s last whisper, she believes her life can still have meaning and determines to find his widow. Impoverished and struggling to care for her ailing father, Eleanor arrives at Belmont Mansion, home of her aunt, Adelicia Acklen, the richest woman in America–and possibly the most demanding, as well. Adelicia insists on finding her niece a husband, but a simple act of kindness leads Eleanor down a far different path–building a home for destitute widows and fatherless children from the Civil War. While Eleanor knows her own heart, she also knows her aunt will never approve of this endeavor.

Archduke Marcus Gottfried has come to Nashville from Austria in search of a life he determines, instead of one determined for him. Hiding his royal heritage, Marcus longs to combine his passion for nature with his expertise in architecture, but his plans to incorporate natural beauty into the design of the widows’ and children’s home run contrary to Eleanor’s wishes/ AS work on the home draws them closer together, Marcus and Eleanor find common ground–and a love neither of them expects. But Marcus is not the man Adelicia has chosen for Eleanor, and even if he were, someone who knows his secrets is about to reveal them all.

If you’d like to learn more about what inspired A Beauty So Rare, find out in Tamera’s informative 2-min video Inspiration Behind A Beauty So Rare.

1.) What are you listening to?  One More Step by Lindsay McCaul. L-o-v-i-n-g this album. Also, Lindsey Stirling’s Shatter Me. Talk about a gifted violinist. (Have no idea behind the confluence of names, but there we are.)

2.) What are you watching? Wolf Hall on PBS. Stunning and captivating!

3.) What are you reading or what’s on your nightstand? It nearly killed me not to straighten my Kindle that’s leaning to one side. LOL. Just glad I’d thrown away my Kleenexes from the night before (allergy time here in Nashville). And I’m not trying to get free press for the Southern novella collection I’m in this summer. It’s really on my nightstand as I’m reading the others gals’ novellas. #SouthernLove Tamera Alexander Nightstand

The Girl from the Train by Irma Joubert
Seeking Allah Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi
Among the Fair Magnolias by moi, Shelley Shepherd Gray, Dorothy Love, Elizabeth Musser
Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne
And behind the others:
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen
Sycamore Row by John Grisham

My Kindle which has 1, 288 books that I won’t list here! 🙂


Thank you so much for joining us today, Tamera! It was such fun to chat with you. Find out more about Tamera’s book by watching the book trailer for A Beauty So Rare, a trailer Tamera says she still loves because of  the “blend of a historical novel with a current contemporary love song.”

Learn more about Tamera: Facebook ǀ Twitter ǀ Website

Author Interview with Joanne Bischof

Today, we’re thrilled to feature Joanne Bischof on the blog. Author of the short list novel Though my Heart is Torn, read through Joanne’s interview to learn more about her writing process.

Summary from GoodreadsCades Cove

Settling into a simple life in the majestic Blue Ridge mountains, Lonnie and Gideon O’Riley have finally found happiness after the rocky start to their marriage. The roguish bluegrass musician has fallen in love with his gentle wife and the God she serves, and Lonnie rests secure in his tenderness for her and their young son. A heartless ruse interupts their peace, bringing them back to Rocky Knob—and forces them to face the claims of Cassie Allan, a woman who says she is Gideon’s rightful wife.

As Gideon wades into the depths of his past choices, Lonnie is stunned by the revelations. She has no choice but to navigate this new path, knowing that surviving the devastating blow will take every ounce of strength  she has.

While Gideon’s guilt  and his bitterness towards Cassie threatens to burn up his fledgling faith, Lonnie wrestles to find the courage to trust the God who brought them together in the first place. Will their hard-earned love be able to conquer all?

What do you do outside the world of books?

Outside of the world of books, my day pretty much consists of my kids. We have three young children that I homeschool so they are my sidekicks all day long. We have lots of fun and it can get really crazy! They’re my little pals and our goal for the day is to yes, have them learn schoolish things, but to also just let them be kids and be adventurous. They play great together and are all best friends. It makes life so fun and it’s always the unexpected things that I lie awake at night with, mulling over, and thanking God for. Each day with them is an adventure and I sometimes think they teach me a lot more then I teach them.Joanne Bischof 1

As book lovers it interests us – What books or authors have influenced you, both as a writer and a reader?

There are so many glorious books in this world! They’re like good friends, aren’t they? I’ll always hold close to my heart books like Little Women, The Little House series, and Anne of Green Gables. I’m thankful for those pages and the reminder they are for simple things—old fashioned faith and the sweet, small pleasures in life that are really worth holding onto and cherishing.

And more recently, authors have influenced my writing life like Liz Curtis Higgs and Susan Meissner. I absolutely admire the way they weave a story and they never cease to amaze me. Since then, more authors have joined the list like Laura Frantz. I’m a huge sucker for a good emotional read. I love a book that can make me cry and leave me missing the characters.

What are the challenges or benefits of incorporating faith into your storyline?

I’d imagine there are many other writers that feel this way…I find that the faith element of my books happen organically in a way that’s often a surprise. I always set out first with the idea for a character and who they are both with weaknesses and strengths. I never quite know what the faith element will be like, what the journey for the character will be, or what the take away will be for the reader. I find that once a story is finished, I look back and see that God was at work both on my heart and on the story. It’s always an amazing feeling to realize that I learned something deeper about who God is to us through the writing process.Joanne Bischof 2

What do you hope readers take away from Though my Heart is Torn?

I always hope readers will take away from my stories the idea that God can take even the worst of sinners and use them for His glory. I think this truth is sprinkled throughout the Bible in so many ways. It’s not who we are or where we came from, but what we can grow into by looking to the Lord for direction. It’s never too late to be used and we’re never too far gone to seek redemption.

What led you to writing?photo (31)

I was raised on books and remember reading the Little House series more times than I could count. From the first pages of Little House in the Big Woods, I fell in love with all things old-fashioned and as Laura grew up and fell in love with Almanzo, I think it made me a romantic at heart. I was incredibly shy growing up, so curling up with a writing notebook was one of my favorite ways to pass the time and I’m so grateful for my parent’s encouragement and having been surrounded by books that both inspired and taught me a love for the written word.


Thanks for joining us today, Joanne! We loved having you. Learn more about Joanne’s books and her writing on her website.

Author Interview with Jody Hedlund

Author of the novel A Noble Groom, we’re happy to welcome Jody Hedlund to the blog today. Jody’s book is shortlisted in our historical romance category. Please join us in welcoming her.

Summary from Goodreads???????????????????

Recently widowed Annalisa Werner has the feeling her husband was murdered but can’t prove it. Alone with her young daughter in 1881 Michigan, she has six months left to finish raising the money needed to pay back the land contract her husband purchased, and the land is difficult to toil by herself. She needs a husband. With unmarried men scarce, her father sends a letter to his brother in the Old Country, asking him to find Annalisa a groom.

For nobleman Carl von Reichert, the blade of the guillotine is his fate. He’s been accused and convicted of a serious crime he didn’t commit, and his only escape is to flee to a small German community in Michigan where he’ll be safe. He secures a job on Annalisa’s farm but bumbles through learning about farming and manual labor.

Annalisa senses that Karl is harboring a secret about his past, yet she finds herself drawn to him anyway. He’s gentle, kind, and romantic–unlike any of the men she’s ever known. He begins to restore her faith in the ability to love–but her true groom is still on his way. And time is running out on them all.

What do you do outside the world of books?

I spend my days homeschooling my five children ranging in ages from 16 down to 8. Not only do I teach my own kids, but I also teach a high school grammar and composition class. When I’m not writing or teaching, I’m usually driving my kids to all of their many activities. Of course, I can always make time for reading, especially when it involves lots of coffee and chocolate!GE DIGITAL CAMERA

As book lovers it interests us – What books or authors have influenced you, both as a writer and a reader?

Anne of Green Gables was one of my favorites as a child because it played a role in developing my creativity as a writer. (Followed closely by A Little Princess and Little Women because they also featured strong, creative girls.) Now as an adult, my internal editor doesn’t turn off when I’m reading for pleasure. I’m constantly analyzing books and learning from fellow authors.

What are the challenges or benefits of incorporating faith into your storyline?

While I don’t want my stories to come across as “preachy,” I also don’t want to neglect a spiritual message since I desire for God to touch lives through my stories. Finding that balance between preachy and heart-touching is always difficult. But during the planning stages of a novel, I always try to give my characters real spiritual struggles. In fact, I prayerfully consider those struggles, asking God to make clear what issues he wants me to tackle. Then I attempt to have my characters wrestle through those issues in 7bc9e46fac253def478d11f14aaa13a6meaningful ways that hopefully readers can relate to.

What do you hope readers take away from A Noble Groom?

In A Noble Groom I want them to know God does indeed care for them. Even when He seems busy with more important people and matters, I hope readers will have a new awakening of His nearness especially during their darkest moments of pain.


Thanks for joining us, Jody! Read more about Jody’s books and learn more about her on her website.