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Book Review | The Struggle: 4 Girls and 1 Bathroom

The Struggle: 4 Girls and 1 Bathroom is not the normal kind of book I review.

For one thing, it’s not a novel. Well, not really. The first book in the “series”, Mom and the Summertime Blues, was a summer holiday project Patrice Smith assigned her four daughters so they wouldn’t get bored (click here to read my review). This is the follow-up, written over the course of a school year. While the names have been changed, I have no doubt all these events actually occurred. This makes The Struggle more memoir than fiction.

Four sisters, two parents, and one bathroom.

I can see The Struggle! But that’s not all the book talks about. Each of the four sisters contributes three chapters, one from the beginning of the school year, one from the middle, and one from their summer trip. Mom starts with an apology, and wraps up loose ends to finish.

I enjoyed The Struggle.

I know it’s meant for middle grade and younger young adult readers, but I’d also recommend it toe homeschooling parents looking for ideas for school (or holiday) projects. I suspect there is a large market of grandparents who would love a real printed book by their grandchildren. Amazon CreateSpace and other Print on Demand printers means such an undertaking doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.

I’d also recommend The Struggle: 4 Girls and 1 Bathroom to those writing for a middle grade or young adult audience because of the insight it offers into the way modern pre-teen and teenage girls think. Part of me wants to know if the whole project is Patrice Smith’s sneaky plan to get to know her daughters better … or maybe not:

“I must say, my mom has done really well with the manipulating of her kids to eat the way she wants them to. She should write a book. Wait, what did I just say?”

Parts made me laugh out loud:

“My teacher makes coffee at the same time every morning. Nothing happens until she has some coffee in her hands. If you are smart, you stay out of her way until she has had at least one cup.”

I couldn’t possibly comment. Other parts reminded me how fast trends move on:

“My mom says by the time this book is published, I won’t want a fidget spinner anymore and people willl no longer be excited by them, but I doubt it.”

I suspect Mom was right. Big surprise.

The book also includes discussion questions (with thorny questions such as “Why do parents say No?”), and a word list, including the words that some younger readers might not know or understand (like vegan and chia).

Thanks to Patrice Smith for providing a free ebook for review. I’ll look forward to reading the next family project!

About the Authors

The StruggleThe authors of the book The Struggle: Mom and the Summertime Blues and The Struggle: 4 Girls & 1 Bathroom are from Middle Georgia. The authors consist of a mom and her four daughters. The mom, Patrice Smith, is a second-time author, who has previously coauthored a healthy living cookbook. She received a Bachelor of Science in Human Resources and Family Studies from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.

The four adolescent authors are Donna Smith age 16, Shannon Smith age 15, Charity Smith age 13, and Faith Smith age 12. They are all very active, school-aged girls with a variety of interests which include reading, drawing, singing, art and more. The inspiration for the first book came from their real-life mom’s summer writing assignment. This book is inspired by their real life, but it is a work of fiction. Be on the lookout for future works by these talented authors.

About The Struggle: 4 Girls and 1 Bathroom

The Struggle: 4 Girls & 1 Bathroom is the sequel to the book entitled The Struggle: Mom and the Summertime Blues. It is also about the lives of four sisters, Diamond, Shelia, Crystal, and Felicity. Previously, these sisters wrote about having to endure a long summer with their mom and her never-ending lists of chores and schoolwork. Now they are back to discuss their upcoming school year. But this time, no one is safe from their complaints!

Read the introduction to The Struggle below:

New Releases in Christian Fiction: July 2017

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.

Contemporary Romance

On Love’s Gentle Shore by Liz Johnson — When Natalie O’Ryan’s fiancé books their wedding in her hometown, Natalie didn’t know the only reception venue available would be an old barn belonging to Justin Kane–the best friend she left behind all those years ago after promising to stay. As they work together to get the dilapidated building ready for the party, Natalie and Justin discover the groundwork for forgiveness–and that there may be more than an old friendship between them. (Contemporary Romance from Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group)

Their Ranch Reunion by Mindy Obenhaus — Single mom Carly Wagner is surprised to learn she’ll have to share ownership of the home she’s inherited with her first love—and first heartbreak—Andrew Stephens. The man who fled their tiny Western town is back and standing in the way of her dreams to expand her B&B.

Now a successful businessman, Andrew has eight weeks to buy Carly out. But Carly’s too stubborn to persuade—and too beautiful to ignore. When fire ravages her inn and she and her daughter move in to their shared property, Andrew’s in over his head. Time is running out and Andrew must decide: leave and chase another deal…or stay and chase Carly’s heart. (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Time and Tide by Kristen Terrette — Recovering from addiction and a near death experience, Chad moves to Moanna Island, a small island close to Savannah off the Atlantic coast, to begin a job with his family’s real estate empire, a job he was supposed to have taken years ago. Free-spirited Ryan Mason is a Moanna local girl from a blue-collar family. She’s dropped her own dreams to help her father care for her schizophrenic brother.

When Chad and Ryan meet at the rehabilitation center where her brother lives, feelings develop between them. Can their crazy worlds ever fit together once he learns her secret and she finds out he is the sole heir to the Cusher Empire? (Contemporary from Hartwood Publishing Group)

Just Look Up by Courtney Walsh — When a workaholic interior designer returns to her hometown to check on her brother’s welfare, she reconnects with a soldier, secretly in love with her, over a renovation project that will help the struggling town. (Contemporary Romance from Tyndale House)

If there is one book on this list I want to read, this is it.

Cozy Mystery

A Tempting Taste of Mystery by Elizabeth Ludwig — Judging a pie contest leads Cheryl Cooper and friends into mayhem and mystery after someone begins methodically sabotaging the entries. (Cozy Mystery from Guideposts Publications)

Over Maya Dead Body by Sandra Orchard — FBI Special Agent Serena Jones arrives on Martha’s Vineyard with her family, ready for a little bit of R&R and a whole lot of reminiscing as they celebrate the engagement of an old family friend. But crime doesn’t take a vacation, and she’s soon entangled in an investigation of a suspicious death tied to an antiquities smuggling ring.

When her investigation propels her into danger, Serena must stay the course and solve this case before anyone else dies. But just how is she supposed to do that when the two men in her life arrive on the scene, bringing with them plenty of romantic complications–and even a secret or two? (Cozy Mystery from Revell [Baker])

Historical Romance

The American Conquest (Window to the Heart Sage, Book 3) by Jenna Brandt — Margaret must leave behind her title and wealth in Europe in order to escape and start a new life in the Colorado Territory. (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

Of Rags and Riches Romance Collection by Susanne Dietze, Michelle Griep, Anne Love, Gabrielle Meyer, Natalie Monk, Jennifer Uhlarik, Erica Vetsch, Jaime Jo Wright, and Kathleen Y’Barbo — Journey along in nine historical romances with those whose lives are transformed by the opulence, growth, and great changes taking place in America’s Gilded Age.

Nine couples meet during these exhilarating times and work to build a future together through fighting for social reform, celebrating new opportunities for leisure activities, taking advantage of economic growth and new inventions, and more. Watch as these romances develop and legacies of faith and love are formed. (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

A Rebel in My House by Sandra Merville Hart — Promises can be impossible to keep–especially when a Confederate soldier trapped behind enemy lines looks to a Gettysburg seamstress for help. (Historical Romance from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)

A Match for Melissa by Susan Karsten — Wanting a godly husband, Melissa’s only choice is to follow her father’s wishes, even when doing so may not achieve the desires of her heart. (Historical Romance from Prism Book Group [Pelican]).

My Heart Belongs on Mackinac Island by Carrie Fancett Pagels — Moor your heart on Mackinac Island along with resident sweetheart Maude Welling, an heiress trying to prove her worth by working incognito as a maid at the Grand Hotel. Meet Ben Steffans, a journalist posing as a wealthy industrialist who has come to the island to uncover a story about impoverished men pursuing heiresses at the famed hotel. Will a growing love between Maude and Ben be scuttled when truths are revealed in this Gilded Age romance? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

Salvation by the Sea by Kristen Reed — Life has been anything but easy for Muirigan thanks to a series of life-altering calamities, but she’s found peace with her new, understated life by the sea. However, the maid’s past comes back to haunt her when she saves the shipwrecked Prince Halvard one morning.

Failing to recognize one of his dearest childhood friends, the prince invites Muirigan to live at court as a reward for her valiant heroism. As the two reconnect, something deeper than friendship blossoms, but will their newfound affection survive when Muirigan’s lies are revealed and Halvard learns the truth about what has befallen since their tragic separation? (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

Romantic Suspense

Beneath Copper Falls by Colleen Coble — As a 911 dispatcher, Dana Newell takes pride in being calm in tough circumstances. In addition to her emotionally-charged career, she’s faced enough emergencies in her own life. She recently escaped her abusive fiancé to move to tranquil Rock Harbor where she hopes life will be more peaceful. But the idyllic town hides more danger and secrets than it first appeared.

Dana is continually drawn to her new friend Boone, who has scars inside and out. Then she answers a call at her job only to hear a friend’s desperate screams on the other end. Soon the pain in her past collides with the mysteries of her new home—and threatens to keep her from the future she’s always wanted. (Romantic Suspense from HarperCollins Christian Publishing [Thomas Nelson and Zondervan])

I’m reviewing Beneath Copper Falls at Suspense Sisters Reviews next Monday.


The Genesis Tree by Heather L.L. FitzGerald — Deception is rampant, the enemy is subtle, and love dares to tug at Sadie’s heart amid the turmoil that forces her and her family back to the Tethered World below. (Speculative/Contemporary Fantasy from Mountain Brook Ink)

Review: Five Days in Skye by Carla Laureano

Romance in Scotland: What more could you want?

Andrea Sullivan may have sabotaged her career with that last potential client. Now, as punishment, she has to convince TV chef James MacDonald, owner of three Michelin-starred London restaurants, that her company is perfect to help him renovate and market the family hotel he has inherited on the Isle of Skye. She has just a few days, and her job is on the line.

There is an immediate attraction when Andrea and James meet, but Andrea wants nothing to do with men, and especially wants nothing to do with a client. James has his own problematic romantic history, not to mention an even more problematic relationship with his brother, who owns one-third of the hotel.

I found all the characters to be intelligent and likeable, and I was especially impressed by the research. I’ve not been to Skye but I’ve lived in London and visited Scotland, and Five Days in Skye made me feel I was there. I had to laugh Andrea’s reaction to James calling her ‘love’. It’s a common term, particularly in the hospitality industry.

Right, love?

This is a Christian novel, but the Christian element is somewhat understated. Both Andrea and James come from rural backgrounds where the Christian faith was an integral part of the family. But both have abandoned that faith, yet realise on Skye that perhaps they need to pursue God once more.

Five Days in Skye has it all: an excellent opening, a funny first meeting between Andrea and James, intelligent lead characters who are both successes in their chosen careers, excellent attention to detail, and the Isle of Skye, a beautiful and unique setting. And the last line is a beautiful illustration of the eternal romance between us and God. Recommended for romance lovers.

Thanks to David C Cook and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Carla Laureano at her website, and you can read the introduction here:

Wellington Museum, and Word Stories from World War One

When my family last visited Wellington, we visited the World War One exhibition at the National Art Gallery and Wellington Museum, and the ANZAC memorial outside.

This history buff in me thought it was an excellent exhibition—as well as giving the full history of the origins of World War one and the war itself, it also contained dozens of newly colourised photographs from the war. They were both eye-opening and horrific. We’ve all seen photos of World War One … in black and white. These photos are an education, a reminder that those who fought in World War One, the Great War, the War to End All Wars, saw it in unglorious colour: brown and khaki and red.

A lot of red.

For today, I’d like to share something a little different that the word-nerd inside me found fascinating: the phrases from World War One which have become part of our everyday language. Okay, that might depend on where you live and what kind of family you grew up in!


While this is a French word, Australians and New Zealanders only began using it during World War One. Prior to this, we would have said ‘keepsake’.


My parents and grandparents often used this word to describe advertising brochures (aka junk mail), but it was originally used to refer to the masses of (unwanted?) official correspondence from headquarters … often used as toilet paper (needs must, I suppose). Yes, bumf is short for b** fodder.


Strife is taken from German, where strafe means to punish. It’s used to describe various forms of trouble

Blood bath

From a German description of the Somme in 1916. My great-grandfather was decorated for his service on the Somme, but he never talked about it. I guess this tells me why.


When Armoured Landships were originally under development in 1915, they were given the code name of ‘water tank’, because of their box-like structure. The name stuck, and we still call them tanks.

Break new ground

A phrase we often use without thinking of the difficult origins. It now refers to something that hasn’t been done before, but the original meaning was to dig a new trench.


If you’re American, you might not know about the food staple of bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potato). The sausages were called bangers because of their tendency to explode if the casing wasn’t pricked.

What word stories do you have?

9 Top Tips for Aspiring Authors

Last week I had a comment on a book review post asking for advice for new writers. Well, it might have been asking for advice for new writers, but it also had a link to a website advertising writing aids which seemed a little spammy so I didn’t approve the comment. (Well, it was on a book review post, so seemed more than a little off-topic).
9 Top Tips for Aspiring Writers
I’ve been writing fiction for a little over a year–not long, in the scheme of things. But that first novella manuscript won one small writing contest (Almost an Author), and is currently a finalist in the American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis contest, the flagship contest for unpublished Christian fiction writers. So my writing must have some merit.

But there is more to writing than just writing. At least, according to Stephen King:
Stephen King quote
CES FB Quotes (2)

I’ve been reading Christian fiction for over twenty years.

I’ve seen trends come and trends go, which means I’ve got a good feel for the genre and have learned what publishers buy.

And I’ve been working as a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction for the last five years, which means I’ve seen a lot of manuscripts, good and bad, and have learned something about the craft of writing from each one. I’ve attended conferences, undertaken online training, and completed a hands-on immersion course with international speaker and writing coach Margie Lawson.

I’ve also read dozens of books on writing craft and dozens more books on book marketing. Each has contributed to my understanding of how to write, edit, publish and market books in this new world. A world where aspiring authors don’t need an agent and a big-name publisher. A world where authors can self-publish without the stigma of ‘vanity’ publishing.

I’ve learned a thing or two.

So I’m going to give my answer to the question my commenter initially asked. I hope it helps him or her and anyone else who is thinking of writing a novel, who is in the middle of writing their first novel, or who has one or three or ten completed manuscripts buried in some virtual drawer.

So here are my top tips of what an aspiring fiction author needs to know and do:

1. Understand Genre

Publishers publish by genre, booksellers organise their stores by genre, and readers read by genre. Your book has a better chance of succeeding if you understand what genre it is, and meet the expectations of readers of that genre. For example, a romance novel has to have a happy ending in which the hero and heroine are together. If he dies at the end, it’s not a romance novel.

Yes, authors do can do genre mashups (Amish Zombies in Space springs to mind), but even that adheres to the expectations of each of the constituent genres (I think. I don’t read zombie novels, so don’t know how it stacks up against them).

Understand your genre, and write to the norms of that genre.

2. Write What You Love

If you love trashy romance, write romance novels. Don’t write highbrow literary fiction with beautiful language but where nothing much happens. Don’t write gung-ho action adventure novels in which the hero fights his way through innumerable blockages in order to reach his goal and get the girl. Conversely, if you read literary fiction, don’t write Amish romance because someone tells you that’s what sells.

Write what you love for two reasons. If you’re writing in a genre you love to read, you’ll know the conventions of the genre and what the reader is looking for. And your writing will flow better because it’s something you want to write (unlike so many of those creative writing assignments in school).

3. Read what you write

Read in your genre. Read outside your genre. Read old books. Read new books. Read novels which have won awards, and try to work out why they won. Read award-winning novels as judged by industry professionals (e.g. the Christy Awards), by writers (e.g. the Carol Awards) and by readers (e.g. the INSPY Awards). Read the Christian novels I recommend each month on this blog.

4. Study the Big Picture

The big picture element of writing is the relationship between plot and story and structure and characterisation. Most craft books focus on one or two of these aspects, but the more I read, the more I come to believe that you can’t look at any one of these in isolation. They all need to be considered together.

Here are some books I recommend which examine these big picture elements:

– Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell
– Plot versus Character by Jeff Gherke
– Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
– Story Genius by Lisa Cron
– Structuring Your Novel by KM Weiland
– GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict by Debra Dixon

(See what I mean about the relationships?)

5. Study the Technical Craft of Fiction

You also need to understand the basics of modern fiction. Yes, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens were great writers, and you can look to them for insight into the big picture elements. But don’t try and emulate the way they wrote. Novel writing has changed a lot in the two hundred years since Austen was first published, and writing like Jane Austen won’t win you any fans today. Even novels from the 1990’s might be too old-fashioned in terms of style to be of benefit in terms of their technical writing craft. (Although they will still be of benefit in terms of the big picture elements.)

The modern writer needs to understand:

– Point of View
– Showing not telling
– Scene and sequel

For advice on these issues, try:

– Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View by Jill Elizabeth Nelson
– The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglasi
– Scene and Structure by Jack M Bickham

6. Understand the Mechanics of English

There is no point in knowing how to craft a great novel if you don’t have the technical writing skills to get it on the page so people can read and understand it. Christian editor (and founder of the Christian Proofreaders and Editors Network) calls this the PUGS: Punctuation, (word) Usage, Grammar and Spelling. There is nothing worse than picking up a novel which is hard to read because the author doesn’t understand how to order words in a sentence for maximum reader impact.

For advice on actual writing, I recommend:

– Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss
– The Elements of Style by Strunk and White

7. Join a Community

You’ll learn as much from your fellow writers as you will from books, so join a community of writers. This could be online (e.g. Facebook groups such as Australasian Christian Writers). It could be a formal organisation (e.g. Romance Writers of America or Australia or New Zealand, American Christian Fiction Writers or Omega Writers or New Zealand Christian Writers). It could be a Christian group or a general market group. It could be for fiction writers or all writers.

8. Write

You can study too much. It was true when Ecclesiastes was written and it is true today. Study, but ensure you get words down on paper as well. Or get pixels on a computer screen.

9. Learn to Self-Edit

Yes, I’m a freelance editor so you’d think I’d have a vested interest in people not editing their own work, to give me more to do. But correcting simple mistakes the author could have corrected for themselves isn’t much fun, and means I might get too focussed on correcting commas and hyphens at the expense of more fundamental questions of plot and style. And anyway, the cleaner the manuscript in terms of writing mechanics, the cheaper the edit.

Tools like Grammarly and ProWritingAid can help with the most technical side of this self-editing, identifying things like passive voice and overused words and commonly misused words.

But you need a human to pick up that your heroine’s hair colour changes three times without her ever visiting a hairdresser, or that there is headhopping in Chapter Four or that you have a nasty habit of structuring every sentence the same or that your mute minor character actually had a couple of lines before she miraculously started talking again.

For advice on how to self-edit your novel, I recommend:

– The Word Loss Diet by Rayne Hall
– Revision and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by James Scott Bell
– Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

In Conclusion …

Everyone agrees I came into fiction writing the ‘wrong’ way. Most people write a manuscript first, then start looking for writing groups or publishers or advice on craft. I did it backwards: I spent several years learning the craft before I started writing. I don’t believe you have to spend years, but my relative success with that first fiction manuscript proves (to me, at least) that time spent studying craft isn’t wasted. And you’d do far worse than starting with the books I’ve recommended above.

Do you have any questions about writing? Ask in the comments.