Friday, August 28, 2015

Pam Hillman Gives the Scoop on STEALING JAKE

Quick note from Natalie: 
I was out of town last weekend and the last scheduled post completely escaped me. I'll postpone the next installment of the Encouragement for the Waiting series until next weekend.

To make it up to you, I have CBA bestselling author Pam Hillman here to tell us insider info about her August release, Stealing Jake! I'm also giving away my autographed paperback copy of Stealing Jake. I'll have to get another copy for myself, but this is a book that must be shared! And who better to share it with than you guys!

Hi, Pam! So glad to have you here! 
--So tell us in three sentences, what is this book about?

Can a former pickpocket fall in love with a small town sheriff, especially when he’s doing everything he can to get rid of the riffraff spilling out of Chicago onto his streets? And what will the sheriff do when he finds out about her past?

Tell us about the main characters. Who are they, what makes them unique?

Livy O’Brien has a soft spot for street kids, since she used to be one herself. Changed by a kindly woman and the love of Jesus, she longs to help other street kids find hope and a future.

On the other hand, sheriff’s deputy Jake Russell, is determined to send the street kids roaming the alleys of Chestnut back to Chicago where they belong. It isn’t until he meets and falls in love with Livy that his eyes are opened to the true realities these kids face every day. Then he risks everything—including his life—to save them.

Gibbons’ family has a reputation to uphold as some of the most vile crooks in all of Chicago. But Chestnut is the perfect place for Gibbons show his family once and for all that he’s capable of being just as ruthless as the rest of them. And since no one cares for the street kids anyway, why not use them to their fullest potential?

Luke, a street kid from Chicago, is trying his best just to survive. When a string of robberies occurs in town, everyone suspects him and his little band of ragtag street urchins... but all he wants is to fill his stomach, survive the winter, and find his kid brother.

What was your inspiration for writing this book?

I honestly can’t remember how I came up with the exact idea for the pickpocket theme, but it was the old adage of opposites attract. If she’s a thief (even if she’s reformed), he’d better be a lawman.

Give us one fact about each main character that no one else knows.

Jake blames himself for his father’s death and is determined to work night and day to care for his family, regardless of the cost to himself.

Livy is short for Olivia, which is a nod to Oliver Twist.

How do you believe this story relates to the lives of readers?

Livy’s ashamed of her past, and most of us have things in our past that we’re ashamed of. Livy knows God has forgiven her, but will the people in her new town accept her if they ever find out? From their actions and words toward the street kids, she’s afraid she knows the answer. Jake and the townspeople feel justified in their desire to get rid of the kids, but they don’t know the whole story. Sometimes it’s easy to assume the worst of others when we ourselves are well-fed, clothed, and sheltered.

What is the biblical background or basis for the book?

Forgiveness. Accepting God’s forgiveness, forgiving others, and possibly the hardest of all, forgiving oneself.

Why did you choose to focus on a female protagonist?

The premise called for a female pickpocket and a male sheriff. While they both have a sympathetic backstory, hers is much more emotionally gut-wrenching than his. The reader is going to cheer extra loud for her when she faces her fears and overcomes them. On the other hand, Jake faces his fears and overcomes them, too. But Livy has just a tiny bit of an edge on Jake when it comes to pulling readers’ heartstrings.

Describe your feelings when you opened the box and saw the first published copies of your very first book.

My heart smiled. I don’t know how else to explain it. I didn’t throw confetti or have a big party. But my heart smiled. Still does when I think about it.

What are your hopes for your future as an author?

I hope to keep telling stories that reach out and touch someone. If I entertain, encourage, and uplift one person today, I’ll call it a good day.

CBA Bestselling author PAM HILLMAN was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn't afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove an Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn't mind raking. Raking hay doesn't take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that's the kind of life every girl should dream of. 

You can connect with Pam through one of the following sites:

Twitter: or @PamHillman

Seekerville (group blog):

Up for grabs this week is an autographed copy of Stealing Jake. Comment with your email address to be entered! Open to U.S. residents only, please. Giveaway ends 9/3 at 12p.m. Central Daylight Time. Winner will be announced next weekend.

Comment fodder:
It's cooling off here in Mississippi. I'm so ready for fall! What's your favorite thing about fall? Hot apple cider? Scarves? Something else? 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Stealing Jake, Reviewed + A Little Book Spine Poetry

Hey, folks! I just finished drinking a glass of sweet iced tea and re-reading (yes, I did) Stealing Jake by Pam Hillman. I couldn't wait to share my thoughts on this book and hopefully you'll enjoy hearing about it as much as I enjoyed reading it.

Stick around until the end of the post for a bit of fun with Book Spine Poetry. Thanks to Amada Chavez for suggesting I try Book Spine Poetry in my Improvement Questionnaire. If you haven't filled out the questionnaire, please do, as I look toward revamping The Sweet South blog for next year using your suggestions!

Stealing Jake by Pam Hillman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A sheriff and a former pick-pocket team up to rescue street kids and find unexpected love in Chestnut, Illinois. I like to break down my reviews into several elements...

The heroine: "Light-fingered" Livy is a wonderful heroine, feminine without being stiff, and gutsy without being overbearing. With her past, it is hard to see how things could ever work out between her and Jake, but that's what makes for great story conflict!

The hero: Jake is a down to earth, selfless hero that would make any lady's heart patter. He only has eyes for Livy, though, which makes him all the more swoon-worthy.

The romance: Sweet sorghum molasses! Jake does a handsome job of pursuing Livy against his better judgement. Shy, reticent girl that Livy is, Jake's attentions are of necessity determined, yet gentle and sweet. They melted this reader's heart more than once--okay, a lot.

The plot: This is a page-turner for sure. I was constantly guessing until the end, and the plight of the children really makes this story unique.

The setting: While reading this novel, I felt like I was living the scenes. The details immerse the reader into the snowy world of Illinois winter but never overwhelm or slow the pace too much. The effect feels effortless and is a mark of Pam's incredible talent.

The theme: Forgiving ourselves and overcoming secrets in our past is hard. Everyone can relate to making mistakes they'd rather no one else know. But through the blood of Jesus, we have forgiveness and He gives us victory over sin. The prejudices about street kids are also addressed along with our need to "be Jesus to the least of these." Matt. 25:40. This leads me to my final point...

The faith element: Pam Hillman writes her faith into her stories so gently and earnestly, the reader never feels preached to, but at the same time there's never a question this book was written to minister and encourage. Another mark of excellent fiction writing. I was happy to find a good read that speaks of Jesus' blood and His power to cleanse us from sin.

The audience: Because of the subplot with the courageous, desperate street kids, people of all ages will enjoy this story. I recommend this novel to anyone who loves good fiction.

As promised, here's a snippet of book spine poetry I put together from my shelves. Spine poetry is where you stack novels to where the titles form a sentence or idea. Disclaimer: I haven't read Mr. Knightly's Diary and don't know much about it, but I'm hoping it's an elegant followup to Emma.

Painless research projects: Mr. Knightly's diary.

Mr. Knightly's diary vanished. Emma? Deep trouble.

We had such good participation in Johnnie Alexander's giveaway of Where Treasure Hides, she has decided there should be TWO winners! has helped us out and the winners are BARBARA and AGBOSS (Alison). Congrats, Barbara & Alison! We'll be getting in touch with you soon!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

"Inspired by History" by Johnnie Alexander

Six wartime years.

Four European countries.

Several historical events.

One novel.

When I first imagined the story that became Where Treasure Hides, I already knew a little bit about my hero’s history.

British officer Ian Devlin and his mischievous hazel eyes came to life in an earlier manuscript when, as a major secondary character, he worked with an American actress to provide false intelligence to the Nazis.

That story established Ian’s capture at the Battle of Dunkirk and his escape from a prisoner-of-war camp.

But why those two facts?

I believe it all started with a trip to the library.

On those shelves, I found a thick book called Colditz Castle: The Untold Story of World War II’s Great Escapes by Henry Chancellor. Since The Great Escape, the classic movie starring James Garner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and several other well-known actors, was an all-time favorite, I had to, literally, check out Chancellor’s book.

In fact, I checked it out multiple times. And took pages of notes.

When the time came to write about Ian’s escape from this infamous prison stronghold, I used actual escapes as a template.

Now let’s back up a bit.

For Ian to escape from a POW camp, he first had to be captured. Enter the historic Battle of Dunkirk, renowned for the massive evacuation of Allied soldiers by a mixed flotilla that included battle destroyers but also fishing boats and lifeboats. Over 800 assorted sea crafts rescued over 330,000 soldiers in just a few days.

The internet helped me here, providing articles and even a couple of videos about the evacuation. I learned that the smoke from burning oil tanks polluted the air, and the stench of diesel fuel from the boats mixed with the odors of the English Channel and the smell of death.

Captured soldiers were forced to march for several days through Belgium and into Germany. 

Eventually they arrived at a collecting point where they were divided by nationality then taken by trucks or barges to different Oflags or POW camps.

Ian follows this same journey and is first imprisoned in a castle near the Austrian border before being transferred to Colditz.

Thankfully, not all my research involved events such as the Battle of Dunkirk or POW camps.

I also delved into art.

This trip into the past started with a DVD. While reading just about everything I could find about WWII, I stumbled across a documentary called The Rape of Europa which led me to a similarly titled book by Lynn H. Nicholas, The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War.

What I learned from watching the DVD and reading Ms. Nicholas’ book was jaw-dropping. Countless pieces of art stolen, hidden, destroyed, and lost.

I felt that familiar heart-tug and knew this was it: the massive art theft by the Nazis would be the centerpiece of my novel.

One resource led to another and another. I was researching and writing, writing and researching, rewriting and, yes, still researching almost to the day I submitted the final manuscript to Tyndale’s acquisition editor.

The story took directions I never intended or imagined as Ian and the woman he loves, a Dutch-American artist whose family owns a Rotterdam art gallery targeted by one of Hitler’s inner circle, courageously meet the challenges of war.

Six wartime years.

The story begins in August 1939 at Waterloo Station when an official tries to confiscate a violin from a young Kindertransport boy. The child plays the British national anthem for the other travelers, and the official is forced to let him keep the instrument. This true event, fictionalized a bit for my story, is what brings Ian and Alison together.

The story ends in May 1945. Or does it?!

Four European countries.

From London, England, to Rotterdam, Holland. To the shores of France and the prison camps of Germany. And actually a few other surprise stops, too.

Several historical events.

The war’s historical events provided a framework for the novel’s timeline. The Dunkirk evacuation and Rotterdam bombing play important roles in the story.

Near the end of the war, when Hitler realized his dreams of a Third Reich were crumbling, he issued an order to destroy the caches of invaluable art and cultural treasures he’d hidden. This order drives the story to its climax.

One novel.

Writing this post has been its own little trip into the past.

Tyndale released the ebook edition in 2013. The print edition has just released. (Yes, that’s me, squealing with delight.)

As I read my copy, certain scenes took me back to the places where I imagined and wrote them—in a corner of my leather couch, on a stool at the kitchen counter, on the screened porch of my cousin’s Ohio farmhouse, at Panera’s with my daughter who was working on her own manuscript.

Somehow, the memories mingle with Alison and Ian’s story to create an even deeper significance.

Artist Alison Schuyler spends her time working in her family’s renowned art gallery, determined to avoid the curse that has followed the Schuyler clan from the Netherlands to America and back again. She’s certain that true love will only lead to tragedy—that is, until a chance meeting at Waterloo station brings Ian Devlin into her life.

Drawn to the bold and compassionate British Army captain, Alison begins to question her fear of love as World War II breaks out, separating the two and drawing each into their own battles. While Ian fights for freedom on the battlefield, Alison works with the Dutch Underground to find a safe haven for Jewish children and priceless pieces of art alike. But safety is a luxury war does not allow.

As time, war, and human will struggle to keep them apart, will Alison and Ian have the faith to fight for their love, or is it their fate to be separated forever?

You can buy the book on:
Barnes & Noble
Christian Book Distributors

Johnnie Alexander writes inspiring stories that linger in the heart. Where Treasure Hides, her debut novel, won the ACFW Genesis Contest (2011) and Golden Leaf Award (2014). Her first contemporary romance, Where She Belongs (Misty Willow Series; Revell), and her first novella, “The Healing Promise” (Courageous Bride Collection; Barbour), release in 2016.
She also has won Best Novel and Best Writer awards (Florida Christian Writers Conferences), and Bronze Medalist (My Book Therapy Frasier Contest). She volunteers as a category coordinator for the ACFW Genesis Contest, judges various contests, and serves as marketing director for the MidSouth Christian Writers Conference.

A graduate of Rollins College (Orlando) with a Master of Liberal Studies degree, Johnnie treasures family memories, classic movies, road trips, and stacks of books. She lives in the Memphis area with a small herd of alpacas and Rugby, the princely papillon who trees raccoons.

Follow Johnnie through any of the following links:
Facebook Author Page
RSS Feed

Sneak peek at the cover of Johnnie's next novel: 


Johnnie is generously offering a giveaway copy of Where Treasure Hides, winners choice in the US, Ebook otherwise. Comment with your email address to enter. Giveaway ends August 17th at 12 a.m.

Who else can't wait to see how Alison and Ian's story turns out?

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Mary Ellis Author Interview

Tell us a little about Midnight on the Mississippi.
What lies beneath the black water of the bayou? Hunter Galen, a New Orleans securities broker, suspects his business partner, James Nowak, of embezzling their clients’ money, but he’s reluctant to jeopardize their friendship. After James turns up dead, Hunter realizes his unwillingness to confront a problem may have cost James his life. Nicki Price, a newly minted PI, intends to solve the stockbroker’s murder as she establishes herself in the career she adores. As she ferrets out fraud and deception at Galen-Nowak Investments, Hunter’s fiancĂ©e, Ashley Menard, rubs her the wrong way. Nicki doesn’t trust the ostentatious woman who seems to be hiding something, but is the PI’s growing attraction to Hunter—the police’s only suspect—her true reason for disliking Ashley? As Hunter and Nicki encounter sophisticated shell games, blackmail, and death threats both subtle and overt, danger swirls around them like the mysterious dark water of the bayou. Only their reliance on faith and fearless determination give them hope they will live to see another day.

What inspired you to write this story? I have been intrigued by the mystery and romance of the French Quarter of New Orleans for years. My husband and I took frequent trips there while my mother-in-law was living in the Panhandle of Florida in the pre-Katrina days. We’ve been back many times since, and I knew I needed to set my first mystery/romance in that timeless city that I fell in love with.

If you were in your heroine’s shoes when the story starts, would you react differently than she? How so? No, I believe I would have reacted exactly as Nicki Price did. I usually stumble into situations that I’m totally unprepared for, but I make it my life’s work to learn the necessary skills to improve myself, no matter what the occasion.

How would you label the overall mood of your stories: dark, gritty, poignant, sensitive, heart-warming, light, witty, humorous, adventurous? I would label it as poignant and heart-warming, but also adventurous and (hopefully!) humorous. I don’t like reading books that are dark or graphic, so I couldn’t write one if I tried.

A sneak peek into what you're working on right now? I’m putting the finishing touches on What Happened on Beale Street, book 2 of my Secrets of the South Mysteries. When a talented musician is found dead in Memphis, two PI’s are determined to find their friend’s killer among a list of suspects longer than the Mississippi River. Releases in February of 2016.

If your life were a book, what would the title be? I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now, by Mary Ellis

Describe your writing space. Right now I’m working in my screened-in porch. I absolutely love it out here, even when it gets hot and humid. Since I live in Ohio, I’m cooped up in my normal office space for far too many months of the year.

What do you do for a fun break if you find yourself overwhelmed with writing pressures? I take my dog for a long walk down my dead-end road. It’s good for both of us—mind and body!

Do you blog? If so, leave us the address. I blog from time-to-time at

Bonus fun questions:
Where is your favorite spot to read?   Anywhere next to water—a lake, the ocean, or even the creek that runs through my yard. I find peace and serenity near water.

Author bio: Mary Ellis has written twelve award-winning novels set in the Amish community and several historical romances set during the Civil War. Her latest, Midnight on the Mississippi, first of a new mystery series, Secrets of the South, is set in New Orleans. Before "retiring" to write full-time, Mary taught school and worked as a sales rep for Hershey Chocolate, a job with amazingly sweet fringe benefits. Mary enjoys traveling, gardening, bicycling and swimming, and lives in Ohio with her husband, dog and cat. She can be found on the web at: or