Author Archives: Gretchen E K Engel

My Funny Valentine

Laguna the Leopard

Laguna the Leopard

I’m not a romantic, and the trappings of Valentine’s Day are not a big deal to me. I’m in it for the long haul. A box of chocolates, a dozen roses, or a fancy dinner are not something I expect on February 14. First, I’m picky. If you want to attribute one quote to me it’s, “When it comes to friends and chocolate, I prefer quality over quantity.” So that red heart box at Walgreen’s. Yeah. No thanks. However, the half-priced York peppermint patty hearts we snagged after church. Score!

As for flowers, I’m not a huge fan. There are a couple of exceptions. My husband used to randomly bring home a mixed bouquet from this flower shop on the way home from work. I loved the spontaneity and that he hand-selected the flowers. Of course, anything my kids pick out of the yard is worthy of my table.

And the special Valentine’s Day dinners, we’ve only done that once and the kids tagged along. Before kids, we got entertainment books and picked a place that would take coupons (often not good on February 14), so we’d go out on a different night and call it good. For the past few years, we’ve lived in a small town where I telework. I’m OSHA HAZWOPER certified and since we’ve moved, the annual training has been the week of Valentine’s Day, so often it’s one of the few nights of the year we’re apart from each other.

A couple of years ago, we went out for a special Valentine’s Day dinner, and the kids came with us. It was a lot of fun but more because we rarely go out for steak dinners. Last year was just as special. We have a favorite local restaurant that’s similar to Chipotle only much better and we’ve gotten to know the owners. I was late driving home and didn’t feel like fixing dinner. My hero stopped by, and the owners hooked me up with their last order of chipotle cream shrimp. For less than $10, my husband gave me a romantic dinner of a different type.

Typically we exchange a small gift. In the past, it’s been Aveda tea for him and Nespresso pods for me. This year, I had an inexpensive request. A stuffed animal I’d seen at a local store. That’s how Laguna the leopard joined our family.

What is your idea of a romantic gift?

Stormfront

This blog post is shameless self-promotion at its best. My short story, “Detention” was released in the Out of the Storm anthology. The book is a collection of stories that placed in the ACFW Writers on the Storm contest and is published by HopeSprings Books with all proceeds going to the ACFW Scholarship fund. You may have noticed my tagline is “A Different Kind of GEKE: From steam punk elves to the dystopia of high school. “Detention” is a take on the Cinderella story that features steam punk Elves, and the heroine’s school is rather dystopian. If you’re a fan of steam punk and/or fairy tale retellings, you’ll love “Detention”. You’re not? There are eleven other stories in this collection. That’s what is cool about this anthology, there is something for everyone. Never read Amish, western, romance, or speculative fiction. Pick up this book and read stories in genres you’d never try otherwise.

I read the entire collection. I liked some better than others, but all were solid and well-written. Here’s the list of stories in the order they appear with my brief description.

Contemporary category:

1st place: “Squall Line” by Jim Hamlett (Contemporary) – The story of a flight instructor and his student.
2nd place: “Dorothy’s Carol” by Terrie Todd (Women’s Fiction) – Two very different women are thrown together by circumstance.
3rd place: “A Rumspringa Storm” by Steve Hooley (Amish) – An Amish woman learns God’s purpose for her life.
4th place: “Tempest Tossed” by Annette O’Hare (Women’s Fiction) – A young woman makes peace with her family obligation.

Speculative category (Fantasy / SciFi):

1st place: “The Grumpy Chronicles” by Susan Lyttek (Fantasy) – Like “Detention” this story involves Elves, wicked stepmothers, and a famous fairy tale princess. Except this time it’s about seven Elves mistaken for Dwarves; and one is not happy about this mix up.
2nd place: “The Great Storm” by Karla Rose (SciFi)  – A young girl and her family seek shelter from a storm of invading enemies.
3rd place: “Oddman” by Carla Hoch (SciFi) – A man of mixed race is not fully accepted in his community, but may be the only one who can save it.
4th place: “Aperture” by Linda Kozar (SciFi) – A mysterious girl and her teddy bear show up looking for the previous owners of the home.

Other Genres category:

1st place: “Just West of Clovis” by Ralph D. James (Western) – A witty story about a man who finds a foot in a boot connected to a man who is very much alive.
2nd place: “Husband Hunting” by Crystal L. Barnes (Western) – A man steals a woman’s wedding dress and tries to make off with her heart too.
3rd place: “Detention” by Gretchen Engel (YA / Fantasy) – When her visa is denied, a young woman seeks another way home.
4th place: “Fire in a Storm” by Angela K. Couch (Historical) – Set in 1930s USSR, a man is conflicted between doing his duty and what is right.

I hope or more of these stories appeals to you. If it does, then pick up this book and read them all. You won’t be disappointed, and you’re helping support a great cause.

What genres do you like? Which genres are ones you don’t normally read? Which story appeals to you most?

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Lady in Red

It’s February and I’m going to take a break from my usual posts for a public service announcement. If there’s any illness I truly fear, it’s having a stroke at a young age or even in my old age. While I haven’t lost any sleep over it, statistically and genetically speaking, it’s the most likely health concern to happen to me. If you’re a woman, it’s true for you as well. More women die from heart disease than all forms of cancer combined. (Go Red for Women) But if you’re a male the numbers are similar. According to the CDC, in 2013 the leading cause of death (male and female) was heart disease (596.6K) with cancer coming in second with nearly as many deaths (576.7K) but what also needs to be counted is the other 128.9K deaths from strokes.

Friday, February 6, is Wear Red Day. But it’s not just about wearing a red dress any more than wearing a pink or teal or any other colored ribbon will eliminate cancer. For heart disease, it’s a lot about awareness and making lifestyle changes. Eat right, exercise, and manage stress.

When you see pictures of me running a half marathon or writing about running and exercise realize that I’m not doing this to rock a bikini in July. For one, there’s a muffin top sitting on my six-pack (not to mention stretch marks). But the second reason is that I know what genetics tell me. I’m going to die from a heart attack or stroke. Fortunately, longevity is in my genes but that’s not the only factor. It’s been proven that a healthy diet, exercise, and stress management reduce the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. That is why I eat well (even if I’m splurging on pizza and jalapeno poppers as I write this and kind of watch the Super Bowl), exercise, and manage my stress.

I make a concerted effort to enjoy family time, read a lot, run, write. These things are all fun and relaxing. I don’t let myself overcommit (most of the time). I don’t hold grudges. I avoid drama. Even if I’m like my grandmother and live to be one hundred, life is too short to be stressed out.

You don’t like healthful foods? I bet you do. Find what you like. Try something you used to hate. Fix it in a different but healthful way. It’s amazing what a few herbs can do to vegetable. Oven roasting or grilling caramelize the natural sugars in vegetables. Steamed ones are crisp and bright. Most veggies can be eaten raw.

You don’t like to exercise? I be there’s something you like. And everything is more fun with a friend. Rather than coffee or lunch meet to walk, bike, bowl, or take an exercise class. Start slow and build up your endurance. Do you have little ones? Exercise with them. They need 60 minutes of activity each day. Why not join them?
We’re a month into the new year. Did you make a resolution? This is me cheerleading. “Keep going! You can do it!” Did you fall off the wagon? Guess what? You can start over. Confession time. Mid-January I got the flu and haven’t exercised since. But I’ll be back out there doing situps, pushups, and running.

Once Bitten, Twice Shy

OK. I totally admit it. I’m a sucker (bloodsucker?) for vampire novels. I admit that I’m a Twilight fan. Not the crazy stay-up-all-night for the premier fangirl, but I liked the books a lot, especially when I first read them. I read them more for Edward and the Cullen family than for Bella. But my issue with heroines is for a different post.

But it’s not just the sparkly undead. I’m a fan of the original too. No, not “The Originals” although I have been known to watch “The Vampire Diaries”. I’m referring to Bram Stoker’s dark tale.

Last year I was introduced to the Amish variety and more recently a redeemed one. One of my favorite books of 2014 is a title that’s been getting both good and dubious press including a nod from Jimmy Fallon. Kerry Nietz’s very good take on a genre mashup never seen before Amish Vampires in Space. Or AViS if you sit at the cool table. The cool table being the one where we wear ironic t-shirts and Converse All-Stars (see last week’s post for that reference). In AViS, the vampires are the evil creatures of myth where the only good vampire is a dead vampire.

I just finished another fantastic vampire novel. It too is a Christian title, and another excellent read. But it takes a different tack. Vampires are evil but are they any more sinful than your garden variety mortal human? That’s the premise of Ben Wolf’s Blood for Blood. What I loved about it was the double layer Raven’s story told. On the surface, it’s part-horror, part-western suspense with bandits, marshals, and a vampire. Why would a revival preacher put his family at risk by taking in someone who has to kill to survive?

But it goes so much deeper. Substitute the word “vampire” for anything from “homosexual” or “prostitute” to “murderer” or “thief”, and you see why this man is so generous to Raven who he sees as redeemable even if Raven believes he’s souless and damned for all eternity. Ben spells out the difference between the “immortal” life of a vampire with that of the “eternal” life of the saved. He makes a case that will forever cement the idea that there can be such a thing as a Christian vampire. And I’m quite thankful for that.

But I’m even more thankful with how Ben handles Raven’s struggles between his redeemed self and his vampire nature. He still fights bloodlust. Garlic, daylight, flowing water, and holy objects are still off limits. Raven retains his strength and resistance to death, but is he still “immortal” as well as “eternal”? The transformation of Raven after his conversion is a beautiful reminder that we may have been baptized into a new life but that is only the beginning. Like Bunyan’s Christian and our own lives, belief is only passing through the wicket gate. We still have a long road of following Christ. And it’s not easy.

The Stranger

Do you sometimes wonder who you are? Do you sometimes feel like the world’s biggest poseur?
My love of boots if no secret and this year I added two new pairs. Shearling boots and cowboy boots. I love them both but in some ways neither are me.

My tunic sweater, leggings, & shearling boots. I love the outfit but wondered if I only looked like a caricature of a “stereotypical white girl”. And no I don’t like pumpkin spice lattes.

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Over Christmas we went to Texas and I got to meet two my writing friends. I showed up wearing an outfit that’s totally me and not. I wore my cowboy boots (feeling a bit poseurish wearing them in the Lone Star State), my Purdue hoodie that is rather steampunk in design (me all over again), and skinny jeans (me, me, me). I wore a Purdue t-shirt, but my original choice was a t-shirt in the shape of Indiana that says “Home”. I laughed that this shirt says to a Texan, “Hello, I’m from a state the size of your panhandle.”

Hoosier by birth. Boilermaker by the grace of God.

Hoosier by birth. Boilermaker by the grace of God.

I also added two pairs of Converse All-Stars to my shoe collection and a green “Geek Girl” t-shirt. These are more articles of clothing that are me and yet not me. I may have the funky green and black glasses, but I’m not quite a hipster either. Maybe because I’d rather wear contacts and look like a newly turned vampire than allow a picture of me in said glasses. Also, since I didn’t own Converse in the eighties that somehow I’m not allowed to wear them in the twenty-first century.

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Then there’s my faux-leather motorcycle jacket($29.99 at TJ MAXX) and grey engineer boots. That’s not me either. I haven’t ridden a motorcycle, ever. There are my fitness clothes, but I’m not one to run around in athletic wear. It goes on, gets really sweaty, and is peeled off as soon as I finish my cool down stretches.

So if I’m not a cowgirl, hipster, or stereotypical white girl (with a preference for non-fat lattes, extra foam), what am I? Obviously not a biker chick or athlete. Maybe I’m not just one thing. But several. My favorite outfit is the one I wore to church today. Black turtleneck, houndstooth skirt, tights, and ballet flats. Sixties mod is definitely one of my favorite looks.

My day in and day out “uniform” is a turtleneck, long-sleeved t-shirt, or sweater, skinny jeans or corduroys, and boots. I’m also someone who likes to dress for the occasion. I wear dresses and skirts to church. I wear dress pants and tailored shirts when I have to work in the office or go on business trips. In the field, it’s Carhartts and work boots. And I find running is a whole lot more fun when I’m wearing a bright top and cute running skirt. Did I mention that I love brightly colored running shoes too?

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Do you have a go-to look? What about an outfit that isn’t quite “you” but you love anyway?

Candle in the Wind

Candles are an ever popular gift. While Christmas is over, we have an entire year of birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Mothers’ Day plus all of those random hostess, thank you, and shower gifts.
I received a Diamond Candle as a Christmas gift from my sister. I’m not one to spend money on candles or jewelry. Diamond Candles are a fun concept. You get a soy-based, scented candle. Mine is apple cinnamon.

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When you burn it down about one quarter, you get a foil pouch with a random ring valued from $10-$5,000. Here is mine. They’re various sizes. Mine fits my index finger perfectly, which is what I hoped. I have a wedding ring and a couple of other rings that fit my ring finger.

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Mom received one too.

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If you’re into more traditional candles with unique natural scents, Ellie Brook Designs makes elegant soy-based candles. We gave out several as Christmas gifts.

Tale as Old as Time

I had to choose a song from Beauty and the Beast in honor of book-loving Belle for this post. Another goal accomplished – 100 books read or listened to in 2014. I actually read 111 plus or minus a couple I either read at the end of 2013 or forgot to log because I couldn’t find it in my search histories. You can see my Books Read in 2014 board on Pinterest.

I’m not doing a traditional Top Ten (or whatever number) favorite book but rather highlighting ones that particularly captured my attention. For one, I had three friends publish their debut novels and picking a favorite from these diverse novels would be second to choosing which of my kids I love best.

My favorite book was The Night Circus. It’s sort of a double win because not only is it a fantastic read but also because it’s narrated by (swoon) Jim Dale. That man could read the ingredients list to Pop Tarts and I’d be enthralled. Of course, he’s better at speculative fiction novels as he is the voice of the Harry Potter audio books. It was my favorite because it was an absolutely unpredictable flight of fancy. The only negative was an f-bomb planted in the first chapter. Language isn’t a huge deal with me but I despise gratuitous profanity.

Fellow Scriblerians Cynthia Toney and Vanessa Morton published their debut novels as did one of my oldest writing friends, Nancy Kimball.

Cynthia’s Bird Face is a hilarious book about junior high aged Wendy. It touches serious topics with the best humor. I absolutely died laughing during parts of it. A hilarious reminder of those awkward years. When I began writing, I prayed for critique partners. Tim and Cynthia formed the group that would become known as The Scriblerians. I was so happy because Bird Face had me from the first chapter.

Vanessa has been with us from the beginning and her book Moonfall captured my attention in a totally different way. It’s part Biblical fiction part fantasy as she tells a fascinating story of the woman we know as Rahab. But her Rahab who is named Rachav, is an identical twin prone to visions. Intrigued? How can you not be? Vanessa has a passion for archaeology and it’s obvious in the rich details of ancient Jericho.

Nancy and I bonded over our love of heroes and we have mutual crushes on our own creations. Then again what is there to not love of Jonathan Tarquinius from Chasing the Lion. From the “man of twelve” running through the streets of Rome to the hardened on the outside, tender in the middle gladiator of the end. Chasing the Lion is an at times gritty story that honors the redemptive power of Christ. I actually “read” it twice once in print and once in audio. Joseph Narducci is another swoon-worthy narrator.

I didn’t read as many classics as I normally read with two of the three Divine Comedies being the only non-twentieth/twenty-first century books I read this year. I did tackle a few modern classics: Lord of the Flies, A Separate Peace, Fahrenheit 451, and Something Wicked This Way Comes.

I don’t include Bible studies that I do but there were two Christian non-fiction titles that I read. Both are excellent and quite different. My mentor and I discussed Grace-Based Parenting and I read the short but weighty The End of Christendom.

I “reread” the Harry Potter Books in audio form. More Jim Dale. I also started the audio series A Song of Fire and Ice, more popularly known by it’s television show title “A Game of Thrones”. This is another well narrated story.

Of course, I had to read some dystopian because I love that genre. I knew this year would be bittersweet. One of my favorite series by Jill Williamson who is one of my favorite authors published her third and final book in the Safe Lands series. Rebels ended the series in a most satisfying way.

Alas I didn’t have to mourn the end of a good series because Nadine Brandes put out the first book in her Out of Time series. A Time to Die has a cool concept that pulled me right in and makes me impatient for the next installment. Everyone wears a clock with their death timed to the last second. Katie Clark debuted with Vanquished the first in her dystopian Enslaved series. Another one that pulled me in and made me crave more.

It’s the fifth day of the new year and I’ve already finished two audio books and started my third. I’m also deep into my first e-book and I’m almost finished with Unbroken which I’m reading in print. Here’s to a new year of good books.

What was your favorite book of 2014?

Happy reading.

13.1

I’m breaking from song titles this week. But many will know the significance of this number. Two weeks ago, I completed my first half-marathon (13.1 miles). My goal was to complete the race in 2:30, which translates to about 11:30-minute miles. I crushed my goal with a time of 2:17:21!  That’s one mile per minute faster. There’s a video clip of me crossing the finish line. I’m the one in the fluorescent yellow top and magenta skirt.

I learned a lot through the experience of training for a half-marathon.

1. We have a saying at work “Plan the work and work the plan”. I received a half-marathon training guide and I can count on one hand the times I either missed a run or modified it. I used an advanced plan and each run had a purpose. Speed, tempo, and endurance. I went from running about 11:30-11:00-minute miles to averaging about 10:30-minute miles.

2. As old as Aesop’s “The Tortoise and the Hare”, slow and steady wins the race proved true for me. OK I didn’t “win” in the gold medal, crown of laurels way. However, I ran a consistent pace of 5.8 MPH. And I ran the entire way. The closest I came to walking was taking a few walking steps to connect with someone at a water stop.

3. I love running. That is not a phrase that would have EVER come out of my mouth a year ago. But about mile 10 I was running toward South Mountain. The weather was perfect – overcast, mid-sixties, and a slight breeze. We couldn’t have had better weather. I was at my steady 5.8 pace enjoying passing the buildings of mid-town Phoenix thinking, I am really having a good time. It was about the point when I stopped being passed and started passing others.

4. The race was a trip down memory lane. My husband and I lived in the Phoenix metro area for eleven years. There was the hair salon where I traded off seeing two awesome stylist cousins. One if not two projects my husband worked on at his last job. The fair trade coffee house I snarkily dubbed “The Communist Coffee Company” (because that’s how I roll). I could all but picture being pregnant with a toddler and meeting my husband for a no-fat latte. And a later visit where I held hands with a now preschooler while pushing an infant in a stroller. A few favorite restaurants. The Old Spaghetti Factory where we celebrated my husband’s grandfather’s 90th birthday. The restaurant we ate at the day our daughter came home from the hospital. The Mexican and Thai restaurants where we’ve eaten with visiting friends and family.

5. Half-marathons are addictive. I’m already thinking about running one scheduled for February. Originally, I planned to run the Rock ‘N’ Roll half-marathon but there’s a scheduling conflict. As I mentioned in a post a couple of weeks ago, my favorite thing to do is downhill ski. The race is MLK weekend so there’s no way I’m leaving the mountain because holiday weekend means night skiing. So I’ll be hitting the slopes on either a date night or evening of family fun.

 

 

 

You Belong With Me

Okay, I admit it. I am a Taylor Swift fan, especially her songs “You Belong With Me” and “Mean”. I can relate to both all too well. While I’m not exactly the “girl-next-door” type, I am the one who would have been friends with a guy who had no romantic interest in me. I’ve been in the opposite situation too, and I felt just as bad. The best situation is when friends fall for each other.

BoundHeart

I loved Dawn’s The Hesitant Heiress and fell in love with her first-person narrative and likable characters. I was eager to read The Bound Heart.

Vance Everstone stole more than a kiss from Meredith Summercourt and ever since then she’s held out hope the elusive playboy will return from Europe and claim her heart. In the mean time, Lawry Hampton has returned from the West Coast and the two resume a friendship that began when they were children. The two are close and easy companions as Lawry helps Meredyth find her passion. And she does. Helping orphans. Enter Wynn, an adorable little girl who adds to the story in so many ways.

It’s no secret I’m a hero girl and Lawry is a fine specimen. Not only is he tall, fair, and handsome he’s a kind and caring man. I love the way he patiently waits for Meredyth and how he interacts with Wynn. Who doesn’t love a guy who’s good with kids?

But what won me over was Meredyth’s character. I’m a lot harder to please in the heroine department. And Dawn did a fantastic job of creating Meredyth. She could have cutout any number of cardboard characters from Meredyth’s pieces. The oh-so-sweet do-gooder. The privileged social crusader. The mindless debutante. The damsel-in-distress. Meredyth is instead her own person wealthy and slightly spoiled, she isn’t resentful of her position yet she seeks a life beyond parties and gossip. I could see myself being a Meredyth if I were in her social position during The Gilded Age. And of course, this is a Dawn Crandall novel, so you can’t leave out the mystery and suspense than make her novels as exciting as they are romantic.

My final assessment is that Ms. Crandall’s second novel is every bit as good as her first. And I might even give it a bit of an edge because Meredyth is such a relatable heroine.

As for my romantic story. I fell for my good friend. Twenty-one years later, he’s been the only one for me for half of my life.

Find Dawn Crandall and her books here:

Book 1, The Hesitant Heiress released August 2014 — Read chapter one!
Book 2, The Bound Heart released November 2014
Book 3, The Captive Imposter releases February 2015
Twitter (@dawnwritesfirst)
Pinterest

 

 

The Piña Colada Song

ski boots
The hardest question isn’t what the title has to do with this post. That’s easy. The song is about a man who takes out a classified ad about things he loves in the hope of having an affair. *Spoiler alert* – He attracts his own wife. Anyway the connection is I’m writing about details that made me fall in love with books. And don’t worry, I’ll also explain why there are ski boots in a blog post with a tropical title.

I just finished Karen Witemeyer’s Full Steam Ahead. I’ve read most of her books and liked them, but I loved this one. It’s about a “mad scientist” who’s experimenting on steamship boilers to improve safety. That’s an automatic swoon-worthy hero. But this title is hardly the first that’s drawn me into it with the details. Dani Pettrey’s Shattered has a scene with the main characters skiing/snowboarding. That’s better than any love scene. Hence the photo of my ski boots. Let’s just say when it comes to ultimate date nights with my husband, I like to keep my boots on, specifically a pair of purple Langes I’ve had since 1996.

There are others. Cara Putman’s novella A Promise Born doubles up with a WWII-era Purdue engineer and the Enigma Project. When The Treetops Glisten, her project with Tricia Goyer & Sarah Sundin, uses Lafayette, IN as a backdrop. I lived across the Wabash River in West Lafayette for four years and can’t wait see the city in the 1940s. Sarah Sundin has done her share in creating characters that were automatic loves for me with a trio of B-17 pilots and a pharmacist (there are three in my family).

Jill Williamson is another of my favorite authors, and Project Gemini has a special place in my heart. It takes place on Okinawa where I spent the summer of 2003 on a work assignment.

I jokingly refer to books like these as 8-star books. I’d give a poorly written one a minimum of 3 stars, but the books earned 5 stars on their own merits. I haven’t read Treetops yet because I can’t quite get in the mood for an Indiana Christmas when it was 70 degrees this weekend, and we still had pumpkins to carve, but I’m guessing I will love it too.

What subjects, locations, or professions entice you to read a book?

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