Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Hope Springs Christmas by Patricia Davids

A Hope Springs Christmas by Patricia Davids

This book will be released on December 1, 2012. 

This is only the second Amish inspirational romance that I’ve read, and both were by Patricia Davids. I don’t know much about the Amish, but her portrayal is completely convincing, bringing out not only their customs, but snippets of their Pennsylvania Dutch language. 

The seventh book in the series, Brides of Amish Country, this is widow Sarah Wyse and shy Levi Beachy’s love story. Sarah’s a young widow, and Levi was her husband’s best friend. He has also been secretly in love with Sarah since they were children.

When Levi's sister and Sarah’s friend, Grace, leaves home for a while to visit her grandmother, Sarah, whose job in a fabric store has ended temporarily, steps in to take care of the family. 

Grace wants to get married, but she fears she can’t, or who would feed Levi and their twin brothers? Who would help Levi at the buggy shop that Sarah owns, and Levi runs? Before Grace leaves, she gets Sarah to promise to find a wife for Levi.

Levi  would also like to leave the area and move west, but he made a promise to Sarah’s dying husband that he would look after her until she remarries. It’s been five years, plenty long enough to find a husband. But a man of his word, Levi's promise keeps him right where he is, and still loving Sarah from afar.  

Since her husband, sister and parents have all died in the past few years, Sarah feels as though death follows her like a dark shadow, and is reluctant to ever love again.

But she’s not afraid to look for a wife for Levi. After bringing him together with several possibilities, Levi catches on, and decides to turn the tables on Sarah.

Of course, we know what eventually happens. Watching a couple's love develop and unfold is the best part of reading a romance.

Though released during the holiday season, this book wasn’t as Christmas-y as many I’ve read. But that was fine. It was still a quiet, wonderful, heartwarming book.   

Book source: NetGalley     

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Snowglobe Christmas by Linda Goodnight and Lissa Manley

Two heartwarming Christmas novellas, set in Snowglobe, Montana.

Linda Goodnight contributed Yuletide Homecoming, which is Rafe Westfield and Amy Caldwell's reunion story. He broke her heart five years ago when he left her at the altar to enlist in the Marines. A year ago, and suffering from PTSD, he returned to Snowglobe to run a business with his brother. Now Amy has also returned, to take over her mother's Christmas Village-type store.

This novella is lushly descriptive of the best of Christmastime.

As to the romance, it takes some doing, but Rafe finally melts Amy's heart. And who wouldn't love a man like Rafe, and eventually forgive him for what he did? He's a do-gooder, volunteering at his church and for other organizations in need, including foster children. Plus, he's about to build a new house in a beautiful valley, and he needs Amy's help in planning the layout. These are only a couple of the many ways this handsome man wins back the love of his life.

If you need your spirits lifted, do yourself a favor: download the book to your favorite e-reader, make a cup of steaming hot chocolate, put your feet up, and prepare to feel loved, pampered and protected.  We women need stories like these at Christmastime, when we're running a mile a minute, trying to get everything done and meet everyone's needs but our own.
I will never, ever forget the joy I felt one year at Christmastime, when I was feeling this way, besides being basically snowbound with three small children. A package was delivered to my door in a plain, brown cardboard box. But it held such treasures: Christmas stories from Harlequin!

Now for A Family's Christmas Wish by Lissa Manley: I was sure when I started reading this novella that I couldn't possibly like it as much, or more, than Linda Goodnight's pitch-perfect, spot-on story. Was I ever surprised when I found myself so touched, moved and inspired by it that I cried throughout the last quarter.

Was this story truly a tearjerker, or did it simply find and pluck deep chords within me? Maybe it was the Snowglobe that played The Impossible Dream, my all-time favorite song, and Owen's Christmas gift to Sara.

Maybe it was Ms. Manley's expert choice of scenic material in the final quarter, situations which enabled these stubborn characters to trust God's plan for them and, eventually, their love for each other. I don't know what it was, but it moved me powerfully.

Summary: Sara Kincaid's father left her when she was a child, and then was later abandoned by her husband during her eighth month of pregnancy. As you might guess, she doesn't trust men. When she hires builder Owen Larsen to do some carpentry work on her Bed-and-Breakfast, she's pretty sure her heart is safe. After all, Owen's moving away in a week. Besides that, Owen himself is afraid to love again, after his beloved wife's death a year ago. Their small children help bring them together, and as the week rolls on, Owen and Sara fall in love. But it takes some doing on God's part to finally pull them back into each other's arms forever.

Review source: NetGalley.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Gift of Family: Two Heartwarming Christmas Novellas by Linda Ford and Karen Kirst

Back of the book:

These were released on October 1, 2012. Being series stories (which means distribution is similar to that of monthly magazines), they are no longer in print. Unlike magazine serials, they are available perpetually in e-book format.

Merry Christmas, Cowboy by Linda Ford

A wild snowstorm strands Colt Johnson in Eden Valley, where the storekeeper's daughter exudes welcome warmth. She's even offered to give the two orphans in his charge a Christmas to remember. An outcast, Colt doesn't dare hope for more--even though Becca's love would be a Christmas wish come true.

I enjoyed both of these stories very much. As novellas, each was probably only about 35,000-40,000 words, which severely limits the depth or scope in which an author can develop and explore her themes. Linda Ford examines what it means to be an outcast, or to feel like an outsider, in Merry Christmas, Cowboy. She shows God's love and acceptance of outsiders through Becca and her father's unquestioning acceptance of Colt and his two charges

Colt Johnson is a half-breed in a time when people of mixed race, particularly American Indian, are shunned and even persecuted. 

Because the format is so short, Ms. Ford was unable to go into that in much depth. For most of the story until near the end, the reader needs to take for granted that Colt is indeed an outcast, because the author said so, not because the reader has witnessed it in the unveiling story. But that's okay!

It is, after all, a romance, and so Ms. Ford folds her theme into the growing love between Becca and Colt. 

Because Becca's father operates a store in a remote area, Becca's life prospects are limited. To fulfill her mother's dying wish for her, she's on the verge of returning to the East to live. Until Colt shows up at the store around Christmastime with two newly orphaned children. As Christians, Becca and her father show Colt and the full-Indian children nothing but love and acceptance. Things they have never experienced from other white people, who only disdain them. 

The reader experiences Colt and Becca falling in love despite their outer goals and inner turmoils. As well, they become parent figures to the grieving children. Becca is determined to give them all the best Christmas ever. She succeeds, and in the process gets the greatest gift she could ever have. 

Back of the book:
Smoky Mountain Christmas by Karen Kirst

Cole Prescott's Gatlinburg visit will be just long enough to free his wife from their mistake of a marriage. Then he meets the daughter he hadn't known he had. Little Abby needs a father, especially at Christmastime. And all Cole wants is a chance to make a life with Rachel and Abby at last...

Rocky Mountain Christmas by Karen Kirst was every bit as good as Ms. Ford's novella. As a reader,  I actually related to this one more than I did to Ms. Ford's story, however that has nothing to do with the quality of either story, which were both wonderful, but rather my own particular compulsions for reading. Readers latch on more strongly to some authors because of the themes those authors share and explore.

Ms. Kirst's style was more romantic, which I liked. I also related better to Cole's inner turmoils than I did Colt's, and to the things that split him and Rachel apart, as well as to what each one needed to give up, in order to make their marriage work again. 

You can always trust Love Inspired's stable of authors to deliver uplifting, inspiring and romantic Historical Romances.   

Review source: Print copy, purchased at WalMart. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Be Still My Soul: The Cadence of Grace, Book 1 by Joanne Bischof

Book Description:

Night’s chill tickled her skin. Lonnie pressed her hands together and glanced up. He was even more handsome up close. Having grown up the shy, awkward daughter of Joel Sawyer, she’d hardly spoken to any boy, let alone the one who had mothers whispering warnings in their daughter’s ears and fathers loading shotguns.

Pretty Lonnie Sawyer is shy and innocent, used to fading into the background within her family, and among the creeks and hollows of the Appalachian hills. Though her family is poor and her father abusive, she clings to a quiet faith.  But when handsome ladies’ man and bluegrass musician Gideon O’Riley steals a kiss, that one action seals her fate.  

Her father forces her into a hasty marriage with Gideon—a man she barely knows and does not love. Equally frustrated and confused by his new responsibilities, Gideon yearns for a fresh start, forcing  Lonnie on an arduous journey away from her home in Rocky Knob. 

Her distant groom can’t seem to surrender his rage at the injustice of the forced matrimony or give Lonnie any claim in his life.  What will it take for Gideon to give up his past, embrace Lonnie’s God, and discover a hope that can heal their two fractured hearts?

Gideon only ever cared about himself. Now that Lonnie is his wife, will he ever be worthy of her heart?

This 352-page book was published by Multnomah Press in October of 2012. 

My review:

The setting was the first thing that piqued my curiosity. I wasn’t aware of any romances set in Appalachia. In children’s fiction, Cynthia Rylant has brought that area to life. In adult fiction, Frazier’s literary masterpiece, Cold Mountain comes to mind.

Ms. Bischof’s descriptions of Appalachia are breathtakingly real. While I’ve never been there, she did complete justice to my literary imagination’s view of it, with its moist, misty, mountain forest terrain. Virtually all of her descriptions, whether they be of food, people, you name it, are almost like a Vermeer painting in their precision and detail. This was the book’s value for me. This was the one area where the book actually felt romantic to me, and lived up to its Inspirational Historical Romance label.  

Now for what I had trouble with as a reader: whenever I think of Appalachia, I think such things as poverty, illiteracy, moonshine, brutality, and incest. All but incest are present in this novel.  It was earthy, it was brutal, it was real.

That was an eye-opener for me.  I’ve been critical of historical romance at times because an author’s depictions of a place or an era, or character actions, are far more fantasy than fact. Not so with this book. It was so real that it was frequently unpleasant for me, despite the exquisite writing.

The story began with a shotgun wedding that shouldn’t have had to happen. Poor weak Lonnie is saddled with selfish, stupid, and terribly unlikeable Gideon. Gideon, who remains unlikeable almost to the end. Yet as a reader, I also felt sorry at times for Gideon, who never asked to be saddled with Lonnie.

This setup was Ms. Bishof’s opportunity to fully render her themes. Sometimes marriages do get off on the wrong foot. Frequently, both husband and wife are immature, selfish, and in need of character growth, redemption and forgiveness.   

Throughout the book, Gideon continues to make foolish mistakes, and God sends him thoroughly to the woodshed, so to speak, for his actions. I didn’t enjoy this aspect of the story. Certainly some of it was necessary, in order for God to set Gideon on the right path. But I began to feel that poor Gideon was presented as  far too much of a whipping boy, and Lonnie too much of a saint. Had the book been 50 pages shorter, and if Gideon had wised up more quickly, I would’ve enjoyed it more. I wearied of reading about his endless coming up against a set of cardboard villains, and his continuing stupid choices.
Ms. Bishof is as good at showing emotional nuance as she is at description, and so most of her characters were so real, you’d swear they are living, breathing people. Because she is so good at this, it surprised me that her villains were cardboard, although she’s not alone in this. Cardboard villains, unfortunately, tend to be a staple of romance.

Despite the book’s drawbacks for me—and they are drawbacks only due to my personal taste, and not the book’s actual quality—I would rate the book highly, even if I wasn’t overly in love with it. For some readers, Be Still My Heart will go on their keeper shelves.

I received this e-book free of charge through the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review. The opinions are totally my own.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Mistaken Bride by Renee Ryan: Irish Brides Series: Inspy Historical Romance Book Review

Mistaken Bride by Renee Ryan
Book Two of Irish Brides Series

(This book was released in May 2012. Being a series title, it is no longer available in print. It is still widely available in e-book format.)

Back of the Book

When William Black's mail-order bride fails to appear at the Boston docks, he's relieved when beautiful, vibrant Bridget Murphy steps in. However, she has a surprise in store. She will be a temporary nanny to his young twins...but she will not marry without love.

Faith Glen, Massachusetts, is worlds away from the poverty Bridget knew in Ireland. And William Black couldn't be more different from her faithless ex-fiancé. Yet that integrity Bridget so admires binds William to a promise that could keep them apart forever. In this new land of opportunity, does she dare to wish for a happy ending?

The Murphy sisters, who left their home in Ireland in search of a better life in America, have now arrived in Hope Springs, Massachusetts. In Book One, The Wedding Journey by Cheryl St. John, Maeve, the doctor’s assistant, married Flynn, shipboard doctor.

Book Two is Bridget’s story. The moment she steps off the ship, she meets town millionaire and owner of a chocolate factory, William Black. He has sent for a mail-order bride who was on the ship that the Murphy sisters were on.* 

*Now if you are wondering why someone who is a millionaire, and as handsome and good as William Black, needs to stoop to sending for a mail-order bride, suspend your disbelief. Despite the disconnect, it’s a captivating story anyway. I am a new fan of Renee Ryan’s, and have since bought almost every book she’s written.

When William’s mail-order bride fails to appear at the Boston docks, and indeed, is shown to be the woman who died on board the ship, he makes a connection with Bridget Murphy, who agrees to be temporary nanny to his twins.

She will be the children’s nanny, but she will not enter into a marriage of convenience with him, though he at first suggests it. She will not marry him or anyone unless they are in love. Having been rejected by a fiancĂ©, she is understandably reluctant to enter into a loveless marriage. William has also suffered as a result of being bound to someone he couldn’t trust, notably his deceased wife.

Over a period of two weeks, love blossoms between William and Bridget. She completes their family, bringing his shy twins out of their shells and indeed, bringing William out of his workaholic, overly controlled way of being. 

When it seems that nothing stands in the way of them marrying, the unthinkable happens. A man of his word, William must keep his word, despite every inclination not to. I found the last couple of chapters to be especially devastating and powerful. But there is a solution, and the story ends as it should.  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Wedding Journey by Cheryl St. John: Irish Brides Series: Inspy Historical Romance Book Review

Back of the Book

The mysterious inheritance is the answer to a prayer. Now Irish lass Maeve Murphy and her sisters can come to America! She's sure happiness awaits her, even if it won't--can't--come from widowed ship doctor Flynn Gallagher. Yes, he made her his assistant, but she's not foolish enough to fall for the man all the eligible, wealthy female passengers admire.

Flynn Gallagher may have his pick of ladies, but only one cares as he does for the sick and poor. Flynn vowed never to marry another woman who could break his heart. With Maeve, has his heart found safe harbor at last?

This one makes me want to say, "Ah." An old fashioned love story. A very old fashioned love story, and I LOVED it.

This is the first book (of three) in the Irish Brides series, a continuity series about three sisters, written by three different authors. I don’t know the exact details about continuity series, but my understanding is that the Love Inspired editors think up the series, creating a series bible, and then ask different authors if they would like to write the different books. It sounds like a lot of fun to me!  

Cheryl St. John kicked it off with The Wedding Journey. I found it intriguing, and also very cool, that this was a “road trip” story that took place pretty much entirely from the time the sisters boarded a ship in Castleville, Ireland (in 1850) until disembarking in America. It’s the time of the Irish potato famine, and these very strong, very brave young women are destitute. The inheritance, a house, is their only hope for survival. 

This one is Maeve’s story. When the ship’s physician sees her expertly helping an injured person, he asks her if she would be his assistant on board the ship. Though reluctant, she finally recognizes that God is calling her to do so. While on board, Maeve meets many people, some of whom are friendly towards her and her sisters, and others who believe they are superior because the sisters are poor and they are rich.

It’s partly because Flynn, the doctor, comes from this class of people that Maeve feels she would never be his type, although he never behaves in a superior fashion toward her or anyone. Flynn has his own reasons for not wanting to be in a relationship with Maeve, but they are not at all what she thinks.

This is a romance, and so the destination--love, marriage, and happily-ever-after--is never a surprise. But the journey of falling in love is unique with every romance written.

I never give star ratings to books I review, but I will say that this was one of my favorite Love Inspireds, from a line that is full of wonderful, wonderful books.    

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Six Reasons to Love Throughline (Interactive Index Card Software)

While revising my manuscript over the past two weeks, I was chugging along, no problems, following my notes about what needs to be added/changed/deleted from each scene as I revise it. I had already dumped all scenes that do not fit into the revised concept for my story.

But then, on Monday, when I was four scenes away from the big turning point at half, I discovered I needed a way to see, in a highly abbreviated form, what's been happening in each scene, in each of the story's four throughlines. That way I will know if, emotionally speaking, I have adequately set up the big thing that happens at half. You might be a gifted writer who can keep all of this in your head. Unfortunately, I am not.

How to do that easily? I had originally thought that yWriter would do the trick for me. It has a story boarding component to it, but working with it, I felt boxed in. I had long since pulled everything out of it and gone back to using Microsoft Word.

So, what was I to do? I could use the painstaking, time-consuming process of writing it out on scene cards. Ugh. Are you as tired of that process as I am?

Then I poked around the web and discovered Throughline by the Wright Brothers, who also developed Dramatica Pro, which I love. Here's six reasons why I love "The Deck," as it's called, and you might too:

  1. You are working from your computer to create and arrange the index cards. No writing them in pencil until you fingers cramp, and then standing on your head, arranging all those cards on the carpet. The carpet, which you suddenly become all too aware that you haven't vacuumed for two weeks. Maybe more.  
  2. You can add and delete cards with a single click. If you want only the scene title to show up on your card, you can do that, and then double-click for scene contents. I like having it all up front, and so I write everything on the front of the card. Oh, the glory of having a bird's eye view of my manuscript, from my computer screen! 
  3. Editing content is SO EASY, compared to index cards. Add, subtract, cut, paste, change font, text color, size--if you want to get that fancy with it. 
  4. To rearrange, just drag and drop.
  5. You can have as many cards as you want in a row by re-sizing all from the lower right of the screen. Because I am now ordering my manuscript by Dramatica Pro's Signposts and Journeys, and every story is comprised of four throughlines, each with a total of four signposts and three journeys, I've set my cards (see above), according to that. (Note on image above: you are not looking at the complete manuscript, but only to the halfway point.) I've given each throughline a different colored card, so I am aware at a glance of what's happening in each one, and where the characters are emotionally in each. By Dramatica "rules," if you are working in Signpost 2, for example, then each of the four throughline Signpost 2 scenes need to be completed before moving on to Journey 2, although they do not need to be completed in the same order each time. The colored cards show me this at a glance. 
  6. You can also export this information and print it up.

Here's another great reason: It costs only $9.95, and you have it forever, for every manuscript you write. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Who are You Writing To?

When we’re working on a manuscript, it’s helpful to have a visual in mind of our audience. Charlotte Rains Dixon wrote a post on it recently, which I mentioned in last Friday’s link roundup.

I don’t have much trouble visualizing the teenage girls that I’m writing to as I revise my Young Adult manuscript. It's a contemporary romance about two teens, one with a very big dream and the other who, it would appear, is okay with “ordinary.” It takes place in think "Music Man" small town America.

I have seen plenty of girls (and their mothers) in the library where I used to work, who would enjoy this book, or one like it. 

They’re probably not the girls who frequent the library sporting shades of hair from blue to orange, and wear short, skin-tight skirts and army boots with four-inch heels. I have nothing against these girls, but they are probably not my target audience. 

The purple haired girls are the hip and trendy girls, or the geeky, maybe wanabe hip and trendy girls. It's possible that they might go for the type of book I write. My heroines are not Buffy. They are not Bella. They may not single-handedly save the world, but they're not passive wimps either. Their world is smaller in scope, school and community-sized, actually, but certainly important to them and the people sharing it. They are also girls who want and need a great boyfriend!

Mostly, I envision my audience to be the other girls, and there are just as many, possibly more, of them as the blue-haired girls. They are the popular girls and the girls who are being homeschooled, and/or are from strongly conservative backgrounds. They're the girls whose mothers try to exert some control over what their daughters are reading. 

When I was a children's librarian, these mothers frequently came and counseled with me about appropriate titles for their daughters, and  became irate when they discovered their daughters had stuffed books for an older, or more worldly-wise, YA audience into their checkout bags.

As authors, we need to be true to ourselves and write books that reflect who we are, our values, what we like to read and, what we want to offer our audience. We write to an audience that shares similar tastes and values.

Who is your audience? Who are you writing to?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Lilac Wedding in Dry Creek by Janet Tronstad

Back of the book:

When she ran away from the juvenile home she was raised in, Cat Barker left more than an unstable childhood behind. She also left her first love, Jake Stone. The two had more in common than anyone understood, but neither knew how to trust. Now Cat needs help, and there's only one person she can turn to—Jake, her daughter's secret father. Though Cat can see the tender man she once cared for, she still fears love and marriage. Until a daunting challenge renews her faith—and teaches them all a lesson about trust.

This book was an exceptionally tender-hearted read, as well as a page-turner. Jake Stone and Cat Barker met when they were teenagers living in a home run by the state. There, they fell in love, but Cat didn't have enough self esteem to believe that he could truly love her, and so she ran away at 18. He was pretty sure he wasn’t good husband and father material anyway, as he was raised by an abusive father.

Years go by. Jake becomes a wealthy gambler in Las Vegas, sending Cat some money every year. When illness threatens her life, and there is no one to take care of Jake’s secret child, Cat takes their little girl to meet her daddy. Jake persuades Cat to travel with him to Dry Creek to attend his brother’s wedding. As Cat’s health worsens, Jake’s love and fears for her and their daughter grow.    

This is a prodigal son story, which seems to be a staple to inspirational romance, and I can understand why. In this story, Jake not only finds his way home to the small town of Dry Creek and his family, but to God as well.

Apparently this is the 20th book Janet Tronstad has written in the Dry Creek series, some contemporary and some historical. I will definitely be reading more. Wildflower Bride in Dry Creek is already sitting on a shelf, waiting to be read ... 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Big Sky Family by Charlotte Carter

Back of the Book: Single mom Ellie James has returned to Montana for a fresh start and a new job at a local school. She sure could use the support of hometown rancher Arnie O'Brien, especially when she faces the opportunity to step up as director. But this cowboy still holds a grudge from when Ellie left him behind eight years ago. Can Arnie trust God's plan and take a second chance on the girl who got away? He and Ellie will have to put aside the past to face the future together.

I knew I wasn't reading a typical romance when I discovered, almost from the first page, that the hero is a paraplegic, and will always be one. 

Whoa. And he is hero material? 
In an inspirational romance, absolutely. Yes. 

That's what I love about inspirational romance: the authors shine a light on real people in real-life situations. The love that grows, or is rekindled, in the case of a reunion romance such as this one, is based not so much on sexual chemistry (although that is always present, but underplayed). Instead, agape love is forged between them. 

Anyone who's been married for any amount of time realizes agape is the only kind of love that will endure the trials and tribulations a couple will assuredly encounter, probably many, many times, in their lives together. Faith in God and the enduring power of love is what inspirational romance is all about.

About the book ... It's about a lot of things, but nothing so much as Arnie learning to forgive Ellie for leaving him after his injury. It's also about Arnie learning to see himself as a man worthy of being loved, even if he cannot walk, and to accept Ellie's love for him

For Ellie, who had never really stopped loving Arnie (though he pushed her away after his injury), it's about being tested in her leadership abilities and discovering she's up to what's hoped for her. Given the chance to take on a job with quite a lot of responsibility, she is aided in her decision by Arnie's complete faith in her abilities. But not just faith, he's also willing to roll up his sleeves and help her be the accomplished businesswoman she is destined to be ... besides being Arnie's wife.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Home for Hannah by Patricia Davids

by Patricia Davids

Publication date: Aug 1, 2012
Inspirational Romance

Back of the Book:
Yearning to find a meaningful life in the outside world, nurse Miriam Kaufman strayed far from her Amish community. She also needed distance from Nick Bradley, the cop who had caused her so much pain. Back in Hope Springs to care for her ailing mother, Miriam needs Nick, now sheriff, to find the mother of Hannah, the baby abandoned on her porch. Nick is as wary of Miriam's intentions as she is of facing their past. Can two wounded hearts overcome their history to do what's best for little Hannah?

I cannot resist a BABY ON THE DOORSTEP hook. Who would be so desperate as to leave their baby on someone's doorstep, and why? 

The mystery is solved, of course, in any novel with this hook. But in a romance, it happens even as a man and a woman are trying desperately NOT to fall in love. 

I'll admit it. I'm new to Steeple Hill's Love Inspired line. Over the past 11 years, I was a children's librarian. The bulk of my reading was devoted to Young Adult, Middle Grade and Picture Books. But I love Inspirational Romance, and I intend to "catch up" on my reading ... and reviewing. 

I'd never read a Patricia Davids book, although she has written somewhere around 20 books so far. As well as the Baby on the Doorstep, the Amish theme intrigued me. This book is part of her Brides of Amish Country Series. Reading it, I learned more than I expected to about the Amish and their beliefs, but the facts were always deftly inserted and only where necessary. 

I discovered also that Ms. Davids's writing style matches the Plainness of the Amish, most notably their Plain Speaking. Unlike other romance writers whose style tends toward lush and lyrical, Ms. Davids does not. Her book reads more like a documentary, with a plot that was utterly believable, which didn't bother me in the least. I have always preferred verisimilitude to fantasy in the romance genre. Besides, there were mysteries to be solved, and the sooner the better. The plot needed to clip along speedily. There was only one place, really, at the end, where I wished Ms. Davids had slowed her pace slightly. I wish she had prolonged the hero and heroine's reuniting after the breakup, so I could savor it all the more. It happened too quickly to bring tears to my eyes. 

But there was another place where she succeeded, which took me entirely by surprise. Tell me if you don't think the following passage is utterly beautiful: 

Nick was singing softly in a beautiful baritone voice that sent chills up her spine. It was the old spiritual, "Michael Row the Boat Ashore." Miriam stood listening for several stanzas, captured by the beauty of his voice and the healing words of the song. Death was not an end, merely a river to be crossed.  
Mark and her father were waiting for her on a shore she couldn't see yet, but someday she would. If only she could be sure she could gain their forgiveness. 
How could she if she handn't forgiven Nick? She pushed the screen door open and walked out onto the porch.   

Well, maybe you need to read the book to feel the full context. I enjoyed A Home for Hannah, and I will definitely be reading more books by Patricia Davids. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Unlikely Wife by Debra Ullrick: Inspy Historical Romance Review

Back of the Book

The arrival of Michael Bowen's bride, married sight unseen by proxy, sends the rancher reeling. With her trousers, cowboy hat and rifle, she looks like a female outlaw—not the genteel lady he corresponded with for months. He's been hoodwinked into marriage with the wrong woman! 
Selina Farleigh Bowen loved Michael's letters, even if she couldn't read them herself. A friend read them to her, and wrote her replies—but apparently that "friend" left things out, like Michael's dream of a wife who was nothing like her. Selina won't change who she is, not even for the man she loves. Yet time might show Michael the true value of his unlikely wife.

The cover intrigued me first with this book. I’d never seen a woman in trousers on a cover. I read the back and learned she carried a rifle and couldn’t read. That seemed different. A young woman who disguises herself as a man is a fun and oft-used trope in romance, but I’d never run across a heroine not in disguise, and made no bones about dressing as she did.

Nor did Selina have plans to start wearing dresses to please Michael. Stronger yet, she had no plans to ever do anything because Michael told her to. The illiterate, hard-edged woman not be controlled by a man. Was she ornery, or what?

I didn’t relate well to Selina at first. I found I couldn’t “be” her as I read the story. If I met her in real life, she probably wouldn’t be in my circle of friends, although the women in the story had no trouble welcoming her into the family fold. 

Selina had some softer edges as well, some highly likable qualities, I discovered as I read. She worked hard, was good friend, and had a way with animals. I began to see all the things to love about Selina, and Michael saw them soon afterwards. 

I liked Michael all along, and felt really bad for him in the beginning, knowing that the soft-spoken, cultured woman he thought he had married did not exist, and would never exist, in Selina. 

I felt bad for Selina, who felt she was someone no man could ever love. She was a good person, and willing to make small changes to be more loveable, but she really couldn’t change her stripes. She couldn't be someone entirely different from who she was, nor should Michael have expected it of her. Any marriage where one person expects their mate to become someone entirely different is just plain wrong. 

In the end, Michael had to change the most. He had to grow to appreciate and love Selina as she was.

Debra Ullrick did a wonderful job of illuminating her theme of accepting and valuing people for who they are.
With this particular setup, she showed readers that sometimes God has decidedly different plans for our lives than we have for ourselves. Sometimes God’s plans take a good amount of getting used to. But if we are willing to open our hearts to His ultimate wisdom, we can grow to appreciate the difference between our idealized life and our actual one. And maybe, just maybe, the gifts of the real life are greater than anything we might have imagined. 

I read an interview with Debra Ullrick where the interviewer asked her about her favorite romance authors. There are, of course, many authors that Debra likes, but she was able to single out a handful for their poetic prose. I’d also include Debra in that category. She is a poet and writes beautifully.

But what set this book apart from other romances for me was her heroine. Selina was so spirited, and so unusual, that she practically leapt off the page.      

Saturday, June 16, 2012


It’s been a while since I’ve written about my writing. What have I been doing? Since March, I’ve been studying the DRAMATICA software and theory.

What is DRAMATICA? It’s what Hollywood screenwriters (and probably a whole lot of professional novelists) use to help them structure their stories. You tell DRAMATICA about the story you’re thinking about writing, or one you’ve already written (and is in need of ideas for revision), and it helps you hone in on theme, plot and character to end up with a perfectly structured story.

There are many ways to use DRAMATICA, but the Query System (see image below) is a great place to start. It asks you about 200 questions, which successively narrow your story, until it has created the perfect structure, or story form, for the story you want to tell. 

Then it offers suggestions about other story elements that fit, or complete, your story. DRAMATICA may not have a human brain, but it does generate copious reports that give the writer lots of food for thought. The reports are specific to your story form.

I especially like how it shows me which of my characters will conflict with each other, and why, depending on the dramatic function I’ve assigned to them.

When I first started using DRAMATICA, I felt cheated that I’d been a writer for many years, but hadn't heard about the software that I believe will revolutionize my writing. Seriously. No more groping around in the dark for months or years, trying to figure out my story. The flood lights have come on. The path is lit. 

DRAMATICA has been in existence for about 20 years, and is used in many university classes. My guess is that it’s used in all screenwriting classes. 

DRAMATICA is amazing. 

It also has a STOUT learning curve. Anyone can download the 350-page DRAMATICA THEORY book off the internet, which gives you the theory behind the software. I’ve read the book twice now and still do not understand it as thoroughly as I intend to. The book also includes about 60 pages of word definitions, many of which are particular to DRAMATICA and are essential to understand correctly, if you expect the software to be of any real value to you.

Since March, I have run several of my story ideas through the software and am beginning to understand it quite well. Last weekend, I completed my Story Form for the Inspirational Romance that I will begin to write in a week or two. I had first imagined the story last January, before buying DRAMATICA. I used the 90-Day Novel to help me get a handle on my characters, and to begin to flesh out the plot.

What DRAMATICA added to it is HUGE. 

I now know, which I would never have figure out myself, the thematic focus of each of the four essential story lines (throughlines) for a well-told story--MY PARTICULAR STORY--and what the characters will be concerned about at each of the Plot Points, which DRAMATICA calls Signposts and Journeys. It’s helped me understand how all of my characters will interact, and the potential conflicts they will cause. I wouldn't have thought about these things otherwise, or certainly not to the depth that DRAMATICA has suggested to me. 

To quote Glen C. Strathy, “Dramatica is undeniably a work of genius. Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley, who invented both the theory and the software, have made a totally original and monumental contribution to our understanding of how to write good stories. I fully believe Ph.D. students will one day be writing dissertations theses based on their work.”

I do not doubt that what Glen said is true. 

I also know that I intend for DRAMATICA to be my partner with every manuscript I write from here onward. I only wish I had discovered it much, much sooner. I'm almost certain I would've been published by now, if I'd had DRAMATICA to help guide my choices, and to understand what it takes to write a WELL TOLD STORY. 

This is one screen shot of the software, when you're in the Query System module:

Should you go out and buy DRAMATICA? If you're willing to put in the time (a LOT of time) to understand it, YES. If not, don't bother.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Back to the Writing Life

Not only did my mother's passing take up most of my time last week, but the week before, my younger daughter moved to Honolulu. My husband and I took a whirlwind trip to Seattle to help her and her boyfriend clean out their apartment, to get my daughter's car to the shipyards, and to get them to the Sea-Tac airport for their flight out.

These things drain not only one's physical energy, but in a way that has more far-reaching impact--one's spiritual and emotional energy. And wouldn't you know it? Now that my daughter's been in Hawaii for two weeks, she's decided she doesn't like it. Bah! It's for her to figure out.

In the past two weeks, I've hardly looked at the Young Adult manuscript that I am revising (again). Typically, if I'm at home and not dealing with other life issues, I do have 60-90 minutes of spare time each day. In that time, it's always a choice between two priorities: To write? Or to exercise? I am currently 35 pounds overweight. You can guess what my choice had been for quite a while (writing!), and what my choice probably should be instead (exercising).

Until my routine got broken, I actually had been exercising in my spare time. I'd made my goal of jogging 12 miles/week for six weeks straight. Woo-hoo for me. I'm trying to get back to jogging a 12-minute mile. I'm currently at a 16-minute mile, and so I have a ways to go. Last winter, I'd feared I might not be able to get it back. Now, I'm confident that I can ... eventually.

Instead of jogging today, I decided to take a look at my MIP. My goal is to make it more solidly into a romance, which means I will need to do far more sculpting of scenes where the hero and heroine are together, and to make sure the hero is in every scene that is possible for him to be in.

I also need to be in love with him, and to have a really strong idea of what he looks like. I knew immediately who I wanted him to look like: Cesare Borgia on Showtime's The Borgias. Jeremy Irons, the Pope, is probably closer to my age, but whenever Cesare is on screen, my eyes devour him. Here's a couple of off-screen photos of him.

You think he'd be a great, smoldering, "goth-ish" YA hero? I do.

Jeremy Irons, left and Francois Arnaud

Monday, April 30, 2012

Zee End: This is the Palouse

So now April and the A-Z Challenge is over. 

I couldn't think of anything on the Palouse that began with "Z," so this will be my wrap-up post. It's time to put Zee Challenge to Bed. How did it go for me? Read about it, below: 

Of the 1900+ blogs that signed up for the challenge (a staggering number!), I at least peeked at all but a handful of them. If a blog warned of adult content, I didn't bother to look at it. If the blog title was obviously something I wouldn't be interested in, I didn't look at it. If someone signed up but didn't post during the challenge, or bailed after 2-3 posts, I didn't bother to look past the date of their last post. 

By the middle of the second week, I had peeked at almost everything.  

I was delighted to see so many interesting sites, on subjects varying from gardening to travel, music, movies, being boomers, visual artists, knitters, rural, people who had gastric bypass surgery, food, mommy blogs and of course, the writers--YA, romance, inspirational, memoir, fantasy. I'm sure I have forgotten plenty, but these are what stand out in my memory. 

A number of people with whom I had already made contact, either through last year's challenge or via some other avenue, also participated. I didn't stop by their blogs, as theirs are already part of my regular blogging routine, which got suspended during the A-Z challenge, but will be returned to, soon. 

Of the 1900+ blogs, I tagged about 250 for possible RSS-ing or following. Then the more painstaking process began. I went back to each of the blogs and decided if I really wanted to commit to following them. 

I don't read every blog I follow every day, but I do look at them at least every couple of weeks, at which time I "catch up" on posts. Of the 250, I'm not sure how many I actually decided to follow. Maybe 50? Fewer? 

The third week of the challenge, I lost all motivation to read and comment on blogs. I did no blogging whatsoever that week. 

Then the final week, on Monday, April 23, I looked at what was left of the long list I'd tagged for possible following and decided to follow a handful of them. 

I was mostly done with the challenge, and so ready to move on to something new. 

Like what? Like getting back to revising my YA manuscript. During April, I received an email from an editor who'd given me a "pass," on the manuscript, however she said she definitely wanted to look at anything else I had written, or might write. Encouraged, I emailed her back, telling her that I'd sent her the manuscript before my critique group had had a chance to revise it, and that I was now revising it based on their input, and would she be interested in looking at it again? She said yes, and now I'm motivated to make some more changes in that manuscript. 

The Inspirational Romance idea is now on hold. My vision for the YA manuscript has changed dramatically since the version read by my critique group and the editor. Besides having an editor willing to take a second look at it, I'm motivated to see how the story will play out, once my revised thematic argument--and all the other projected changes--have been put in place. 

As far as blogging, with the A-Z challenge over, I can now sit back and enjoy my lunch break again, instead of pouring over blogs.  ; )

Today I'm eating food from the Food Co-op. It's a burrito filled with sweet potato strips, black beans, cheese and cilantro. It comes with salsa and cream cheese, and it's yummy in a weird sort of way. As long as whomever makes it doesn't put too much cheddar cheese in it, but loads it down with yam slices, I enjoy it. 

Was participating in the A-Z challenge worth the time and effort? Yes and no. I'm now aware of many more people on the net. My life has been enriched, and will continue to be, because of new people I can visit via blogging. There are also a few new people following my blog. 

But after the blogging Marathon that was April, I think I'll be taking a week or two off. See y'all again around the middle of May. 


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Yarrow: This is the Palouse

Wildflowers are a beautiful site in the Palouse throughout spring, summer and fall.  

This one is Yarrow. It's not one of my favorites, as it is so hardy, its behavior is more like that of a weed. 

But I do love the delicate, feathery Bachelor Buttons that grow along the roadsides.

I also love the California Poppies. They open up in the morning and then close up again at dusk. It's almost like magic to see it. I can stand by my mailbox and think there are no flowers along the road in front of me. But then, a moment later, it's like a million lights have been turned on.

Lupines are also very lovely.

So are the Asters.

This fuzzy plant is Mullein, or Flannel Mullein. There is a cultivated variety that is considered never to be invasive, however in our rich soil, it becomes enormous and acts like a pest. Mullein (as are all of the plants in this post) is native to the Palouse. Can you guess one of the uses the pioneers had for Mullein? Before toilet paper was invented?

This is also a native species, aka Dog Fennel. It is a pest, something that farmers spray to eradicate.

This last picture is one of the most noxious weeds of all, Morning Glory, or Field Bindweed.

Friday, April 27, 2012

X on a Runway: This is the Palouse

X on a runway.

Oh, I am really having a hard time with some of the final letters. What on the Palouse starts with "X" ?

Beats me.

But I did see, once, on the grass landing strip in Elk River, Idaho, which is a small town on the Palouse, about 55 miles outside of Moscow, a big ole' "X" on the runway.

What do you suppose that "X" means? It's supposed to be a signal to pilots flying above the runway that they are not supposed to land there.

Too bad those "goofy old farmers" didn't see the "X" until after we had landed. I use the term "goofy old farmer" not as a slam against farmers. I happen to know from an excellent source, my husband, that that is what he calls himself and his friends. That's my husband on the left, and our friend Stacey on the right. We'd just landed our RV-7, and Stacey had just landed his Cessna 185, on the mountain strip with the big ole' X.

It was the 5th of July, and they didn't want us to land there because no one had yet walked the strip to make sure there were no booby traps that might catch an airplane unawares. Apparently the town firework display had happened on the end of the landing strip, and fireworks leave a lot of trashy debris.

And my, was that whole town trashed. The 4th of July in the little mountain town Elk River, Idaho is one big party. People invade the area with their campers and fill up all the campsites. It's like an enclosed, enforced all night whoop-dee-doo. My son and his wife and kids, and their friends, attend every year.

My husband and I aren't really into that sort of thing. We like the quieter, more elegant event of watching the fireworks show in Pullman, in the back yard of some very good friends.

But it is always fun to fly into Elk River and order a tall stack of pancakes with homemade huckleberry syrup at one of the local restaurants.

Elk River = huckleberry capital of the Palouse. You can buy fresh huckleberries or pick them yourself in the surrounding countryside. You can buy homemade huckleberry taffy, huckleberry jam and jelly and syrup. Homemade huckleberry ice cream, and probably other yummy things made from huckleberries as well.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Windmills: This is the Palouse


You probably thought I'd do WHEAT for "W", didn't you? Wheat IS king here on the Palouse, but I feel like I've written enough about the grains farmed in our area.

The Palouse is a very windy place. Seeing abandoned windmills like the one above is fairly common.
We are also beginning to see wind turbines on wind farms like the picture below, which is located somewhere on the Palouse, but I'm not sure where.

So far, none have been built in our neighborhood.

Generally the wind farms are located in truly isolated areas. However, someone did approach us about the possibility of doing a wind study on our River Ranch, for the possible location of wind turbines there. If that happens, there might possibly be wind turbines only five miles outside of Colfax.

I'm not sure what to think about the proliferation of wind turbines in the state of Washington. You see vast hillsides of them at the base of the Blue Mountains. You see vast hillsides of them as you cross the Columbia River at Vantage and start up the hill toward Ellensburg.

They're surreal and magnificent to look at.

But whenever I look at them, I also recall seeing the abandoned wind farm on the big island of Hawaii. Once abandoned, the turbines are among the most unsightly things on the planet. I've heard that it costs somewhere around $1,000,000 for each wind turbine that gets erected. I hope to heck that, here in Washington, included in the $1,000,000 price tag is the money to tear it down, should the power company ever decide that the turbine is unacceptable for whatever reason.

Photo credit
Photo #2 credit 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Van's Aircraft: This is the Palouse

Van's Aircraft

No, the Van's Aircraft factory (manufacturer of kits for home-built airplanes) is not located on the Palouse. Rather, it's located in nearby Oregon, near Portland. But I couldn't think of anything on the Palouse that begins with "V."

So to stretch the concept a little, we know of at least four men living on the Palouse who have built a Van's aircraft from a kit. There are probably others. Besides flying in a Van's kit-built, experimental aircraft, flying itself is a popular past time on the Palouse. Why might that be?

Living in a rural area, in order to get "somewhere," it means racking up a lot of miles on the open road.
Or flying there instead.

The top picture is of the Van's Aircraft factory, and I have no idea who the guy is standing in front of it. The bottom picture is of me in front of the R-V7 that my husband build. We've pulled our mini-bikes out of the back, and are ready to head into town--in this case, it's the fantabulous upscale frontier-tourist town of  Whitefish, Montana. (Click link for post about our flying adventure there.) It's the little town that has everything: skiing in the winter. Hiking and boating in the summer. One-of-a-kind boutiques and great restaurants.

But is not located on the Palouse. And so we need to hop in our Van's RV-7 to get there.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

University Towns: This is the Palouse

Bryan Tower on the WSU (Washington State University) Campus. WSU enrolls about 16,500 students statewide. Campus headquarters is in Pullman, Washington.

The administration building on the University of Idaho campus in Moscow, Idaho. The U of I enrolls 11,400 students.

The Palouse is the home of two fine universities: Washington State University and the University of Idaho, which are only seven miles apart.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Tractor: This is the Palouse


Well here I am looking very farm-wife-like, not gussied up for anything, but appropriate for the dirty job of helping move farm machinery. I will be retiring from my career as a librarian in August to pursue full-time writing. Well, writing plus what will more-than-likely be a half-time job helping move farm machinery during the busy seasons: spring and fall planting (tractors and farm implements) and summer harvest (combines and trucks). When I help move things, I am a flagger in a pickup--either the front, or the rear, flagger.

We rent about half of the ground we farm, which means farming acreage in about seven different locations. It frequently means being out on the main highway between Pullman and Spokane to get to one of the places we farm. Last Friday when I helped my husband and son move the sprayer, we had to pull off to the side of the highway three times to let traffic go by. We generally pull off the highway when there is a line of about 25 vehicles behind us. Tractors move at only about 9-13 mph maximum.

We have a variety of farm tractors, but this one is the Big Daddy. If I were to stand in front of one of the wheels, it would be taller than I am (5'4"). The nose is many, many, many feet taller than I am, as you can see. In order to get into a tractor, as well as a combine--you guessed it--you must climb an attached ladder.

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