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. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Four Steps to Line Edits that are Actually Fun

I discovered a great way to do line edits yesterday. I’m so excited about the results that I needed to share (even though I am trying to wean myself from writing about writing).--But hey, if writers can't talk to other writers about the shiny, cool things that excite us in practicing our art form, who can we talk to? 

Here’s the process:

STEP ONE: First, I uploaded my completed manuscript into my Kindle. If you have a different kind of reader, you can probably do the same, although I can’t tell you how. I can tell you how for a Kindle, below.

(If you are curious, and decide to enlarge the picture to read the text, no, it's not my book. I don't know what it is, but it does sound interesting.)

How to upload your manuscript to your Kindle:

  1. Find your Kindle Email address by going to Your Account>Manage my Kindle on your Amazon account.
  2. Click on Personal Document Settings. That’s where you’ll find your Kindle email address. Mine has a version of “my name”
  3.  Your regular email address needs to be listed on the “approved personal document email list,” which you find below your kindle email address. If it’s not there, add it.
  4. Send an email, with the attached file "My Book for" to your kindle email address. 
  5. Go to your Kindle and download your book. It could take a minute or two, so be patient. This won’t work if you have a Kindle App. It goes only to your Kindle. Sorry about that.
It is so cool to see your book in an e-reader. You will see at a glance if some of your paragraphs take up the entire screen. That’s a clue that you *might* want to break some of them up, although that depends also on the market you’re targeting and your pacing goals for the passage. Maybe you want it to 
be slow.

STEP TWO: E-reader in hand, read your book into a voice recorder. This is essential, and half the beauty of this technique. It struck me that some people might feel a little shy about doing something like this. My advice: Get over it! Learn to love the sound of your recorded voice as you read the fruit of your imagination. 

As I read my book aloud, my brain just naturally and fluently corrects my sentences. It drops unnecessary words. It fixes incorrect prepositions. It gives me a strong sense of where I should keep proper names, and where I should substitute them with pronouns, and vice-versa. 

My voice pauses where a comma is needed, or if a long sentence needs to be split in two. It perks up my dialogue.  If I stumble over a sentence, that’s a red flag. Read a passage until you come to a natural break, which is probably the end of a scene. Or if the writing is craggy, it might be only a couple of paragraphs.

If it's particularly craggy, I will pause and give myself direction as I read. This sounds like the following examples: “Delete next sentence entirely.” “Delete the telling phrase and keep the showing aspect in that sentence.” “Insert or strengthen character emotional response.” “Less is more: eliminate the first response and keep the second.” “Out of order sentences: reorder according to SR (Stimulus/Response) blocks.” [The need to reorder sentences is a big one for me. I note the need, but do not attempt to make changes at this point.]

Sometimes part of a scene isn’t sufficiently digested. I hear AUTHOR VOICE instead of CHARACTER VOICE. My teenage protagonists are quite bright, but sometimes I put wisdom in their mouths that they (probably) have not fathomed. Or if they have, it’d be on a more subtle, subconscious level, and would not be expressed using the same words. When I read it aloud, the need for those kind of changes becomes obvious.

STEP THREE: Bring your manuscript up on the screen of your laptop or desktop computer. Turn on the voice recorder and listen to what you just read while also reading it on your computer screen. 

When you get to a part that your reading voice changed, highlight it. Don’t stop and change it yet. It takes only a second to highlight it, and it doesn’t break your concentration as you continue to listen to yourself reading your manuscript for overall narrative flow.

STEP FOUR: After you have finished listening to the segment, go back to your computer screen and look at every highlight. Sometimes it’s a single word. You’ll remember what you wanted to say instead, or if you don’t remember, just listen to your recording again.

You can always stop listening to the recording at any point, fix the problem and then move on.  Sometimes, an entire sentence or paragraph will be highlighted. Listen again to how your reading voice told you to change it. Wash, rinse and repeat as often as necessary until the passage sounds exactly as it should. 

This was such a fun discovery for me, a great help in my line-editing process.

It reminded me of the 1650 storytimes I performed for audiences over an eleven-year period, when I read many thousands of picture books to children and their parents. Picture books have an embedded pacing to them, and the reader's voice just naturally speeds up and slows down at certain junctures. 

The same holds true, or should, for longer narratives. If it can be read aloud without the reader tripping all over their tongue, it may not be publishable still, but not because of log-jamming sentence structures.   

I hope that if you try it, you will enjoy the process, and the results, as much as I do.

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.  

Monday, October 01, 2012

How was Your Writing Week? Monday Goals Update 11/1/12

Babysitting my youngest grandson a week ago, I caught a cold. His mother said he was fine all week (good for him!), but I was fighting it. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, I had a full-fledged cold.

Jogging: I was able to meet my goals before I started feeling too miserable. Although I jogged only 12 miles, it was to 75% of the weekly expectation. At that level, the Polar F60 gives you credit for having adequately met your goals. It doesn't play a victory tune and give you a trophy, like when you do better. But it does give you credit with a star or two.

I've now read all but Chapter 10 of The Elements of Expression by Plotnik, and everything from the afterward to the index. This book is truly entertaining, informative, and worthy of serious thought and study. Since I tend to sprint through life and books,  it didn't get the attention it deserved from me, but I did leave copious marks and notes in the Kindle. Whenever I want to return to the ideas that captured me, they're there.

I completed Sell Your Book like Wildfire, which is full of tips and ideas for doing just that. Even if you haven't published a book, it's full of ideas to implement, now. It lit a fire under me to start building a website. I downloaded three books on creating a WordPress website into my Kindle for when the time is right.

There You'll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones. I'm at the 25% mark in this lovely book, a Young Adult Inspirational novel published by Thomas Nelson. It's very good, and I plan to review it soon. I had started reading Fever by Lauren DeStefano, Book 2 of the Chemical Garden (Dystopian) trilogy. I had truly enjoyed Book 1: Wither. But I could not get into Fever, which is so dark and macabre.

Compared to Fever, reading There You'll Find Me is a breath of fresh air, even if it deals with grief and loss.

Writing: There is good news on the writing front: I am no longer stuck. It was an excellent writing week. I revised 15,400 words, for a total of 43,200 (of 60,000). When I'm finished, I'll probably bump up the word total by another 1000 or so, to provide a tad more texture. Right now, it's lean bones.

How was your writing week? Did you meet your writing goals? Other goals?

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