Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A January Bride by Deborah Raney

Who can work in a house that's overrun by contractors and carpenters? Not Madeleine Houser, a successful novelist who gladly accepts the help of her octogenarian friend, Ginny, to arrange for a temporary office in the charming bed and breakfast owned by Ginny's friend, Arthur. Maddie’s never met the innkeeper––but a friendship grows between them as Maddie and Arthur leave messages for each other each day. To Maddie’s alternate delight and chagrin, she seems to be falling for the inn’s owner––a man who's likely many years her senior––and who she’s never even met.

My Review
When a romance author needs a quiet place to write and meet her deadline, she accepts the offer of using a B&B she believes is owned by a lonely old man she exchanges notes with. The cat, the Victorian house--all inspire her new story. Especially a picture of a handsome man she found in one of the rooms. Then she meets the elderly owner to discover he's not elderly at all. Can Maddie create an award-winning romance in her own life?

A sweet, feel-good novella from Deb Raney.

I gave this book 4 stars.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How a Manuscript is Like an Oil Painting

My mother was a painter. I used to sit with her for hours watching Bob Ross on TV. He always made it look easy. Mom used to get discouraged and say, "I'll never be able to paint like that." And of course we'd always tell her, "Yes, you will. Keep painting." And we meant it. Now that I'm an adult, I realize she won't ever be able to paint like Bob Ross. She can study his work, buy his paints and brushes, and pray all day long that God will allow her to paint just like Bob, but she'll never be able to. Because she's Sherry Brooks. She'll paint with the talent and style God gave her.

The same is true with writing. Every time I read a book by Denise Hunter, Rachel Hauck, Susan May Warren, Lisa Wingate, or Becky Wade (just to name a few), I think, "I want to write just like that!" Each of those authors are talented in their genres and bring something fun and unique to their books. And though studying the craft, observing other authors, and writing constantly to become stronger are all good and vital things, the truth is I'll never be able to write like them. Because I'm me.

Studying one of my mother's paintings that I display on my mantle every winter, reminded me of that recently. Where I think my mom paints every bit as good as Bob Ross, she feels she falls short. Where I have friends and family that encourage me with similarly kind words, I feel I fall short. May God forgive us for not taking what He's given us and being humble, yet confident, in it. Using my mother's painting as an example today, I'd like to show you how a manuscript is like an oil painting--created in layers. 

It all starts with a sketch of the story. For me it's very basic--setting, character motivation, the character's occupations, and title. A few other details may come, or not, after brainstorming. I'm a more of a "seat of the pants" writer than a dedicated plotter. Ideas flow from me as I type.

Next, I utilize my tools. In this case, research. I study the geographical aspects of my setting, surround my self with pictures for inspiration, read books related to the story's subject matter, and surf the net for various related things. Depending on what season the story is set in, I may burn candles to help spark ideas. Example: if it's snowing outside my window, and I'm writing about my characters taking a walk through a garden in June, I'll light flower-scented candles to make my brain think of summer.

Then the scary, yet exciting, blank canvas. Or white computer screen. This is where the magic happens. (Or so I'd like to think) Some days the brushstrokes--words--come easily. Other days, I stare at a blinking cursor.
The first draft. It's always dull and in a lot of ways lifeless, but it's the first and most necessary layer to a story. (I know I'm stating the obvious here, but stay with me.)
As I revise, and revise, and revise, I add as much color to my story as possible in the way of secondary characters, raw emotions, humor (I try to have a good balance of the two), and utilizing the five senses.

When I believe I've made my manuscript as good as I can on my own, I send it to my fabulous critique partners. After a grammar check, adjective suggestions, revealing of plot holes, and an over-all push to do better, I do another revision, and the manuscript takes on yet another layer. This time, it's taking the vague shape of a masterpiece. (Or so I'd like to think.)

With shaky hands, a nervous stomach, and lots of prayer, it's off to the publisher. With the editor's wise suggestions and another revision, it's finally a story.
With the help of a talented artist, it gets a frame (book cover). After the galleys have received a thorough going-over and any final changes made, it's finally done. The author has created a place for the reader to escape, be entertained, and in the case of Christian fiction, an opportunity to grow closer to God through the character's journeys.

My approach and techniques may be different from other authors, and with some they may be the same. But no matter how each author attacks the canvas, the end result should be a story that glorifies God.

What techniques work best for you?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Once Upon a Prince by Rachel Hauck

Susanna Truitt never dreamed of a great romance or being treated like a princess---just to marry the man she has loved for twelve years. But life isn’t going according to plan. When her high-school-sweetheart-turned-Marine-officer breaks up instead of proposing, Susanna scrambles to rebuild her life.

The last thing Prince Nathaniel expects to find on his American holiday to St. Simon’s Island is the queen of his heart. A prince has duties, and his family’s tense political situation has chosen his bride for him. When Prince Nathaniel comes to Susanna’s aid under the fabled Lover’s Oak, he is blindsided by love.

Their lives are worlds apart. He’s a royal prince. She’s a ordinary girl. But everything changes when Susanna receives an invitation to Nathaniel’s coronation.

It’s the ultimate choice. His kingdom or her heart? God’s will or their own?

My Review

Wow... where do I start with this one? First of all, I was immediately drawn to the heroine, Suzanna, when the story opened with her walking the beach with her boyfriend of 12 years in anticipation of his proposal. Instead, he dumps her. Though I was grateful for the soldier's fictional service to our country, I wanted to shake the man. Twelve years. Need I say more?

Then the hero of all hero's, Prince Nathaniel of Brighton Kingdom, A.K.A Nate Kenneth, walks into Suzanna's life. Their shared faith bonds a friendship--and romance--that struggles to survive four-thousand miles.

As Nathaniel prepares to become king, Susanna seeks her true destiny. Does God's will for her life include Nate?

This story did it all. I laughed, I cried, I got angry, and it gave me a new outlook on Christ's kingdom and our role in it.

I gave this book 5 stars!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

My Top 10 Book Picks of 2013

I use Goodreads to keep track of all the books I read and review. My reading goal for last year was 20 books. I read 45. Here are my top ten book picks of 2013, in no particular order. All received 5 stars from me.

The Confidential Life of Eugenia Cooper

The future is clearly mapped out for New York socialite Eugenia “Gennie” Cooper, but she secretly longs to slip into the boots of her favorite dime-novel heroine and experience just one adventure before settling down. When the opportunity arises, Gennie jumps at the chance to experience the Wild West, but her plans go awry when she is drawn into the lives of silver baron Daniel Beck and his daughter and finds herself caring for them more than is prudent–especially as she’s supposed to go back to New York and marry another man. 
As Gennie adapts to the rough-and-tumble world of 1880s Colorado, she must decide whether her future lies with the enigmatic Daniel Beck or back home with the life planned for her since birth. The question is whether Daniel’s past–and disgruntled miners bent on revenge–will take that choice away from her.

Made to Last
Miranda Woodruff, star of the homebuilding show "From the Ground Up," will do anything to keep the job she loves. Due to a painful broken engagement and a faith she's mostly forgotten, she's let her entire identity become wrapped up in the Miranda everyone sees onscreen. So when she receives news that the network might cancel her program, she must do the very thing she fears most: let the spotlight shine on her closely guarded
personal life. The only problem? She's been living a lie--letting viewers believe she's married--and now she's called upon to play wife to a sweet, if a bit goofy, pretend husband to boost ratings.
Desperate to help his family and prove he's not a total failure, reporter Matthew Knox is looking for a breakout story. When he's offered the opportunity to do an online serial feature on Miranda Woodruff, he jumps at the chance, even if celebrity reporting isn't really his thing. But as soon as he meets Miranda, he knows she's keeping secrets. 
When Miranda's former fiance suddenly appears on the scene again, she doubts her life could get more complicated. Juggling three guys, an on-the-rocks television show, and the potential exposure of her deception is way more than she bargained for. Can the woman who makes things look so good onscreen admit it's time to tell the truth about who she is? And if she does, will the life Miranda's built come crashing down just as she's finally found a love to last?

Never Say Never
Kai Miller floats through life like driftwood tossed by waves. She's never put down roots in any one place--and she doesn't plan to. But when a chaotic hurricane evacuation lands her in Daily, Texas, she begins to think twice about her wayfaring existence. And when she meets hometown-boy Kemp Eldridge, she can almost picture settling down in Daily--until she discovers he may be promised to someone else. Daily has always been a place of refuge for those the wind blows in, but for Kai, it looks like it will be just another place to leave behind. Then again, Daily always has a few surprises in store--especially when Aunt Donetta has cooked up a scheme.

Fancy Pants
When Britisher Lady Sydney Hathwell's father dies, the American who
planned to wed her suddenly reneges. Stranded in America and penniless, Sydney contacts a relative in Texas who, mistaking her male-sounding name, invites his "nephew" to join him on his ranch. "Big Tim" Creighton, however, is appalled when this mincing fop arrives at Forsaken. He determines he'll turn Fancy Pants Hathwell into a man before the boss returns home. From the get-go, he has "the kid" mucking stalls, clearing and plowing a field, and assisting with a difficult calving. But when Sydney's true identity is uncovered, Tim resents being deceived. Yet in time, he also finds that he doesn't like all the attention Sydney garners now that she's wearing pretty gowns...Together Sydney and Tim will discover the importance of family and what it means to be a man--and a woman--of God.

Happily Ever After
A bookstore in a Victorian house on the shores of beautiful Lake Superior. Mona Reynolds can’t think of a better storybook setting for a happy ending. Until someone starts to sabotage her plans. Could it be the drifter handyman she hired to help her? Just what will it take to make her dreams come true?

The Jessilyn Lassiter Series:
Fireflies in December, Cottonwood Whispers, Catching Moondrops
Jessilyn Lassiter never knew that hatred could lurk in the human heart
until the summer of 1932 when she turned 13. When her best friend, Gemma, loses her parents in a tragic fire, Jessilyn's father vows to care for her as one of his own, despite the fact that Gemma is black and prejudice is prevalent in their southern Virginia town. Violence springs up as a ragtag band of Ku Klux Klan members unite and decide to take matters into their own hands. As tensions mount in the small community, loyalties are tested and Jessilyn is forced to say good-bye to the carefree days of her youth.

Noble Legacy:
Reclaiming Nick, Taming Rafe, Finding Stephanie
Everyone around Stefanie Noble is content, but it seems that her "happily ever after" has passed her by. Then two troubled girls and their older brother, Gideon, show up in town and clearly need help. Could they bring the fulfillment that Stefanie has been searching for? Hollywood hotshot Lincoln Cash has made a life playing the role of an action hero, basking in the laurels of his fame, fortune, and adoring fans. But when he's diagnosed with a debilitating disease, he knows that life will soon be over. He only has a small window of time to start a new career, one that will earn him legitimate filmmaker kudos. He soon heads to Phillips, Montana, to put his plan into action. Not everyone is pleased with the movie star's arrival, especially not Stefanie Noble. She's even less enamored when he accuses Gideon of arson and tries to run him out of town. But what Lincoln and Stefanie don't know is that neither the fire nor the other strange things that have happened around town are really accidents. Someone is out to get them . . . but who? And who is the "real" target?

Bees in America: How the Honeybee Shaped a Nation 

Honey bees--and the qualities associated with them--have quietly influenced American values for four centuries. During every major period in the country's history, bees and beekeepers have represented order and stability in a country without a national religion, political party, or language. Bees in America is an enlightening cultural history of bees and beekeeping in the United States. 

Songbird Series:
Sweet By and By, Softly and Tenderly, Love Lifted Me
Happily married and owner of two successful boutiques, Jade longs to begin
a family with her husband, Max. But when she discovers that Max has an illegitimate son--who he wants her to help raise--Jade's life is turned upside down.

She flees to her childhood home, a rambling Iowa farmhouse, with enough room to breathe. There-- while her mother's health grows fragile, and the tug of her first love grows stronger--Jade begins to question everything she thought she knew about family, love, and motherhood. In the wide-open landscape, Jade begins to see a future that doesn't rest on the power of her past, but in the goodness of God's tender mercies.

Barefoot Summer
Madison’s heart closed the day her twin brother died.

Since losing her twin, Michael, in a drowning incident, Madison has
rejected the faith he lived by. Instead, she’s devoted her life to fulfilling Michael’s dream—winning the River Sail Regatta in their small Indiana town, Chapel Springs.

As she trains for the regatta, Beckett O’Reilly is teaching Madison to swim. But he’s keeping a painful secret from her—and as they grow closer, that secret threatens to upend their lives . . . and the lives of both their families.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Love Finds You in Sun Valley, Idaho by Angela Ruth

Actress Emily Van Arsdale has returned to her Idaho hometown - with an entire film crew in tow! With its stunning scenery and reputation for hosting celebrities, Sun Valley is the perfect setting for Emily's newest romantic comedy. Tracen Lake is happy to work as a stunt consultant for the movie but not as thrilled to deal with a bunch of high-maintenance Hollywood types. But Tracen is surprised to discover in Emily a down-to-earth Idaho girl who does all her own stunts and loves the outdoors. As filming wraps up and Emily heads off to her next gig, will she be able to leave Sun Valley - and Tracen - behind?

My Review

A fun debut novel from Angela Ruth Strong! 

When a stunt woman turned rising movie star falls for the rafting guide on her movie set, chaos ensues not only within the cast but also in Emily's heart. She succeeds in the most dangerous of stunts but struggles to climb the wall Tracen has built around his himself. 

Tracen has detested Hollywood ever since his fiance left him to follow her dreams in Tinseltown. But denying his attraction to Emily is getting harder every day. Will Tracen allow the former Wonder Woman to save his lonely life?

Great setting, strong characters, witty dialogue, and I loved the water theme throughout the book. It gave me a new perspective on things and encouraged me to study the subject in the Bible myself.

I gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads!