Wednesday, May 20, 2015

REVIEWERS AND READERS

I've blogged about reviews before, but I'm doing it again. Some people say they never read reviews. That's unfortunate because reviews serve several useful purposes. They're a means of discovering what is new in the book market. They save money by giving readers a glimpse of both the subject matter and the quality of a book so people can make an informed decision concerning purchasing the book. They alert readers to a favorite author's newest release, they serve as a heads up concerning objectionable language, the presence of explicit sex or violence, and alert buyers to the general price of the book and sometimes to where the book can be purchased and in which formats it's available. 

Reviews are generally written with readers in mind, but authors can benefit from thoughtful reviews as well. A review will usually point out areas where the novel excels and in which areas it could be improved. 

Many readers like to share their enjoyment of a book on sites such as face book, Amazon or their own blogs. This is great and a benefit to both readers and writers. Unfortunately there are trolls writing reviews as well as legitimate readers and reviewers. These people get some kind of sick pleasure out of trashing books or poking fun of them. On the other hand I know a reviewer who gives every book five stars and a glowing review no matter what, which isn't helpful either. 

Here are a few suggestions for readers reading reviews. First, be aware of the difference between reviewers who write for a legitimate publication and those who just slap comments on a social page. Professional reviewers may not be as kind as your mom, but will usually give a pretty fair idea of what to expect from a book you may be considering.  Keep a list of bloggers, social page writers, and friends you can depend on to give honest critiques of the books they read. Ignore the rest. 

And here's a little advice for writers. Don't argue with a review. No matter how awful and unfair you feel a review may be it's best to ignore a bad review except to use it to improve the next book if any of the criticism is valid. It's okay to use positive reviews to promote your book, but be sure to credit the review author and the publication. Don't assume your book didn't get reviewed because the reviewer didn't like it. Reviewers receive huge numbers of books and there are many reasons for not reviewing a particular  one; such as already reviewed book or books on that topic recently, reviewed too many books by that particular author in too short a time, doesn't fit the particular publication's policy criteria, etc. 

For nearly fourteen years I've been reviewing adult level LDS novels for Meridian Magazine, a job I love. From a personal point of view, I find LDS authors are getting better and better and I thoroughly enjoy reading most of the books sent to me for consideration. There are some books, even though written by an LDS author, I don't review such as horror, occult, sexually explicit, profanity laced, or books critical of LDS doctrine. I also don't review children's or young adult novels. I do review books from established LDS presses, new publishers, national press, and self publishers in paper format or kindle e-reader format. Both marketing managers and authors are welcome to send books to me for possible review. (Contact me by instant messenger to get my mailing address.)   

Thursday, May 7, 2015

THE REAL THING

A few weeks ago I posted pictures of my garden covered with snow. Today I don't have time to blog, but here are a few pictures of my spring garden, minus the snow.




Thursday, April 23, 2015

CHANGE OF PACE TIME


Sometimes when life is at its most hectic there are moments of sudden humor. These moments give us a chance to catch our breaths, ease tension, and restore balance. Such a moment occurred this morning.  

From the kitchen window I spotted an argument between a magpie and a dove. Just as their disagreement was heating up and turning physical, a robin zeroed in on the pair like a flying missile. Both the magpie and the dove lost no time deciding there was someplace else they needed to be. 

Early in my writing career, both a teacher and a published author gave me the same advice. They said when one scene after another is filled with suspense and tension, the grand finale will have a bigger impact if there is a tension breaker that allows the reader to laugh or at least be mildly distracted before hitting him/her with the big super crisis.  

I woke up this morning feeling like I've reached that brief change-of-direction moment in my writer life.  I have a full length novel, recently submitted to my publisher, and I just finished a novella and sent it to beta readers. While I wait to hear if the novel is accepted and wait for my beta readers to return my novella for whatever repairs it needs, I'm at that change of pace moment. 

Once I would have immediately started another story, but with two manuscripts in the works I think I need a break. I promised myself that when I reached this point I'd clean my carpets. Last week's mud storm has left me with windows in need of a good washing. My garden needs some serious work and I have a Relief Society lesson to prepare. Today I don't want to do any of those things.  

I feel a bit like my granddaughter after her brother's soccer game a few days ago.  When the game ended she gathered up her little folding chair and her blanket and started to walk with my husband and me instead of her mother. We were parked at opposite sides of the soccer field.
 
"Where are you going?" her mother asked her.

"To Papa's house."

"You need to go home and have dinner."

"Grandma has popsicles." She stepped closer to me.  

Ah! That's what I need, something different and fun before plunging into edits and rewrites.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

HELLO SPRING!


Spring has arrived!  A little birdie told me so:
 

 

The lilacs are in bloom.

 

My bleeding heart is lovely this year:

 

 

There are tulips and hyacinths around here someplace:

 

Time to relax in the sun:
 

The patio chairs are waiting:
 

Ahhh Spring!  There's nothing quite like it.

 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

NOT MY BEST DAY


This has been a day of small annoyances. Ever have one of those days? Nothing big, just a series of minor irritations. I could blame it on my blood glucose numbers which have been a little out of whack for a week or so--probably because of Easter plus my sweet tooth. I could blame it on not getting enough sleep the last couple of nights. Or it could be, some days I just feel grumpy. 

To start things off this morning I discovered I made a stupid error in my column on Meridian and my editor didn't catch it. I changed the title of one of the books I reviewed from Until Murder Do Us Part to Until Death Do Us Part. I went grocery shopping and the store didn't have the brands I wanted of a couple of items. My computer wouldn't save my WIP to my backup drive, so I had to e-mail it to myself to be certain I have a back-up. Late in the afternoon I decided I needed a break from writing (it wasn't going well). I accidently paid a bill twice a couple of months ago and the store sent me a refund check. Since I needed a new pair of jeans, I decided to use the check to buy the jeans, assuming that since the check came from that store it would be accepted there.  Besides I have almost enough points at that store to pay for the jeans. I figured wrong. Not only did they inform me I would have to take the check to my bank to cash it, but they couldn't even look up my points. It seems that store requires customers to print off their account data showing points from their home computers or use a smart phone to access the points at the store. I bought the jeans anyway, but resent having to make another trip to my bank to cash the check. 

After all that, I was late starting dinner.  Half way through preparations I realized I was fixing both rice and potatoes. Maybe I should just go to bed. Surely I can't mess that up.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

CRAZY


This month has been crazy.  There have been five family birthdays, a funeral, a wedding, a lesson to teach, and all the usual trivia of life. Plus I serve at the Oquirrh Mountain temple on Wednesdays, write a review column every other week, got my taxes ready, just sent off one book to my publisher, and I'm about a third of the way through a novella. 

My husband's sister passed away earlier this month after a series of strokes.  The funeral was in Sandy, but she was buried in Lorenzo, Idaho.  For those who never heard of Lorenzo, it's between Idaho Falls and Rexburg. It was great to see so much family, but sad to bid farewell in this life to a dear sister. Those of us who made the trek from Utah to Idaho for the burial stayed overnight in Idaho Falls where we had a spectacular view of the Snake River and the Idaho Falls temple. 

The following weekend we traveled to a different part of Idaho to my niece's wedding in the Twin Falls temple.  It was a beautiful occasion and the bride was gorgeous. Again we enjoyed visiting with family, but it was certainly a happier occasion.  We stayed with my brother and his daughter in the country.  From his windows we saw plenty of cows, a rock-chuck, pheasants, and mules. It was kind of sad to see a lone daffodil blooming beside the rubble that was once my parents' house next door.
 
 

On the way to my brother's house we stopped in Twin Falls where two of my high school friends met me for lunch. It was the first time the three of us had been together since high school which was a long time ago.  One other friend had planned to meet us, but had the wrong date and missed our reunion. 


I discovered it's a real challenge to keep my blood sugar level steady while traveling and eating out. Not only is it hard to count carbs, but eating at irregular times creates problems too. 

And the month isn't over.  There are still two birthdays and a play.  Our oldest granddaughter has a part in her school's musical and we don't want to miss it. I wonder if April will be any better.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Enough or too Much


Life is a lot like scrambled eggs or this winter's weather.  Here in the west we've had a few snow storms, but nothing like the East coast has seen and not enough to ensure next summer's water supply.  Daffodils and crocuses are blooming.  I've seen a few robins, but the weatherman keeps assuring viewers we have more snow coming. My husband has been trimming roses, building tomato cages, and clearing leaves out of the flower beds, but keeping the snow blower easily accessible. 

A dear sister-in-law died this week and we have a niece whose wedding we'll attend next week. A nephew was a top scorer on an academic placement exam last week and a niece was the top scorer for her ice hockey team that finished second in state. 

Most people's lives are a series of contrasts, surprises, and unexpected jolts.  As writers struggle to make their stories realistic they walk a fine line between creating the unexpected and sticking to the main focus of the story.  Too many of life's intrusions and coincidences turn a story into a chaotic, confusing mess.  Not enough, makes the story incomplete and unbelievable. The perfect blend makes a story both memorable and enjoyable. 

A well placed element of the story which leads the reader to a wrong conclusion is called a red herring.  Even a red herring, however, must add to the story in a realistic way and enlarge the general picture the hero/heroine faces, though it doesn't lead to the solution to the mystery.
 
Life might be a bit boring if it flowed smoothly according to plan at all times. Books are like that too. As a reviewer for Meridian Magazine, I read a lot of books, and have been particularly aware lately of authors who achieve a nice balance in providing contrasts and enough day-to-day interference with their characters' objectives to feel realistic.  I've also read way too many that detail every second of the character's life and wander around in pointless trivia. Someone told me she skips over at least half of what she sees posted on Face Book.  May I suggest that if you'd skip over it on Face Book, don't put it in your novel?

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As a side note, please check out my reviews of four military and war books on Meridian.

Monday, February 16, 2015

RAINBOWS


On the southeast side of my house there's a large arched window. When the morning sun shines through it, it adds a colorful splash of rainbows to the walls of my curved stairway and the second floor landing. Those rainbows have proved to be a source of delight for my grandchildren. When Alena was two she pretended to gobble up my rainbows, then laughed and laughed, considering it some kind of joke on Grandma.  Today Jen turns four, but over the past two years, she has invented all kind of games with the rainbows.  Her current one is stepping between them and the sunbeams so that they disappear, then suddenly stepping aside so that they appear again.  She's even discovered that if she places her hand over one, the rainbow appears on her little hand. Some of the grandchildren have asked dozens of questions in an effort to understand the hows and whys of the rainbows' appearance. I've overheard the older ones explaining to the younger ones the properties of light that create the phenomena, and one wanted to "borrow" a piece of glass so he could replicate the rainbow and one who stubbornly insisted it must have rained during the night because rainbows are a signal the rain has ended. 

Christmas was only a few weeks ago and now in February, I have three grandchildren with birthdays, so I've spent quite a bit of time of late in toy stores or toy departments of both the brick and mortar variety and online. I've noticed toys are extremely expensive, the majority are centered on a specific movie or television program leaving little room for imagination, many are ugly or grotesque, and a good share of them are flimsy junk. I've also noticed my grandchildren have so many toys, there isn't much left for me to pick for gifts for them. 

Like most people my age, I'm aware our grandchildren live and play in a world far different from the one we grew up in. I grew up with seven siblings.  All eight of us kept our toys in one cardboard box. I dreamed of owning an electric train, but Santa always brought me a doll and a new dress.  But horses, dogs, baby chicks, kittens in the barn, and lambs or calves to be fed with a bottle filled our days. Yet, I too, stopped to stare in wonder at rainbows, those beautiful arches that span the sky following a rainstorm or that dance across the waters of an icy trout stream. They even glimmer on the surface of an oil slick or soap bubble or splash across a sun-drenched wall or floor.  I'm aware a tacky multi-colored flag is sometimes referred to as a rainbow flag and a troop of wandering freeloaders who pollute our forests has claimed the rainbow as their symbol; I'm not referring to that kind of man-made rainbow.  I marvel at the sudden burst of beauty found in real, honest-to-goodness rainbows.  Those are the rainbows that engender wonder, awe, and imagination. It isn't expensive toys, organized games and classes, day care, or structured agendas, but rainbows that invite children to dream, to learn, and to create.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Love Note

My blogs may be few and far between for awhile.  I'm trying to finish the book I'm working on and I've been asked to write a novella to be included in a compilation of three novellas.  My work in progress is a murder mystery.  I'm half way through the rewrite and hope to have it ready to send to beta readers in a week or so. The novella is supposed to be a romance and will be something new for me since I've never tackled a novella before. I haven't come up with a theme or subject yet.  Any suggestions?

In the meantime, here's this morning's Meridian column and a wish for a happy Valentine's Day to all my readers:

With Valentine’s Day this week it’s time to take a look at a few romantic stories. Love in LDS romances isn’t all hearts and flowers; it has more to do with commitment, respect, loyalty, sacrifice, and eternal values. Many Romances written by LDS authors are ridiculed because of their squeaky clean language and lack of sexual themes. In a world where erotica masquerades as love, pornography replaces respect, crudeness is substituted for tenderness, and commitment is scorned, many readers welcome the beauty of real love stories, stories that express the tender feelings of those who care enough for each other to share eternity, build a family together, and link their fate through whatever may befall one or both.
Romance is an element of almost all fiction. Even Western writer Louis L’Amour once said every book needs to have a woman. Some books such as Romantic Suspense put the emphasis on the suspense, but the romance is a strong secondary theme. The same is true of other sub or combined genres. With members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ emphasis on eternal marriage and forever families, it is only logical that many LDS writers turn to the emotions and circumstances that draw a man and a woman together to form this essential unit. Today’s reviews highlight several pioneer era novels written by LDS authors covering, different locations, and different circumstances leading to two people discovering the depth of their feelings for each other. They aren’t strictly Romances, but they are love stories.
Pioneering didn’t end with arrival in the Salt Lake Valley. Many of those who reached Zion went on to face danger and trials as they were called to establish other communities throughout the West. More and more these pioneer stories are taking their place alongside the wagon trains and handcart marches of the first ten pioneer settlement years in the historical lore of the Saints. Only_the_BraveIn the style of The Work and the Glory series, Gerald Lund continues the saga of the San Juan pioneers he portrayed in The Undaunted, the story of the brave people who became known for their descent through the “hole in the rock.” Instead of continuing with the lives of the characters he created for that book, he moves the story four years ahead and to different families of characters. The major character becomes sixteen-year-old Mitch Westland and covers the next four years as he becomes a man facing Indians, outlaws, extreme weather, challenges to his faith, an unpredictable river, a lot of hard work, and falling in love.
Those first pioneers in the Southeastern corner of Utah in what is now referred to as “The Four Corners Region” were given three charges. They were to be buffers between the white settlers and the Native Americans, Shock Absorbers, softening the blows for those who were to come, and Lightning Rods, drawing the fires of heaven down upon themselves so the flames wouldn’t consume others. These charges and the turbulent changes and policies taking place in the 1880s both in the United States and in Utah made strong people stronger both physically and spiritually, turning boys like Mitch into unshakable men, and women like young Edna Zimmer into towers of strength.
Lund is as much historian as novelist. As in his earlier much loved series, each chapter ends with a section of footnotes detailing the sources used and the historical details of the real incidents he borrowed for his characters. He plans for this series to continue and merge with another new series called Fire and Steel. A long time educator, the former member of the Quorum of the Seventy (2002-2008) has devoted much of his life to studying the history and doctrine of the Church.
Betrayed_COVER
It’s 1851 in Niagara Falls, New York, when Julia Barrett receives a letter from her fiancĂ©, Adam Wolcott telling her that after being away for two years he is coming home. In spite of her older sister Margaret’s words of caution reminding her he didn’t write to her during most of that time, she is anxious to see him and make plans for their wedding. While waiting for Adam at the designated meeting place, she meets Tom Harrison, a magician who is also a friend of her brother, James, who went west with the Mormon pioneers. When Tom arrives at her family’s farm later that evening, it is to inform them of James’s tragic death.
The Barrett family’s life is turned upside down as they mourn James’s death. Their plans to go west to join others of their faith in the Salt Lake Valley are delayed by Julia’s determination to stay behind to marry Adam, the sudden arrival of a black man they must hide and send on to the next stop on the underground railroad, and the murder of a neighboring family by a notorious crime family. A seven-year-old child is the one unaccounted for member of the dead family and a massive hunt begins for her. Almost everyone is either searching for the black man or the missing child. Tom becomes involved when he volunteers to scatter bits of the black man’s shirt away from the Barrett house to throw the dogs off his trail. While on this errand he encounters an old Indian man carrying the missing child. The old man warns Tom the child is in danger and begs him to take her to the Barrett family to keep her safe from the people who murdered her family as they will stop at nothing to remove the only witness.
Julia is aware Adam is keeping secrets from her, but worries more about the secrets she is keeping from him. She wants to tell him about being part of the underground railroad and about the missing child, but her family make her promise not to tell him. She feels a strong connection to Tom, but blames him for her brother’s death because he didn’t follow a prompting that could have saved James’s life.
Julia grapples with her testimony, with her desire to believe all is the way she wants it to be, with premonitions, her love for a child who needs her, her desire to please others, and her ambivalent feelings for two men for whom she has strong feelings. She is a well-developed character with whom the reader can identify. Adam, too, is a character with whom the reader can identify, one who is liked for the good in him and mourned for his weaknesses. Tom’s past is only hinted at, but his strengths are demonstrated in his actions. Minor characters are individuals who add depth to the novel.
Several interesting dilemmas are introduced in addition to that of which man she should marry. How can a person tell the difference between a spiritual prompting and a desire? Is it better to obey the law or to protect a runaway black man from a vicious slave catcher? And there are others concerning race, loyalty, and promises.
Ronda Gibb Hinrichsen grew up in Idaho. She is married and the mother of three children. This is her third published novel.
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For many Pioneers conversion, sacrifice, and the journey to Zion began on another continent and those pioneers’ trials began long before they reached America’s shore. Along with the challenges of being pioneers, there was the problem of learning a new language and adjusting to a new culture. Life continued on with its usual challenges, including falling in love. Tina Peterson Scott recounts the journey of a seventeen-year-old girl, Catherine Erichsen, who leaves Denmark with the 1863 migration of Danish converts aboard the John J. Boyd in her riveting novel, Farewell My Denmark.
Catherine doesn’t expect to leave Denmark with her parents and younger sisters. She is in love and plans to marry and stay behind to care for an ailing aunt. When her engagement is broken just before the family plans to leave, she opts to leave too, but is devastated to learn her sister and closest friend in the world refuses to go. The sister is determined to stay with the elderly ill aunt and is confident the man who has been courting her will propose, giving her an added reason to stay behind. The journey to Copenhagen where they will board the ship is difficult and Catherine is uncertain she can go through with leaving her country or her sister. She prays another opportunity to marry will come her way.
Aboard the ship she draws the attention of three men, all with admirable qualities, though one is nearly as old as her father and a widower. The other two are brothers closer to her age. Lars is tall, blonde, outgoing, and everything she has always dreamed her future husband should be. Josef is quieter, has red hair, and has captivating green eyes.
It isn’t long before it becomes obvious there is a thief aboard the ship. Valuable jewelry and family heirlooms disappear. Catherine sees and hears enough to become suspicious of two crew members. Foolishly she attempts to search their quarters and is caught, but not before learning enough to place both her safety and that of her two youngest sisters in serious jeopardy.
This well-researched novel is a mixture of the recounting of an important historical event, a serious examination of both faith and prayer, and the natural longing of a young woman for someone to love and to be loved in return. The characters are believable with great family interaction. The author, a native of Arizona, is a direct descendant of Danish immigrants and her deep love for Scandinavia shines through in her portrayal of the land and the people.
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ONLY THE BRAVE by Gerald N. Lund, published by Deseret Book, 272 pages, hard cover $21.99, Also available on CD and for e-readers.
BETRAYED by Ronda Gibb Hinrichsen, published by Covenant Communications, 291 pages, soft cover $16.99. Also available on CD and for e-readers. 
FAREWELL MY DENMARK by Tina Peterson Scott, published by Foutz Fables and More, 285 pages, soft cover $13.23, e-reader $2.99.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

WIN A BOOK

I didn't write a blog this morning, but I'm inviting readers to read my column on Meridian. I tried something new, using four new novels I particularly enjoyed reading, to stress the importance of creating characters with the faults and foibles that make characters feel like real people. In each of the four books I reviewed, the flawed main character goes through a growth process, making him or her a better, stronger person. I would love having you add comments on this topic.  So here's the deal:  Everyone who comments by midnight Feb. 1, 2015, on the V-formation blog, on Notes from Jennie, on my Meridian column, or on Facebook will get their name in a drawing for my copy of one of these four books: Deadly Secrets by Frank Richardson, Wedding Cake by Josi Killpack, Lady Emma's Campaign by Jennifer Moore, or Danger Ahead by Betsy Brannon Green.