I love words

September 28th, 2012

I love words. The fascinating possibilities that lie within the order of words on a page are endless.  Take a group of words, assemble them into a sentence, then stand back and ask What would it look like if started it with this word or ended it with that phrase? Before you know it, you’ve rewritten a piece five or six times and still see wonderful arrangements yet to be tried.

Friends are perplexed because I re-read books; especially when learning there are favorites I’ve read literally hundreds of times. For myself, I didn’t understand why a book would only be worth reading once, until I realized that some read books for the story line, whereas the story line is fine, but what captures my attention is the specific words chosen and how they are arranged.

In the eighth grade a friend gave me a copy of This Rough Magic, by Mary Stewart.  She wrote: “…the cat turned and lazily swarmed up the vine …” and I was riveted. She had used a word that belonged with bee and attributed it to the action of the cat – and it worked! It made me realize the power a writer had to enable the reader capture a scene in their mind’s eye.

In English 101 the first thing the professors warn you against is the use of big words.  “Write like you talk,” they encourage.  But my work-day vocabulary is so dull compared to the plethora of fascinating words just waiting to be utilized. I don’t use big words to impress, rather because they’re different, fascinating, unusual, and interesting.

I am currently reading Bad Religion, by New York Times op-ed  columnist, Ross Douthat.  I am especially fascinated by his command of the English language. I’m harvesting a wealth of new words to add to my vocabulary stockpile.  Words like numinous and fissiparous. How well they’ll transfer over to romance writing remains to be seen.

I have a poster hanging above my desk sent by a fellow writer. It shows a cat stretched across an open book, looking up at the viewer and the caption says, “You realize it’s just the same 26 letters being rearranged don’t you?”

Yes, I do, thank you. I believe I’ll go rearrange a few right now.

I should write a book

September 12th, 2012

If you’re a writer, one response you know you’ll receive when meeting someone who discovers you’re an author is, “I should write a book.”

I’m often tempted to give Hemingway’s response of, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed,” but I usually restrain myself with, “If you enjoy rewriting, you can definitely write a book.”

Thomas Edison’s “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration,” holds true for writing a book. Writing wannabes don’t realize that if you are serious about writing a book, then that will be exactly what you do. You write. Every day. A determined writer doesn’t wait for inspiration to strike or their schedule to clear, and writer’s block is never a reason to skip a day. But if you persevere and keep slogging along, eventually you will discover “Eureka! I have 100,000 words. It’s a book!”

Too bad that’s just the first step.

Step two sifts the wheat from the chaff, or in this case, the real writers from the writing hopefuls. No matter how inspired your narrative, it is far from being ready for public consumption. This step destroys whatever ego you began with by making you ruthlessly pick apart your rhetoric by nitty-gritty editing. Your days will now consist of rewriting chapters, reworking paragraphs, adding, deleting, and restructuring. You will find yourself spending one whole day polishing a particular scene, go to bed satisfied by what you accomplished, only to wake up realizing that the scene really doesn’t even work for the book and has to be cut. Whack! All that genius on the cutting room floor. And it’s back to hours of rewriting again.

After all this, if your story survives without you chucking it into the trash, you can assume you’re definitely a writer. And if you’re very lucky, an agent will accept it, a publisher will contract for it, and one day, you too, will stand in Barnes & Noble proudly holding your book while your family snaps photos to prove your once glib statement of “I should write a book” came true.

V is for Vengeance

August 29th, 2012

V is For Vengeance – A Kinsey Millhone Mystery

Sue Grafton

G.P. Putnam, 2012 [Penguin]

416 pages

 

Summary of V is for Vengeance

A spider web of dangerous relationships lies at the heart of V is for Vengeance, Sue Grafton’s daring new Kinsey Millhone novel. A woman with a murky past who kills herself-or was it murder? A spoiled kid awash in gambling debt who thinks he can beat the system. A lovely woman whose life is about to splinter into a thousand fragments. A professional shoplifting ring working for the Mob, racking up millions from stolen goods. A wandering husband, rich and ruthless. A dirty cop so entrenched on the force he is immune to exposure. A sinister gangster, conscienceless and brutal. A lonely widower mourning the death of his lover, desperate for answers, which may be worse than the pain of his loss. A private detective, Kinsey Millhone, whose thirty-eighth-birthday gift is a punch in the face that leaves her with two black eyes and a busted nose.

And an elegant and powerful businessman whose dealings are definitely outside the law: the magus at the center of the web.

V: Victim. Violence. Vengeance.

My Take:

V is for Vengeance is a superb example of Grafton’s best writing which, given her previous book, U is for Undertow, had me worrying her writing was in a decline. This is one of her best in a formidable list of 22 alphabet books. Kinsey remains her best independent, stubborn, intractable self, still stuck in the ‘80s without a cell phone, the internet, or a computer. She still uses a Smith-Corona typewriter for goodness sake.

The book begins innocently with Kinsey doing her civic duty and foiling a shoplifter but quickly careens into a deadly game of underworld stolen goods.

As always, she battles evil on her own. Her skewed belief  that most people are naturally venal was something she established in her first book, A is for Alibi: “Except for cases that clearly involve a homicidal maniac, the police like to believe murders are committed by those we know and love, and most of the time they’re right – a chilling thought when you sit down to dinner with a family of five. All those potential killers passing their plates.”  You can see that she is morosely satisfied to be proven right time and again, which does not make her the life of any party and contributes to her isolation.  In this book even her customary occasional friends are noticeably missing: no boyfriend cop, none of her on-again, off again Lompoc relatives make an appearance, and even her debonair 80-something landlord Henry is out of town. I confess I begin each book hoping this time she will find her soul mate, but am resigned that she will break up and revert to her familiar detached existence.

Nevertheless, I love Sue Grafton’s writing. She captures the essence of Kinsey’s character in pithy sentences like: “I generally frequent the low-end chain stores, where aisles are jammed with racks of identical garments, suggesting cheap manufacture in a country unfettered by child labor laws. Nordstrom’s was a palace by comparison…”.  I hope her books are mandatory reading in Writing 101 classes.

My Rating: As always for Grafton this is a 5 out of 5. U is for Undertow is the only one of the alphabet books I wouldn’t rate a 5 (probably a 3.5).

The Last Single Maverick

August 21st, 2012

Christine Rimmer

Harlequin, 2012

Publishers Summary:

Look out ladies: there’s another Traub bachelor in town! Jason “Jace” Traub is every bit as gorgeous as his sexy twin brother, but rumor has it he is even more marriage shy. There’s not a woman alive who could make this restless rancher settle down…

Yet insiders whisper that Jace has been talking wedding plans with Jocelyn Bennings, the chestnut-haired beauty who ran out on her own wedding just days ago! Could the confirmed bachelor really be hooking up with
heartbroken, headstrong Joss? Stay tuned, loyal readers, to find out if their marriage of convenience runs amuck—or if lasting passion will finally rope in the last single maverick!

My Take: 

Another Traub brother bites the dust in a fun romantic read. All the ingredients are present: rich handsome hero, beautiful heroine. The characters are likable and the story moves right along to the predictable ending which is why we all read and enjoy them.

However, I’ve read all the Traub books and find the same problem with each. The author’s premise that the Traub men don’t know what love is and therefore are unable to commit is not in character with the family background. A man raised in an intact family, with brothers he loves, and parents who are in love with each other and who love him is not believable when he says he doesn’t know what love is. He could be leery of it, or not ready for it, but to say “I don’t know what love is” is not in keeping with the characters of the story.  Christine Rimmer needs to find another hook that is more believable.

I liked that they began their relationship with a friendship.  It’s too bad more couples don’t realize the importance of being friends before being lovers.  It would help a lot.

The author misses chances to take dialogue to a deeper level.  After they attended church she poured her heart out to him and when she thanks him for listening, his response of “Happy to help,” missed a chance for him to reciprocate, and deepen the story.

Finally, the two main characters names, Joss and Jace, are too alike, and it was hard to keep them straight.

My Rating: I loved it.

 

Dictionaries are for amateurs

August 3rd, 2012

I come from a family of avid readers.  When other families gather, they play ball or watch sports on TV. We’re confused. Why would they waste precious time doing that?  Our get togethers consist of exchanging stacks of books with other siblings. We keep lists of recommended authors on us in case we pass a used-book store and have ten minutes to stop and browse.  However we’re not purists who insist on holding an actual paper book, all of us have embraced eBooks. I have the cachet of being the first sib to discover how to check out books on them through the Public Library.

Despite our fear an eReader wouldn’t give the intrinsic pleasure of holding an actual book, the prospect of never being without a book outweighed any misgivings.  I now carry, to date, 382 books in my purse on my Kindle. Thus far we’re one hundred percent in the Kindle camp, but we wouldn’t sneer at a Nook user; we would just warn them that if they do buy a Nook, it won’t be compatible and therefore they won’t be able to borrow from us.

However, our prolific reading has an embarrassing downside. It makes us assume we are more knowledgeable than we are. For example, when we happen upon an unknown word we don’t immediately pick up the dictionary – dictionaries are for amateurs. The context of the sentence gives us the meaning of the word. For instance, when I read “Her vermillion handbag, matched her scarlet shoes,” I know that vermillion is a synonym for scarlet and my mind paints it a brilliant tomato red.  We look good on paper because we can spell the word and use it correctly and thus continue on in our ignorance.

Our shortsightedness shows up when we have occasion to introduce these new words into our conversation.  For example, I was in college before I realized that a false front was not a fuh-kade as I always said in my mind when I read it, it was a fuh-sod.   And chaos, pronounced chay-ose in my mind, turned out to be kay-oss. This one is a bummer because I actually like my pronunciation better. The ignorance continued because I became enamored with foe-kuh-chee-uh bread, and scowled when the salesperson didn’t understand what I wanted. She had to gently explain that it was foe-kay-sha bread.

Our most humorous – and David, I hope you’re still in Rwanda and won’t read this – happened at supper when we were teens. Sitting around the table, talking about a supposed friend who had suddenly become stuck-up, David muttered, “He’s so pee-us.” In our conservative God-fearing, Bible-reading home we’d never heard such profanity. Then it clicked. “It’s pious, David, pious.” As in the way of all good stories, it’s become our word for holier-than-thou individuals ever since.

Surely the Brueggemann’s aren’t the only family who suffer from malapropism.  Share yours and let us laugh at someone besides ourselves.

Oregon Outback (Romancing America)

July 12th, 2012

Elizabeth Goddard

July 2012

Barbour Books

352 pages

A Synopsis of the Four Books:

Comprising four novellas in one volume: A Love Remembered, A Love Kindled , A Love Risked, and A Love Recovered, is about four brothers journey to find love. It begins with FBI agent Jonas Love who brings trouble back home, endangering his life and that of an old flame. The second is about cattle rancher Carver Love who finds himself falling for the sheriff in the midst of chasing down modern-day rustlers. Thrill-seeker Lucas Love is featured in the third book –  a man who fears nothing until he meets a beautiful bookkeeper. And finally, Justin Love is trailing a fugitive in book four who’s heading too close to home—and one particular lodge keeper. How will God protect these men as they risk their lives to defend the ones they love?

My Take:

Elizabeth Goddard is a good writer who creates believable likeable characters. The story runs through each novella, linking them together into one enjoyable whole. Unfortunately, my problem with the books is the problem I always have with novellas – they’re too short. I would imagine Ms. Goddard faces the same frustration in writing them that I did in reading them, namely, the extras and embellishments that make romances so much fun to read are missing. In 40,000 words, she must streamline the story and lay out the characters cleanly, which doesn’t allow for any extras that contribute so much to a book. I want to know the particulars about Carver and the sheriff’s original showdown, not a recap. How did Justin Love come to believe he was too dangerous to return to his family? What pivotal event marked his life? Hints aren’t enough for me, nor is the author’s say-so, I want to hear it myself from the characters experiences. Yes, the bare-bones of the background of the story is given, but we don’t experience it and that is a huge drawback.

My Rating: A 3 out of 5 simply because of their brevity.

Make Your Own E-Reader Cover

July 6th, 2012

Have you priced the covers for eReaders?  While they are down from the astronomical prices a few years ago, it’s still not uncommon to pay $50 to $100 for a cover. So chances are you only have one. As usual, creative folk have ways to avoid paying those costs, plus make them personalized. A co-worker, Charla, has made several covers for her Kindle, and she allowed me to photograph them and include her instructions for inspiration. Her first one grew out of her childhood love for Nancy Drew.  She purchased a book from a thrift shop to use as her cover. It was so darling she grew more adventuresome and now has them created from other books and journals.   Here are the instructions. You will need:

  1. Something to turn into a cover: Think books, journals, and notebooks with stiff covers. Remove the pages from inside so you just have a shell.
  2. A piece of felt in a coordinating color that is 1/2” larger than the height and width of the cover laid flat.
  3. 12” of ¼” sewing elastic – any color you prefer, cut into 4 equal sections.
  4. Elmer’s or Tacky glue.
  5. Piece of thin cardboard such as a cereal box.
  6. Sewing machine – needle & threat would work, machine stitching is more secure

Instructions:

  1. Place your reader on the cardboard, trace around it and cut two shapes.
  2. Lay your felt on the table below your opened cover and position the two pieces of cardboard in the center of the left-hand and right-hand sides of the felt. Glue the cardboard pieces to the felt, then pull the extra felt around the top and sides, gluing them around the edges. When finished you will have 2 semi-firm sides of a book liner with the spine free.  For additional hold while the glue dries, use paperclips to hold edges.


  1. Place it right-side up (cardboard hidden) on the table. Using the illustration above, cut four slits in your cover alongside the spine. The slits are approximately 1.5” from the bottom and top of the liner. Insert ½” of one piece of elastic in the slit and sew it to the felt and cardboard, making sure not to stitch the 2 ½ “ that is free.
  2. Bring the free edge of the elastic to the bottom of the felt, 1.5” from left-hand corner, curve under the edge, pulling it tight enough so it will be able to hold a corner of your eReader securely in place.  Sew the second end through the felt and cardboard.
  3. Turn the liner over and cover the left and right sides completely with glue, being careful not to get any on the spine section, and secure to the book back. When dry, you can place the eReader in the loops and it will be secure.

I have included several photos of Charla’s three covers. In one you will notice that her eReader loops are on the left-hand side. She created this one for church, so the reader is on the left and a pad is secured on the right for note taking. If you decide to make one of your own, we’d love to see it and share it on the blog. So send us pictures.

 

Gone to Green [The Green Series]

June 24th, 2012

Gone to Green [The Green Series]

Judy Pace Christie

Abingdon Press, 2009

225 pages

 

Book Summary:

In Gone to Green, Lois goes from being a corporate journalist at a large paper in the Midwest to the owner of The Green News-Item, a small twice-weekly newspaper in rural North Louisiana. The paper was an unexpected inheritance from a close colleague, and Lois must keep it for at least a year, bringing a host of challenges, lessons, and blessings into her life.

When Lois pulls into Green on New Year’s Day, she expects a charming little town full of smiling people. She quickly realizes her mistake. After settling into a loaned house out on Route 2, she finds herself battling town prejudices and inner doubts and making friends with the most surprising people: troubled teenager Katy, good-looking catfish farmer Chris, wise and feisty Aunt Helen, and a female African-American physician named Kevin.

Whether fighting a greedy, deceitful politician or rescuing a dog she fears, Lois notices the headlines in her life have definitely improved. She learns how to provide small-town news in a big-hearted way and realizes that life is full of newsworthy moments. When she encounters racial prejudice and financial corruption, Lois also discovers more about the goodness of real people and the importance of being part of a community.

While secretly preparing the paper for a sale, Lois begins to realize that God might indeed have a plan for her life and that perhaps the allure of city life and career ambition are not what she wants after all.

My take:

I believe I have found a new favorite series. The novel is seamlessly written and drew me into the story from the first page. It moves briskly with no awkward scene changes.

While the newspaper’s struggle for survival is the lynchpin of the book, the counter balance is Lois’ unwilling examination of her anger towards God, stemming from the death of her mother. In her urban lifestyle she had been able to ignore God’s nudges, but in Green, smack in the Bible belt, where everyone goes to church and her nearest neighbor is an open and friendly female pastor, she gradually begins to deal with her misconceptions about God. Lois’ spiritual struggle is revealed through conversation between her and Jean, her pastor and neighbor.

I enjoyed getting an inside look at the newspaper business, and the politics involved in keeping it solvent in a small town, where the biggest advertisers are sometimes also the worst offenders and not happy at being on the front page of the paper.

The ending is predictable, but that’s one reason we read romances, right? Lois falls in love with Green and decides to settle forever, and we look forward to seeing if the hint of a developing love interest in a widower in town will go anywhere in the next book.

My Rating: I loved it, 5 out of 5

Think Only Kids Like to Be Read To? Think Again

June 5th, 2012

Readers are a snooty lot. We look down on others who ignore a book, and shudder at those who say they’ll wait for the movie to come out. In fact, we generally shun the movie, certain that it cannot equal the book. Readers cannot comprehend someone who admits “I haven’t read a book since high school.”  We’re so pretentious we have our own hierarchy.  The Only Classics readers claim top shelf, the middle ranks are the aficionados of non-fiction, mystery, biography and romance, while the bottom shelves are allotted to lovers of graphic novels.

As an avid reader, imagine my surprise to discover I married a non-reader. Let me clarify that statement: He is a non-recreational reader. He reads a lot in his job as a pastor. And what with sermon research and studying, reports and correspondence, when he gets home all he wants to do is relax in front of the TV. Coming belatedly to the understanding that he is an audio learner I now realize he chooses to relax watching TV because of the audio output.

But I still found myself wishing he read for leisure because there were books I’d like to discuss. One day on a long car trip he got bored and glancing at the book I was reading said, “Why don’t you read it to me?”  I did.  It was The Great Train Robbery by Crichton. We both enjoyed it so much that it started our book-sharing pastime.

I’ll let you in on a little secret of speed readers: We do not read every word.  In fact, we tend to go down the middle of a page, peripherally gathering the words along the edges. However, I discovered that when I read it aloud, I get every word – like a whole new story for me.

Since we began this pastime, we have met several other couples who also enjoy reading aloud. Archie reads to Verna each evening while she crochets, Cora reads to David while he fixes dinner, and Ty reads business/research books to her husband to free up his working hours for other responsibilities.

So if you’re a reader and despair of someone in your family not sharing your addiction. Maybe you can whet their appetite in another way: Read to them.

The Wedding Dress

May 24th, 2012

The Wedding Dress
By Rachel Hauck
Thomas Nelson, 2012

Publisher Summary:
Charlotte owns a chic Birmingham bridal boutique. Dressing brides for their big day is her gift . . . and her passion. But with her own wedding day approaching, why can’t she find the perfect dress…or feel certain she should marry Tim?

Then Charlotte discovers a vintage dress in a battered trunk at an estate sale. It looks brand-new-shimmering with pearls and satin, hand-stitched and timeless in its design. But where did it come from? Who wore it? Who welded the lock shut and tucked the dog tags in that little sachet? Who left it in the basement for a ten-year-old girl? And what about the mysterious man in the purple vest who insists the dress had been “redeemed.”

Charlotte’s search for the gown’s history-and its new bride-begins as a distraction from her sputtering love life. But it takes on a life of its own as she comes to know the women who have worn the dress. Emily from 1912. Mary Grace from 1939. Hillary from 1968. Each with her own story of promise, pain, and destiny. And each with something unique to share. For woven within the threads of the beautiful hundred-year-old gown is the truth about Charlotte’s heritage, the power of courage and faith, and the timeless beauty of finding true love.

My feelings:
Rachel Hauck seamlessly blends three vintage tales of love with Charlotte and Tim’s modern-day love story, hiding the surprise of why the gown was destined to belong to Charlotte until the very end.

I enjoyed learning about the bridal business from an insider’s perspective: the competition in the business, the designers, and watching an owner who loves brides trying to fulfill her customer’s special dreams, not simply make a profit. Of course what book worth its salt leaves out the evil character? In this case a soon-to-be sister-in-law adds the much-needed someone-to-hate factor. The author also displays the beauty of multi-generational friendships showing the interaction between a young energetic go-getter and the grace of someone who has lived many years.

Reviewing this book brings up a major drawback of Christian romances – they too often tend to be shallow. I enjoy easy, feel-good chick books, but I do not enjoy ones in which problems are ignored or treated trivially. Everyone grows through hard times and when Christian romances present a problem then immediately solve it by a prayer, they trivialize the struggle we go through to surrender our desires to God’s will.

One way this book rises above the banal is captured in Tim’s consuming passion for racing bikes. He doesn’t recognize the effect his hobby has on him and his relationship with Charlotte until he relinquishes it. Only when contemplating the empty space it leaves does he realize God had known all along that it had blinded him to better choices.

My rating system:
What makes an excellent romance story in my opinion is a writer who creates people you can relate to, emotion without cloying sentiment, and a story line that is strong and believable. Rachel Hauck did an exceptional job of skillfully weaving Christian principles with real life people without sermonizing.

I would rate this book: Definitely Read

Read more here: http://voices.idahostatesman.com/2012/05/13/bookaddicts/detailed_book_review_the_wedding_dress_rachel_hauck#storylink=cpy

 

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