Monday, September 30, 2013

Book Review: The Miner's Lady by Tracie Peterson

**I received a free review copy (my first!) of The Miner's Lady through the Bethany House Publishers/Baker Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review.**

The Miner's Lady by Tracie Peterson

I've read three other of Miss Peterson's stories and greatly enjoyed them; having 90+ books under her belt, she's certainly a pioneer in Christian Fiction publication. However, I wouldn't list this book as one of my favorites.

The story is rather cliche and predictable; as I read, I felt like I had read another book similar to it. Nothing - and I mean nothing - happened until chapter 6, followed by 12 chapters of several conversations between characters on issues we as readers already knew, and I have to say I found myself bored. Once chapter 18 hit, I finally became interested in the story, wondering how everything would turn out, and for that I was relieved.

While I enjoyed the relationship between the two leading couples, Chantel and Dante, nothing original was brought to the scene; Isabella and Orlando, siblings of the previous couple, had a relationship mirroring Romeo and Juliet. The characters were likable and relatable, but one-dimensional and nothing entirely special.

Still, the book has good themes on forgiveness and God's grace, made me chuckle a few times, and was a fairly enjoyable read once events starting taking place. It wouldn't be my "go-to recommend" book, but if someone asked I would still recommend it.

Sarah's Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Don't Think About What You're Writing

Don't think about what you're writing while you're writing it.

Say "whaaaat?"

At the moment, I am majorly stuck on one of my chapters in my WIP. I can't even count how many horrible weeks I've just brought up the document, stared, and then walked away - which is something I've preached vehemently against in past blog posts.

I think my discouragement and writer's block is floating into other parts of my life as well. One being this blog; it's taken me all week to come up with a subject for this week's post. So, instead of thinking of a great, stirring post that will captivate readers, I'm just going to give a little bit of advice that I'm trying to use myself: Don't think about what you're writing while you're writing it.

No, I don't mean write willy-nilly (yes, I use that phrase, what of it?) anything and everything whether it adds to the story or not (or if it's even part of the SAME story). Consideration must still be present. However, we can get hung up on one scene. Even if we know what's going to come after it, it's as if a crucial part of the bridge hasn't arrived and we have to wait for it to be imported from a country millions of miles away. We can't move on until that one scene is perfect, and nothing else matters until it is completed.

Take a deep breath...and then chuck that idea out the window onto the street and hope a truck will run over and smash it into the ground. I'm obviously referring to first drafts here, and so you know what? The most important part of a first draft isn't necessarily the quality, preciseness, and beautifully crafted sentences - it's about getting your ideas on paper, no matter how mashed and messed up they may be. There's a beautifully little tool called "editing" used for filling in those details later.

So instead of pouring 50 cups of coffee down your throat and suffering from headaches and bleary eyes, just don't "pay attention" to what you write. Write some (excuse my language) total crap, or make a note to come back to that scene and fill it in later (provided you have another following scene you know where to head with). Write with your eyes closed, and don't think about it.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Book Review: Love on a Dime

A few weeks ago I was in Barnes and Noble (my little bit of earthly heaven) and found a book for under $4 - SCORE. Well, I just finished it last night and thought, "What better time to review it?"

Love on a Dime by Cara Lynn James. Book 1 of the Ladies of Summerhill.

I believe this is Miss James's first book, for which I say bravo. What drew me to this book as I read the back cover was not just that it sounded like an interesting story, but that the main character was a writer.

Lilly Westbrook secretly writes dime novels under the nom de plume "Fannie Cole" in order to donate her earnings to charity. She knows writing these stories, stories her society thinks is trash, in secret isn't pleasing to God, but she struggles with the good she does in spite of it. Her stories are pure and focused on God, which she uses as an excuse for her behavior.

Lilly runs into serious trouble when her former flame, Jackson Grail, comes back after several years and reveals he's buying the publishing house to which Fannie Cole is attached. On top of this revelation, a man named Colonel MacIntyre, operator of a gossip paper, is threatening to come forth with Miss Cole's real identity. Torn between coming out in public and shaming her family or accepting help from her previous beau, Lilly must decide which decision is the best not only for her future and for others, but what is pleasing to God.

The story had potential to be exciting, but it fell flat, I'm sorry to say. This story wasn't enjoyable in the fact that though there was conflict present, it never gripped you, and I'd say it leaned more towards boring and repetitious. The most interesting part was the mysterious backstory of a minor character instead, of which I won't go into detail with spoilers. Reading the book was like watching a movie in which the actors have no chemistry.

The ending was also a disappointment. Everything was resolved in a rush at once, and the way things resolved seemed rather unrealistic. The author had something to say but couldn't seem to tie it all together and so she snipped the ends and left it.

Would I recommend this book to another reader? No. Would I read another book by this author? Surprisingly, yes, I'd give it at least one more chance. I've read the summaries of the other books of this series, and they too sound like good stories. I would be curious to see if the author's writing has improved.

Sarah's Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Trouble Question: "What's Your Book About?"

"What's your book about?"

I'm guessing a lot of you internally react to that question like this: "ACK, NO! NOT THE DREADED QUESTION! MUST RUN, MUST HIDE! I CAN'T ANSWER THAT QUESTION! WHAT DO I DO? I'M DOOMED!"

Am I getting the main idea at least? I know a lot of people struggle with having this question asked of them, even if in their minds they have a strong hold on what their story is truly about. Sometimes having someone point-blank ask you, however, is intimidating and can make you freeze, if not even start doubting the strength of your story.

Have no fear; it happens. One simple suggestion I could make, if you're far enough along on your story, is to take a day to experiment with different explanations of your book, whether it's a one sentence summary or a full-blown explanation of the plot (just don't make it too long-winded). Be prepared.

However, we can all get caught off-guard. So what do we do when this happens besides nervously laugh it off and say you have a hard time explaining the story to others? These answers are easy but big no-no's, and you'll probably lose respect if you respond this way.

Instead, opt for saying you aren't sharing the details with many people at the moment, but give the genre of the book and maybe the age group if you have a specific one. For me, it's easy to say I'm writing fantasy, because that sparks someone to ask more questions (such as "Will there be dragons?" to which I can respond yes ;) ). If you're writing a historical romance, give the time period, whether in the Western 1800s or Victorian England. This shuts the door on having to provide a detailed account of the story, but it also gives the listeners something to latch onto so that they can be engaged with completely turning them off.

If you have a strong hold on the conflict for your character, that could work as well. For instance, you could respond with, "The story is about a girl who moves from the East to the West as a mail-order bride in the 1800s, and she has to learn to adapt to the ways of the West." (Just a generalization, not thinking of a particular story.)

Basically, don't be intimidated. Being asked this question doesn't mean you have to divulge every plot line and conflict in your story idea; start with a vague explanation if you're caught off-guard, or if you prefer, and go from there. The key is to still remain in control and confident in your answer so that people can see you're serious about your writing. We should be able to answer this question with excitement at sharing our work.


On another note, I've got some exciting posts coming up in the future. For a sneak peak on one of them, I had shared with all of you that I signed up for Bethany House Publisher's review club, where I receive free copies of books to read and then review on my blog. I'm excited to let all of you know I just received my first two books! (There is usually one book per month, but this was a special month.) I have a busy schedule right now, but I will have at least one of the books reviewed by the end of this month.
Don't forget to vote on the blog poll at the top right of the blog, too! Let's get these votes in, people! :)

Monday, September 2, 2013

Happy Endings vs. Sad Endings

In the 2007 movie Becoming Jane, Miss Austen (her character) says, "My characters shall have, after a little trouble, all that they desire."
For those of you who have read Jane Austen's works, you know that this is true of her stories; though they struggle financially and in the realms of possible marriage trials, each female character has a happy ending. These stories make us feel confident and good, don't they? I love a feel-good story.

But what about those stories that end badly? What if he doesn't get the girl, her best friend contracts a terminal illness, a husband perishes in war, or (*gasp*) the main character dies? Such turn of events, though often foreshadowed, are still shocking to us readers. What if you travel through a book, placing yourself in the same journey the main character goes through, feeling his emotions, only to have him or her die in the end? Do you feel lost and just plain mad?

When a character doesn't have a happy ending, I, at times, want to abruptly close the book and never look at it least until my emotions calm down. How dare the author string me along for 300+ pages and then "ruin" the ending? It isn't fair!

...Or is it? Is it really a matter of being fair? Life isn't always fair - we don't always get what we want... death comes to us all; it's just a fact of life. By adding these surprising elements to a story, the author is creating a truly believable account of a fictional life, accurately mirroring the real world. Can we really go as far as to judge the author wrong for wanting to put forth a realistic account?

There are books out there you KNOW will have happy endings because it's just that kind of book. Austen's Persuasion leaves you hanging for a while, wondering if Wenworth and Anne will ever come together in the end, but eventually of course they do. Bronte's Jane Eyre certain includes many trials for the couple Jane and Rochester, and though Mr. Rochester is maimed at the end of the book, they are reunited in love and contentment. But others you can't be so sure. In The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne loses both her husband and the father of her child, one to greed and shame and the other to death, and as speculated in the book, possibly her daughter. In Tuck Everlasting, young Jesse and Winnie make a promise to love each other for eternity, but Winnie makes the choice to not drink from the spring that gives life. In the end, Jesse returns to find Winnie has died.

Do these sad endings make the book horrible? A little less enjoyable at times, perhaps, but not horrible in my opinion. In the case of Tuck Everlasting, though the ending is sad, I feel content with the fact that Winnie lived her life instead of choosing to live in possible near agony (as Mr. Tuck portrayed), even though it left Jesse alone once more. I actually think these endings can make the story stronger.

There is a right way and a wrong way in creating shocking scenarios for your stories. In one sense, you don't want to string your readers along and crush their dreams in the end, yet you don't want to over-forshadow and give no suspense and conflict to the story. Basically, experiment with what you prefer. If you decide to give your characters happy endings like Jane Austen, make it strong and beautiful. If you decide to kill off your main character, as long as you execute it tactfully (no pun intended), congratulations on taking the plunge.


I'm considering creating a sort of "fave five" series (won't be called this) for the blog, either every first Monday or last Monday of the month, or once every two months. I'd be including anything from favorite books to resource materials to simply random things I love at the moment (such as inspiration places like Pinterest, an inspiring photo, ect.). I might pair them with a short movie or book review or leave them by themselves. Do you like this idea? If so, PLEASE vote on the poll for which week you would like to see the "segment."