Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Disaster Status -- Pacific Mercy Hospital Series Book 2 – Most Pleasurable Reading I’ve Experienced in Years!

Candace Calvert

2010 Tyndale, House Publishers
Paperback: 352 pages
ISBN-10: 1414325444
ISBN-13: 978-1414325446

Reading so Enjoyable I didn’t want the story to end!

It has been a long time since I’ve read a book that was so enjoyable that I actually slowed down my reading speed in order to prolong the experience.

It’s almost as if Disaster Status was a gourmet meal served in the finest restaurant. I didn’t want to rush the experience. I wanted to ‘savor’ each sentence.

I must confess that I’m the ideal fan for Disaster Status. I love medical stories -- when the medical details are accurate and play an important part of the story. Candace Calvert is a former ER nurse and her details are true to life – even when painful to read. (I’ve been in the hospital several times as a patient so I am more than a casual observer.) I can attest that Disaster Status is a compelling medical story.

I also enjoy a solid romance story when the ‘falling in love’ process is slow to unfold and occupies the central focus of the novel. Disaster Status is a solid romance story.

Disaster Status is also a Christian inspirational novel with its spiritual elements expertly woven – unobtrusively -- into the story.

In short, Disaster Status has everything I like in a novel. The characters are so well defined that I feel confident I could walk into Pacific Mercy Hospital today and identify each character by name. I could even introduce myself and begin a conversation which would make the character believe we’d known each other for years. This is a sizeable accomplishment for the author because there are four generations of characters in Disaster Status.

As the book opens, each character faces a unique set of personal conflicts. These problems quickly invest the reader with an emotional interest in that character. I found all the characters to be sympathetic in their own way. I don’t remember when I’ve read a book where I cared so much about so many different characters. For me this enhanced level of character development played an important part in making the reading experience so enjoyable.

How Disaster Status is Different

I found Disaster Status to be very different from many novels I’ve read which could be said to be ‘plot-driven’. Authors today are often advised to start each chapter with a ‘hook’ and end it with a ‘cliffhanger’. Some writing instructors even suggest doing this with each paragraph when that is possible. Writers are also admonished to always be increasing the tension. This plot-driven ‘tension addiction’ has gone so far that I sometimes feel like I’m on one of those European bus tours where you visit sixteen countries in just eight days. You ‘see’ everything but never have the time to ‘appreciate’ anything. I’m just burned out on this type of story. Perhaps this is why I loved Disaster Status so much.

A Quality Approach to Writing

I believe that if a writer can really write well, and is given enough pages to fully develop her secondary characters, she will not need the artificial stimulus of ‘hooks’ and ‘cliffhangers’ to hold the reader’s interest. I find the most compelling writing to be writing that is worth reading in its own right. Candace Calvert does this with the very best of writers. In Disaster Status the story is always interesting. Page by page, I never looked ahead for the really ‘good stuff’ to come along or for a cliffhanger to be resolved. The opposite was more the case. I didn’t want the story to end because I knew I’d have to wait a year or more for her next book.

Disaster Status – an ‘Interest-Driven’ Book

At first sight it might seem as Disaster Status is a ‘character-driven’ story. But it is much more than ‘character-driven’. The plot is too complex and too instrumental in supporting the many characters (and different story threads) to be called 'character-driven’.

I feel it would be more accurate to describe Disaster Status as an ‘interest-driven’ novel. The reader’s attention is captivated by both ‘character development’, which is interesting (though sometimes quirky), and by unexpected ‘plot situations’ – which sometimes involve medical emergencies.

Disaster Status also features several different plot threads which add to the story’s richness. I’m so glad that the author was given a full 352 pages to tell her story. Disaster Status has a richness that cannot be compressed into a 200 page book. I love the short Harlequin Medical series books but Disaster Status presents a strong argument for also reading longer format books.

About the story

Scott McKenna is the hero in Disaster Status. He is a fire Captain in his mid-thirties who has seen many tragedies both on the job and in his personal life. The heroine, Erin Quinn, is an ER nurse (like the author) who has also suffered many personal tragdiess and disappointments. She is in her thirties as well. Both Scott and Erin are career-driven and neither is looking for love. (Both have had bad experiences in the past.) The setting is Pacific Point in northern California which is a beautiful location about an hour’s drive from Lake Tahoe.

Genuine Conflicts

The conflicts the hero and heroine face in Disaster Status are very real. The ‘falling in love’ process is very gradual and believable. While the heroine is a believer who leads a faith-group prayer session before each shift, the hero believes that God does not care about him. In the past his prayers never seemed to be answered.

Four Generations of Secondary Characters

The secondary characters are very important in Disaster Status. I found that the medical situations were kept to a minimum but nevertheless played an important part in the story development. The medical events are organic to the story and not there simply to show the author knows her subject. The plot is rather complex with several story threads which are skillfully woven together and are essential to the story’s richness.

The First Book in the Pacific Mercy Hospital Series is Critical Care (Reviewed below).

Last year I read the first book in the Pacific Mercy Hospital series and I loved it. I gave it my highest recommendation. Yet, while both books take place in the same hospital, they are very different books. I think they are equally enjoyable to read but in different ways. You can read the books in any sequence or read just one of them with full enjoyment. Yet I would suggest you read the books in order.

I found it very interesting to see how much the author has matured in just one book. I see a difference between the two books – not in quality but in tone and richness. Of course, this could be just me but I know this: if you read either one of these books, you’ll want to read the other.

The Long Lonely Wait

I’m a little sad now because I will probably have to wait over a year for book III. However, as a lifelong Tony Hillerman fan, I’m well experienced with long waits between much loved reading experiences.

Disaster Status -- Highest Recommendation!


Monday, April 26, 2010

Critical Care -- Pacific Mercy Hospital Book 1 –The Best of Three Worlds!

Excellent Medical Drama!
Superior Inspirational Story!
Compelling Romance!

Critical Care Mercy Hospital Series Book 1
Candace Calvert
2009 Tyndale, House Publishers, 304 pages

The author, a former ER nurse, delivers all the medical details that fans find so essential in an authentic medical story. Medical ‘junkies’ will love this story.

The inspirational story is totally integrated into the plot and worthy of a stand-alone inspirational novel.

The romance is genuine and rich enough to stand out as a category romance.

The action takes place in Pacific Point, northern California, about a one hour drive from Lake Tahoe. The heroine is a former ER nurse who has transferred over to the education department because of the trauma she experienced when she saw her brother die of burns while she was on duty in the ER. Her inability to handle that situation has made her feel like a ‘weak link” who should not serve as an ER nurse.

The ER Doctor from Hell!

The hero is the grumpy ER doctor from hell. He had a bad childhood and never saw any of his prayers answered as a tormented child. He is now a non-believer. He is so mean, in fact, that he had to leave his last hospital job because so many nurses quit or filed formal complaints against him. His new position at Pacific Mercy may be his last chance to save his career.

Critical Care also features two secondary stories that keep every page bubbling with interest.

This is a very fast reading book. The advertising says Critical Care is Book 1 of the Mercy Hospital series. Given how much I enjoyed Book 1, I look forward to reading the next book, Disaster Status which is just now available.

Wonderfully Rich Writng! Highest Recommendation! 5 Stars!


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ideal Read for NaNo Fans…National Novel Writing Month

Read Queen of Hearts -- A NaNo Inspired Novel!

Queen of Hearts

K. Dawn ByrdCopyright 2010
ISBN 10: 1-936000-22-9
ISBN 13: 978-1-396000-22-7
Desert Breeze Publishing

I must admit that I only bought Queen of Hearts because the author mentioned in a blog post that it started as a NaNo project. I’ve entered the NaNo challenge every year since 2003 and I’ve completed it three times. So naturally I was interested in how the book came out.

Here’s what I Discovered:

Queen of Hearts is a high energy, fast moving, light, and spontaneous, adventure that will keep you guessing until the last page. The story opens in New York City during the early years of World War II. The heroine is a rich, young, reporter who has just agreed to become a spy for the United States. She goes immediately on assignment without a single day’s training. It seems spies run in her family. She idealistically hopes her efforts will end the war quicker and bring the boys home as soon as possible.

The author states that Queen of Hearts was written, in part, during the National Novel in a Month contest – an event which talks place every November. The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days

This unique genesis makes Queen of Hearts a very interesting read because the book demonstrates both the best and least favorable aspects of writing a novel so quickly. The story is fast paced, spontaneous, and creative. It also features extensive dialogue and internal monologues. The story is light on physical descriptions and period research. As such, the success of Queen of Hearts rests on captivating the reader’s interest. This it does with enough force to keep the reader turning the pages.

I was never quite sure what type of story Queen of Hearts was going to be. It starts out like a spy thriller, then seems more like a romance, then moves into a gothic motif. The gothic then grows darker into a possible horror story. In time the theme returns once again into a possible romance. Moreover, for most of the book I could not tell who the hero was going to be. There were two choices of hero and neither one was very promising husband material.

As if this wasn’t enough to keep the reader guessing, Queen of Hearts is also solid Christian fiction. I must say it was rather disconcerting to see a potential mad mobster seriously saying grace before meals. Strange as it seems, it all works.

I think of Queen of Hearts as a kind of guilty pleasure. I had too much fun reading it to worry about what kind of book it was. My advice is to just read it for the ride!


Still The Best -- Kate Walker’s 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance

This is the best ‘How-To Write Romance’ Book I’ve Read -- Given Its Superiority in Three Areas:

Best Single Book on Writing Romance.

Best Single Textbook For Teaching Romance Writing.

Most Useful Book for Published Romance Writers.

Kate Walker
• Paperback
• Publisher: Studymates Ltd; 2nd edition (July 30, 2008)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 1842851314
• ISBN-13: 978-1842851319

Now Available as a US edition at a much lower price!

Extra Bonus! A New Section “From The Authors Desks” with hints and tips from over 20 well published authors!

I've read over forty "How to Write" books and I like Kate Walker's book the best.

It took me a long time to read “Kate Walker’s 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance” because I need larger type. I’ve had to read this book very slowly using a magnifying glass. If the book wasn’t so consistently excellent, there is no way I would have finished it. Incidentally, I found it very educational to read a book so closely. It’s like inspecting a house brick by brick.

This is not a typical fan review.

This is a professional book review. I have been writing nonfiction for thirty years. I’ve written and edited manuals, created correspondence courses, and taught advertising copywriting in college. I run a real estate school so I know the crucial importance of having a good manual for each course taught. I am also working on a book about the romance genre and have read at least 40 romance writing books during my research. (Some of the best are listed below.)

I found Kate Walker’s 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance to be unique among the many romance writing books that I’ve read. It is exceptionally well suited for three different purposes.

Ideal Book For Self-Teaching

First: if you were only going to read one romance writing book -- to teach yourself how to write at home -- this book offers the best coverage. It features many examples, checklists, questions, and, where appropriate, it offers other romance novels that provide additional examples on the romance writing concepts being discussed.

Even more important Kate Walker, like all good teachers, is always pointing out what something being taught does not mean. Knowing what something does not mean is very important to a successful learning experience.

My biggest problem teaching adults happens when the student thinks he or she already knows what I am trying to teach. These students close their minds and fail to learn. For example, almost every student “knows” that the mortgagor is the lender and they are wrong. The lender is the mortgagee. Almost every student “knows” that the broker representing the seller is the selling broker. However, they are wrong again. The broker who has the seller is the listing broker. The “selling broker” represents the buyer. As Will Rogers once said, "It's not what we don't know that gets us in trouble; it's what we know that ain’t so.” It is very hard for a teacher to undue what people “know that isn’t so”.

Kate Walker not only states what a romance term or concept means, she also points out what it does not mean. This is invaluable if you are learning at home without a teacher. It is also invaluable to an inexperienced teacher because it provides excellent talking points to go over in class. Usually only experienced teachers know what students 'know' that ain't so.

Let me give you an example from the book found in Chapter 2 on “Emotion”. After stating what “emotional punch” is, the author goes on to demonstrate what the term does not mean. It does not mean, “just arguing or shouting,” “endless crying,” “wallowing in self-pity,” “it is not manipulative,” “it is not just sentiment” or “cliché”, and so on. This “house cleaning”, as I call it, goes on for pages. Teachers should love this book.

The Topics Chapters Cover

Chapters include: Emotion, Conflict, Dialogue, Focus, Sensuality, Passion, Heroes, Heroines, Characterization and Heroines, Plotting, The Question “Why”?, The Intense Black Moment, The Believable Happy Ending, Practicalities, and From the Author’s Desks (advice from other romance authors.) If a writer goes over the many checklist questions at the end of each chapter, it will be like having a very experienced critique partner available at all times.

Ideal Book for Classroom Teachers

Second: as good as Kate Walker’s 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance, is for self-teaching the material, I found it excels as a textbook. I know how important a good manual is to making a teacher’s job easier. An exceptional manual allows the teacher to teach “from the overflow” which greatly enriches the material and makes for a more enjoyable student experience. With a weak manual this valuable time has to be spent doing the job the manual should have done.

I would love to teach from Kate Walker’s 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance. The text is very reader friendly. Kate Walker knows how to communicate. The way she wrote this book is going to change the way I write my manuals and courses.

The chapters fully cover the writing concept being taught. Then there is a 12 point checklist covering how you should implement the concepts in your actual writing. Then there are suggested writing exercises and assignments.

Excellent Book for Professional Writers

Third: experienced writers will find the writing checklists on various topics very useful. There is a saying in advertising copywriting that “professionals do not have to be taught, they need to be reminded”. I was a very experienced copywriter and taught copywriting in college but I still always used a 500+ item checklist for improving a direct marketing promotional package. Everything we learned from testing direct mail pieces was incorporated in that list. Even the people with the vast experience needed to create the list, used the list.

Kate Walker has many useful checklists. An idea would be to type all these checklists into a Word document. Then when you finish writing a chapter (and it was still fresh in your mind), run through the applicable checklists as a critique of your work. If you are lacking in an area you can immediately act to improve it.

Here is a sample of the checklists. Each features 12 questions:

• Emotional punch -- 1. Have I allowed time for my characters to explore their feelings? (11 more follow.)
• Conflict -- 1.Have I a conflict over which is truly worth being at odds? Is it one that really matters? (11 more follow).
• Dialogue – all the below topics also have 12 item checklists for good writing.
• Focus
• Sensuality
• Passion
• Heroes
• Heroines
• Plotting
• The Question “Why”
• The Intense “Black Moment"
• The Happy Ending

I haven’t read any other romance writing book that I thought would be so useful to a professional writer on an ongoing daily basis.
Unlike some textbooks, “Kate Walker’s 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance”, is written by someone who actually knows how to write. I’ve been reading Kate Walker romances while I’ve been reading this book. This allowed me to observe how well she practices what she teaches. Her own books are the best testimony to her teaching methods and knowledge of the romance novel.


If you are going to teach a class on romance writing, you should get a copy of this book before you select a textbook. I have not read another text that does a better job from both the teacher’s POV and the student’s POV.

If you are a home study student who is learning to write romances on your own, this is the key book to read. However, if you are teaching yourself, you really should read many romance writing books. I also strongly recommend that you read Dangerous Men & Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance, Krentz and Writing Romances: A Handbook by the Romance Writers of America by Romance Writers of America (Organization), Rita Gallagher, and Rita Clay Estrada. Plus as many more as you have time to read. It won’t hurt to read them all.

If you already are a romance author or a mainstream author thinking of writing a category romance, this book is worth the price just to get the writing checklists.

Below are a few of the better Romance Writing books that I’ve read and recommend:

Dangerous Men & Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance (New Cultural Studies)University of Pennsylvania Press
How to Write a Romance and Get It Published: Updated Edition Kathryn Falk
How to Write Romances (Genre Writing Series) Phyllis Taylor Pianka
On Writing Romance: How to Craft a Novel That Sells by Leigh Michaels
Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies by Leslie Wainger
Writing Romances: A Handbook by the Romance Writers of America by Romance Writers of America (Organization), Rita Gallagher, and Rita Clay Estrada
Writing Romance by Vanessa Grant
Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Your Romance Published by Julie Beard
The Everything Guide to Writing a Romance Novel: From writing the perfect love scene to finding the right publisher--All you need to fulfill your dreams (Everything Series) by Christie
Romance Writer's Phrase Book (Perigee Book) by J. Kent -- Yes, I found this worth reading.


Friday, April 23, 2010

The Substitute Bride: Christian Fiction with Conviction!

This is Most Demonstrably Christian Fiction I’ve Read Since The Pilgrim’s Progress

The Substitute Bride

Janet Dean
ISBN: 078-1-4268-4869-8
Steeple Hill Books
Inspirational Historical Fiction

Please…don’t let this scare you off. The Substitute Bride is not an allegory. (It’s actually stronger than an allegory given it’s ending and it’s authentic historical realism. You'll love it. Yes, you will.)

Spring 1899

While The Substitute Bride opens like a traditional mail-order bride story with a unique substitution twist, that’s not what the story is really about. True, the heroine, Elizabeth Manning, is running away from a terrible arranged marriage. Having no money, she switches places with a mail-order bride who has developed ‘cold feet’ at the train station. With her father and evil intended hot on her trail, Elizabeth has just minutes to choose between the devil she knows and a possible devil she knows not. Elizabeth gambles on the ‘unknown’ and takes the train to marry a stranger who lives on a farm in Iowa with his two motherless children

No Period of Adjustment!

You might expect a ‘period of adjustment’ but no…the wedding talks place within the hour. Now the story seems to become impossible. The hero/farmer lives away from town in a very primate farm house with an infant son and hostile pre-teen daughter who does not want to be replaced as ‘woman of the home.’

For about a fourth of the book the story focuses on these four people and the problem the heroine has trying to cook. At about this point I thought “This is not going to work. The scale is too small. The scope has to expand. You have to get out of that farm house!”

Well things start happening. Lots of things happen that the reader will never see coming. Once the action gets going, it’s like a snowball rolling down hill until the surprise and almost allegorical climax.

Christian Fiction with Conviction

The Substitute Bride is really about sin, pain, death, forgiveness, conversion, redemption, rebirth, and salvation. All these essential Christian elements are seamlessly woven into the storyline providing for a very rewarding romantic reading experience. As such, The Substitute Bride is a manifestation of God's power to change the lives of believers for the better.

Unique “Love Inspired” Inspirational Enjoyment

I have been reading Love Inspired Inspirational romances for years. The Substitute Bride is unlike any of the others I have read in the way it exemplifies Christian values. I really enjoyed reading this book.

As always, Janet Dean’s prose is crystal clear and a joy to read. I’ve read three Janet Dean romances and I’ve yet to encounter a single sentence that I had to read twice because the meaning was unclear. Indeed, the author reminds me of Franz Liszt in that Liszt was both one of the best composers of his time and also one of the best pianists. He would compose the music and then play it perfectly -- as no one else could. Janet Dean composes the best stories and then puts word to paper with unmatched crystal clarity. I actually derive a second level of enjoyement reading her books because I admire how well they are written.

The book sold out almost at once on eHarlequin but you should still be able to get a copy on Amazon. If you hurry!


How To Write a Great First Person, Present, POV Mystery/Suspense/Romance!

Prime Time

Hank Phillippi Ryan, Mira, Copyright 2009 (Original edition July 1, 2009) Mira, 288 pages

This is the first of the Multi-Award Winning Charlotte McNally Novels – A Series which Now Stands at Four Novels: Prime Time, Face Time, Air Time, Drive Time.
Winner of the prestigious AGATHA Award for Best First Novel

RITA Nominee Best First Novel and Best Romantic Suspense

DAPHNE Nominee Best Romantic Suspense

RT Reviewers Choice Award Winner and TOP PICK!

Prime Time is a great read but I actually didn’t read it because of all its awards. I read this book simply because the author said that she came up with the opening line of the book first and liked it so much that she was inspired to write the book. Prime Time is her first book. Since the first line indicated a first person present POV, that is how she wrote it. And since it is a very hard to write a full length, first person POV book, I naturally bought the book. I wanted to know hwo the author did it.

Here’s the opening line:

“Between the hot flashes, the hangover and all the spam on my computer, there’s no way I’ll get anything done before eight o’clock this morning.”
Here’s why I think the POV works in Prime Time.

First the heroine is the story. There is no equal status with any other character. Two, the book is an action mystery with constant tension and frequent danger. Three, the heroine is largely playing herself. The heroine, Charlotte McNally, is a 47 year old TV newsperson with many awards but always worried about being replaced by a younger woman. The author is also in a similar situation. The locations are the same in the book as in real life. Four, the author shares many interesting inside the TV news business tidbits which adds to the reading enjoyment. Fifth, the heroine has a witty personality which makes spending time in her mind an enjoyable experience. Sixth, the heroine is a very sympathetic character who quickly wins the reader over to her side.

After reading Prime Time, I have a better appreciation for what it would take to write an exceptional first person POV novel. I now think it is every more difficult than I originally thought.

From all the great reviews and many awards it is very clear that readers love this book. However, I think it will be even more appreciated by other writers.

I read it with envy and enjoyed every minute. And there are three more books in the series yet to enjoy!


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Does Anyone Actually Read the Books They Review?

The Percentage Appears to be Very Small.

After reading over fifty reviews on several books that I’ve read, it became very obvious to me that most of the reviewers had never read the books they were reviewing. The reviews were of 7 types:
1. The review was so generic that it could be used for almost any romance – especially any similar theme romance (such as ‘marriage of convenience’).
2. The review was obviously written from the book’s back cover blurb.
3. The review was obviously written from other reviews with some of these being copied almost word for word.
4. The review was written from the descriptive copy the publisher supplies for bookstore websites.
5. The review contained no information that would only be known by someone who actually read the book.
6. The review was so far off base that the reviewer was not even trying to get it right.
7. The review contained nothing which would make the book stand out as being different from similar books.

Genuine reviews by people who had actually read the book had one distinguishing characteristic: they stood out as being obviously written by someone who had read the book.

Perhaps Everyone Already Knew This

Do we even expect honesty in reviews anymore? How much attention should we pay to reviews? How about setting up a ‘tested’ review site where the reviewer would first have to pass a 50-question test about the content of the book before a review would be published.

What a concept! Require a book reviewer to actually read the book.

As for me, I will continue to write book reviews that could only be written by someone who carefully read the book and hopefully understood it.