Friday, March 23, 2012

‘Happy Dance’…Happy Ending – 5 Stars of Fun!

“I Can’t Remember Ever Feeling Better After Reading an Inspirational Romance Than I Did After Reading “High Country Hearts”!

Love Inspired (March 1, 2012)
Available as a Kindle

“High Country Hearts” opens fast, picks up speed and then the last third of the book pulls you in like a tornado to an explosive ending that will have you ‘happy dancing’ –  at least in your soul -- if not across your living room floor.

If judges are really most influenced by the ending of a book, “High Country Hearts” should win everything it enters this year!  This is a book you really, really feel. Here’s what I felt like after I just finished reading “High Country Hearts”: 

I was in the sixth grade and the nice new kid from the Catholic school just beat the living daylights out of the playground bully who had been terrorizing everyone for the whole year.

I know that’s a guilty pleasure but did it ever feel good. “High Country Hearts” feels good like not many Inspirational books I’ve ever read. Actually, not like any of them. It’s a must read. Absolutely.

The location, Canyon Springs, high country, Arizona is so well depicted that I want to move there every time I read one of the author’s books. In fact, I’ve never done this is a review but here’s part of the author’s “Dear Reader” comment that comes at the end of the book.

“Dear Reader,

Welcome back to Canyon Springs! This “high country” region of Arizona is filled with beautiful little mountain communities featuring abundant campsites and cabin resorts like Singing Rock. It’s a perfect spot for a getaway – to step back, quiet down and listen to the “still small voice” of God.”

Actually this is a wonderful introduction to the story because the beautiful Canyon Springs location has the importance in the narrative of a major character! The location is not just wallpaper but rather an active participant on every page of the story.

The inspirational content and the character conflicts are absolutely first rate. The conflicts are very real. The dialogues involving these conflicts are deep and not the standard fare in an inspirational romance.

I loved the juxtaposition of the two dialogues between the hero and his sister and the heroine and her sister giving the pro and cons of each ever trying to reestablish a relationship with the other. Wonderful writing. Highly interesting. I felt like I wasn’t reading the story – I felt like I was in the story.

“High Country Hearts” is a work of genius. The more you know about romances, the more you’re going to love this book. (I actually had to wait two weeks to write this review because I was so jealous of the author -- for raising the bar so high -- that I didn’t think I could be nice to her.)

About the story:

The hero, Rob McGuire, and the heroine, Olivia Diaz, are at major turning points in their lives. Rob, a former much admired religion teacher,  had disgraced himself and is trying to redeem himself by taking the management job at a cabin resort. He is way over qualified for the job but the location is perfect for his needs.

Olivia is the ‘black sheep’ of her family. She's the young and irresponsible sister home again to try to run the family cabin resort after failing the first time. She really needs the job as manager.

That’s a lot of genuine conflict. However, Rob and Olivia have a past. She had a crush on him years ago as the perfect man. He proposed on bended knee in front of Olivia and many others to marry Olivia’s roommate in college!. It’s years later when they meet again at the cabin office. By the way, it is not a coincidence that Rob was offered the job. All motivation in this story stems from a firm foundation.

As the story progresses the conflicts multiply as does the strong attraction they feel towards each other. Olivia admires Rob so much that Rob just can’t bring himself to disclose his disgrace.  The conflict in this story is not a ‘one-trick’ pony. It’s a whole herd of mustangs.

I’m trying to tell you how good this book is without giving any of it away. So that’s it.

Just read it. And if you are a romance writer, be prepared to turn green. (But green’s good these days, right?)

“High Country Hearts – The Feel Good Inspirational Romance of the Year! 

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Study in Conflict, Character Growth, Love, Redemption & Living Christian Values

New Harmony, Iowa, 1901

Lies, Secrets, & Misunderstandings
in Small Town America
– 5-Star Christian Romance –
Inspired Reading Enjoyment! 

Love Inspired Historicals

“An Inconvenient Match is Janet Dean's most intensely psychological novel to date. It represents quite a risk on the part of the author. The story is drawn on a small canvas in the 1901 town of New Harmony, It features a small cast of characters with most of the action being internal. I don’t believe one could say that the hero has an outer journey unless it is to open a furniture shop a few blocks away. The conflict itself is risky because it is based on lies, secrets, and misunderstandings. Since this type of conflict can often be cleared-up with a genuine, heart to heart, conversation, a great many roadblocks must be placed in the way to prevent these conversations from ever taking place. 

A Town Like "Our Town"  by Thornton Wilder

“An Inconvenient Match” would make a fine three act play. In fact, it reminds me, in feel and in tone, of “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder. This was a very risky play to produce at the time (1938) but it became a huge success and is now considered an American Classic. It is said that “Our Town” is always being performed somewhere in the world. 

Like “An Incovenient Match, “Our Town” takes place in small town America, 1901. Like “An Incovenient Match” the important values in the play involve traditional American ideals: Christian morality, the family and the community. There is also a celebration of the simplicity of life and the things that made people happy at that time. I’m thinking here of the town women auctioning off basket lunches to raise money for the folks who lost their homes in the great fire. Christian morality, the family and the community,  all represent universal themes that people love. These are the themes that make “An Inconvenient Match” such powerful reading.

Real Characters You'll Care About

The success of “An Inconvenient Match” depends on the reader coming to care strongly about the characters. This  caring happens  almost at once. The characters are both sympathetic and believable. They are believable because they have many faults. Even the best of them must work through many problems. Here is where the help of strong Christian values comes into play.

In New Harmony people live and practice their faith. This is done by actions and not by preaching. People struggle to do the right thing -- the Christian thing -- even when it hurts and even after they have failed before.

Driving the Success of “An Inconvenient Match” 

The ‘small canvas’ in “An Inconvenient Match” allows the reader to 'see' the characters as the central focus of the story. The location and other outside actions do not get in the way of the unfolding narrative. 

The real enjoyment comes from watching the whole town and each of the major characters grow, little by little, as they face life’s greatest problems. Sometimes faith overcomes these problems. Sometimes it does so only at great cost. 

The Conflict Runs Several Levels Deep

In the story, the major characters suffer both physical and mental wounds. This psychological damage  sometimes manifests itself in outright hostility.  While the hero’s family is at peace with the town, the town is at odds with them. The hero’s father, George Cummings, is the town banker who had to foreclose on property or face losing his bank. George is also a gruff and irritable man. He may have no friends at all in the town. 

George Cummings needs a caretaker after he is injured in the town fire. No one will take care of him because he is so unlikeable. Even his own daughter won’t care for him. His long term housekeeper and cook, Cora, (who probably is in love with him), quit because he was treating his own son, Wade, so badly. Cora didn’t want to stay around and watch it happen. 

The romance between Abby Wilson and Wade Cummings is complicated because the hero's  father foreclosed on the heroine’s family farm causing her family great pain, dislocation and perhaps even her father’s death. That George made a big profit from his actions when the rail road bought the foreclosed property, does not make him any more popular with the town. The community pretty much can't stand George and by association, his son Wade.

A Once Jilted Heroine

The heroine also has good reason to dislike Wade Cummings. Abby and Wade were once an item and Abby was lead to belive that they would marry after high school. It didn't happen. Wade went off to college back east without giving an explanation. 

Abby Wilson is now a school teacher with time on her hands in the summer. No one in town will help take care of the hero's father, George, even for good pay. The hero has far too much work to do, running all his father’s businesses, to be of much help as a caretaker either. In desperation Wade begs the heroine to take care of his father until school starts in the fall. She really needs the money.

Abby Wilon's Conflict of Interests!

The heroine is compassionate and really needs the money so she agrees to help George but she can’t tell this to her family! They would just go crazy to know that their Abby is helping the enemy -- an enemy who ‘killed’ her father.  

Resolving conflict in this book is never easy. Being Christian and doing the right thing can be very painful. All the characters struggle with this. Some not as well as others.

In the below scene from the book Abby is distrauth over what to do. She enters the church to talk to God. 

“Forgive me, Father, for not trusting You. She slid off the pew onto her knees, weeping tears she’d bottled up for years. 

When she raised her eyes, a beam of sunlight had broken through the clouds, coming through the stained-glass window behind the altar, shooing prisms of color through the sanctuary. She felt cleansed.

A blessed peace enveloped her. The love of God. God loved her even when she was most unlovable. He didn’t love according to what she deserved. He loved according to who He was. 

He loved her, loved  her family.

          He loved Wade. George.
          All mankind.
          If only she could love like God did. Yet how could she forget the hurt Wade had caused? How could she trust him when he’d tossed her away years before?
          She rose and left the church. The rain was a mere shower now. As she popped up her umbrella, a smile sprang to her lips. Across the way a rainbow hugged the heavens, the sign of God’s promise to never flood the earth again.
          As if God had planted the thought, she knew what to do.” (page 264 Kindle)

As always, Janet Dean writes in a crystal clear prose that I admire in itself. I’ve never read one sentence in any of her books, that I had to read twice in order to understand the meaning. In this respect I think Janet Dean puts words on paper (and on computer screens) better than anyone writing today. 

“An Inconvenient Match” is not only a great inspirational romance -- it is also a work well worth reading. I think this is an important romance.

A Study in Conflict, Character Growth, Love, Redemption & Living Christian Values