Tuesday, June 29, 2010

“Winter’s End” a Woman’s World Summer Pick!

Congratulations to Ruth Logan Herne for having her,“Winter’s End,” chosen as a “Best Beach Read” by Woman’s World in their July 5, 2010 issue.

Woman’s World is a special friend of romance with a romance story in every issue. Get your copy today! Cover shown above.

You can read a review of "Winter's End" here.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

"A Quiet Place" is Anything But Tranquil

A Quiet Place
by Michelle Levigne
Published by Desert Breeze Publishing, Inc
Genre: Romantic Fiction

"A Quiet Place" is Anything But Tranquil

You might think by the cover art and the title that "A Quiet Place" would be a reflexive, slow moving story about middle-aged lovers looking back at what might have been. Wrong. 'On Golden Pond' it is not!

"A Quiet Place" can even get quite noisy at times. The story gets off to a fast start and then keeps accelerating until the last page. The pace is breathtaking. The story not only reads fast – it actually increased my reading speed. I timed myself reading three times faster than I normally do.

The Soul of a Screenwriter

It didn't take me many pages to conclude that the author has the soul of a screenwriter. Search as I might, I could not find a single wasted scene in "A Quiet Place". The story reads so quickly because of the writing style, the constant desire to know what happens next, and the way the novel is structured.

To better illustrate what I am talking about, please imagine that you are very interested in the relationship between two people over the past ten years. Next imagine that you only want to know about the essential events in that relationship. You want all the non-essentials edited out. If you were successful in doing this, then you would be left with a rapid fire narrative not unlike "A Quiet Place". This is a very interesting read from a writer's point of view.

Best Friends to Lovers

The theme of "A Quiet Place" is an old favorite. The hero is in love with the heroine but has always been her best friend. While in the army the hero tells his best buddy about how wonderful the heroine is and how much his friend would like living in his hometown of Tabor Heights. The army buddy gets out of the Army first, goes to Tabor Heights, and falls in love with the heroine.

The rest of the story deals with the hero coming to terms with the aftermath of helping create this troublesome love triangle. I suggest you don't read the publisher's blurb about this book because it gives away a little too much. It's more fun just to let the story happen.

Strong Character Development

Usually in an episodic and fast moving story, character development suffers. However, "A Quiet Place" is long enough so that the central characters are fully developed. The action may be fast but the characters' personalities and motivations are clearly depicted.

A Race to the Present

The story starts seven years in the past and quickly moves, step-by-step, into the present. This movement towards the present makes the story seem to move even faster. Since all the story movement is forward from the initial point on page one until the last page, there is no flashback confusion. In fact, the book is not at all confusing. I never had to reread a sentence to determine its meaning. However, I did experience the story more as a film than a novel. I also found this experience very enjoyable.

"A Quiet Place" is book 5 of a planned 12 Book Series set in Tabor Heights, Ohio. Each book can be read as a stand alone novel.

"A Quiet Place" Will Make Many New Fans For Tabor Heights! Highly Recommended!

Warm, Wise & Wonderful -- 5 Stars!

The Heart's Song
by Winnie Griggs
Published by Love Inspired, Steeple Hill
Genre: Romantic Fiction
ISBN #ISBN: 978-0-373-87606-8

"He didn't recognize the tune, but the sound wrapped around him like a homemade quilt on a chilly night, warm and comforting."

The above quote from "The Heart's Song" perfectly describes how I felt while reading this wonderful book. On every page something happens that will make you feel good, feel inspired and feel a tug on your heartstrings! The cast is large. There are more than a dozen characters who you will care about and who will inspire you. "The Heart's Song" is a surprising book.

A Bell Choir Story?

To be truthful, I didn't think the concept of a 'bell choir' would be strong enough to carry a whole novel. Nevertheless, since I love bell choirs, I bought the book anyway. Here's what I found: the inspirational power doesn't come from the bells; it comes from how the choir experience inspires and heals the bell ringers.

Serious Conflict & Inspired Solutions

The conflicts that drive, "The Heart's Song', are deadly serious. The author doesn't avoid or gloss over the hardest spiritual questions. She doesn't offer clich├ęs. She faces the issues head on and I think she offers wise and even inspired solutions. Yet the story is not hard to read. Everything is so natural and the story flows so organically, that even while I was being entertained, I couldn't help but admire how the characters dealt with life's problems. The action is so real that at times in the story I wanted to stop reading and tell the heroine what a fine person she was.

Inspiration by Example

"The Heart's Song" offers inspiration by example. The characters are so well drawn; I think I could recognize most of them on the street today. The town is also an ideal location for the story. Tippanyville, in the central part of the state, features all the sights, sounds, smells, and good cooking of Louisiana. I love New Orleans and Louisiana. I had my honeymoon there. "The Heart's Song" rings true from start to finish.

The Book that Might Not Have Been!

The author, a historical writer, was asked to write a contemporary novel by her editor. This meant leaving her comfort zone. It was a good choice! I hope there will be more Tippanyville stories. There sure are enough interesting characters to populate a series and I'm sure there's a lot more good cooking to try. Besides, the heroine has a best friend who also deserves a hero.

The Story:

The hero, Graham Lockhart, is a grade school math teacher and a widower. Graham is bitter. All the prayers he and the 'prayer warriors' in his Church offered failed to save his family. This is one of the most emotional unanswered prayer examples I've seen in the genre. The hero, once a good Christian man, is now not on speaking terms with God.

The Heroine

The heroine, Reeny Landry, is a widow whose husband was killed by an elderly man who was probably too old to be driving. Reeny has a mute second grade daughter and a son who will be in the hero's math class. Reeny has found peace with God and is even stronger in her faith. It is her stated goal to start a Bell Choir as a memorial to her husband. It is her real goal to use the bell choir to heal the hurting members of the choir itself.

The hero moves away from all he knows in St. Louis and buys the house next door to the heroine. He is ready to start a new life. The rest of the story will warm your heart and make you glad you read inspirationals.

If you read inspirational novels to feel good, as I do, then "The Heart's Song" will be music to your ears!

Highest Recommendation in the Warm & Wonderful Category!

"Kate's Philadelphia Frenzy" -- A Mystery Full of Youthful Enthusiasm!

Kate's Philadelphia Frenzy
by Janice Hanna
Published by Barbour Publishing
Genre: Suspense/Mystery/Thriller
ISBN #1602602719
Reading level: Ages 9-12

Looking 'Under The Hood'

I bought "Kate's Philadelphia Frenzy" because I wanted to look 'under the hood' of a Christian fiction book directed towards 9 to 12 year old readers. I also hoped to find a book series that would make suitable gifts for youngsters. (I believe in giving books as presents.) While I am not normally a reader of children's books, I do like to read the Newbery winners because they are so well written.

A Wonderful Gift I Wish All Young Girls Would Read!

"Kate's Philadelphia Frenzy" is very well written. It should make a welcome gift for young girls. I found the mystery interesting enough to capture my attention! Of course, there is a lot to like in "Kate's Philadelphia Frenzy"! The father is a Penn State robotics professor who is idolized by his daughter. He is also an ideal father role model who allows his daughter to help him create patentable inventions in their basement workshop. One invention, their 'secret' project, is designed to help people who are paralyzed. This is a very good book for a father to read to his daughter – if he could keep her from reading it first!

A Learning Experience!

I was impressed by how many different things the author accomplishes in "Kate's Philadelphia Frenzy". Reading the story provides many learning experiences. For example, there's new vocabulary, idiomatic expressions, Christian values, life skills, friendship maintenance, baseball rules, and much more.

The reader will also observe excellent parental role models as well as children who are also admirable role models. Christian values are demonstrated and not preached. And what I like best, very often it is another child who does the 'teaching'. This is just as it naturally happens in real life. For example, in the story, it is Sydney, the athletic girl, who explains the rules of baseball to Kate who knows nothing about the sport.

Lifelong Friendships

I also enjoyed how the lifelong friendships were shown developing between the Camp Club Girls. The story shows how to be a good friend.

Children Are Always at Center Stage

I was surprised by how the adults played such a small part in the narrative. The book reminded me a little of the Peanuts cartoon strip in which adults were almost never pictured. "Kate's Philadelphia Frenzy" is a story for kids about kids. The youngsters are always the central focus of what's happening. The girls even say their prayers without being told by adults and more importantly their prayer requests are directed at helping others and not themselves.

Youthful Enthusiasm -- Fully Captured

The writing exudes youthful enthusiasm. The youngsters play hard, run everywhere, giggle, and feel free to stop and take their enjoyment right in the middle of 'serious business' – like solving the story's mystery. It's so funny. If the kids are in the middle of solving a mystery when they get a chance to go to a party, they will go to the party. Of course they will! They're kids.

Experiencing Things for the First Time!

It was also fun watching the youngsters experiencing things for the first time. The author is very much in tune with what it's like to be an 11-year old. I used to go to Phillies' games as a youngster and I had to marvel at how Kate reacts to her first baseball game. After noticing how big the park is, (it was the biggest place she had ever been), she goes on to notice all the other kids her age who are at the game and what they are doing -- especially what they are eating. (Kate eats too much junk food!) Looking at other kids my age is just what I did at my first baseball game! "Kate's Philadelphia Frenzy" just might let you see things like a youngster again!

Rich Three-Dimensional Characterization

I was especially impressed by how each of the youthful characters was so fully developed and memorable. The author seems to have taken great effort to make each of the Camp Club Girls unique and instantly recognizable from book to book. This is probably more important in youth fiction but I would have never thought of it on my own.

Teaching About Baseball

In solving the mystery the lead character, Kate, learns all about baseball by going to Phillies games. Her fellow Camp Club Girl, Sydney, explains baseball rules. Sydney is athletic and big for her age. She also eats health food, runs for exercise, and plans to be in the Olympics. Having peer-to-peer explanations about what is happening at the ball game is a nice touch. It also keeps adult 'on-camera' time to a minimum. These spunky kids look first to each other to get things done.

A Believable Mystery

Tony Smith, is a star player for the Philadelphia Phillies. He is also the father of Andrew one of Kate's school friends. The mystery involves finding out who is spreading rumors, on the internet, that Tony Smith is dissatisfied and wants to be traded. This untruth is turning some fans against Tony. Kate takes on the mission and quickly enlists the help of the other Camp Club Girls. These girls became friends when they all went to the same camp years ago. They live all over the country. Because the CCG solved a mystery in the first book, they now consider themselves to be super-sleuths. Each book involves a new mystery and different location. The Camp Club Girl books seem to have everything a great series needs.

A Great Gift! I loved it!

I may be biased. I love baseball. I loved the Phillies. I enjoyed being eleven years old again, at least, vicariously! Reading "Kate's Philadelphia Frenzy" is fun. It's a five star production. It's also full of surprises and high-tech gadgets of every kind.

I got hooked on books in the fifth grade when my aunt bought me a subscription to a children's book club. The book selections were so good, I renewed the subscription year after year. I've read more books each year since then. It would be wonderful to start a youngster on a similiar trip!

The Camp Club Girls -- Good Reading that's Fun to Read!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Second Grand Slam Home Run in a Row!

Waiting out the Storm

Ruth Logan Herne
Publisher: Steeple Hill (July 1, 2010) 224 pages
ISBN-10: 0373876114
ISBN-13: 978-0373876112

The author’s first book, “Winter’s End”, was so good (see review ) I just couldn’t wait to read her second book. So the first thing I did Tuesday morning was download “Waiting Out the Storm”. This was the first opportunity the public had to get a copy. (The official release date to stores is July 1, 2010). I must admit, I was a little worried about the ‘Sophomore Jinx’ – since the author is a famous baseball fan -- and since I didn’t think it was possible to write a better book than “Winter’s End”. I kept thinking about poor Leoncavallo of whom the critics wrote: “What can you do after you’ve penned a Pagliacci?

The Verdict

“Waiting out the Storm” is the first book (over 200 pages long) that I can remember ever reading in one sitting. After careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that Ruth Logan Herne has written two books that it’s not possible to write a better book than. You might ask: “which of the two books is better?” Well, deciding that would be like seeing Derek Jeter hitting two grand slam home runs in the same game – one to right field and one to left field – and then trying to decide which one was better. Fans will be very happy with either one. Romance fans will love both books!

A Wicket Change-up!

Speaking of Derek Jeter, if the author were a major league pitcher, I’m sure she could strike out the Yankee shortstop with her wicket change-up. In fact, if I had to describe RLH’s ‘voice’, I’d say it’s romantically ornery. It’s almost as if she’s taken conventional romance writing wisdom and turned it on its head --just to annoy people who think they know what is going to happen next. There’s one part in the book, for example, where I am all psyched-up for a big conflict scene but there is no conflict. Then out of nowhere comes a big conflict scene. But that’s the least of it!

An Upside Down World

I believe on close inspection that “Waiting Out the Storm” playfully plays havoc with conventional romance writing wisdom. Just consider:

Conventional wisdom: the hero and heroine are supposed to have major character flaws in order to make them believable. No they don’t. Characters can be made believable by making them believable. It’s just harder to do this without a major character flaw. If Sarah Slocum, the heroine, has a character flaw it would be an excess of virtue. While she has been wronged by her family and by her community, she forgives and lives a worthy life helping others who are in need. Sarah is one of the most sympathetic and worthy heroines I’ve ever encountered in the romance genre. Sarah is also one of the most believable. How do you make a virtuous character believable? Put her in a realistic farm setting, show her wearing male work clothes, allow no make up, give her a ponytail with hair smelling of ‘Meadow Romance’ shampoo, and finish the picture off with barn boots covered in sheep dung. There is nothing unreal about Sarah Slocum.

The hero, Craig Macklin, is a farm veterinarian. He does not like sheep so he lets his partner take care of that side of their practice. He also doesn’t like the heroine’s family for good reason. He’s a worthy man who doesn’t have a major character flaw either. What flaws he has, he admits and works to correct.

Conventional wisdom: always be increasing conflict and tension as the story progresses or else the reader will lose interest. Except for a plot-driven, super-suspense novel, with nothing else going for it except the suspense, this ‘wisdom’ is not true. The way to keep a reader reading is to keep the story interesting with well written emotional events. “Waiting Out the Storm” has interesting emotional events coming one after the other -- from the most serious to the most joyous -- with many more emotional experiences coming in between. The way to have so many disparate emotional scenes is to make maximum use of secondary characters and to carefully plot each scene. In both “Waiting Out the Storm” and “Winter’s End”, the secondary characters fulfill this essential role.

Conventional wisdom: a romance needs a ‘black moment’ towards the end where all seems lost. This is OK but what happens when the hero won’t recognize the ‘black moment’? What if he is so smitten that he just assumes ‘the heroine doesn’t mean it’? Well then you get either no ‘black moment’ or forty pages of ‘black moments’ as the heroine tries to drive the hero away. I think this is just ornery to do to a reader but it sure makes for interesting reading.

Surprise, Dazzle & Delight!

What’s the difference between a four star book and a five star book? Both are very good stories but the five star book also surprises, dazzles and delights the reader. “Waiting Out the Storm” is full of surprises that will delight the reader – especially the end! But there's also a good share of dazzle (even hot-dogging?)

Unassisted Triple Play

“Waiting Out the Storm” is an inspirational novel. As such, I expected to read some bible quotes, in italic, which were apropos to the story line and were followed by book and verse citations. Not quite. The heroine raises sheep and is a shepherdess. The sheep at one point are in danger and the hero, a veterinarian, is rushing to the scene to render aid. (He feels guilt for the times he wrongfully snubbed the heroine in the past.)

“Feed my lambs.” The Lord’s admonition to Simon Peter came to him. “Take care of my sheep.”

Three times Christ instructed a reinstated Peter to guard the flock, feed the sheep. The meaning was clear, Peter, forgiven for his lapse of strength and faith as Christ was beaten and scourged, was now given the command to guide the infant Church.

“God, I’ve got to tend these sheep now. Minister to them. I need to use my skills to save the work of Sarah’s hands when I’d rather be with her. Keep watch on her, Father. Ease her pain, her suffering. Give her the gift of peaceful sleep; time for her body to heal. Take care of her.”

Gone were any notions that God might be too buys to handle a personal entreaty. Craig’s prayer was one-on-one, a direct line to Heaven.” (page 129)

Here we see a bible quote that is literally true, figuratively true and scripturally true. It’s like an unassisted triple play. If you are into writing at all you have to love this! The whole of “Waiting Out the Storm” is as rich in enjoyable writing gems as the soil is rich in nutrients in the North Country.

Waiting Out the Storm” is a Happy Book!

While “Winter’s End” was a three Kleenex box affair, “Waiting Out the Storm” is a happy story. It's like winning the big game! BTW: Sarah Slocum is my choice for heroine of the year! It is impossible not to love this heroine!

“Waiting Out the Storm” – Highest Recommendation!