Archive for February, 2010


February Blog Tour: ‘Beguiled’

   Posted by: Faith    in Tasty Tomes

Happy End-of-February! To warm you up on this snowy weekend, I have a review for book #3, the final book in our February Blog Tour, courtesy of the fine people over at Graf-Martin Communications Inc. and Baker/Revell books.

The final book is the one that I was least looking forward to reading, initially… and found myself both surprised and thrilled to find that not only did I love the book, but I might even go so far as to put in on my list of memorable reads for the year. Got your curiosity piqued? Here it is…

Beguiled: A Novel – Deenne Gist & J. Mark Bertrand

Synopsis (from promo materials):

In the shadows of Charleston, someone is watching her…

Rylee Monroe, a dogwalker in Charleston’s wealthiest neighborhood, never feared the streets at night. But now a thief is terrorizing the area and worse, someone seems to be targeting her.

Reporter Logan Woods is covering the break-ins with the hope of publishing them as a true-crime book. The more he digs, the more he realizes this beguiling dogwalker seems to be at the center of everything.

As danger draws ever closer, Logan must choose: Chase the girl, the story, or plunge into the shadows after the villain who threatens everything?

My Thoughts:

This romantic suspense has something over so many other romantic suspense novels out there these days: It benefits from both a man & a woman’s writing perspective, drawing on the strengths of both authors, and it shows. Gist is an established romance novelist, and Bertrand is a debut novelist with a crime-thriller background, which means that both the romance AND the thriller/suspense aspects of the book come across strong. Too often this genre offers up books that suffer in one of the two areas simply because of the limitations of the author, but this co-authorship in particular did exactly what it set out to do.

The main character, Rylee, is likable and quirky, and I was thrilled to see a protagonist with an unusual job… plus, I love animals, so I was able to connect with her passions in that area very quickly. I also found her to be very well-rounded as a character, with good elements and evident flaws that gave her a realism I haven’t seen in recent books (*cough*BellaRossi*cough*).

The love interest thankfully took a realistic amount of time to develop, and even then wasn’t a sure thing. The reactions & actions of the main character and love interest were also realistic for people who are interested in each other — rather than trying to hide behind a facade of “proper” Christianese, the characters are human, with human reactions and emotions. I greatly appreciated this, and I really wish more Christian authors remembered that just being a Christian doesn’t mean you won’t struggle with temptations, tough decision and troublesome emotions… and that you won’t always make the right choice, because regardless of what you believe, we’re all human.

Back to the plot… enough questions were raised and answered in the first half of the book to not frustrate a reader, while also keeping other answers hidden until the twist at the end. The tone & pacing of the book was exacted with definite skill, alternating between lighthearted fun and intense mystery without feeling contrived, and even the inclusion of Christian material (ie. the spiritual journey of the characters) felt natural and normal.

My only concern was that the person who turned out to be the ‘bad guy’ in the end was a bit too obvious early on. I don’t want to say much more in case you read it and my comments spoil things for you, but I was a bit disappointed in that regard. Mind you, the twist turned out to be a lot more complicated than I expected, so that sort of made up for it.

In Conclusion…

What can I say? The book surprised me, in a very good way. I sincerely hope that these authors team up together in the future, and I might even be open to reading more from each author individually.

Definitely recommended. :) You can read an excerpt here!

Available now from your favorite bookseller from Bethany House,

a division of Baker Publishing Group.


February Blog Tour: ‘Abigail’

   Posted by: Faith    in Tasty Tomes

It’s that time again! Today we have post #2 for the February Blog Tour, courtesy of the fine people over at Graf-Martin Communications Inc. and Baker/Revell books.

This month I have 3 books to share with you, all very different from each other: one book I thought I would enjoy and didn’t (see Tuesday’s post), one book I thought might be decent and was (that’s today!), and one book I initially wasn’t sure about but LOVED. Of course, we’re going to save  the best for last, so come back tomorrow for the third and final stop on the February Blog Tour.

Today we have historical fiction…

Abigail (Wives of King David, #2) – Jill Eileen Smith

Synopsis (from the promo materials):

What price must she pay for true love?

Her days marked by turmoil and faded dreams, Abigail has resigned herself to a life with a man she does not love. But when circumstances offer her a second chance at happiness with the handsome David, she takes a leap of faith to join his wandering tribe. Still, her struggles are far from over. How can she share his love with the other women he insists on marrying?

Abigail follows the bestselling Michal and continues Jill Eileen Smith’s rich story of David’s wives.

My Thoughts:

Once again, this was the second book in a series for which I hadn’t read the first book… but in this case, it didn’t really matter. You can read this one as a stand-alone because, quite simply, it’s Biblical Fiction. If you know the story of King David (or even if you don’t, really), the book can stand alone because it focuses on a different part of David’s life.

That said, I expected the book to be decent and readable, and it was. Smith is authoritative in her writing, and does an excellent job of capturing the spirit of this historical period. She has a lot of detail to work with (head on over to Ye Olde Bible and have a read of the original story!) and manages to convey both character and story in a way that’s true to the Scriptures but new enough to compel the reader to keep reading.

The unfortunate side of things for me is that I recently took several Seminary classes on the Old Testament/Pentateuch, so the material was too fresh in my mind to be able to really enjoy the book the way I think I might have, had I not been quite as familiar with the storyline. Mind you, even if you’re really familiar with the story of David and his wives, but enjoy historical fiction of this variety (“Biblical fiction” , in other words), Abigail would be a good choice. If you want, head out and grab Michal and start there, as I’m sure it’s just as compelling as this book (if not moreso… I was always more curious about Michal, so I’m interested in seeing how Smith approaches her story… yes, that means I’ll probably read it in the near future).

My primary complaint is that a significant amount of time was spent telling the story from David’s point of view. I know that it’s important to have multiple POVs if you’re writing in third person (another note: I would be very interested in seeing this tackled from Abigail’s first person perspective, but I suspect that can get tricky with Biblical fiction as people are nervous about diving into someone’s brain and adding thoughts when there isn’t clear Scriptural evidence for certain attitudes, etc.), but I found that having so much narrative from David’s POV cluttered up the story and weakened it at points.

Yes, there probably isn’t enough material to write just about Abigail, and yes, I know that David’s story isn’t complete without his side of things (after all, he’s the central figure in the original account) but the story is called Abigail in a series about the Wives of King David. I would have liked to see more about her daily routine, her interactions with other women, that sort of thing. Yes, I know David feels guilty, but why do we need to see him every second chapter? We know his story. We’ve read it in the Bible. What we want to see now is the women’s side of things! Isn’t that why you’d pick up a book with this kind of title?

I realize there are likely fears about diving too much into the speculative aspect of things, especially when dealing with historical characters, but I think we have more than enough information about this time period to be able to derive some kind of thesis as to how the women spent their days and probably how they felt about each other.

In Conclusion…

Abigail is a well written, highly readable book. I didn’t love it, but that was purely my own fault due to my closeness with the material — but I liked it, and recommend it to others. If you enjoy historical fiction, this is a good choice, and it’s the kind of thing you can pass on to a non-Christian friend very easily. I don’t think you have to be a Christian to enjoy this book (due to the time period & the author’s approach to the story) and I think it would make a great study group choice — the kind of thing you could use to complement a study of David’s story in the Scriptures. There’s lots to talk about and muse over… I just wish that we saw a bit more of the women’s side of things, in the end.

Interested? Here’s a little excerpt for you to try out and see if you might like it!

Available now from your favorite bookseller from Revell,

a division of Baker Publishing Group.


February Blog Tour: ‘Swinging on a Star’

   Posted by: Faith    in Tasty Tomes

It’s that time again! The February Blog Tour, courtesy of the fine people over at Graf-Martin Communications Inc. and Baker/Revell books.

This month there are 3 books to share with you, all very, very different. We have one book that I thought I would enjoy and didn’t, one book I thought might be decent and was, and one book I wasn’t really sure about and LOVED. Of course, we’re going to save the best for last, so come back later this week to see which one was my favorite (and might go on my list of memorable reads for the year!). :)

We’ll start things off with a contemporary romance…

Swinging on a Star (Weddings by Bella, Book 2) – Janice Thompson


Life is good for Bella Rossi: She’s managing her family’s wedding business and has a Renaissance wedding to plan for a client, her aunt is about to be featured on the Food Network, and her charming boyfriend D.J. is everything she’s dreamed of… what could go wrong? For one, the best man at the wedding is one of Hollywood’s biggest (and hottest) stars, and to avoid the paparazzi he has to stay at her family’s home. To make matters even more awkward, he seems to be showing an interest in Bella.

From a starstruck sister to a feuding aunt and uncle, Bella has a lot on her plate. Will the wedding simply end in disaster, or will Bella make it through in one piece?

My Thoughts:

I chose this book to review because the press release said it was a “hilarious romantic comedy” that will “appeal to fans of Kristin Billerbeck”. If you’ve been around this blog long enough, you know I’m absolutely a fan of Billerbeck’s writing, so this book sounded like something I’d definitely enjoy — lighthearted, fun, charming, romantic…

With all due apologies to the author, I have to admit, I found the book neither hilarious nor romantic. Since I haven’t read the first book, maybe I was missing out on some character background that I needed to really get into the story, but it felt as though the romance element got all used up in the first book, leaving nothing left for this one. Bella already had her boyfriend, case closed. He’s perfect, charming, lovable, and all around the perfect guy.

Well, when the “Hollywood hunk” appeared on scene (note: another problem I had with this book was dated language… for as young as Bella is supposed to be, she talked like a middle-aged woman sometimes… it was a little jarring, to say the least), the synopsis material made it sound like THIS was going to be where the conflict and romance kicked in. A celebrity taking interest in the main character! Temptation and seduction! (Er, in a “Christian fiction” kind of way, of course.) Here’s where things are going to blow up!

…but it’s kind of hard to relate to a main character who is so perfect that she feels guilty talking to another man. Are you kidding me? In one scene at a play, she’s talking to the Hollywood star and senses that her boyfriend is annoyed at her… for talking to a guest at her home? So, what, she’s never allowed to talk to another attractive man in her life? Not only that, but the implied romantic interest he has in Bella never actually materializes, beyond him smiling flirtatiously across the dinner table… that kind of thing.

I was very disappointed by this — I felt like this major plot point was set up and then abandoned, due to the overwhelming virtuousness of the main character. Her struggles (oh no, he smiled at me! I must be unfaithful!) felt contrived, like a real effort had to be made to have anything wrong with her (there wasn’t), and ultimately I couldn’t connect with the character at all. Bella Rossi isn’t an ‘everywoman’, rather she’s the kind of model Christian that makes other women feel bad about themselves and ultimately hate her for it. I’m not saying I hated Bella (I’m not THAT cruel), but I just couldn’t connect with her character and felt more annoyed with her than anything else.

Look, I’m married. I’m faithful to my husband, and he’s a jealous man (as husbands tend to be). But do I feel awful and horrible and start to think infidelity metaphors apply to me when I talk to another man that I find visually appealing? NO! There’s no reason to feel guilty. The issue would arise if I started thinking about another man, fantasizing about him or dwelling on thoughts of someone who isn’t my husband. Good grief. One five-second daydream and Bella reacts with an intensity as if she’s slept with the guy (okay, maybe not THAT bad). Talk about overreacting.

In Conclusion…

So the book wasn’t for me. That’s clear. But let me say this: Janice Thompson has written a lot of books in her career, which means that she has a lot of fans out there. She’s a recognized name in the Christian fiction community, and just because I didn’t like the book doesn’t mean that you won’t. I’m serious! I’ve recently read several reviews of this book on other book blog sites, and those readers enjoyed the story (though the issue of Bella’s perfection tends to come up in those reviews as well…).

BUT… and this is a big one… I’ve also read that Thompson’s development of Bella in the THIRD BOOK in the series is very different. This is from the author herself! Evidently Bella goes through a lot of tough places in book three, and is forced to evaluate herself and her relationships, and we’ll see a lot of growth from her as an individual. That’s a good sign, and I think it might actually entice me to read book three once it comes out.

Like I said, Thompson’s work is well known, so if you traditionally enjoy her books or other Christian contemporary fiction books, you’ll probably find something to enjoy here as well. Don’t let my qualms scare you off completely. :)

To help you make the choice for yourself, here’s a link (LINKY!) to a pdf excerpt from the book. Read it, and decide for yourself if this is something you’d like to read. It can be read without book one, but maybe going back to the first book would make a difference in how you perceive the characters in this one. It’s worth a shot!

Available now from your favorite bookseller from Revell,

a division of Baker Publishing Group.


Book Review: “The Gospel According to LOST”

   Posted by: Faith    in Rye Thoughts

Ultimately, this book offers just what the back cover copy suggests: examples of Biblical truths using observations taken from the television show LOST. On more than one occasion, Seay takes things a bit far, but he admits on a few occasions “this may seem far-fetched, but…” and I commend him for that.

But I suppose the main fault I see with the book is its simplicity. I’m not entirely sure who the target audience is for this book – Christians? Seekers? – because the simplistic presentation of the gospel will likely bore the believer, while being too watered-down for a seeker to truly get the point of Jesus’ message.

Seay methodically looks at each main character in the TV show, drawing examples from the episodes and relating their experiences to Scripture. The main point he tends to draw out is that we’re all broken people, especially the figures on LOST, but we’re not actually lost forever. Jesus’ truth can save us, in the same way that the island seems to be the redemptive point for many of the characters on the show.

This isn’t a book for someone who’s never seen the show. In fact, if you haven’t seen the show, I’m not sure why you’d bother with this book at all, since it already assumes a level of familiarity with the characters. I appreciate what Seay is trying to do, but without a clear target, I’m afraid that the reaction he’s aiming for falls badly off course… much like Oceanic 815.

At the very least, for a believer, it might provide a good starting point for discussions with friends of all backgrounds — and I suppose that’s something.

This book was provided for review by


5 Things to Do With a Shiny New Idea

   Posted by: Faith    in Creating Coldcuts

So you’re working on your latest project, just humming along… until suddenly, out of nowhere, lightning strikes.

It’s a SHINY NEW IDEA. And it’s the BEST IDEA EVER. But you have something you’re working on right now, and you need to get it done… but you don’t want this idea to disappear forever. I’d venture a guess that if it’s an idea you really love, it’ll stay with you even if you try to forget it, but if you don’t want to risk it but want to stay on track with your current project, what are you supposed to do?

First, find a blank piece or paper. Or a fresh page in your idea journal. Or a new, clean document in your Word processor. Grab a pen. And maybe a cookie (I find cookies definitely help with creativity).

Set a timer for 20-30 minutes — you don’t have a lot of time to spend on this, because you’re supposed to be working on your other project!

Now, bring that Shiny New Idea to the forefront of your brain, and start the timer.

5 Things to Write Down So That Shiny New Idea Sticks Around for Later

1. Where does this idea take place, and when?

You probably can envision something about the time or place of this new idea, so jot that down. A quick date or a location will work to bring it back to memory later. If you see something specific in your mind, like a lake or a road leading into a city, write that down. Don’t know what city it is? Then it’s not important right now, because it won’t help you recall the idea later. Write down what you see in your mind, and move on.

2. Who are your characters?

Maybe only one person came to mind. Write down who she is, what she looks like to you right now, and everything that matters about her at this very moment, according to your new idea. Don’t develop new things about her, all you want are the key points that will help you recall this particular figure. If several characters came to mind, write down what you know about them too.

Remember: You don’t want to build them right now, just write down what’s in your idea. You have another project that needs all your focus and attention, and getting caught up in new characters could take you away from the current ones. We’re using key points here.

3. What are the stakes?

This is your conflict. Your idea. The thing that makes the Shiny New Idea wonderful.

If you’re the kind of person who starts with a character and then develops a plot, no problem — here’s where you’d make a quick observation about a conflict that your character could get into. If your New Idea MC is a dragon-hunting feminist priestess from the Order of Voluminous Tomes, she might get into physical conflict (dragons), social conflict (feminism), or religious/political conflict (priestess). You probably have some sort of very basic inkling of conflict for your characters, even if you’re not 100% there yet. That’s okay. That’s why you’re just writing this down now, so you’ll be able to recall and develop things later.

If you’re the kind of person who starts with an idea and develops characters around it, this will be the easiest step for you. Write a very, very basic & bare-bones outline of the idea that came to you. Do it in point form, so you won’t be tempted to sit there and elaborate on things.

4. Pick a genre.

This is quick. Just jot it down, somewhere on your page. If you’re not certain of the genre, pick a few and write them down.

5. Walk away, and allow your brain to get back to the task at hand… your current project.

Once you’ve written the Shiny New Idea down, you should feel a sense of relief. You’ve purged the idea from your head, and your brain no longer has to hold all these details close to the front of your mind out of fear that you’ll forget something. You can focus on your current project without worry.

You’ll probably find that something amazing happens now. Even though you’ve written your S.N.I. down, your Muse still flits back to it now and again, without you even trying to think about it. Your brain takes the idea and lets it heat up — like a slow cooker — making it better and better without even trying. Connections will be made. Conflict details will arise. Characters will start whispering to you about their favorite sweater, or what they always wanted to be when they grew up, or who they have a serious thing for.

And you didn’t even have to try. Write these things down if you want to, as they come to you, but set a timer each time. Stay focused. You don’t want to be the person that flits from idea to idea and never finishes everything! Which, admittedly, I often struggle with as well. (What writer doesn’t, at some point? :) )

Now you’re free to come back to the Shiny New Idea when you’re ready for it. And, for that matter, when your current project’s characters tell you it’s alright!


HTRYN: Back on the Wagon

   Posted by: Faith    in Creating Coldcuts

Some of you may know, I signed up for Holly Lisle’s How To Revise Your Novel course back in November or December (can’t remember when it went live). I had every intention of revising my 2008 NaNo-Novel for the course, but when I started working on it, I just wasn’t feeling it. Needless to say, I fell behind in the course and felt pretty awful about it…

This week, with my new resolve to revise my 2007 NaNo-Novel, I’m happy to say I’m back on the revision wagon! Yesterday I managed to go through more pages in one sitting than I had in three with the other novel. Mind you, the first pass through for Lesson 1 of the course is essentially identifying problem areas, but my vision is much clearer with this novel than it was for the other one.

Yay for progress!

Have you ever found yourself stuck on a particular project, only to realize that it wasn’t the right thing for you to work on at the time?

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The Dread Pirate Synopsis!

   Posted by: Faith    in Creating Coldcuts

This month, I’m taking an online workshop with Camy Tang called ‘You Can Write a Synopsis!’. Now that I’ve decided to go ahead and edit my chick lit/women’s fiction manuscript, I thought it would be a good idea to start really getting serious about things like queries, synopses, and so forth, so when I saw this workshop pop up on the Black Diamond RWA chapter, I scrambled aboard at the last minute.

The first two lessons were tough — really tough — and I suspect I’ll be working on revising and changing what I submitted for quite awhile.

The first assignment was the one-line synopsis. This is what Holly Lisle calls ‘The Sentence’ (and you may have heard me talk about that before), but Camy’s instructions were a little bit different. Still, I did my best to rework the one-line summary of the story. It’s hard! It’s so difficult to put yourself on the outside of the story and pare it down to about 15-18 words.

The second part was the 5-sentence synopsis. While this wasn’t quite as difficult, it was still an enormous challenge to summarize the entire novel in just 5 sentences. You don’t have room for subplots, romantic interests (unless that’s the main point of the novel), or anything beyond the main things that set the character back from accomplishing her goal.

Wow. Talk about some serious big-picture work.

I struggled with this, and I’m really looking forward to hearing Camy’s feedback on the assignments I submitted. She’s going through everyone’s work and commenting, which has been incredibly useful — I’m enjoying reading the work of others and reading her comments, as it’s fantastic to see so many examples of the concept put into action.

Next up… the character summary paragraph. That’s tomorrow’s challenge!

How about you, have you accomplished or attempted the one-line synopsis? How about the 5-sentence elevator pitch? Do you enjoy this part of the process, or are synopses something you dread doing?

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   Posted by: Faith    in Rye Thoughts

There’s a great post over at MFA Confidential by Kate Monahan called “We all have bad writing days, but isn’t something better than nothing?” and I encourage you to head over there and read it.

It’s about finding time to write and dealing with perfectionism & procrastination. It’s a bit convicting (I found myself nodding like a bobble-head doll while reading it), but hopefully you’ll be encouraged by it as well.

Have a read… then come on back here and tell me your favorite way to procrastinate!


Fire & Ice

   Posted by: Faith    in Rye Thoughts

I’ve done it — I’ve entered my first “real” writing contest. I just sent in a submission to the Chicago-North RWA Fire & Ice contest, using the first 25 pages of the NaNoWriMo novel I wrote in 2007.

No, I don’t expect to win (though it would be nice), and I don’t even expect to final (though i can hope!), but I learned something important while editing like a maniac to enter this contest.

Not only did I learn a lot about self-editing (when you can only enter the first 25 pages, you want to make sure it counts), but I learned a lot about myself and my writing.

I learned that:

  • I should have edited this manuscript a long time ago
  • I really want to KEEP editing this manuscript
  • I still believe in this story and love it, unlike last year’s NaNo novel
  • There’s a reason that this novel was the easiest and most fun to write… even though it was the first one I’d ever written… and that is…
  • I think that Women’s Fiction (ie. chick lit) is actually “my” genre. WTH??? I know. I know.

…and that was the scariest part. You’d think that my paranormal or my MG fantasy would have been the easiest, most natural thing to write, because that’s what I read the most of. That’s what I love, and that’s what I’ll pick up time and time again. But neither of my 2008 or 2009 novels flowed right… neither of them had that ‘it’ factor, that spark that drew me back to the keyboard and the characters. For some reason, I had difficulty connecting with the characters, and the story was always missing something.

Not so with Jacqueline and her quest of self-discovery. I don’t know if that’s because it was the first novel I’d ever attempted, and therefore had fewer expectations of myself (or of how to write a novel), or if it’s because that’s the only one of the three that I think really has a piece of myself in it.

Either way, I’m wondering if maybe, just maybe, “chick lit” or as they’re calling it these days, “humorous women’s fiction” is what I’m supposed to be writing right now. I have a second manuscript in this genre on the go already, and pre-planned concepts for at least 2 other novels in the genre.

So, would it really be so bad if I edited this manuscript and made this the book that I query?

I used to be worried that if I did that, I’d be tied into this genre. That somehow it wasn’t “respectable” enough, or that I wouldn’t get taken seriously, or that it would kill any chances of ever writing fantasy in the future.

Well, you know what? It’s time to stop being afraid. It’s the book I love, and it’s the story I believe in. Why be ashamed? I wrote it, and that’s that. Lots of women love women’s fiction — heck, Jane Austen was the “chick lit” author of her day! — and there’s no shame in writing it if it helps women to escape into a good book with characters they can identify with. And so what if it eventually sells and I’m locked into a contract writing these kinds of books?

I enjoy writing them, and at the end of the day, isn’t that what counts? Not some false sense of “what’s respectable” or not. That’s selling myself and many authors I love short. Who am I to say it’s not good enough for me, even though I love their work? That’s prideful and a bad attitude.

So, from today forward, I’m going to stop selling myself short. I’m going to be proud of this manuscript, fix it up, and make the best darn effort I can at submitting it to the world at large. I would be honored and blessed to someday see my Chick Lit/Women’s fiction novel alongside the likes of Marta Acosta, Kristin Billerbeck, and Meg Cabot. I respect those women and they write damn good books with real characters, THE END.

I’m proud of my work, I’m proud of the genre, and it’s time I started showing it.

I’m going to write what I feel called to write, and stop thinking in terms of what I “should” do.

Sure, I’ll continue to devour fantasy novels for my reading pleasure, but I’m also going to write what’s fun for me, what’s enjoyable, and what comes naturally.

…but enough about me. How about you? Have you ever written something you thought was “your genre” only to discover that what you loved to write fell into another category? And if so, did you have a hard time accepting it, or was it an easy transition?