I haven't had much time to read this year. It has been busier than usual with several projects, including my own writing. So, I haven't had many spare moments, and my reading has been a bit limited. But I had the chance to read A Night on Moon Hill by Tanya Parker Mills. This is women's literary fiction--not a genre of which I generally read a whole lot. However, I am so glad I did! This easily the best book I read all year. It is beautifully written and tells a moving story.
My one quibble was that the villain did sometimes seem a bit overdrawn to me. He was the one character that didn't ring totally true to me. However, the rest of the characters were brilliantly drawn--they became very real to me in a short time.
One thing that makes this book unique is that one of the main characters has Asberger's. I don't have a great deal of expertise with this condition, but my limited experience convinced me that Mills was right on with her portrayal. There is a reason for that as Tanya has a very personal connection with this unique syndrome and I'm glad that such a skilled writer was able to draw on such real experience to craft such a realistic portrait.
In addition to the characterizations being spot on, the prose is beautiful. This is a very powerful book by an extremely talented writer. I highly recommend it!
You can buy the book at Amazon here.
Tanya's website is here.
Backliner: Cathy sees things that are invisible to everyone else. Her new stepbrother's bizarre behavior. A ghostly little boy. An abandoned house in the woods. But she doesn't see how they're all connected. And what she doesn't see might just kill her.
I read a lot. I read for fun, I read when I'm editing people's manuscripts. I read and review books for other authors. So I'm not exactly new at this game. But I just read one of the most remarkable books I've read in a very long time. Does that sound hyperbolic? I assure you, it's not. Dispirited by Luisa Perkins is an eerie and elegant story of courage, sacrifice, and redemption. To me, that is the book's core or spirit. Its body or physical form is a ghost story with some truly harrowing moments as well as some romance.
Before I read Dispirited, Luisa warned me that it's a bit dark, and I should pass that on. This is Young Adult, not Middle Grade, fiction and there are some young adults and even adult adults for whom it might be too dark. There is no sex, although the villian views porn (although it's not described in detail). There is some violence. It's not gory or gratuitous, but it could disturb some readers. And it's just as creepy as can be. But I say that in a good way--scary in the sort of fun and satisfying way that a good ghost story can be.
There is a villain in this story and he is evil. Very evil and he does evil things, and tries to do more. There was one part where he nearly hurts an innocent character (but is thwarted) that I found disturbing and had to skim over. And there are other parts that were quite sad and poignant. More than once, this daddy had teary eyes. If you are sensitive, you should approach this with some care.
That being said, it's a book with rare potency and I enjoyed it.
One of the joys of this book is that it works on many levels. A creepy ghost story. A romance. An adventure. Luisa is a polymath who knows a lot about many things and she draws freely on her wide ranging knowledge in writing. References to fairy tales, Impressionist art, Jane Austen and French grammar flow effortlessly through the narrative.
I was intrigued by the moral universe of the story. Without ever being preachy or didactic, Luisa manages to deliver an effective meditation on the balance between body and soul, flesh and spirit. She aptly manages to point out exactly why things like drugs or porn can be bad for us. But this is not heavy-handed or obtrusive. She also deals well with important themes like courage, love, and redemption.
Most of all, Luisa is simply a wonderful writer. She writes in elegant, lyrical prose, full of rich descriptions and sensory images--sights and smells and sounds and textures that will seem real and vivid. Every page contains at least one real gem--sometimes more.
If you would like to visit Luisa, you may go to her blog.
If you would like order Dispirited, you may do so here.
Luisa's next project is a novelization of the web-based series, The Book of Jer3miah, which will be published in October by Shadow Mountain.
Luisa was kind enough to answer some of my questions (I edited a few things for length and clarity) about her work.
Braden: What were some of the experiences, people, places, beliefs, etc. that inspired you as you worked on this? I sensed that there was a very strong connection you had to the places in your story. It seemed more than something conjured up from your imagination.
Luisa: You have good instincts. Most of the places in the book are indeed based on real sites within a mile or so of our house. I live in the Hudson Highlands of New York, and they are breathtakingly beautiful and rich in history. The Native Americans, the Dutch, and then the English who lived here all had legends about this area. I see stories in every old stone wall, every crag, every ancient oak tree. I have many more stories I plan to set in Kashkawan (my fictionalization of the Hudson Highlands).
Braden: At least since Socrates and Plato, there has been disagreement about just how much evil and darkness an artist should show in order to portray an accurate depiction. How do you address this balance as a writer?
Luisa: There is opposition in all things, and fiction should reflect that. Brigham Young said, "It is your duty to study to know everything upon the face of the earth, in addition to reading [the scriptures]. We should not only study good, and its effects upon our race, but also evil, and its consequences." I think a safe and efficient way to study evil and its consequences is by writing and reading fiction. How do I draw the line? I always pray before and after I write.There's some pretty dark stuff in Dispirited, but I found it necessary to add urgency to my protagonist's quest. I don't think a story is compelling if there is no darkness in it. Real life is full of evil and its consequences. Stories can portray it honestly without being gratuitous or graphic. (The Bible is plenty gruesome. Have you ever read Genesis 19? Sheesh.)
Braden: The language is exquisite and every page contains a gem or more of description. What was your process? How long did you revise?
Luisa: You are very kind; thank you. I actually write very quickly--but sometimes a long time will go by between drafts. That was the case with this book. My process is both very visual and very emotional. I envision the scene I want to write, then I describe what I see and hear and feel. When I'm writing a romantic scene, I get a little twitterpated. When it's a suspenseful scene, my heart pounds and my breathing quickens. And when I write the sad parts, I cry and cry. It can be exhausting, but very fulfilling. When I revise, I look for balance. For example, if a scene needs more dread, sometimes I'll re-read a book that excels at evoking dread in me as a reader, and I'll dissect it: how much dialogue and blocking and exposition are in the scene, and how do they alternate? What kind of words are used? Then I'll go back to my own scene and try to imitate that balance.
Braden: You have a large family. Tell us about your writing journey and when and how you find time?
Luisa: I've been writing since I was very small. My first novel came out 18 years ago, when our oldest child was three months old. After that, I took some time to finish my Bachelor's Degree through BYU's Independent Study program. I graduated in 1999, when our third child was a few months old. Once I finished school, I planned to jump right back into fiction writing--but I ended up putting it on hold for about six years. I wrote song lyrics and essays during that break, but no long-form fiction. In the meantime, we had two more children. Finally, when our fifth was about two, I realized my life was never going to get LESS busy, and I started writing novels again. I'm so glad I did. I feel like I'm a better wife and mother when I am exercising my creativity. I have more in my "bucket" to give. Now we have six children, and the youngest is about to turn four. I write when the older kids are in school. My little one plays or reads or naps while I'm on the computer; she's very accommodating.
I'm really happy to be part of the blog tour for my Crater Lake: The Battle for Wizard Island by Steve Westover. (Read more about other stops on the blog tour here)
Steve is a talented author and great guy and we share a publisher, so I've enjoyed getting to know him better over the past year or so.
Crater Lake is his second book, his first for younger readers. This is a fantasy adventure for middle grade readers, my favorite genre.
Steve cleverly takes a Native American legend about the formation of Crater Lake--a real location with unique topography.
Crater Lake is fun and original. If you like this genre, you should definitely check this book out.
You can read more about the book here.
Check out Steve's website here.
I guess the highest praise I can give a book is when I finish it and think, "Darn! I wish I would have written that." Well, that's how I felt when I finished Time Gangsters by Berin Stephens. Berin has written an original, exciting adventure for middle grade readers.
The story is about two contemporary teens who stumble across some ancient Egyptian coins with amazing powers--including the power to travel back in time. Their travels, however, put them in conflict with a 1920s gangster boss who wants the coins, and their power, for himself.
The time travel element allows Stephens to bring in some great atmosphere, and the book is a lot of fun. As with the best books in this genre, the kids may draw on some unusual powers, but ultimately, they beat the bad guys with a combination of their own intelligence, bravery, loyalty and teamwork.
I read a fair amount of this genre and I felt that Time Gangsters has the themes we like and expect, but it felt unique to me--it was not just another version of Harry Potter or something like that.
I think the action and mystery will appeal to young readers--it is definitely boy-friendly, although I think girls will like it also--as well as older readers who enjoy middle grade literature. You can purchase the book on Amazon here and you can visit Berin's website here.
Buy this book! I think you'll really enjoy it.
In this final volume of her saga about the Pearson family, L.C. Lewis is at her best.
Deftly moving from continent to continent and character to character, she weaves a powerful story. The plotting is tight and compelling, and on several occasions, I had to read far long than the time I had allotted.
This book takes place during a fascinating time in American history. With the end of the War of 1812, a young country began having debates that would shape the future well into the next two centuries. Slavery and women's rights were two of those issues, as well as the changes--for good and bad--brought about by the Industrial Revolution. Lewis skillfully and credibly weaves her tail against this background.
The book works well as a story--stocked with believable characters who are fighting difficult battles. But it is also a powerful meditation on freedom and bondage, and the many ways in which we can lose freedom and become enslaved. Through the eyes of the characters, the reader comes to appreciate the blessings of liberty and more fully grasp the responsibilities that come to those who are free. Elegantly connecting the dots between our three great responsibilities, God, Family, and Country, Lewis leaves the reader with a visceral appreciation of those who have gone on before and a commitment to stand more firmly in the moment that is now ours.
LDS readers will be particularly intrigued by the way the story of a young man in Palmyra, New York fits into the larger contours of American history. Believing Mormons will see the hand of Providence in the founding and preserving of a nation. Those of other faiths will see a story about people who believe in God and freedom--there is nothing that makes the book accessible only to Mormons. Anyone who is interested in American history and religion might find this book to be interesting. At it's heart is a very compelling story told by a master storyteller.
You can read more about Lewis, this book, or others in the series here.
Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
( Note: Middle School Monday will be posted later today!)Today I'm reviewing Bloodborne by suspense-writer extraordinaire, Gregg Luke. This was a really enjoyable read. I love to be able to get lost in a good mystery/thriller, but don't like the sex and graphic gore that often come with books in that genre. Gregg's book had the things I ehjoy without the extraneous stuff I don't.
Before I get to my review, let me post the book trailer. This is one of the best I've ever seen.
The book begins with a strange attack on Dr. Erin Cross, a brilliant scientist. She survives the attack, but her life is quickly turned upside down as she realizes that she is at the center of a conspiracy. Erin has to run away from her predictable life and put herself entirely in the hands of Sean Flannery, a former Marine who can save her--if she can help him save him from the demons that haunt him from the past.
I enjoyed this book and Gregg did a great job with the pacing. It was fast and kept me engaged. He knows his craft and threw in plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. One particular plot twist completely surprised me, but I was impressed with how deftly Gregg had laid the foundation from the beginning. He had built a trail the whole time.
The characters were quite good as well. Often in a thriller, characterization gets fairly short shrift, but Gregg's characters all felt real to me. Some of them tragically so and I was surprised by how much I came to care about these people. Even the villains were dimensional and realistic.
The premise of Gregg's book is really creepy--mosquitos being loaded with a deadly virus! If you read it, just be warned: you will never be able to tolerate a mosquite bite again!
The villians were interesting and fairly unique I thought. It would have been easy to rely on having them be Middle-East terrorists or something, but Gregg was quite clever in designing them.
I did have one minor quibble. Erin's character was slightly problematic for me. I think it's my theatre background, but characterization is really important to me and I get a bit hyper-critical. She's super-smart, independent, a bit overweight and on the plain side--but also extremely attractive to men, in fact that attractiveness is important to the plot at two points. I have no problem with any one of these traits, since I'm on the plain, overweight team myself (although I'm not brilliant). However, putting them all together with being attractive didn't ring quite true to me. I understand the appeal of this combination of characteristics to some readers, but it held me back from totally believing her. This was not a big deal--just a tiny nit to pick.
That is avery minor quibbles, and actually, it's a compliment to Gregg's writing. Usually you just assume that thrillers might be a bit weak in the character/logic departments. As long as they are good stories, who cares? Gregg's thriller is a cut above, though, and his writing is so good that these minor things were the only hiccups I noticed.
And, as I said, these are pretty minor little quibbles. Bloodborne is a very enjoyable book. It's fast-paced, well-written and really, really creepy. I totally recommend it.
You can purchase this book at Deseret Book or on Amazon by clicking here.
*Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Heather B. Moore has written another book based on a famous story in The Book of Mormon (for more info on The Book of Mormon click the link). With seven novels and one non-fiction work based on The Book of Mormon, Heather is uniquely qualified for this project and I jumped at the chance to review her latest book (full disclosure: I was given a complimentary copy, although that didn't influence my opinion).
Ammon is the story of a rebellious prince, heir to a kingdom who fought against the church his father had helped organize. He and his brothers and friend organized themselves in opposition to the church and began actively working to tear it down and persecute the members. An angelic visit led to his conversion and sparked a missionary zeal that lasted for all his life (yes, there are echoes to the conversion of St. Paul in the Bible) turned him around.
Moore's book begins as the newly converted Ammon and his brothers leave each other to go preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a wild and ferocious people in a neighboring kingdom. The action of the story recounts Ammon's experiences.
Moore had a delicate task. She had to weave together the well-known episodes that every Mormon child knows. At the same time, the account doesn't give enough information for a complete narrative. Consequently, she had to use her imagination to fill in the gaps in a credible way. It seems to me that it would be much easier to either write about someone you create from scratch or about some historical figure where there are enough data to create a narrative. Moore's characters essentially give her the worst of both worlds--she can't let her imagination have completely free reign, but she has to do a lot of imagining.
This is a task she does deftly. Ammon is a well-imagined, well-crafted book. She managed to keep the tension up with some plot twists that grabbed my attention. Even more admirably, she created a hero who is virtuous and good without being one-dimensional or shallow. I found the character Ammon likeable and well-fleshed out, and I believed him as a human. Moore also did an excellent job creating a believable milieu for her book. She has clearly done a great deal of research on Meso-America and was able to include enough historical, cultural, and geographical details to provide texture to the story without becoming pedantic.
Ammon is an enjoyable read by a skillful author who knows her craft. I look forward to reading more of Heather's work.
Watch the book trailer here.
Several months ago, I read Torn Apart by Diony George. I had intended to post a review much sooner, but this was right when things got so busy with my last show.
Torn Apart is absolutely chilling. It is based on the true story of the author's first marriage. Her husband was a pornography addict and this book tells the heartbreaking story of how that addiction ultimately destroyed the marriage.
I was very quickly drawn in and found myself deeply involved in the tragedy that was unfolding--and although I guessed where the story was going based on the title, it was still suspenseful.
I was particularly impressed with two things. Diony writes about the husband character in an honest, but non-judgmental way. He is a tragic figure who makes choices that bring a lot of heartache. But he was not a cardboard villain. I admired her balance and even kindness in writing about him.
I was also impressed by the fact that the book did not leave me depressed, even though it's dealing with a very serious and seriously difficult problem. In fact, it actually ended happily, which was nice.
As a society, we have not come to a consensus about pornography and whether it's harmless fun or dangerous. Stories like this provide some important ballast to our cultural trajectory and give food for thought.
I think reading Diony's book is helpful in terms of realizing just how badly pornography can damage people's lives--including those who are not actually involved. For that reason, I think everyone ought to read and think about her book. At the same time, just be aware when picking this book up that it does deal with some very sensitive issues, and although they are handled delicately, this is not a light read.
I just finished Miss Delacourt Has Her Day by Heidi Ashworth. I should acknowledge at the outset that Heidi is a friend of mine, and she reviewed my book last year for me, and I received an ARC for the purposes of review. I hope it goes without saying, however, that I still wouldn't review or praise a book unless I sincerely enjoyed it. My theatre gig has taught me to always try to be polite and nice, but to never be dishonest in giving feedback.
With that out of the way, I loved this book. I don't know that romance will ever be my favorite genre--the thing I read for fun when I have nothing else to do. But I really enjoyed this book!
To begin with, I should note that this is a Regency romance, and I admired Heidi's research. The world she created felt real and dimensional to me, and she balanced description with moving the plot along in an admirable way. That is difficult to do.
The book was funny. I laughed out loud in several places--something I love doing but that very rarely happens. Heidi's very dry humor sparkles through.
I also enjoyed the plot. It was clever and inventive. Because I don't read a lot of romance, Regency or otherwise, I am not an expert. But my guess is that this plot was far more developed than is typical in the genre, and I'd say that about the characters as well.
Heidi was able to show development in each of her main characters and they had grown and changed by the end of the story. I was especially intrigued by the way the three main characters all were completely different in action and demeanor than they were in the last book--but it was completely credible, because these changes were grounded in the plot.
Miss Delacourt Has Her Day is the sequel, of course to Miss Delacourt Speaks Her Mind. I enjoyed Miss D I, but I think Miss D II is even better . I'd also note that you can enjoy Miss DII on it's own, but having read Miss DI will help deepen your enjoyment.
One of the things I loved about this book was that the characters were chaste and appropriate, but madly in love. There is nothing in this book to embarrass a reader, but Sir Anthony and Miss Delacourt were clearly passionately in love with each other. Their physical attraction was a part of a larger whole, but it was certainly there, and I'm all for celebrating this beautiful aspect of the marital relationship in appropriate ways. I think it's important for LDS artists and writers to provide an alternative to the salacious tide our culture is swimming in, and Heidi has done a good job with this--blending excitement and passion with propriety.
This is a fun, bright book--and it's also a quick read. I highly recommend it, even if you are not a fan of romances. If you have ever been in love, like dry humor, have enjoyed a Jane Austen movie, or have felt like a social underdog, this book is for you.
P.S. Heidi is sponsoring a wonderful giveaway in connection to the release of this book. Go here for more details.
I'll be honest. I was not entirely sure what to expect when I was asked to read Bumpy Landings by Donald Carey and provide an endorsement. It is a romantic coming-of-age novel and I'm just not all that into romances. However, Don's a member of my critique group, and people were so helpful to me when I needed endorsements--so I decided to give it a shot. But I was a bit apprehensive. I say that to frame my glowing response. I loved this book! I truly did. It's actually less a romance than a coming-of-age story with some romantic elements.
I actually really don't care what genre a book is. I want to like the characters and be compelled by the plot. Bumpy Landings drew me in with both.
Don crafted a really good novel here! He has a deft hand and I particularly loved the way he elevated the ordinary ups and downs of life int a richly-textured, surprisingly suspenseful novel.
It's about a young returned missionary, struggling to reintegrate himself back into the real world. Trying to go to school as he deals with his dysfunctional family, long-suppressed dreams, and growing romantic attachments.
It's set in and around the campus of BYU-Hawaii, and the location informs and imbues the story. I found this mental trip to Hawaii a wonderful break from the cold weather we've been having.
The characters in this story happen to be Mormons, but there is nothing inherently (or oddly) Mormon about the book. I think this book could be enjoyed by anyone.
I recommend Don's book! I did receive an advance copy, but that didn't effect my review in any way. In fact, I warned Don that I'd only endorse it if I really liked it!
Bumpy Landings is available through Amazon--any bookstore ought to be able to order it, though. You might also stop by Don's website to see the really clever book trailers he did.
Great job, Don! Congrats on your debut novel and I look forward to reading more.
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