Archive | July 2014

Wishes Do Come True!

 

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Well, I finally got my wish – a book I couldn’t put down. I stayed up till almost midnight reading Against the Tide by Elizabeth  Camden. To be blunt, I picked the book because of the cover. I know. I plunged into the shallowness of cover intrigue for a brief moment in time. The cover did not disappoint.

In Against the Tide, Camden has woven a story of two lost souls who, though they love each other, seem unable to find a way to be together.  Let me say up front, that while this is written as a “stand alone,” the character of Alexander Banebridge is actual the subject of her book The Lady of Bolton Hill. You might wish to read that book first, as it explains Banebridge’s character motivation and his transformation to a Christian faith. I did not read the first book and will now have to do so.

As for Against the Tide, Alex Banebridge is a man on a crusade to stamp out the opium trade. Not only does he manipulate and scheme at will, but he is not free to love. His life is dangerous, and anyone he cares about could be used as a pawn in his fight to bring down the opium trade.

As a side note, I confess I knew little about this time in our history, and I was intrigued and shocked at the availability of opium and its use in even cough syrups for children. This was not one of humanitty’s finer moments, to be sure.

Lydia Pallas is desperate for money to hang onto her home. Alex Banebridge’s offer to pay her for translation services seems like an answer to prayer, until her job with the Navy is jeopardized by her association with the man. When Alex forces her from his life, she has few options left, and her worst fears come true.

I really, truly, couldn’t put this book down. The plot is fast paced and the suspense enthralling. Having said that, however, I am only giving Against the Tide 4 out of 5 stars.

First, there were a few times I felt the author was “telling” me instead of “showing.” Granted, it is very difficult to keep up “showing” throughout a book. It’s one of the things I have to constantly fight in my own writing. However, I was jarred several times in the novel when I felt as if I was no longer in deep point of view but in the author’s narrative. Second, there were times I felt the romance was forced, which is probably a result of my analysis above and below. Both of those, however, would still have not kept me from giving a 5-star. They were small matters and did not take away from the overall intrigue and suspense.

I lowered my rating to 4-stars because of Lydia. She is a very intelligent woman. As a small child her only goal, even though she could not speak English, was to go to school. Because of her background, she can speak several different languages. She has a sharp memory and is a quick reader and fast learner as is evidenced when Alex gives her a crash course in antique books. However, she seems overly obsessive at times with being with Alex. She almost comes across as clingy. Given the nature of her backstory, though, and the fact that she makes her own choices and goals, this aspect could be overlooked. After all, Alex is a hard man who is able to compartmentalize his feelings even when it comes to Lydia. So when she later insists that she is brave enough to live in Alex’s world despite the danger, his enemies, and his almost constant travels, I just scratched my head and sighed. I actually thought “how could she be so daft?” No mention of the children that will result from “wedding and bedding” at this time period is ever mentioned, and Lydia is too intelligent a character to think that she can marry Alex, be in his world, and drag their children around behind him. In fact, neither Lydia nor Alex mentions the children that will result from their union or the danger those children would be in. Since Alex’s ability to lead a normal life hinges on the capture of one man, Professor Van Bracken, Lydia later insists they must find some way to bring the man down so that Alex can lead a normal life. Personally, this would have been enough to carry the story. Ignoring the natural consequence of a marital union was a huge flaw, in my opinion, to Lydia’s believability as a heroine.

Having said all that, though, this book is a must read. It’s the first book I’ve read in a long time that I have been unable to put down, and I actually found myself thinking of the characters several days after reading the novel.

And in the future, I will definitely be reading more of Elizabeth Camden.

 

 

 

My Kingdom for a Book!

Neuschwanstein CastleAlright. I admit it now. I’m having trouble finding books that I just can’t put down. The last one I read that gripped me to the point of choosing to read rather than write, work, or even breathe was Kirsten Heitzmann’s  The Breath of Dawn about a year ago. I’ve not read one since.

And A Shelter of Hope was not it either. Peterson is a prolific author, with over 50 titles to her name. Her books are full of Christian messages. The last series I read written by her, her Yukon Quest Series, was gripping. I couldn’t put it down, and I read through all three books in little more than a week.

In Tracie Peterson’s A Shelter of Hope, Simone Dumas’s childhood has been fraught with terror, murder, and emotional and physical abuse. In an ultimate act of betrayal, her father sells her, along with his property, to another man. In order to avoid the physical abuse which the man surely intends for Simone, for he intends her to be his “wife,” she hits him over the head with a pitcher and flees.

Convinced she has murdered the man, she steals his horse and gun and flees, leaving the remote mountain settlement she has called home for seventeen years. She takes a job as a Harvey girl working in one of the few respectable establishments in the late 1800s, the Harvey Restaurant chain that sprang up along the railroad. She finds friends and allies in both her boss, Rachel Taylor, and the man who hires the Harvey girls, Jeffrey O’Donnell. Eventually Simone, through her new faith in Christ and the love of her friends, learns to accept her past and to move toward trust, redemption, and ultimately love.

Simone is a heart-wrenching character. Peterson does a fabulous job with her character arc, from an abused child to an emotionally tormented young woman to a new Christian who has to lean on God to learn love and trust.  The suspense escalates from the second half of the book towards the end as lawman Zack Matthews, as well as her father, close in on her. Of course, Peterson’s writing style, as always, is easy to read, and the words flow off the page. There are some rather long dialogues about prayer and trusting God, more so than I remember from the other books I have read from her.

As oftentimes happens in some of Peterson’s work, though, she does little with her hero character arcs. Perhaps more is planned for Jeffrey O’Donnell in the second or third book of the series. In this book, his sole purpose for existing seemed to be to help the character reach her story goals. We are told he comes from wealthy stock, that his mother is overbearing and determined he marry well, and that his relationship with Simone would not be accepted by his family. Otherwise, he had no goal of his own. Granted, this story was Simone’s, but I would have liked to have seen more angst from Jeffrey and a life apart from Simone’s, perhaps even goals that clearly conflict with his desire to keep her safe. We do sense that he is breaking protocol and rules in his effort to help her, but there isn’t enough to make the reader fear he could lose everything he has in his choices to help and love her.  He too easily chooses to love her, and romance is never easy.

I also liked him at first and found him intriguing, but by the end of the novel, for some reason, I found him annoying and whiny. While I was rooting for Simone’s peace and her happy future, I couldn’t find myself wishing Jeffrey the same. He almost seems too desperate in his effort to love her near the end, and a desperate man is never attractive. At one point, I was even hoping she would convince him she couldn’t be with him ever, and she would move on to someone else, perhaps even the lawman Zach Matthews. I definitely wanted to hear more of his story.

And, alas, the romance just wasn’t there for me. But, I know when I read Peterson, I’m not going to get an “angst driven” romantic ride. That’s not the kind of books she writes, and it doesn’t detract from her as a writer and storyteller. She just doesn’t write gripping romance that shakes you to your gutt. That’s not her style. And that’s alright.

Fans of Peterson will not be disappointed in A Shelter of Hope, neither will readers who enjoy stories of heroines who battle terrible odds and come out sane on the other side.

For me, I’m still on that elusive quest to find a book I can’t put down.

 

(photo of Neuschwanstein Castle, courtesy of http://www.freeimages.com)

My Life with Books

“Nay, it’s not the Devil been leading her astray. It’s books! That girl has been nothing but trouble ever since she learned how to read.”
                                                                      ― Anya Seton, The Winthrop Woman500449_27133335

My life with books began before I ever entered school. And, like Elizabeth Winthrop, but to a lesser degree, they have caused me some trouble.

One of the earliest memories I have is sitting on my mother’s bed while she was reading to me. I remember parroting along with her. She finally turned to me and chided, “Are you going to let me read or do you want to read it yourself?”

I honestly don’t know if I had memorized what she was reading or if I was reading along with her. I do know, by the time I entered first grade, I was reading. In those days, the teacher would sit at her desk. The reading “groups” would sit at a table beside the teacher’s desk, and there was a desk between the teacher and the reading group. One student sat in it every day, and that student was rotated. I remember sitting there one afternoon, and it was my turn to read as the special reader, and Mrs. Hunt, very sweetly, said, “Donna, you are going to have to slow down, the other children can’t keep up with you.”

And so began my illustrious reading career. (And my annoyance at reading aloud in classrooms. This was not the first time I was told to slow down, or on the flip side, got in trouble for not going slow enough to “keep up” with whoever was reading.)

Around this time, my mother took me to the Sterling Library in Baytown. I remember standing there in amazement at all the books. I had no idea there were so many in the world. I had a limit of five to check out.

I promptly read them all in the car before we got home (which was only ten minutes away.) My mother was not happy. When this happened a few more times, she took me to the librarian and said she needed to find me some harder books.

337488_3386The woman looked at my mother, and then at me, and nearly laughed. I was always tiny for my age, so the librarian was certain my mother was just bragging unnecessarily about her daughter. My mother had me read for her.

The librarian decided I did need something harder. More trouble . . .

Then there was the time I was supposed to be getting ready to go to church. I remember sitting on the bed, one sock on, the other dangling in one hand with a book perched in the other. I couldn’t put the book down long enough to get the other sock on. My mother has always nurtured my love of books and reading, but she was annoyed that morning to say the least.

Finding books, of course, that were difficult enough for me at such a young age, but not above my maturity level, became a challenge. When I got to high school, I started reading Catherine Cookson, Victoria Holt, and Phyllis Whitney. Anyone who hasn’t read these old authors needs to pick up their books. They are rich in historical content, faulty, heroic characters, and mystery. I came to love books that were deep and to this day have an aversion to “fluffy” romance or fiction.

After I had read all the books by these authors, I had to find others. The prospect was daunting, but eventually I found Judith Pella, Kirsten Heitzmann, Catherine Palmer, and a few others. I will readily admit that I don’t like Sci-Fi (unless the characters are extremely compelling), erotica, or crime. That does limit me in my choices, but that’s the beauty of books. There are enough different kinds for all of us to find something that we like.

Fortunately, my reading experiences and the knowledge that has ensued has brought me more joy than pain, which could not be said of Elizabeth Winthrop. If you’ve never read Anya Seton, and you like sweeping historicals about real people, then The Winthrop Woman is a book you should pick up.

What about you? What were your first experiences with books, and who are some of you favorite authors?

I Found It!

(Originally published July 7, 2014)

You know you’re a book nerd, or a writing nerd, when the most exciting thing that happens over the Fourth of July weekend is finding the old path your characters would take from Richmond, Virginia to Bedford, Virginia.

But that’s what happened Saturday night, and boy did I do a happy dance.

My husband ran through the house worried something was terribly wrong. My children hovered around me, concerned that I had received some sort of bad news. I assured them that nothing was wrong, but all was right in my “writing” world.

Writing historical fiction is fraught with one especially nasty difficulty – how true do you stay to the historical record?

Some things are easy to find. The kind of food people ate. The clothes they wore.  Not only are there books about just any time period you are interested in, but these days a lot of what you need can be found on the web.

But then, some things, like old roads, can be more difficult. That’s where the trouble started.

I don’t wish to give too much away, but Annie and David, in Breaking Promises, must go from Richmond to Bedford. I know the new roads oftentimes followed the old, but I didn’t want to just assume this was so. I have looked for the past four months in various books, websites, etc. Finally, in a webpage for the history of Powhatan County, the words popped from the page. Colonials going that direction would have taken the Old Hunting Path. And, even better, it closely mirrors US 60.

Honestly, I thought I had struck gold.

I can’t wait for Labor Day! 

A Tale of Two Mothers

Originally published June 23, 2014

   The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world –

What the quote above fails to state is that the hand that rocks the cradle is one of constant self-sacrifice. Not only do mothers sacrifice their bodies to bring children into the world, but they lose THEIR time, THEIR interests, and have to broaden THEIR goals and THEIR world to include their children. A woman’s life is never the same once she has children, and for most of us our life is divided in half, our life before children and our life after children. 

It could be said that Keeping Secrets is a story of two mothers – Mary McKechnie and Abigail Cayle – both of whom sacrifice their lives in different ways for their families.

When the book opens, widow Mary McKechnie is in danger of losing her five daughters: Sarah, twins Annie and Katie, Rebecca, and Martha. Her deceased husband, in his will, gave Mary control of the property, but he named her older brother, Lawrence Langdon, as the girls’ guardian. Lawrence has insisted that Mary work only for members of the Society of Friends so the girls won’t be influenced by “outsiders.” If she works for outsiders, even disorderly walkers like Amon Cayle, he insists he will take the girls and place them into indentured servitude. Unable to get enough work, and after a series of disastrous events, Mary takes enormous risks  and violates her brother’s mandate in order to keep her girls with her.

Kitchen fires in colonial America weren’t surprising since almost all food was prepared in them and they were the only source of heat and warmth. Besides death in childbirth, fires were the next most common way for women to die. (Some historians argue more died in fires than in childbirth.) Abigail Cayle offers the last sacrifice of her life as the fire sweeps through the kitchen.  When the book opens, her husband and children are still dealing with her death, her sacrifice, and the aftermath of the fire that nearly took their eldest son David’s life as well. Abigail’s death is as influential in the lives of her family as her life, and it is through both her life and her death that Amon and David begin to heal and to forgive themselves.

The essence of motherhood hasn’t changed since the beginning of time. The act of creating a life for nine months in the womb, and the act of doing whatever necessary to preserve that life once it arrives is a natural imprint on a mother’s soul. Despite the passing of time, the call of motherhood is no different now than it was 250 years ago.

Mary McKechnie, having lost two boys before her girls came along, knows the precious blessing of life, and even though she is a working mother through circumstance, her girls come first. She’ll do anything to keep them together as a family. 

Abigail Cayle, too, knows the precious blessing of life, and her choice speaks to the highest sacrifice a mother can make. She’ll do anything to keep them alive.

I think a traditional woman’s role in the home is an exciting, awesome adventure.

I am apparently in the minority.

For some reason, authors don’t tap into the rich history of women. There’s a lot of conflict and turmoil in families no matter what time period you live in. While the modern world spins a tale that women in the past had no control, I believe this is simply just not the case. Women had a great deal of control over their own worlds, and likely had more control over their men than women do today.  I think we, as a world culture, despite the women’s liberation movement, have lost sight of the true role of women and the influence they have when they are who they are – women.

In Breaking Promises, the torch of womanhood is passed to Annie McKechnie. She must come to terms with her desire to be a career woman and her growing desire to be a wife and mother, a vocation she has fought against since childhood. Both paths are fraught with difficulties, and both have rewards and sacrifices. She will have to make a choice in the end.

 

 

But for Annie, it is a choice that could cost her everything. 

Sleeping Beauty I’m Not

(Originally published June 4, 2014)

Every now and then I come across a couple that are so sweet with each other, it makes my heart warm. Usually, but not always, they have been childhood sweethearts.
However, all the relationships I’ve ever had with men have been fraught with angst, turmoil, and just plain friction. It makes for some highs and lows, but rarely is the relationship showered with the ongoing tenderness I see in these sweet couples. Don’t get me wrong, there is tenderness. But there’s also an awful lot of conflict.
Maybe that’s why I don’t write books about “those” kinds of couples. It may be why I don’t find books about those sorts of relationships interesting either. There’s likely not enough of “me” in those kinds of stories. Honestly, they just don’t seem real.
Or, maybe I just enjoy the conflict in a relationship?  Hmmm.  I don’t think I’ll go there today.

One thing is for sure. Sleeping Beauty I’m not. My Prince Charming didn’t kiss me and wake me up so we could live happily ever after.
I just finished racing through Kim Vogel Sawyer’s  Waiting for Summer’s Return. First, let me say I have never read Sawyer before. Her website advertises “gentle stories of hope” and Waiting for Summer’s Return certainly delivered.
Bostonian Summer Steadham is stranded in a Mennonite town in Kansas after the deaths of her husband and four children of typhoid. In order to remain close to their graves, she takes a job as a tutor for widower Peter  Ollenberger’s ten year old son, Thomas . Peter is a sweet, admirable, hardworking man. He is infinitely patient with  Summer  which, in her grief stricken state, she needs. I liked him, but I sure wanted him to lose his temper at least once. He really was almost too good to be true. I really couldn’t find any fault in the man at all.
waitingAs a matter of fact, I couldn’t find fault with any of the characters besides the townspeople at the beginning who don’t like Summer because she is not a Mennonite. As a result, I didn’t find enough high energy conflict in the book to keep me interested in reading every word. I skipped over the substory of Summer’s conversion to the Mennonite faith as well as her ministering to her mother-in-law near the end of the book. I found it preachy and too slow for me to wade through reading. I kept waiting for an explosion between Summer, an obvious outsider, and the Mennonites, who were clearly displeased with her arrival in their community. After a few harsh words between Peter and church elders, one woman befriends Summer and the rest soon follow.
The one creeping fault in Summer’s character is her selfish and persistent decision to drag her husband and children from Boston to a life on the Kansas prairie over their wishes. I waited for the gut wrenching emotional turmoil that would set her towards the struggle of taming her selfish side. It never happened. She acknowledged it briefly, and that was the end of the matter. Even Peter’s son, ten year old Thomas, is too good to be true.
If you’re a fan of sweet romances and don’t mind long sections devoted to Christianity, then you’ll enjoy Sawyer’s portrayal of two people trying to move past their pain to find love. If you like grittier fiction, like Kirsten Heitzman and Judith Pella, or fiction with a Christian worldview without any overt plot about Christianity, then you’ll be disappointed.
As for those sweet older couples, I guess I won’t be one of them.
Hmmm!

Giveaways & Reviews

(Originally published May 28, 2014 on original website.)

Well, the Goodreads Giveaway for Keeping Secrets is over. There were 1100 entries by the time the contest ended. I have the names of the five winners and will be mailing them their books by the end of this week. Congratulations to all of them!

The book is now available (a day early) at Amazon in both paperback (Createspace) andKindle. You can also access direct links on this blog on the right side bar of my main blog, as well as on the Novels page of my website.

Indie authors like me rely on their ratings and reviews, so if you enjoy Keeping Secrets, please leave a review at Amazon and/or Goodreads. It can be the same review if you like. It’s not necessary to write two different ones. The more reviews an author receives, the higher their rating and the higher they climb in search engines. The higher the book is in search engines, the more exposure it receives.

I must admit, having a book finished that you really can’t do anything more with is a bit intimidating. (I can make small changes through Createspace and Kindle, but nothing major.) It was a little bit troublesome to set it aside and move onto the next one. However, I did start writing Breaking Promises in earnest yesterday. I am excited about what the future holds for David and Annie.  I hope those of you who have read or will read Keeping Secrets are anxious to find out what happens to them as well.

My goal is to make Breaking Promises even better than Keeping Secrets. Thanks to Robin Matheson’s classes through Romance Writers of America last January and February, I have a good start. I told her last year that if I got the second book published I would dedicate it to her, as she helped me through a particularly rough patch in my plotting. I will make good on my word by the end of the year, God willing!

Again, congratulations to the 5 winners of the giveaway, and blessings to you all!