Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fall--A Review and a Contest!

Every so often a book comes along that you can't put down. Fall, by Jennifer Hurst, was that book for me. And what a blessed relief that this was the case! My week had been crazy-busy, crammed with my not-always-impressive efforts to help get the kiddos back into the groove of school and trying to coax all of us out of our summertime funk of no schedules and few responsibilities. We all were suffering from system shock--me worse than anyone. That's probably why I put off sticking my nose into this book until just a few days ago, even though I had a review coming up that had to be finished by the 15th. But because reading is my favorite thing, I couldn't put it at the top of my "do now" list.

No worries, I thought. I'll just cram through it--painfully difficult or not. To my great delight, no pain was involved, unless you count the discomfort I felt on many occasions when I had to put the derned thing down and go be productive. I guess the aforementioned kiddos like to eat at regular intervals. Go figure.

So here's the synopsis from Jennifer Hurst's website:

Women and construction shouldn’t mix. At least, that is what the client, Mr. Blackwell, thinks when Twenty-one year old Julia D. Halstead is promoted to project manager and tasked with remodeling a turn-of-the-century schoolhouse into a bed and breakfast in the tourist town of Torrey, Utah. However, the schoolhouse contains a dark secret that has been hidden for over a hundred years. A secret that will unleash the furies of Hell and cause the Angels in Heaven to weep as ethereal brothers, Matthew and Nathan battle over Julia’s very soul." Click here to read more.

It just so happens, construction is in MY blood too. My dad is a general contractor, his dad was a general contractor, three of my brothers are in the construction business, and yes, even my husband is a construction project manager/general contractor. I was destined to find a kindred spirit in the main character, Julia, or JD, as she insists on being called. And that's just what happened.

Hurst weaves a great tale of romance, suspense, and paranormal intrigue, intermingled with strong character development that keeps the reader emotionally invested in the outcome of the story. Just like any great romance, I found myself "falling in love" along with the heroine and feeling her pain when things don't turn out the way she had planned. I enjoyed the strong, quirky female lead. And the setting is rich and interesting and winds up taking a big part in the story.

There were some typos and grammatical errors in my ARC (advanced-reader copy), which I've been assured are fixed in the most recent copy. I didn't find them to detract from my overall enjoyment of the book, though. My only concern with the book centered on the fact that some of the premises were not as fleshed out as I would like to have seen. I often found myself questioning what exactly the rules were for her characters' paranormal abilities, as well as what rules governed their world. Much of this was left unexplained or barely touched upon. The premise is such an interesting one that I wanted to understand it all much better. In addition, JD's past is mentioned as significant, but we don't get sufficient details to piece it all together. Finally, the resolution ended abruptly and still left me with numerous questions. I think Hurst was leaving open the option for a sequel or a group of sequels, but some of the answers to crucial questions that help a reader feel satisfied at the end of a story were missing. If they are meant to be covered in future installments, an indication of that would be nice. If not, please throw us a few more morsels of delicious resolution.

In addition to my delight in having this book be such a page-turner (or a page-forward-button-pusher if you read it on your electronic reading device, as I did) I was struck with one of those other sensations we writers sometimes get when we come across a fabulous idea crafted into a captivating book. It's perhaps the best praise I can give anyone, and that is--I wish I'd written that. To purchase Jennifer's book, click here.

Best of luck to you Jennifer. And by the way . . . GREAT name!


The setting in Fall is one of the characters. I defy you to read it and not be struck with a longing to visit Torrey, Utah and the fabulous schoolhouse bed and breakfast, which is a real place. The fabulous news for you is that one lucky reader will get to do just that!

In conjunction with this blog tour, Jennifer is holding a contest. It will involve any of the blogs that Jennifer visits or where her book is featured and will close on December 31st, 2011. The entrants have to answer three questions about the book they’ve read (bought, borrowed, or stolen - shame on you) and post a link to Jennifer's website on their Twitter, Facebook, or blog (need link for verification).

Then the names will be entered in a random name picker generator ( and announced on Jennifer's website ( on January 31st, 2012. The winner will receive a gift certificate for a night’s stay at the actual bed and breakfast where the story takes place.

Other prizes include an autographed copy of FALL, and she will randomly select 3 contestants’ names to use in the sequel to FALL. Plus, they will receive a free copy of that book when it is published.

Each blog that Jennifer Hurst visits will have a different set of questions people can answer, and they may enter as many times as they want - but they can enter once per blog site that they visit. So the more sites you visit, the more you can enter your name, thus increasing your chances of winning the gift certificate, a copy of the book FALL, and your name in the sequel.
Get the book, read the book, and then read over the questions below. Once you have your answers, e-mail them to Jennifer.

Your privacy is respected and your email address will NOT be used for anything but the contest. Once the contest is over - your email address will be deleted from the database.
Here are the questions for you to answer:
What did Missy give to JD for Christmas?
Which marathon was Rick training for?
What is Mr. Blackwell's wife's name?

If you would like to visit the other sites, go here for the master list of all participating sites:
Best of luck, and thanks for participating!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Hooked on the Writing Craft

If you're even remotely interested in writing, you HAVE to read Hooked, by Les Edgerton.

There. Assignment issued. I won't even mind too much if you stop reading my post to go purchase it.

Of course if you're like me and need a little more INFORMATION before you depart with your hard-earned cash, then read on to discover my glowing review.

The book, itself, is short and squatty, but it makes the most of its small stature, cramming into its tiny frame plenty of meaty tips to infuse your writing with page-turning power. I recommend reading it with a highlighter in hand. The rebel in me (which is admittedly pretty starved for action) loves an excuse to color away on any book, and this one gave me plenty of practice drawing my straight yellow lines.

Some of my favorites:

"Summary doesn't convince anyone of anything."

"The single biggest fault of most writers is that they simply don't trust the reader's intelligence to 'get' what's going on without providing lengthy backstory."

"If stories are always about one thing and one thing only--trouble--then the story shouldn't really begin at any time other than when the trouble begins. The story simply doesn't exist before that point."

Edgerton uses his vast experience in the publishing, writing, and teaching industries to create a book that informs you like a textbook and charms you like a bestseller.

Plus, he gives examples of his favorite first liners.

Which begs the question--what is your favorite first line from a book?

Happy Reading.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Story Engineering: Mastering the Six Core Competencies of Successful Writing

First I have to say, this book changed my writing life.

That's a bold statement, I know, but I stand by it. Before I picked up this snapshot into the successful writing world, I was like a treading-water writer. In other words, I was quite apt at working extremely hard at GOING NOWHERE.

Having said that, I know this is not the particular problem of a lot of writers. Many are capable of sitting down and scribbling out a first draft, without hardly stopping for a breath. And some of those actually create something amazing without much need for touch up.

I, on the other hand, pluck along at the computer keys, trying to create, while the pushy editor in my head is shouting: "THIS IS NO GOOD!" "You call THAT writing?" "The only one who's going to want to read this is YOU." "And maybe your mom. Maybe." When my pushy editor is in a good mood she tones down her criticism, but her words are every bit as invasive. "Are you sure you want that word there?" "Isn't there a better way to say that?" "I know you've already rewritten this scene 153 1/2 times but I think you've got another one to fifty rewrites left in you." And the worst of all, "Do you really think you're good enough?"

This was my own form of writer's block.

The Six Core Competencies and Story Engineering really changed that for me. I've never experienced such a practical guide to polishing the craft and really working through all the issues, all the necessary characteristics of great writing. Brooks teaches you what to do to achieve "professional" levels in the core competencies. His most helpful advice for me dealt with structuring the story. After I finished his book, I applied the techniques and FINALLY pushed through my novel. I had tools for success.

A word of warning. Brooks loves his metaphors. A lot. And he spends too much time defending his position of story engineering verses "pantsing" or writing your story organically, with little to know consideration for outlining. I can understand why. He is probably constantly having to defend this position to experienced writers who do the same techniques he talks about but without consciously knowing it.

But if you can plow through his metaphors (some of which are marvelous) to the main parts, you'll undoubtedly find the jewels of advice that I did.

Happy Writing!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Book Review: Depth of Deceit

2010 Winner of the Silver Quill for second place in the Fiction category for the League of Utah Writers Publication Awards.

Blond and stunningly beautiful, fledgling attorney Stephanie Saunders vows to protect the innocent even though as indigent defense attorney her clients rarely are. Does that include Josh Durrant, who seems to be following her? Stephanie is dismayed when her peers begin calling her "Prom Queen" like boyfriend, Todd Saxton, often does. While desperately trying to prove her credibility in her profession, she overlooks a scheme to steal her innocence. Although she plans to forgive Todd for his ultimate betrayal, she is never given the chance. Her boss, Attorney Charles Connelly, offers support, but is Stephanie's welfare, or his own, top priority? The only thing that keeps Stephanie sane in her insane world are the hores she loves but does not own. The example of the abused mare, Riskie Business, helps Stephanie make the most difficult decision of her life. Relying on wit and courage, Stephanie must save herself and another during the final showdown where she proves a loyalty and strength of which she never knew herself capable.

Well, this blurb had me interested, I have to admit. I love a good romance thriller, and throw in a mix of law (which usually leads to crazy bad guys) and horses (which makes me all happy and nostalgic, even though I know nothing about them) and I figure I'm in for a good read. So when a friend of mine asked me to review this book for a fellow writer, Betty Briggs, I couldn't refuse. For my participation, I received a free copy of the book in question. Yes!

This book has many things going for it. It is a clean romance thriller with a heroine you want to root for and a love interest that's, well, loveable. Not to mention hunky. The premise is intriguing, and the danger the heroine faces keeps the pace moving along nicely. The majority of the book is a quick read, which makes it the perfect companion for a weekend getaway--the way I enjoyed it. I also loved the substory of Stephanie with the horses she loves. There was sadness and darkness in the story, too, which adds to the reader's desire to root for the heroine, yet Brigg's keeps it light enough that it doesn't cause despair. I also found many of the descriptions to be beautifully-written.

My biggest complaint about this story is with the character development of the heroine and other key players. It was difficult to comprehend some of the heroine's motivations and actions because we know so little about her beyond the fact that she is an orphan. A little more background information might have lent itself to helping the reader understand why Stephanie does what she does, or even why she seems so naive for a 21st-century woman. I also would have loved to have her figure out more of the mystery on her own insead of having most of it told to her by others. And a little more time interacting with (or combatting)the main villains, who have almost no "screen time," would have helped to show her strength. At times, I found the dialogue to be forced and unnatural, and sometimes the verbal sparring between Stephanie and her love interest missed the mark. Finally, the author failed to capture a strong finish when she allowed the resolution to drag on for several chapters after her gripping climax.

If you enjoy reading clean romance thrillers and a quick read with likeable characters, then this might just be the thing for you. To order Depth of Deceit, click here.

About the Author (from book cover): A retired legal secretary of thirty-three years and lifetime horse lover, Betty notes that some of her experiences sneak into her story lines, but not without embellishments. Already the author of four young adult books, she is excited to introduce Depth of Deceit, her first mainstream novel. She is the mother of two grown children adn grandmother to five. She lives in teh Rocky Mountains with her husband, Scott. Her three horses round out the family. Find out more about Betty and her books at

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Extreme Mothering: Tiger-Mom Verses Absent-Mom Verses the REAL Mom

A month ago I read the article in Time Magazine about the self-proclaimed Tiger Mom, Amy Chua, who berated, threatened, and strong-armed her children into "excellence"--her form of excellence anyway. Ms. Chua's in-your-face mothering leaves little wiggle room for her children to step a toe out of line as she molds them into the adults she wants them to be. (Read full article here.)

Contrast that with the article I read today about a woman who took the opposite extreme--divorced her husband and gave up custodial rights to her children when she had an "a-ha" moment and realized she no longer wanted to be a mother but would rather pursue her professional writing ambitions. She claims this new lack of 24/7 mothering gives her the opportunity to be the kind of mother she wants to be when her kids come to visit. You know the one--she meets her kids at the door with a plate of cookies to snack on before they sit down to her well-planned, perfectly wholesome dinner. This mother is fresh and energetic to help her children with any concerns or troubles they might have in the short time she has with them. (Read full article here.)

Well, yeah! Of course she's a better mom for those two or three days she gets them. But I have to wonder what her measure of a good mom is. She didn't have to stay up all night with the child who had a cough and fever the week before, so OF COURSE she feels fresh and eager to talk to him for five minutes about his day and then pat herself on the back and think with self-congratulation--"My, what a good mother I am now." She didn't spend hours helping one kid struggle through a science fair entry and another work on an essay for literature class, but she sure is one great mom for having a fresh plate of cookies for them when they come to visit.

Inserting finger into mouth and gagging now.

These two ladies get recognized because of their extreme forms of mothering. In short, their kind of stories sell. They cause a buzz. People talk. And then those people feel strong emotions one way or the other. And some question what they are doing. Should they adopt similar extreme attitudes?

But what about all those mothers who are out there quietly doing the back-breaking, time-chewing, self-forgetting job of REAL motherhood? Their stories aren't as juicy, as gossip-happy. The only thing extreme about them is their love for their children. They don't have fancy methods. In fact much of the time they wonder if they're really cut out for the job. They KNOW they don't hold all the answers. Maybe their children watch too much TV sometimes, or they don't learn to read before they enter kindergarten. Maybe their children have runny noses a few minutes too long before they get wiped. And sometimes dinner is a box of macaroni and cheese or "GASP" cold cereal. But these mothers find a few moments during the day to sit and read to their child. They let her make a mess in the kitchen when she wants to make pancakes on a Saturday morning, and then they praise her for her less-than-perfect results. They puzzle for hours over a new method to teach math so their 2nd grader won't fall behind in his studies. They clean a bathroom when they'd rather be reading a book. And they are making their chocolate-chip cookies with a six-month old on one hip and a two-year-old who can't wait to pour in the chips--and the whole group waiting eagerly to lick the bowl, spoon, and beaters.

And if necessary, these are the ones who modify or place on hold their own ambitions in order to help their children achieve their full potential. You might not read about their story at all, but they're out there, thank goodness.

These are the REAL mothers. And in my opinion they deserve the most attention of all.