Thursday, July 30, 2020

Discussing Diversity in YA Fiction

Author Jenna Terese has a wonderful article up on her blog today that explores the issue of presenting diverse characters in young adult fiction, especially in Christian YA fiction.  She asked for book recommendations and overall opinions and thoughts from writers and readers alike, and compiled those in this post, along with her own thoughts.  Please do yourself a favor and go read it here.  (And I'm not just saying that because I contributed some of my opinions.)

Jenna is a Christian YA author, like me, and I've been following her Instagram and her blog for a while now because she has such wonderful enthusiasm for stories, as well as great insights into the writing process.

When I started writing my Once Upon a Western series, I committed myself to including characters from many different racial and ethnic backgrounds because the Old West was a remarkably diverse place, but our fiction and movies often don't reflect that.  So this is a topic I have thought a lot about, both as a reader and a writer, and also as a mom who's raising three young Christians.  I'm grateful to Terese for exploring this topic in such a thoughtful way!

Friday, July 24, 2020

Live Chat on July 28 -- Ask Me Anything!

On July 28 (Release Day for One Bad Apple) I'm going to do a live video chat on Instagram!  It'll start at 3pm (EST) and run for... thirty minutes or more?  It'll run for however long it takes me to answer YOUR questions!

Basically, this is an ask-me-anything kind of deal.  You can ask me questions in the comments on this post OR in the stories in my Instagram account, and I will answer them LIVE, on camera, on that day.  

Questions about what?  Basically anything.  Within reason, of course ;-)  But if you've got questions about my books, my writing habits, books I like, movies and TV shows I like, my other hobbies, my insane collection of fandom-based mugs -- whatever's on your mind, ask it!

By the way, One Bad Apple is now available for ordering on Amazon!  If you order the paperback TODAY, you just might get it by release day!  And if you order the Kindle version, it'll automatically be added to your reading device on the 28th.  I'm working on adding it to Barnes & Noble for Nook, too.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

"Of Literature and Lattes" by Katherine Reay

I was a little worried when I started this book because I've been seeing some reviews from people who did not like it as much as Katherine Reay's last book, The Printed Letter Bookshop.  In fact, some of them liked it considerably less.  You know what I learned from this?  I learned I need to quit reading reviews before I read books by authors I already love.

Of Literature and Lattes takes place in Winsome, the same fictional Illinois town as Printed Letter.  And the main characters from that previous book do show up in this one, but only one of them is a major part of the story.

Alyssa Harrison's life falls completely apart one day, when the FBI shut down her employer and launch an investigation into its practices.  Broke and friendless, she moves home to Winsome, hoping to stay with her dad while she tries to figure out what to do next.  But he insists she needs to stay with her mom, Janet, who works at the Printed Letter Bookshop.

To say Alyssa and Janet rub each other the wrong way is a gross understatement.  Their mother-daughter relationship is in shambles, and neither of them is sure it can ever be salvaged.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Mitchell moves to Winsome to be close to the little daughter who's growing up without him.  He buys the local coffee shop, renovates it, and then can't figure out why his business starts failing the very first day it's reopened.  

Jeremy and Alyssa both learn to appreciate the difference between change for the sake of change, and changing and growing into something better.  They also experience the grace of being given second, third, even fourth chances by the people around them, including those they've hurt the most.  I am not sure if I loved this book more than The Printed Letter Bookshop, but I can safely say that it ties with it for my favorite Reay work.  

(Mine from my Instagram.  Mug is from Crabapple Books & More.)

Particularly Good Bits:  

...dwelling on the unknown, the past, and all the questions she couldn't answer would get her nowhere.  But it was hard too because -- as Lexi said -- she was often too deep in her own head (p. 101).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for discussion of an unwed pregnancy and some potentially distressing discussions of Alzheimer's and other diseases.  No bad language, no smut, no violence.

This is my 27th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020.

Monday, July 20, 2020

"Macario's Scepter" by M. J. McGriff

Y'all know that fantasy is not one of my go-to genres.  A fantasy book has to have something going on in it besides "it's fantasy" for me to want to read it.  Is it by an author I already admire?  Is it a retelling of a story I'm familiar with?  Is it crossed with another genre that does automatically draw me, like detective stories or westerns?  Or does it have some random thing I can't resist?  Like, you know, cowboys or vampires or pirates?

Yup, pirates.  Man, I love pirates.  I really don't read enough pirate books, but I'm starting to fix that.  I used to love to read true histories of pirates when I was a kid, the more blood-curdling, the better (well, as blood-curdling as a nonfiction pirate biography aimed at an 8-yr-old is going to get, anyway).  And I adore pirate movies.  I even hosted a pirate movie blogathon a few years ago.

Anyway, about Macario's Scepter.  I have mixed feelings about this book.  I very much enjoyed the piratical parts, and the pirate captain, Baz Blackwater, was very cool.  But he wasn't really around that much, and he didn't get very well developed until really close to the end, I didn't think.  In the last 40 pages or so, all of a sudden he got lots of character development and lots more page time, and that was definitely my favorite part of the book.

Most of this book focused on twin sisters Samara and Seraphina -- one of them discovers she's a Chosen One who can do magic, and the other is a kind of priestess/devotee of the made-up magical religion that infuses the titular scepter with power.  Samara used to be in love with the pirate captain, Baz, and they spent a lot of time in this book thinking about how sexy the other person was and how beautiful their muscles or shapely legs or other body parts are. And they spent a lot of time thinking it's too bad they couldn't kiss each other anymore.  None of which is my jam, but I'm sure many people like that style of romance, so you know... that's just a personal preference thing.

The story was pretty engaging, with the Chosen One having to defeat sea monsters and stuff.  The action scenes were pretty good, though the descriptions of the exotic islands and various sunny locales was better.  The book as a whole could use a better proof reader, though.

The one thing I really disliked in this book was that one of the main antagonists was named Priest Christian.  For a book that has zero reference to Christianity in it and seems to take place in a made-up world, having a bad guy blatantly named "Priest Christian" felt like a deliberate slap in my face.  I'm so tired of bad guys being named Christian or Christy or Christopher -- it's not even subtle, folks.  You want to declare you think Christians are bad, well, it's a free country, but maybe be clever about it?  I'm not saying that M. J. McGriff did this on purpose, because maybe she didn't, but it sure felt purposeful, and I was offended.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for some violence, a LOT of bad language, discussions of prostitution and sexual relationships, and the aforementioned ogling.  There weren't any love scenes, only a few kisses and the mental longing for more.  There's also a lot of magic, but it's clearly pretend magic and didn't bother me.

This is my 26th book read for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Cover Reveal for Elisabeth Grace Foley's "Land of Hills and Valleys"

Elisabeth Grace Foley has a new western coming out later this year!  And today, I'm happy to help her unveil the cover for Land of Hills and Valleys

You know I've enjoyed a lot of her westerns.  I've reviewed many here over the years, including Corral Nocturne and A Sidekick's Tale (my favorites!).

What's her new book about?  Let's find out from the official blurb:

Her inheritance came with an unsolved mystery. If she can’t find out the truth, she may lose more than she gained. 
Lena Campbell never knew her grandfather—but she always dreamed of visiting Wyoming, where her mother was born and raised. When she receives word that her grandfather is dead and his Wyoming ranch belongs to her, she jumps at the chance.
Only later does she learn that Garth McKay was murdered, and the murder is still unsolved. 
Despite this shadow hanging over her, Lena thrives in her new life—and unexpectedly finds love there. And then a new revelation breaks the McKay murder case wide open again and leaves her reeling. 
Caught in a battle to prove the innocence of the man she loves, Lena begins to have frightening doubts. Whatever verdict the jury returns, will she ever know the truth about Garth McKay’s death—and does she even want to?

Sounds pretty thrilling, huh?  And now, time to reveal the cover!

Hits you right between the eyes!

You can add Land of Hills and Valleys to your to-read shelf on Goodreads right here.  

Congratulations on the gorgeous cover, Elisabeth Foley!  I'm looking forward to reading your latest :-)

Friday, July 17, 2020

"The Malleville Conspiracy" by H. L. Roethle

This was a fast-paced spy story, quite a change of pace from the classics and hard-boiled mysteries I've been reading a lot of lately.  It's H. L. Roethle's debut novel, and a nice first effort.  Imagine a teen joining the Mission: Impossible gang, but also imagine they're all Christians.  And very nerdy, prone to referencing every imaginable nerdy fandom at some point.  And also baroque music.

Its premise is fun, if a credulity-stretcher: an 18-yr-old gets to join a secret spy organization because his uncle is the head of it.  He then gets into various scrapes, helps out a bit here and there, and the adults wisely leave him home when it comes time for the big finale.  That last was sensible and realistic, though I did come away feeling a bit like, if I was going to suspend my disbelief for the rest of the book anyway, they might as well have full-on let him do the dangerous stuff too.

I definitely enjoyed the interaction between the characters, and I thought the action scenes read very smoothly.  I have some issues with some of the theology presented, as so often happens when I read Christian fiction, which is part of why I often shy away from it.  However, that didn't detract enough to change my enjoyment level, so it wasn't a huge issue.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for violence and scenes of peril.

This is my 25th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

"The Little Sister" by Raymond Chandler

I think this is my least-favorite book by Raymond Chandler.  Don't get me wrong -- I still love Chandler's writing.  Deeply love how he writes.  But... I don't like anybody in this book except Philip Marlowe.  Everyone else is just as rotten as can be.  So, while I still love Marlowe and I still love the writing, it's my least-favorite book by my favorite author.

So, Philip Marlowe takes a job finding the missing brother of a sweet young girl fresh off the train.  She offers him twenty dollars and naive face full of worry, and Marlowe is just kind enough to take the job.  Kind enough and bored enough.

The deeper he digs, the weirder things get.  People die.  Quite a few people.  Marlowe himself gets drugged, threatened, and hauled down to the police station for questioning.  And gets propositioned by several different women because of course he does.

However, Chandler's words worked their magic and got me through the final stages of revising my own book and polishing up the prose, so yay!

Particularly Good Bits:

He held his hand out.  I shook hands with him, but not as if I had been longing for the moment to arrive (p. 28).

California, the department-store state. The most of everything and the best of nothing (p. 80).

"The fear of today," he said, "always overrides the fear of tomorrow.  It's a basic fact of the dramatic emotions that the part is greater than the whole.  If you see a glamour star on the screen in a position of great danger, you fear for her with one part of your mind, the emotional part. Notwithstanding that your reasoning mind knows that she is the star of the picture and nothing very bad is going to happen to her.  If suspense and menace didn't defeat reason, there would be very little drama" (p. 115).

I won't say the pieces were beginning to fall into place, but at least they were getting to look like parts of the same puzzle.  Which is all I ever get or ask (p. 136-37).

     "The citizen is the law.  In this country we haven't got around to understanding that.  We think of the law as an enemy.  We're a nation of cop-haters."
     "It'll take a lot to change that," I said.  "On both sides."
     He leaned forward and pressed the buzzer.  "Yes," he said quietly.  "It will.  But somebody has to make a beginning" (p. 227).

(Mine from my Instagram account)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:   R.  Lots about drugs in this one, some bad language, and a lot of non-explicit dialog that's so heavy on the innuendo, it almost drips sex.  Did I mention this is my least-favorite?

Sunday, July 5, 2020

"Persuasion" by Jane Austen (yet again)

Yup, still my favorite Jane Austen book.  I can't believe the last time I read this was in 2015!  Silly me.

Characters are always what draw me to a story -- if I love the characters, I will love the book.  If I don't engage with the characters, no matter how much I like the author's writing, I won't actually love the story.  So the reason that this is my favorite Austen book is because Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth are my favorite Austen heroine and hero.  And together make my favorite Austen couple.  That's just how it is.

Of course, Austen's writing also delights me. She's so smart without being pompous, polished without being glib, and sincere without being sappy.  I love how deeply we get to know and understand her characters -- many of them, not just the main character.  And I love the way her books bring home to me the fact that no matter how much the externals of society change, people are the same inside, century after century.

Quick description of what the book is about, in case you don't know already:  Miss Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth were engaged eight years ago, but she broke off their engagement because her surrogate mother believed the marriage would be unwise and imprudent.  Neither of them have ever fallen in love again.  Now Wentworth is back on sea, important and wealthy and ready to settle down, but still harboring bitter disappointment over Anne's ending things with him.  Anne is unappreciated by her own family and has lost her girlhood beauty, but has grown into a patient, wise woman who has learned to understand herself and those around her.

I read this as part of a buddy read on Bookstagram, and that was so much fun!  I really love discussing books with other book lovers.

(Mine from Bookstagram)

Particularly Good Bits:

"There is hardly any personal defect," replied Anne, "which an agreeable manner might not gradually reconcile one to" (p. 31).

A submissive spirit might be patient, a strong understanding would supply resolution, but here was something more; here was that elasticity of mind, that disposition to be comforted, that power of turning readily from evil to good, and of finding employment which carried her out of herself, which was from Nature alone (p. 138).

Her spring of felicity was in the glow of her spirits, as her friend Anne's was in the warmth of her heart (p. 227).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  Nothing objectionable here.

Like I said, it's my favorite Jane Austen novel.  I have many copies...

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Signing Up for the "One Bad Apple" Virtual Book Tour

I will be going on a virtual book tour to celebrate the release of One Bad Apple at the end of July!  This tour will run from Monday, July 27 through Friday, August 7.

Just like the tour I did for Dancing and Doughnuts, this will be very flexible.  Would you like to interview me on your blog?  Host a video chat on your Instagram or YouTube channel?  Post a book review on your blog or Instagram?  Contribute some totally different thing I haven't imagined?  I am open to ideas!

You can sign up using this Google form, and I will contact you via the email address you provide to that form to discuss dates and so on.

If you are already signed up to receive an advance copy of One Bad Apple, know that you'll be getting that in a couple of days.  Your review of that would be a perfect way to participate in the book tour!

All book tour participants will be eligible for extra entries into the giveaway I'll be hosting starting on release day, July 28.  Just my way of thanking you!

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

"Goldwater Ridge" by Hannah Kaye

This was a rollicking story -- part old-fashioned western, part tall tale, part whodunit.  Aimed at middle-grade readers, it's clean as a whistle.

Billy Bob Clyde, who prefers to be called just Clyde, heads west when he gets a garbled message from his father, who went west years earlier.  Clyde falls in with a bunch of bounty hunters, crosses a desert with no one to help him but his horse, and finally lands in the almost-deserted town of Cactus Poke.  There he meets a motley collection of people, all of whom harbor secrets.  After learning the truth about the girl he admires, Clyde sets about saving the town from notorious outlaws.

This story had several twists I didn't see coming, was just far-fetched enough to qualify as a tall tale, and has a satisfying ended.  I very much enjoyed it.  I especially appreciated all the humor and the way all the characters could see the funny side of various situations.  And I loved all the Shakespeare references!

Full disclosure: I received a free advance copy from the author.  I did not agree to provide a positive review in return.  All opinions here are my own.

Particularly Good Bits:

"Thanks," I said.  "I'd tip my hat to you, but it's evidence now."

No sheriff in his right mind would send a thirteen-year-old alone after a seasoned outlaw.  But Sheriff Hodges wasn't in his right mind.

"Yeah, but it was Hamlet's line," Sadie said, "and he never said anything clearly."

Manners don't matter where bacon is concerned, anyway.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for western violence and scenes of peril.