Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

I don’t pass up a book by Brenda Coulter.  That’s how I am with authors I like.  And I’ve liked Brenda Coulter since her first book, Finding Hope. More about that in a minute.

I was really looking forward to reading At His Command, and it did not disappoint. (I really hope it’s ok for me to have a copy of the cover here — if it’s not, someone tell me quick and I’ll take it back down!) There are a couple of things I think Ms. Coulter handled particularly well in this story.

The first was the creation of vivid and memorable characters.  I think I could learn a lot from Brenda’s characterization techniques — the way she gives each character a few defining traits and then weaves those traits in and out of the whole story.  It really made Madeline and Jake come alive for me.

I also liked how tightly the story was written — she mentions the peanut allergy in the first chapter, where it adds humor to Jake’s aversion to Maddie’s presence.  But the peanut allergy isn’t there randomly; she puts it to good use later.  Also something I can learn from.

Anyway, if you’re at all inclined to read “inspirational” romance, you should give this one a try.  It’s a fun, fast read, and it will disappear from stores pretty soon.  If you need more incentive, check out the book trailer:

I think the trailer captures Brenda’s style very well.

And now, more about why I like Brenda Coulter so much.  Finding Hope, her first book, was the first Love Inspired (a Harlequin line) I ever read.  I liked it so much, I immediately did two things:

1- I subscribed to Love Inspired so I could read more great books like that, and

2-I checked out Brenda’s website.

The Love Inspired subscription didn’t last for long.  I couldn’t read the books as fast as they were sending them to me, so they were piling up on my nightstand.

The website, however, turned out to be more important.  For a long time I’d been toying with the idea, dreaming really, about writing.  Something about the story of how Brenda became a writer pushed me over the line from wishful thinking to determination.  I just knew somehow that if she could do it, there was a chance I could do it, too.

Since then I’ve read all of her books, and I’ve enjoyed every one. And I’ve at least begun the writing life myself, working slowly but steadily.


(Next time: What I’ve learned from the second 50 pages.)


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Several years ago, I was browsing the “Christian fiction” shelves at my local Books-A-Million, and I picked up a book that looked promising. It was The Widow of Larkspur Inn by Lawana Blackwell, and it turned out to be one of my all-time favorite novels. I ended up buying the other two books in the series (The Courtship of the Vicar’s Daughter and The Dowry of Miss Lydia Clark) and I loved them as well.

I have loaned these books out many times–so many times that I’ve lost track of who had them and I’ve had to buy new copies. Everyone I’ve ever loaned them to has loved them too. I’ve since sought out and read most of Lawana Blackwell’s other books, and I’ve enjoyed them all. But in my opinion, her Gresham books are her best work. The world she’s created for these books–the small Dairying town of Gresham, feels like a real place to me.

And now, after many requests from her readers, Ms. Blackwell has treated us to another Gresham book, The Jewel of Gresham Green. It does not disappoint. Lawana Blackwell’s greatest strength is creating lovable and lifelike characters, and this book is no exception. It was so much fun to revisit Julia and Vicar Phelps and their families. The thing I like the most about Ms. Blackwell’s characters is that they always inspire me to be a better version of myself.

In this story we meet Jewel Libby, a lovely young widow living in Birmingham, England with her daughter, Becky. While Jewel works long hours, she fears for her daughter’s safety. Mr. Dunstan, the rent collector, has taken an unhealthy interest in four-year-old Becky, and Jewel must make some difficult decisions to escape him.

As a writer, one of the most enjoyable parts of this book was reading about Adela. Readers first met her in The Widow of Larkspur Inn, as the young daughter of widow Julia Hollis. Now she has grown into an independent woman—and a writer. Adela struggles to find the privacy to write and fears rejection of her work—things that most writers can identify with. I’m sure that Ms. Blackwell had fun drawing on her own experiences as a writer to create this adult version of Adela.

The Jewel of Gresham Green is most enjoyable for the chance it offers to revisit beloved characters in a beloved setting. I can’t blame Ms. Blackwell for wanting to add to this series. As a stand-alone novel, however, I think it would be more difficult to fully appreciate. I strongly recommend reading the earlier books from the Gresham Chronicles before reading this one.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it?


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I mentioned Self Editing for Fiction Writers in a past post, but I decided that it really needs a post all it’s own. I originally purchased this book because I heard it recommended by so many people, including many multi-published authors.

Quite simply, it is one of the most useful books about the craft of writing that I’ve read so far, and I’ve read many. I like to reread it about twice a year, just for a refresher.

To share a little tidbit, the authors offer a formula they call 1 + 1 = 1/2. The idea is that when you put in two words, two sentences, two paragraphs, two scenes, two chapters, or two anything that are both there to serve the same purpose, you diminish the effect. That advice alone is worth the price of the book.

If you aren’t pleased with your writing and don’t know why, chances are good that Renni Brown and Dave King can point you to the answer, or at least the start of one, in this book. I recommend it to even seasoned writers.

If you’re a beginner, it may be a bit much to take in at once. Read it anyway. Let it sink in some; write more, revise more, and come back to it. You’ll “get” more of it the second time through.

If you’re serious about getting published, this book needs to be on your shelf. Or better yet, on your desk, dog-eared, highlighted, and sticky-noted.


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Liz Curtis Higgs has wowed us again with her fourth installment in the tale of the McKie family. Grace in Thine Eyes (2006, WaterBrook Press) parallels the Genesis 34 account of Dinah. It picks up the series which includes Thorn in My Heart, Fair is the Rose, and Whence Came a Prince, the three of which retell the story of Jacob and his two brides, from Genesis 27-33. I suggest starting with the first and reading all the way through.Higgs’ stories are colorful and gripping. They are set in Scotland in the late 1700’s through the early 1800’s, and benefit from her extensive research. The stories would stand very well on their own, without the Biblical parallels. The fact that they retell some of the most powerful stories of all time just adds another layer of richness.

The subject matter is serious–Higgs deftly handles mature topics such as marital intimacy (in the first three novels) and even rape (in Grace in Thine Eyes). She takes material that could be edgy or gritty, and uses it instead to show the beauty of God’s mercies. Still, because of the nature of the stories, we recommend the books primarily for married readers or unmarried readers with the guidance of a parent or other mature adviser.

The thing we appreciate the most about Higgs is that she’s not just a good “Christian Fiction” writer, she’s a good writer, period.

We are eagerly awaiting the release of Higgs’ next work, My Heart’s in the Lowlands, to be released February 2007.


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