Sustaining Grayce [book review]

Sustaining Grayce

Remember when you were 14 years old? Remember how hard it was? Let me assure you, Grayce’s 14th year was worse. Here’s a shy, nice girl using all her energy just to keep it together when the school principle asks her a favour—carry co-student Peggy’s books to and from all her classes while she adjusts to her crutches. Grayce agrees to the task, not seeing much alternative, and is surprised when a friendship develops with the pretty, lively, now-one-legged girl.

Through 14 chapters we observe the birth, life, and death of a best friendship. We see how love can cover pain, and how prayer can make us strong. We see how telling the truth releases us from shame and takes power away from our secrets. We see how acting in kindness and obedience are scary but lead to good in the end.

Sustaining Grayce by Sandra Hare is a beautiful story you can read in an afternoon. It’s well-written and gripping. I did find it interesting how an unchurched 14-year-old had become such a master at biblical interpretation and correlation—that would be a miracle in itself—but most of the plot was engaging and believable.

If you’re looking for a sweet story about saying the important things and being vulnerable, I recommend this book.

Sustaining Grayce

Grayce is coping with as much stress as a fourteen-year-old can handle, and then she is asked to help Peggy, a fun-loving teen who happens to be fighting cancer. Share the laughter and heartache as Peggy and Grayce try to live normal lives amidst the craziness that swirls around them. Set in Lancaster, Pennsylvania during the late 1960’s, Sustaining Grayce explores how two girls with totally opposite religious beliefs and very different families can learn to love each other and the broken people surrounding them. Their story is a miracle made possible only by God’s sustaining grace.

Fast Fiction: A Guide to Outlining and Writing a First-Draft Novel in Thirty Days [book review]

If you’re like most writers, you want to write a book.

Fast Fiction book review

Fast Fiction: A Guide to Outlining and Writing a First-Draft Novel in Thirty Days by Denise Jaden

Even if you don’t call yourself a writer you might want to write a book. There are so many stories waiting to be told and, who knows, you might be the person to tell it.

What’s great about author Denise Jaden’s latest book Fast Fiction: A Guide to Outlining and Writing a First-Draft Novel in Thirty Days is she makes you feel like digging out the story deep inside you is possible. And the 30 days thing? Bonus.

I’ve wanted to write a book for a while now, maybe forever. As a kid I drafted a 100-page Choose Your Own Adventure of twin girls who get lost in Mexico while trying to find an orphanage (scary part—I experienced this trip IRL 10 years later with a friend…) and for the last two years I have felt like it’s time to try for real.

And I have. Tried that is. But I keep getting stuck and I have never known why. Fast Fiction tells me why: I didn’t know how to write a book. I didn’t plan it beforehand, I just sat down at the computer and expected it to come together. After reading Jaden’s book I finally get it. I do have a book in me I just didn’t have the tools to dig it out.

This practical, well-written guide is broken into three manageable parts. Before, during, and after.

Before the Draft

This section is all about preparing to draft—the most important part of writing your book!

I love how Jaden approaches drafting. It’s a time to dream, to think outside the box, and to try new things. After you collect your dreams and ideas you can begin narrowing your story idea into once sentence.

Then, you determine your plot. This is such valuable information. She breaks down the plots of familiar stories and shows you the practical progression a story needs to take in order to work. It makes so much sense and adds much-needed order to an otherwise overwhelming process.

Part one continues and covers characters, theme, setting, symbols, scenes, and story. I found this section not only valuable but inspiring. My notebook overflowed with ideas while reading this section. This likely says more about where I’m at in the writing-a-book process than anything else but I can’t wait to read through this again when I plot my actual book.

During the Draft

I skimmed part two because I am not writing my book right now. However, I came away with the assurance this would be what I needed to help me break up my writing schedule into achievable chunks. Part two also breaks down where you should be after each day of writing, and gives you prompts and questions to think about if you’re stuck.

There’s a handy summary of the progress breakdown at the end of this section so you can have a guide if you don’t require all the explanation and prompts. Jaden thought of everything!

After the Draft

Part three it scheduled to happen after your 30 days of writing in part two. So although the title suggests a 30-day project you’ll have to set aside more time than that to follow the plan laid out in Fast Fiction. What’s great about this is if you follow the plan you will have a first draft in 30 days and you’ll have planned it properly in advance (in part one). So when you reach part three (aka revisions) you will know your characters, plot, story, and purpose inside and out. Revisions might…even…be…fun?

One of the strongest tips in this section is the Why Should I Care? test. You read through your draft and think like your reader. Ask yourself this question and if you can’t answer it, this section or idea needs strengthening. Jaden suggests all sorts of ways to help you revise weaker sections like adding new characters and conflict.

Oooh conflict.

This section also suggests what to look for when reading through your draft. This is helpful because it helps you figure out why something doesn’t work. Once you know why, you can fix it.

I’m happy to give Fast Fiction: A Guide to Outlining and Writing a First-Draft Novel in Thirty Days a five-star rating. I think the only thing left to do here is test out the formula for myself. Is there a book in me? We’ll find out soon.

Denise Jaden is the author of Losing Faith (Simon and Schuster, 2010) and Never Enough (Simon and Schuster 2012). She lives in British Columbia with her husband and son, and is currently at work on another young-adult novel, which she fast-drafted during the 2012 NaNoWriMo. A portion of profits will benefit National Novel Writing Month.

This book was provided for review by the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review (or even publish one).

Murder Simply Brewed [book review]

Murder Simply Brewed

Murder Simply Brewed by Vannetta Chapman

Just listen to this description of Murder Simply Brewed (An Amish Village Mystery) by Vannetta Chapman.

Spring has arrived in Middlebury, Indiana, and Amber Wright is optimistic about the growing profit from her collection of Amish shops—until she receives a call that Ethan Gray is dead. Hurrying over to A Simple Blend, she finds a solitary hole in the front window and the store manager lying next to the espresso machine, dead from an apparent heart attack. All the money is still in his register. When Amber hires a young Amish woman, Hannah Troyer, to take over the shop’s duties, the two women become fast friends—as well as amateur sleuths.

What now? As soon as I read the synopsis I exclaimed “I have to read this book!”

To which my husband shook his head.

An Amish murder mystery is not in my regular reading repertoire, not even close. But I was intrigued. Nay, hooked. What’s there not to love? Set in modern times this old-school teenager teams up with an Englisher to discover if the grumpy coffee-shop worker really did have a heart attack…or if he was murdered.

Of course he was murdered. It’s in the title.

I don’t know much about Indiana or the Amish culture but it didn’t distract me from enjoying this well-written book. Sure, people fell in love after, like, three days but how is that different from any other romance novel? And there’s a murder mystery! It was entertainment bliss.

It was!

The pacing was good, the characters were interesting enough (although I wish Hannah was the main character instead of Amber, I thought Amber was boring…but maybe Hannah will get to star in the next book), and I really couldn’t guess who the villain was.

Spoiler alert!

Although, if I’m honest I got lost when the culprit was revealed. Where did the snake come from? And what was that whole sugar-swapping thing again? How was that not a problem for anyone else? Oh yeah, and what was the whole Larry thing about? That didn’t even make sense! I mean, I know it was explained but it felt like an afterthought. Oh…and the solve seemed a bit too easy after all the mystery and intrigue and suspense building up to the climax. And, was anyone even punished? Did I miss that part?

But I liked the book enough to let all that stuff go.

I also enjoyed how the Amish facts were weaved into the storyline and I didn’t feel like I was in school. Most of the details weren’t random but instead elements to help move the characters towards solving the murrrrrder.

Would I recommend this book? Sure! Have fun, but don’t for a second take any sleuthing tips from Amber and Hannah. Would I read the sequel? Oh yes. Especially if Hannah is the star!

Murder Simply Brewed (An Amish Village Mystery) is available on Amazon, Zondervan, Barnes & Nobel, and Booksamillion in paperback, e-book, or audio book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review.

Love, in English [book review]

Love, in English

Love, in English by Karina Halle

Love, in English is now available! Pick it up on paperback or digital platforms.

My good friend Karina has been writing and publishing books for a few years and I’ve watched her career take off with pride.

Known for paranormal and supernatural stories, this is her first time writing romance.

While Love, in English isn’t a book I would typically review here I am happy to offer four-stars for this emotional page-turner.

And now for the review

With her first foray into romance, self-publishing maven Karina Halle has weaved a piece of her soul into the words and pages of Love, in English for her readers to discover.

Overall I found this a satisfying read. The emotional story, told by 23-year-old Vancouverite Vera Mills, kept me captivated well past bedtime for more nights than I care to admit. And although Vera overuses words like “just” and “totally” I could still identify with and even like her, despite not having much in common with her.

The narrative takes us from Spain to Canada and back to Spain again where we see Vera fall desperately in love with a married man. We struggle alongside as she wrestles with shame, guilt, and lust and empathize as she deals with the complications of inconvenient and forbidden love. Both the back cover and the prologue tell us this so I don’t know why I was surprised when they finally get together most of the way through part one.

I don’t know what I hoped would happen, everything was so complicated. Maybe that’s the point, relationships are never straightforward or black and white. And even the right decision hurts someone. You can’t get through life without a few battle wounds.

One thing I wish was covered more was the idea that choices made to appease guilt are still selfish. Although disguised as selfless all motivation behind the choice is to make yourself feel better. I found the book’s argument that love is selfish interesting as this is the most shallow (although probably the most exciting) form of love. I would have liked to see Vera mature in her understanding of love (advancing beyond lust and selfishness) and relationships.

Love, in English takes on difficult themes and doesn’t rush past the tough stuff. However, the story was a bit unbalanced as there wasn’t equal time spent resolving the problems as there was building up to them. The wrapped-up-in-a-bow ending didn’t feel cheesy (I was ready for the emotional roller coaster to end) although upon reflection it didn’t feel as realistic as the rest of the story. Still, a satisfying read.

The Sky Beneath My Feet [Book Review]

The Sky Beneath My Feet

The Sky Beneath My Feet by Lisa Samson

Here’s the tag line, which kept me reading the description of Lisa Samson’s The Sky Beneath My Feet: Being married to a saint isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

And here’s the description, which made me request this book.

“Beth’s husband won’t be joining the family on vacation at the beach this year. He’s not even joining them in the house. Instead, Rick has holed up alone in the backyard shed. Nobody knows exactly what he’s up to. Maybe he’s immersing himself in prayer. Maybe he’s lost his mind. Maybe he’s even the modern-day prophet or the saint the neighborhood artist imagines him to be. But while ‘St. Rick’ waits for an epiphany, Beth will have to figure out what to do with herself and their teenage sons, possibly for the rest of her life.”

Even though I don’t directly relate to this description—on any level—I was intrigued by the premise. This lady’s husband went to live in the yard? How ridiculous!

And I have to say, the first 12 chapters held my interest. Beth, the protagonist, is married to a pastor but isn’t the way I have experienced/imagined pastor’s wives to be. She’s relateable, funny, sarcastic, and even irreverent. She also uses hip phrases like “Confession:” and interacts with Christian swag ironically. So I felt a bit kindred with her, despite having nothing in common.

The supporting characters in the book were (for the most part) interesting as well. Some were more interesting than others but all had a few ounces of crazy in them to make sure not even one character was normal. Maybe that’s true about all of us, I don’t know. But after a while I started hating how “quirky” everyone was. In their own unique way of course.

The quirkiest character of them all was St. Rick, who bailed on real life in favour of hanging out in the shed. The book makes it feel like it was for ages but when I went back and checked this all took place over a span of three weeks.

And then I thought, OK I’ve gone without my husband for three weeks before and my life doesn’t fall apart. In fact three weeks is not very long at all. So, what’s wrong with this lady? Does she have ZERO identity or personality outside of her husband?

So by chapter 12 I began to turn on Beth. Her constant whining about her situation no longer inspired support—in fact it inspired eye rolling—and I found myself yelling at my e-reader “Just go to Florida already, stop WHINING about it!”

Oh yeah, for some reason her reluctance to go for a 12-hour drive to Florida was a major story line in this book, although I cannot figure out why it was so important. Sure she had an epiphany while there but could that have happened somewhere else? Yes, I think so.

But before I get too mean, I have to say apart from a few problems in the plot it was a good read for the most part. The writing is tight, and I usually knew who was speaking (although sometimes I do need a name attached to a sentence, especially when there are four people in a conversation) and understood the underlying motives behind character’s actions.

As well it was a quick read. I think it took me three days and I probably would have got through it faster if I had stayed engaged past chapter 12.

For me the real tragedy in this story is when Beth begins dealing with her feelings of being robbed of her hopes/dreams it really doesn’t go anywhere. She states the feelings, then the story reconciles and is wrapped up neatly with a bow. Literally everything was wrapped up with a bow. It happened quickly and after a couple hundred pages of build-up the end was a complete anti-climax.

Also you have to have some basic knowledge of Quakers if you’re going to bond with Beth. I have zero knowledge apart from the picture of that guy on the oats but Beth never tells me what a Quaker is, let alone why it causes friction between her and St. Rick, or why it makes her different. No reference point.

Anyway, so I did enjoy the book but feel it wrapped up too quickly, and too neatly.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review.