Wednesday

Dear Leader by Jang Jin-Sung

Riveting. Exciting. Nail-biting. Thought provoking. Eye-opening. Heart wrenching.

I believe every American should read this book.It gives you an up close and personal, insider point of view of North Korea, and one man's desperate escape. I had no idea that North Koreans had such foul-mouth habits. However, the foul language is not overpowering, more like pepper than salt.

Jang (not his real name) has a tremendous writing talent. He has an excellent grasp for suspense, timing, and even uses the flashback (which I really, really hate) to good advantage in the least annoying way.

Go buy this book! You will be so glad you did. Just know that after you read the last page, you will most likely be thinking about it for weeks afterwards.

ABOUT THE BOOK...
In this rare insider’s view into contemporary North Korea, a high-ranking counterintelligence agent describes his life as a former poet laureate to Kim Jong-il and his breathtaking escape to freedom.

“The General will now enter the room.”

Everyone turns to stone. Not moving my head, I direct my eyes to a point halfway up the archway where Kim Jong-il’s face will soon appear…

As North Korea’s State Poet Laureate, Jang Jin-sung led a charmed life. With food provisions (even as the country suffered through its great famine), a travel pass, access to strictly censored information, and audiences with Kim Jong-il himself, his life in Pyongyang seemed safe and secure. But this privileged existence was about to be shattered. When a strictly forbidden magazine he lent to a friend goes missing, Jang Jin-sung must flee for his life.

Never before has a member of the elite described the inner workings of this totalitarian state and its propaganda machine. An astonishing exposé told through the heart-stopping story of Jang Jin-sung’s escape to South Korea, Dear Leader is a rare and unprecedented insight into the world’s most secretive and repressive regime.

The Name Quest by John Avery

MY REVIEW

I'm sorry, I do not have a photo of the front cover as this came to me as a PDF from the author for review.

The Name Quest is an excellent study book. I found it intriguing as well as enlightening. Avery offers an in depth study of the names of God with a lot of background and history to go with it. It is not the kind of book you'd sit down and read while drinking tea. It is a great reference book, and would be good for a Bible study group to study together.

I do highly recommend this book, it is well worth the money. You'll be pleased that this one is in your library, especially if you study the Bible deeply. Hats off to John Avery.

5 of 5 stars

Take Back the Morning by Evan Howard

MY REVIEW

I found this story totally off the wall, and too on the edge of Christian for my taste. To me, it smacks of New Age junk rather than a life changing or thought process changing experience.

For example, God wants His children to lean on Him for everything, and to pray to Him without ceasing. It is too unlike God for some physical object to be the focus of near worship because it helps a person to say the right words, and because it gives "comfort". What a crock. I could not set aside my credulity because this teetered over the edge.

While I have never been in a coma, nor do I know anyone who was in a coma, I seriously doubt that a person can have a "near death experience" while in a coma. There is nothing about "near death" in a coma except that physical activity has ceased. All the vital signs are regular and everything is working properly except for the consciousness to speak out loud.

This gets zero stars. Nothing believable about it.


BOOK DESCRIPTION

IS IT REALLY DARKEST BEFORE THE DAWN?

OR IS THE DEEPEST DARKNESS FOREVER?

The answer has been kept secret.

Until now.

A corrupt stockbroker on the run…

An economy in turmoil…

And a mysterious pendant sought by the richest woman on Wall Street.

Terrified of going to jail, Justin Connelly faked his death and fled the seductions of Manhattan for the quiet corners of Providence, Rhode Island. His only keepsake was an antique pendant engraved with strange markings.

But then a sailing accident almost kills him for real. In his near-death state, Justin is taken into the darkness of hell itself, where he sees things that drive him out of hiding and back to his abandoned wife in New York.

But Tori has moved on, and his old enemies on Wall Street are not happy to see him. They want the pendant, which, in the wrong hands, could destroy humanity—and Justin’s former boss definitely has the wrong hands.

The only way out is to swallow his pride, and his doubt, and work with Tori and her new fiancé to expose the truth.

As world economies—and his own soul—hang in the balance, Justin must decide whether to sacrifice everything for the light he has found.


A spiritual thriller for the crises of our time

A Message To Deliver by Jeremiah Peters

MY REVIEW

There are many who love this book. Love the characters, love the premise, love the plot line and its simplicity. Love the interactions between good (Melissa) and evil (demon/co-worker).

I had trouble getting into the story because naiveté does not have to be dumb or ADHD, which is how Melissa's character reads to me.

I think this would be an excellent book for younger readers, especially because of the way the sensitive subject (abortion) was handled. However, I was frustrated with the Melissa at first, and was too grateful that she "wised up" quickly. She is not stupid because she has great reasoning skills.

I have a problem with the theology that a human can come back to earth to give a message, which is an angel's job. If this had been an angel on a mission to deliver the message, then I would have enjoyed it a lot more, I think. I could have set aside the adjustments to earthly life from Heavenly life as good reading instead of frustration. There was no explanation for the human coming instead of an angel. One little sentence of explanation would have settled my discomfort. Maybe, I'm being too picky, and maybe you won't be that picky. But to each his own, and I prefer my fiction be a bit more theologically correct even if it is spec fiction.

 2 stars of 5 stars because of those things I've listed above.

ABOUT THE BOOK 


Melissa is on a mission from God. With no memories of her life on Earth, she is immersed in a foreign world, far different from her home in the paradise of Heaven. As Melissa struggles to discover the intended recipient of God's message, she simply tells everyone she meets the good news of God's love.
Her new friend Todd Simmons blames abortion providers for the death of his mother. When an abortion clinic opens in the neighborhood, Todd starts down the path of vigilante revenge.
As Melissa battles the influence of demonic forces, will she be able to save Todd and deliver God's message or will the dark truth of her past lead her to abandon her mission?

The Healer's Touch by Lori Copeland

MY REVIEW

Normally I can really get into a Lori Copeland novel. She is such a great writer, and does fantastic research. You get a good feel for the era of the novel, and her characters are very well developed.

This novel is no exception. Except... I had a lot of trouble with the characters. I really have no patience for stupidity. Not that the characters were stupid, but the way the two sister were developed made me want to scream with frustration. It was giving me so much stress, I had to quit reading the book.

I did love Ian a.k.a. Joseph. The patience he exhibited is extraordinary. I would not have had such patience... did not have it because I had to quit reading it.

Giving Copeland credit, she absolutely did give excellent reasons for the silly thought processes of her characters. The build up to a confrontation is quite humorous, too. This is a great study of how prejudice infiltrates and spreads through gossip and intolerant bull-headedness.

It is well-written, with good, quality premise, and believable characters. Just because I had no patience for Lyric and Lark, doesn't mean you won't enjoy the story.

I give it 4 of 5 stars. I liked the premise very much, and I liked one character very much. I had great sympathy for the loneliness that Lyric felt. The plot unfolded at a good pace. It was just the tactics for character development that I had no patience for.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Lyric Bolton doesn’t ask for much—just friendship and acceptance from her rural Missouri community. But her family is regarded with suspicion and fear because of her mother’s sickness—a sickness of the mind that grows worse by the day. Lyric is resigned to a life of isolation and doesn’t see any way out…but that’s before Ian Cawley bolts into her life on a runaway stallion.
As she opens her heart to Ian, Lyric dares to imagine a different life. But what will happen when he discovers the secret she holds closest of all?

Monday

The City by Dean Koontz

MY REVIEW

I can hear a lot of you saying, "But Koontz is not a Christian fiction writer!"

You are correct. But I really like the way Koontz writes so I asked to review this book and the publisher graciously gave me permission.

This is not typical Koontz. You know everything will be okay in the end because the beginning is actually the end. The City reminds me a lot of The Prayer of Owen Meany. I really liked that novel, too. 

You are quickly whisked back to last century (around the 60s) to the life of one nine-year-old boy called Jonah Kirk who has eight or nine names of famous black musicians between the Jonah and the Kirk. Add a good-for-nothing father and a wonderful Christian mother set in an apartment house in the middle of a big city (Chicago, I think, it really is not important which city). Then stir in some truly evil people that have zero feeling for the sanctity of life, a wonderful Japanese neighbor who is struggling with his own demon, and you have the perfect mix for a great literature reading experience.

[Spoiler Alert!] There are numerous religious connotations in this novel. I was a tad disappointed in Miss Pearl at the end. I think Koontz tried to bring in some whiffs of his old time novels with how this character acted in the climax. There could have been some truly remarkable insights that Jonah could have shared during this part, but that opportunity was sadly missed. I hope Koontz gains a lot more courage in his later works. It is not wimpy or craven to own up to one's Christian beliefs... then, again, maybe he did own up and he really believes all that about Miss Pearl being The City. If so, I missed the allegory's true meaning. [End Spoiler Alert!]

Pay attention to that key word: literary. This is very similar to the old timey novels of yesteryear where the reader gets a lot of description that makes you feel the heat, the chilling rain, the taste of the ice cream and hot dogs. You are taken for an in depth tour of some of the most chilling villains, but it is not like a jerky head jumping ride. The transitions are smooth and extremely expert. This is more a psychological thriller than one of Koontz's monster fear factors of his early career. Unlike a lot of today's fair, you actually want to read to the very last word. The ride is very satisfying.

The book will hit bookstores on July 1st. Get in line!

Five of five stars. I was tempted to give it four stars because of one segment in the climax, but the book overall deserves five stars. You'll pay a lot of money for the hardback version, but it is worth every penny. The book is a keeper.

ABOUT THE BOOK

The city changed my life and showed me that the world is deeply mysterious. I need to tell you about her and some terrible things and wonderful things and amazing things that happened . . . and how I am still haunted by them. Including one night when I died and woke and lived again.

Here is the riveting, soul-stirring story of Jonah Kirk, son of an exceptional singer, grandson of a formidable “piano man,” a musical prodigy beginning to explore his own gifts when he crosses a group of extremely dangerous people, with shattering consequences. Set in a more innocent time not so long ago, The City encompasses a lifetime but unfolds over three extraordinary, heart-racing years of tribulation and triumph, in which Jonah first grasps the electrifying power of music and art, of enduring friendship, of everyday heroes.

The unforgettable saga of a young man coming of age within a remarkable family, and a shimmering portrait of the world that shaped him, The City is a novel that speaks to everyone, a dazzling realization of the evergreen dreams we all share. Brilliantly illumined by magic dark and light, it’s a place where enchantment and malice entwine, courage and honor are found in the most unexpected quarters, and the way forward lies buried deep inside the heart.

Acclaim for Dean Koontz

“A rarity among bestselling writers, Koontz continues to pursue new ways of telling stories, never content with repeating himself.”—Chicago Sun-Times

“Tumbling, hallucinogenic prose. ‘Serious’ writers . . . might do well to examine his technique.”—The New York Times Book Review

“[Koontz] has always had near-Dickensian powers of description, and an ability to yank us from one page to the next that few novelists can match.”—Los Angeles Times

“Koontz is a superb plotter and wordsmith. He chronicles the hopes and fears of our time in broad strokes and fine detail, using popular fiction to explore the human condition.”—USA Today

Wednesday

Review: The Grand Sophy


The Grand Sophy
The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



This is one of my favorite Heyer novels.

I fell in love with Georgette Heyer's novels when I was a teenager when I was spending my entire allowance (except for my tithe) on books. Heyer is well known for her humorous scenes in her books, and this one is no exception.

You can never go wrong with a Heyer novel except one and that was Charity Girl.

If you are looking for an excellent premise, a good plot line and story flow with well-developed characters, then read this book. Light, entertaining, and excellent escape from mundane life material.



View all my reviews

Monday

Deliver Us From Evil by Don Basham

MY REVIEW

I disagree that demons can actually inhabit a Christian, which Basham seems to be saying. However, I do know that demons can oppress true believers because of sin, because they allow that kind of persecution from the demonic realm. Satan will take and use any means to ruin a believer's witness. When a Christian allows such inroads, then trouble follows.

This book should be a must read for any church body. Basham gently, but inexorably outlines how Christians deceive themselves and other members of the body. Then he exposes how Satan uses such to encroach upon our peace of mind that is our right because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Just as God deals with each of us individually, so does Satan and his minions. This book unlocks those so called secrets, and shines a bright light upon the workings of the demonic realm.

Buy the book, read it, pass it along to your sisters and brothers in Christ, teach a class on it. The body of Christ is sick with unbelief, and we need this kind of knowledge to make her well, and strong, and flourishing within the power of God so that others will see the light and come to Christ. Amen!

5 of 5 stars.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Are Christians at risk of demonic invasion?
Absolutely not, thought Pastor Don Basham when another pastor suggested evil influences might be causing turmoil in his church and failures in his ministry. But after more troubling and perplexing problems, Basham began to discover he was wrong.
In this page-turning account, Basham chronicles his reluctant journey from disbelief to acceptance in the existence of demonic spirits. More than a story, he imparts what he discovered about demons, the difference between infestation and possession, and how to engage in spiritual warfare. He also describes the biblical tools that bring about deliverance from demonic influence.
Through this moving story, you will learn how to recognize the presence of evil spirits, pray for deliverance and protect against demonic invasion. It’s never too late. You can find the freedom and healing you need—and be an agent of deliverance to others.

Plots and Pans by Kelly Eileen Hake

MY REVIEW

This is a really cute premise. A father sends his daughter to England for Lady Training, and she returns just as full of vinegar as when she left.

The character development is good, you get an excellent feel for each personality. However, I think the episodes in England with Jessie are a tad overdone because you do not need all that to understand her personality. Get on with the story already.

Story flow is good, very little choppiness. The head hopping is a bit annoying. I think a story flows much better when you stick with one character or two characters rather than jumping all over the place, especially when you are given a real reason to jump into another person's head.

I like the additional plot twist of the negro aunt. I think that part is done rather well, although prejudice was much more black and white back then (pun unintended). The whole story could have revolved around that one aspect and been incredibly interesting. That part was sadly missed. As a whole, though, it is an enjoyable novel.

3 out of five stars.


ABOUT THE BOOK
Order dictates Tucker Carmichael’s life—his orders. On a cattle drive, a moment’s hesitation can mean death. The Chisholm Trail is dirty, dangerous, and no place for women. After years at school, Jessalyn Culpepper has come home and is determined to show everyone that a woman can manage everything from cooking to cattle—whether they like it or not! Tucker tries to manage his partner’s headstrong sister, horrified when she wants to join the cattle drive. But when they need a chuck wagon cook, Jessalyn seems the only solution. Will God stir up love along a trail filled with their Plots and Pans?

A Mile Apart by Sarah Jae Foster

 MY REVIEW

The title really says it all. The two most unlikely characters are thrown together and fall in love. Of course he gets sick and she has to nurse him back to health. His little boy is thrown into the mix, and the boy tugs at her heartstrings.

This is a fairly well written novel, but the premise is really unbelievable. Why would a woman whose husband has died stay in a crude, rude place like a mining town? No reason is given. Also, it is clear the author did zero research about mining towns and how men treated women in the Old West. Men had respect even for prostitutes!
A good woman commanded even more respect. Those men would never have treated her like is depicted in this story. I started to lose interest after that.

The general rule that the first man the woman comes in contact with and has conflict with is the man she falls in love with is broken in this book. The reader is not told the male friend (and protector) is too old to be the love interest until much later in the book.

Because the characters are so well developed, the storyline falls apart about the middle of the book when you suddenly realize [spoiler alert...maybe] who she's falling for and who is falling for her. Makes no sense, because there are really no reasons given for falling in love that I could tell.

The story starts to get boring about 1/3 of the way into the book, so I might have missed the reasons given because I started to skip around a bit. In my experience in reading thousands of books (no exaggeration) when a book falls apart, it just doesn't get better as you go along.

You might like it. I did not because things didn't seem believable, and I get really tired when an author tries too hard to make two people fall in love for no reason.

ABOUT THE BOOK
She was guided by prayer…and a little boy

Eden Montgomery arrived in the lawless territory of Whistle Creek as a newlywed, but she quickly lost her husband to his mistress…gold, and the claim he called The Golden Angel. When a premature blast at the cave killed her husband, and took the life of her unborn baby, Eden closed the mine…for good. Now she runs the local supply store, and in her bitterness, looks down on the men who shirk familial responsibilities in pursuit of something as meaningless as gold.

Joseph Benton knows the crime, filth and disease of a mining camp is no place for a child. So when his young son Christopher suddenly arrives at his tent, he turns to Eden Montgomery to care for the boy. But the uppity and righteous Eden refuses. Joseph is shocked at what he thinks is her lack of maternal instinct. Now he’s torn between his need to strike gold…and his desire to be a father.

When a ruthless speculator encroaches on the camp, threatening Joseph and the other miners, Eden knows she must do the one thing she vowed never to do…for the one man she vowed never to love.

Creating characters

Photo by Gina Burgess


Creating a truly good story is not only an art, it is a skilled art. There are certain skills in writing that do come naturally. Some people have a way with words that are incredibly interesting, while others have to work to get the same effect. However, character development is something that no one can just sit down and do unless they are a scholar of human nature.

Georgette Heyer was such a scholar. Her mastery of character development was so powerful you did not have to read a name to know who was talking in the dialogue. She had distinct personalities similar to Jane Austin's, although not quite as striking. For example, in The Black Moth the evil character Devil Andover is actually the same person as as Satanas the Duke of Avon in These Old Shades. Same characteristics, same mannerisms, same syntax of speech, the same man. What is so interesting about this character is that Devil in The Black Moth is the person you wish to die because he is so evil, while in These Old Shades you soon develop a great empathy for him and hope for his salvation.

Some good tips for character development come from The Creative Writer (Addison-Wesley, 1998).

1. Give physical details about the character within prose. Don't just list long, black hair, ruby red lips, curvaceous body, wearing sneakers and an evening dress. Do it creatively.
Her raven black hair shimmered under each street light as she ran up the street. Her lips looked dark red in the dim light, and were parted as she panted for air. The tail of her evening dress was tucked into her belt, showcasing each of her delicious curves. The slap of her sneakers echoed down the empty street, and was accompanied by screeching tires and manly shouts to stop. She ignored them all.

2. Describe the physical environment surrounding your character. (See #1). You get the feel that it is night, urban, and in a part of town that might be industrial because it is deserted, but lighted.

3. People the character associates with. (See #1). She's being chased by men who have at least one motor vehicle. You know they want something from her, or want her for something.

4. The things the character does. We don't know this from the first paragraph, but we know she's planned for this run because she's wearing sneakers with an evening dress. We know she is in shape or she would have planned a different kind of exit from wherever she was. She knew she'd be followed, she knows her enemy. She has a lot of growth to do. She didn't plan very well because she's running down an empty street. Is there safety up that street?

5. The things the character thinks and says. Keeping this consistent is not as hard as it seems. You can picture a person you know (in fact, I recommend this) and follow the same kind of syntax this person uses, same kind of whacky word (when I say Crikey, who do you think of?), same kind of mannerisms. Make your character as human as possible. Emphasize a frailty. But don't make your character a caricature (unless, of course, you are writing humorously). Especially, do not force your character to do something that is uncharacteristic unless you talk about it as uncharacteristic. Forcing characters into action that they ordinarily would not do is a classic story flow dam. I know one author who fills out a personality test on each character. Her characters breathe on the pages. They are vibrant and alive. You feel their fear and joy. It's powerful.

Friday

Creative tactics in writing -- story flow

I've been an editor for a long time, both in newspaper and various
other industries. I learned a lot about editing then and while earning my Master's, but most of what I have learned is through reading (fiction and non-fiction) since I was a little girl. Since I've been reviewing books, I've had to analyze what works and what doesn't work in a novel.

I've learned more about what not to do than what to do simply because when what I'm reading is working, all the tactics, intricacies, ploys, and tricks are never noticed. The story flow is so smooth and exciting nothing gets to the brain except the story.

Why do authors of today want readers to have any other kind of experience? Don't they want readers to remember what a great roller coaster ride they had when turning pages (or thumbing their Kindle, Nook, whatever)?

First, let's talk about story flow dams.

Flashbacks should be avoided like the plague, especially in the first page or even chapter of any work of fiction. If you must flashback in the first chapter, then you've started your novel or short story in the wrong place/time. Back up, regroup, and decide where is the best place/time to begin. You should always begin in such a way that the reader wonders "Why?" or "How?" so he or she will keep reading and turning those pages. When you answer that question then you want another one to pop up in its place so you've got a smooth Q&A for your reader. That is what keeps those pages flipping.

Empathy Poorly developed characters creates reader apathy for your fictional world. After the first few pages, your book is tossed to the floor or in the donation pile without being read. Of course, no more of your books will be purchased. You want to help your readers to develop a sense of empathy for your main character. That is if you want your readers to finish your novel and buy more of your books. Who wants to read about someone you couldn't care less about? Whether it is a villain or hero or heroine, creating that sense of caring what happens to a character is not hard to do when writing like it is real life. Make me want the villain to receive just desserts, and I'll read to the last page. Make me anticipate that first kiss, and I'll read to the last page just to reward that anticipation.

Head Jumping Like Randy Ingermanson, I do not like head jumping, which is switching the point of view from one character to another character within the same scene. This dams up the story flow because the reader first has to figure out why we're jumping from one character to another. There are so many ways this can go wrong. For instance, if the whole story is told from one character's (main character) point of view, then how can the main character know what is going on in another character's head? This creates a quandary on the reader's part because the story flow is suddenly not making any sense.

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