Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Book Review: Christmas on Nutcracker Court by Judy Duarte

What else would I be reading this week but a heartwarming Christmas story? I won this book from the author by commenting on a blog post and couldn't wait to start it. I've previously read "Mulberry Park" the first novel set in the fictional town of Fairbrook, and loved it.

Judy Duarte writes wonderful Christian romances. Or maybe they're women's fiction with strong romantic elements. Regardless of what genre you classify them in, they're stories of families and love and faith. They're books that, like "It's a Wonderful Life", are filled with hokey good things. And, just like I watch "It's a Wonderful Life" at least once every Christmas, I love reading stories by Judy Duarte.

In this book, we follow the stories of a number of characters. There's Carly, a single mom with two boys and serious financial trouble. Josh is troubled by the problems of growing up and having to take care of his younger brother, Mikey. He'd rather hang out with his friends. There's Lynette, who tries to play matchmaker for Carly, but finds herself attracted to the very man she's picked out for Carly. Grant isn't particularly interested in a relationship, but agrees to the date with Carly. Susan is just looking for any man so she won't be alone. She has her eye on Grant as well, but Max, the other bachelor in the neighborhood, would also work for her. Max, whose wife left him, has taken a year's leave of absence from his job as a probation officer to write a novel. He writes nights and sleeps days and is seen as a bit odd since when he does come out of his house during the day, it's usually in his bathrobe. And there's Maggie, the cousin who has shown up to watch Helen's house while she's away on a cruise, and touches the lives of all of the characters by her gentle suggestions.

We follow these people through their ups and downs and learn to care about them as they care about and for one another. It's a story of Christmas wishes and the power of prayer. And the perfect read for the week before Christmas.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Book Review: The Lord is My Shepherd by Debbie Viguie

I downloaded this nook book when it was a free offering from Abingdon in late October. There are so many free books that it takes a long time for me to get around to reading those I've already downloaded, but I was attracted to this book because it was a Christian murder mystery, which is what I'm writing. It's always smart to check out the competition. :-)

The reviews I've read of this book tend to be at one extreme or the other. Readers either love it or hate it. Generally those who hate it object to the number of murders for a Christian book. That's almost right. The real problem is that this book is in a cozy voice, which means the murder usually takes place offstage, there's not a lot of violence, and the stories are generally character driven. Villains aren't really, really bad guys in cozies. At least, we don't feel like they're bad guys through most of the book. But the murderer in this book is a serial killer who not only kills dozens of people in this book, but has killed multiple people in other cities before. Serial killers and cozy mysteries don't fit together well. The reader is left with this disjointed feeling. My best description of how I felt when I finished the book was "Huh."

The story is told from three different viewpoints: Cindy, a church secretary, Jeremiah, a rabbi, and Mark, a police detective. Unfortunately, no matter which point of view a chapter is told from, they all sound alike. At first I thought the author was slipping out of the point of view of one character into that of another but the more I read, the more I realized that wasn't true. If a story is told from more than one point of view, each character has to be reflected in the language, the sentence structure, and the attitudes of the telling of events. That wasn't the case in this book.

Last of all, there's a concept attributed to the Russian playwright Anton Chekov which (roughly) states that if you have a gun on the wall in the first act, you'd better have someone use it by the third act. "The Lord is My Shepherd" violates the converse of this, i.e., if you have a gun in the third act, you'd better set it up in the first act. It's not a gun in this book, but something unlikely happens without having any reason given either in the current scene or, better yet, having been set up earlier in the book. I don't want to spoil the plot by explaining too much, but that kind of thing made me immediately downgrade my opinion of the story.

I have mixed feelings about this mystery. It's not a bad book, but the writing level isn't quite there yet. I can see where the author might develop into a good mystery writer, but this novel didn't appeal to me enough to make me want to read future books of hers.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Book Review: Skeleton Canyon by J.A. Jance

One of the reasons that I started this blog was because I wanted to do something to let the rest of the country know about Tucson and the Southwest. There are so many unique things here to see and do. It's a very different culture than the Northeast where I came from.

It's also the reason I wanted to write a mystery series set in Tucson. By telling stories, I think I can make people see the beauty of this area as well as problems that are specific to the Southwest. I also wanted to write about real people, people who went to church and had feelings about social issues and real relationships.

J.A. Jance beat me to it.

Skeleton Canyon is a book in her Joanna Brady series. Ms. Brady is Sheriff of Cochise County, based in Bisbee, Arizona, but with plenty of journeys to the Tucson area. It's fun to read a book and know the places that are part of the story. As the story opens, Joanna Brady is driving her daughter to the Girl Scout camp on Mount Lemmon. That's not too far from my house.

Meanwhile, a young girl back in Cochise County tells her parents that she's going to spend the weekend with a girlfriend in New Mexico, but is really having a rendezvous with her boyfriend in the Peloncillo Mountains. The secrecy is made necessary because Nacio, the boyfriend, is of Mexican heritage and her parents, particularly her father, are biased against Mexicans. Unfortunately, Nacio has to work and can't join her right away, so she goes up by herself to wait for him.

When she hears a car coming up the mountain, she assumes it is Nacio coming to join her. It isn't. She is murdered by the intruder and it's Joanna Brady's duty to find her killer. Of course, there are other complications.

This is a very enjoyable mystery. It has all the elements of a well put together plot. But what I really liked was the fact that there's a believable cast of characters. One of these is a woman minister. People in this novel go to church, call on the minister for help, and even offer brief prayers when the occasion calls for it. There's tension between Joanna and her mother, but also love. There's the friend with the shady past who's really a decent person. We root for her as she tries to turn her life around and gets disappointed.

I own several of J.A. Jance's novels. I've been to a couple of her book signings here in Tucson. But somehow this is the first book that I've pulled off my To Be Read pile (or TBR shelf on my nook). This is definitely a series I want to read in total.

And maybe I can learn to write a series as engaging as this one.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

NaNoWriMo Results

Once again November has ended and with it NaNoWriMo. This year I wrote 26,405 words, a little over half of the amount necessary to "win". But I hardly consider myself a loser.

Twenty-six thousand words in one month is a significant amount of writing. I got back into the habit of writing new words on a regular basis. Before NaNo started, I did the planning for this book, which is a sequel to the novel that I'm now submitting to a critique group. I developed a couple of interesting characters. I had that wonderful experience of having them do unexpected things, of telling me the story instead of the other way around.