Saturday, May 23, 2015

SPOTLIGHT: Tabor Heights -- COOKING UP TROUBLE

Today's Spotlight is on another book from Year Two of the Tabor Heights series: COOKING UP TROUBLE.

We met the main characters of COOKING in Year One, specifically in visits to Homespun Theater. Steve Vincente is Max Randolph's half-brother, and Audrey Hathaway is the main romantic lead of the ensemble at Homespun.

Now, it's time for their story. Steve has returned to Tabor to work
at Homespun, to get more experience with live theater, and to get to know his newly discovered half-sister a little better. He also wants to help Max adjust to living somewhat in the spotlight as the newly revealed daughter of screen legend Carlo Vincente.

Audrey has two passions: cooking and theater. When Joel Randolph offers her a chance to combine them both and start an experimental dinner theater at Homespun, she is in her glory.

Audrey and Steve are teamed up, first cast as Romeo and Juliet, then working on the dinner theater, then helping to protect Max and Tony from the intrusions of the paparazzi as they prepare for their wedding. Both of them have a lot of baggage to deal with, but the question is if they can learn to accept each other's help in dealing with it, or that baggage and their busy lives will destroy the partnership before it can really begin.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Off the Bookshelf: HYBRID by Brian O'Grady

Don't everybody have a heart attack -- those of you who are still checking in, anyway -- TWO book reports in a row? A sign life's frantic pace is easing up enough to actually let me READ often enough to do a book report each week. Let's see how long it lasts!

HYBRID was another Free Book Friday find on Nook. This is science fiction/fantasy mixed with suspense and action/adventure, with a hook taken from current headlines.

Essentially, a terrorist group has an insidious, long-range plan to devastate the US by spreading a horrific disease worse than Ebola. However .... two people have already survived early outbreaks and have been changed. Mutants, super-heroes, super-villains, it all depends on where you stand during the battle that ensues. Amanda is our heroine -- she has been living off the grid ever since she got away from government officials who consider her a threat to the health and future of the country. She has ... powers. Let's leave it at that. Then there's Karl, who is working with the terrorists, but has his own crazy-man vision of what the world will be like. He doesn't want to wipe out just the US, but most of the human race.

It's a race against time to find the terrorist plants waiting to release the disease, find Karl, find Amanda, convince the authorities to work together and not hunt down the wrong people, and then educate and train the people who are starting to change, to take sides in the coming battle. And then, there's the question of what to do with the people who survive infection. It's a strange new world coming. Will there be more books in this story line? There's already one called "Amanda's Story," a prequel. Check the author's list and see.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

SPOTLIGHT: Tabor Heights -- BWU STORIES


Today's Spotlight is on a book from Year Two of Tabor Heights: BWU STORIES.

BWU stands for Butler-Williams University, which features in a number of Tabor Heights stories. Several main characters either teach there, work there, or are students.

There are two college romances going on in BWU STORIES: 

PROJECT ANGEL: 
Kristen transfers to BWU when her semester abroad is canceled.
Settling into a new school is rough enough, but to avoid her interfering sister and brother-in-law, she gets involved with a church service project on campus. Well-intentioned, it quickly disintegrates when someone uses it to play nasty tricks. When Kristen tries to make things right, she discovers her own personal angel has been in front of her all along.

MOUSE KAT TRAP:
Kat is still adjusting to her parents’ reunion and marriage. She can’t be Morgan’s assistant any longer, so she must train her replacement and her boyfriend is being a jerk. As she navigates an experimental summer theater program, a nasty blog seems determined to destroy the theater program with gossip. Discovering the identity of the enemy is the first step in stopping him, but finding the truth could put Kat in danger.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Off the Bookshelf: THE GUARDIANS, Book 1: THE GIRL, by Lola StVil

Okay, this was a free Nook book. I downloaded it because it looked interesting, because I'm trying to write some more YA/NA type fantasy books. And free is always good, right?

Let me say right off that this author is brave and creative and has a hugely detailed world. Brave because she's writing in present tense, and that is NOT easy. I avoid it. I counsel people I edit to avoid it, because consistency of voice is crucial and it's too easy to slip out of present into past tense. Most present tense books are first person, so there's the problem of showing scenes and plot developments when the POV character isn't around.

That said ... StVil has created a whole new cosmology or theology or whatever you want to call it. There are angels, but they're not the kind I was brought up with in Sunday school. The main character, Emmy, is surrounded by the Guardians, angels charged with finding an item in a massive scavenger hunt/game of keepaway with the forces of evil. These angels are teens who died in terrible, heart-rending ways, and they are caught between heaven and hell -- only they aren't called heaven and hell, and ... it's complicated.

My personal tastes, my theology, got in the way of wholeheartedly jumping in and enjoying the story. I kept saying in my head, "Uh, no, angels don't do that," etc., etc. If you can get past that problem, you'll probably enjoy this cleverly thought out and executed series of books. Especially since on the last page of the first book, one of the Guardians violates a rule and it seems the entire world has just ... stopped.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

SPOTLIGHT: Tabor Heights -- FORGIVEN

Today's Spotlight is on a Tabor Heights story that ties into the Quarry Hall, women's fiction series.

As a side note: the Quarry Hall books start four years before the Tabor Heights series. Joan Archer, the lead character and heroine of the first book, is living in Tabor Heights and watching over Nikki James, the heroine of FORGIVEN. What Nikki doesn't know and Joan doesn't plan on ever telling her, is that Nikki is her little sister -- their psychotic terrorist mother put baby Nikki in a stolen car and pushed it into the storm-swollen Rocky River, to kill her. Joan came back years later to find out what happened to her baby sister and ... well, that's a whole other series of stories!

In FORGIVEN, Nikki has returned to Tabor Heights. She ran way four years before with Brock Pierson, a man who wasn't good for her. She turned her back on the beliefs and values she was raised in, turned her back on her foster parents and on God. In the Quarry Hall book NIKKI, we find out what happened when Nikki got pregnant and Brock ordered her to abort -- attempting to drive her away to save her life. Why? Well .... read that book to find out!

Now, it's two years after (spoiler alert) the death of their daughter. Nikki is now working for the Arc Foundation, the philanthropic foundation run out of Quarry Hall. She has gotten her life back on track, and her assignment is to evaluate the Mission for support from the Arc Foundation. She thought coming home and facing everyone who knew her mistakes would be the hardest thing she would ever do. Then Brock showed up, released from prison and trying to make amends and win back Nikki's love. Forgiving Brock might just turn out to be easier than forgiving herself.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Letters to Kel: JALAPENOS = BACKSTORY!

What do jalapenos have to do with writing? Specifically, with backstory?

First off, do you know what backstory is? Essentially, it's the texture that gives your characters three dimensions, makes them seem real -- gives your readers the feeling that your characters existed before they picked up the book, and will continue to live on and have adventures after the story ends and they close the book.

Backstory explains -- ideally, SHOWS -- why your character does the things she does, says the things she does, reacts the way she does, makes the choices she does. Because the things that happened to her, the things she learned, the things she did ... in her past.

Backstory should be dusted into your story, not dropped in huge globs and mountains -- the technical term is "data dump.

Treat your backstory like jalapeno peppers.

Just a little bit, in tiny pieces, scattered evenly through your story, adds just the right seasoning and body and texture.

Too much, in chunks that are too large, and the backstory can overpower the entire story. It can slow down the pace -- because honestly, how quickly are you able to eat a dish that tastes of nothing but jalapenos?

And most important, if you don't handle backstory carefully -- like jalapenos -- you can give your readers good reason to put down the book, push it away, and never come back. And worse, they might just decide that you're such a heavy-handed "cook," they will be hesitant to try anything else that might come out of your kitchen and/or imagination.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

SPOTLIGHT: Tabor Heights -- FIRESONG

Today's Spotlight follows an up-and-coming singing group, and the questions and problems they face when they have to choose between fame and fortune and serving God.

FIRESONG is composed of Dani Paul and her brother, Andy, and their three cousins. Dani writes most of their songs with her brother. She has decided that marriage and ministry don't mix -- she doesn't have time for romance, and she needs to present a flawless role model for girls just like her.

Kurt Green comes back to Tabor for two purposes: to help set up for an Allen Michaels crusade that summer, and to attend his cousin Katie's wedding. Katie happens to be Dani's best friend, and more important, is marrying Andy. Kurt sets out to convince Dani that not only is marriage and ministry in God's plan for her, but so is he.

Between a manager who wants them to forsake ministry for the sake of fame, the wedding, Katie's illness, and preparing for the crusade, it's a busy summer. By fall, all their lives have changed in ways none of them could predict.