Tuesday Book Blog–Broken by Barbara Spencer

Broken cover by Barbara Spencer

Broken by Barbara Spencer

Genre: Family Life and Coming-of-Age

4 Reviews on Amazon.com – 4.5 average – believe me – this books deserves far more attention!

Book Description: When Jem Love’s family is torn apart by his mother’s drug habit, and his young brother and sister taken into care, Jem is determined to get his family back together. But what can a 14-year-old boy do in a world dominated by adults?

Jem complains that what he really needs is a god whom he can telephone for help, and who might just happen to have a spare angel or two to send him. He knows that’s pretty stupid, God is more likely to say he’s old enough to deal with the situation himself. In any case, likely candidates for the role are pretty thin on the ground. There’s only Katrina Jones, a hard drinking, wise-cracking social worker, and Spooky Jarvis who runs foul of the law as often as he has birthdays …

Barbara Specer author 2 Author Bio: In 1967, Barbara Spencer hi-tailed it to the West Indies to watch cricket, the precursor to a highly colourful career spanning three continents, in which she was caught up in riots, wars, and choosing Miss World. Eventually, she settled in Somerset to bring up a family. In 2010, the publication of Running, a teenage thriller, took Barbara countrywide. Passionate about the importance of books in today’s society, Barbara is happiest working with young would-be writers and is frequently invited into schools to talk about creative writing.

My Review:

A book that will break your heart and then restore your hope for humanity!

Sometimes you get lucky and happen upon a book that breaks your heart. Broken is such a book and Barbara Spencer is a writer who knows how to bring the reader along through the thick and the thin of trouble, right to edge of despair and then, like a magician, she waves her wand and makes it all come out right.

There are so many wonderful things to say about this book, I hardly know where to start. It is the rare author that can render the voice of a fourteen-year-old boy with as much depth and believability as she can bring to a somewhat hardened going-on-thirty social worker – but Spencer manages this feat hands down.

Then there is the writing – words flow through descriptions that leap off the page with vitality. I’m not going to say anything about the story – it has to be discovered for itself. But I will say this – at about the three-quarters mark, I wanted the book to end the way it did so badly I could scarce get my breath.

Read this book – you won’t be sorry. It will make you believe once again in happy endings that glitter like gold as they sit in the dustbin of cold, hard reality. Such is life and some truths of life are best rendered in fiction.

For more info on all Barbara Spencer’s books please visit her website.

Barbara blogs over on BlogSpot. Check her out!

Broken by Barbara Spencer on Amazon.com

Somerset - Google images

The Johari Window for Writers

Johari Window 2 - google image

I’m dusting off an older post today, folks. The Johari Window is a model of self-disclosure that I have used for character development in the past and am in the process of using again.

Study the model for a moment and you will notice that it represents four distinct quadrants of knowledge. The analogy of windows is used to stress the fact that for each individual, at any given time, the various windows are opened or closed to certain degrees.

Let’s relate these four quadrants to how our characters develop:

Upper left-hand quadrant: What everyone knows about the character including the reader. If a character reveals a bit more about self, then this window opens wider.

Lower left-hand quadrant: What a character knows about self and doesn’t reveal to anyone else. This quadrant can significantly drive a plot forward and be a wonderful means of creating dramatic tension. When a reader is inside the head of a particular character, knowing that character’s secrets creates a powerful connection.

Upper right-hand quadrant: What another knows about a character but the character doesn’t know. When one character reveals a blind-spot to another all kinds of sparks can fly. We know how this feels in real life so it is easy to imagine how our characters will react.

Lower right-hand quadrant: What no one knows about a character. This quadrant becomes a ripe area for insights, epiphany moments and revelations – not only for the character in question but for other characters and the reader.

In the course of any book worth reading, characters are emotionally transformed in a way that is significant to the plot by dramatic action in the story.

No action – no transformation – no story.

The Johari Window is a valuable model for developing your character’s unique point-of-view and pushing your plotlines along.

Let’s take Lisa-Marie, one of the significant characters from my Crater Lake Series. We will use this model to study her transformation. When Lisa-Marie is first introduced, everyone knows she is Bethany’s niece who has come to stay at Crater Lake for the summer. She is sixteen, she’s witty and she has a bit of an edge. These characteristics are obvious to everyone. But Lisa-Marie definitely has her secrets and though the reader is in her point-of-view often, these are not revealed all at once. Through the literary device of her diary, Lisa-Marie reveals her past to the reader and opens wider her own window of self-knowledge. Justin, the young man that Lisa-Marie has set her sights on, sees things in her that she hasn’t yet discovered about herself. When he reveals some of those blind-spots to her, dramatic tension ramps up. But ultimately, these revelations contribute to Lisa-Marie’s self-knowledge and she is transformed.

Suggestions for using this model:

Take one of your main characters and list in point form what types of knowledge would go in each quadrant. Estimate the degree to which each window is open or closed. If you are in the planning stage, do this exercise for that character at the beginning of the story and for the place you expect that character to be at the end. If you are in a rewriting stage, do the exercise based on how your character actually developed.

Has transformation occurred?

What action (taken by a character, driven by character interactions, coming from outside the character) will (or should have) driven the movement of these windows?

Let me know if using this model would lead to character development in your own work?

Prayer Flags - Guenette photo

Down in the Gutter with Marketing

Osar Wilde quote on San Fransciso street

For the last six months, I’ve been part of a small group of authors who gather together via email to discuss book marketing strategies, toss ideas around and in general, support one another’s efforts where and when we can. The organization is loose, the group diverse in terms of location, background, gender, writing genre and point of view. We don’t seek consensus. Instead, we bring the fruits of our experiences to the table and individual members make up their own minds on what to take or leave.

I recently floated a question to the group: What are the ethics and/or etiquette around claiming best seller status. Does getting to #2 in the Amazon Top 100 Free books make me an Amazon Bestseller? How about getting to #1 in a genre category in Free and then hanging in the Top 10 for about 48 hours of that same category after my book went back on the paid list. Is it bad etiquette to drop the word Amazon and just say Bestselling author? Does one have to make it on to a paid list to legitimately claim a bestseller status? And if so, at what point and for how long – Top 10, Top 100, for one hour or one day? What about author ranking? I was in the Top 100 for a day after a promotion. Does that qualify?

A complicated question and the group responses, as expected, ranged far and wide. A few members came down on the side of only paid lists being equated with best selling status. A best seller should, at a minimum, be based on selling. Good point. I went back and took a look at my screen captures for how Disappearing in Plain Sight had done during it’s BookBub extravaganza of free downloads. On one, a large headline read – Best Sellers in Literary Fiction – Sagas. Under that is my book at #1. It doesn’t say Best Non-Sellers due to being Free. Amazon isn’t distinguishing in the big print between paid or free – that comes beneath in a secondary header. Hmmm …. interesting.

Literary Fiction - Sagas - DPS

A member who had previous experience working in the traditional publishing field felt the entire concept of best selling, best seller, best selling author was bankrupt – overused and abused to the point of meaninglessness. Unless, of course, one attempted to claim a place on the New York Times Best Seller List. That you better be able to back up!

One blunt member of our group, wrote – The idea of a great author sitting in the gutter saying, “I didn’t sell many books but I kept my ethics as an author,” has about as much appeal to me as stepping in a dog turd. The premise of the subject is wrong! We’re flogging books and we’re flogging them cheap. We’re not sharing a cup of the tea with the local vicar. Get rid of the word ‘etiquette’ and replace it with ‘marketing’ and you would’ve never needed to ask the question.

When I got up from rolling around on the floor laughing, I read a few more responses. “In an age of distortion and mirage, the big lie seems to carry the day. Even in the dog-eat-dog world of fiction writers.” Another member agreed that best selling is a devalued currency that I could feel free to spend as I liked.

It would seem that I may go ahead and claim a spot on a meaningless list, or I may roll around in the gutter clinging tightly to my moral superiority or I may participate in the big lie and be a dog gobbling up my fellow authors.

On the other hand, I could simply play by the rules Amazon sets forth. My book sat at #1 of a Best Selling List and I don’t see why I wouldn’t mention that when it seems that to do so would be a wise marketing move.

What do you think. I’d love to widen this discussion. At best, we are in for some chuckles as we climb from the gutter to the meaningless and, dare I say, best selling heights.

Clematis 2016 - Guenette photo

Tuesday Book Blog–The Patriot Joe Morton

Patriot Joe Morton cover

The Patriot Joe Morton by Michael DeVault

Genre: literary fiction – psychological; literary fiction – war

Amazon.com star rating – 8 reviews with an average rating of 4.6 – I have no idea why this book doesn’t have more reviews!

Book Description

When the good people of Cranston, Texas learn a hometown boy has been killed in Iraq, they set about mounting a proper memorial for their fallen hero. Yet nobody thinks to ask the boy’s reclusive father, Joe Morton, if such a service is wanted … or welcome. Crippled by grief and not one to make waves, Joe goes along with the plans of the townsfolk until he can bear no more. Finally, on the Fourth of July, he tells them just how he feels. But his sole act of independence brings unexpected and devastating consequences. The residents, and least of all Joe Morton, are wholly unprepared for what happens next: change and the outside world come to Cranston. First runner-up for the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society’s Gold Medal.

About the author

Author Michael DeVaultMichael DeVault was born in Mississippi and grew up in Louisiana and Arkansas, which gave him a strong grounding in the rich musical and literary traditions of the South. He worked as a journalist for more than twelve years, covering politics and the arts for local and regional publications while he also worked on his novels. A two-time finalist for the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society Gold Medal (Novel-in-Progress, 2002, Anything But Ordinary; Novella, 2008, The Patriot Joe Morton), Michael’s fiction draws on his youth to weave tapestries of intensely believable characters, finely honed plots, and imagery and symbolism inspired by the great southern writers, all wrapped into a package by clean, sharp prose.

 

five stars - google image

My Five Star Review

If you let it, this book will change the way you look at the world …

A good story allows the reader a peek inside a unique world. If we’re lucky, we come away from the reading understanding life in a deeper way. The Patriot Joe Morton is such a book. The novel illustrates the cost of making assumptions. Whether it is how to deal with grief, subtle and not so subtle forms of racism, or the true nature of patriotism – the reader is invited to examine his or her own assumptions right along with the inhabitants of Cranston, Texas.

The other major theme is change. Change is inevitable and even if nothing much has changed in what seems like forever, most people know in their gut it could happen. Even so, this reality is denied and most of us do everything we can to hold our little worlds in a type of stasis. Thus it is for the inhabitants of Cranston. Life goes along as it has always gone along – stopping at the Truck Stop Café for coffee, working the farm, strolling the main street of small town USA and seeing the same faces and places you’ve seen all your life. Then, like the theory of punctuated equilibrium, the winds of change start to blow and nothing is ever the same again.

There is an intimacy to Michael DeVault’s writing. The death of Joe Morton’s son is the catalyst for change. Joes’ grief is palpable. When he asks Cranston’s funeral director if he’ll be able to see his son’s body, Frederick Gruber, who has been the sole funeral provider in the small town for years – he’s seen Korea and worked through Vietnam, he’s buried grandmothers and infants but never “. . . had he so profoundly understood grief until that moment.”

Doris has worked at the Truck Stop Café since she left high school. She’s never been anywhere but Cranston. The days and years go by in such a cycle of repetitive motion – this is well emphasized by the way in which she continually walks the floor of the café, toting yet another full pot of coffee and refilling the cups of the same handful of people, over and over – she has convinced herself that she wants no more from life. Events serve to rattle her out of that illusion. “She paced the parking lot behind the Café, the merciless east Texas sun pressing down as she puffed away at a cigarette. She wanted to scream, to curse them all. First Casey’s funeral, now the fireworks. The whole year had left Doris wondering what these people had done with their brains.”

The anguish life-long Cranston resident, Harlan, feels, as change rips apart his small and ordered world, works its way under our collective skin. Harlan often goes off by himself to work out his thoughts and feelings. He decides to fix a fence at the back of his acreage. His neighbour four-wheels up for a chat and asks how much the wood cost.

Ted set out a long whistle. “That’s a lot of money to fix a fence.”

“Things cost what they cost.”

“You could have just left it open, you know?”

Harlan stopped driving the latest nail and looked up at Ted, perplexed. “And what? Leave a broken fence?”

“Why we need a fence? I aint got cows. Neither have you, last I checked.”

Harlan shrugged. “Fence is busted, you gotta fix it. It’s just what you do . . .”

In Harlan’s world that’s how simple it all is – a fence is busted, you gotta fix it, no place is better to be than Cranston, Texas so there’s no point leaving, Cranston is just right as it is and no one need bring the world to Cranston in the form of ‘foreigners’ or hi-wi or wi-hi or whatever the hell you want to call that internet thing. There’s one way to be a US patriot and there’s one way to live your life and Harlan’s going to tell you just exactly what that way is.

But Harlan is far from this one-dimensional and the beauty of DeVault’s writing is that we see this in all his characters. Harlan cares about people, he has a big heart, he’s generous to a fault with his time and money and when he can no longer run from change he accepts the defeat with grace.

The Patriot Joe Morton is a book with a message; but the reader always has a choice – take it or leave it – DeVault doesn’t push it down anyone’s throat. But understand this – read this book and you might be changed by the peek you’ve had at the the lives of everyday people in small-town America.

small town Texas 2 - google images

Tuesday Book Blog – On Lucky Shores: A Chet Walker Adventure

On Lucky Shores - Cover

First things firstKerry J. Donvan’s novel is on sale for a mere 99 cents until April 21st on Amazon! What a dealSmile I have had variable results checking the sites for this sale price but Kerry assures me all is in order and his book is on sale.

Genre: Thriller, mystery, suspense, crime, medical, heist

18 Reviews on Amazon.com with an average of 4.8 out of 5!

Kerry J. Donovan author photoA tidbit of info on Kerry:

Born in Dublin, Kerry J. Donovan now lives and writes in a stone cottage in rural Brittany, France. A former cabinet maker and respiratory physiologist, Kerry writes character-based thrillers as well as police procedurals.

 

What’s the book about:

In an action-packed tale of secrets and lies in small town America, Chet Walker is a man forced to make decisions that will affect his future and the life of the woman he loves. Witness to a car crash and in receipt of a cryptic message from a dying man, traveling musician, Chet Walker, reaches the picturesque lakeside town of Lucky Shores. He faces hostility and suspicion from the locals and learns that the information he carries could unlock an eight-year-old mystery—it could also get him killed. Josephine Dolan, owner of the Lucky Shores diner, wants to bury her past. When Walker arrives with a message from her father, she doesn’t want to hear it. She cuts him cold. When his life is threatened, Chet Walker learns the truth behind the saying, “no good deed goes unpunished.”

My Review

4.0 out of 5 stars

Well-drawn main character dropped into a great setting!

I loved the setting – a small town nestled in the Colorado Rockies. Donovan’s main character, Chet Walker, is finely drawn from the details of his back story that informs his current actions to his multi-faceted personality – the musician, the martial arts fighter, the drifter, to say nothing of his mysterious knowledge of firefighting and medicine. It takes some time for Chet to come completely into focus – another master stroke of storytelling! A line like, “… focused on the pain and the rain and the water running down the drain.” as Chet observes his surroundings and turns them into a tune captures the reader’s imagination. A mysterious sheriff, a small town doctor who seems anything but and a damsel in distress round out a team of secondary characters who all hit the right notes. Solid writing – an enjoyable read.

So, there you have it – a great book at a great price. Off you go to the Amazon site of your choice. Here’s your link to Kerry’s book on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.ca

Happy reading on lucky shores.

Tuesday Book Blog – An Unlawful Act in Libya

An Unlawful Act in Libya cover

Title: An Unlawful Act in Libya by John M.W. Smith

Genre: novella, action, thriller, suspense, crime, war

Amazon Reviews: Fifteen and all of them five stars – Wow!

My Five Star Review:

Gripping read from the first word to the last

Author J.W. Smith is a master of the novella. His main character is cleverly developed, the plot is contained to the form with absolute control, the act one, two, three story structure is perfectly preserved in an easy two hour read. These accomplishments are no easy feat as anyone who has attempted a novella will readily admit.

Central character Gamal Ibrahim, an Egyptian book seller working for a British firm, embarks on a sales trip to Libya. There, a series of events turn the trip from ill-advised to life threatening. With concision of writing that is admirable, the author builds dread from the moment Gamal steps off the plane in Libya. The reader is not surprised at what happens but surprise is not the point. Knowing where the story is headed makes it all the more gripping.

This is a novella truly deserving of a five-star rating. Bravo!

Here’s some information about author John M.W. Smith – lifted from his Amazon page:

John was drawn to writing at an early age. At one time in his teenage years he was reading one book a day—the subject didn’t matter, but it needed to grab his interest in the first couple of pages, or he would abandon it. This is the rule he has since applied to all his writing, believing that if you haven’t grabbed the reader straight away, you are not writing well enough.. After graduating with a degree in History he spent many years in academic publishing, at last leaving to pursue his long-held dream of becoming a writer. “Easily among the very best new writers we have seen”, “fresh and original”, “creates life-like characters—maybe too life-like” (whatever that means!), are some of the comments made by literary reviewers and consultants about his work.

So, there you have it folks. Another Tuesday Book Blog author to check out.

Tuesday Book Blog–The White Amah

The White Amah - cover

Title: The White Amah by Ann Massey

Genre: Asian fiction, women’s fiction, adventure, romance

Amazon Reviews: 11 reviews on Amazon.com with a 3.8 average – this average is drawn down by a reviewer who gave 1 star because of a belief that this particular book made his or her Kindle freeze up. That can hardly be the fault of the book. But, go figure, we do love our reviewers.

My 4 Star Review

An Ambitious Page-Turner of a Novel

“This was the biggest scandal to hit the nation in years. It had everything: feuding rock stars, sinful secrets, faraway places, a beautiful, long-lost daughter and a brutal murder.” This quote from Ann Massey’s novel could have been the book advertisement. Indeed – The White Amah has it all.

Massey is quite adept at creating dynamic, intense female characters. Rock stars, business tycoons and money guys round out the cast. There are multiple settings from Australia to the jungles of Borneo and then onto the streets of London. And some interesting tribal customs are swirled into the mix.

The lives of three women from very different walks of life weave through the pages and come together in a dramatic climax. The cast of male characters serve to heat up the action. These guys cover all the bases – the outright criminal, the self-serving rock star, the long-suffering guy and the solid hero.

As my title suggests – this novel is ambitious with a capital A. Each of the female characters could have generated her own novel. At times the author gave broad brush strokes that could only hint at the possibility of so much more. I will not be alone as a reader who wanted more but, on the other hand, perhaps Massey had the right idea. To lavish on all the detail might have made the story cumbersome.

The White Amah is well worth reading. The settings are intense; the characters jump off the pages and for such an intricate plot, the author ties up all the loose ends with style.

Here is a bit more about Ann Massey – shamelessly taken from her Amazon author page:

Ann Massey writes fiction that draws on different literary traditions. Ann calls her books square-pegs because they don’t slot neatly into a specific genre slot. She is the author of three genre-bender books. Her latest book, The Little Dog Laughed, a quirky historical fantasy was published on 15 January 2016.

I love the cover of this one! The Little Dog Laughed cover

Ann holds a college degree in teaching and currently teaches English Literature. Outside of teaching, she worked in the newspaper industry as a sub-editor and marketing manager. After living in England and Borneo, she has settled in the beachside suburb of Quinns Rocks in Western Australia.

So – there you have it folks. Another Tuesday Book Blog offering.