Monday, November 30, 2009

The List by Robert Whitlow

Bonus book review, everyone! Next month, I'll be focusing on Christmas, so enjoy the last 2009 installment of my reviews.

 

Storyline: Renny Jacobson is a bored young Southern lawyer who dreams of enough money to fulfill his (many) wants. When his father dies, he leaves Renny a chest of papers, a post office box in Charlotte, and inheritance in an organization called the Covenant List.

 

Before long, Renny receives a letter in his post office box calling him to a meeting of the Covenant List. On his way, he meets a another person with interest in the List—a young woman whose father recently died, named Jo Johnson. Renny is immediately attracted to her, but when they meet with the others members of the List, they discover a problem. The Covenant List, formed in the late years of the Civil War, has only been passed from father to eldest son. No women are allowed to inherit their share in the List—which happens to be a Swiss bank account of substantial numbers.

 

Renny is ecstatic, but Jo cautions him to thoroughly look into the List before joining. Renny ignores her and signs his name into the ledger book of the List. But before too long, he has reason to suspect that the List is more than just a group hiding money. When Jo falls ill, Renny delves into the background of the List—and discovers a centuries old evil waiting to be unleashed.

 

My Thoughts:

The first half of the List was (I thought) somewhat boring. Jo is a Christian, Renny is not, so there are several conversations about God that seem cliché or awkward. Altogether, it seems like a lot of the first half is stilted and uncomfortable. However, towards the middle Whitlow begins to pick it up—and wow!

 

This book is all about the power of prayer while fighting spiritual evil. While Whitlow doesn't delve into the spiritually creepiness of it all as much as Peretti or Dekker, there's still enough to leave goosebumps crawling over your arms. And although at first, you may think, "Oh yeah right, no way that could happen", the more you read, the more you realize—this is happening today.

 

Maybe there's not a sinister List infused with the power of darkness, but there are spiritual battles swirling unseen around us. There are people, Christians and non-Christians alike, caught up in this battle. And for us Christians, we are duty-bound to use our prayers like swords for Christ.

 

Despite the stilted conversations and the slow first half, the powerful message carries this story along. I'd definitely suggest everyone read it.

 

Rating: four out of five stars

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ideas On Opening Sentences

Hey everyone, Mary and Kyleigh requested that I follow up on my last week's post and post ideas on how to make your opening sentences those eye-grabbing one-liners.

 

Looking at the broadest picture, the first chapter is one of the most important ones in the entire book. Narrowing it a bit, the first paragraph is the most important part of the first chapter, as Jeannine brought up. But just as the first chapter convinces people to read the entire book; just as the first paragraph hooks people into reading the first chapter; so the first sentence irresistibly yanks your reader into the first paragraph...and the rest is history (as long as you write a good story).

 

*First off, picture the scene in as much detail in your head as you possibly can. What do you see? A room? A castle? What strikes you about it? Think of some kind of description, dialogue, or action that could be put in that setting.

 

*Description shouldn't be a description of the mundane. It's a description of what pops out of the mundane. Imagine a beautiful ballroom with gilt wallpaper, golden-upholstered chairs, golden everything! Blegh. Big whoop. Now imagine a tattered piece of old red cloth draped over a chair arm. Huh? Where did that come from and what's its significance? Why is it in the middle of such opulence?

 

Here's a good example, one that Mary left in the comments last week: The sides of the mist-slicked bridge were chest-high and solid, with no gaps or rails through which someone could fall - or be pushed. (Son of the Shield)

 

OK, that's a normal bridge and a normal description--until you get to those last three words. Whoa! Why would anyone want to push someone over a bridge? What's going on? Why is that significant?

 

*Dialogue can be a huge attention grabber. I'll admit, I tend to do it too much. Half of my chapters, not to mention my books start with dialogue (as Mary and I have gotten more and more into Daybreak, she's started calling me the "Dialogue Queen." :0)

 

But it can be very effective! If your opening scene is populated with people, the dialogue can introduce the character immediately and give a reader some insight into his/her personality. It can convey tension or relaxation or whatever the mood of the scene is, just through word choice.

 

Example: "Don't you dare touch that!" Carrie shrieked.

 

Why is she shrieking? Who is Carrie? Why is she telling someone not to touch something, and who is that someone/something?

 

*Action will drag your reader into the scene. This is another one that I like because it introduces the reader to someone right away, similar to dialogue. It also introduces tension because the reader is suddenly dropped right in the middle of this action, and they have no clue of what's going on.

 

Example: The man is running, running as fast as he can from a shadowy pursuer. (Daybreak)

 

Why is he running? Who is pursuing him, and what do they want from him?

  

And something else to remember: Ground your reader in the scene and try to introduce them to the main character no later than the second paragraph. These days, people want to know who to empathize with as soon as possible. Also, we tend to write closer to our characters' pov (deep third person pov instead of omniscient pov).

 

If you're stuck with and getting tired of trying to come up with a zinger first line, then move on by all means! The first draft is important for one thing--getting your idea on paper. After that, you can sweat and work to get it just right. Maybe in the course of writing, you'll come up with a perfect first line, or you'll have come to understand your setting and characters much better.

 

Challenge: Brainstorm your first scene and try to come up with an attention-grabbing first line. Let me know how it goes!!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Updates

Just a quick drop-in to say "hey" and let everyone know that I'm working on the first sentences post but probably won't get it up until tomorrow. Justin's leaving today to go back to Michigan and (even though it was a glorious four days with him) I'm semi-depressed he has to leave. :0(
However, I'm heartened by the knowledge that we had a wonderful time together with his family and mine. Also, it won't be too much longer until our wedding--we decided this weekend that the Big Date would be March 6th!!! So....I've got a lot of planning to do!! I'll keep everyone updated!

And, Miss Olivia is doing better. Yesterday she was feeling good with almost no fever. But they took cultures from blood in her throat and port site, and both of those are testing positive for staph infection. They were doing new cultures yesterday to make sure the tests weren't contaminated. Please pray for Olivia and her family (especially Tammy--she's worn out from trying to entertain an active 2-year-old in a hospital room!)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hey Everyone, please pray for Olivia. She was admitted to the hospital last night with flu-like symptoms including a fever of 104. Thanks and God bless!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Opening Lines

Ever picked up a book at random, opening it to the first page, and before you know it, you've read half the book in the store, just because the first line hooked you so quickly?

 

That's an ideal first line. The opening lines, but especially the first line, of a book is for two things: to capture the attention of the reader and raise story questions.

 

Take a look at these samples:

 

In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit~J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Hobbit"

This opening snags your attention because you want to know: what is a hobbit? Why do they live in holes? And, since it says "a hobbit" meaning a particular one, what does this hobbit have to do with the Story?

Because it raises Story questions, it captures your attention. Tolkien also answers these questions fairly quickly, but provides more so we are even more interested in the Story.

 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man of good fortune must be in want of a wife.~Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Why is the man in want of a wife? Who acknowledges this truth? Moreover, what in the WORLD does this have to do with a book with the heavy title of Pride and Prejudice? Again, story questions. And, it's a fun tongue-in-cheek opening. Sets the stage for Elizabeth Bennett's witticisms.

 

And some not so amazing openings, including one from a modern book:

 

Squire Trelawner, Dr. Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and not only because there is treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17--, and go back to the time when my father kept the "Admiral Benbow" inn, and the brown old seaman, with the sabre-cut, first took up his lodging under our roof~Robert Louis Stevenson, "Treasure Island".

Ick! So there's an island, and some treasure. Whohoo. Makes me wonder if this guy is going to be this long-winded throughout the entire book!

Admission: I might be slightly biased on this one because I don't like Treasure Island. However, I think most of you will agree--it's not a great opening line because it reveals the entire purpose of the book. To me, it leaves no story questions big enough to make someone want to read the entire book.

Does it seem presumptuous to tackle one of the "master" storytellers? Sorry, Mr. Stevenson!

 

The wind howled like a wounded beast in the southwest~Brian Jacques, "High Rhulain".

Hmm. Do tell. Wake me up when the storm's over. Especially since this is--what?--one of numerous Brain Jacques books that starts with a storm.

That isn't to say that I don't like Brian Jacques' books. The Pearls of Lutra is very good, and Mossflower ranks pretty high in my top-favorites list. However, I do get tired of the multiple books opening with storms. Plus, it doesn't bring up any story questions to be answered.

A better one would be, "The wounded otter crouched on the shoreline, ignoring the wind buffeting her fur."

 

Ever since I first read about the opening sentence idea, my opening sentences are the ones I've worked on the hardest (next to my closing sentences). After all, what author wouldn't be flattered to know that their readers are going through half the book while still in the bookstore?

Friday, November 13, 2009

5th Round

Hey everyone!!! Olivia finished her 5th round of chemo today. She did a lot better than everyone expected with this round--it didn't make nearly so sick as they were afraid it might. The doctor is still deciding whether or not she gets to go home--we sure hope so!!
Thank you for all your prayers during this round.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Women of Valor Series by Elyse Larson

Book 1: For Such A Time

Storyline: Giselle Munier and Jean Thornton were like sisters from childhood. Now, Giselle is a Resistance worker in occupied France, and Jean works with the Red Cross in England. One day Jean hears that Giselle was captured by the Gestapo, tortured for information, then rescued and hidden in France by fellow resistants. Giselle's children, Angie and Jacquie, have been safely hidden on a farm—and no one knows where her husband Claude is.

Jean decides to undergo rigorous training by the British secret service, then head over to France and rescue her friend. But once she's over there, she discovers it's a difficult matter trying to get people out of occupied France. And even if she does succeed, will Giselle and the children be safe in England when there's a traitorous resistant shadowing them?

My Take:

On the technical side, this book wasn't all that well-written. For example, Jean tells her friend Marge her life history near the beginning of the book—even when Marge has known Jean for years. There were a few other technical mistakes, but none that are glaring.

The book dragged on and on between Giselle's rescue and the climax. I guessed the traitorous resistant at his first appearance. The women also have a slight feministic attitude, but that was typical for the time period I would think, since women had to take over the tasks that the men previously did.

But despite all that, it was a mildly satisfying read. I thought the section with Jean's training and rescuing Giselle was particularly well done. All the code words reminded me—it sounds bad to say it—of the old TV series Hogan's Heroes. But I know that it was very true of that time. That section, which comprised most of he middle of the book, was a good spy story.

I sympathized with both characters (though Giselle more). In a few short sections, I was very glad that the author didn't delve into the Nazis' brutality further. And Jean's short spurts of humor were pretty funny although her romance story felt a little thrown-in.

This book was, I think, a fairly accurate portrayal of the WWII times, and it was pretty enjoyable.

Rating: three out of five stars

Book 2: So Shall We Stand

Storyline: War widow Nella Killian, along with her friend Jean, discovered the body of a supposedly disturbed patient from a war hospital in the first book in the Women of Valor series, For Such A Time. It was ruled suicide. A few weeks later, Nella discovers a letter from the soldier in a book her father loaned to the hospital, hinting that the man was fully sane and had stumbled upon a Nazi plot that claimed his life.

Before too long, threats make their way into her hands. Nella decides to leave and go work as a Land Girl (women who took over men's farming jobs) on nearby Westmoreland manor. She's a day's journey from her parents and little girl, but her best friend Peggy Jones teaches the village school. While Nella tries to uncover the plot, she finds herself drawn to Bryan Westmoreland, the lord's son. Despite Peggy's precautions and her own uncertainty about Bryan's motives, she falls in love with him. Then she overhears him plotting with two men. It sounds like he's mixed up with Nazi spies. And one of Peggy's young students goes missing. In the final rush of everything, Nella realizes she should have listened to Peggy. Now she's put her family, Peggy and a young girl in danger.

My Take: This book was slightly more exciting than For Such a Time. Several red herrings are dropped in our way, but for an aware reader, they're not too difficult to figure out. The final twist about Bryan is the easiest one of the bunch. And there were also a lot of clichés and gushing, poorly worded choices.

We're also treated to a subplot about Peggy's troubles with the lady of the manor complaining about the way she's conducting school, and her own little romance with one of Bryan's gentry friends.

It was interesting to realize the potential for Nazi spies in England as well as English spies in Nazi-occupied countries. It wasn't anything I'd given much thought about, which made it for an interesting read. But on the whole, the book didn't ring very true to me. I didn't feel particularly drawn to any of the characters, though I sympathized a little with Nella's bitterness at God because of the death of her first husband. It felt very fake, and without the mystery, we'd be left without any story.

Rating: three of five stars

Monday, November 2, 2009

Enjoying Having Written VS Enjoying Writing

Some author once said that they enjoyed "having written."

 

I thought, that's not right! How can someone who writes for a living not enjoy the process of writing? Of putting words to paper?

 

I guess that comes from where my perspective is--which is enjoying it while I'm writing. If I didn't enjoy the physical action of tapping keys on my computer or moving a pen across paper; if I didn't enjoy seeing the scenes of the story unfold in my head like movies; if I didn't enjoy delving into a character's mind to see what drives them--then I wouldn't be writing today.

 

I honestly don't understand, with the commitments and hardships of writing, how anyone can enjoy having written but not enjoy writing. To me, there is such a joy, especially as my fingers move so fast I can barely keep up with them, and my thoughts flow from my brain to the page faster than I knew I could think.

 

There are hardships in writing, yes. There are times I want to tear my hair out in frustration (oh, no, wait I can't do that any more--Justin wouldn't like it if I pulled my hair out. :0) )  But without the joy that writing gives me I don't think I could get through the hard times. I'd have thrown in the towel a long, long time ago!

 

What about you? Do you enjoy writing, or do you enjoy reading over what you have written better?

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