Book Review Roundup

I’ve got a busy summer (like most folks) and I thought I’d highlight some reads I’ve enjoyed over the last few months in case our WU audience needs an escape from the chaos. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

Don’t Let Go by our former blogmate Sharla Lovelace.Don't Let Go

Noah Ryan and Jules Doucette spent every moment together, first as best friends and later as young lovers. The two had planned a life together—until one unspeakable decision tore them apart for good. Twenty-six years later, Jules is still carefully living the life her mother planned out for her. She’s running her mother’s store, living in her mother’s house, following her mother’s rules, and keeping the secrets her mother made her bury. Then Noah comes home and any sense of an ordered life flies out the window. Noah’s return does more than just stir up old memories—it forces Jules to see her life in a whole new way and uncovers secrets even she didn’t know were buried. Secrets that could easily destroy her world once more.

I loved this book! I laughed, I cried, and I hated to see it end. Noah and Jules were such relatable characters, and I loved the relationship Jules had with her daughter and her ex. Well done, Sharla. Well done.

The Year We Fell Down by Sarina Bowen:The Year We Fell Down

The sport she loves is out of reach. And the boy she loves has someone else. What now? She expected to start Harkness College as a varsity ice hockey player. But a serious accident means that Corey Callahan will start school in a wheelchair instead. Across the hall, in the other handicapped-accessible dorm room, lives the too-delicious-to-be real Adam Hartley, another would-be hockey star with his leg broken in two places. He’s way out of Corey’s league. Also, he’s taken. Nevertheless, an unlikely alliance blooms between Corey and Hartley in the “gimp ghetto” of McHerrin Hall. Over tequila, perilously balanced dining hall trays, and video games, the two cope with disappointments that nobody else understands. They’re just friends, of course, until one night when things fall apart. Or fall together. All Corey knows is that she’s falling. Hard. But will Hartley set aside his trophy girl to love someone as broken as Corey? If he won’t, she will need to find the courage to make a life for herself at Harkness — one which does not revolve around the sport she can no longer play, or the brown-eyed boy who’s afraid to love her back.

I loved the complexity of the characters in this book, but what drew me was the wheelchair character. After spending the last year writing about someone in a wheelchair, I wondered if the author could do the experience justice. In my very limited experience, she did, and I applaud her for tackling the subject. The Year We Fell Down is an engrossing read by an author I plan to read more from.

*Blurbs and Covers from authors’ websites.

What’s the Difference Between Romance and Women’s Fiction?

Sometimes authors of romance and women’s fiction face a conundrum. They’ve written a novel, or they’ve got an idea for one, and they’re not sure which of the two genres it fits into.

One reason for this confusion is that a single novel can meet the definitions for both. As defined by the Romance Writers of America (RWA), romance fiction includes

  • A central love story
  • An emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending

Novels that meet this definition might be romance, or they might be women’s fiction. Both are relationship-driven, which sets them apart from other genres. But there are critical differences between the two.

Romance

Romance novels feature a hero and heroine*, each with their own plot and character arc, which are interwoven to form the main arc of the story.

Romance is unique in fiction because it has two protagonists, who each serve as the other’s antagonist. It can also have a villain, but the villain is not the antagonist. If the romance is the central storyline, then it’s the love interest, not the villain, who forces the protagonist to change.

Women’s Fiction

Women’s fiction is relationship-driven but focuses on the journey of the female protagonist. The central relationship can be romantic, but it doesn’t have to be—nor does the genre require a happy ending as romance does. Women’s fiction often explores the protagonist’s family ties, friendships, and career.

Often, women’s fiction includes multiple relationships as subplots. For instance, a novel with a central romantic storyline might feature a mother-daughter struggle as a secondary plot, or a novel focusing on the relationship between sisters might have a romance subplot.

Women’s fiction, unlike romance, generally has a single protagonist. In romantic women’s fiction (that is, it meets RWA’s definition of romance), the love interest is the antagonist, even if the story also includes a villain. But the love interest is not on par with the female protagonist, who is clearly the main character.

Beach Colors by Shelley Noble is my favorite example of a women’s fiction novel that reads like a romance, but the strong subplots push the hero into a more secondary position. He’s got a strong character arc, but it’s subordinate to the heroine’s.

There are also romance novels that feature strong subplots and family relationships, giving them the feel of women’s fiction. Two of my favorite examples are Virginia Kantra’s Dare Island series and Melissa Cutler’s Catcher Creek series.

Industry professionals don’t all agree on the exact definition of women’s fiction, so if you’d like to read more, here are the links to a few articles on this subject:

How do you define women’s fiction? Do you agree with how I distinguish between women’s fiction and romance? Leave a comment! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

* The central couple in a romance novel can also be a same-sex couple or a menage grouping. In a menage, one pair may predominate, or all three characters (or more) may play equal roles. Note that this definition is not intended to exclude any LGBTQIA or MOGAI relationships not specifically mentioned.

Mackinac Island

Recently my family and I visited Mackinac Island, a small island located north of Michigan where no motor vehicles are allowed, restricting transportation to foot, bicycle, and horse & buggy.

Mackinac town

It’s a really neat place and a family tradition on my father’s side of the family. In fact, we still have a few members who live on the island year round which is CRAZY — unless you like the snow. They do. :)

west bluff

This shot was taken looking up West Bluff Road, a street lined with beautiful cottage mansions where people stay and enjoy the northern Michigan summers on the island.

view from The Grand Hotel

This view is looking down toward the town from The Grand Hotel, the famous location where the movie Somewhere In Time was filmed.

ferry boat

Ferry boats take visitors to and from the island and are quite a sight to see with their huge rooster tails besides being a lot of fun to ride!

lilacs

Lilacs flourish on the island and are the focus of the Lilac Festival every June. Dipping my nose in returned a breath rich in memory as I recall the scents of my grandmother’s drawer liners and perfume.

arch rock

Arch Rock is probably one of the most photographed spots on the island. On a clear day you can see the Upper Peninsula and even Canada beyond!

harbor view inn

We stayed at the Harbor View Inn, a lovely bed and breakfast located on the east end of the island.

patio view from Harbor View Inn

Relaxing comes natural at a place where patios are lined with flowers and drenched in garden view. And then of course, there’s the fudge. Mackinac Island is known for its fudge and you can’t walk a single block without passing at least two different fudge shops. Or candy shops, ice cream… I think it’s the only tourist destination where sweet shops are more prevalent than gift shops!

It’s a dream destination for our family and the first time my kids have visited since they were babies. Both loved it and are ready to spend their summers on the island.  And why not? It’s a FUN place to have fun. Check it out for yourself!

Why writing is so hard, and why I do it anyway

10383661_10204481819261556_458038920627797529_nWith only a few books under my belt, I guess you could say I’m fairly new at this writing gig. There are some things I’ve learned along the way ~ that I’m a morning writer, that I write best in an empty house, that getting up and switching to a new spot will loosen up almost every plot knot ~ but there’s far more I’m still figuring out. What is my process? Am I a pantser or a plotter? Why can’t I write faster? Do I have a muse, and where is she when I need her? Will writing a book ever get any easier?

Most authors will tell you the answer to that last one is a big, fat no. Writing doesn’t get easier, because you never write the same book twice. Plots get more complicated, characters become better developed, motivations and conflicts become more intertwined. These are all good things, because it means you’re pushing yourself, and becoming a better author. But believe me when I say they can also account for a lot of sleepless nights.

And now that I have real readers, people I don’t know but who buy my book anyway, I have a whole host of new worries. That they won’t relate to my characters, that the plot won’t resonate, that they won’t like my second book as much as the first, that they’ll get bored of me and stop buying. Strangers tell me all the time what they love about my books, but also what they hate. It’s hard to write the next one without them–the critics and the fans–sitting on your shoulder.

Sometimes, writing feels like punishment, like a 90,000-word mountain I can’t and don’t want to climb. But when a new story idea wakes me in the middle of the night, when I hear my characters’ voices as clearly as if they’re sitting in the room next to me, when the words flow and the imagery sings and the dialogue crackles off the page, those moments make all the hard times worth it. Getting words on the page is not easy, and it’s not always fun, but I love it anyway.

When Enemies Attack

Say you have an archenemy. A real-life nemesis. One you’d banish to a remote island, first chance you got.

There is a long history with this enemy. Unsettling history. And, in the recent past, that history—full of terrible, inexcusable behavior, anger, disgust, embarrassment—has made it near-impossible to be around or communicate with them, though this is one you cannot dismiss from life entirely. There are reasons you are forced to interact with The Enemy.

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

So imagine that not too long ago, unavoidable encounters spiked your anxiety. You were a raw, exposed nerve over the idea of crossing paths, the risk of confrontation, even just a few exchanged words, because — while this sounds extreme, it’s fact that will eventually see daylight — The Enemy is a bully with lacking morals, no conscience or sense of accountability, and little to respect. Fully aware of these truths, then, and knowing The Enemy has yet to meet severe consequence for some serious offenses, you found it difficult to occupy the same space without increased pulse, racing thoughts, preoccupation, some animosity.

But that was before…

Let’s assume time has passed. Quality time. Your life has continued. You’ve assessed the damage caused by history. You’ve figured yourself out, repaired said damage (and all on your own). Determined your own truths, and reality-minus-history, what you stand for, what you’ll never allow again. You’ve learned how to breathe, how to cultivate (and retain) inner peace. You have let go of what was never your responsibility to hold onto. You have moved on.

You are revived and strong and victorious.

And then say, with no warning, you get cornered by The Enemy. It happens in the flesh, this is not good. Not good at all. You try to break free — because you’ve learned evasion is best, healthiest — but can’t and, since there is no escape, you are stuck.

Things are said at you. Subtle insults and condescension thrown. You are in the path of destruction.

But here, you recognize The Enemy’s same old tactic, gaslighting, it’s been this way forever and a day, and also…

you realize…

it doesn’t matter. You see it for what it is. You see The Enemy for what they are, and that the attack has nothing to do with you. It never did, and you will not be run over again. You will keep your head, you will call on your power and hold your own.

Forget the things being said to you, they mean nothing, you can disregard. They are a delusion.

You have your own things to say, actually, and so you do. It doesn’t matter that they won’t be heard or acknowledged, that your words will be twisted later, you’re saying them. You are still raw and exposed, but this time, it’s on your terms.

You reject the attack. Because you are bigger than any attack The Enemy offers, from here forward. Maybe you have been for awhile.

Yes, you realize. You have.

And suddenly it’s over. Look at you, you’re still standing.

awinner

You walk away. Your head is stuffy and a brick has lodged itself in your gut, and still you await word of that remote island, but it’s over.

And you won.

(I won.)


A related topic of interest is Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

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