“The Choice: The Unexpected Heroes” by Gwen M. Plano

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“The Choice: The Unexpected Heroes” is the sequel to “The Contract: Between Heaven and Earth”. As such, it’s a good idea to read the first book before this one to make sure you have the tale’s full context. As promised, it’s an action-packed tale with a fascinating and timely plot that keeps you guessing. Every time the protagonists uncover another link in the conspiracy to take down the US Government and create a One World Government, that person winds up dead with the protagonists themselves eventually turning up on the kill list.

The ending was satisfying, yet intriguing enough to look forward to the next volume, which is always good in a series. It’s not one of those cliffhanger endings that leaves you tearing you hair out. If you’re looking for a thriller that keeps moving (at least from about 25% onward) you will probably enjoy this book.

However, there are a few things that kept me from awarding this novel 5-stars. First of all, I found the fact it was written in the present tense to be a major distraction. By the time I was about halfway through the book, I got kind of used to it, but it was never  comfortable. In many ways, it read more like a screenplay than a novel. I realize this is supposed to give a story a sense of immediacy, but for me the unconventional style kept jolting me out of the story. It’s okay to “break the rules” if it works, but for me, this didn’t.

I judge a book based on several elements, which I define with the acronym IDEAS: Imagery, Dialog, Emotion, Action and Suspense. This story does a great job with Dialog, Action, and Suspense. Imagery, however, was lacking. I would have enjoyed having better descriptions of what the characters looked like. Ironically, what they ate and when was explained in greater detail than their appearance. The scenery at the base was likewise lean, apparently assuming that most people have either been on a military base at some time or seen one on TV or in the movies, so they could fill in the blanks.

Some readers may prefer filling in these details from their own imagination. As a detail-oriented person, I enjoy knowing more about the characters and scenery so I can visualize it more easily. Such details also can contribute substantially to rendering the story’s mood.

The characters felt more like casual acquaintances than people with whom I felt an emotional connection. I realize that developing these story elements can sometimes slow the story down. Many action-oriented stories are likewise lean on imagery and emotion, so it’s somewhat typical of the genre. However, for me to find a story truly memorable, these are essential. I like to feel something when I read a story. If a novel makes me laugh, cry, or better yet, both, I will always remember it (such as Eichin Chang-Lim’s masterpiece, “Flipping”). Those that make me laugh I’ll often reread at some point (such as Scott Skipper’s “Alien Affairs” series).

Curiosity regarding what would happen next kept me reading, but nail-biting suspense regarding any of the characters’ well-being was never such that I couldn’t put the book down. (This can actually be a good thing, however, if you have to get up for work or school in the morning. Years ago, when I held a full-time job, I had to give up Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton books for that very reason.)

There were a few grammatical issues as far as word usage is concerned. Homonyms are challenges for many, one of the most common pairs to confuse the words shudder and shutter, the former of which is when a person is rattled or scared, the latter those wooden window coverings. The use of the word “patsy” was not the best word for the context of the sentence in one place, and the acronym BOLO was never defined, either, rendering that sentence impossible to understand.

These are minor, I know, but the editor in me picks up on such things, so I include them here to be helpful to other authors; the average reader is typically oblivious to such things.

Most authors, myself included, learn more from criticism, which improves our writing, while accolades merely feed our ego. More often than not, we’re  blind to such things ourselves. On the other hand, an author’s style will seldom appeal to everyone. Some prefer more detail; others, less. Some prefer short, choppy sentences that keep things moving; others prefer prose that flows and is worth savoring.

As always, reviews are subjective. The high demands I place on a novel are probably off the charts as well as the average reader’s radar. That said, this timely story is credible along with having rather chilling implications. Pick up a copy on Amazon here and see for yourself.

A Heartwarming Texas Love Story with a Bonus: It’s True!

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There is only one thing better than a good love story and that’s a love story that’s true, which is the case with this endearing tale. Clearly, the title alone is a spoiler alert, and while it is definitely a tear-jerker at the end, what leads up to it is an inspiring, heart-warming chronicle of the love and devotion between two very special people.

If you’re a music fan, more specifically a country music fan, you’ll enjoy it even more as it recounts the journey of someone who’d been a star in the past making a comeback and bringing his wife and daughters along for the ride, their talents developing and blossoming as well.

The story is pure Texas, which I particularly enjoyed because I live there as well. So much of the culture of the Lone Star State is captured, including parties were anyone who shows up is welcome as well as the vast distances that often lie between where a person lives and the services they need.  A fifty mile drive is often required, which in smaller, more condensed states or many metropolitan areas, would be incomprehensible.  For example, from one end of Houston to the other is also fifty miles and that is how far I live from a full-size shopping center with the usual big stores, with it even farther to an actual mall. A fifty mile drive is almost what you could call “business as usual” in this state.

I loved this heartwarming story. It shows that there are some couples in the real world who truly do love each other, come what may. Unfortunately, it seems that often such pairs must endure many heart-wrenching hardships. Life is truly filled with opposition, but sharing the burden with someone you truly love only makes the bond stronger. The photos bring the story even more to life, even though the names in the book are different from their real-life counterparts, the reason for which the author explains.

I highly recommend this story to anyone who needs a reminder that true love does happen and is something to celebrate. Its rarity makes it all the more precious. Note, also, that this is only part of their story. Be sure to check out the story’s prequels, perhaps in order, though this is a standalone book that doesn’t require that. Any stories or books by this talented author are outstanding.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

Today’s Writing Tip

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To build on yesterday’s post about author networking, another thing author support groups can provide includes a variety of benefits. Many offer classes, some free or at a reduced rate; tweet groups; review opportunities; online writing conferences; blog tours; interviews; and vetted author service providers.

There are two specific groups with whom I’ve had good experiences. There are many more, but these have been helpful for me. These are ASMSG (Author Social Media Support Group) and RRBC (Rave Reviews Book Club). Through my membership in both I have learned a lot and met some awesome authors who have also become great friends. If you’d like more information, leave a comment and I’ll provide contact information.

“Shadowed by Death” Another Excellent Historical Novel from Mary Adler

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Mary Adler has done it again, sweeping me away to another time and place with this second book of her Oliver Wright mystery series. Like the first one, it’s set in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 40s, while the country was in the throes of WWII. Again I experienced the culture in that locale during that era as well as the prejudice and suspicion that prevailed against immigrants.

Of course the fact we were at war with some of the counties from which these people hailed, to say nothing of all sorts of intrigue in progress due to the convoluted political situation in Europe, nothing was simple. While the majority of these immigrants came to the USA to escape oppression as well as possible annihilation, it’s not surprising that their motives could be questioned. These interactions and the history behind it, most of which few of us know, made the story that started out as a murder mystery all the more interesting.

The characters were engaging and well-drawn, including Oliver’s awesome German Shepherd, Harley. Relationships are believable and convincingly complex, both interpersonal and familial as well as between ethnic group. The plot is gripping, loaded with historical information, and full of suspense and surprises. Mary Adler is one of my favorite authors with her smooth, imagery-rich style, historical value, and authentic cultural context. All in all, an outstanding read.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Beta readers are worth their weight in gold. Make sure your story is as good as you can possibly make it yourself before sending it out to them. You waste their time as well as your own when they pick up issues you could have fixed yourself with one more edit.

Definitely spellcheck! There’s no excuse for spelling errors! Proper usage of homonyms (e.g. their, there, and they’re) is one thing spellcheckers will miss as well as simply typing the wrong word. We all tend to read right over them in our own work, but there’s no excuse for blatant garden-variety typos that a spellchecker should catch.

I have made this mistake before and had things pointed out that I planned to fix. My first draft tends  primarily to be action and dialog, any imagery and emotion sometimes missing entirely, or more of the “tell” mode instead of the preferred “show.”  I have learned to wait until I’ve really polished the story to my own satisfaction before handing it over to a critique group or beta reader. Bear in mind it is probably the only version of your story that they’ll ever read. Don’t you want it to be your best work?

 

Today’s Writing Tip

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I’ve probably said this before, but when I get stuck trying to visualize something, I go out to Pixabay or simply google whatever it is to find some pictures. It can really help me describe something when I’m having difficulty finding the right words. If you can’t see it in your mind when you describe it, the reader probably won’t, either.

Having a visual “story board” fits well with this. Grab some pictures of your characters as well as various scenes from your story. This is especially helpful if you tend to write primarily action and dialog. They’re important, of course, but imagery is important to make the story really come alive. Otherwise, it may wind up reading like a screen play, which really doesn’t establish a bond with reader like visual and emotional details.

Today’s Writing Tip

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There are multiple ways to maintain suspense. Withholding information is one technique, but sometimes you can actually build more suspense by telling the reader more instead of less. Blatant surprises your reader didn’t see coming can backfire when they find them irritating.

You can still keep the reader wondering what will happen by giving them more information. If the reader knows what’s going on behind the scenes and that the protagonist is in danger, they’ll be biting their nails, wanting to warn them, and wondering how the hero or heroine will handle it.

One way to think about this is to consider whether stories about the Titanic are any less suspenseful for knowing how it ends?

Today’s Writing Tip

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As an author I don’t know what I’d do without Wikipedia. It is the first place I go when I want to get a fundamental and easy to understand glimpse at something. If I need to do more research, I do, but more often than not I find everything I need for the purposes of a novel right there. If you haven’t used them, you should try them.

They are a nonprofit who relies on donations and hopes to keep it ad-free. If you use them, I encourage you to donate. They are a tremendous resource and it’s beyond refreshing to be free of ads distracting your attention.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Have you ever bought a book from an author you only know via social media who privately messages you with a book ad? I haven’t. I find that almost as annoying as robocalls. While we want to be noticed, being too pushy can be a turnoff. Another annoyance IMHO are those who spam their book, often several times a day, as if repeating their message enough times will work.

When I have time to look at my Instagram or Twitter feed nothing annoys me more than seeing repeated plugs for the same book(s). I want to reply something like “Alright, alright, I saw it already!” Any interest I may have had goes up in smoke with spamming. Think about that when you’re promoting your book. Think quality as opposed to quantity.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Since ebooks are so popular and, in most cases, comprise the majority of your book sales, be sure to include links to your other books in the end. Including excerpts is another option. Making it easier for your readers to discover your other books and possibly sample them can help build your fan base as well as encourage sales. If they liked your story there’s a good chance they’d like to see more.