Open Letter to online reviewers

ImageDear Reader,

I read your review, the one where you gave me one-star and compared the first few chapters of The Lost Testament to an “eighth grade assignment for a short story.”

You’e not alone. Another one-star giver said it was “just bad” and “uninteresting.” Someone else called it “not worth finishing.”

I’m not going to pack up my laptop. My wife isn’t confiscating my belts and shoelaces. Really, I’m okay.

But, there are some things you, as a reviewer, should know.

As a writer, I appreciate the time and effort you spend giving independent writers like me a chance. You could stick to the works of the Big 6 or disregard indie authors altogether. It’s a credit to you that you do otherwise. Thank you for that.

Likewise, if you think my work is crap and you have spent $1.99 of your hard earned cash on me, then, from a certain perspective, it is your God-given patriotic duty to announce to the planet (Kindle is practically worldwide, after all) your opinion that a fourteen-year-old and I are on equal literary footing.

Writers who have hit it big barely blink at what reviews say. Indie writers, whose ability to sell a book might live or die on a review, count on it. It’s up to us to put out the best work we possibly can and pray it is reviewed well in kind. Of the thousands of books I’ve sold, you’re not the first person to think something negative. You’re just the third to publish it publicly about this book.

Like you, I’ve read some BAD writing in my day. I’ve taught literature for eight years. One of my students wrote a slave narrative about how she and her sisters, Meg, Jo, and Beth, escaped to the north. THAT was bad writing (plagiarism, actually), and if you think my writing is close to that, you must not read teenage writing very much.

Speaking as both an author and a publisher, I’m asking that if you going to give an independent author like me lower than a three star review, don’t leave one at all. Here’s why:

  • You say you didn’t know what to expect? Amazon allows you to preview a few chapters before you buy. Usually, if a book is crappy, you can smell it by the first few pages. Preview it first if you’re skeptical.
  • You could have returned it for a full refund, no questions asked, no comments left.
  • You could have read ALL of the reviews first. Marlene Wagner said it was “an inspiring story of how [faith] can change a life.” Jodi Cornelius and K. Wagner highly recommend it. I promise I don’t know those people.

Something I’ve learned in the past five years and five novels is that you’re never going to please everyone. There’s always something to improve. Likewise, I’ve also learned there are some people who will never be pleased no matter what you do. Whichever you believe, sir/madam, I hope you will take my suggestions to heart. The next indie author will appreciate it, too.

Sincerely,

Brian Thompson

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It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

Brian Thompson

and the book:

Reject High
Great Nation Publishing, LLC (June 13, 2013)
***Special thanks to Brian Thompson for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Brian Thompson is a celebrated writer, educator, and former journalist. His previous works include the Christian fiction thriller The Lost Testament, inspirational adventure The Revelation Gate, and futuristic sci-fi novel The Anarchists. He and his family reside in Covington, Georgia.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

After his latest fight, Jason Champion is sent to a rundown alternative school, nicknamed “Reject High.” Fine by him, except a girl named Cherish died there under strange circumstances. . .

Cherish’s only friend, Rhapsody Lowe, shows him a crystal that turns her invisible. Jason tries one on and he jumps over a city.

Their classmates, Sasha and Selby, see Jason and Rhapsody in action and receive crystals of their own. They keep a low profile until Jason discovers they are being studied by people they trust.

With eleven days until Reject High is destroyed, Jason and his friends must dodge their pursuers, solve the mystery of Cherish’s death, and save their power source from falling into the wrong hands.

The first installment in a multi-book series, Reject High combines engaging characters inside of a page-turning, breathtaking adventure.

Product Details:
List Price: $11.95
Paperback: 270 pages
Publisher: Great Nation Publishing (June 13, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0989105601
ISBN-13: 978-0989105606

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

my first mental breakdown

I watched policemen cut away the yellow crime scene tape on the five o’ clock news. It made my throat burn. They sent the memorials away to God-knows-where. I shouldn’t have been surprised at the lack of respect for the dead girl. After all, Cherish Watkins did go to an alternative school. That’s where I was headed.

My suspension won’t end until whenever that school opens back up. Sounds like an early summer vacation? Not if your stepmom takes everything fun from your room, like mine did. My video games and DVDs aren’t in their usual hiding place. Neither is my MP4 player. She must have hidden my stuff at Aunt Dee’s house under the mess.

Some parents, who were angry about the school being closed, forced an emergency board meeting. Did they think we’d start a zombie apocalypse and destroy the town? Who cares anyway? Reject High – what everyone calls the alternative school – will close for good in a month. The building will be destroyed this summer. Epic fail. Even then, I’ll probably never get back into North High, my old school. Guess I’ll drop out, since we can’t afford to move to another district.

This isn’t my first time being in trouble. Doctors don’t know exactly why, but in addition to ADHD, I have rage blackouts. I lose control, destroy things, and I hurt people. Problem is – I don’t remember anything about them. It’s one of a couple of reasons my father gave up raising me and let his ex-wife Debra take me in. He’d never admit it, but he didn’t have to.    

At the risk of making me angry, Debra forced me to come with her to the special meeting. I had “an interest in the outcome,” she said. If Reject High stayed closed, my apartment jail sentence would continue until June. Otherwise, I’d be free. . .to go to back to school. Wish I’d waited a little longer to break Ryan Cain’s jaw. The school board might have just suspended me through the end of the school year. Then I wouldn’t be in this mess.  

I rubbed the back of my neck and turned to my stepmother, who sat to my left. “It’s eleven days and it’s only Reject High, not jail.”

Debra shook her head, which she does when I let her down. As many times as I’ve disappointed her, she should have a serious neck problem. “That’s not a really big difference, Jason.”

Though she shouted that in my ear, I could barely hear it. People all around called us names, like “degenerates” and “multiple offenders.” After a good loud minute of that, the board chairwoman – the chick with the nameplate “B. King” – banged her little wooden hammer against the table. “One last comment,” she screamed while waving for the next person in line to step up.

Vivienne Coker moved to the center aisle. She looked like a sixty-year-old version of the mom on Friday Night Lights – graying red hair, with wrinkles all over the place and pointy boobs. She ran the city’s group home, which always had an opening. Vivienne complained about everything to anyone who’d listen. She and B. King smiled at one another.

“Ms. Coker,” said B. King with a sneer. “You have two minutes.”

“Won’t take me one, Belinda. Might as well send the worst ones to us, ‘cause if you let them stay out longer, it’ll be Armageddon.”

Fine, crime has gone up. Can she really blame that on us? As Vivienne walked back to her seat, I wanted to strangle her. But that’s why I was one of “them” to begin with. Well, so much for being “normal.”

At the front of the room, the eight men and women on the board sat in high-backed, brown leather chairs – like a semicircle of Supreme Court judges in dress clothes. At their left, a lawyer adjusted her glasses and said legal stuff no one understood. Finally, Belinda King called for a vote, and the board unanimously reopened the school. After that, they concluded the meeting and immediately hid from the media in what the lawyer called an executive session.

Debra stood. “Great. I’m officially raising a statistic.”

I’ve been called a lot of things, but that one hurt. I didn’t ask to be born different.

The next day, the school bus left us at the entrance to the school property. It had razor wire looping through the top of the fence and I smelled cigarettes and marijuana smoke. In front of the building, a maroon wooden sign said R.E.G.C.T. in white capital letters. Underneath the abbreviation, it was spelled out: Regional Education and Guidance Collective Training facility. At the top, someone had spray painted “JE” over the letter “G” to spell REJECT. Yup, this was close enough to jail, alright.

Since clear backpacks were required as a safety thing, I stuffed my MP4 player down between my books. Getting into a fight over it was not an option after Debra finally gave it back. The next thing I do wrong, it’s straight from here to someplace worse.

Allen Rush, my old principal at North High, once called me “trash that needed taking out.” No one would buy it if I told them he said it, because we were alone in his office. Who would take my word over an adult’s anyway?

On first glance, this place was nothing like North. It should have been blown up years ago. Instead of trimmed grass, it had weeds sticking up between cracks in the sidewalk. The concrete steps were broken in spots. The closer I got, the more horrible it looked. So did the students.

This kid from New York once told me to move with purpose. Doing that has helped me avoid trouble. Since I’m 5’2 ¾”, I always walked fast and stared a hole through anyone who looked at me. The potheads and the girls who Debra likes to call “garden tools” gawked back at me. I’m the weird one?

Inside the main entrance, a metal detector/pat-down line stretched along the nearby wall. Backing up against the orange bricks, I hid the contents of my book bag so no one could see my MP4. Debra had said not to take it in the first place, but she said lots of things. Without music to calm me down, I’d have only my thoughts, and thinking too much for me is a bad idea.

A cute girl – for a Goth, at least – stood next to me. Usually, girls like her wore torn up clothes and thought white and black are the world’s only colors. Not this one. She wore a blue and white spandex shirt and her bra strap peeked out on her shoulder. I’m not into pink, but it got my attention. She smelled great, like a flower garden. Her hair stuck up in randomly-gelled strands. With a better hairdo and less makeup, she’d be Penelope Cruz’s little sister kind-of-hot.

“Move,” she said to me with her eyes fixed ahead. “You’re next.”

Her voice snapped me to attention. “My fault.”

A uniformed Student Resource Officer with bushy nose hair waved for me to leave my bag on the conveyor belt and step through the metal detector. After removing my wallet, keys, cell phone, and belt, I passed through without a problem and collected my stuff.

Down the hallway a redheaded football-player shaped like a bowling ball played “keep away” with the bag of a kid around my size. I hate football and the guys that play it. After today, my MP4 and cell are staying at home.

“Won’t happen,” Goth Girl said with a playful grin.

“What ‘won’t happen’?” What was she talking about?

“You’re a virgin.”

“What?” I cleared my throat before my voice squeaked like a Yo Gabba Gabba character. There would be no saving myself from this one.

“Selby always gets to the first-timers. Just let him have his fun and try not to struggle too much.”

“No chance.” She didn’t know my reputation.

She smirked. “Good luck with that.”

Before I had a chance to react, the kid she called Selby yanked me by the neck into a nearby hallway, pulled off my backpack, and shoved me against a locker. “Freak,” he said, his lip curled. Wait – I know him! He used to go to North High and he acted like ninth graders were bugs to be crushed.

“C’mon!” The way he went through my stuff sent me into overdrive. My ears pounded, and suddenly everything in my world faded into white flashes. The blackout couldn’t have lasted too long. When I came out of it, my wrists weren’t handcuffed and nobody asked me questions I couldn’t answer. Selby groaned at my feet. He was bleeding at the mouth.

My knuckles were sore, and I didn’t notice any cameras. We were alone, so I got my backpack and ran down the hallway. Every classroom door was locked. Maybe the bathrooms? The boys’ restroom was locked, but the girls’ door gave in after I shoved it. No time for me to be squeamish. Besides, what was the worst thing I could find? Debra hand-washed her bras and hung them to dry in our shared bathroom. It couldn’t be much worse than that. I’ll just squeeze through the window and cut class. Anything’s better than facing assault charges.

Inside, I found Goth Girl applying a coat of lipstick to her already shiny black lips. “Told you,” she said, fully satisfied with herself. She continued making small ovals around her mouth while she mocked me.

The center stall, it looked like. . .no, it couldn’t be. We’re in the South Hall bathroom?

She faced me for the first time.  “No one will find you in here.”

Goth Girl said it like a threat, unaware I’d hulked out. Selby might never become a dad because of me.

“I’m Rhapsody Lowe.” She acted like we weren’t standing in a former crime scene.

“Rhapsody” couldn’t be her real name. Who names her kid Rhapsody? She probably had an ugly first name, like Peggy Sue. “Whoever you are, I’m not staying in here.”

“Why not, Genius?”

“I get marked absent, my house gets called,” I shrugged. “Stepmom freaks, and I’ll be in the Black Hole with Coker by Monday. Besides, it’s a bathroom. One of us’ll have to use it, at some point.”

She snickered at my reasoning. “C’mon, stay. I’m not shy, but since you are, I won’t watch.”

“I’m serious.” Someone had removed the stall doors and never put them back up.

She crossed her arms over her chest and backed against the sink. “So am I. Your stepmom might. What makes you think the teachers care that much?” She nodded to the center stall. “They’re all here to get a check and go home. It’s Reject High. You get shipped here when nobody wants to deal with you.”

Yep, it had happened. Right there. Cherish Watkins shot herself. Small brown spots of her dried blood lined the outside of the drain grate. The ringing homeroom bell interrupted us.

“Quit worrying. You a momma’s boy, or something?”

“My mom’s dead.”

“Sorry. Chill out is all I meant.”

I shrugged my backpack down from my shoulders and went straight for my MP4. Rhapsody turned on her MP4 player and rocked out to some loud heavy metal. I blasted hip-hop and slid down to the black and white checkered floor. For a while, everything seemed okay. I closed my eyes and listened to almost every song on two different albums. An hour-and-a-half passed. We didn’t say a word to each other.

Then, in the middle of third period, I had to pee. I tried to hold it, but the more I thought about it, the more I needed to go. The first stall was closest to me. She’d have to stand on a seat and peek over the walls to see anything. I glanced all around, but didn’t see anything. Good thing I didn’t have gas. Satisfied, I kicked the toilet handle with my foot.

“Seriously?” Rhapsody shouted at me. “You suck at skipping.” When she stomped closer, I remembered my pants were still open.

“You said no one cared!” I turned around to zip up and washed my hands.

“We’ve got maybe two minutes before an SRO gets down here. Grab your crap, sit on the seat and shut up,” she growled. “Can you handle that?”

We’re screwed – the stalls don’t have doors. Who’s the genius now? “Shouldn’t we run, then?”

Tired of waiting for me, she entered the middle stall. “Alright, Captain Obvious. Get caught then.”

Soon the slow click-click sound of approaching footsteps against the hallway flooring made me do what Goth Girl said. When I squatted on the seat, I found out why Debra yells at me to lift it up at home.

Screeching hinges warned me we were no longer alone.

“Anybody in here?”

Did he really expect us to answer? I’d deny doing anything wrong, even if there was proof of me doing it. It works in court, so it might work for me here, too. Besides, someone died here. Someone would have to be really smart, or strange, to cut class here.

Click-click. He closed in – not a flashlight cop, but a Student Resource Officer with a loaded gun. He stopped, gazed at himself in the mirror and plucked a few nose hairs with his fingers.

I almost forgot not to laugh.

The guy’s name badge said S. Spivey 0344. Spivey inspected the inside of Rhapsody’s stall, the empty one at the end, and then mine. He stared at me, face-to-face and used his radio.

My heart settled in my throat.  We’re so busted!

“Spivey here,” he said, still facing me. “All clear. They must’ve run.”

Was this guy blind or stupid? I waved my hand. Spivey stopped. Did he see me after all? I guess not, because he closed the open window and walked away.

About a minute later, Rhapsody reappeared in front of me. “Next time, don’t flush.”

Book Review: Five out of five stars for When Rain Falls by Tyora Moody

When Rain FallsWhen Rain Falls by Tyora Moody
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Rain Falls in 140 characters or less: Two unsolved murders, cop’s widow + two kids lose friend. Divorced cop on case. Romance suspense!

When Rain Falls is the debut novel from Tyora Moody. I could not tell this was her first work. The writing is engaging, the plot gradually progresses with increasing speed toward the climax, and while my eyes initially bulged at the page count (it’s about 370 pages), she does a lot within it. It’s a must read if you like reading: a.) suspense b.) romance, and c.) Christian fiction that doesn’t beat you over the head with the message.

Candace Johnson, her protagonist, is the child of a mother who’s murdered. A few years prior to the events of the novel, she loses her husband, Frank, to an unsolved murder. Tragedy strikes again when Candace’s best friend Pamela is killed. I tried a few rounds of “Guess the Killers” and lost. Several times.

Darnell Jackson, a West Coast transfer on the police force, is on Pamela’s murder case with Frank’s old partner – who still has Frank’s death hanging over his head. Reluctantly, they work together to find who offed Pamela, with occasional interference from Candace.

I don’t mind the romantic pairing between Darnell and Candace, as that’s no mystery. Their interplay is not contrived at all, and I found it to be totally believable. The case goes in twists and turns, from the pointed fingers at Pamela’s married lover and his wife, to a final twist I didn’t see coming at all. Then, Moody throws a curve within that swerve. If that’s not enough to bait your hook, I don’t know what is.

All of the novel’s threads are neatly tied together at the end. If I had one gripe (and it’s one, small, tiny, melt-in-your-mouth-not-in-your-hand, bite-sized gripe). . .well, all I can say is that one of the threads “skips a loop.” Weird to say at the end of a review, I know, but I HATE spoilers.

View all my reviews

Guest Post: from Tyora Moody’s Virtual Book Tour for When Rain Falls

When Rain Falls, the debut novel from author Tyora Moody

Almost a Bad Boy?

Sharp and smooth would be how I describe one of my main characters in When Rain Falls, Detective Darnell Jackson. From the introductory scene until the last chapter, Detective Jackson, charmed me the entire time I developed his character. Despite being a female writer, I found writing from Detective Jackson’s male perspective enjoyable. His antics definitely cracked me up and I wished he wasn’t a fictional man. Often times the scenes flowed faster than it did with the other main character, Candace Johnson.

Both characters had experienced loss. Candace’s loss was a bit more intense with losing loved ones to violent crimes. Darnell had been struggling with his own loss. Divorce is often equated to death since individuals lose a significant other and portion of their life. His loss affected him enough that he moved from the West coast back to his roots in the Carolinas.

Darnell was an almost bad-boy. While growing up he tended to be on the other side of the law, but a strong, praying mother and aunts influenced him to attend the police academy later. Now a detective in the Charlotte Homicide Department, he is truly about seeking justice for the victim. There is a hint of Darnell’s bad boy tendencies when he confronts persons of interest or suspects. Not that he is a bad or corrupt cop, but he does push the envelope. His edginess has left him on the outside in the department. The tension between Darnell and his partner, Brunson, was so intense they often went their separate ways to keep from exploding on each other. When we meet Detective Jackson, he has been struggling with the toil his job has taken on him.

Read an excerpt below from Chapter 2 of When Rain Falls for an introduction to Detective Darnell Jackson.

He couldn’t take it anymore; he was ready to run. The sun remained hidden, but his body told him to get up and move. Without looking at the clock, Detective Darnell Jackson leapt from the bed. He slipped on a light blue Tar Heels sweatshirt and then a dark blue pair of sweatpants. Inside the bathroom of his master bedroom, he rubbed his hand across three days’ worth of stubble on his face. He certainly was no Denzel Washington, but most of the time he felt pretty good about his looks.

What he saw in the mirror this morning—just plain scary. His dark brown eyes were haunted from years of studying the evil ways of people. The case from this past week still weighed heavily on his mind, locking stress deep down into his neck and across his shoulders. Was there any rest for the weary? He needed to burn off some of this tension so he could enjoy the rest of his day off.
Darnell headed to the living room. This was his place, but he spent so much time on the job, some of the walls still remained bare, and in other areas, stacked boxes served as the decor. He bent down over the coffee table and pushed around two weeks’ worth of newspapers, several ESPN magazines, and a stack of junk mail.

As items fell off of the table, his golden Lab/beagle mix, Zack, came alive from his corner and began putting his nose to work. It didn’t take long for the dog to discover remnants from his owner’s late-night snack—a few cold, greasy fries. Finally locating his shades, Darnell placed them on top of his head. The sun would certainly meet him on his way back.

He glanced over at his four-legged housemate and laughed. That dog brought him a lot of joy. The irony continued to boggle his mind, since it was only three years before that he’d brought home the shy, mistreated dog for his now ex-wife. But it had been too late. Apparently, a raggedy mutt didn’t make up for his frequent absences. Two years had passed since the divorce, and Darnell considered Zack his best asset. “All right, boy. Let me grab your leash, and we’re out of here.”

The dog nearly ran into his owner as Darnell walked over to grab the leash from the hook behind the door. Zack jumped in the air and then stood on his hind legs. Darnell laughed again, trying to snap the leash on Zack’s collar. His hand was on the door when his cell phone chimed from the coffee table. Man and dog traded glances.

If he answered the phone, his gut told him he could forget about running. And so much for the afternoon off. Despite the effort he and his partner had put into gathering evidence, it simply wasn’t enough for the district attorney to send before a grand jury. He needed a break. Sometimes Darnell hated the job he loved.

About the Book

“Why does God keep taking away the people I love?” This is the lamentation of widow CANDACE JOHNSON when her best friend is brutally murdered. Ensnared by a deep-rooted bitterness, seeping her faith day by day, Candace is determined to seek justice.

Detective Darnell Jackson is in need of clues fast. The police captain is coming down hard on him and his partner to find out who murdered Pamela Coleman, the daughter of a high profile judge. Darnell confers with Candace to get the inside track on events leading up to the murder. As the investigation heats up, his growing attraction for Candace plays havoc on Darnell’s judgment.

Little does she know, Candace’s quest to find the truth has led her straight to the killer. She’s already lost loved ones. Now Candace must choose to completely trust God with her own life.

About the Author

Author Tyora Moody

Tyora Moody’s debut novel, When Rain Falls, is the first book in the Victory Gospel series. She owns and operates Tywebbin.com, a design and marketing company. Her company’s niche is assisting authors with branding and developing an online presence. Tyora served as a judge for the Christy Awards for threee years. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and American Christian Fiction Writers. Tyora resides in South Carolina.

Visit her online at:http://www.tyoramoody.com
http://facebook.com/AuthorTyoraMoody
http://www.twitter.com/tyoramoody

REVIEW: The Power of a Praying Wife Devotional by Stormie Omartian

The Power of a Praying® Wife DevotionalThe Power of a Praying® Wife Devotional by Stormie Omartian
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Power of a Praying Wife Devotional in 140 characters or less: “Prayer, Prayer, and more Prayer! Encouragement and Love.”

Some may think it odd for my to review Omartian’s book, as I am not a woman. However, as a married man, I think it gives me a unique perspective on whether or not the prayers would be effective in my life. My wife and I own two other books in “The Power of a Praying. . .” series and we greatly enjoyed them. This book does not disappoint, covering many difficult topics in marriages (communication issues, coming together after a disagreement, taking marriage for granted, rushed decisions, etc.). Omartian presents commentary introducing each prayer, and does so with a soft touch, as is familiar to readers of her other works. Highly recommended as a supplement or tool for your prayer time.

View all my reviews

Guest Blog: How to get a five star book review

Reads4Pleasure.com was started simply to help an avid reader keep track of what it’s creator, Lisa, was reading.  It focuses on all things literary, particularly: books written by and/or about people of color, African-American, Latino and Asian lit. Historical fiction, memoirs and books geared toward women also have a home on Reads4Pleasure.com.

When not reading, which is rare, Lisa can be found browsing vinyl at the local record store or tweeting about reality TV.  Reads4Pleasure.com won the Black Weblog 2011 Award for Best Literary, Author or Book blog.

Though what makes a book “good” is really subjective, I’d have to say its basis is: well-developed storylines, fleshed out characters, unpredictable plots, descriptive imagery and fluid writing. Not sure what I mean? Let’s explore a little further and I’ll give you examples of books in which authors get it right.

 1) Well-Developed Storylines

I want to know that the author has taken the time to think the story all the way through to the end. Don’t draw me so deep into the book that I’m staying up past my bedtime to finish it, then drop me off a cliff with no warning at the end! That’s not to say that every story needs to be nice and neatly wrapped with a bow at the ending, but I shouldn’t get a feeling that your editor told you that you only needed to write 200 pages and you quit at page 199. Finish that story.

 On the other hand, don’t give me fluff. There are a million ways to say the same thing. Don’t try them all out in one book.

And please remember what part of the story you’ve already told. There’s nothing worse than feeling like I’m stuck in the movie Groundhog Day because the author keeps rehashing the same scene.

Example: Room by Emma Donoghue, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

2) Fleshed-out Characters

If you want me to like, love, hate your characters, you’ve got to tell me who they are. I’m more likely to keep reading and cheering (or booing) for characters if I feel like I know them. Circle back to the character that you made me like in chapter three and never spoke of again beyond chapter four. What purpose did he/she serve? If she was important enough to add to your storyline initially, why wasn’t she important later?

Get me emotionally invested in your characters and I’m yours forever. However, if they’re forgettable, trust me, so is your book.

Example: Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones, The Stand by Stephen King

3) Unpredictable Plots

Readers love twists, turns and what not. If I already know how the story is going to end, why should I bother to read it? We read as an escape from our day to day routine. Life is, generally, predictable. Plots should not be.

Example: This Burns My Heart by Samuel Park, The Sport of the Gods by Paul Laurence Dunbar

4) Descriptive Imagery

Unless I’m reviewing a kid’s book, there are no pictures included. The author should write in such a way that I can envision what characters look like. A really well written book will not only allow me to see the character, but hear them as well. And if the setting for the story is magnificent/gritty/etc., I should be able to feel that from what the author has written.

Example: The Personal History of Rachel Dupree by Ann Weisgarber, The Last Empress by Anchee Min

5) Fluid writing

Journalist and author Norman Cousins once said, “Words have to be crafted, not sprayed. They need to be fitted together with infinite care.”

One of the reasons J. California Cooper is my favorite author is that reading her writing is like curling up on my Granny’s lap and listening to her tell a story. Cooper doesn’t get extra fancy with her words. She simply tells the story in a relatable, conversational, sitting on the back porch kind of way. Her storyline, her characters, her words and her imagery flow together in such a way that when the book has ended, you find yourself wishing she’d give you just one more chapter.

In contrast, some authors write so choppily that you may find yourself seasick a few chapters in. Bumpy writing will have me ready to jump ship in a heartbeat. The goal should always be to tell a story in such a way that the reader doesn’t want it to end.

Example: Some People, Some Other Place by J. California Cooper, 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter

I don’t have a degree in English or a MFA in Creative Writing; I’m simply a reader. But if these basic elements are included, I can almost guarantee that I’ll give a book a five star rating.  


REVIEW: “Setting Boundaries with Difficult People: Six Steps to SANITY for Challenging Relationships” by Allison Bottke

Setting Boundaries with Difficult People: Six Steps to SANITY for Challenging RelationshipsSetting Boundaries with Difficult People: Six Steps to SANITY for Challenging Relationships by Allison Bottke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Setting Boundaries with Difficult People in 140 characters or less: “sanity=analysis, introspection, support, trusting God. Practice!”

If you find spiritual self-help books to be trite and preachy, Allison Bottke’s “Setting Boundaries with Difficult People: Six Steps to SANITY for Challenging Relationships” is the opposite.

While the book uses the anagram + numbered steps formula to self-improvement characteristic of a lot of self-help books, it does it well. Foundation building, goal setting, personal anecdotes and scripture provide the foundation upon which Bottke contends will help the reader conquer the difficulties of a challenging relationship. The advice is useful, practical, and tried-and-true by Bottke herself. I don’t like to be taught at, but taught to. She does that well.

It is the third book in her “Setting Boundaries” series (I have not read the other two), and I have to assume that Bottke does not “preach from the mountain” in the other books as well. That makes the hard-to-do activities (analyzing your character and temperament, setting boundaries within family and friend relationships and sticking to them less impersonal. I’m a proponent of many of her techniques, namely a support group for accountability and yielding to God. Great job!

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FIRST Wild Card Book Tour Stop: Setting Boundaries with Difficult People by Allison Bottke

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

Allison Bottke

and the book:

Setting Boundaries™ with Difficult People

Harvest House Publishers (October 1, 2011)

***Special thanks to Karri | Marketing Assistant, Harvest House Publishers for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Allison Bottke is the author of Setting Boundaries™ for Your Adult Children and the general editor of the popular God Allows U-Turns® series and the God Answers Prayer series. She has written or edited more than 20 nonfiction and fiction books. Allison is in frequent demand as a speaker and has been featured on The 700 Club, Decision Today, and numerous other radio and television programs. Visit her at www.AllisonBottke.com or www.SanitySupport.com.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Continuing her popular Setting Boundaries series, Allison Bottke offers her distinctive “Six Steps to SANITY” to readers who must deal with difficult people.

S…Stop your own negative behavior
A…Assemble a support group
N…Nip excuses in the bud
I…Implement rules and boundaries
T….Trust your instincts
Y…Yield everything to God

Whether it’s a family member, coworker, neighbor, or friend, readers who have allowed others to overstep their boundaries will learn how to take back their life…for good.

Setting Boundaries with Difficult People is designed to inspire, empower, and equip readers with the tools to transform lives.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (October 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736926968
ISBN-13: 978-0736926966

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Keeping Your Eye on the Goal

Runners who enter the Boston Marathon know that to successfully complete the race, they will have to run 42.195 kilometers (26 miles and 385 yards). No one who shows up at the starting line is unsure of the distance he or she will have to run. Likewise, we need to know our goals in relating to the difficult people in our lives. And we need to know that achieving our ultimate goal may require that we accomplish several supplementary goals along the way.

One marathoner said, “After a scare with my heart, I entered the race mostly to get in better physical shape. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to run the entire 26 miles, but I knew the training would help.” Another runner gave this reason for entering: “I needed to lose 60 pounds—that’s really why I entered the race. If I reached that goal before race day and never ran, I would have succeeded.” Another said, “I was recovering from knee surgery, and my underlying goal was to increase flexibility and strength in my legs. The race was the catalyst that kept me going, but it wasn’t my ultimate goal.”

In other words, even though these athletes’ goal was to run 26.2 miles, they each had supplementary goals leading up to race day that were every bit as important.

Our Ultimate Goal

When setting boundaries with difficult people, the ultimate goal is to achieve freedom from the bondage of drama, chaos, and crisis that often accompanies challenging relationships. Whether those relationships are with difficult people, adult children, aging parents, teens, or perhaps even food, we need to keep our eye on that ultimate goal of freedom. We also need to understand that breaking free from anything requires hard work, and that means commitment, consistency, and consequences.

Remember too that our emotions will beg for attention when other peoples’ hurtful behavior pushes our buttons. We have all developed our own coping responses as a result of our life experiences. For some of us, these coping responses lead to self-defeating, unhealthy life patterns that we repeat throughout our lives, and they act as roadblocks to freedom. When life situations trigger emotional responses, addressing our feelings is going to be a key factor in reaching our goal.

Our Supplementary Goals

As we work toward our ultimate goal, we want to accomplish several other goals as well: We want…

to stop difficult people from hurting us
to take control and stop the stress
to become healthy and whole
to gain clarity in our lives
to learn new skills to enhance our relationships
to live lives that are pleasing to God
to find SANITY
Two Growth Options

Setting healthy boundaries isn’t something we learn one time and then never have to think about it again. It’s not like tying our shoes or riding a bike—processes we learn and then simply repeat the same way time after time with the same results. For many of us, setting boundaries is not that easy. But it doesn’t have to be as problematic as we often make it.

Bestselling author and radio talk-show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger says we have two options when dealing with people who have caused us harm—real or imagined: “Either stand up for yourself—or move on. Those are the only two means of growth.”  

That sounded a bit cut-and-dry to me when I first read it. Surely there are more than two options that will help us grow. Yet the more I thought about her statement, the more sense it made. Yes, there are a lot more options, but only if we want to remain stuck or stagnant. If we truly want to move forward (that is, if we want to grow) when someone has hurt us, Dr. Laura is right. We either stand up (speak up) or move on (shake it off    ). There really isn’t anything else to do that initiates growth.

Standing up for yourself doesn’t mean bulldozing your way over someone who has behaved poorly or has made choices that hurt you. Likewise, moving on doesn’t mean glossing over a problem, ignoring it, or denying that something is wrong.

Both standing up and moving on are conscious decisions we must make. Learning how to stand up or move on is a vital part in gaining SANITY.

A Lesson Learned

I was sitting on the outdoor patio at a local restaurant with several friends on a beautiful fall day, enjoying good food and great conversation. I’d just spent several weeks completing a challenging project in my writing cave, and I was truly savoring this time of refreshing calm. A young man walked by, recognized one of my friends, and stopped to chat. There was an empty chair at our table, and my friend invited Ted to sit down and visit with us. Ted had just completed a master’s degree program, but this day he was dressed in the uniform of the times: shorts, ball cap, flip-flops, and a T-shirt that declared he loved a certain restaurant whose name had nothing whatsoever to do with owls.

Attractive, articulate, and clearly extroverted, Ted would have been a breath of fresh air—had it not been for his extensive use of profanity, particularly the f word. It was like he needed the word to inhale air and move on to his next thought. Every other word from Ted was profane, and I found myself cringing at each new onslaught. I felt as if I were being verbally slapped in the face, aurally assaulted with every sentence. After a while, turning the other cheek wasn’t working, and what had been a beautiful day quickly soured into an increasingly uncomfortable situation.

I’m far from a prude, but these days very few of my friends or business associates use such off-color language. Nor do I. That had not always been the case, and I’d worked long and hard to make this change in my own life. I’m sure this made me even more sensitive to this issue.

Could I have simply allowed this young man’s crude language to roll off my shoulders, realizing I would most likely never see him again? Yes. But in that instant I also realized that if I truly believed in God and trusted His Word, I had to believe He placed me in this position for a reason, and I asked myself if the reason was to learn how to keep my mouth shut or to learn how to communicate rationally and perhaps be a light in this young man’s world. (Just so you know, the keeping my mouth shut option is a lesson God frequently teaches me, so I really had to pray hard about this as I sat there.)

In Dr. Laura’s words, would I stand up, or would I move on?

I’ll admit I’m not always good at being calm and thoughtful. Sometimes my words come out far more caustic than I intend them to. Years ago, I probably would have resorted to sarcasm. (“Do you eat with that mouth?”) But on this occasion, I asked God to calm my spirit and give me words that would allow me to set a boundary that would be helpful to Ted, to me, and perhaps to the others present as well.

Feeling convicted that I needed to speak up, I took a deep breath as I said something along these lines:

“It’s really nice to hear someone so passionate about life, but could I ask you a question?”

“Sure,” he said with a smile.

Looking directly at him, I was careful to keep my voice calm and kind. I didn’t want to sound angry or judgmental. I was about to confront him, but I didn’t want this to be confrontational. Please, Lord, give me the right words.

“I’m wondering if you’re aware how much you swear and how offensive that might be for some people? It’s actually making me uncomfortable, as if I were being slapped over and over again. I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out whether I should say something. You seem like a smart guy, gifted and good-looking, so you obviously don’t need to talk like that, and it doesn’t do you justice. I’m kind of out of touch with young people today—is that generally how your friends talk? I just wondered.”

Then, I did what I couldn’t have done without God’s help. I stopped talking and prayed that God would make Himself known.

My heart was pounding, and my friends’ jaws dropped at my boldness. This could have gone any number of ways, not all of them good, but to this young man’s credit, he sincerely apologized, clearly sorry that he’d offended me and put a damper on my day. This led to a wonderful conversation about words and their meanings (something very dear to me), and then we talked about effectively setting healthy boundaries verbally. We eventually got around to a spirited discussion about faith. The entire situation turned into what I call a God-cidence moment, and I’d like to think all of us left that day with something to ponder about God’s purpose for our lives and why He places us in situations that test our mettle. And all of this happened because I spoke up and set a boundary about using profanity.

I had the choice to stand up or move on, and I chose to stand up in a way that I felt was pleasing to God. Was I afraid? Yes—but not that what I was doing was wrong. I was only afraid that I wouldn’t say the right words and would miss the opportunity God had provided.

The Moment Is Now

On Palm Sunday at Harvest Church in Watauga, Texas, pastor Chuck Angel challenged those of us in the pews to find the courage to open the door to change and choice. Here are a few of the copious notes I took when I wasn’t shouting “Amen!”

When opportunity knocks, we need to have courage to overcome fear. There’s a difference between understanding what you should do and choosing to do it. The tipping point takes us from knowing what we ought to do to making the decision to act.

God will direct our paths, but He won’t take the step for us. Some of us will stop on the journey. It’s not just knowing—it’s going. Often, there is a gap in the middle between knowing and going.

Life is a parade of “now” moments, not a series of tomorrows. No future moment is more significant than now.

Confronting the Difficult People in Our Lives

Those of us with difficult people in our lives need to learn to stand up and confront them (or our own issues) or to move on. We need courage to walk through doors to freedom. Simply identifying that a door exists isn’t enough; we need the courage to walk through it.

Is this your “now” moment?

The SANITY Goal

For me, the journey to setting healthy boundaries has been rocky. Years ago, I’d reached the end of my rope (yet again) with my adult son, Chris, but this time something was different—this time I turned solely to my Bible, crying out to God not only for wisdom and discernment but also for clear answers to a situation that was continually breaking my heart. Chris was in jail (yet again), and for the first time I felt a powerful conviction that it was time for both of us to start a new life journey. For some reason, this time, enough really was enough, and things were going to change—I was going to change—regardless of whether Chris changed one iota.

I’ve always been a writer. That’s what I do—it’s how I most often process my life. One day, as I was reading Scripture, writing notes, and pouring my heart out on the pages, God imparted a powerful lesson to me. Personally, I learn best using visuals, acronyms, lists, bullet points, words of affirmation…tools that help me to remember important things. So on this day, in almost no time I had developed six critical actions that I knew I needed to do in my relationship with my son. As I read and reread the pages, an acronym formed, and I wrote this at the top of the page.

“Set boundaries and find SANITY.”

I’m one of the most severely boundary-challenged individuals I know, so it wasn’t a surprise that during this time of seeking answers, God would lay that conviction on my heart. My own boundary-setting backsliding often left tire tracks of poor choices all over my bruised heart. I knew this was a problem I struggled with.

As a sinner who is acutely aware of what it means to be in bondage, my personal goal since making my own U-turn toward God has been to do my best to live a life that is pleasing to Him and to help others find freedom from their painful pasts. The need to set healthy boundaries consistently plays an active role in many areas in my life. However, since stumbling on the Six Steps to SANITY, I’ve found it easier to get back on the horse when I fall off.

The Spiritual Goal

In her book A Woman’s Passionate Pursuit of God, my friend Karol Ladd has written a wonderful study of the New Testament book of Philippians. Written by the apostle Paul while imprisoned in Rome, Philippians is actually a letter to the people of Philippi, teaching early Christians how to experience a true satisfaction of the soul. His story of resilient joy, consistent contentment, and a peace that passes all understanding is one of the most quoted stories in the Bible.

Karol begins her book by weaving together the story of Paul and Silas’s journey to Philippi, recounting the way Lydia was converted, Paul cast demons out of a slave girl, and he and Silas were arrested, beaten, and thrown into a dungeon prison.

Have you ever thought you were following God’s guidance or leading and found yourself in a real mess of a situation? It can tend to make you want to doubt God and question His work in your life. Did I really follow God’s direction? Does He really care about my situation? Why would God allow this to happen to me if I am following His will? The questions are valid, but we will soon see that God often allows the difficulties in our lives for a greater purpose. He will not leave us in the midst of our troubles. The important thing is to learn to react to our situations and challenges with faith and not fear.  

Stories of faith-filled and seemingly fearless men and women abound throughout the Bible. Time after time, these persecuted individuals realized that their power to overcome difficulties came from God and not from themselves. They learned to react to their situations and challenges differently. They chose to look to God. Karol leads us once again to that truth.

We too can learn to turn our eyes upward and have a different response than the rest of the world when it comes to challenges in our life. We are jars of clay with a great and mighty God who is able to bring beauty out of any situation. He will give us the strength we need to endure and persevere through the not-so-perfect places in our lives.  

As we keep our eye on the goal to find freedom from challenging relationships with difficult people, to learn how and when to stand up or move on, let us not forget, as Karol writes, to turn our eyes upward during the journey.

Partners on the Journey

I wondered what setting boundaries with difficult people looks like from different perspectives, so more than a year ago I began to distribute a questionnaire to men and women around the country. I’ll include many of the candid and helpful responses throughout the book. I have changed some of the names to honor respondents’ requests for anonymity.

Also, because I’m a layman in the world of Christian counseling, I invited a professional counselor to join us from time to time, someone who is better experienced therapeutically to help us on the journey. Bernis Riley holds a bachelor of science degree in medical technology from Sam Houston State University and a master of arts degree in counseling from Liberty University. Her major experience is in trauma-related disorders and family therapy. Bernis is a licensed professional counselor and a certified brief strategic family therapist. She is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors and the Christian Counselors of Texas. Bernis is completing a doctoral program in psychology from California Southern University.

Bernis conducts a thriving private counseling practice called SoulCare in the Dallas–Ft. Worth area of Texas. I asked her how she would describe her work.

Life has a way of handing us problems that we are not prepared to handle. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to face those problems alone. A trusted counselor can help you find peace and hope when you are overwhelmed or confused by the problems you are facing. Counseling can help you overcome the issues you struggle with, like depression, anger, fear, and anxiety. It can also help people out of the chaos of codependency, enabling, and childhood abuse.

As we proceed on the road to setting boundaries with difficult people, Bernis will provide soul-searching questions and helpful tips in a section called “SANITY Support” at the end of each chapter. These supportive points to consider will help you apply what you have learned from each chapter to your life right now. Drawing on her experience as a Christian counselor, Bernis has also provided sample scripts and letters at the end of this book to help you approach the difficult people in your life.

Individual Choices

Learning to understand God’s plan is a lifelong journey that can often take us into uncharted territory. The quest to know our purpose in life has confounded men and women since the beginning of time. Just when we think we’ve got things nailed down, the rug gets pulled out from under us, and we find ourselves looking at our lives from an entirely different perspective. Never is this more true than when it comes to setting healthy boundaries with difficult people in uncomfortable situations.

Some of the boundary choices we face will be life-changing. Yet the monumental choices we make that dramatically change the course of our lives are actually no more important than the individual choices we make in the everyday moments of life. Combined, they make us who we are—a rich tapestry of experience woven together by our choices.

SANITY Support

Purchase an inexpensive spiral notebook or steno pad that will fit in your purse or briefcase. Use it in conjunction with reading this book, starting with the questions below.
Who are the difficult people in your life? With whom are you hesitant to set healthy boundaries?
What keeps you from setting those boundaries?
Which growth action—standing up or moving on—are you willing to take with the difficult people in your life so that you are no longer stuck in neutral?

REVIEW: “Danger at the Door” by Michelle Sutton

Danger at the DoorDanger at the Door by Michelle Sutton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Danger at the Door in 140 characters or less: Lonely grieving Arizonan orders pizza, gets hunky deliveryman & a stalker. Add budding romance, cute puppy love. House analogy. Tension!

From Christian fiction writer Michelle Sutton comes Danger at the Door: a romance/suspense novel set in Arizona.

There, Elaine “Laney” Cooper, is a recluse due to the death of her fiance’ Sam. While Sam was well off financially, Laney has nothing but a half-million dollar house she can’t afford to maintain, a rock of an engagment ring she hides away, and “Baby,” her lovable chihuahua.

She is being watched by “Creepy Mystery Stalker Man,” who does so under the guise of birdwatching. You WILL NOT find out who homeboy really is until the end, and by then, I didn’t care about his name or his background. He just needed to be punched. Hard. Over and over again.

Though Laney is broke, she orders out for pizza often (I don’t judge!) at Little Italy. This particular week is the anniversary of Sam’s death. To commemorate the occasion, she orders a sentimental meal, which gets completely screwed up by Bojan (like “bouillon”) Trajkovski, He’s a Macedonian hearthrob of a deliveryman with a good heart who speaks REALLY poor English. Bojan, whom she calls Bob for short, also has a lovable chihuahua, “Dude.”

Turns out, Bojan is not a deliveryman, but a deep-pocketed part-owner of three other stores in the Little Italy chain. He stays undercover for a while until it is apparent he and Laney have something cooking. But while the relationship is undefined, Bojan/Bob/Boki leaves and “Creepy Mystery Stalker Man” plots his next move.

Danger at the Door is near perfect. The romance draws you in. You’ll root for Bojan/Bob/Boki and Laney. Laney is totally sympathetic, the symbolism is understated but effective, and, unlike A LOT of Christian fiction, the spirituality isn’t overly convenient or Bible-over-the-head-like.

I think the thing I liked most about it is that I believed these characters could exist. There’s nothing that happens that makes me question their authenticity. Sutton writing carries a fast pace and sustains it. I started the book and finished it over two days. It’s that good.

Under normal circumstances, romance/suspense would not be my selection of book, but Sutton’s Danger at the Door opened me to a new genre I would have not otherwise known. Kudos!

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REVIEW: “Last Resort” by B.J. Robinson

Last ResortLast Resort by BJ Robinson
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Last Resort in 140 characters or less: Girl meets boy. Girl denies obvious interest. Enter abusive ex, girl’s rival 4 boy. <3, shots, property damage. Co-conspirators? Suspense!

In Last Resort, the debut title on Desert Breeze Publishing from B.J. Robinson, Faith Roussell settles in a small, fictional Florida town after leaving a broken and abusive relationship.

Faith’s best friend, introduces her to Matt: a clumsy cowboy destined to win Faith’s heart. But the flirtatious Lilly, who rivals Faith for Matt‘s heart, makes her affection for him known while Faith openly denies her own.

Meanwhile, Fred, Faith’s jilted ex, pursues her with a vengeance. He wants Faith back at all costs — enough to threaten her life on numerous occasions. But is he acting alone? Maybe, maybe not.

Last Resort is written in descriptive language that paints the picturesque southern backdrop well. Yet, it is not so thick that it makes for dragging exposition.

The romance, well-penned sensory details, and build-up action sequences are where Last Resort shines. Matt and Faith’s repartee is believable and light on the syrup. I easily bought into their courtship.

But elements of the book’s dual plot were lacking for me. It’s credible in spots, not so much in others. But Robinson baited my hook REALLY WELL in the book’s final acts.

If I sat down with B.J. and had three questions, I would ask the following: Why wasn’t Fred a prime suspect at first? Why did he willingly let Faith go in the first place? And if she “escaped” from him, wouldn’t the first place he would think she went is her old hometown?

For a story rich in southern charm, romance, and a redemptive Christian message, Last Resort fits the bill.

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