Love Starts With Elle

•August 2, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Love Starts with Elle

By Rachel Hauck

Paperback, 316 pages

Thomas Nelson, 2008

Rating: 5 of 5

Elle has been dating Jeremiah for only a couple of months, but he’s so perfect for her.

She accepts his marriage proposal…just before he tells her he’s accepted a job in faraway Dallas.

Ouch.

Jeremiah moves to begin his job.

Elle sells her art gallery and puts her house on the rental market.

But when she goes to Dallas to house-hunt with Jeremiah, they can’t agree on what kind of home to live in…much less how to live in it.

Troubled, Elle returns home for the last month before her wedding, only to discover her tenant has moved in a month early.

She has to set up last-ditch temporary living quarters in her studio. Or maybe they won’t be so temporary, since Jeremiah might not want to marry her after all.

Or maybe it is Elle who doesn’t want to marry Jeremiah.

But she’s already sold her gallery. If she doesn’t marry Jeremiah, what will she do?

Good thing Heath, the widowed father who’s renting her house, is such an understanding friend.

And he is a good friend.

Nothing more.

Right?

*****

I loved Love Starts with Elle. I loved Elle’s character and was concerned about her from the beginning. I wasn’t so sure about Jeremiah. But Heath now… he quickly gained my approval. The other characters are likable and relate-able, too. They’re complex – not black-and-white good-and-evil, but mixed-up, imperfect, and usually well-meaning. Just like people in life.

Rachel Hauck’s word-crafting is marvelous. It’s sharp – not sharp as in harsh, but sharp as in very carefully written. Each sentence is concise and each word is packed with purpose.

I also like the timing of how the plot develops. I find so much “realistic” Christian fiction that solves everything too quickly. That bugs me. Love Starts with Elle moves at just the right, believably delicious pace. I watched the characters fall in love and I could understand why they did; the writer didn’t have to explain it.

My only beef with Love Starts with Elle is that there are a few dozen spelling and punctuation errors in it. Yes, a few dozen. Sadly, the spelling errors would all pass spell-check’s approval, starting with “residence” for “residents” in the second sentence of the first page – a page and sentence I’d expect to be proofread many, many times. Those errors are irritating and they make me wonder exactly how this book was edited and who did the job.

Thankfully, they did not detract from my enjoyment of the story.

I love the characters. I love the plot development. I love Rachel Hauck’s writing. I love this book.

Love Starts With Elle can be purchased at http://www.thomasnelson.com/ or borrowed from your public library. I obtained a copy from www.calgarypubliclibrary.com

  • Reenie

Amish Fiction Without the Stereotype

•February 13, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Harmless as Doves: An Amish-Country Mystery, by Paul L. Gaus

Crist Burkholder, a young Amish man, has confessed to murdering Glenn Spiegle, because he and the dead man wanted to marry the same girl. Crist insists he hit Spiegle, knocked him out, and killed him.

“But an Amish murderer?” asks Cal Robertson, the sheriff of Holmes County, Ohio. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

Cal is right. It doesn’t make sense. And the process of sorting out exactly what does make sense – what Crist Burkholder did, how Glenn Spiegle got killed, and what will be done about it — requires the combined efforts of both Amish and non-Amish characters.

Wise and foolish, timid and courageous, warm and human, each of Gaus’ characters is true to his or her distinct background, but escapes the limitations of religious and ethnic stereotypes. Each one is as unique-yet-familiar as the people you and I see every day.

Near the beginning of the book, one factor made me pause. There are a few slips in point-of-view – with the narration jumping from one character’s head to another within the same scene. I worried that this was a sign the rest of the writing would be amateurish.

When I picked up the book again, however, I quickly got re-involved with the story. If there are further point-of-view slips, I didn’t notice them – either because the story itself overcame them, or because they became just a natural part of the overall writing style.

Harmless as Doves is a gentle, intriguing story, sometimes funny, often sad, and always loving. I enjoyed it all the way to the end.

Harmless as Doves: An Amish-County Mystery; P.L. Gaus, Ohio University Press, 2011.

My Foolish Heart by Susan May Warren

•January 25, 2012 • Leave a Comment

My Foolish Heart by Susan May Warren

On a leisurely summer day, my sister-in-law asked me to return a stack of borrowed books to the public library… and, since it was a leisurely summer day, I had time to peruse the stack before pushing them through the return slot.

Susan May Warren’s My Foolish Heart was in that stack. I’d tried a couple of books by Susan May Warren before, but they hadn’t caught my fancy.

However, it was a leisurely summer day, in a leisurely summer week… and I was in the mood to try this author again.

Susan May Warren’s early novels were thriller-suspense types, set in Russia where she was a missionary for several years. They impressed me with their creativity of plot and originality of characters… but, overall, didn’t keep my attention.

My Foolish Heart is a whole ‘nother story.

It’s set in the everyday, American hometown of Deep Haven, where Isadora has become a self-imposed recluse after experiencing life-wrenching trauma.

The whole town knows of Isadora and her pain, but they don’t know she’s Miss Foolish Heart, hosting a radio talk-show from the privacy of her bedroom, where she advises longing and lonely hearts all over the country.

That is, until Caleb, a young man with his own traumatic history moves in next door. He’s a fan of Miss Foolish Heart, and seeks her advice about wooing Isadora — the fascinating, perplexing girl next door.

My Foolish Heart is a sweet, well-written story. I like that most of Isadora’s growth is gradual, not instant and overnight. I like the author’s depiction of two traumatized individuals who respond to pain in completely different ways. The only part I think could be better is in the ending; a new obstacle is introduced, but then too-quickly resolved. It would have been better if that obstacle weren’t introduced at all, if the author had no page-space to develop a really convincing solution. Read it and see what you think.

That minor flaw doesn’t take away from my recommendation of the book. After reading it, I immediately went back to the library for more of Susan May Warren.

My Foolish Heart (A Deep Haven Novel), Susan May Warren, Tyndale House Publishers, 2011.

Paperback and e-book: http://www.christianbook.com/my-foolish-heart-deep-haven/susan-warren/9781414334820/pd/334820

— Reenie

For Summer…Or Any Season

•July 30, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Recently, I’ve re-enjoyed four novels by Elizabeth White: Off the Record, Controlling Interest, Tour de Force and Fireworks. If you love thoughtful romances about characters who overcome genuine challenges, you’ll like her books, too.

These novels are stand-alone stories, that is, not part of a series. However, in the first three books I mentioned, each book’s main characters play a secondary role in the other novels. Like Lisa Wingate, but, of course, in her own individual way, Elizabeth White does an impressive job of getting inside each character’s head, and giving him or her a unique way of speaking and thinking. Her plots are fascinating and unique, yet they seem possible…even probable.

Off the Record
focuses on a young woman who’s running for the position of state Supreme Court Judge, emphasizing a platform of solid family values, supported by her own “pure” personal history. But then the journalist who represents her one personal skeleton appears, and she risks losing everything.

Controlling Interests
centers on the private investigator who’s a secondary character in Off the Record. The PI had to sell a controlling interest in his firm, and is now required to work with his partner’s daughter – a naive and aspiring young detective — or he’ll lose his agency altogether. But how can he keep the daughter from taking over his business if he can’t control his interest in the girl herself?

I love those two books, but the third,                                                                                                                                                                                          Tour de Force                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   grips my heart most deeply. The younger sister of Off the Record’s judge is an up-and-coming ballerina, recently chosen for her first starring role. Her career looks even more promising when the director of another company recognizes her talent. Life is complicated but wonderful, until the young heroine becomes suddenly and intimately acquainted with pain. Life-as-she-knew-it grinds to a halt – and there’s no way it can ever be the same again.

Fireworks                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                is also focused on characters I can’t help but care about and cheer for. A pretty young insurance investigator goes undercover to find proof that the owner of a fireworks company is attempting insurance fraud. As she gets closer to the “suspect”, readers begin to wonder — who’s the true deceiver here? I like Fireworks very much, even the second time ‘round – but I find the timing of the ending annoying. It sems premature. See what you think!

Elizabeth White’s fifth novel, Fair Game, is also well-written. The main characters — an animal rights activist and a big-game hunter — are individually likeable and easy to relate to, but I find it hard to swallow that people whose deeply-cherished life goals are so diametrically-opposed could fall in love and maintain a relationship. Even in the fictional world of romance, there are limits! What’s your perspective?

When you’re planning a sunny afternoon at the beach or a wintry evening beside the fire – or any time you want a romantic book with a
bit of laughter, I’d recommend an Elizabeth White novel.

  • Off the Record
  • Controlling Interest
  • Tour de Force
  • Fireworks
  • Fair Game

All are published by Zondervan.

Overlooked Treasures

•July 29, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Although I read voraciously, I’m sometimes a lazy reader. I choose novels that are not too emotionally-heavy, are quick to get through, or… I confess… I jump to the end to skip all the work of reading the middle.

During the school year, when I’m working full-time, I justify these habits by telling myself my brain is already full. And that’s true… it is.

Just this week, however, I read a previously-ignored book that made me wonder how many treasures I’ve missed by reading books this way.

Let me introduce the novelist Lisa Wingate. She lives on a Texas ranch with her husband and two sons.

A couple of years ago, I discovered and enjoyed her lighthearted, funny novels. (More on those in a minute.)

I combed Calgary Public Library’s catalogue for more of her books, and came across a few that were deeper, more serious. I read most of one… but they looked deep and maybe a little sad, so I skimmed one or two and returned them — unread and unappreciated.

Earlier this summer, I had no new authors to explore, so I returned to CPL’s catalogue and re-checked out authors who were already favorites.

One of these was Lisa Wingate. With a quiet summer stretching before me, I included her “serious” books in my borrowed stack.

Now I’m kicking myself for not reading them sooner.

Last night, I finished Good Hope Road, after it kept me up late for two nights in a row. It’s the story of a young woman in painful and limiting circumstances. When her community faces the aftermath of a tornado, she becomes someone she didn’t know she could be.

I know that could describe the “growth” of a lot of story characters. They find wonderful new strength. They’re miraculously transformed. But Lisa Wingate doesn’t hand the reader a happy ending just because we expect it, or because the book is about to end and we need a conclusion. Our main character, Jenilee, has to work hard to overcome her ongoing challenges. Her problems don’t magically disappear, and she’s still got hard work ahead… but she’s shown us she now has the strength of character to build a happy future for herself.

That’s not the only thing that impressed me about this book. As I read the detailed sensory descriptions in Good Hope Road, I became convinced Lisa Wingate had lived through a tornado, or at least experienced its aftermath. She had to, I thought, in order to know and to observe all the convincing details she gives her readers.

But when I read her back-of-the-book comments, I learned that her closest tornado encounter was to hear that a tornado had hit a city she’d recently visited… and to see news bites of the aftermath on TV. Then I respected her writing even more.

One more aspect of her writing that leaves me in awe is — like Jan Karon and Jane Austen, but in a completely different way — the depth and power of Lisa’s characters. All of her books — both “serious” and “funny” — depict characters of distinctly different backgrounds, personalities, goals, and obstacles. She writes as if she knows each one intimately. She also writes consistently and deeply from each one’s point-of-view, as if she’s not even thinking about the other characters she’s created, and as if she’s never even had them in her head.

When you read her books, you’ll see what I mean. I`ve listed her books, grouping them by style, mood and length, but as we know now, they’re all good!

“Funny” novels from her Daily, Texas series:

Word Gets Around

Talk of the Town

Never Say Never

“Light” novels, her Texas Hill Country series:

Over the Moon at the Big Lizard Diner

Lone Star Cafe

Texas Cooking

Serious, slightly longer novels:

Tending Roses

Good Hope Road

The Language of Sycamores

Drenched in Light

A Thousand Voices

Beyond Summer

A Month of Summer

The Summer Kitchen

Larkspur Cove

Now I`ve really got to go. I have to dig into another Lisa Wingate treasure before bedtime!

— Reenie

Never Real, But Very Much Alive

•July 10, 2011 • 3 Comments

Now that I’ve told you about my favorite dead author, let me tell you about the favorite who is very much alive: Jan Karon.

I’ve read Jan Karon’s Mitford series about ten times… and I’m looking forward to another delicious re-read this summer.

One day, when she was wondering what to write, Jan envisioned an Episcopalian priest walking down the street. She decided to follow him and watch where he went. And Father Tim Kavanagh and Mitford were born.

Father Tim is a warm-hearted, never-married, sixty-something, who lives and pastors his flock in the tiny village of Mitford, North Carolina. He’s into gardening, reading, caring for others, and following hard after his God. He’s not so good at taking care of his own needs, or at feeling confident he’s doing enough for the people he loves.

The Mitford novels are more character-driven and relationship-driven than plot-driven. So… I admit they don’t appeal to those who need sharp, fast action in their reading. (When I defended them that way to my 15-year-old niece, another voracious reader, she declared, “Those books aren’t driven by anything!”) However, the later Mitford books, while remaining character-driven, do contain a lot more action, as well.

Since I obviously don’t crave that fast-paced action, what does bring me back to Jan Karon over and over again? (And what has made thousands of other readers into devoted Mitford fans?)

For one, her wordcrafting. I learn something about good writing every time I read a Mitford book.

But all that great wordcrafting would be useless without her characters…

Ten summers ago, on my seventh or eighth Mitford read-through, I found myself weeping hard for Dooley, the troubled 11-year-old boy who comes to stay with Father Tim for just a little while… but ends up staying forever.

Weeping for a beloved, heart-broken story character — that was okay. Perfectly normal in this house, to tell the truth.

But then I caught myself praying for Dooley, and planning to contact Jan Karon so she could tell Dooley that, way up here in Canada, there’s a lady who cares about him and what he’s going through. I did manage to remind myself, in time, that Dooley isn’t real!

No, Dooley isn’t real. Nor is Father Tim. Nor is Cynthia, the sparkling wife who comes to Father Tim oh-so-late-but-just-in-time. Puny, Miss Sadie, Louella and Lace aren’t real either.

No, none of Jan’s characters is real, but she writes so well, her characters live.

If you haven’t already met the Mitford characters, I hope you’ll have time to make some new friends this summer.

Pick up At Home in Mitford, find a quiet place for several hours, and get to know Father Tim and his friends. As you move on to Light in the Window; then A Common Life; These High Green Hills; Out to Canaan; New Song and In This Mountain , I hope they’ll come alive in your heart, too.

Long Dead, Jane Austen Lives

•July 4, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I was never formally introduced to Jane Austen’s books in high school or university, so I’m especially thankful for the day I fell into Emma on my own. After that, I quickly grabbed up all her other books, and delighted in each character, plot-event and phrase.

Recently, I’ve been glad the movie-makers in Hollywood also realized how wonderful her stories are.

When I’m feeling a little blue, and even when I’m not, a Jane Austen book or movie is comfort-food for my story-loving soul.

Despite that fact that Jane, a single woman who remained dependent on her brother until she died in her early 40’s, lived a fairly quiet and restricted lifestyle, she demonstrated a remarkable insight into human motivation, character and relationships.

One of the things that I marvel over, every time I re-enjoy a Jane Austen story, is that, although Jane’s characters lived in the England of 200 years ago, they’re exactly like you and me.

If you haven’t read Jane Austen, this summer would be a great time to start!

If you think you may not be able to finish a long one, start with one of her shorter books — Persuasion, perhaps, or Mansfield Park, or Northanger Abby. (Of all Jane’s works, Northanger Abby is my least favorite.)

If you can only read one, and you want a not-too-complicated plot, read Emma.

Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, which may be the most famous because of all their namesake movies, are longer, and their plots more complex.

Whatever you read, I assure you, the stories are well worth it.

Jane’s old English may be a challenge to grasp at times, but I beg you to persevere! When you get used to it, the richness of Jane’s vocabulary and turns-of-phrase may just charm your socks off. (I confess I mutter and laugh over favorite Jane Austen phrases, in occasional private moments, for the sheer delight of her wordcrafting.)

One of the bonus delights of reading the books of a long-dead author is that you can buy her books inexpensively or borrow them from any library. If you don’t have time to read a paper copy, you can listen to the books-on-CD during a summer road-trip.

Remember, Jane’s characters, though they lived in the England of 200+ years ago, are just like you and me. Read about them and you’ll see!