Friday, August 30, 2013

Little Glimpses

Sometime time ago—back when spring was young, and all that—someone and I hiked out to see a 700-foot waterfall.

We made the hike twice, actually. The first time, we knew about a waterfall back in the woods somewhere, so we decided to mosey out and take a look. After all, a 700-foot falls ought to look impressive, even if it’s just a trickle.

After a mile or two along the road, we reached a trail and followed it uphill. We could see the river, and a waterfall, but it didn’t look like the falls we were expecting. Then, we found the trailhead, which told us that we were about four miles from our destination.


Neither of us had water, and we were in California, where the weather is hot even in early spring. So, thinking better of an eight-mile trip without supplies, we went back and plotted a trip for another day.

What we didn’t know was that the waterfall wasn’t just a falls, or even a double falls. It was a five-tiered waterfall. Where we started, near the foot of the hill, we could see a wild rush of water over rocks and logs.

Further up, the river mellowed into a fast-running stream. It changed again into a shorter falls, but still further on, we could see glimpses of the largest section, a 300-foot drop into the narrow crevice.

This time, we thought, that must really be it—not as tall as we’d thought, but an impressive white sheet of water falling through sunshine to disappear behind the rock. We climbed on, nearing the falls, while the path changed from woods and pine needles to rocky steps.

But, as we came around the corner, we found that the path went on, past the edge of the falls up to the foot of yet another waterfall.

And the steps climbed even past that fall. We thought that this must be the top. We could still see a low rim of hills above the top of the falls, but we had climbed almost two thousand feet already, and surely the river would level out just above this climb.

It did, but only for a short distance. And this time, we could see the final falls, coming down over a hillside of stone.

I mentioned in one of my early posts, a couple years ago, that hiking can be a lot like life at times. Maybe you start out with a good view of where you’re headed, but once you’re on the trail, it’s hard to see how far along you really are.

I’m the type of person who likes to look ahead and see what’s coming, but I’ve found over the years that life comes in sections like a waterfall. It might be nice to see the whole gorgeous downpour at once, but it’s often broken up into chunks—100 feet here, 150 there, with lots of rapids and shallows in between.

The last couple of summers, I worked in Alaska, in between tutoring and writing during the rest of the year. None of those were things I could have imagined just a couple years before. At one point, I was considering grad school, both because I like a particular type of literature, and because I was looking for something definite, something that would give me an idea what I was supposed to be doing and where I might be headed.

Grad school fell off my list, but I’ve passed different section of the falls recently. I met someone awesome and got married. (That trip back in the spring? We were on our honeymoon, down in Yosemite.)

I know there are still a lot of corners to turn. For now, though, I’ve gotten small glimpses of what the trail ahead might look like, and it's more than I could have guessed or imagined on my own.

Plus, it’s always fun to be on a hike with a friend.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Bleeding Heart: Review & Giveaway

Get out your china and pour a cup of tea—it’s time for a blog tour with a romance novel...

On second thoughts, maybe you shouldn’t. Amber Stoke’s Bleeding Heart isn’t tea parties and roses, to say the least.

Bleeding Heart is a wild-west story, set just after the Civil War, with Virginia City’s silver mines and Californian logging towns instead of cowboys. When Sally Clay first arrived in Virginia City, the silver mines were a lure to a new life. Three years later, the place becomes a trap after she loses her questionable line of work and someone won’t take no for an answer. Sally will do anything to escape—anything that means a new start. Unfortunately, that means avoiding one man while trying to get another man’s attention.

From there, the story develops slowly through a series of twists and surprises. It’s the story of a woman who goes from runaway to castoff, an outsider who can never be free from her disgrace and only wants to escape the man she fears.

It’s the story of a two men learning to love again after pain and loss.

It’s the story of a man who knows he can’t have the girl he loves, but wants her to have flowers for her wedding day—even if it must be a marriage of convenience.

It’s also the story of a man who has lost a few too many times and just can’t learn when he should give up.

If that sounds like a lot going on—it is. Some parts of the story felt a little clunky, especially the number of names thrown into the first chapter. All the characters mentioned are important to the story, and reappear later with more explanation, but the oblique references to them seemed to muddy things at first. Still, the main event—Sally trying to get out of town—was very clear, while Amber’s characters and settings felt vivid and alive throughout the story. For that alone, it’s worth the read.

For me, though, Bleeding Heart was a fun read in more ways than one—I met Amber back in college and heard bits of her writing then. After following her blog the past couple of years, it’s been exciting to watch Amber’s work in publishing her first novel and to be able to review a copy of it for her. She's already working on other projects, including a prequel and possible sequel, as she posted about yesterday. So—congratulations to Amber! 


As part of Bleeding Heart's tour, Amber is offering a "Journey to the West" giveaway for US residents. The giveaway includes:
  • A signed copy of Bleeding Heart, once the paperback edition becomes available.
  • A deck of playing cards with pictures of the Pacific Northwest
  • A redwood bookmark
  • Falk's Claim: The Life and Death of a Redwood Lumber Town, one of Amber's research sources for this novel.
  • A wooden train whistle
  • A postcard which Amber will send to the winner with a personal message.
Amber will announce the giveaway winner August 31st, at the end of the tour. Meanwhile, you can find out more about Amber and Bleeding Heart by visiting the novel's website, or at the blog tour's home page. You can also find Bleeding Heart on Amazon (Kindle Edition for now).

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Free Ebooks for You

Thanks to Diane Estrella's site, I found a link this morning to Amazon's top 100 free Ebooks in Religious Fiction. I've used Amazon's free list before to find some very good reads, but today I saw two books in particular you should know about:

A Cast of Stones, by Patrick Carr--I've reviewed this book before, back in March, but I'll recommend it again. I would rank it as one of my favorite YA fantasies, both for Carr's cast of characters, and the way he develops his medieval world with a sense the supernatural and a church hierarchy to be reckoned with. It's a rather dark world, but I enjoyed it immensely. If you've been curious, this might be your chance to read it.

Back on Murder, by J. Mark Bertrand--as the title suggests, this is a murder mystery. Once an all-star detective, Roland March knows he's on his way out, but he's hoping this time to get the big case, instead of the little side-shows he's had to do recently. And when he finds a clue the other investigators miss, he might just have that chance. If he can't make it this time, though, he may be out for good. While I've only read the first couple of chapters to this book, I've heard great recommendations for Bertrand's work, and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the story.

These are both the first book in a series, so don't blame me if you get hooked! I don't know how long either will be available free, but for now, I'd suggest you check them might be a great opportunity to add a couple books to your summer reading list.

Also, my friend Amber Stokes now has her first novel--the historical romance Bleeding Hearts--available for sale on Amazon. (And, at the moment, Bleeding Hearts is available for Amazon Prime members to borrow free.) I'll be reviewing the book August 21st as part of Amber's blog tour, but you should know now that it's a story about broken hearts finding restoration. Plus, Amber has a great historical setting (Nevada silver mines and California redwood forests), and very engaging characters. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Misery Loves Company: Review

A police-procedural, an undercover investigation, and questions about what it means to be a writer...

My newest read, Rene Gutteridge's Misery Loves Company mixes up all three.

As the story starts, Lt. Colonel Jim Franklin is worried about his daughtershe needs to get out more, write more, see more people. In fact, he's the only person Jules sees, and that's only in the morning, before he starts drinking.

Jules (Juliet) Belleno doesn't want to see people, or do anything at all that would change her dull, careful routine. Always shy, she's been a recluse since her husband Jason was killed during an investigation. She does writeon her blog, and on Face Bookbut she can't convince her dad she's happy with the way her life is.

Then, after reviewing her favorite author's latest novel, Jules meets that authorand wakes up to a nightmare.

And when Jason's former partner Chris Downey tries to find Jules, he meets resistance from his own chief and the police department's rules. He dodges the rules, but in the process, he finds another mystery, one he's never even guessed at.

Misery Loves Company is my first encounter with Gutteridge's books, and I enjoyed the experience. At the same time, it's a hard book to categorize. It's a Christian suspense novel, but neither Jules nor Chris is a Christian. It's also a story with strong emotions, although the resolution feels a little too easy, like the happy endings Jules is warned against. Half the story follows a relatively clean, though convoluted, missing-person search, while the other half turns into a bizarre writer's retreat as Jules tries to understand what it means to write, to have inspiration, to find meaning. Her only chance of safety seems to be answering the hard questions that never get any answers.

For me, the first half of the story read very smoothly. It's not an action story (at least until the very end). Most of Chris's investigation leads to interviews and sorting through old papers, but even when he's most frustrated with the search, the story carries well.

The challenge comes in the second half of the plotlike Jules, I couldn't always see where that storyline was headed. I did find it interesting, especially as an analysis of the writer's struggles, but then I am a writer. I'm guessing that other readers might skim these sections, or read them for the emotional conflict, rather than the writing atmosphere.

So, Misery Loves Company is a good read, and if you like metafiction about writing in your books, I'd definitely recommend it. Just be ready for a heavythough not exactly saggingmiddle.

And I'm curious—what do you think of novels about writing?

[My thanks to Tyndale House Publishers for sending me a review copy of Misery Loves Company, in exchange for my honest opinion of the book.]