Friday, March 27, 2009


I’m a critic. And I mean that in the nicest way. I’m not the sort of critic that enjoys pointing out faults and flaws. I’ve been accused of being hurtful, but that’s never my intent. What I aim for is improving LDS fiction. I believe in LDS fiction and want to see it get better and better. My way of doing that is by pointing out where improvements could be made---and applauding what authors get right. It is also my goal to inform readers about what is available in this fast growing field and encourage them to try new authors, let them know when an old favorite has a new release, and generally serve as a cheerleader for LDS fiction.

Most writers both want and dread having their books reviewed. I’m one of the lucky ones who get to do the reviewing. One of the questions frequently asked of me is what I look for in books I review. I also get asked by authors how they can get their books reviewed in Meridian. Others wonder what good is a review. I’ll try to answer those questions.

I’ll start with the last question. Review columns such as mine serve a dual purpose 1) to inform potential readers of new books that are available and help them decide which books to spend their money on and 2) to improve the quality of books offered to the public by informing writers of those areas that need work and which areas they got right.

Most of the books I review are sent to me by the various publishers, though occasionally I receive a book directly from an author, especially if it is self-published or published by a publisher who doesn’t ordinarily publish LDS fiction or handle their own distribution. I review only LDS fiction—that is fiction written by an LDS author and/or has LDS elements. I try to read everything I receive, but that isn’t always possible. And I’ll admit I don’t finish every book I start. I don’t have time to read poorly written books or books that espouse a point of view contrary to LDS Church values.

When I first began reviewing, I only reviewed books I liked. Even a bad review is publicity and I was squeamish about giving free advertising to books I couldn’t honestly recommend. Now, because my readers have requested it, I review the majority of the books I receive whether I like them or not. My reviews are shorter and sometimes less kind, but I can honestly say most of the books sent to me by LDS publishers have merit, though some are certainly better than others.

The first thing I look for in a book is whether or not it stands out from the crowd. I want books that catch my attention right from the start and hold it. A great cover is a good start, but I’m more interested in the actual words that start the story and whether or not the book starts where the real story starts. Excessive backfill and info dumps in those first couple of chapters ruin what might otherwise be a good story. I want valid research, plots that make sense, and characters that grow or change because of the events in the story.

I’ve heard it said there are only about sixteen basic story plots. Off hand I can’t name them, but I do appreciate a fresh approach to tried and true themes and it’s a delight when an author chooses a topic that hasn’t been done to death. Often I receive several books with the same basic storyline. They may all be good, but I’m going to review the one that has a different or new way of viewing the theme. Sometimes when faced with two comparable books, I’ll choose the one by the author who is new to the genre. I’ll admit there are a few authors who write so well I would like to review every book he/she writes, but if time or space is limited, I will most likely give the established writer a pass unless the work is unusual or outstanding for that author.

I look for good writing. I prefer books that have been thoroughly scanned by a good copyeditor, but there’s more involved than proper grammar and freedom from typos. A good writer doesn’t keep me guessing from whose point of view a scene is being viewed and he/she doesn’t arbitrarily switch points of view in the middle of a scene. Also too many points of view create cluttered writing. Childish sentence structure will lose me, as will pompous over-blown sentences and paragraphs. The same rules that govern excellent writing in the general market hold true for LDS novels. Also the premise or theme of the book must be weighty enough to carry throughout the entire book.

Since I review LDS fiction there must be a connection to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for books to qualify for my review column. That connection may be as slight as the author being a member of the Church and that the book follows standards that are commonly acceptable to members of the Church. The books do not have to be products of an LDS publisher, but most are. I don’t review books that present the Church in a negative light or ones that take a stand in opposition to Church policies or tenets. I prefer books that simply tell a story set in the context of the LDS culture, rather than those that preach or attempt to convert.

Character development is important to a story and I look for characters I can feel are real and I want to like the protagonist. I want to see characters that grow or are somehow changed by the events in the book. I like plots that have a beginning, a middle, and an end with twists and turns that hold my attention. The setting isn’t as important to me as character and plot, but it still plays an important role and it helps if the author gets details of the background right.

Every reviewer has a few personal idiosyncrasies and strong likes and dislikes. We’re human and we each set the criteria by which we judge a novel to be strong or weak by varying standards. I don’t like unrealistic behavior from supposedly mature adults, helpless females that have to be rescued by a man or a miracle, or going beyond an acceptable level of literary license when dealing with historical or scriptural characters. I’m very picky about speculative fiction and “near” history as well. I enjoy both well-written genre and literary fiction, though I’m not a fan of extremely esoteric literary works. And I’ll admit I’ve developed a real distaste for the weak, maudlin type of tears and tragedy story written primarily to evoke tears. I also find excessive violence and disregard for life as off-putting as pornography.

When I first began reviewing it was difficult for an LDS author to get his or her novel reviewed. The few reviews that appeared in papers or magazines were generally scornful of those early books. The magazine I work for, Meridian at and the AML group, were pioneers in this endeavor. Now there are many sources of reviews of LDS novels. Many online reviewers have sprung up and some of them are excellent. I believe all of these reviews are playing a role in making LDs fiction more satisfying to read. I’m always looking for reader feedback and would love to know what others like or dislike in LDS fiction. Also how do readers and writers regard the role of the critic?

This blog appears both here and on the V-Formation. Responses at either place will count as entries in my bi-monthly contest. Multiple entries are welcome.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Winter isn't leaving peacefully. It started snowing last night and it's still snowing here. Snow has buried all of my crocuses, pansies, and daffodils that were starting to be pretty and to convince me Spring was really on its way. Looking through some pictures I took during the winter I found this shot of one of the hawks that hung around my back yard most of the winter eating the little birds that visited out bird feeders. It isn't a really good picture, but it's not too bad for being shot through the guestroom window. Does anyone know birds well enough to tell me if it's a Sharp Shank or not? This little guy is my grandson, Calton, who just helped himself to a second cupcake from his big brother's "snake" birthday cake (made of cupcakes). He's still debating whether to eat the cupcake or go after a slice of the more traditional birthday cake, the one with all the candles.

Don't forget that a comment on any blog since the fifteenth of March is an entry in my book give-away contest!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Book Signings

Next Saturday Seagull Book Stores will be hosting their semi-annual Celebrating Sisterhood events at their bookstores. I'll be signing from ten to twelve at the West Jordan store and from 12:30 until two at the Redwood Store. Come see me; I'd love to meet you. If you buy a book fine, but if you'd like to bring books you've previously purchased, I love signing them too. And if you just want to say hello that's okay too. Hosting stores always have some great deals, refreshments, and it's just a fun event.

Since our present contest features food and most writers bring a bowl of snacks to set on the signing table, please tell me what I should put in that little bowl. Chocolate? Easter candy? Cookies?

Monday, March 16, 2009


It’s time to begin another contest, same rules as before (see side column). This contest will run through the end of March. Previous winners are welcome to enter again. Comments on multiple blogs mean multiple chances to win. So far I’ve been really impressed with the comments given. Many of you have great writing skills and have had some unique experiences. It has been tempting to just send all of you a prize. By the way, winners don’t have to take one of the books associated with the current contest, you can ask for any of the previous books I’ve listed or you can request a book you’ve wanted to read, but haven’t had a chance to yet. If I have it, I’ll substitute it for your prize.

When someone asks me about my favorite food, I have to stop to think. I love lasagna, but it’s hard to beat a good steak with mashed potatoes and gravy. Then there’s fried chicken. I get hungry just thinking about pizza especially the ones loaded with all kinds of stuff and extra cheese. Oh and fajitas!

And vegetables. My kids think I’m crazy but I love asparagus, carrots, baby peas, baked squash, broccoli, Swiss chard, corn on the cob, and buttered beets. Alas, though we’ve nearly always raised a large garden I can’t pick peas or beans nor husk corn. I have nasty allergy problems triggered by those activities. What’s a day without fresh fruit? I’ll eat most canned varieties, but it’s the fresh fruits I crave; juicy peaches, crisp apples, blackberries, pears, watermelon. Mmm. Here again allergies raise their ugly head. No kiwi for me or my son.

I’ll admit it; I have a sweet tooth. Chocolate, of course, but also pie, candy, cookies, puddings, and cake. If they're chocolate, so much the better! As I’ve gotten older I have to be careful of these items, so when I indulge, I make certain it’s the good stuff.

There, you guessed it. The books I’m offering as prizes all have something to do with food.

First off there’s Dianne Crabtree’s Chocolate Therapy. “Joan Spencer has a secret. Hidden in her kitchen cupboard, behind the pots and pans, lives a box of candy bars. Milk chocolate, no almonds. Joan considers the chocolate her secret weapon in her life full of stressful situations.”

This is a story about an average woman with a husband, teenage children, a divorced sister, and a father who reappears after disappearing from her life over thirty years ago. With more than average stress in her life, she faces these challenges with courage, faith, a sense of humor, and chocolate.

The Icing on the Cake by Elodia Strain is filled with post-adolescent angst, plenty of humor, and a young woman anxious to make her mark as a food editor for a prominent magazine. She’s also anxious to make a positive impression on a certain handsome photographer. The book falls somewhere between chic lit and romance.

The Candy Shop War by Brandon Mull is centered around a candy shop that specializes in magical candy, treats that aren’t quite so delightful as they sound. This one is for mid-readers and younger teens, but parents will want to read it too.

Now here’s the subject for comments. What is your favorite or most disastrous experience involving food?


Amanda is the winner of my book giveaway contest for the first half of March. Amanda please contact me by Friday of this week, sooner if possible. I'll need your mailing address and to know which book you want.

I'll post the details and question for the next contest later today.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


I post on the V-Formation blog as well as on this blog and today was my day to post. (Actually I posted last night since I knew I'd be short on time today.) Go over there and read my blog, then come back here and tell me of a time when you were scared--or leave a comment there sharing a scary experience you had and I'll include your comment in my contest for my first half of March contest. If you've already entered, this is a chance to get an additional chance at winning.

Monday, March 9, 2009


Snow and more snow! I just drove over to get my hair cut and came right back. I'd planned on a few other errands, but the snow is coming down so thick and fast, I decided the other things could wait. My poor little crocuses are buried in the white stuff. We worried about snow all weekend because we made a quick trip to Idaho to visit some of my family who are ill. We ran into a few light flurries on the way up, Saturday was cold but beautiful, and we returned before the storm hit today.

I lived for a signifigant portion of my growing up years in Southern Idaho, but each time we go up my brother-in-law shows me places I've never been. There isn't a back road he doesn't know. This time we visited an area of tall trees on the north side of the Snake River canyon where we spotted four eagles. We also had a great view of a wind farm. After watching the eagles we took a twisting, steep trail down into the canyon to a steelhead hatchery where we saw not only the young steelhead fish, but about half a dozen sturgeon. The sturgeon aren't very pretty as fish go, but they're really big. We went through Jerome and saw where the schools I attended there have been torn down and replaced with new modern buildings. We also went past the farm where we lived the summer after we returned to Idaho from Montana. The house is gone and there's a huge house on the hill where I used to hunt rabbits. It made me feel like the old saying that a person can never go back must be true. It was a little like erasing a piece of my past. Have you ever revisited a place you once knew well and discovered it only exists in your memories, the reality is gone?

Another fun thing was going out to dinner with four of my siblings and their spouses at a Mexican restaurant in an old movie theater. Our waitress's English was pretty good, but most of the staff speak little English. That doesn't matter. No matter what you order it is fantastic. I ordered a burrito dinner and ate way too much while my husband ordered the greatest fajita I've ever seen. I'm ordering that next time we go there. That restaurant (sorry I can't pronounce or even remember how to spell the name of it) is one of those great places a person finds only rarely somewhere off the beaten path. Have you ever found a place like that? A place far more deserving of all the high-priced advertising praise, but seemingly content to be exceptional, but in a small way?

Monday, March 2, 2009


Congratulations to Gamila ! She is the winner of the February 2 contest. She has chosen Heroes of Glorieta Pass as her prize, leaving the other books offered as prizes for the next contest along with Rolling with the Tide by Jeff Call, Time Riders by Sierra St. James (Jannette Rallison), and Mirror Image by Clair M. Poulson.

Everyone's responses to a time and place they would like to visit were great. I loved reading your comments. Thanks for entering my contest.

To make both posting and commenting easier, I have added the rules of the game to my sidebar. Remember you can add a thoughtful comment to any of my posts during the two week period of each contest, not just in answer to the question I pose and previous prizes not selected by winners may be selected as alternative prizes.

Here's a rundown of the new selections offered this time:

Rolling with the Tide: Meet Gunnar Hanshaw, a former star high school quarterback from California whose career ended with a severe shoulder injury. Now on a mission in Chile, Gunnar faces an uncertain future. Then while playing catch on A Preparation Day, his companion notices his unusually strong arm and encourages him to give football another chance. Eventually, Gunnar finds himself a member of the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Time Riders: Sheridan and Taylor are ordinary college students until a mistake by twenty-fourth century scientists drags them three hundred years into the future. This is a fast leap into a corrupt future world filled with suspense, intrigue, and a bit of humor.

Mirror Image: Twins born to a dying, hippie mother are separated and grow up worlds apart. Their worlds collide when one person figures out the connection between these two young men. While her knowledge has the potential to reunite the long-lost brothers, it also involves dangerous individuals who are desperate to keep hidden truths buried, no matter who gets in the way.

All three of these books represent different types of intrigue and adventure. So here's the question I'm asking for this contest. What is your favorite LDS fiction action/adventure/intrigue novel and what makes it stand out for you?