Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Melanie Goldmund is the winner of the romance vs fantasy contest. Michele, I know you live out of the US, is there a local address I can mail your book choice to? And which one would you like?

This is going to be a short blog to announce the first half of July contest. My younger sister is critically ill with acute leukemia and my youngest daughter has pneumonia. Needless to say, I'm not getting much written on my work-in-progress novel or on this blog. Therefore, I'm offering the flip side of the blog I wrote on romance and fantasy. The prize will be any of the books previously offered, but not chosen by winners, or one of the following fantasy novels: Hunting Gideon by Jessica Draper, Leven Thumps, by Obert Skye, The Choosing by David A. Cook, or the Candy Shop War by Brandon Mull.

And since July is America's birthday and I have deep feelings for this country and for those who made our freedom possible as well as for those who strive to keep America free today, I'm also offering L.C. Lewis's Free Men and Dreamers, Vol. one, an historical novel set in revolutionary time.

To enter (1)continue the last theme of discussing either romance or fantasy or (2) tell me what America means to you.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Romance Vs Fantasy

I didn't realize how long this blog is until I posted it on the V a few minutes ago. Comments count, so let me hear your views on this subject.

Speculative fiction is enjoying a lot of attention at the present time. Harry Potter and the Twilight series have seen mega success. Legions of lesser lights have become household names as well. Romance is the top selling genre almost everywhere. During times of uncertainty there’s always an upsurge in extreme escapism fiction, so it is to be expected that in today’s uncertain times Fantasy and Romance are the top sellers. Sometimes the genres even overlap to become Romantic Fantasies. When life gets really discouraging, then we’ll see an upswing in comedy. Don’t ask me why; that’s just the way it is.

Many people wrap themselves in a self-righteous mantel to poke fun at those who enjoy Romance or view FAntasy with disdain. This is a silly attitude since a touch of romance improves almost any book and being members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we profess to believe in strong marriages and eternal relationships. That kind of marriage doesn’t occur without a little romance. And those who never get too old to believe in Santa have a happy outlook on life.

As a former public library romance novel buyer, I still have a soft spot for an excellent love story and find something worthwhile in most LDS romance novels. Whether buying or reviewing, I divide romance novels into three categories; 1) Boo Hoos – These are stories weak in research and plot, while being strong in sentiment. Characters tend toward stereotypes. The stories are mainly designed to elicit tears and are particularly popular around Christmas, but can appear any time, and they are written by both men and women. Not all are man/woman relationship stories. 2)Formula – In these boy meets girl, an obstacle arises to keep them apart, obstacle is resolved, ends in commitment. These are almost always written by women for women and usually include a strong physical attraction element. 3) Love stories – These follow no formula, touch the heart, but are not calculated to be tear jerkers. Both plot and characters are strong. The love story is based on a realistic friendship, the relationship enhances and expands the life and sensitivity of the major characters. They grow as their feelings for each other grow. They demonstrate a willingness to make meaningful sacrifices for each other and are often committed to a cause grander than their personal relationship. Unlike 1) and 2) the ending of this third type leaves the reader feeling warm and uplifted.I’ll admit there are a lot of bad romance novels available at the present time, many have more to do with sex than love, but occasionally a jewel appears. A truly good romance novel is a treat to savor.

Comparing Romance and Fantasy novels may seem a little strange, but they actually have a great deal in common besides their popularity in the current market and their extreme escapism value. Both stretch the bands of imagination and both have almost an addictive pull on their fans. Neither deserves to be lumped into a single mold and whether or not fans of one genre respect the other, some of today’s best writing is appearing in these books---some of the worst too.

I’m one of those who usually find Fantasy novels as absurd and useless as many readers find romance novels. I consider all the blood, gore, and absence of moral values in Fantasy novels as offensive as some find the kissing, sex, and bawling in Romances. Bloodthirsty violence is no improvement over lust. Please don’t confuse graphic sex or violence with “realism.” When either become the dominating factor in the story or even in just a scene, the plot is interrupted and realism is out the window.

Because I’ve been somewhat vocal concerning my dislike for most speculative fiction, I decided to attempt an open minded look at what I like and dislike in this popular genre. I acknowledge that readers of this genre, like readers of romance, may feel a need to escape from the pressures of their all-too-real lives. Face it, all fiction is escapism, but the two genres I’m discussing here are more extreme than other forms of escape fiction. Females who are less than pleased with the reality of their love lives may seek the blissful illusion of a dream lover found in a Romance novel, but this doesn’t explain all fans allegiance to the genre. Males who see themselves as leading less-than-heroic lives with little opportunity to be powerful hunters, explorers, or warriors can be the superheroes of their dreams in a fantasy novel. Here again, this theory doesn’t cover all fans of this genre either. There is something in the nature of these two genres that appeals to dreamers, both those who indulge in an occasional daydream to relax and those who continually live in an "other world" fog.

Speculative fiction generally falls into three broad areas just as Romance does; 1)Cinderella Stories - these are the light, fun fairy tale stories that are the stuff of daydreams, wishful thinking, and a means of reconnecting with the tales of childhood, 2)Alternative Reality – these stories involve a different world from the one we know, generally a dangerous one. They usually include strange creatures, magic, potions, war of some kind, and lots of hunts or chases. The hero or heroine has tremendous courage and skills beyond what is considered normal among humans. 3) Futuristic Last Days – These are plausible, realistic stories based on the author’s concept of what the future of the earth and humans may be like at some climatic point beyond the present. They are often based on scientific or religious concepts.I recently read several very popular fantasy novels; some of those written for younger teens such as The Thirteenth Reality and Sun and Moon; Ice and Snow were fun; some were just silly. I thoroughly enjoyed Chris Stewart’s Great and the Terrible. I wasn’t impressed with any of the Alternative Reality novels I read until I read Servant of a Dark God.

Servant of a Dark God (due to be released in September) by John Brown sat on my desk for weeks before I picked it up. I’ll admit I wasn’t interested. Most novels in this genre have left me with a dark, annoyed feeling, but it was a review copy of a soon-to-be released TOR novel and I’d never received an ARC from Tor before. I received it because I review “Mormon” fiction for Meridian Magazine and the author happens to be LDS. Though I started as a reluctant reader, I soon found myself reading late at night, stealing moments when I should be doing something else, and just plain having difficulty putting the book down.

The novel has a medieval-like setting with a “cast of compelling characters and monsters.” But the monsters aren’t always distinguishable from the other characters. In fact one monster is so well-developed and multi-faceted, readers will have difficulty not identifying with him or feeling compassion for him. There’s a large cast of characters, but much of the story revolves around a young man called Talen, who is impulsive, selfish, arrogant and a little cowardly. He is torn between obedience to the Divine rulers and the promptings of his own heart in a “land where the days of a person’s life can be harvested, bought, or stolen.”

TOR’s press information describes the story as “The Clans muster a massive hunt, and Talen finds himself a target. Thinking his struggle is against both soul-eaters and their hunters, Talen actually has far larger problems. A being of awesome power has arisen, one whose diet consists of the days of man. Her Mothers once ranched human subjects like cattle. She has emerged to take back what is rightfully hers.
“Trapped in a web of lies and ancient secrets, Talen must struggle to identify his true enemy before the Mother finds the one whom she will transform into the lord of the human harvest.”

It sounds gory and brutal, not at all what I would care for, but those distasteful elements are handled well and within a framework of right and wrong; they don’t intrude on the real story. I also liked the fact that the hero learns that he has the power within himself to conquer his enemies without resorting to drugs or an infusion of some kind of magical stimulant. At first I thought the story was some kind of anti-God/anti religion book, but it isn’t. Instead it says a lot about all humans in the beginning being given equal great powers, but through the corruption and greed of those who wish to exert power over others, false gods and religions are invented to control those who aren’t aware of their own power or who are afraid to defend what is rightfully theirs.

Servant of a Dark God is a compelling, complicated novel written in a misleadingly simple style. As in the highest quality literary writing, there are lines and references that bring other great works to mind without actually quoting them. There are moments of cliffhanger suspense and scenes of tender compassion. Terrible things happen, but powerful good rises to meet the challenge, though this is no "and they all lived happily ever after" kind of story. Face it, a fantasy novel that pulled me in so thoroughly, has to be good.

Now for a challenge to all those who mock romance: Pick up one of the really good ones. A couple of recent ones come to mind, The Last Waltz by GG Vandagriff , or All the Stars in Heaven by Michele Paige Holmes. You may be as pleasantly surprised as I was by my foray into Fantasy. And Romance readers, try a few Fantasy novels; you may have only tried the wrong type.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


This hasn't happened before, but since a week has passed and the last winner announced never claimed her prize, I drew a new winner. BRITT is the new winner of the first half of June contest. Please contact me before Friday of this week at bhansen22 at msn dot com to tell me which prize you would like.

Remember the current contest closes at noon a week from today and comments on any blog I post between June 15 and June 30 is eligible for the drawing.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Reviews on Meridian

Once a month Meridian Magazine posts a review column written by yours truly. I love reviewing LDS fiction, pointing out each book's strengths and weaknesses, and introducing readers to what's new in this field. Here's another way to win a free book. Read my column on Meridian http://www.ldsmag.com/books/090618june.html then come back here to comment on one or more of the books I reviewed. Please keep adding your romance stories too; I'm loving them.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Romantic June

June is the traditional month for romance and something I have a lot of are LDS romantic novels, so this next contest will feature romance. I'm not going to display the covers of all the books I'm offering for a prize to the winner of this contest, but here are a dozen titles:

Scottish Legend by Sherry Ann Miller
Makeover by Shannon Guymon
Finding Faith by Terri Ferran
The Icing on the Cake by Elodia Strain
At the Water's Edge by Annette Lyon
Promise of Spring by Kristen McKendry
Through Love's Trials by Julie Coulter Bellon
Delicious Conversation by Jennifer Stewart Griffith
Always & Forever by Candie Checketts
Unlikely Match by Beverly King
The Bishop's Bride by Elizabeth Watkins
Time and Eternity by E. M. Tippetts

I have more, so if none of these are the winner's choice, as usual you can give me a wish list and I'll do my best to send you a romance you'd really like to read.

A few years ago I taught a family history class. This wasn't a fill out the family tree chart class, but a class where participants wrote their own family history. One of the assignments I gave was to "write your own love story." We all have a love story. Some of us married the object of our heart's desire, but most of us didn't marry every person we fell in love with. I'll admit I was only six when I decided I was in love with a neighbor boy. He was my best friend and we spent every minute possible together. Once he and his family were late for the movie shown every Friday night at the church. When he finally arrived we met each other on the front steps with a big smooch, which we didn't live down for years. Our moms even made us matching outfits, me a dress and him a shirt, from chicken feed bags. (Most of my dresses were made from either chicken feed sacks or flour sacks when I was little.) When we were nine both of our families moved away, we wrote occasionally, and he surprised me a few years ago by showing up at one of my book signings.

As I grew older I experienced the usual crushes and two serious loves, but it was while I was attending college that I asked a friend to date one of my roommates. Months later he asked me to return the favor and go out with his cousin who had returned early from his mission with a serious illness. The cousin had healed and my friend decided it was time to get him back in the dating game. So you might say, I met my husband on a blind date. Four months passed between that first date and our second, but on that second date we both realized the relationship was one we wanted to pursue. Six months later we were married.

So now let's hear a love story by you, a romantic proposal, a wedding disaster, or any story of love and romance you experienced.

Heidi is the Winner

Heidi has won two of the books offered for prizes. Congratulations. Please contact me at bhansen22 at msn dot com to give me your mailing address and to tell me which books you would like. Remember, you can give me a list of alternative books you would like if none of the books offered appeal to you.

I really enjoyed everyone's comments about your fathers.

I'll post information on the next contest tonight or in the morning. I've been busy this afternoon passing out cookies at the new Oquirrh Temple hospitality tent. What a fun afternoon!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Day of Mixed Feelings

Yesterday was both sad and rewarding for me. It was my last day serving at the Jordan River Temple. It has been almost a year since I began there and it's hard to explain the depth of the relationships formed in that time. In all my years working in the public sector, I never experienced with my co-workers the closeness, respect, warmth, and shared common purpose I have felt in the temple. There were a lot of tears shed and a lot of hugs received. Being the last day for me and both of my partners, who are also leaving for the new temple, we worried that so much emotion might interfere with performing our assignments correctly, but I don't think I've ever had a day before when I've managed to say everything I should right or feel a more spiritual connection.

Leaving isn't easy for me because I've had a stake in that temple since it was first announced. The evening before the announcement my husband and I went for a walk and witnessed a shaft of light just at sunset settle on the spot where the temple was to be built. The following day when the location was announced we weren't surprised. I was a reporter when the groundbreaking occurred and arrived at the bottom of the hill on Thirteenth South just as the General Authorities did and walked up the hill with them. I did the temple work for my great grandmother there and attended weddings of family and friends in that temple. Jordan River was the first open house and temple dedication I ever attended. And the past year has been a remarkable spiritual experience serving there.

I'm looking forward to the opportunity to serve in the new Oquirrh Mountain Temple soon. It's a beautiful building (except for one sofa upholstered in really ugly yellow fabric). Gorgeous stonework, beautiful woods, and brilliant use of glass and light highlight the interior. Even though the grand staircase is a work of art and the chandliers are amazing, what impressed me most on the quick tour we took a week ago is the feeling of peace that wrapped around me as I stepped through the door and which stayed with me as we viewed the beautiful rooms.

I really like the huge murals that are being painted for the new temples this one included, but the murals I like best are the ones in the new Twin Falls Temple and I like the light, warm Fall changing-of-the-seasons one in the Draper temple. I don't doubt that in time I will feel as closely connected to the new Oquirrh Mountain Temple as I do to the Jordan River Temple, but I'll always have a love for the Jordan River Temple in my heart too.

Any of you who get a chance, be sure to attend the open house for the new temple that continues until the first of August. If you think that because you visited the Draper Temple there's no point in visiting this one, you're wrong. They are so different from each other. The ordinances will be the same, but each is a different artistic statement, has a different feel, and a different traffic flow. The view from each is spectacularly different too.

I have temples on my mind right now, but I really can't think of anything more suitable for this month's reflection on fathers, both our earthly ones and our Heavenly One.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

More Contest Info

It's my turn to blog on the V-formation. Responses there will count toward the current win-a-book contest here. In fact from now on comments on my blogs at the V-Formation will always count toward the contest here. Over there I posted a picture of my father and his brother working in one of the big wheat fields on their Canadian homestead.

Recently I received duplicate copies of All the Stars in Heaven Michele Paige Holmes's new book which has just been released. I’m adding my duplicate copy to the prizes for this contest because this book also has important things to say about a father/daughter relationship, though in this case the example isn't always what it should be . However, the book is exceptionally good and you can read my review of it next week on Meridian. Until then let’s hear about your fathers--here and there.

Monday, June 8, 2009


Every summer LDS Publisher sponsors a reading contest with books for prizes. All that is required is to read books by LDS authors over the summer and post brief reviews of those books on your blog. A winner is drawn each week. Readers joining the program are supposed to list on their blogs the books he or she intends to read this summer. More detailed rules including instructions for those without their own blogs can be found on the LDS Publisher contest site.
This contest is always fun and is a chance to not only win free books, but to "talk back" to reviewers, compare favorites lists, and discover books to add to your wish lists.
My list looks a little short, but I'll be adding to it all summer. I don't always know which books I'll be reading since I write reviews for Meridian and I pick books to review each month from the books sent to me by various LDS publishers and authors. My reviews are posted the third Thursday of every month. Here are the books I'll be starting with:
The Route by Gale Sears
Pickup Games by Marcia Mickelson
Agent in Old Lace by Tristi Pinkston
Altered State by Gregg Luke
All the Stars in Heaven by Michele Paige Holmes

The contest I run on this blog will continue twice a month and is separate from the LDS Publisher contest. Readers on my blog are welcome to make comments on any of the books I review as well as on LDS Publisher and on the different entrants' blogs, but only those comments left on my blog or the V-Formation will be eligible for the books I offer as prizes.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Exploring New Facets

I recently read Tristi Pinkston's new book Agent in Old Lace and since I've known Tristi for quite a few years and enjoyed her historical novels, I invited her to introduce herself to my readers and tell you about both her older books and her new one. I won't review her new novel here since I'm reviewing it for Meridian next week , but I will say it took me by surprise since it's contemporary. It also has a father/daughter sub plot which fits in very well with this month's current contest.

My first three novels are historical fiction, and I know I’ve surprised many of my readers with the recent release of “Agent in Old Lace,” which is a contemporary mystery and very different from anything I’ve written before. Jennie said that as she read “Agent in Old Lace,” she felt as though I was taking a needed break from historical fiction, and that’s true. I spent hours researching my first two novels, first immersing myself in the Japanese internment camps and the atomic bombs and then the atrocities of the Nazi concentration camps, and while I didn’t use even 10% of my research in my final novels, the images were burned into my brain and I needed to write something light to reset my switches. That’s when I wrote “Agent in Old Lace,” although it didn’t come out in chronological order and I did write one book after it which was published before it.

It’s been a lot of fun for me to explore this other dimension of myself, although a part of me does feel like I’m cheating on historical fiction, which will always be my first love. I enjoy researching, although I do find myself a little frustrated when I miss something. I appreciate the chances for learning and growth that have come my way as I’ve learned about things that happened decades before I was born. I have every intention of continuing to write in the historical fiction genre, but you know, I like testing out these new waters. Contemporary fiction is challenging me in different ways, and I also feel as though my brain power has been freed up somewhat to concentrate on craft and mechanics and improving my overall writing skills. I’m learning when to leave out the words “that” and “was” and “just” and “little bit,” and I’m learning about dangling modifiers and all those other things that creep in when we least expect them. If you’ll pardon the pun, I feel like a whole new chapter is opening up for me.

I think this is valid for any person who is involved in a creative endeavor, be they authors, artists, quilters, singers—what have you. We all need to step outside ourselves once in a while and try something new. It might work, it might not work, but it’s a valuable experience because it helps bring our art form into focus for us and we can more clearly see our strengths and our weaknesses. It also refreshes us and prepares us for the next leg of the journey. I’ve always enjoyed writing but right now, I can honestly say that writing is really fun. I’m having the time of my life. I’ve rediscovered all the reasons why I started writing in the first place. You know what, I think I’ll go now and work on my next chapter. Thanks for hosting me, Jennie—it was fun to hang out with you for a little while.

Thanks Tristi! Having felt the need for a break from my own historical novels which resulted in High Country and my fall release Shudder, I understand your need for something lighter. Comments on Tristi's blog will count toward this month's contest. Remember you can leave a comment on each blog I post between June one and noon on the fifteenth. You can visit Tristi's blog here.

Monday, June 1, 2009


BRITT is the winner of the second May contest. Please contact me at bhansen22 at msn dot com to let me know which book you would like and to give me your mailing address. Remember your prize doesn't have to be one of the three books featured for this contest. If you choose a different book, please give me a wishlist of books to select from. Congratulations!

Since Father’s Day is this month, I decided to offer books for the first half of June contest that are all written by men, are told from a male point of view, and all have strong, masculine covers. If the winner is so inclined, one would make a fine Fathers’ Day gift. Two are even stories of father/son relationships.

Most LDS fiction is written from a female point of view and the majority of the authors are also women. Most LDS novels are also purchased by women, though it is much harder to pin point whether readers are more typically female or not since most of the well-known authors have both male and female fans, women give books as gifts, and large numbers of men read whichever books their wives bring home, even the romances. Several male authors such as Gerald Lund, Dean Hughes, and Lee Nelson have garnered huge followings among both men and women. One area where I see a real shortage of males writing for males is in youth fiction except in the science fiction/fantasy genre. Alma J. Yates is one of the few male writers who writes realistic fiction for and about young men.

Yates is a favorite author who has given us a number of books written for young men, but his stories have a much broader appeal than just to his target audience. Finding Dad is one such story. It is the story of a man who left his wife, the small town he grew up in, and his young son to discover a bigger world. After years on a road leading nowhere, he begins to get his life back together. Then he receives word his ex-wife has died and that his sixteen-year-old son he left behind ten years earlier is now his responsibility. He returns to claim his son and discovers a stranger who isn’t eager to go with him. He agrees to go only on the condition that his broken-down truck must go with them, even if the two of them have to push it the entire five hundred miles.

Recovering Charles by Jason F. Wright is another father and son story though the son is an adult and the father is a derelict old man, an alcoholic who has pretty much destroyed his life and his relationship with his son. The father was an enabler who catered to his wife’s prescription drug addiction until her death when he became an alcohol addict and his son stepped into the role of enabler. The son finally takes a stand and refuses to support his father’s addiction. That’s when he becomes branded an unsympathetic and unnatural son. Forced to survive on his own, the father, cleans up his act enough to be accepted by a group of bar buddies in New Orleans just before Hurricane Katrina hits. That’s when his father’s friends perpetrate a cruel hoax on the son.

Most so-called “men’s novels” focus on war or the wild west. Brad E. Hainsworth wrote Revenge and Redemption, a civil war era story of political intrigue, suspense, and a touch of romance. This book ranges from Utah to the bloody civil war battlefields and the halls of government in Washington D.C. It begins after the battle of Glorieta Pass in New Mexico, one of the few Civil War battles fought in the West. It features Clay Ashworth who returns to his ranch in Utah to find his wife pregnant with their first child. The child is stillborn and in her grief, she runs away, presumably back to Mexico. Another prominent character is Porter Rockwell’s old enemy, Wolf Striker, who survived the battle at Glorieta Pass.

Buckshot Higgins, His Life and Treasures by Charles Moore Hackley III is another western. This one is set in New Mexico among the native population there. Since the earliest settlements by Spaniards in the Southwest, there have been legends of buried treasure, hidden gold, and secret stashes of ancient valuables. This book centers around one such legend and though the legend may be myth or reality, the background details of the natives, their culture, and the mountains and mesas are authentic.

I’ll send two, your choice, of these books to the person whose name I draw from those who submit thoughtful comments concerning your father , your husband, or a father you consider exemplary between now and noon June 15.