Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Writers can't not write. Musicians can't turn off the music in their heads. And it's next to impossible for a critic to stop critiquing. It's bad enough that most writers I know can't seem to turnoff the analysis of every book they read or movie they watch, but when that writer (me) is also a critic, it becomes hard to read just for pleasure. Oh, I enjoy most of the books I read, but there's something in my makeup that makes me want to share whatever I like or don't like, even in books I won't be formally reviewing.

This past week I've been ill, nothing serious just a rotten cold and badly infected throat, making most pursuits difficult, so I've spent a lot of time curled up in a comfortable chair, reading. I'll post reviews on Meridian of some of those books, but I read some good ones I won't be reviewing, too, and have decided to write a few things on this blog about some of them. For the most part, they are books that are too short to be considered novels, one is a book for children, and one is poetry.

Conversations with a Moonflower is a pretty little book with a thick padded cover featuring a yellow moonflower. It was written by Christine T. Hall. The book caught my attention first because my mother always planted Evening Flowers in her flower beds. They're not as pretty as moonflowers, but they bloom late in the evening , smell wonderful, and look like weeds in the daytime. When I was a little girl a neighbor had a Night Blooming Cereus plant and invited my family to see and smell this unique flower on the one summer night a year it bloomed. I have fond memories of the beautiful blossoms on that scraggly, ugly plant that looked like a dead weed the other 364 days of the year. This small book is as delightful as its namesake. It takes the reader from a time of packing up the contents of a house that had been in the family for more than a hundred years and the kindness of Amish neighbors to the understanding the protagonist achieves as she shares the Moonflower given to her by an Amish woman with neighbors and family. She not only learns about interacting with others, but discovers that in spite of the ADD she has struggled with all of her life she can have moments of quiet inner reflection and awareness that enrich her life. Through her "conversations" with the moonflower she discovers the answers to most of her questions and the solutions to most of her problems in life are already within her and only need to be brought to the forefront at the right time.

One book I read is a book for children, especially for children who are adopted or who have an adopted sibling. Since I have an adopted grandchild, whom I love dearly, I had looked forward to a chance to read this book. It's called 10 Days Until Forever and is written by David Peterson with illustrations by Tera Grasser. It's a simple little story that counts down the days until a little boy is taken to the temple to be sealed to his adoptive parents. In the process of the countdown he interacts with all the family, ward, and community people who share in his excitement over this special occasion and who care about him.

Carol Lynn Pearson has written a short book of poetry called The Sweet, Still Waters of Home. This is a book specifically written for mothers and to honor them on Mothers' Day. It takes each stanza of the Twenty-Third Psalm, explains it, and places it in the context of today's parenting challenges. I'm not a big fan of poetry nor of Pearson's non-poetry books, but somehow her poetry nearly always touches me and I like this little volume a great deal.

The Tomb Builder by E. James Harrison at 150 pages is almost long enough to be considered a novel. It is based on a man in the New Testament about whom little is known, Joseph of Arimathea. In fact, no one knows for sure quite where Arimathea was. The book is fiction and is therefore speculative, but the historical and geographical facts are well documented. The quality of writing in this little book is excellent and Harrison tells a thoughtful and plausible story of the man who owned the tomb where Christ was placed for those three short days following his crucifixion. The actual cover is not nearly as appealing as the picture of the cover, but don't let a blah cover keep you from an excellent story.

I read Janette Rallison's My Double Life, too, and have to admit I'm a Rallison fan and have been for ten years or so. She writes for the YA market, which I don't review, but I usually read her books just because I love her sense of humor and because she just keeps getting better. This is a story of two sisters who know nothing of the other's existence until the one is invited to be the other famous girl's double. It's a story that takes a look at values and honesty. Though it's written for teens, I suspect I'm not the only adult who will enjoy it. And I assure you the story is much better than the cover

I've enjoyed reading some books outside my usual areas and recommend that other readers try something new too. It's too bad I had to get sick to find the time to do it.

March 31, today/tomorrow is the last day to enter the March Wish List contest.  Remember entries here, on the V-Formation (my blog same as here), or comments on my review column on Meridian count as entries.  All followers get one entry too, just for being a follower.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Last week for Wish List Contest

My fourth review for this month on Meridian is Honeymoon Heist by Anna Jones Buttimore. She's British and the book is set in England, Majorca, Spain, and France.  Any  comments readers make here or on Meridian about the review will count toward this month's Wish List contest.  In fact comments on any of the four books, next week five, March reviews will count.

It might be the pollen flying around in the wind or I might have a cold, but either way I 'm doing a lot of sneezing and sniffling, so don't count on many more blogs before this month ends.  I'm taking my allergy medication, drinking tons of orange juice, and even consuming some nasty acia stuff my daughter gave me, so I should be over it soon.

The robins have arrived, the pollen is here, my crocuses and pansies are blooming, and the grass is green, so why isn't it Spring?  No matter what the calendar and all the signs tell me, it isn't Spring until I can go outside without a coat and there's no snow. So far today it's just rain, but the weatherman said it could change to snow.  I know, it's never really Spring until after April Conference so I have a double reason to look forward to Conference.

Friday, March 18, 2011


I just learned that my book, If I Should Die, will be released in June instead of next January!  I'm thrilled! My editor is currently working on the edit and I will probably receive the first edit in about a week.  I'll post a picture of the cover as soon as I get a copy.  Deseret Book is already accepting pre-orders and you can see a small picture of the cover there.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Believe in Magic

"Don't ever get too old to believe in magic!" My senior year high school English teacher issued this warning to our class more years ago than I care to claim. This wasn't an ordinary English class, but a seminar class, in which we did a great deal of reading from different types of literature and attempting various styles of creative writing. In that class I learned there is more than one kind of magic. His advice has proved excellent through the years.

There would be something sad about a society where there was no Santa Claus, no leprechauns with their pots of gold, no four-leaf clovers, and no sudden delightful surprises. There's a level of innocence restored to adults as they remember the delights of such childhood fantasies as evidenced by their eagerness to pass on these magical experiences to our children. I applaud writers who can create this kind of magic for children and all adults who remember the magic of wonder.

That teacher referred to another kind of magic as well, the kind we sometimes call the "aha moment", or that moment of epiphany when all the pieces fall into place and we "get it." I've read a number of novels lately that contain no epiphany. By the time the climax of the story should be reached, the tale falls flat, there is no surprise, no dots to connect. The clues were too obvious; they practically slapped me in the face--or there were no clues. This type of story is boring. One such story left me wanting to shout, "clever, trendy dialog is NOT a substitute for a real story." Another contained great action, but it went nowhere; there was no climactic moment. Books in series often fall into this trap. Each book is the same story; if I've read one, I've read them all. Even romance novels, mysteries, and suspense where the reader knows in advance the outcome, the lovers will commit to love each other forever, the mystery will be solved, and the clever protagonist will somehow outwit the evil forces, still need that magical moment when the reader can say, "Wow I didn't expect that" or "I had a hunch that was going to happen." Readers need that moment of triumph, that touch of awe, that climactic "Oh, yeah!"

Knowing a story needs a bit of magic doesn't always equate with writing an excellent epiphany. A good writer sprinkles a story liberally with clues and false clues. Care needs to be taken with false clues, or red herrings, to ensure they fit into the story and don't just become loose ends. Few people like clues that are practically underlined in red, but we also feel cheated when the solution pops out of the woodwork without any clues. A friend of mine who writes mystery suspense for the general market once dissected a mystery written by one of her favorite authors to see how many clues the author planted. My friend filled a whole page with clues, then admitted that only one or two aroused her suspicions until that magical moment two lines before the protagonist boldly revealed the villain.

I'm a bookaholic and I believe in magic. I read a lot of books, twenty-one so far this year, and I always look for the magic. Oh not fairies and magic wands, though those are kind of nice sometimes too, but I keep hoping with each book I pick up that it will be the one that carries me away to that magical spot that makes my heart beat faster, rewards the sleuthing side of my brain, and has me saying, "I'm glad I got to read that."

And here's another bit of advice from another former high school teacher of mine: "It's alright to build castles in the air, unless we try to live in one."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Busy Week

The past week has been busy with family birthdays and a grandson's baptism.  I even spent a few hours cleaning up some of my flowerbeds.  I have lots of crocuses blooming and I want to be able to see them without all of the debris blown into our yard by winter storms.  I've read several books too, most of which didn't impress me much, so I won't talk about them.  Mostly my mind has been on the devastating earthquake and tsunami and their aftermath that has struck Japan. I can't even fathom such an awful event. Though I've had dear friends and neighbors of Japanese descent all of my life and have friends who live there now, I won't be one of the writers developing a story around this tragedy.   I'm sure there will be many who will and I wish them luck, but I can't do it.  I've used snippets from news stories before in my novels, especially from events I covered myself as a reporter, but I can't even get my mind around something this huge.  I won't write about it, but I will donate to the Church's Humanitarian Aid fund and urge others to do the same or to donate to any of the better charities such as Red Cross or Catholic Charities where the money will be used to aid the victims and not to line someone's pockets.  Local television stations have lists of creditable charities.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

SO Ready for Spring!

Monday I was excited to discover yellow crocuses blooming in my back yard.  I went out for about an hour to clear away winter debris and flower stalks that weren't trimmed well enough last Fall.  Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and crocuses were poking through the ground in all my flower beds. Today they're covered with snow, about six inches of it.

I've lived in the West all of my life, much of the time farther north than Utah, so why do I always get my hopes up that Spring has arrived when I know very well the season can't be counted on until after April Conference?

Maybe I just have Spring fever worse than usual this March because I've worked all winter on finishing an historical novel and finally submitted it Saturday evening.  This manuscript has seen several reincarnations in the past few years.  It started out as the fifth book in my Bracelet series, but when the powers-that-be decided there would only be four books in the series, it became an epic Western.  Unfortunately it became too large and unwieldy, so I broke it into two books.  In between these various forms, I wrote a murder mystery If I Should Die, which hasn't been released yet.  Any way the completion and submission of the first of these two books (which really isn't a Western anymore) seems like a time of new beginnings, a time to think of something else, in other words Spring.  Of course my Spring fever may be due to this past winter being particularly long, cold, and filled with snow.

Friday, March 4, 2011

More Thoughts on Judging the Whitneys

Someone recently asked how I could be a judge for the Whitney Awards when everyone knows I don't care for fantasy novels. This question is based on a couple of erroneous assumptions, for which I can only blame myself. I've been pretty open in expressing my dislike for some kinds of speculative fiction. (By the way, not all speculative fiction is fantasy). First, I don't hate all fantasy, and second I'm not a judge in either speculative category. I won't even be voting for the novel of the year because I just don't have time to read the finalists in the speculative categories. I read eight to twelve novels a month, sometimes more, as a reviewer and there's no way I can add ten speculative books, especially considering the length of those books, to my already busy reading schedule.

A good share of the LDS reading public is aware that fantasy isn't my favorite genre, but the truth is, I've read a lot of science fiction, a lot of "last days" fiction, and a whole lot of fairy tales, mythology, and fantasy. As a teenager, I think I read all of the Martian Chronicles and many other well-known science fiction novels. As I grew older my tastes changed. Through the years I've sampled most of the big name science fiction writers' works, finding few that held my interest enough to read more than one or two by any one author. I've always had a soft spot for fairy tales and as an adult have been amused by some of the better fractured fairy tales I've come across. I've been touched by a few "last days" novels and annoyed by others. I'm a little touchy about paranormal; most flirt a little too close to the occult, but occasionally I find one where the paranormal elements of the story are handled with a finesse that works for me. I do not like the kind of speculative fiction that plays around with the occult, gives tacit approval of drug use by calling drugs by some other name, or the ones that are filled with monsters and brutal violence.

Why should being less than enthusiastic about speculative fiction make me any less qualified to judge a contest open to all genres than it makes someone ineligible because they don't particularly like or spend much time reading romance or history? In any contest where apples, oranges, and potatoes are judged against each other, it would be difficult to keep out all personal bias, but I think most people, who are well enough read to qualify as judges, know the difference between good writing, mediocre writing, and just plain bad writing. I don't think it's necessary to love a particular genre to determine whether or not the book is well written, though I suspect most judges faced with equally well-written books in two different genre's will lean toward the one they personally enjoyed the most.

The Whitneys do not provide judges with a set of rules by which to judge the entries, other than requiring them to actually read the books. Different judges set different criteria. Some of the things I look for are:

Entertainment - Did I enjoy reading the book? Did it hold my attention? Does it have a spark of originality?

Accuracy: Was the research accurate and believable? Could it really happen? Does the background suit the story? Is the world the author creates consistent?

Technical Points: Does the plot move smoothly and is there a good fiction arc? Are the characters believable with at least one I can care for enough to cheer for? Do the characters grow with the story? What about info dumps, backfill, a strong opening hook? Does the book begin where the real story begins and end when the story is finished? Etc.

Acceptable social standards: It doesn't have to be LDS, but the actions, speech, and values of the protagonists should not be contrary to LDS standards.

The preliminary judges for the Whitney Awards come from a broad cross section of tastes in literature and are professionals in the publication field. I don't think anyone has stopped to question how many prefer literary over genre or history over speculation. Even if the criteria for judging were set in stone, I'm afraid there would always be a certain amount of the subjective element in the decision making. There will always be "that stupid book the judges must have been out of their mind to pick'' and the "absolutely perfect book the judges ignored."

I promise I'm as unbiased as possible as a judge and I trust the other judges are too. I think the awards are fun and important to our profession, but it would be a mistake to take them too seriously. Another set of judges could easily pick another set of winners and be just as fair. After all, there are a lot of good LDs writers out there, and not all of the best ones pick up the prizes.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

New way to enter Wish List contest

From now on each comment posted on my reviews on Meridian will count as an entry in the monthly Wish List contest.  That means more opportunities to win free books.  Become a follower, comment on any blog written by me on this blog or on the V-Formation blog, or comment on the reviews I post on Meridian during the current month.   If I write five blogs during a month, four reviews, and you're a follower, that's ten entries.  Go for it, do them all.  The Meridian link is on the side bar of this page.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Off with the old, on with the new

And the winners are: (drumroll please) Scotty &Emily and M. Gray.  Send me your wish list of five or more LDS FICTION books along with your mailing address.  Please include the words "Wish List" in your subject line.  Send to bhansen22 at msn dot com   Congratulations!

With the conclusion of one contest, the next one begins.  This time let's talk about books, ones that left a lasting impression for good or ill, the price of books, e-reader books, favorite genres, favorite children's book, the Whitneys, and any book-related topic.

To begin I'll admit my most treasured possession as a little girl was a ratty copy of Mother Goose.  It was minus a cover, probably my fault.  Another book I adored was an eqully worn book simply called 365 Bedtime Stories; I have no idea who the author was.  When my parents went to town and brought me back a treat, my favorite was a Little Golden Storybook.  In a few years my favorites became too numerous to list, but they included The Bobby Twins, Tiger Tiger, Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Trixie Beldon, Old Yeller, The Black Stallion, Cowgirl Kate, and more. 

I've read something from every genre and have gone through preference phases where I couldn't seem to get enough of one particular genre, then as I've grown and my life interests have changed, so have my reading tastes.  The same can be said for my writing.  I've dabbled around in many types of writing and genres.  I just finished the first book in a pair of historical/western/romances.  (Sometimes it's really hard to fit a book into a particular genre in a nice tidy fashion!)  I'm waiting for my test readers to finish picking it apart before I submit it.  And I have a murder mystery coming out next January.

My fiction To Read stack right now consists of:

Borrowed Light by Carla Kelly
Honeymoon Heist by Anna Jones Buttimore
Independence Rock by Debra Terry Hule
Shadows of Brierly by Anita Stansfield
My Double Life by Janette Rallison
The Blade of Shattered Hope by James Dashner
Matched by Allie Condie

This is a new month so there will soon be additions to the stack which will move the three bottom ones (Whitney contenders) to the "if I have time" stack.  Oh, and I'm currently reading Abish: Mother of Faith by K.C. Grant.

Back to the Wish List contest.  Any time this month, you can comment on any of my March blogs on any book related topic.  I've decided to include comments made on my reviews over at Meridian too. And if I stray off topic, you can too.  Each comment counts as an entry.  One prize goes to someone who makes a comment and one goes to a name drawn from commenters and followers combined. Good luck!