My Top Ten Must Reads (Part 2) + Giveaway!

Here is Part Two of my Top Ten Must Reads that I’ve read between July 1, 2015, and June 30, 2016. If you missed the first five books in Part 1, you can read them here. Don’t forget to come on back and find out the rest of my picks for the year! You can find out more about each book by clicking on the title.

 

 

Lake House

The Lake House by Kate Morton

Sixteen year-old Alice Edevane’s baby brother Theo disappears on the night of her parents’ glittering Midsummer Party at their lake house in 1933, changing the family forever. Seventy years later, a police constable stumbles across the ruins of the Edevane lake house, and seeks the answers to secrets buried long ago. 

Kate Morton is one of the most gifted writers and storytellers I’ve ever read, and her latest, The Lake House, is no exception. I actually got this book in early December, and waited (very impatiently!) to read it until the end of the month when I had a week’s vacation, because a Kate Morton book is meant to be savored. Her beautiful prose and surrounding sense of mystery create an all-encompassing world that make it a tragedy to leave when the book ends.

Paper Hearts

Paper Hearts by Courtney Walsh

To save her bookstore from a new landlord, Abigail strings paper hearts with love notes from a mysterious couple that quickly catch the town’s attention. But when the hearts hint at tragedy, can Abigail find out what happened to the couple and save her store and her own heart in the process?

This book took me a while to get into, but I really enjoyed it once I did. The Valentine Volunteers, a group of old ladies in the town, were humorous and their attempts at matchmaking Abigail were fun. Abigail’s journey felt genuine, and the paper hearts are a unique idea I’d love to try with my husband someday (see the book trailer here!). *Note- Courtney Walsh has a “sequel” to this story, Change of Heart, also set in Love’s Park, Colo., and featuring the Valentine Volunteers, that came out last year.

charlotte_big

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Plain governess Jane Eyre falls in love with her mysterious and brooding employer, Mr. Rochester, with tragic results. 

Yes, I know it’s a classic, but I finally read Jane Eyre for the first time this spring. It was literally one of those moments when I thought “how did I never read this until now?” The first few chapters of Jane’s cold childhood are hard to get through, but her romance with Mr. Rochester, and eventual finding of herself are masterfully done. Bronte’s Jane is a heroine for the ages. This one is a classic for a reason.

Buried in a Book

Buried in a Book by Lucy Arlington

First in the Novel Idea Mysteries, Lila Wilkins accepts an internship at a thriving literary agency, but when a penniless aspiring author drops dead in the agency’s waiting room-and Lila discovers a series of threatening letters-she’s determined to find out who wrote him off.

Who doesn’t like learning more about the ins and outs of a literary agency? I really enjoyed the cast of quirky characters in this book, and any cozy that keeps me guessing whodunnit until the very end means they wrote a very good mystery indeed. Also, I feel many cozy mysteries tend to hit their stride in later subsequent books, but this one hit it out of the park as an establishing story.

Blue Castle

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

At 29, living with an overbearing mother and aunt, quiet Valancy Stirling decides to throw caution to the winds and live life on her own terms. Soon she discovers a surprising new world, full of love and adventures beyond her secret dreams. 

This is a re-read (that I’ve already re-read several times!), but it’s one of my favorite Montgomery novels, second only to the Anne series. While Montgomery excelled at stories about children, Valancy is decidedly not a child, and her journey from a repressed “old maid” to a woman in love and taking her life into her own hands is wonderful. Montgomery’s trademark purple prose is more evident in this story than many others, as it contains numerous beautiful expositions on nature that make me itch to explore the Canadian maritimes.  Also, only Montgomery could make the reader fall in love with a hero named Barney Snaith!

***BONUS GIVEAWAY!***

I’ve told you my top ten reads of the year, so what are some of yours? I started my reading list over on July 1, so I’d love to hear what your favorite books are! Leave a comment on either Part 1 or Part 2 (or both!) to win a copy of any of the 10 books on my list (reader’s choice). I’ll pull one winner on Friday, July 8.

 

The Backstory Dump

Did anyone else read The Baby-Sitters Club books? They were a series of books that were popular among preteen girls in the late 1980s/early 1990s that centered around seven junior high-age girls who loved to babysit and started a club so their clients could get a hold of them. Each book followed a certain babysitter, chronicling their adventures in babysitting and beyond.

The books were extremely predictable (but when you’re 10-years old, you don’t really care). The first chapter would introduce the main action of the story, while the second would always take place at a Baby-Sitters Club meeting, where the first-person narrator/babysitter would explain who the members of the club were, their personalities, and how the club came to be. It was as formulaic as H20, with the exceptions being what the club members were wearing at the time.

I mention all of this to illustrate a common writing mistake: the backstory/information dump.

Writing Mistake No. 2: The Backstory Dump

Tangled backstoryThink about the main character in a book you’re reading. When you started the first page, do you know everything about them? Of course not. Just like when meeting a real person for the first time, you usually only know a few things about them, primarily their name, and their general appearance.

Too many beginning authors (and I include myself in that bunch) want to let the reader know everything about the main character right off the bat: who they are, what they do for a living, what makes them angry, why they don’t like to eat broccoli (well, who does?), etc. So, those writers will commonly have what we call the “backstory” or “information dump.” They try to tell the reader everything about their character in the first few pages, rather than get on to the business at hand: telling the story.

I get it. You’ve been living with this fictional character, fleshing them out, and you want the world to know everything about them, because you want the reader to love them as much as you do. But just like when you meet a person for the first time, you don’t know their life story; you slowly get to know them, peeling back the layers of their personality and history.

In the murder mystery I’m writing, my main character, Mira, is a former cellist who, due to an accident, can no longer perform. This is an essential element to who my character is, and it’s not a secret to either the reader or the other fictional characters in her world. However, I didn’t want to dwell on the accident in the first couple of paragraphs of the story, so while I mentioned it, I didn’t go into great detail:

My left hand involuntarily curled into a half-fist. Grimacing at the tight tendons that prevented it from closing further, my fingertips brushed the thin white scar across my palm: the only physical remains of the accident three years ago. I felt the familiar mixture of sadness and anger flare up, but I tamped it down. No use dwelling on something that would never be.

jane-eyre-book-cover WEBAs my story unfolds, the reader will learn more about the details that led to Mira’s accident, and how it affected her life. But I don’t need to write about it in the first couple of pages. I’d rather the reader wonder what happened to her, why such a small scar could change her life, and how she is moving on from it.

I recently read Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre for the first time. From Jane’s first person perspective, we meet Mr. Rochester, the moody, brooding master of Thornfield Hall. As Jane and Rochester’s relationship deepens, he tells her he made mistakes in his youth, and has been desperately seeking redemption. Not all of his faults are revealed at once, but through long conversations with Jane as she (and the readers!) fall in love with him.

Reading a nearly 170-year old classic for the first time is interesting, because I knew Rochester’s big secret long before I ever read the story (thanks, pop culture!). Knowing what was going to happen slightly dampened my enjoyment of the big “Ah ha!” moment, but for an audience reading the story for the first time, it would have been shocking and unexpected.

Jaen Eyre 2006 WEBJust think if Charlotte Bronte had made a rookie writer mistake and revealed that *spoiler!* Mr. Rochester already had a wife (albeit a crazy one) when he tried to marry Jane? We would think him a cad, and Jane foolish for falling in love with a married man. As it is written, readers have fallen in love with Mr. Rochester long before his past is revealed, making it too late to hate him for his actions. This approach made us sympathize with his plight, while we are also grieving with Jane. It also makes for one heck of a great story!

In short: don’t dump your character’s backstory all up front. Let your readers get to know them gradually, and they’ll enjoy the character that much more.

* As a note to this post, I fully understand that books that are part of a series tend to have some sort of information or backstory dump for new readers, which is common and acceptable. I intend to have Mira’s life-changing accident be mentioned up front in other subsequent novels (Lord willing!), but it won’t be the focus.

Not Your Average Romance

While straight romance reads may not be my favorite, I do like a a little romance thrown into stories. Even Steven James’ thrillers have small elements of romance. I enjoy stories with unique protagonists, stories in which the romance is secondary to the main plot, yet still vital. Below are a few of my favorites because of their uniqueness.

JANE EYRE (Charlotte Bronte) – I love the atypical heroine in Jane Eyre. Not the modelesque heroines we’ve come to expect in modern day stories, but someone plain, someone relatable.

A VOICE IN THE WIND (Francine Rivers) – Another unique heroine–Hadassah certainly wouldn’t win any beauty contests, but that’s what makes the attraction between Hadassah and Marcus Valerian so captivating.

THE MISTRESS OF TALL ACRE (Laura Frantz) – I could probably put all of Laura’s books on my favorite romance list, but I’ll stick to one and choose her most recent. Laura’s musical prose and her exquisite settings are enough to draw me in every time, so her multi-faceted characters and page-turning stories are like the cherry on top.

MY STUBBORN HEART (Becky Wade) – This introduction to Becky’s writing made me a forever fan. The story’s a bit edgier than your typical Christian romance, which is, naturally, why I enjoyed it so much. Her Porter series is also very good, but My Stubborn Heart remains my favorite.

DANCE OF GRACE (Stacy Monson) – The heroine is a one-legged dancer, and the hero is an ex-con. Does Christian romance get more unique than that? Seriously, that’s all I need to hear to know that this is a must-read romance.

Have you read any of these romances? What are your five favorite romances?