First Light by Erynn Newman

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

First Light by Erynn Newman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Drew and Elisabeth have loved each other since their teenaged years. But the personal tragedy that hits their lives on September 11th shakes the foundation of their relationship in First Light by author Erynn Newman.

Well! This novelette pulled me right in. The moments I liked best said just enough, as leaving out elaborations of implied information can be smart and compelling, especially in short reads.

The ending became oversweet for me, maybe because a more minimal approach was working well earlier in the story. But even so, I’d say these romantic vignettes with a dash of danger are an effective setup for a romantic suspense novel to follow.

__________

And the romantic suspense novel that follows is Out of Darkness.

 

Finding Love Isn’t All about Your Looks, Age, Etc.

This is a rare kind of post for me, but I had a feeling someone might need to hear it.

And even with the title of this post, can I admit “finding love” is an iffy expression for me? Sure, I use it to be understood, and I get what it means, but many people give and receive love. Facilitate and nurture love. Cherish and protect love. They acknowledge and recognize love…but they don’t necessarily just “find” it, as if love is something they can hunt for in the woods or locate in the city with the assistance of signs and arrows. “Hey, look—there’s some love for me over here! I just found it.”

But anyhow.

I get the impression sometimes that people think one’s looks, age, and certain other basic or obvious factors are either automatic guarantees or automatic hindrances to romantic companionship.

I figure there’s a lot in society, from many romantic movies and romance novels to the various cultures of different social and religious circles, that makes folks believe or assume that everybody who desires romance is supposed to find the right companion by their early-to-mid twenties or so…

…and that if it doesn’t happen for you by then, something must be wrong. Or something must be wrong with you. Likewise, the further you get away from your early-to-mid twenties, the greater the wrongness must be if you still haven’t met that wonderful someone.

(Granted, I’m sure biology and the window of prime childbearing years has plenty to do with people’s thoughts about love’s appropriate/optimal timeline.)

Nevertheless, as far as physical attractiveness goes, I do want to point out that getting hit on and such isn’t the same thing as having serious companionship, of course, and receiving attention and propositions and offers because of one’s looks doesn’t necessarily make finding the right companion any easier. It can even make it harder, as more incoming attention can mean there’s more incoming pretense and all other kinds of stuff a person has to sort through, question, sidestep, or even run away from on the romance road.

Just saying.

Really, there are people some folks consider to be strange or plain who end up with the love of their lives straight out of high school or college, and there are people who have plenty of positives going for them but are in their forties or fifties, still single and looking. Some folks know who they’re going to marry from the time they’re children, and other folks go through series of prospects that don’t work out before they meet the right person. Some people are grumpy, sloppy, and happily coupled, and other folks are sweet, neat, and still alone.

Now, I’m not dismissing the fact that sometimes there are issues hindering romance besides “it just hasn’t happened yet.” A person may have some learning, growing, healing, or other preparation that needs to take place before they’ll be ready for what it takes to have a healthy romantic relationship.

Still, meeting someone for suitable companionship simply doesn’t happen for everyone at the same time of life or after a “magic number” of tries or dates—no matter who they are, what they look like, what their personalities are like, whether they first meet people online or in person, or whatever the case may be. Just because you haven’t met someone who’s right for you doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong. Life unfolds differently for everybody, on different timelines.

And that’s okay.

For me as an author, while romance isn’t my primary genre, I write romances to reflect that real love isn’t all about one’s looks or age, and that being or finding the “ideal” package isn’t necessarily an easy ticket to a Happily Ever After.

Even so, I believe romantic love is beautiful, and I do aim to write stories of hope, even when a couple’s journey won’t be easy.

 

Taking a Chance on New and Independent Authors

When I hear some fellow readers say they tend to stick to reading good authors they’ve already read before, or that they steer clear of independently published books, I get it. It may not be easy to risk your money and/or time on an author who isn’t proven to you, and the rise of independent publishing has put a lot of books out there that are poorly written, full of typos and technical errors, plastered with unprofessional book covers, or all of the above.

Many times, I like to stick to what’s familiar and comfortable to me. However, becoming a book blogger, the rise of independent publishing, and the availability of ebooks have all made this lifelong book lover more of a risk-taker when it comes to reading.

Since becoming a book blogger, I’ve started trying more genres.

When readers say they don’t really try out authors they haven’t read before, I think, “But what about the authors you do read? Weren’t they all new-to-you authors you had to try for the first time at some point? And will those authors supply you with enough books to last you the rest of your life?”

Then when it comes to the influx of books riding the wave of indie authorship, I figure that having to distinguish good from bad isn’t some new concept or practice. Shoddy work is oftentimes easy to spot from a blurb or a sample, and the presence of mediocre writing on the market didn’t begin with independent publishing.

Typos and technical errors in books aren’t anything new, either. I now know there’s a myth that says, “Traditionally published books are always error-free,” but I’ve been finding errors in traditionally published books ever since I was a little kid sounding out words in picture books. Even professional editors and proofreaders reading copy for established publishers are human. Books edited and proofread by humans are subject to human error.

I suspect that more readers don’t notice errors in traditionally published books because their minds assume no errors are there. And on enough occasions, I’ve found traditionally published books with bigger issues, like batches of entire chapters missing from their middles.

Publishing errors happen, even for the big guys.

On a different note in my case, years ago, as a reader who liked to buy new books for keeps but could only afford so many (I did a lot of rereading), I ran into a little crisis. The new books coming out from publishers I trusted started to seem too alike to me. Not enough diversity in styles, plots, characters, or authors. I didn’t want to feel like I was essentially buying more of the same whenever I went book shopping.

The desire to read stories that weren’t too much like what I’d already read is a big part of what motivated me to start writing my own books. And that, along with the fact that I became an independent author after my first traditional publishing contract ended, has made me more open to trying other indie authors.

Yes, I still read books from traditional publishers too, and I don’t discount the importance of what they do. But I also find that indie authors often have more freedom to work and to write outside of conventional boxes, and despite indies who do put out substandard work, many other independent authors are serious about their writing craft, about having their work professionally edited, and about getting quality book cover designs.

Plus, to state a practical bonus, indie authors can often price their ebooks lower than traditional publishers can, so I can afford to buy a greater number of books instead of rereading the same ones as much as I used to.

Why do I choose not to ignore or bypass too many new and new-to-me authors, independent or otherwise? Because I don’t subscribe to the misconceptions that only old authors can be good ones and that only bad writers independently publish. There are good and excellent writers also who become their own literary bosses and publish their work for themselves because now they can. Independent publishing is a much more efficient and viable option now than it was decades ago.

At the same time, even while I’m branching out, I’m careful about my choices. We don’t have to jump into book purchases blindly, folks. We can check out the book blurbs, read or skim a few book reviews, look inside the sample portions at retailers to get a feel for the writing style and quality before we buy (or don’t buy).

Sure, I run into indie book blurbs and samples that are poor or unprofessional. Yet, there have been plenty of traditionally published books I’ve gotten a hold of with storytelling that I wound up finding lackluster or too unoriginal, or with rushed endings or disappointing halves (“Did the author have to hurry through tying this together to meet the publisher’s deadline?”), or with chunks of content that drag out the plot or take it nowhere (“Are these unnecessary chapters here to stretch the story’s length because the publisher wanted a prescribed page count for sales?”), or stories that simply turned out not to be for me.

But does that mean all traditionally published books are bad, or that none of them are worth my time and consideration? Absolutely not.

There’s never any 100% guarantee that I’ll enjoy a book, no matter who wrote it or published it. Even authors I love usually have some books I don’t care for or that don’t wow me like their others. There’s always some level of risk involved when I pick up a book I haven’t read before.

So I go on and take some chances. I try to strike a balance between newer and older books, traditionally and independently published books, authors I hear everyone talk about and authors I discover on my own, etc.

I want to miss out on as few good books out there as possible. 😉

While they’re not at all the only good books I find all year, I’ve started sharing my favorites through my Annual Book Awards.

 

Christian Fiction: A Changing Genre

Janette Oke’s first, trailblazing ChristFic novel, which has gone through revisions and cover art makeovers since its first publication in 1979.

I’ve heard my share of praise and criticism about the Christian Fiction genre since I started reading ChristFic novels over twenty years ago. Sometimes I disagree with what I hear, and other times I agree.

When it comes to the criticism especially, I bear a certain point in mind. While authors have been writing Christian literature for centuries, the modern genre that we now call Christian Fiction (a marketing label) is still relatively young. It only started becoming a “thing” around the late 1970s, early ’80s. Anything young takes a while to mature, to get better with time, and as a bonus, it’s not unheard of for authors and publishers to go back and revise, reedit, and repackage—coming out with new and improved editions of previously published works.

Now, ChristFic isn’t the only genre I read, and I’ve spent years delving into classic works and other books that give me strong examples of command of language and storytelling mastery. It’s been my goal to take what I learn as a reader and to apply it to ChristFic as a writer.

The storytelling in some ChristFic novels has amazed me over the years.

No, I’m not claiming that I’ve become a literary master. Writers grow (or at least they should grow) and improve over time. Even now, I’m not the same writer, or the same person, I was back when I wrote my first novel, Yella’s Prayers, and my first historical fantasy book, The Movement of Crowns. (Oh, I still think the books were good back then, and more recent revisions have improved them.)

More ChristFic books that have been made-over since their first publications.

But I’m glad I’m here at this time in Christian Fiction, both as a reader and a writer. I do think that during earlier years in this young genre’s history, lots of Christian readers were simply happy to find wholesome novels with Christian content, with more choices available than, say, Grace Livingston Hill romances from the 1940s and earlier. That’s not at all a knock against GLH though, as I love old-fashioned books, I’ve enjoyed a number of GLH’s, and I respect her as the key pioneer of Christian romance novels.

The vintage cover art of a few of the Grace Livingston Hill classics I’ve read gives me a certain kind of nostalgia.

Even so, it seems to me that in a general sense, during the modern ChristFic genre’s earlier stages of becoming a whole distinct market, excellence and virtuosity in the style and fine art of fiction writing itself wasn’t the goal so much as having stories that conveyed Christian (and oftentimes evangelistic/salvational) messages.

But now that the genre has been around a little longer, ChristFic authors and publishers are raising the bar, and ChristFic readers’ standards and preferences are shifting and expanding. Along with themes reflective of faith, ChristFic readers want more skillful and insightful storytelling. More subgenres to choose from. More varieties and levels of content. More diversity.

ChristFic has come a ways in diversity, and we have quite a ways to go!

Moreover, while there’s a place for different levels of spiritual content in Christian Fiction, many ChristFic readers don’t necessarily want or need on-the-nose or “in your face” Gospel preaching or teaching while they’re reading novels. Everybody has their own preferences, and Christian Fiction has been shifting from meaning only “fiction that is conspicuously Christian” to meaning “fiction that is suitable for Christians,” whatever the level of spiritual content may be, and also “fiction from a Christian worldview, suitable for broader audiences.”

(And yes, readers have different opinions about what should qualify a book to be Christian Fiction. But before you say, “If it doesn’t have explicitly Christian content, it can’t be Christian Fiction!”—remember that Christ Himself told fictional stories, and His stories didn’t have what we would call explicitly Christian content in them.)

As for me, I started writing and publishing ChristFic because I couldn’t find all the kinds of stories I wanted to read in the genre. I saw that Christian Fiction had room for growth, change, and diversity, and I wanted to help bring that to other ChristFic readers. (I also write for readers who don’t normally read ChristFic, as I think telling a good story can and should often transcend genre/market labels and other boxes. You know?)

I’m not at all the only author who writes books because I want to read them.

The Christian Fiction genre is indeed changing. Sometimes change is hard and unsettling. It involves trial and error and learning, taking risks and seizing the day, and many times, change is necessary, healthy, and enriching. Back when I first curled up with novels like Oke’s Love Comes Softly and GLH’s Happiness Hill, I didn’t know I’d one day be reading ChristFic military and legal and political and techno thrillers, and ChristFic historical mysteries, and ChristFic psychological suspense, and ChristFic written by authors of color featuring main characters of color, and on it goes.

This relatively young genre isn’t what it was forty years ago, and I’m looking forward to seeing it continue to mature, expand, and improve with time.

Decades ago, I didn’t imagine some of the different kinds of ChristFic I’d find to read years later.