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Archive for October, 2009

When I offered to review Laurie (L.C.) Lewis’s forthcoming novel, Dawn’s Early Light, I soon realized I was at a slight disadvantage: it’s the third volume in a sprawling historical Free Men and Dreamers saga, leading up to the War of 1812…and I hadn’t read the first two volumes. Fortunately, this story works as a “stand alone read,” thanks in part to the author’s helpful listing of all the various characters.

The saga begins after the Revolutionary War (around 1781), introducing us to characters from the first American-born generation, and there is even a small tie-in with Lucy Mack Smith and her family. As the author describes the first two volumes on her website:

Dark Sky at Dawn, book one of Free Men and Dreamers, introduces the troubled characters–American, British, and slave–whose lives are caught up in this complex period. Europe was in tumult over Napoleon, and America was a hotbed of social and political divisiveness. Nearly bankrupt, the American military was under-manned and under-funded, requiring citizen-soldiers to leave their plows and hearths to fight. They marched off, filled with bravado and ballyhoo, but the British threat soon humbled them, nearly breaking their spirit. Twilight’s Last Gleaming, book two of the series, carries our characters into the early days of the war, highlighting the sacrifice and courage of the women as well as the men.”

This third volume, Dawn’s Early Light, continues the story of Jed Pearson as he prepares for the British invasion up the Potomac and Patuxent rivers, on their way to burn the Capital. He has a wife and sister, as well as an estate full of newly freed slaves, which he must make secure before he can heed the military call to serve his country again in her hour of need. While we are kept abreast of developments in Britain concerning two other families introduced earlier in Lewis’s series, the real focus of this story is on Jed and his wife.

When it came to visualizing the setting of the story as described by the author, I was happily not at a disadvantage. You see, I spent six years of my childhood in Bethesda, Maryland, and the family of one of my good friends during that period owned an estate-like home on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. As I read Dawn’s Early Light, I felt as if I were re-visiting places from my adolescence (though some 150 years earlier).

The book is very well-written, fast-paced, and fluid, despite the back and forth between America and England. The storyline is strong and, for the most part, the plot developments all worked (meaning they didn’t give me pause as a reader).

There was one exception. (Spoiler alert: Don’t read the rest of this paragraph, if you plan on reading the book.) I found it difficult to believe a pregnant woman would willingly put her baby at risk by riding for miles on a galloping horse into the battle area, simply to be sure her loved one was all right. But maybe that’s just me. I suffered miscarriages too easily.

As a lover of research, I came away most impressed by the amount of investigation and fact-finding Lewis has apparently undertaken, not only for this volume, but for the entire saga. And she is now at work on a fourth volume, so the research is doubtless continuing.

Finally, I must comment upon her expansive vocabulary. Since my blog is all about words, I couldn’t help noticing the author never got lazy with her descriptions, narrative, and dialogue. She’s an inspiration to all writers in this regard.

While Lewis’s first two volumes were published by Covenant, she has had to put this one out independently, but you can expect to find it on the shelves of Seagull by November 26th.

If you love historical fiction (and early U.S. History, in particular), Dawn’s Early Light and the entire Free Men and Dreamers series should help complete your Christmas list.

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Over the past two months, I have gotten back into my reading mode. This means the TV has been on less (a LOT less since the Writers Retreat a couple of weeks ago)–a good thing. But it also means my husband is still not getting the attention he deserves–not so good. (I WILL make it up to him.) I haven’t neglected my son, though, because every afternoon, as part of his homework, I read to him.

We got through To Kill A Mockingbird (what a classic!) and are now in the middle of Black Like Me (I never read that in high school…that’s what comes of finishing high school overseas, away from America’s race problem). I love reading aloud, just like my mother, only I believe I do it better, complete with accents and different voices for each character. But this past month has had its challenges in terms of language.

I have about had my fill of the Deep South, what with Jason’s assigned reading and my completion of this year’s release, The Help (about black maids in Mississippi during the 60’s, when everyone was in an uproar over civil rights). All three books included swear words. Reading The Help to myself, I could easily skip over such offensive language, but reading the other two books aloud to Jason has proven challenging. Try as I might, when I come to those words in the text, I can’t help pausing slightly. Do I censor or don’t I? As an author, the idea of censorship is disturbing. I am not one of those LDS mothers who refused to allow my son to read Of Mice and Men at the beginning of the school year. After all, they teach it at BYU. So, when we began reading the much tamer To Kill A Mockingbird, I forged ahead, enunciating every word in my fake southern drawl.

But Black Like Me has been more of a challenge. I have come to several passages where I simply wanted to skip ahead, if not for language, then for content. At first, inevitably, my son picked up on my hesitation and jumped up to see the offending words for himself before I could move on. Often, I was relieved to hear him suggest a less offensive alternative. But now that we’ve entered the portion of the account in which the writer has to unwillingly endure sexual conversation with white men, I’ve become very adept at skipping whole phrases, sentences, even paragraphs without hesitation (the trick is in using your Southern accent to draw out a word while you scan ahead). Censorship or not, these are things my son does not need to know to be fully informed of what it meant to be a black man back then.

Leaving the deep South, I moved on to familiar territory for my personal reading last month: World War II. I’m not sure why, but I’ve always been fascinated by the European part of that conflict. So I read the highly acclaimed epistolary novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I’ll admit it took the first third of the book before I finally began to feel hooked. After all, it was nothing but letters. Gradually, though, those letters revealed the whole story of this group of Britons and their dealings with the Germans…and in a very captivating way.

After returning from the Writers Retreat a couple of weeks ago, I was ready for something new. Anything but the book I’ve been trying to slog through during the course of the last year–Galileo’s Daughter. I was never good at science and it shows every time I pick up where I last left off in that book! It requires absolute silence and no interruptions, so I’m waiting for my husband’s next business trip to Hawaii in a week and a half to finish the final two thirds of the book.

Fortunately, I came home from the retreat with three books to read. The first was actually the galley proofs for Dawn’s Early Light, the third in a series by Laurie LC Lewis. It’s coming out by early November, so I got to reading it right away. It was engrossing and I finished it in about five days. I plan on reviewing it here tomorrow on my blog.

Perhaps the most compelling book I’ve read recently was one I finished today. It will no doubt have LDS blogs in an uproar in the weeks to come. It’s a memoir by 27-year-old Elna Baker, who is a stand-up Mormon comedian in New York City, and it’s titled The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance. I am certain it will offend some (maybe even many), but I challenge anyone to show me a book written by a member of the Church that is more truthful, particularly with regard to the YSA scene. The way she describes that visceral pull between the world and her faith is often humorous, sometimes poignant, and no holds barred. If you’re not bothered by some bad language and frank talk of longings for intimacy, then it would be easily worth your time.

Now, I need to read the first draft of a YA fantasy by Bonnie Harris (a good friend I made at the retreat), as well as Marsha Ward’s Trail of Tears and Liz Adair’s Counting the Cost (nominated for a 2009 Whitney Award).

Then I’ve always got a slew of other books, including three by Barbara Kingsolver, to get through. I hope my eyes last!

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I’ve felt stuck with my second novel for months now but, finally, after returning from two wonderful days in the mountains north of Bellingham, my fingers stand poised to give expression to the words coursing through my brain again. There’s nothing like being in the company of other writers to get the juices flowing again.

Granted, I had to be prodded and pulled to take part in some of the writing exercises at the ANWA Pacific Northwest Chapter’s Silver Lake Writers Retreat this past weekend, but they were all well worth it! And while all of the presentations were excellent, two were invaluable to me, personally: Marsha Ward’s take on “Writing During a Busy, Crazy Life” and Julie Wagner’s “Ninja Writing” portion about using your environment.

For any of you LDS writers out there within driving (or flying) distance of Bellingham, in Washington State, I highly recommend this retreat, held annually the weekend after General Conference. (There’s also an annual retreat held in Phoenix, though I’m not sure when.) The American Night Writers Association, or ANWA, was formed to give support to LDS women who are striving for success as writers. And writers need all the support they can get.

Sometimes, all it takes is several hours in the company of fellow writers to get you re-focused and re-energized. After all, no one else really understands the writing process!

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