Monday, May 21, 2018

Want to be in on the Cover Reveal for My New Book?

The cover for my next book, Dancing and Doughnuts, is allllllllmost ready for the big reveal.  Like I did for Cloaked, I want to have some of you help me share it with the world by doing a cover reveal on Tuesday, May 29. 

In case you haven't heard me talking about this book already, Dancing and Doughnuts is my next Once Upon a Western story.  It's a retelling of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" set in post-Civil War Kansas, and I'll be sharing more about it during the cover reveal :-)

If you would like to join me in showing off the cover on your blogs or in social media this coming Tuesday, May 29, please email me at rachelkovaciny at gmail dot com with "Dancing and Doughnuts cover reveal" in the subject line.  All participants will receive my gratitude, fake internet points, and an imaginary hug :-)  And get to see what the cover looks like before anyone else!

I will send participants the cover image no later than Friday, May 25, to give you a couple days to set up your posts.

If you want to know more about my books, please check out my website, -- you can even download a free story there, my winter western called "No Match for a Good Story" that blend elements of the Sheherezade story from The Arabian Nights with characters from my Sleeping Beauty retelling, "The Man on the Buckskin Horse."

Monday, May 7, 2018

"The Broken Gun" by Louis L'Amour

Friends are awesome.  Eva S. from Coffee, Classics, and Craziness has a brother who loves Louis L'Amour books.  He knows, from her, that I'm a fan of Alan Ladd (if you understand "fan" to mean "fanatic"), so he told Eva to tell me about this book.  Because L'Amour dedicated it to Alan Ladd and Ladd's best friend William Bendix.  It was published a couple years after they both died, and I really felt while reading that I could see and hear Alan Ladd as the main character.  (Bendix was a little harder to pinpoint, mostly because I haven't studied him like I have Ladd.  He actually would have worked well in multiple roles here.)

I know that when Alan Ladd starred in Guns of the Timberland (1960), which was based on one of L'Amour's books, the two of them became friends.  Ladd owned a ranch, so I assume they found some common ground based on that, if nothing else.  The official Louis L'Amour website has a very nice autographed picture that Ladd gave L'Amour, which you can see here.  On it, he wrote: "To Louis -- Write another one --I am with you -- Alan."  I think that, in a way, L'Amour honored that request by writing this book dedicated to Ladd.

All that made reading this book a very poignant experience, but it's such a thrilling book that I didn't have a lot of time for pensively staring into the middle distance every few pages the way I might have otherwise.  The Broken Gun is unlike any other L'Amour book I've ever read in one major way:  it's set in the middle of the 20th century.  In fact, it takes place in the late '60s, when it was written and published.  And it almost feels like a hardboiled mystery, the kind that inspired the noir movies Alan Ladd rose to fame with.

Famous author Dan Sheridan visits a little town in Arizona, researching a couple of ranchers who drove a herd there almost a hundred years earlier and then disappeared.  When a man is murdered right outside his hotel room, Sheridan begins suspecting that the long-lost disappearance may have modern repercussions.  He gets invited out to a big ranch nearby for what he thinks is a friendly visit, but he quickly discovers that only his wits and an old Army friend stand between him and terrible danger.

(From my bookstagramming adventures.)

Particularly Good Bits:

The past was fresh in my mind because I had worked with it so much, and had been living it through all my books, and all the painstaking research that went into their writing (p. 17).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for mild swearing, suspense, and some violence.

This is my 9th book read and reviewed for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2018.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

"The Blue Castle" by L. M. Montgomery (again)

While working on the revisions for Dancing and Doughnuts, my creative well ran dry over the weekend.  Happens from time to time, when I'm using more creative juices than I'm taking in.  Usually it's a gradual slow-down, but sometimes I just stutter to a stop, like this weekend.  So on Monday, I thought, "I've been wanting to re-read The Blue Castle for a while.  I'll just start it today and then I can savor it over the course of the week while I'm visiting my parents."

HAHAHA.  I was done with it before supper on Tuesday.

The first time I read this, I also inhaled it over just a couple of days.  I can't read this book slowly, it seems!  It grabs hold of my imagination and drags me inside the book, and I have to get to the end as soon as possible.  Even when I know how it will end, like I did this time through.  It's simply wonderful, that's all there is to it!

And between reading this and watching two westerns in three days, my creative well feels nicely topped off again, and tonight I will dig into the last chapters of Dancing and Doughnuts.  I'm determined to have these major revisions done by the end of the weekend!

In case some of you have never read this book, I will briefly tell you what it's about.  Valancy Stirling wakes up on her 29th birthday and realizes that her life is dull, drab, colorless, and meaningless.  She will spend the rest of her life doing the same things she's always done: attending her waspish mother, laughing at her boorish uncles' jokes, and enduring the polite ridicule of her whole family and all her acquaintances.  And then she finds out she's going to die within the year, and she decides that she's going to spend her last days on earth really living.  She says what she thinks, she buys dresses she likes instead of the ones everyone expects her to wear, she gets a job, and she asks the town scoundrel, Barney Snaith, to marry her.

Nothing turns out the way she expects, but instead unfolds more beautifully than Valancy ever hoped.

Also, I laugh and laugh and laugh over this book.  Which you know I love :-D

(From my Instagram.  Out of respect for John Foster,
I did NOT pick wildflowers for this, I promise.)

Particularly Good Bits:

People who wanted to be alone, so Mrs. Frederick Stirling and Cousin Stickles believed, could only want to be alone for some sinister purpose (p. 4).

Valancy had long ago decided that she would rather offend God than Aunt Wellington, because God might forgive her but Aunt Wellington never would (p. 6).

Why had she been afraid of things? Because of life (p. 43).

"People who don't like cats," said Valancy, attacking her dessert with a relish, "always seem to think that there is some peculiar virtue in not liking them" (p. 71).

"Fun!"  Mrs. Frederick uttered the word as if Valancy had said she was going to have a little tuberculosis (p. 80).

"John Foster says," quoted Valancy, "'If you can sit in silence with a person for half an hour and yet be entirely comfortable, you and that person can be friends.  If you cannot, friends  you'll never be and you need not waste time in trying'" (p. 123).

November -- with uncanny witchery in its changed trees.  With murky red sunsets flaming in smoky crimson behind the westering hills.  With dear days when the austere woods were beautiful and gracious in a dignified serenity of folded hands and closed eyes -- days full of a fine, pale sunshine that sifted through the late, leafless gold of the juniper-trees and glimmered among the gray beeches, lighting up evergreen banks of moss and washing the colonnades of the pines (p. 180).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for a couple of old-fashioned curse words, alcohol use, and discussion of an unmarried girl becoming pregnant.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

"A Pioneer Woman's Memoir: Based on the Journal of Arabella Clemens Fulton" edited by Judith E. Greenberg and Helen Carey McKeever

Do you ever get the urge to sell your house and pack your most useful things into a covered wagon and head for the western horizon in search of a new and better life?

I don't exactly get that urge, but sometimes I get this yearning for it.  Like, I wish that I wished I was a pioneer, or something?  Because wow, they were astonishingly brave and intrepid and hardy.  Maybe this is why I'm fascinated with astronauts too.  I wish I knew if I was that brave and intrepid and hardy.  Sometimes I think I am, and sometimes I suspect I'm not.  

Anyway.  This book is based on the memoir of one pioneer named Arabella Clemens Fulton.  It's excerpts of her memoir, together with excerpts of her journals, and also some editorial explanations of things.  I thought it was going to be her actual memoir, and I'm a bit disappointed that instead, it's a sort of abridged version of what she wrote.  I think this book is meant for teens who are supposed to be learning about the west or something?  

Although this book wasn't what I was expecting, what's here is pretty fascinating, all about the deprivations and joys of moving west in a covered wagon and making a new home for yourself on the frontier.  Arabella strikes out with two married siblings and their spouses, heading to Oregon to escape the unpleasantness of the Civil War, but she never makes it that far.  Instead, she settles in Idaho, gets married, and starts a family.  I got some ideas from it for one of my future fairy tale retellings, so that's a plus.

Particularly Good Bits:

I was young then, just twenty, with all the romance and reality of life before me, eager for adventure, full of life and activity, and with no element of fear in my makeup (p. 22).

Out of the hideousness of the War was built this great Western domain (p. 27).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G.  Nothing objectionable here.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

"Death Comes for the Archbishop" by Willa Cather

This book has been on my to-read list since 2002.  At least.  I'm not even kidding.  I know, because I got a little book for my college graduation from my advisor/mentor that was for keeping track of stuff like the books you want to read.  I promptly gathered up all my little scraps of paper where I'd previously kept titles of books I wanted to read and entered them very nicely into that book.  And Death Comes for the Archbishop is on the first page. 

I have no idea anymore where I first heard of this book -- possibly from that same professor.  She taught Lit and Creative Writing, so it would make sense if she recommended it to me since she knew I loved the Old West.  Anyway, I somehow ended up with the impression that this books was a lengthy allegory about Death on a Pale Horse hunting down some evil archbishop.  Or possibly about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  And so I've spent more than fifteen years wanting to read this book and thinking that's what it's about.

That is not what this book is about.

So, yeah, that was a surprise.

This book is actually about a GOOD archbishop.  And there's no personification of death, it's just that, at the end of the book, he dies.  This may sound a bit anticlimactic, and in a way, it did feel that way.  Do you ever do that?  Get ideas of what a book or movie is going to be like, and then discover they're way off base?  And then feel a little disappointed, because what you'd imagined they would be like was really cool, and maybe the real story is really cool too, but it's not what you were expecting, so you're just a teeny bit bummed that you're not going to get to read the story or watch the movie that you'd imagined this would be?

I hope you don't do that, because it's an annoying habit.  I know, because I have that habit, and it annoys me.  The same thing happened to me with Captain America: The First Avenger, which for some reason I decided was going to be a fish-out-of-water story about what happened when Cap woke up from being frozen in ice, and was mostly going to be about him adjusting to modern life.  I'm still waiting for that movie, because I really want to watch it, and it turns out that's not at all what The First Avenger is about.  I'm still disappointed in that movie because it's not what I thought it would be.  Which is ridiculous of me, but true.  So, yeah, I hope nobody else does that.

(Obligatory Bookstagram Photo by me)

Anyway.  Despite the fact that it was not about Death riding around on a Pale Horse hunting down some archbishop who needed to die, I did appreciate this book.  I read most of it on the ride down to Colonial Williamsburg and back home again on my birthday, so that was fun. 

It's based on a couple of real-life Roman Catholic priests taking over the diocese in New Mexico Territory after the United States wins that territory from Mexico in the 1800s.  One of them gets named Bishop and then Archbishop for that area, and the other one is his best friend and assistant.  The book just kind of rambles around, following them as they interact with Native Americans and Mexican-Americans and Spanish-Americans and Kit Carson.

Yeah, Kit Carson is in this.  Aging, but still awesome.  You probably don't know this, but Kit Carson has been a HUGE hero of mine since I was a little kid.  Like, six or seven.  He was an amazing dude.  So him popping up on this was a big bonus for me :-)

The book doesn't really have a plot, exactly.  It follows these guys and what they do, and takes little sidetracks to talk about local history, and it spends an incredible amount of words on describing the American Southwest.  So.  Many.  Descriptions.  Of.  Landscapes.  And don't get me wrong, they were gorgeous descriptions.  I made myself read as many of them as I could.  But I did skim a lot of them because... long descriptions bore me.  I don't care so much about what a place looks like as about what's happening there.  It's probably sad, but it's definitely true.

The biggest thing I took away from this book was how amazingly devoted the early missionaries to America were.  Staggeringly brave.  Not being Catholic myself, I haven't learned a lot about their mission work here, aside from knowing that there were a ton of missions all over the place in California and Arizona and Mexico, which I mostly know from TV shows like The Lone Ranger and Zorro because they're always getting help from the padres or helping the padres or whatever.  So that was pretty cool to learn about.

All in all, I can see why this book is famous and well-respected.  And I think I will read it again one day, now that I know what to expect from it for real.  But I also think I am just never going to be a Willa Cather fan.  I didn't really like My Antonia or O Pioneers! much at all -- they were too melancholy for my taste.  I liked Death Comes a lot better than either of those.  Enough to want to reread it at some point.  It had a stark beauty that impressed me.  But I think Cather and I just have different worldviews or something, and I never quite click with her books the way I want to, or the way other people do.  Such is life!

Particularly Good Bits:

The thick clay walls had been finished on the inside by the deft palms of Indian women, and had that irregular and intimate quality of things made entirely by the human hand (p. 33).

Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky (p. 232).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for non-explicit discussions of non-celibate priests, torture, and violence.

This is my 17th book read and reviewed from my second Classics Club list, and this is also my 8th book read and reviewed for the Mount TBR Challenge 2018.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Judging the INSPYs Again

Yup, I've been selected to judge the INSPY book awards again this year.  Like last year, I'll be judging the Mystery/Thriller category, which you know I'll dig.  The finalists won't be announced until next week, but they've got a nice page full of bios for all the judges up right here now, so you can go see who's judging what category.  

I really enjoyed this process last year, especially because it introduced me to some authors I hadn't read before.  I became such a fan of some of them!  So I'm eager to find out what the finalists are so I can dig into some more awesome Christian mysteries and thrillers.  If you want to see the longlists, they're here.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

"The Choir Immortal" by Katie Schuermann

Do you ever read the first book in a series and think it's pretty good, and then you read the second book and it blows your tiny mind?  That totally just happened to me.  I liked House of Living Stones, Schuermann's first novel about the people who attend Zion Lutheran Church in fictional Bradbury, Illinois.  It was cute and funny and a little zany.  But the second book?  My heart is not yet recovered from the upwelling of emotions caused by this book.

As Larry the Cucumber says, "I laughed; I cried.  It moved me, Bob." 

I did laugh.  Quite a bit, actually.  But I cried more.  Happy and sad tears both sprang to my eyes, sometimes both at the same time.  This book was simply excellent at portraying Christians facing good and bad times both, learning to cling to God's love and forgiveness in all circumstances.  This book has weddings, funerals, marriage proposals, family squabbles, new friendships forged, old friendships strengthened -- everything we walk through in life, in other words.

And also Jell-o salad, cream of mushroom soup, and hot coffee in the middle of the summer because yup, those are cornerstones of a Midwestern Lutheran life ;-) 

I'm really not telling you what this book is *about* very well, am I?  Well, there's a bachelor pastor who's trying to figure out how to ask his church's choir director to marry him.  There are families facing the death of people young and old.  There's a little boy trying to become a ninja.  There's a college student who's trying to come to terms with his parents' divorce after his dad chose a gay lifestyle over his family.  That college student, Blaine Maler, became one of my favorite characters over the course of this book.  He reminds me of someone I knew in college who also got judged a lot because he liked wearing black clothes, had a lot of tattoos and piercings, and did weird things with his hair.  I hung out with a lot of the weird people in college, being weird myself, and I really just wanted to jump in this story and befriend Blaine because he definitely needed more friends.  But then, don't we all?

Bottom line: if you like stories about small town congregations filled with very real, quirky, lovable, exasperating people, you're going to love this book.  But read House of Living Stones first so you know who's who and what's what, okay?

(My copy with my morning coffee.)

Particularly Good Bits:

She always had an easier time talking to yarn than to people (p. 117).

Transferring from Northwestern University to BC in the middle of his sophomore year had felt a bit like jumping off a speeding train and landing on a tractor (p. 125).

"I was trying to be helpful," she explained, her voice gaining in momentum and volume, the usual music that so often accompanies self-justification (p. 217).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for discussions of homosexuality, divorce, death, and other difficult topics.  No bad language or smutty scenes or violence.  It's clean, but not child-appropriate at all times.

This is my 7th book read and reviewed for the Mount TBR Challenge 2018.