Sunday, May 14, 2017

Book Review: Behind the Scenes by Jen Turano

Behind the Scenes is I think the sixth Jen Turano book I've read. Her historical romances are always humorous and somewhat outlandish, her female heroines unique and strong-minded, and her plots much more like a comedy of errors than a staid historical novel. It's her trademark.

On Amazon, it seems you can always get a Jen Turano prequel for free--and then you're hooked! I think the novella At Your Request, introducing the reader to the world of wallflowers during the 1880s, was my first Jen Turano book. Behind the Scenes, the official Book #1 in the series, was not yet published, so I put its release date on my calendar and went in search of other Turano books. I read through the Ladies of Distinction series, one right after the other. Bad choice. Even though I really enjoyed the first couple books, by the time I reached the 4th and last of the series, I was completely burnt out on Turano's style. And I kinda still am.

So although this author's books are always guaranteed for a good laugh set in either the Regency Era or, like Behind the Scenes, in the Gilded Age, let me forewarn you about the aggravations of these novels, and you can decide if those would inhibit your own enjoyment.

Besides outlandish situations and quirky characters, another trademark of her flowery language. It reminds me of how I used to talk on instant messenger when it was late at night and I wanted to pretend to be British and talk witty and at length. At long length. It's fun to read, but there is no economy of words. None. Whatsoever. And some of the same phrases are used over and over.

Then when the male characters sound and think EXACTLY THE SAME as the female characters, and the side characters are the same, and characters between books in the same series all sound the same--it becomes painful. Very painful to this reader.

I can't help but wonder why the editor didn't notice the lack of characterization? If I were her editor (which I'm not qualified to be), my red pen and I would have a heyday with Asher Rutherford's parts in Behind the Scenes. He should not sound like a carbon copy of Permilia. He should not talk and think like a girl. His lines should be more succinct, his mental density more natural, his thoughts less ridiculously intuitive.

Confession. When the author started focusing on Asher Rutherford's mental processes, I read a whole other book (Lassoed by Marriage--soooo good!) before returning to finish this one.

It's not that I don't enjoy Turano's writing. I do. It's just sometimes very painful to read because of the lack of ruthless editing. But even though it's painful doesn't mean I won't read another of her books. Because, despite being historical fiction, Turano's novels are in a category of their own.

Try one of the free novellas on Amazon and know that every other book she writes is exactly the same, for better and for worse.

(Side note: If you want to read really well-written historical fiction--but less crazy--from the same general time period, try Kristi Ann Hunter. Yummmm.)

P.S. Amazingly enough, I didn't have to buy this on the release date after all! I got a complimentary copy from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for writing an honest review. Sweet deal!

Monday, May 8, 2017

196: placebo, cure-all, inner muse in male form

So, I'm reading Deuteronomy 33 right now. I'm very tired. Like, physically I've been sick for over a week so my eyes kinda hurt and my throat and stomach. ANYWAY, I'm reading a little of Deuteronomy in an effort to feed my soul--which is also empty of strength--and some things I'm coming across are cool, like

"From His right hand
Came a fiery law for them.
Yes, He loves the people;
All His saints are in Your hand;
They sit down at Your feet;
Everyone receives Your words."

Isn't that a cool mental picture? "Fiery" law is just cool (Mt. Sinai, clouds, thunder, fire--what a spectacle that had been 40 yrs prior). And the direct statement of His love! And then us being in His hand (cf John 10). And all us like sheep sitting down and receiving His words.

And then I keep reading. "He was King in Jeshurun." Now, I feel like I should know what this means but tonight I'm like what is Jeshurun??? So I follow my unhelpful cross-reference over to 32:15 which says (and I remember reading this the other day), "Jeshurun grew fat." Well THAT didn't help. And I figure I could look up the Strong's definition on my phone but right now I'm just whinily, humorously frustrated that I DON'T KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS! (the Jeshurun part, not the fat part) (oh. Is Jeshurun a synonym for Israel? But why?? I don't remember 😩).

And somewhere around my whining and discovery of cool words like "fiery" it comes to me AGAIN that I, like, really wish I had a guy to text right now about it and someone to swap deep thoughts with.

(And no, if you're a guy I have tried to wrestle deep conversations out of that doesn't necessarily mean I'm on the hunt. A single does not have to be deprived of co-ed good conversations until (s)he is married. Or rather, I'd hope not!)

The thought (of wanting a guy to talk with about stuff like this) occurs to me semi-regularly.

Of course, do I really want to sit there and listen to someone else go on a tangent that has nothing to do with obese Jeshurun?

That's not really what I had in mind.

What I have in mind is more like a cure-all for these moments of wistfulness.

Realistic expectation? No.

But it was a nice thought.

(I wouldn't mind hearing his thoughts too, my head is just hurting right now so I'm leaving out commas I should add now that I'm proofreading, and not being clear about what I mean. Of course a real person is better than a placebo! And basically, singles sometimes think in terms of Disney 2D static characters without realizing it. At least I have a tendency to :( ).

Instead I have the internet (you) and the God whom I should care more about being in communion with than a fella.

"There is no one like the God of Jeshurun,
Who rides the heavens to help you" (Deut. 33:26)

(I really need to look that up!)

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

195: most recent thoughts on believing in the beauty of God's unknown plan

I have completely lost my voice, it's getting close to a time when I should be getting ready for bed, my throat feels scratchy, but I want to write what I've been thinking. Might not be as coherent or well-examined (or succinct!) as if I had more time. Disclaimer there.

Do I believe in the beauty of God's design? Do I believe in the beauty of His redemption?

I'm reading Laura Story's When God Doesn't Fix It. For those who don't know, Laura Story is a Christian songwriter. Shortly after she and her husband Martin married, he suffered from brain trauma and now has short term memory loss (reminiscent of the movie Remember Sunday but not that bad). Her dream had always been to be a stay at home mom, like her mom before her. But instead she had to deal with seeing that dream die as she became the breadwinner for the family. And she and her husband have had to walk through his medical issues and figuring out how to do life differently than they had ever imagined. She writes:

"When Martin and I said, 'I do,' we set out on a boulevard of marital bliss. Then came a bumpy detour called 'Brain Tumor.' We took the detour and followed its winding ways. but I kept thinking the detour would take us back to the main road. It took me several years to realize that it wasn't a detour; it was the road. It was taking us farther away from anything familiar and would never lead us back to the boulevard of dreams where we started. . . .
I had to reconsider other dreams. Our parents had always been our role models--both our dads worked outside the home while our moms took care of their homes and children. That was our dream too. I'd always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. Now my only option was to a be a working mom. I didn't know what that would look like, or even if I could do it." (ch. 9)

"It's easy to sign up for a short-term mission project or donate money . . . . But would you be willing to sign up for the brokenness in your life, if you knew your brokenness would bring glory to God and enable you to learn to trust him in everything?" (ch. 10)

"When Martin and I walked through his medical trials, we saw a lot of things die. Our vision for our future. Our dreams for each other. Our idea of a perfect family. Sometimes they died all at once; other times, our dreams slowly withered away. When they did, I thought they were gone forever. But occasionally God allows a dream to die so that we can see his power greatly displayed." (ch. 16)

(I did NOT summarize the book, just picked the relevant parts, so get the book for yourself! Here's a vid of Laura Story singing her song "Blessings.")

My mom and I went to Sight & Sound's movie production of "Jonah" last night. They characterized Jonah as a man who had been waiting for 17 years for God to give him another prophecy. When he heard God say He was going to destroy Ninevah, Jonah was ecstatic. Then he realized, wait, why would God tell him to warn them unless . . . . And at that point Jonah began fighting God. He wished God had never spoke to him. He told God He was asking too much of him. He ran away. He decided he couldn't do what God asked and decided to disobey and separate himself from God. He even was willing to be thrown into the sea and die instead of having to do what God wanted him to do. Of course, God kept him alive. God got him to the point of reluctant obedience.

When I think of redemption, I think of a mosaic sun catcher of colored broken glass. Like something made "perfectly" has been broken and recreated. Usually I think of the breaking being a result of sin, and so God redeems the ugly to make something beautiful.

What if God does, or allows, the breaking? What if He breaks what I think is perfect? How much do I believe that whatever beauty He is going to create from the brokenness is better than what I thought was perfect?

We all have what we think is perfect. And we all experience brokenness. It is common to man.

Ok, not sure where I was going with that.

Not sure where the thread of Laura Story and Jonah and the mosaic weave together....

God. Do I trust God when He breaks my plans and presents me with the unknown. Do I look at the unknown and then look back to Egypt and say, but THAT would have been better, Lord? Or do I look at the unknown and say, You are good, You create amazing beauty, and I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Or is it (more likely) two steps forward in faith and one step back in wishful thinking?

How much do I trust that, in His power, He will make something more beautiful (by His definition) than I would have, and how much am I willing to let Him?