Friday, August 19, 2016

A Heroine's Quest: HUNTRESS (Life After Book One)

Hey there! I've got a book recommendation for you today. For those who like to read YA fiction--this is for you. For those who like speculative fiction--this is for you. For those who don't like either of those things, this is for you too, because this novel has something for everyone.

Audrey is dead. And her afterlife is not what she expected.

She has no memories of her life before, and now she’s told that her afterlife assignment is to hunt demons. Throw into the mix an attractive trainer for whom Audrey develops feelings, and matters are complicated indeed.  

As a huntress, Audrey is expected to wield weapons and fight off the minions of Satan, yet she’s never fought anything and doesn’t know what she’s doing. She must depend upon and trust her trainers, mentors, and ultimately God, to lead her in the right direction.

Huntress is the first book in the Life After Series, and I’m already looking forward to the second book. Although I was pulled in to the story initially by Hall’s exquisite writing and the sheer adventure of Audrey’s journey, by the end of the novel I was really thinking about the reality of heaven. What will our afterlife be like? What age will we be in heaven? Will my dog be there? Will I have deep, philosophical conversations with my Lord?

Hall handles the unknown with a reverent uncertainty while maintaining the integrity of the plot—the archetypal “hero’s quest” with a twist. Young adults will enjoy this for the rich characters, the otherworldly dimension of the afterlife, and the adventurous quest for righteousness over evil, but older audiences will appreciate the outstanding writing (far superior to most YA fiction), the complex character emotions and conflicts, and the contemplation of their own afterlife—an outcome we shall all experience one day.  

I highly recommend reading Huntress—even if you aren’t a fan of speculative or YA fiction. It may share action and adventure with the likes of the Hunger Games books, but in the Life After Series the stakes and end games are real. Huntress will have you wondering about and hoping for the real life after this one.

About Julie Hall:

Julie Hall was a late blooming reader, but once captivated, writing became her dream.

Going the practical route in college she earned a business degree from the University of Michigan. After school, she worked in marketing and publicity for both television and film, until she’d had enough of selling other people’s creative expressions.

She miraculously convinced her dashingly handsome husband that having ten years of experience mentoring youth, the idea of quitting her job to write a young-adult novel was the sensible thing to do.

Since then she’s become a puppy mama to a goldendoodle named Bear, and an actual mother to her adopted daughter.

Her writing is inspired by God, who is the true author of romance and adventure in our lives. Julie holds the conviction that on our own, we just muck it up. Her advice to you is not to muck it up.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Bad Boys and the Brain

“Mad, bad, and dangerous to know” is how Lady Caroline Lamb described her object of obsession, Lord Byron, in 1812. In a way, Lord Byron was the originator of the bad boy hysteria. “Byromania” was the word his future wife used to describe the scene of women fainting when he walked into the room, clamoring to be in his presence, and committing stalkerish acts to meet with him. Yet Byron was well known to be a misanthrope and a flagrant womanizer, an abuser of alcohol and laudanum. Did it matter? No. Women—and men as well—loved him. His thoughts on marrying Annabella Milbanke were telling: “I have great hopes that we shall love each other all our lives as much as if we had never married at all.”  

Two hundred years later, people are really not all that different. Women are still overwhelmingly attracted to the dark and dangerous male with the aloof demeanor and the devastatingly intense stare. But WHY?

Suburban Dangers, my YA novel dealing with sex trafficking will be released in May of 2017. In that story, my main character, Katherine, is lured into gang-controlled prostitution by a “bad boy.” My most recently finished Regency novel, Dangerous to Know (working title only) is also actually based on Lord Byron and his relationship with Annabella Milbanke (his future wife), and my two current works-in-progress also deal with bad boy attraction, so this topic interests me at present.

Turns out there’s a psychological and physiological reason why we’re attracted to bad boys at large. Apparently it’s about what happens in your brain when you meet someone mysterious, dark, and unpredictable. The brain sends out pleasure responses—so in a way, we’re rewarded for our illogical desires. Kind of like a drug.

Studies show that women may become attracted to a potential partner when they have to work for them, suffer for them, even. Check out this article in the New York Times about Professor Berns and his experiment on unpredictability. When people were administered orange juice versus water in an unpredictable manner, their brain chemistry was more reactive. When the reward was predictable, not so much. It’s all about that dopamine.

So are we sick or what? Ultimately, I think it comes back to desiring what is withheld or denied us. Bad boys tend to be elusive and not quite obtainable. We never know exactly what they’re thinking or what their next move will be. That’s attractive to our brains, which become so easily bored with the usual and mundane.

How do we get over it? Well, maturity and age helps. In my forties, the bad boy may be somewhat attractive from a safely removed place (like, watching them on TV), but I’ve had enough turmoil in my life. Upheaval and chaos is not what God intended for us. A peaceful relationship is really where it’s at. It’s how we grow in our abilities to compromise and sacrifice and work through relational difficulties. Annabella Milbanke found that out the hard way. Byron may have been attractive in that dark, mysterious, brain-synapses-firing sort of way, but in the end, their marriage lasted a year (and this was no small thing since separation and divorce were nearly unheard of in the Regency era).

Bad boys are considered bad for a reason, and we would do well to remember it. They may have learned pretty words and charming come-ons, but actions always speak louder. As Shakespeare so aptly put it, “Sigh no more ladies, sigh no more, men were deceivers ever; one foot on sea and one on shore, to one thing constant never.”

Friday, August 5, 2016

Featured Book: FATEFUL FALL--New Romantic Suspense by Erin Unger

Erin Unger's new book Fateful Fall just came this week. It is book one of the Worthington Detective Agency trilogy. I'm also privileged to call Erin Unger a friend, so it is my joy to feature her book today.

Here is the blurb from Goodreads: Christian Romantic Suspense by Erin Unger. Fateful Fall is book 1 of the ‘Worthington Detective Agency’ series.

Ava's life starts over today.

Ava Worthington had been employed by her dad, but he never appreciated her work. She’s striving to build a private detective agency with friends, and they are about to start their first murder investigation. In the rural Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, farmer John Connell wants Ava to discover who killed his son, and he’s assigned cowboy Cory Mortel to be Ava’s liaison.

Cory has retreated to the seclusion of the mountains after a personal disaster. The last thing he needs is to babysit a beautiful amateur detective and her girl friends. But when Ava seems to attract danger, he has to step in and protect her.

How will she solve the murder in the reclusive area before she gets herself killed? And will she be willing to court a man she hardly knows?

Fateful Fall is a fast-paced adventure where not everyone is what they seem, and family relationships can be the most difficult connection of all.

My thoughts:

A murder or two, an all-female private investigation agency, and the Blue Ridge Mountains. What's not to like?

Fateful Fall is a great story. The setting is rich in atmosphere and intrigue—the perfect place for a murder mystery. The characters are interesting and well-developed, and I look forward to meeting them again in the second book.

Unger is an excellent writer with a strong grasp of craft essentials. She is especially adept with setting details and characterization (colloquialisms and interesting character quirks) and uses them masterfully throughout.  There is a lot going on in this mystery, and I mean that in the best possible way. There are no lag points. The story moves on a continuum that builds strength and momentum right up to the end. This is not dark, graphically violent chiller-thriller fare, nor is it overly preachy Christian fiction; instead, it is an engaging mystery with a dash of romance and an intriguing cast of characters.

If you are a fan of romantic suspense, I would highly recommend Fateful Fall.