Sunday, March 29, 2009

There's a Giveaway!

I'm giving away a copy of "Thunder of Heaven" by Ted Dekker. Due to shipping costs, this contest is for USA residents only.

The book is not an ARC. There is some cover wear, but the inside is like new.

To enter:

1) you can twitter me saying "@genrereviewer Enter me to win "Thunder of Heaven." Ted Dekker's latest book is _____."


OR

2) You can leave a comment to this post asking to be entered and naming Ted Dekker's latest book.


Of course, you need to fill in the title of his latest book to win. I'm looking for the title of the book released this year by Thomas Nelson.


The winner will be randomly selected. I'll announce the winner at noon (Central Time, Daylight Savings Time) on April 6th on this blog. If you entered using twitter, I'll send you a @ telling you of your win and asking where to send the book. If you entered using the blog comments, you'll need to check back to see if you won so you can e-mail me the shipping address.

I hope everyone has fun with this!

Thunder of Heaven by Ted Dekker


Thunder of Heaven


Thunder of Heaven
by Ted Dekker


Trade Paperback: 295 pages
Publisher: WestBow Press
First Released: 2002


Source: Bought from library sale

Back Cover Description:
What happens when the evil of terrorism collides with the love of God?

Deep in the Amazon jungle a young American woman and the son of plantation owners fall madly in love. For Tanya and Shannon, life is a paradise most only dream about.

But today paradise ends.

The jungle has hatched more than idyllic love. It has also spawned insidious evil. An evil shrouded in a plot so diabolically brilliant that all of America will be brought to her knees at the hands of a few terrorists. The plan is executed to perfection; America's worst fears have dawned. Nothing stands in the way of terrible destruction.

Except the love of one woman.

Step into the pages of a story taken from tomorrow's headlines. A story about the true power found in the face of all our fears. The power of love.


Review:
This book is a religious suspense novel. I don't think non-Christians would enjoy this book, partly because it contains a lot of theology and partly because God plays a major underlying role in the story.

The novel's strong suit is it's ability to keep up the suspense throughout the story. It's generally fast-paced and definitely kept me turning the pages. Without this pace, the novel's weaknesses would have been a lot more obvious. Instead, they stayed slightly nagging at the back of my mind until I finished the novel.

While the characters were easy to sympathize with, they each only seemed to have one emotional mode. They did round out into believable humans at the very end, but I would have enjoyed a greater emotional range earlier on.

The world was well-described, but it felt to me like a stage where secondary characters had no life once they left the scene. As an example, the jungle natives were mentioned several times, yet we never saw a single one in all the time we spent roaming around in their territory.

Also, some major story details were left unexplained. For example, Shannon has exceptional hearing and repeatedly hears the attack helicopter coming in the distance. But, at the critical life-or-death moment, he doesn't hear the helicopter until it's at close range and actively shooting at him.

I also questioned at times if the theology was Christian theology. There's a minor character who says that God is playing a chess game with Satan and that the human pieces might not obliging move into their critical position in his plan (which would lose the game) so God's having to manipulate some of the pieces to get them into position. While the other characters don't completely agree with her ideas, I was baffled by such a pagan, non-Biblical theology coming from someone who's implied to be a godly Christian woman.

In the novel, there was no cussing or sex. There were several supernatural elements (visions from God and demon possession). Overall, I'd rate this "good, clean fun."


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt: Chapter One
Those who know call that part of the jungle the hellhole of creation for good reason. And they call the Indians who live there the fiercest humans on earth for even better reason. It's why no one wants to go there. It's why no one does go there. It's why those who do rarely come out alive.

Which is also why the lone American girl who ran through the jungle really had no business being there. At least, according to those who know.

Tanya Vandervan jogged to a halt atop a cleared knoll and tried to still her heavy breathing. She'd run most of the way from her parents' mission station, hidden by the trees a mile behind, and in this heat, a mile's run tended to stretch the lungs.

She stood still, her chest rising and falling, hands on hips, her deep blue eyes sparkling like sapphires through long blonde hair. The rugged hiking boots she wore rose to clearly defined calves. Today, she had donned denim shorts and a red tank top that brightened her tanned skin.

Still drawing hard but through her nose now, she lifted her eyes to the screeching calls of red-and-blue parrots flapping from the trees to her left. Long trunks rose from the forest floor to the canopy, like dark Greek columns supporting tangled wads of foliage. Vines dripped from the canopy--the jungle's version of silly string. Tanya watched a howler monkey swing suspended by a single arm, whether provoking or protesting the parrots' sudden departure, she could not tell.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Certain Jeopardy by Capt. Jeff Struecker with Alton Gansky


Certain Jeopardy


Certain Jeopardy
by Capt. Jeff Struecker with Alton Gansky


Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: B&H Publishing Group
First Released: May 1, 2009

Author Website


Source: Netgalley, online ARC from publisher

Back Cover Description:
Six American men live behind a protective fa├žade, their real work hidden from neighbors and friends. Different in countless ways, they are intimately the same in one: at any moment their lives can be altered with a phone call, and their actions may change the world.

They are Special Ops. And one team’s mission is about to hit certain jeopardy status when the discovery of an Al Qaeda base in Venezuela becomes secondary to thwarting the transport of a nuclear weapons expert from that training camp to Iran.

Informed by the true combat experience of Captain Jeff Struecker and finessed by award-winning novelist Alton Gansky, Certain Jeopardy is an immersing and pulsating fictional account of what really happens at every level of a stealth engagement: the physical enemy encounter, the spiritual war fought within a soldier, and the emotional battles in families back at home.


Review:
This book is a military thriller. The story was written in short, quick chapters from rotating point of views--and there were a fairly large number of point of view characters. At the beginning, I sometimes got confused as to how everyone was related to each other, but that didn't last long.

The prose felt a little unrefined, but that fit the character of the story.

The book was fast-paced. The author clearly explained the equipment and jargon used in the story without bogging down the pace with too many details. Every moment was full of tension and conflict, both at home with the team's families and on mission with the team. The conflict and reactions all felt realistic and plausible.

Characters were varied and engaging. Several of the characters were Christian. Their faith mattered to them and made a difference in how they reacted in difficulties, but the Christian content was never preachy.

There is no sex in this book and all the swearing is of the "he swore" variety rather than actual printed cuss words. Overall, I'd highly recommend this book as a "good, clean fun" novel.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt: Chapter One
[From an Uncorrected Proof ARC, so the text of the published book might vary slightly from the below.]

Goats.

Sgt. Major Eric Moyer hated goats. He had a burning desire to swear at the top of his lungs. Not that it would do any good. He stuffed the urge.

Tat-tat-tat-tat.

The urge returned.

"Junior, get that radio operational. If we don't reach CAS soon, we'll leave this mountain in body bags.

"Working on it, Boss. The snow is giving me grief. I can't find a stable spot for the satellite antenna. Getting shot at from six directions isn't helping."

TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT.

AK-47 bullets whistled over their heads. Moyer pushed himself up from his shallow trench and fired a few quick rounds from his M4 carbine. He pulled the trigger again but nothing happened. Flattening himself in the trench, he barked, "Reloading."

In a practiced move, Moyer ejected the spent magazine and rammed a full one in its place, giving him another thirty rounds. The weapon could fire seven hundred rounds a minute. Only disciple and training kept him from emptying the magazine in a few seconds.

The sound of enemy gunfire erupted again. Staff Sgt. Pete Rasor grunted and raised his hands to his face.

"Junior. Junior! You hit?"

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bitterwood by James Maxey


Bitterwood


Bitterwood
by James Maxey


Mass Market Paperback: 486 pages
Publisher: Solaris
First Released: 2007


Source: Bought on Half.com

Back Cover Description:
It is a time when powerful dragons reign supreme and humans are forced to work as slaves, driven to support the kingdom of the tyrannical ruler King Albekizan.

However, there is one name whispered amongst the dragons that strikes fear into the very hearts and minds of those who oppress the human race. Bitterwood. The last dragon hunter, a man who refuses to yield to the will of the dragons. A legend who is about to return, his arrow nocked and ready, his heart full of fiery vengeance...

Bitterwood plans to bring the dragons to their knees. But will he bring the remnants of the human race down with him?

Review:
This book is a traditional fantasy in theme, but it's set in a somewhat apocalyptic future on Earth. The story is fast-paced with complex, interesting characters. Each character has his/her own priorities and values which adds complexity to the conflict. The story is told from many viewpoints, but the story is clear and easy to follow despite the strange names and many characters.

The world-building is excellent overall, but some small details remained unexplained. (For example, Jandra's unending supply of silver dust in her belt pouch despite the way she's always throwing handfuls of it into the air). The details weren't major ones, but the lack of any explanation gave the story a slightly implausible edge in my mind.

There was no sex, nor do I remember any cussing. The magic involved is [spoiler!!!!!] actually high technology [spoiler end]. Overall, I'd rate this book "very good, clean reading."


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt: Chapter One
The sad little fire gave out more smoke than warmth. The hunter crouched before it, turning a chunk of ash-flecked meat on the flat stone he'd placed amidst the coals. The movement of the stone stirred more smoke. The hunter coughed and wiped soot from his eyes. He stretched his bony, knotted fingers above the embers, fighting off the chill. He was a thin man, hair shoulder-length and gray, the deep lines of his leathery face forming a permanent frown. He pulled his heavy cloak more tightly around him.

In the tree above him hung the body of a dragon, blood dripping from its mouth.

The creature was a sky-dragon, the smallest of the winged dragon species. Strip away the ten-foot wings and the long tail, and a sky-dragon was no bigger than a man and half his weight. They were known as sky-dragons both for their prowess in flight and their coloring, the pale, perfect blue of a cloudless day. The hunter had killed many sky-dragons over the years. They weren't particularly dangerous. Despite talons ending in two-inch claws and crocodilian jaws full of saw-like teeth, sky-dragons prided themselves on being civilized. The beasts fancied themselves as artists, poets, and scholars; they considered it beneath their dignity to engage in such menial work as hunting.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Constant Heart by Siri Mitchell


A Constant Heart


A Constant Heart
by Siri Mitchell


Trade Paperback: 381 pages
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
First Released: 2008


Source: Bought from Books-A-Million

Back Cover Description:
Born with the face of an angel, Marget Barnardsen is blessed. Her father is a knight, and now she is to be married to the Earl of Lytham. Her destiny is guaranteed ... at least, it would seem so. But when her introduction to court goes awry and Queen Elizabeth despises her, Marget fears she's lost her husband forever. Desperate to win him back, she'll do whatever it takes to discover how she failed and capture again the love of a man bound to the queen.

[The above description didn't give me an accurate idea of what the book was about, so here's my description. Marget is married to the Earl and is then introduced to the Queen. The Queen is jealous of Marget's beauty and takes her displeasure out on Marget and, by extension, her husband. Marget has been raised believing her sole duties in life are to bear children and increase her husband's standing at court, so she feels a failure when she discovers she can do neither. The story is about what lengths Marget is willing to go to in order to gain back Queen Elizabeth's favor for her husband.]


Review:
I think this is supposed to be a Christian historical fiction with a strong romance theme, but what it really shines at is giving a comprehensive historical look at court life under Queen Elizabeth I.

The main characters occasionally make a vague reference to God, but that's about it. God certainly doesn't impact their lives at all.

As for the romance, the 'hero' is self-centered, childish, ambitious, cruel, emotionally abusive of his wife, and a few other unflattering things. I was rooting for him to die, not for him to win the heroine's heart. His wife, the heroine, does act consistent to her age and upbringing, but eventually her gullibility and willingness to destroy herself for her husband was too much for me to stay sympathetic to her.

Also, there wasn't much depth to their relationship. One moment, husband and wife were hating and/or fearing the other. In the next, they were madly "in love" (though the hero was mainly falling in lust with her in the "but I just can't resist her even though reason says I shouldn't" fashion). Despite being madly "in love," they'd have a simple misunderstanding and immediately be back to square one. They fluctuated back and forth like this for years without building any trust or belief in the other.

An additional problem was that both character viewpoints were written in first person. There was very little indication when the viewpoint had switched, so I was often confused by the switch.

The book gives an excellent look at what life was like at the time, but this focus on the historical detail slows the pace of the story. There were many scenes that seemed to have been put in solely to illustrate something the author learned about the time period. These scenes didn't move the story forward and could have been cut without harming our understanding of what was going on in the story.

If you'd like to see what life was like at the time without reading a textbook, this book is a very good way to do that. However, while the writing itself was fine, I felt the book's characters, pacing, and plot could have been much stronger.

There is no explicit sex, and I don't recall any cussing. Overall, this book was "clean reading."


Excerpt: Chapter One
"But how could he not like you?"

"He is an earl, Joan!"

"Ad you, Marget, are to be his countess."

The Midsummer Day sun was hot and absent any breeze. We were sitting on a log at the marsh's edge, our skirts drawn up to our knees, caps resting on the ground beside us. The marsh birds would warn us of any intruder, but there were unlikely to be any wanderers this festive day. We had slipped away from the city's merriment to ponder my rapidly approaching marriage.

In several short months I was to exchange my life as a knight's daughter for life as a countess. That thought still had the power to drain the blood from my face as if January's salt-laden winds were whipping in from the Wash, stealing my breath as they continued on their way.

"Think you. For how many years now have you trained for this?"

"Twelve." It had begun at the age of five. If I whispered the number it was only because, of a sudden, I did not wish for the training to end.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Centurion's Wife by Davis Bunn & Janette Oke


The Centurion's Wife


The Centurion's Wife
by Davis Bunn & Janette Oke


Trade Paperback: 378 pages
Publisher: Bethany House
First Released: 2009


Source: Bought from Books-A-Million

Back Cover Description:
A sweeping saga of the dramatic events surrounding the birth of Christianity—and the very personal story of Leah, compelled into a betrothal she never wanted, drawn by a faith she never expected...

When her family's wealth and power are lost forever, Leah is sent to Pontius Pilate in hopes that he might arrange a strategic marriage. But despite her betrothed's striking countenance and position, Leah deems life as a centurion's wife a fate worse than death.

Head of the garrison near Galilee, Alban has ambitions that could one day see him at the seat of power—in Rome itself. Eager to prove himself, he takes on the assignment of a lifetime, one that will put his career, his beliefs, and his very life at risk.

But when the death—and missing body—of an obscure rabbi find Leah and Alban searching for the same answers, what they discover changes everything.


Review:
This is a Biblical fiction romance novel. When I pick up a fiction book written by Christians for Christians and it uses an account given in the Bible, I expect the novel to stick to the words and actions given in the Biblical account where the fiction story and the Bible account overlap. Unfortunately, this book doesn't. The Pentecost scene is severely chopped up to shorten it. As for the soldiers guarding Jesus tomb, Pilate puts two of his Roman soldiers under the High Priest's command to watch Jesus' tomb instead of the guards being temple guards (enough to "make the tomb as secure as you know how," which I've always assumed was more than just two men) under the command of the chief priests.

The authors also make the hero, Alban, the centurion with great faith ("I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.") yet strip him of his faith. In the Bible, the centurion believed that Jesus could heal his servant, sent Jewish elders to make this request, and then had Jesus heal his servant from afar because he understood that Jesus didn't need to physically be there to heal the servant and he didn't feel worthy of having Jesus under his roof. In the novel, Alban doesn't believe in Jesus, the elders offer to go to Jesus for him, and Alban accepts but doesn't want Jesus and his huge crowd of followers to enter his house so sends his second message to keep Jesus away. The novel still has Jesus commending Alban for his great faith even though Alban doesn't believe that Jesus is more than just a man who might, perhaps, be able to help since nothing else is. To me, this novel implies that Jesus either lied (saying the centurion had great faith when he didn't) or was ignorant (he thought the centurion had great faith when he didn't). Neither is consistent with the Jesus of the Bible.

I also had problems with some logic flaws in the novel. For example, they have Mary, Martha, and Lazarus living in a small house and so poor they can barely find food to put on the table each day. This is the family that regularly hosted Jesus and his followers (providing food and housing). The novel even stages a large post-crucifixion gathering of disciples at their house. So where did all the food and sleeping room for the guests come from?

The novel is fast-paced and full of period details that bring the story to vivid life, but I had reason to doubt some of those details. For example, they had Romans frequently drinking tea as an alternative to wine. Also, devote Jews in the novel fairly frequently referred to their God as Jehovah when speaking to Alban about him.

Much of the time, I felt distant from the emotional struggles of our hero and heroine. For example, Leah's full story of loss wasn't told until two thirds of the way through. I would have felt more sympathetic toward her fear of marriage if I'd known that information earlier. Also, the secondary characters didn't generally have much depth.

Several major loose ends were left hanging at the end, like Alban's fate (death, banishment, or whatever) and Leah is left in debt to a cruel, greedy man.

There is no sex or magic or cussing in this book. Overall, it was a clean read.


Excerpt: Chapter One
AD 33, Caesarea, Judaea Province
Six Days Before Passover


Usually Leah followed the path briskly from the main kitchen to the baths. Today, with the Mediterranean breeze caressing her face and the sun not yet a scorching heat overhead, she could not help but slow her steps. She lifted her eyes at the cry of the seabirds. How peaceful it appeared. Only a few clouds hung in the sky, like a flock of spring lambs. Down below the walkway, sea waves lapped gently along the promontory's edge. Not even the first stirrings within the palace compound behind her could diminish her sense of delight.

For one further moment Leah drank it all in, her gaze sweeping across the panorama before her. Finally she turned away from the vast blue sea and studied the beauty of the city's setting.

Caesarea stretched like a royal necklace along the seafront, with the palace of Pontius Pilate its centermost jewel. From her position upon the rocky point, Leah studied the elaborate courtyard with its columns and statuary, the opulent ceramic-tiled baths, and the impressive marbled facade of the palace itself.