Sunday, September 28, 2008

Fireproof by Eric Wilson


by Eric Wilson

Trade Paperback: 312 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
First Released: 2008

Source: Bought from Books-A-Million

Back Cover Blurb:
Inside burning buildings, Captain Caleb Holt lives by the firefighter's adage: "Never leave your partner." Yet at home, in the cooling embers of his marriage, he lives by his own rules.

Growing up, his wife Catherine always dreamed of marrying a loving, brave firefighter...just like her father. Now, after seven years of marriage, she wonders when she stopped being "good enough."

Countless arguments and anger have them wanting to move on. As they prepare for divorce, Caleb's father challenges him to commit to a 40-day experiment: "The Love Dare." Wondering if it's even worth the effort, Caleb agrees, for his father's sake more than for his marriage.

Surprised by what he discovers about the meaning of love, Caleb realizes that his wife and marriage are worth fighting for. His job is to rescue others. Now Captain Holt is ready to face his toughest job ever...rescuing his wife's heart.

This book is a "Christian Romance" novel, though it's not typical of the category. The romance is portrayed accurate to real life and is mainly from the male point-of-view. I think men would find the book as interesting as women would.

The book isn't terribly preachy and is more a "this character happens to become a Christian" than a "listen up, readers--if you aren't Christian, you ought to be and here's how!" Unless you are vehemently anti-Christian, the Christian content probably won't annoy you.

Because the novel is based on a movie, the novel isn't as deep as it could be. However, it's a lot better than I expected. The pacing was very good. The world-building (of the fire house and hospital) was good. The main characters were interesting. They acted and changed in realistic ways. This book is about loving when the other person rejects you and acknowledges that repairing a broken marriage isn't an easy deal.

There was no cursing that I noticed it. There is kissing and some off-screen sex between husband and wife at the end. I'd rate this as "good, clean fun."

Excerpt: Chapter Two

[Chapter One is more of a prologue, so I'm skipping it.]

Caleb Holt, rookie and recent hero, had been given orders to find the hose stretcher. What was a hose stretcher, though? He searched the fire engine high and low for the seemingly non-existent object, ducking his head into compartments and running his hand along every inch of the truck.

That's when Catherine Campbell strolled into the bay, the captain's daughter and his pride and joy.

Eighteen. Brunette, with natural highlights.

Catherine wore a summer dress, with a red mini-sweater tied off above her thin hips. The slight curve of her brown eyes was simultaneously alluring and friendly. "You must be Caleb."

"Uh, well..."

"Unless you're going under a different name now," she goaded.

"Caleb. Yeah, that's me."

"Thank you for what you did. Saving my dad like that."

He shrugged that off. "You're Catherine, right?"

"Word spreads fast."

"Your father's proud of you. He has a picture of you in his office, but I never realized that you...Well, now I guess you're just more..."

"More what?"

"Uh, you're older."

She grinned. "Yeah, I wish he'd put up my new picture instead. I was, like, what, fourteen in that one?"

"You looked like you were just a girl."

"Just a girl?"

"Well, you know, not all grown up."

"And now look at me." A smile played over her lips. "All grown up."

Caleb tried not to stare and shout a rousing Amen!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Naming by Alison Croggon

The Naming

The Naming
by Alison Croggon

Trade Paperback: 492 pages
Publisher: Candlewick Press
First Released: 2002

Source: Bought from Books-A-Million

Back Cover Blurb:
Maerad is a slave in a desperate and unforgiving settlement, taken there as a child when her family is destroyed in war. She is unaware that she possesses a powerful gift, one that marks her as a member of the School of Pellinor. It is only when she is discovered by Cadvan, one of the great Bards of Lirigon, that her true identity and extraordinary destiny unfold. Now she and her mysterious teacher must survive a journey through time and place where the dark forces they battle stem from the deepest recesses of otherworldly terror.

This book is an epic fantasy, the first of a planned quartet. The novel is supposedly a young adult book, but I suspect that adults would be more willing to stick with it to the end. Much of the book is very slow in pace. The middle sections are mainly a travel log describing the places Maerad and Cadvan travel through. The level of detail is much, much more than is needed and only slows already un-tense sections even more.

The author occasionally uses some odd word choices (perhaps because she's Australian), but everything is understandable.

Despite the level of detail, the world-building was only okay because much of the time the main characters are in the wilderness or not interacting with other people. I was left feeling like I didn't know or understand the world very well. Cadvan, the teacher who is supposed to enlighten Maerad (and the reader), keeps putting off his explanations. I'm left knowing a great deal about the landscape, a bunch of intricate but insignificant objects (furniture, etc.), and some ancient history, but very little about the current history and politics which are supposedly driving the character's actions. [Note: Some of this information is included in the 21-page Appendices.]

The characters were not uninteresting, but the reader is kept at a distance from the main characters (and their secrets) until the end. Then, they get interesting! Unfortunately, I'm not willing to slog through the over-descriptions again (since the next book appears to also be mostly a travel log) on the hope the characters will stay interesting.

I also felt betrayed by the last two pages of the book. The book sets itself up as a clear "good v.s. evil" story. Yet at the end, Cadvan (a TruthSeeker who can see when a person is lying and can force a person to say the truth even when they don't remember it themselves) says that truth is relative and can change from person to person. On the final page, Maerad sees a vision that makes her conclude that evil is not only necessary but is beautiful. This goes against everything the author established in the previous 465 pages.

All that said, if you like slow, "fat" books, then you probably will enjoy this book. There was no sex or cussing. The magic in this world is basically normal speech but in a special, true language (which is sometimes written out for the reader and then translated). Overall, I'd say this is "a clean fun" novel.

Excerpt: Chapter One
For almost as long as she could remember, Maerad had been imprisoned behind walls. She was a slave in Gilman's Cot, and hers was the barest of existences: an endless cycle of drudgery and exhaustion and dull fear.

Gilman's Cot was a small mountain hamlet beyond the borders of the wide lands of the Inner Kingdom of Annar. It nestled at the nape of a bleak valley on the eastern side of the mountains of Annova, where the range split briefly and ran out, like two claws, from near the northern end. Its virtue, as far as the Thane Gilman was concerned, was its isolation; here he could be tyrant of his domain, with nothing to check him.

It was a well-defended fortress, though no one came to attack. At the cot's back was the stone cliff of the Outwall, the precipice cutting sheer some thousand feet from the Landrost, the highest peak in that part of the range. Around the cot were walls of roughly dressed stone, rising to a height of thirty feet from a base twenty feet wide. They tapered to four feet at the top, enough room for two men to walk abreast. At the front were stout wooden gates, which eight men or a wagon could enter with ease. The gates were barred at night and most days, except for hunts and when the hillmen came in their big wagons to trade goods, salted meat, cheeses, and dried apples for swords and arrows and buckets and nails.

About a hundred and fifty souls lived there: the Thane Gilman and his wife, who had been beaten to a shadow after bearing him twelve children, of which five still lived, and his henchmen and their women and bastards.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Among the Barons by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Among the Barons

Among the Barons
by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Trade Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Aladdin
First Released: 2004

Source: A friend gave the book to me

Back Cover Blurb:
Luke Garner, an illegal third child, spent his first twelve years in hiding. For the past four months Luke has lived among others, using the identity of Lee Grant, at the Hendricks School for Boys. But just as things are finally starting to go right, Lee's little brother Smits arrives at the school and Luke finds himself caught in a tangle of lies that gets more complex with every passing day.

Can Luke trust Smits to keep his secret? And can he trust Smits's menacing bodyguard, Oscar?

I suppose this would qualify as a science fiction middle-grade book. The premise is that, due to famine, the president has become a dictator and has passed a law that couples can only have two children. Luke is a third child and lived most of his life in hiding. Several books back, he was given the identity of a legal boy who died. Now this boy's parents regret giving use of their son's name to another, and Luke is in danger of being forced back into hiding.

The world-building was okay. The pacing was good, and Luke and Smits were interesting. (The other characters were very sketchy, but these two boys were the main characters.) There was no sex, cussing, or magic. Overall, I'd recommend this as "a good, clean fun" novel.

Excerpt: Chapter One
"Hey, L.! Mr. Hendricks wants to see you!"

Such a summons would have terrified Luke Garner only a few months earlier. When he'd first come to Hendricks School for Boys, the thought of having to talk to any grown-up, let alone the headmaster, would have turned him into a stammering, quaking fool desperately longing for a place to hide.

But that was back in April, and this was August. A lot had happened between April and August.

Now Luke just waved off the rising tide of "ohh's" from his friends in math class.

"What'd you do, L.? Have you been sneaking out to the woods again?" his friend John taunted him.

"Settle down, class," the teacher, Mr. Rees, said mildly. "You may be excused, Mr., uh, Mr..."

Luke didn't wait for Mr. Rees to try to remember his name. Names were slippery things at Hendricks School anyway. Luke, like all his friends, was registered under a different name from what he'd grown up with. So it was always hard to know what to call people.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Thief Taker by T.F. Banks

The Thief Taker

The Thief Taker
by T.F. Banks

Mass Market Paperback: 325 pages
Publisher: Bantam Dell
First Released: 2001

Source: Bought from

Back Cover Blurb:
June 1815. When Henry Morton is called to the scene at Portman House in Claridge Square, the Bow Street constable finds a man dead in a hackney coach--ostensibly of asphyxiation. He was Halbert Glendinning, a gentleman of unsullied character. Then why was he seen frequenting one of London’s most notorious dens of iniquity? And why has the driver of the coach vanished into the night?

While Sir Nathaniel Conant, the chief magistrate at Number 4 Bow Street, accepts the official verdict of accidental death, Morton is certain that Glendinning was a victim of foul play. With the help of actress Arabella Malibrant, one of London’s most celebrated beauties, he embarks on his own discreet inquiry. And as the upper circles of London society close ranks against him, Morton races to unmask a killer whose motives are as complex and unfathomable as the passions that rule the human heart.

This historical mystery is set in 1815. Henry Morton is a Bow Street Runner (a.k.a. cop) who works with his mistress to solve both a murder and a theft. Most of Morton's problems stem from the "thief taking" system in place at the time, and the world-building of the historical time period is excellent.

The pacing was good, and the characters were interesting. The sex all occured 'off page.' Overall, I'd recommend this as "a good, clean fun" novel.

Excerpt: Chapter One

Morton had all but finished dressing, and was basking in the glow of warmth and well-being, albeit moderated by a few stinging bruises, that followed his remarkable evening at Jackson's [boxing club].

"Mr. Morton...sir?" a voice said breathlessly.

Morton looked up to find a boy, gasping in the doorway as through in the throes of an asthmatical convulsion.

"Henry Morton, yes."

"I've run all the way, sir..." the child managed. "'Tis Mrs. Malinbrant...Asks that you come directly." A few desperate breaths were needed. "I'm to say 'tis most urgent, sir. Most terrible urgent."

Morton tossed aside a towel. "Nothing has befallen Mrs. Malibrant, I hope?"

"Oh, no, Mr. Morton. 'Tis the gentleman, sir. The young gentleman who just arrived at Lord Arthur's." The boy straightened a little and shook his head. "He appears to be dead, sir. Most thoroughly dead."