Thursday, December 31, 2009

Do book bloggers buy books? Yes!

I wanted to demonstrate that even book bloggers who receive a nice number of free review books still buy books. I gave about half of these bought books away as gifts, and many of these gift books were books that I originally discovered through reading the review copies that were sent to me.

Number of books I bought new in 2009: 83
Number of books I bought used in 2009: 81

And, for reference, I read about 180 books this year.

Out of curiosity, have any of my readers ended up buying a book I reviewed? If so, which one(s)?

Other book bloggers, have you bought many books this year? How many of these books did you first discover through reviews you've seen on other book blogs? Did you give books as gifts? Which ones?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Streiker's Bride by Robin Hardy

book cover

Streiker's Bride
by Robin Hardy

Trade Paperback: 266 pages
Publisher: NavPress
First Released: 1993

Author Website

Source: From my personal library.

Back Cover Description (slightly modified):
He had a lot to offer but his term were high.

When Adair Weiss was unexpectedly summoned to the office of the president of The Rivers Bank, she knew she was about to be fired. She'd been late to her teller window three times in the past two weeks and wasn't on the best of terms with her branch manager.

But the news she received when she walked into Charles Whinnet's office was not what she anticipated. The president handed her a plain manila folder containing news clippings, letters, and articles about the reclusive owner and chairman of the bank--the well-known but never-seen Mr. Fletcher Streiker. And along with the file folder came an offer of meeting this mysterious, wealthy philanthropist...but only if she first agreed to marry him.

Ludicrous! But why her, and how did he know so much about her? And the offer was tempting since marrying him would allow her to pursue her ballet dancing.

The more she learned about him, the more intriguing the young billionaire--and his offer--became. Adair knew if she said yes, her life would change drastically. And not just because of money. No, she was discovering that there was much more to Fletcher Streiker's way of life than she'd ever realized.

Streiker's Bride was a unique, fun, and intriguing romance. I quickly became immersed in this fast-paced story. The characters were engaging and complex, and I cared what happened to them. The characters dealt with realistic struggles, and the plot wasn't predictable.

The novel is a bit like The Chronicles of Narnia in that there's a deeper layer or meaning to the story. There's no religious talk since the novel isn't overtly Christian. A non-Christian could read the novel and assume it's a clean, secular romance (though part of the ending might seem a little improbable without the subtext). A Christian can read it and see thought-provoking hints of how Fletcher's and Adair's romance reflects Christ wooing us and becoming our bridegroom.

There was no bad language. There was no explicit sex. Overall, I'd highly recommend this well-written, clean 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 from Chapter One
Adair had to get into that building without being noticed. So she rose from the car seat, brushed dog hairs from her suit, and nonchalantly strode into the bank lobby at forty minutes past eight o'clock.

It was not to be. Adair could hardly go anywhere without being noticed for her tall, slender frame and neon blue eyes, but especially for the grace that a twenty-year devotion to ballet had brought her. "Adair! Look at the clock! You're forty minutes late!" She winced at the reprimand and humbly turned to her boss.

"I'm sorry, Duane; I really was going to be on time today, but there was this dog that fell out of a pickup right in front of me and got hit by a car. You can understand that I had to stop and take him to the vet's, can't you?" she implored.

"Sure, if it weren't the third time this month you've been late. And today's only the eleventh!" he fumed, adjusting his glasses like a schoolmaster who had caught a student cheating. He was Adair's age, 24, but looked younger with his freckles and tousled hair. Unlike her, he was degreed, ambitious, and focused on banking as his career of choice. "Now get to the drive-through!"

"Sure, Duane," Adair said appeasingly, slipping her purse under the counter. (She never could bring herself to call him "Mr. Minshew"—that would be like addressing her little brother with an honorific.) With his hovering behind her, Adair sat at the window and smiled, "Good morning," to the waiting customer as she took his check and deposit slip in through the mechanical drawer. When Duane finally turned his attention elsewhere, Adair let down with a sigh. "I hate this job."

"If you keep coming in late, you won't have to worry over it anymore," a voice at her side teased a little too loudly.

Adair glanced around for Duane, then grinned guiltily at her friend Courtney. "The part about the dog was true, but I didn't tell him it only took ten minutes. I overslept 'cause I was up late studying my accounting," Adair whispered.

"Oh? How's the class going?" Courtney asked, sliding onto a nearby stool. The cuff of her silk blouse caught on a drawer edge. "Drat!" she exclaimed, examining it for snags.

Adair anxiously glanced around again. Courtney, with her long auburn hair and perfect skin, embodied Adair's idea of true beauty, but—she was so loud. "Terrible. It's so hard, and we cover the material so quickly. I don't know if I'm going to pass," Adair muttered.

"Why bother?" asked Courtney. "What about your ballet?"

"Madame Prochaska lets me practice with her pointe class several nights a week for half price now, but . . . that won't last forever. At least an accounting degree will help me earn enough to pay tuition—if I get it," Adair replied.

Read the rest of chapter one.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Unafraid by Francine Rivers

Unafraid cover

by Francine Rivers

Hardback: 213 pages
Publisher: Tyndale
First Released: 2001

Source: My personal library.

Back Cover Description:
Tamar. Rahab. Ruth. Bathsheba. Mary. Five women whom God chose. Each was faced with extraordinary--even scandalous--challenges. Each took great personal risk to fulfill her calling. Each was destined to play a key role in the lineage of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.

With her hallmark touches of brilliant prose and gripping characterizations, Francine Rivers tells these women's stories in a way you've never heard before. Remaining true to the facts given in Scripture, she brings these long-ago women to life and lets them speak to us in new and life-changing ways.

In Unafraid, when God spoke, Mary responded in simple obedience. This humble girl would bear the long-awaited Messiah. She couldn't know that raising the perfect son would break her heart and change the world forever.

Unafraid was an enjoyable, thought-provoking historical novella about Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. It sticks to the facts given in Scripture and then fills in the information not given in the Bible accounts with the author's ideas about what Mary and Joseph were like and so on. Readers might not agree with how she chose to 'fill in' the story or the personalities she gave Mary, Joseph, etc., but it's one possibility.

The pacing was good, and the characters were complex and interesting. It's obvious that Francine Rivers did a lot of historical research in order to get the historical details right, and the details brought the events alive in my imagination.

However, some of the minor historical details (which may not have been known or been easy to discover when she wrote this) weren't correct, like she has Mary unable to study the Torah with the boys when, in the first century, she actually would have been allowed. She also used a non-standard (which may confuse some readers) but well-researched view (apparently based on "The Star of Bethlehem" by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D.) of when Jesus was born and how old he was in relation to the coming of the wise men, their going to Egypt, etc.

There were also a couple continuity errors in some minor, non-critical details, like Mary sleeping on straw one moment and on hay in the next.

At the end of the book, the author included a nice six-part Bible study on the life of Mary. The story obviously had strong Christian content, but I wouldn't call it preachy except for a statement obviously aimed at Catholics at the very end. Actually, there were several things about how Mary was portrayed which Catholics might not approved of.

There was no bad language and no explicit sex. Overall, I'd recommend this novella as well-written, 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 from Chapter One
Mary sat alone beneath a mustard tree, her hands covering her face. Did all brides feel this way when the contracts were signed, gifts given, and futures sealed by the will of others? She trembled at the prospect of life with a man she hardly knew, other than as a man admired and befriended by her father upon his arrival in Nazareth three years ago.

"He's of our tribe, Anne," Joachim had announced after meeting Joseph at the synagogue. "And descended from the royal line of David."

"Is he married?" Her mother cast an eye toward Mary.

Thus had plans for her future been set in motion, for her father was quick to find out that Joseph was looking for a wife from the tribe of Judah, a descendant of David, a young woman of unquestioned virtue and faith. Mary knew their ambitions. Mary's older sister was married to a Nazarene, and her parents hoped to marry their younger daughter to another man of their own tribe. And of course he must be devout, kind, and able to provide a good home for her and any children she might give him. So they invited the carpenter to their home frequently, and Joseph was receptive to their hopes.

"Why did he not seek out a young woman in Bethlehem?" Mary had asked her mother once.

Read the rest of chapter one.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Louisa May Alcott by Harriet Reisen

Louisa May Alcott cover

Louisa May Alcott:
The Woman Behind Little Women
by Harriet Reisen

Hardback: 384 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt
First Released: 2009

Since Louisa May Alcott wrote many novels, including Little Women, I thought readers of this blog might be interested in my review of Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen which is posted on my Different Time, Different Place book blog.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Book of Jane by Anne Dayton, May Vanderbilt

The Book of Jane cover

The Book of Jane
by Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt

Trade Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Broadway Books
First Released: 2007

Author Website

Source: Bought from

Back Cover Description (somewhat modified):
Jane Williams is the happiest woman in New York. She has a dream job, a perfect Manhattan apartment, and a man she wants to marry. Her whole life is mapped out to the finest detail, and things just can't get any better. But in a New York minute, everything changes. After meeting with a hot Hollywood actor--spokesman of a charity her PR firm is working for--she wakes up to a day filled with disaster: a weird rash on her face, losing her boyfriend, job, and reputation, her best friend ignoring her, her parents upset with her, major storm damage to her apartment, and her dog needing emergency medical treatment. Jane struggles to hold herself together while her world falls apart. Has God forgotten her? Does He even exist?

Jane is forced to re-examine what she really wants and values after nearly everything she holds dear slips away. Filled with the sophistication and excitement of city life, but sprinkled with humor and strong values, this new novel from the Dayton/Vanderbilt team charms, inspires, and warms the heart.

The Book of Jane was described on the back cover as a "contemporary re-telling of the story of Job," but Jane had little in common with Job beyond having it all, then losing it all, then having things get better. (As in, when things started going wrong, she thought God had forgotten her, and, at the lowest point, she doubted God even existed. Her faith only came back once things started to get better. Job never doubted.) Once I realized that and accepted Jane's faith wasn't very deep, I found the story enjoyable and liked the underlying humor that prevented the story from getting depressing. I also really enjoyed her new boyfriend in that both characters helped each other grow and were better people together than apart.

I felt the pacing, especially during the first half, sometimes went too quickly. Jane hardly had time to react to her bad circumstances before things started looking up again. In a way, this made some of her reactions seem shallow--one minute she's feeling angry and betrayed by someone and in the next she's forgiving them simply because they asked. I felt the other characters were more realistic and complex than Jane due to how they handled their ongoing troubles.

This novel had a strong Christian theme, but the characters weren't preachy. Since Christian novels often don't have the following, I'll point out: The characters frequently drank alcohol though they didn't get drunk. Jane also had close physical contact with the men in her life during several circumstances I suspect would have led to temptation if not sex in real life.

There was no sex. There was a minor amount of fake bad language. The novel was written in present tense ("I say" instead of "I said"), but I usually didn't notice and it didn't bother me. Overall, it was an enjoyable, clean 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 from Chapter One
Most people don’t know that her real name is Liberty Enlightening the World. It’s a mouthful, so people usually just call her Lady Liberty or the Statue of Liberty, but I think you kind of lose something in the translation.

“Are you in charge here today?” I pull my gaze away from my favorite client and turn to see who’s talking. I see a young red–haired woman in perfect “political” navy blue. She’s the woman behind the mayor.

“Yes,” I say, extending my hand. “Jane Williams.”

As a senior publicist at Glassman & Co., one of the largest PR firms in New York, I get to work on some great accounts, but none of them give me the same thrill as representing one of the most famous statues in the world. I’m in charge of all of Libby’s photo ops. Anytime someone wants to print a photo or do a documentary about her, they have to come through me.

“Sophie Brown,” she says, and holds up a finger to me to tell me to wait, then presses her earpiece for a moment. I smile patiently, making a notation in my ever–ready planner. I’ve gotten very good at dealing with high–powered politicos and their tech toys.

She takes her hand down and gives her head a good shake. “Okay, that wasn’t for me. But I have a question for you.”

I look around. The red, white, and blue balloon columns look great, even after their boat ride over here. The stage is already set up right at the statue’s feet, just like the mayor ordered, and the sound guys are checking the system. It’s all going according to schedule. The mayor is championing a controversial minimum wage for New York City. Since many of the hourly workers in the city are recent immigrants, he has initiated a local minimum wage, set much higher than the national one, to protect them. But this change hasn’t exactly been popular with big business. And so, to insure that no one misses what’s at stake here, the mayor is holding a publicity event on Liberty Island today, in spite of my protests that June afternoons in New York are often plagued with torrential, unexpected rain.

“Sure,” I say to Sophie. “Shoot.”

Sophie looks around and then drops her voice. “Did someone tell you about the Banks Box?”

I lean in to hear her better. “I’m sorry?”

“The Banks Box,” she whispers. She flashes a quick smile to the staffers swarming around us, then drags me away from the thick of things. What on earth is going on?

“No one told you?” she asks. “But I heard you had it.”

“Had what?”

She holds her head for a moment like she has a splitting headache. “Mayor Banks is only five foot six.”

“Really? He looks taller on TV,” I say.

“Because of the Banks Box. I mean, he doesn’t know we call it that. I need someone to plant it at the podium so that the press can’t see it. He always stands on it. And I heard you had it.”

I stifle a laugh and shake my head.

“I have to find that box,” she says and starts running away. “What a day.”

Read the rest of chapter one.

Friday, December 18, 2009

What I Wore to Save the World by Maryrose Wood

What I Wore to Save the World cover

What I Wore to Save the World
by Maryrose Wood

Trade Paperback: 284 pages
Publisher: Berkley JAM Books
First Released: 2009

Source: Unrequested review copy from publisher.

Publisher's Website Book Description:
Senior year’s coming up fast and Morgan still has no clue about college, or a career—the whole rest of-her-life thing is basically a blank. Maybe it’s because she spent her junior year obsessing about Colin, the hot Irish guy she fell for last summer (that was right around the same time she discovered she’s a half- goddess from the days of Irish lore… you had to be there). She even saved Colin from a nasty enchantment, but he doesn’t know that. Colin doesn’t believe in magic, not even a little.

But then a mysterious message reunites her with Colin, who turns out to be caught up in the biggest faery-made disaster ever. We’re talking the end of reality—not just reality TV. To save the world, she’s going to have to tell Colin the truth about her half-goddess mojo. But if he doesn’t believe in magic, how will he ever believe in her?

What I Wore to Save the World was a cute teen fantasy/romance which will probably appeal most to teen girls. It was the third book in the series, but I didn't need to read the first two to understand what was going on (though perhaps those novels explained why the daughter of a mortal and a faery was a half-goddess instead of a half-faery).

The novel was well-written with a good level of detail, fast pacing, and fun characters that acted like real teens. I found the title a bit misleading since Morgan didn't usually make a big deal about what she was wearing (no more than most teens) and picking a "save the world" outfit was not part of the story.

The novel contained about every magical creature known to fiction: faeries, trolls, unicorns, dragons, elves, leprechauns, gnomes, mermaids, Santa, etc. None of the magical creatures were portrayed as inherently bad or good. Also, amazing things in nature, like photosynthesis, were credited to magic.

There was no sex. There was a fair amount of fake bad language, some British bad language, and a lot of swearing (mainly written out OMGs). It's not the type of book I'd normally read or give to teens to read, but I suspect the target audience will find the novel very enjoyable and engaging.

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 from Chapter One
"And so, in the immortal words of Polonius--"

"In the words of Shakespeare, he means," Sarah hissed in my ear. "Polonius was fictional! God, that ex-boyfriend of yours is such a dweeb--"

Raph stepped back from the mike and adjusted the tassel that hung over the edge of his mortarboard an eighth of an inch to the right. Apparently it had slipped from the perfect photo op-ready angle.

"'To thine own self be true," he intoned, nodding like he'd just thought of it.

Some goofball guys in the seats up front whooped with fake enthusiasm, but I couldn't see who they were. Sarah and I were seated in the back with the rest of the juniors, way out past where the white tents cast some badly needed shade over the graduating seniors and their guests.

The metal folding chairs were heating up in the sun. My cotton sundress was sticking to my legs, my legs were sticking to each other and my ass was sticking to the seat. If the school administration had actually buttered the chairs before the ceremony they could have served sunny-side up juniors for lunch. "Hot East Norwich Teens Actually Fry to Death," the headlines would read.

At least that would have put me out of my misery. Instead, I had to watch cool-as-a-cucumber Raphael, my onetime boyfriend, now senior class president and valedictorian, as he wrapped up the Speech of His Awesome Lifetime So Far.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

And the winner is...

It's time to pick a winner for the copy of The Heavens Before by Kacy Barnett-Gramckow. Using a random number generator and numbering the entrants in the order I received them, the winner is:


who entered via the comments. Congratulations! I'll be contacting you for your address.

For those who didn't win, you can always join in the fun by buying this book at your favorite bookstore!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Rook by Steven James

The Rook cover

The Rook
by Steven James

Paperback: 464 pages
Publisher: Onyx
First Released: 2009

Author Website
Buy from Publisher

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

My Description of the Book:
Special Agent Patrick Bowers is called in to track down an arsonist who is burning down empty houses around San Diego. As an environmental criminologist, he uses the time, place, and spatial factors of the crimes to track down the arsonist, but the "why" behind the fires remains a mystery.

Then his team stumbles onto a kidnapping message to the arsonist: if the arsonist doesn't follow the directions given to him, then his girlfriend will die. Now it's a race to find the kidnapped woman, determine what the arsonist was sent to do and why, and capture the criminals before anyone dies.

The Rook was a well-written, fast-paced forensic/detective thriller. This is the second Patrick Bowers novel, but you don't need to read the first book, The Pawn, to understand what's going on in this one.

The first novel had a very well-written "who-done-it" element, but this book was more a thriller with a good dose of romance. While still a bit dark, The Rook wasn't as gruesome as The Pawn. The crimes and crime scenes were chilling, though not particularly graphic (i.e. he gives you just enough to let your imagination fill in the details).

The details about the city, people, and investigation made the novel come alive in my imagination. The characters were complex, interesting, and had realistic emotional struggles. I especially liked the emotional struggles Bower's stepdaughter, Tessa, went through as fallout from what happened in the first novel. I also liked how the author portrayed the main women as smart, competent, respected, and not trying to be men.

The main detective characters struggled with the evil they saw every day in the criminals they're out to stop and in their own dark desire to hurt the bad guys--blow for blow--for the harm they've done to other people.

The main characters weren't Christian. One of the characters did call out to God when she was dying, but I think most readers would be comfortable with how the few religious aspects were handled.

There was no sex. There was a minimal amount of swearing and the cussing was in the "he cursed" style. Overall, I'd highly recommend this thoughtful, well-written thriller.

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 from Chapter One
Monday, February 16, 2009
San Diego, California
5:46 p.m.

I stared at the array of silverware surrounding my plate. "I can never remember which fork to use for the salad."

My stepdaughter, Tessa, pointed. "The outside one, Patrick. You start there and work your way in."

"You sure?"

She picked up my forks one at a time, a family of leather bracelets riding up and down her wrist, over the four rubber bands she wore beneath them. "Salad, main dish, then desert."

As she set down my desert fork, I realized how much we both stuck out at this restaurant. Everyone else wore a dinner jacket or an evening gown; we both had on T-shirts--mine, a faded athletic shirt from Marquette University, hers, a black, long-sleeve DeathNail 13 tee with the band's logo of an eyeball with a nail stuck through it. Beside the picture she wore a small pin: "Save Darfur. Now."

Tessa had chosen light pink lipstick tonight, but black fingernail polish and black eye shadow to match her raven black hair. I hadn't been too thrilled about the eyebrow ring and pierced nose she'd gotten last month without my permission, but I had to admit they were cute. And with her three-quarter-length black tights under a crinkly fabric skirt, she looked slightly Goth, a little edgy and dark, yet still girlish and innocent at seventeen.

"So, how do you know so much about table settings?" I asked.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Fairest by Gail Carson Levine

Fairest cover

by Gail Carson Levine

Hardback: 327 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
First Released: 2006

Author Website

Source: Checked out of library.

My Description of the Book:
Aza isn't beautiful. In fact, she looks so odd that people stare and make jokes. But in a kingdom where everyone sings for entertainment--or even to talk--Aza has the finest of voices. She also has the unique skill of throwing her voice so it sounds like a bowl or a statue or another person is singing.

She gets her chance to be recognized for her singing skill when a Duchess takes her to the castle as a companion when attending the king's wedding. He's marrying a commoner from another kingdom. The new queen's common birth will only be overlooked if she has a fine voice. Her voice is mediocre. But she has what Aza wants: a way to become beautiful. And Aza wants to be beautiful more than anything...

Fairest is a young adult fantasy (with some romance) set in the same world as Ella Enchanted. Adults will enjoy it as much as teenagers. The pacing and world-building were good. The characters were complex and enjoyable enough, but I never really bonded with any of them.

I liked the moral that changing yourself to fit in with what others think is desirable has its price. There was no sex or bad language. Overall, I'd rate it as enjoyable, 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 from Chapter One
I was born singing. Most babies cry. I sang an aria.

Or so I believe. I have no one to tell me the truth of it. I was abandoned when I was a month old, left at the Featherbed Inn in the Ayorthaian village of Amonta. It was January 12th of the year of Thunder Songs.

The wench who brought me to the inn paid for our chamber in advance and smuggled me in unseen. The next morning she smuggled herself out, leaving me behind.

I know what happened next. Father and Mother—the innkeeper and his wife—have retold the tale on the anniversary of my arrival since I grew old enough to understand the words.

“You were left in the Lark chamber,” Mother would say. “It was the right room for you, my songbird.”

“It was a chill morning,” Father would chime in. “Soon you were howling.” His shoulders would shake with laughter. “I thought you were Imilli.”

We would all smile—my younger sister Areida, my two older brothers, Mother and I. Imilli was our cat—kitten then.

Mother would burst in. “I knew straight off you were a babe. I knew you were a singer, too.” She’d sing, “It was all in your lovely howl.”

We’d laugh at that.

She’d shake her head. “No. Truly. It was lovely.”

My favorite part would come next. Mother would throw back her head and imitate my howl, a high pure note.

Ayortha is a kingdom of singers. In our family and in Amonta, my voice is the finest. Mother often said that if I tried, I could sing the sun down from the sky.

“I opened the chamber door,” Father would say, continuing the tale, “and there you were.”

I was in the center of the bed, crying and kicking the air.

“I picked you up,” Mother would say, “and you gurgled such a musical gurgle.”

My brother Ollo would break in with his favorite part. “Your bottom was wet.”

Areida would giggle.

Father and Mother would never mention that the blanket I had arrived in was velvet, edged with gold thread.

Read more of Chapter One.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Christmas Giveaway: The Heavens Before

The Heavens Before cover

The Heavens Before
by Kacy Barnett-Gramckow

Trade Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Moody Publishers
First Released: 2004

The Heavens Before by Kacy Barnett-Gramckow is one of my favorite novels, so I decided to give a copy away for Christmas! You can learn more about the novel by reading my review.

Due to shipping costs, this contest is for USA and Canada residents only.

To enter the giveaway:

1) you can twitter me saying "@genrereviewer Enter me to win THE HEAVENS BEFORE. Another novel by Kacy Barnett-Gramckow is _________." (You need to fill in the name of another book by this author. Hint: Look at this website.)


2) You can leave a comment to this post asking to be entered and giving the name of another book by this author. Please also leave some way for me to contact you--or follow this blog so you can see the winner announcement.

The winner will be randomly selected. I'll announce the winner at noon (Central Time) on December 16, 2009 on this blog. (Yes, I'm sorry, but that means the book probably won't arrive at the winner's house before Christmas.)

If you entered using twitter, I'll send you a @ or DM telling you of your win and asking where to send the book. If you entered using the blog comments, you'll need to leave your e-mail address or check back to see if you won so you can e-mail me your shipping address. If the winner hasn't responded with a mailing address within four days, I reserve the right to pick a new winner.

I hope everyone has fun with this...and Merry Christmas!

The Heavens Before by Kacy Barnett-Gramckow

The Heavens Before cover

The Heavens Before
by Kacy Barnett-Gramckow

Trade Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Moody Publishers
First Released: 2004

Source: My personal library.

Back Cover Description (slightly modified):
Chaos will erupt as the fountains of the earth open. Only eight humans will emerge alive...

Annah has not spoken a word in the years since she witnessed her father's brutal murder at the hands of her brother. The only reason her brother left her alive was because he thought her grief had driven her into mindlessness. Now a young woman, she is desperate to escape the cutthroat society that considers her mad. Then she has an unexpected encounter with a young man who is different from the rest. His name is Shem, son of Noakh.

The Heavens Before retells the enthralling biblical account of the Great Flood--as seen through the eyes of a courageous woman. Brought face to face with an ancient evil, Annah dares to believe in the Most High, the God who is nothing more than foolish legend to the people of her settlement. In a world of astonishing beauty and appalling violence, a world unknowingly speeding toward disaster, Annah's choice will have unforeseen consequences.

The Heavens Before is one of my favorite novels. It's a historical romance. One of the things I appreciate is that the story stayed true to the information given in the Bible. The author also clearly did her research as to what the pre-Flood society might be like, how the ark could hold all the animals, how they could feed all the animals, etc., to fill in what isn't told in the Bible account. All of this information was woven in as a backdrop for Annah's story.

I was quickly immersed into the world and the story (even now that I've read it several times). The world-building was excellent and brought the story alive in my imagination. The pacing was excellent, and the author built the tension nicely to keep me reading. The characters were complex and realistic. I cared about them, even the ones that weren't very nice to Annah.

Since the Flood happened before Christ's birth or before Jacob/Israel was born, only God ("the Most High") was referred to except for a brief mention of "the Promised One." Noah's family is shown as devout (with mention to them praying, thanking God, etc.), but it's presented as an underlying part of their daily life. As in, it wasn't preachy. I think readers who have a Jewish or Christian heritage would enjoy the novel.

There was no explicit sex. There was no bad language. Overall, I'd highly recommend this well-written, clean 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 from Chapter One
Annah sighed and settled herself into a crook of the feathery branches of the ancient Tree of Havah. A morning mist shrouded the fields about her, and the cool rose-pink air made her shiver, but these minor discomforts were worth the temporary sensations of freedom and peace. Her family and the other inhabitants of the settlement still slept, exhausted after their usual night of feasting, visiting, dancing, and quarreling. Annah did not join in these festivities; she had nothing to celebrate.

I do not belong with the others, she thought.

To soothe herself, she pulled a carved wooden shuttle from her woven-grass bag, slung on a branch nearby, and began to work on the torn edges of her veil. Patiently she handled the light threads, knotting pale strands she had beaten from the stalks of soaked, crushed wildflowers. Over countless mornings, the knotted threads had become an intricate gossamer scarf, then a shawl, a head covering, and finally an all-encompassing veil.

Aware of the shifting daylight and of her cramped, aching limbs, Annah gazed upward through the branches. The sun would be directly overhead soon. The sky was no longer the deep crimson of dawn, but a clear and bright pink, with a warm and welcoming sun.

Yerakh, her oldest brother, would wake soon. Annah shuddered, picturing his darkly bearded face, thinking, Let Yerakh be happy today.

She tied off one last knot, then tucked the small wooden shuttle into her bag. Shouldering her bag and veil, and smoothing her straight black hair, Annah clambered down from the tree.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Yankee Invasion by Ignacio Solares

Yankee Invasion cover

Yankee Invasion:
A Novel of Mexico City
by Ignacio Solares
by Timothy G. Compton

Trade Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Scarletta Press
First Released: 2009

Source: Review copy from publisher

Back Cover Description (slightly modified):
The War Americans Never Remember and Mexicans Can’t Forget

In 1847, Mexico loses half its territory to the United States. Abelardo is haunted by his experiences during the invasion, especially a violent and brutal act he committed the day the American flag was raised over the capital. Persuaded by his wife's belief that writing about his part is cathartic, the older Abelardo explores the events that happened to and around him during the Mexican-American War, including the loss of his fiancee Isabel, whose mother he secretly desired.

Yankee Invasion was set in Mexico City during 1847 and 1899. It was styled like a journal written by a Mexican, a 77-year-old Abelardo, about events that happened to him in 1847 leading up to the occupation of Mexico City and during the occupation. Interspersed in the story were accounts of his current interactions with his wife on the subject of his writings and her views on the war.

I really enjoyed the novel, and I checked three times to make sure it really was a novel rather than a memoir since the people and events in the book seemed realistic and like what a person really would write in a journal. The book felt well-researched, but I don't know enough about the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848 to know how accurate the details were.

The novel read like the (very interesting) ramblings of a grandpa to children who didn't live through the events and didn't know much about the history surrounding it. In the first part, especially, chunks of history were inserted into the narration as Abelardo considered things like which event might have been the true origin of the war. As the novel went on, there were fewer breaks in the action.

While the 25-year-old Abelardo in 1847 was very anti-American, the hindsight lent by the older Abelardo writing the account buffered this, showing each person to be villain or not based on his own actions rather than on his national identity. Also, the other characters expressed a variety of different viewpoints about America and the Church (see below), often opinions that Abelardo didn't agreed with. As long as American readers are willing to admit that America is not perfect and recognizes that people in a country being invaded might not be too happy with Americans, they won't feel affronted or attacked by the views in the novel.

I wouldn't call this a Christian novel even though God was mentioned fairly often. While Abelardo and most of the other characters were Catholic Christians, Abelardo had little nice to say about the Church (Catholic or Protestant). And when the characters do get philosophical, it tended toward the mystical rather than beliefs held in traditional Christianity.

There was a minor amount of bad language. There was some (unmarried) sex, but it wasn't graphically described. I'd recommend this novel to those who enjoy history and historical novels...or who enjoy novels about slightly insane men who manage to bring a lot of grief on themselves in their personal lives.

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 from Chapter One
The cathedral bells rang out like golden bubbles in the intense air on that morning of September 14, 1847, welcoming the Yankees who had just invaded our city. Since the Church had become such a cowardly bureaucracy, what else were we to expect? Christ seemed to have left it altogether. The indignation of the people exploded when a Yankee soldier started to raise his flag over the National Palace. Our hearts skipped a beat--the entire world skipped a beat. Enraged shouting and nasty insults mixed with muffled moans and sobs, although plenty of people chose to put their heads in the sand and not look at all. There it was in the clear morning air--what we had feared so much for months--the fluttering Stars and Stripes, symbol of the despicable power which intended to subjugate all nations and cultures of the nineteenth century.

Ironically, we inhabitants of the city were witnessing this fateful scene in the main plaza, where four years earlier Santa Anna had ordered a grand monument to our independence to be erected, of which only the base was now constructed.

However, the Yankee soldier who was raising the flag failed to complete his task, because a very accurate bullet saw his body collapse like a marionette whose strings have been cut, and the American flag barely at half mast, the multitude let out a prolonged howl and attacked the Yankee soldiers who were on both foot and horseback near the doors of the Palace. Their weapons couldn't protect them for long because the masses fell upon them in growing waves, however much they managed to shoot down some of us.

"Death to the Yankees!"

My entire being was filled with uncertainty. Fear overcame me and I started running to get out of the plaza, bent over, out of joint, my head in a fog, thinking as if in a trance that one of those bullets which I heard intermittently was destined for me, that I was running right toward it and could do nothing about it. Or that one of those glimmering knives or bayonets was waiting to put an end to my shameful actions. Many times I tripped, slipped, was pushed, fell, got up and caught my balance. I felt keenly ridiculous to flee that way, so clumsy and unable to stay on my feet.

One time when I fell I managed to see-inside a cloud of dust--a group of women scratching, biting, stripping and spitting on a Yankee soldier, who seemed in shock and writhed as if in convulsions.

Another soldier seemed already dead. A sticky white substance oozed between the curls of his blond hair, and his face--a brutal face which death had not yet altered--was covered in blood. A pair of poor wretched people stared at him in fascination, as if he were still warm prey. They nudged him with their feet again and again, a bit fearful he might come back to life and arise.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Butterfly Farm by Diane Noble

The Butterfly Farm cover

The Butterfly Farm
by Diane Noble

Trade Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Waterbrook Press
First Released: 2006

Source: Bought through

Back Cover Description:
Newly widowed Harriet MacIver has just taken on her first travel writing assignment–rating an adventure cruise in the Caribbean. Add a gaggle of college students on a mini semester-at-sea voyage, a rusting hulk of a ship that misses more ports than it makes, and two deaths by poisonous butterfly, and Harriet is off and running on a hair-raising adventure. And that’s before two coeds, Kate and Carly, go missing–Carly being her boss’s daughter.

Pulled into a dangerous web of bioethical intrigue, Harriet races against time. If the killer isn’t stopped, Kate and Carly will die–and that may only be the beginning of his plans for destruction.

With scant clues and fewer resources, Harriet must track down the college girls–and outmaneuver a murderer who is only part of an elaborate plot of medical madness. Travel writing certainly isn’t what Harriet thought it would be.

Spiked with suspense and bioethical intrigue, The Butterfly Farm invites you to solve a Caribbean puzzle with travel’s most delightful woman of mystery.

The Butterfly Farm is a Christian mystery novel about discovering the whereabouts of several kidnapped girls. For the reader, it's not so much figuring out who did it or how but in seeing how Harriet MacIver will figure it out. The clues were very obvious, and (this was a group read) all three of us readers had the "who done it" and why figured out long before Harriet did.

I found Harriet's personality and lack of cleverness rather frustrating, but this wasn't due to lack of good writing. The novel was well-written, with excellent world-building, interesting and complex characters, and very good pacing and suspense. We eagerly kept reading because we wanted to know how Harriet solved the mystery.

The "problem" was that Harriet was naive and very trusting of even those she suspected might be bad guys. I wanted to shake some sense into her (though I'm not sure how shaking helps) every time she told important, life-or-death secrets to people she suspected might be bad guys just because she saw some good in them and they offered to help. If she was a young woman, I'd be more willing to accept and even enjoy this character trait, but she's old enough to have adult kids and so I expected her to have a bit more discernment.

My other disappointment was the Christian content. It annoyed me that every time Harriet was about to do something illegal and/or very foolish (due to not thinking out the consequences), she'd pray to God to help her get away with it. This wasn't being presented as something one ought to do or even that it helped her, but I was frustrated that she never realized what she was doing. She also seemed to think she wasn't breaking the law simply because she did it to help other people.

Though the novel was not preachy, there were enough prayers and Christian talk that non-Christians probably wouldn't enjoy it.

There was no sex. There was a very minor amount of bad language. This mystery novel would probably appeal most to those who don't mind somewhat-bumbling amateur detectives and don't primarily read mysteries for the challenge of figuring out who-done-it. Overall, the novel was well-written, 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 from Prologue
At 11:38 a.m. on day three of the spring-break adventure cruise, Carly Lowe was ready to make her escape. She tramped down the gangway, a crowd of passengers growing around her like a giant ameba and adding to her annoyance. The rattletrap ship was too small, the stuffy lectures too boring, the same old group she hung with at Shepparton College, too predictable. Why should she spend another day with any of them, especially today, lurching along by aerial tram through a drizzling, bug-infested rain forest?

Drifting toward the back of the group, she turned her thoughts to Julian Mendez. The fiery-eyed Latino had asked her to meet him just before noon in front of Club Bolero. It was a date she intended to keep. He was totally sweet…and hot. Capital H hot. And he played guitar. She’d heard him play onboard and loved the sound.

Following Ricki Ross, the ship’s naturalist, the group trailed into the deserted main street of Parisima. Harriet MacIver walked beside Carly, but the older woman was paying no attention to her. She had whipped out her notepad and was writing down some bit of scientific trivia imparted by the man to her left, Dr. Jean Baptiste, the onboard guest lecturer on the scientific wonders of the human body. Bo-ring.

Ricki Ross walked backward, holding high an unfurled umbrella as she shouted last-minute instructions about splitting into two groups— one led by her ecologist husband, Gregory; the other by Ricki herself. The umbrella thing was weird because it wasn’t as if they were surrounded by hordes of other tourists. Parisima was practically deserted.

For several minutes Carly pretended to hang on Ricki’s every word, but as the group rounded a corner, she ducked behind a potted palm. She waited, peering through the fronds, as the last of the passengers straggled along. If Harriet or any of the others noticed she wasn’t with them, they would assume she was with the other group.

Read more from the prologue.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Ursula's Maiden Army by Philip Griffin

Ursula's Maiden Army cover

Ursula's Maiden Army
by Philip Griffin

Trade Paperback: 287 pages
Publisher: Beagle Bay Books
First Released: 2006

Source: Review copy from the publisher

Book Description from Publisher Website:
Britannic Princess Ursula hatches a bold scheme when the men of her country go to defend the crumbling Roman Empire—that an army of women can defend their island home! She and her friends Pinnosa, Brittola, Cordula, Martha and Saula, create an all-female force who successfully defend their homeland from the Picts, Hibernians and Saxons.

When the Britannic men don’t return from the Continent because they are embroiled in the disaster that becomes the fall of Rome, Ursula comes up with an even more audacious plan—the army of women shall go to Germania for a Grand Wedding of the Forces. Alas, her objective quickly goes awry when weather, politics and war keep the armies apart—and thrust Ursula and her 11,000 maiden army directly into battle with the Huns! Ursula’s Maiden Army will enthrall readers with it’s tale of adventure, bravery and the determination of its heroine.

Ursula’s Maiden Army is based on the legend (and scant truth) of Saint Ursula, the fifth century martyr of Cologne, Germany.

Ursula's Maiden Army had an interesting plot with plenty of excitement and action and a bit of romance. The pacing was fairly good. However, I felt like most of the characters and setting descriptions lacked depth. Except for Pinnosa, Ursula, and Brittola, who had some unique personality traits, the characters tended to blend together due to their similarity.

While some things were described in detail, often the author used such general descriptive words that I couldn't easily visualize the object or setting. For example, the characters look "upon the villa's entrance" and I'm thinking "is he referring to a door? a gate? an arch?" The author also didn't seem very familiar with horses, ships, individual fighting, and the everyday details of armies. Some of these details weren't realistic (like women who'd never been on a galley being instant experts at working the oars in tandem and completely running the ship).

The characters followed Christianity mixed with Roman god worship (which was one of the nice tensions in the story). While this wasn't marketed as a Christian book, they did refer to God and sing praise songs to God. There was a character who tended to get preachy. The other characters considered her their moral compass, but, because she lacked depth, she sometimes came across to me as judgmental and a hypocrite.

There was no explicit sex. There was a minimal amount of British bad language. There was a minimal amount of graphic gore. Overall, I'd rate this novel as interesting, fairly 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 from Chapter One
The relentless crunch, crunch, crunch of the soldiers' feet as they marched through the city and past the Palace was so strong it shook the small, traditional figurines of the house gods--the lares--in the corner of the ladies' chamber on the upper floor. One of the old, domestic deities toppled over and leaned awkwardly against the side of the shrine. The thunderous marching, shrill horns, blaring trumpets, rata-tat-tat of drums and roar of the crowd forced the young women in the room to shout at the tops of their voices in order to be heard.

Martha and Saula, who were right beside the balcony, had to cup their hands to each other's ears and bellow to be heard. They were trying to see out without being spotted by the people below. Being lean and willowy with long, loose straight hair, they looked like a pair of long-necked herons peering out of reeds.

Cordula, her brown locks pulled back and braided into a waist-length ponytail, stood alone on the other side of the window. She knew she wouldn't be the first to see the highlight of the parade--the approach of the Commanders. But it gave her a clear view of the Londinium Road as it traversed the small rise outside the city gate. That way, she would be the first to see her darling Morgan on his black horse, Hermes, should they appear.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Author Quirks: Joan Schweighardt

Next up is Joan Schweighardt, author of Gudrun's Tapestry. I asked her:

What's a quirky or little-known fact about yourself, your writing, and/or one of your novels? (For example, you can tell us about a non-standard pet you have, an unusual way you do your writing, a strange real life incident that inspired a scene in one of your novels, or so on.)

Joan Schweighardt's answer:

I make my living as a freelance editor and book publicist, but I have also ghostwritten several books for other people. Some of these are business books but others are memoirs and even a novel. The novel was a serious action adventure story that I never would have thought up on my own. My name is not on any of these ghostwritten books, as they were not my stories, and as former publisher and happily-published novelist myself, I would never want to diminish anyone's publishing experience in any way. But I must confess that I love ghostwriting! It's really fun!

Thank you, Ms. Schweighardt, for sharing this fun fact about yourself.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Ship Possessed by Alton Gansky

A Ship Possessed cover

A Ship Possessed
by Alton Gansky

Trade Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Zondervan
First Released: 1999

Source: Bought at library sale

Back Cover Description (slightly modified):
It Arrived 50 Years Late and Without Its Crew--But It Didn't Arrive Alone

The USS Triggerfish--an American World War II submarine--has come home over fifty years after she was presumed lost in the Atlantic. Now her dark gray hulk lies embedded in the sand of a San Diego beach, her conning tower barely above the breaking surf. The submarine is in the wrong ocean, her crew is missing...and her half-century absence is a mystery that's about to deepen.

For the Triggerfish has returned, but she has not returned alone. Something is inside her--something unexpected and terrible. To J.D. Stanton, retired Navy captain and historian, falls the task of solving the mystery surrounding a ship possessed. What he is about to encounter will challenge his training, his wits, and his faith.

Complicating his mission is the leader of a neo-Nazi group who is obsessed with obtaining an artifact stolen from the Nazi regime that he thinks may be on the Triggerfish. And poised in the middle is a young woman, a lieutenant who must contend with invisible forces she never knew existed.

A Ship Possessed is a Christian thriller involving the paranormal (mainly demons/fallen angels) and modern terrorists. The novel was fast-paced and kept the tension high. Parts were downright creepy and one section was heart-breaking. I came to care about the characters even though they didn't have a lot of depth (as in, the nosy, arrogant reporter was always nosy and arrogant, etc.).

The story switched back and forth between the modern section and the events leading up to the 1943 disappearance of the Triggerfish. The two story lines were easy to follow. The world-building was excellent; details about the navy and WWI submarine warfare were woven into the story without slowing the pace.

There were a lot of point-of-view characters all introduced with full backgrounds. That did serve to build their characters, but I began to get these details mixed up which concerned me since I wasn't sure how important it was to remember these details correctly. It wasn't important. Despite the subtitle, this was a thriller not a mystery.

There wasn't much mention of God until the second half of the novel. Though the reader is briefly lectured on someone's pet theory (see below), it's more about physics than the Bible. However, profession of faith in Christ was critical to the story so most non-Christians probably wouldn't care for it.

I had minor problems with some theological issues brought up in the story. I don't think the Bible supports the idea that demons usually reside in another dimension like that described in the story. I also would have been more convinced by the ending if Stanton had been even a slightly more committed Christian throughout the novel. However, I still enjoyed the story.

The rare bad language was of the "he cursed" style. There was no sex. Overall, I'd recommend this novel as well-written and suspenseful 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 from Chapter One
A hushed voice: "Stanton has to be happy with this. After slicing his drive into the rough, then two stroking onto the green, he now lacks a fifteen-foot putt to be one over par. Of course, fifteen feet is a long way, especially over mixed grass with a diverse cross grain that..."

"Do you mind?" J.D. Stanton snapped. "I'm trying to play a little golf here."

Jim Walsh cleared his throat and grinned sheepishly. "Sorry, just trying to create a little atmosphere."

"I know what you're trying to do. You're a stroke behind. If I miss this putt we'll be even and you'll have your first and best chance of beating me."

"I...I'm hurt," Walsh said, his voice oozing with insincerity.

"Sure you are." Stanton lowered his head, eyed the cup, then the ball. Slowly he drew back the putter and gently swung it forward. The club head made a soft "clack" as it struck the ball. Starting off straight, the ball began a slow curve toward the hole. A moment later it dropped in.

"You are the luckiest man in the world, Captain Stanton," Walsh said loudly. "That ball should have stopped short by two feet, but no, it just kept rolling."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Stranger to Command by Sherwood Smith

Stranger to Command cover

Stranger to Command
by Sherwood Smith

Hardback: 480 pages
Publisher: Norilana Books
First Released: 2008

Author Website

Source: Bought through Books-A-Million

Back Cover Description:
In this much-anticipated prequel to Crown Duel, Vidanric Renselaeus, fifteen-year-old Marquis of Shevraeth, finds himself sent across the continent to a military academy in Marloven Hess, a kingdom known for its violent history.

Vidanric is used to civilized life in pleasant Remalna—except that the evidence is increasingly clear that the civilization is only on the surface. Too many young, smart heirs have suffered accidents of late, and the evidence is beginning to point to the king, Galdran, who has grandiose plans for expansion.

In Marloven Hess, no one can pronounce his real names, and they assume his title is his name. He becomes Shevraeth—discovering that there are no marquises or dukes or barons in this kingdom, and no one has the slightest interest in Remalna. Or in foreigners. Until very recently, the academy was closed to outsiders. But the king—also fifteen, and recently come to his throne after a nasty civil war—wants him there.

Learning about command turns out to be very different than Shevraeth had assumed, and the Marlovens, who are going through political and social change at all levels, are not at all what he expected. He makes friends as well as enemies; experiences terror and laughter as well as challenges on the field and off.

He discovers friendship, loyalty—and love.

All the while greater events in the world are moving inexorably toward conflagration, drawing the smartest of the young people into key positions—whether they want it or not. They’re going to have to be ready.

Stranger to Command is the prequel to Crown Duel and, in a way, a sequel to Senrid. You don't need to have read either of these books to understand and enjoy Stranger to Command though some of the references will (obviously) have more meaning if you've read these books. I'd actually recommend reading Crown Duel before Stranger to Command.

The world-building was excellent. The clash of unique cultures--Remalna manners against Marloven Hess customs--was fun. A few details made me raise an eyebrow, like Vidanric plunging his saber into the ground almost to the hilt to clean it (not the best way to clean blood from a blade even if he somehow physically managed the feat). However, things like this only happened few times and the questionable details weren't important to the story.

The characters were engaging and realistic--even Vidanric's enemies. I cared about what happened to them. The pacing and suspense were excellent, compelling me to read on to find out how the latest conflict or concern would be resolved. My one complaint is that we were only given a bare hint of what happened to Vidanric's Marloven Hess friends and charges after he returns home. He left them on the brink of war. I expect that's going to be another (not yet released) book, but I care enough about them that I want to know now. ;)

There was a romance and some kissing in the book, but no sex. Any bad language was done with made-up phrases. Overall, I'd highly recommend this well-written, clean novel to both teens and adults.

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 from Chapter One
"You're a new one."

The 'new one'--a boy of fifteen--paused just inside the courtyard, mentally translating the words.

"Yes, I am," Vidanric Renselaeus said carefully in the language he'd been studying so hard since winter.

For a moment the Remalnan boy and Marloven man regarded one another. The Marloven had short fair hair, square cut in back, his clothing a fitted gray tunic over loose riding trousers that were tucked into high blackweave riding boots, belted at the waist with plain blackweave. Everyone Vidanric had seen so far in this enormous castle built of honey-colored stone appeared to be dressed in gray. They all wore blackweave riding boots, their hair--mostly variations of light colors--square-cut in back. They looked bewilderingly alike.

To the Marloven, on duty to sort out the academy boys, the newcomer was obviously a foreigner. He was weedy, as fifteen-year-olds typically are. Under his wide-brimmed riding hat his long pale hair was tied back with a ribbon. He was dressed in foreign clothes that looked well made but fussy to the Marloven eye: over a fine cambric shirt he wore a long split-tailed riding jacket of brown linen, trousers to match, lace edges at cuffs and neck. You heard about people wearing lace, but this was the first time he'd actually seen it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

And the winner is...

It's time to pick a winner for the copy of White Picket Fences by Susan Meissner. Using a random number generator and numbering the entrants in the order I received them, the winner is:

Winning Readings (Jane)

who entered via the comments. Congratulations! I'll be contacting you for your address.

For those who didn't win, you can always join in the fun by buying a copy of this book at your favorite bookstore.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Stealing with Style by Emyl Jenkins

Stealing with Style cover

Stealing with Style
by Emyl Jenkins

Hardback: 338 pages
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
First Released: 2005

Author Website
Author on Twitter

Source: Bought from

Back Cover Description:
Sterling Glass has built a nice appraisal business in her small Virginia town. She's sought after to examine antiques, research their history, present her clients with approximate values, and help them distinguish good antiques from not so good ones. And when family skeletons are unearthed among the heirlooms, she is the soul of discretion. It's a world she navigates with ease.

But that's before she's called in to examine a diamond brooch found tucked inside an oven mitt over at the Salvation Army thrift store. And before the appraisal of an extremely modest estate turns up a tea urn—hidden inside a basket—worth at least fifty grand.

Things aren't adding up, and Sterling, never one to let go of loose ends, starts asking questions. It's not long before she uncovers an intricate plot involving a slew of antique pieces, the oldest families in Leemont, some sophisticated scammers, crooked antiques dealers, and shifty people at the best New York auction houses. Add to that one elderly man who's just trying to preserve his family's treasured collection of bronze and ivory Art Deco sculptures, and suddenly Sterling finds herself ensnared in a mystery laced with greed, deceit, and danger.

Stealing with Style, the first in the Sterling Glass series, introduces a writer of great wit who has a grand sense of the mystery hidden in our most treasured possessions.

Stealing with Style is a "who-stole-it" mystery. It's not really a "puzzle it out before the heroine" mystery since the heroine has more knowledge about antiques (which is why she's involved) than the reader probably does. It's only because of her knowledge that anyone realizes what's wrong. But the mystery was fascinating, convincing, and complex. And I learned a lot about antiques.

The characters were enjoyable and fairly complex. The details about the antiques business were nicely woven into the story and made the story feel realistic.

My only problem was that the author sometimes assumed that the reader knew why an antiques appraiser like Sterling had been consulted--what the insurance agent, for example, wanted her to do. Often, this became clear as Sterling did the job, but I still would have enjoyed a stronger hint from the beginning about why she was called in rather than being left to puzzle it out. And I never did figure out what the insurance agent had expected her to do versus what she ended up doing. This didn't really matter to understanding the story, but I was interested in knowing nonetheless.

There was a very minor amount of bad language. There was no sex. Overall, I'd recommend this novel as well-written, 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 from Chapter One
I've made a lot of mistakes along the way because I've spoken first and thought second. Like when I agreed to write a column on antiques for a newspaper syndicate. Deadlines, questions almost impossible to answer in just a few words, plus all those letters about things that are no more than a few years old. Seems most people think anything that belonged to their granny is an antique. Not so. Any lawyer will tell you an object must be at least a hundred years old to be an "antique," and connoisseurs insist that true antiques predate the 1820s or 1840s when new machines and tools eliminated a lot of hand work. Yes, I should have thought first and spoke second.

But probably my biggest mistake was the time I said, purely matter-of-factly, "Invite me over to see your things one day and after about thirty seconds I'll know all about you."

I wasn't bragging or trying to be smart. Honest. I was just making casual cocktail-party conversation. But from the horrified look I got from the well-heeled couple I had hoped would be my clients, I knew that not only had I said the wrong thing, I'd scared them half to death. Every family has more than its share of skeletons, if not in their closets, then in their grandmother's trunks--skeletons they want to stay put. But, you see, I'm an appraiser. People not only invite me into their homes to look around, they pay me to tell them all about their things. Along the way, I can't help but uncover their deepest secrets.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Gudrun's Tapestry by Joan Schweighardt

Gudrun's Tapestry cover

Gudrun's Tapestry
by Joan Schweighardt

Hardback: 271 pages
Publisher: Beagle Bay Books
First Released: 2003

Source: Review copy from the publisher

Back Cover Description:
Gudrun’s Tapestry is a powerful, enchanting and vivid tale of a lone woman’s quest to face the Fifth century’s greatest terror, Attila the Hun. The only thing she bears is a cursed sword and a belief that she must act to preserve her people, the Burgundians. Along the way Gudrun unexpectedly discovers the capacity to love a man who may be a mortal enemy. She must embark on an inner journey to cope with adversity in the outer world. Grounded in history and loosely based on the Poetic Edda, Gudrun’s Tapestry takes the reader on a quest of self-discovery in a tale of magic and courage that resonates through the centuries to touch the reader’s heart and soul.

Author's Note: Gudrun's Tapestry is based on the "Sigurth" and "Guthrun" lays, as they appear in the Poetic Edda, and on the history of the Germanic and Hun tribes during the reign of Attila the Hun. While there were many instances where the legend and the history were close enough to be combined, where they were not, I took the liberty of creating the links that I imagined.

Gudrun's Tapestry was an enjoyable and interesting historical fiction with a bit of legend mixed in. The historical details were nicely woven into the story to bring the world alive in my imagination. The characters were interesting and seemed inclined to make enough bad decisions (with the help of a cursed sword) so as to make their a Hamlet-tragic sort of way.

The story started off with Gudrun arriving at the City of Attila with the intent of gifting him with a cursed sword as a way to avenge his army's slaughter of her tribe many years before. But once she finally gets it to him, the sword seems to bring him luck instead, and, as long as she's a prisoner, her only hope to hurry up Attila's death is to turn his loyal second-in-command into her ally.

Periodically, the story switched back to the events that led to her bring the cursed sword to Attila. This section told of her love for Sigurd, a man intent on slaying a dragon to get gold, the cursed sword, and everlasting fame, and of another woman who coveted his love. I had no problem keeping track of the events in the two sections and enjoyed the greater action provided by the "leading up to Attila" portion of the story.

Which brings us to the novel's slower-the-typical pacing. It's partly due to Gudrun being stuck in a hut as a prisoner and forbidden to speak with anyone but Attila's second-in-command for a significant portion of the book. This part wasn't boring--there was plenty of verbal sparing and news of Attila's victories and such. There simply wasn't a lot of physical action. The action picked up as the story moved along, though, and the story had a satisfying ending.

There was no explicit sex and the only illicit sex (not by Gudrun) brought realistic consequences. There was no bad language. I'd recommend this well-written, clean novel to readers who enjoy historical fiction and/or who want to know a bit more about Attila the Hun.

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 from Chapter One
I fell to my knees at the stream, so eager to drink that I did not think to offer a prayer until afterward, when I was satisfied and my flask was full. I was exhausted. My skin was parched and I was filthy; but according to the map my brothers had given me, I was very near my destination. I left on foot, pulling my tired horse behind me.

I had not had a full night's rest since the terrain had changed. The land was flat here. There were no caves or rocky ledges where I could shelter myself. The forest, so sacred to my people, had long since been replaced by endless grasslands. As I trudged through them, I felt that I had left more than my loved ones behind.

When the sky darkened, I used the single live coal I carried from the previous night's fire to light my torch. I was sure that the light could be seen from some distance. I expected at every moment to hear the thunder of hooves beating on the arid earth. But on and on I walked, seeing no sight other than my own shadow in the gleam of the torch light and hearing no sound by that of my horse plodding along beside me.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Author Quirks: Susan Meissner

Next up is Susan Meissner, author of White Picket Fences. I asked her:

What's a quirky or little-known fact about yourself, your writing, and/or one of your novels? (For example, you can tell us about a non-standard pet you have, an unusual way you do your writing, a strange real life incident that inspired a scene in one of your novels, or so on.)

Susan Meissner's answer:

Sometimes I will see a person writing madly in a cozy corner at Panera Bread or Starbucks. A warm cuppa rests at an elbow and his or her gaze rests easily, comfortably on their laptop screen. All around them is noise and music and clinking dishes and one or more unhappy toddlers in a stroller, a guy on his Bluetooth talking deals just over their shoulder, and a couple teens giggling about the boys they like. And this writer just keeps writing as if the chaos around them is the fuel for their creativity and yet they aren’t even aware of it.

I look at those people and I envy them. I (insert grumpy face) need silence when I write. No noise or music of any kind, not even an ethereal Enya track floating around me. I need to be in my writing room with either coffee (the morning medication) or a Diet Coke with Lime (the afternoon addiction) and everything around me must be quiet. If I have to write with noise around me, and sometimes when I am on a deadline that happens, I become very Scroogey. I just want to mute the whole world. Not a pretty picture.

Thank you, Ms. Meissner, for sharing this quirky story about your writing habits.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Giveaway: White Picket Fences

White Picket Fences cover

White Picket Fences
by Susan Meissner

Trade Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press
First Released: 2009

I really enjoyed this novel, so I've agreed to hold a giveaway for one copy of White Picket Fences by Susan Meissner, which was provided by the publisher. You can learn more about the novel by reading my review.

Due to shipping costs, this contest is for USA and Canada residents only.

To enter the giveaway:

1) you can twitter me saying "@genrereviewer Enter me to win WHITE PICKET FENCES. Another novel by Susan Meissner is _________." (You need to fill in the name of another book by this author. Hint: Look at her website.)


2) You can leave a comment to this post asking to be entered and giving the name of another book by this author.

The winner will be randomly selected. I'll announce the winner at noon (Central Time) on November 18, 2009 on this blog. If you entered using twitter, I'll send you a @ or DM telling you of your win and asking where to send the book. If you entered using the blog comments, you'll need to leave your e-mail address or check back to see if you won so you can e-mail me your shipping address. If the winner hasn't responded with a mailing address within four days, I reserve the right to pick a new winner.

I hope everyone has fun with this!

White Picket Fences by Susan Meissner

White Picket Fences cover

White Picket Fences
by Susan Meissner

Trade Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press
First Released: 2009

Author Website

Source: Review copy from publisher.

Back Cover Description (heavily modified):
The Janviers appear to have the ideal life--a beautiful home, great jobs, two wonderful kids. But even if you live behind a white picket fence, you have to deal with the fallout of living in a broken world.

When her black sheep brother disappears, Amanda Janvier eagerly takes in her sixteen year-old niece Tally. The girl is practically an orphan: motherless, and living with a father who raises Tally wherever he lands--in a Buick, a pizza joint, a horse farm--and regularly takes off on wild schemes. Amanda envisions that she, her husband Neil, and their two teenagers can offer the girl stability and a shot at a “normal” life. But their own storybook lives are about to crumble.

Seventeen-year-old Chase Janvier hasn’t seen his cousin in years, but Tally and Chase bond as they interview two Holocaust survivors for a sociology project. Echoes from this past resonate in Chase and slowly bring back repressed memories from a house fire he survived as a child.

As her son begins to remember, Amanda wants to confront the truth no matter what it is. Her husband desperately wants to avoid delving into the one time he wasn't there to protect his son. And Chase suspects he was responsible for another child's death in that fire, but he has no one to talk to except Tally. Will the fire of the past tear the family apart or bring about a renewal in their lives?

White Picket Fences had realistic characters struggling in realistic ways with pain from their past. The author had a lovely way of showing nuances of the internal family relationships through their body language and actions. I came to care about all of the characters.

The author often described objects in an slightly anthropomorphic way (which I sometimes thought sounded a bit odd), but the vivid descriptions were clear and brought the world alive. The pacing was slower than normal, but I never lost interest in what was going on.

Though God was briefly mentioned in several scenes, he didn't play much of a role in the lives of anyone in the family. The novel was not preachy.

There was one "he cursed" but no other bad language. There was no sex. Overall, I'd recommend this book as well-written, clean reading with an astute portrayal of the complexity of human relationships.

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 from Chapter One
The chilled air inside the Tucson funeral chapel suppressed the punishing heat outside. Amanda shivered as she took a seat on the cool metal chair. She leaned over and whispered to her husband in the chair next to her. “A sweater in Arizona in September?”

He nodded casually, apparently unfazed by the abrupt temperature change from scorching to polar. Neil had worn a suit, though she told him she didn’t think he had to, and she envied his long sleeves. He quietly cleared his throat, opened the program he’d been handed when they walked in, and began to read the obituary of the woman whose casket sat several feet away–the woman neither of them had ever met.

A generous waft of newly refrigerated air spilled from the vent above her head, and Amanda instinctively turned to her niece on her other side. The teenager’s arms were bare under a flamingo-hued halter dress. Amanda wondered if the foster mother had given Tally any advice at all on what she might want to wear to her grandmother’s funeral. Amanda again turned to her husband.

“I think we should’ve come yesterday.” Her voice was barely above a whisper.

Neil looked up from the program. “It wouldn’t have changed anything,” he replied gently. “Besides, we got here as quick as we could. It’s not your fault you didn’t know she was here. Your brother should’ve told you.”

Neil reached for her hand and gave it a squeeze. Amanda looked down and noticed a thin line of wood stain under one of his fingernails, evidence that he had cleaned up from his latest woodworking project in a hurry. Neil turned back to the program, and Amanda looked over at her niece.

“You doing okay?” She hesitated, then placed an arm around Tally’s shoulders.

The girl flinched and glanced at Amanda’s arm before turning back to face the casket. The sixteen-year-old shrugged. “I didn’t really know my grandma.” The words were laced with casual regret, as if she knew people were supposed to know their grandparents, but what could she do about that now? Amanda intuitively pulled Tally closer. The girl stiffened at first and then relaxed, reminding Amanda that Tally barely knew her either.

Read the rest of chapter one.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Arabella by Georgette Heyer

Arabella cover

by Georgette Heyer

Trade Paperback: 314 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
First Released: 1949, 2009

Source: Review copy from publisher

Book Description from Publisher Website:
Georgette Heyer had a handful of unforgettable heroines, of which Arabella is one of the most engaging.

Daughter of a modest country clergyman, Arabella Tallant is on her way to London when her carriage breaks down outside the hunting lodge of the wealthy Mr. Robert Beaumaris. Her pride stung when she overhears a remark of her host's, Arabella pretends to be an heiress, a pretense that deeply amuses the jaded Beau. To counter her white lie, Beaumaris launches her into high society and thereby subjects her to all kinds of fortune hunters and other embarrassments.

When compassionate Arabella rescues such unfortunate creatures as a mistreated chimney sweep and a mixed-breed mongrel, she foists them upon Beaumaris, who finds he rather enjoys the role of rescuer and is soon given the opportunity to prove his worth in the person of Arabella's impetuous young brother...

Arabella is an enjoyable Regency romance. The book had similarities to Frederica: a charming heroine whose open innocence induces a jaded rich and popular fellow to think of others beyond himself. I liked Frederica a little better, but I certainly enjoyed Arabella, too.

The characters were engaging. Their antics were amusing, and the romance was delightful and built slowly. The historical information was interesting and skillfully woven into the action of the story. The pacing was excellent.

A large number of characters were introduced at the beginning, but their relationships to each other were clear and I was able to quickly sort them all out. Also, there were a small number of French words used. I don't know French, but I had no trouble following what was going on.

There was a very minor amount of swearing. There was no sex. Overall, I'd recommend this novel as well-written, 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 from Chapter One
The schoolroom in the parsonage at Heythram was not a large apartment, but on a bleak January day, in a household where the consumption of coals was a consideration, this was not felt by its occupants to be a disadvantage. Quite a modest fire in the high, barred grate made it unnecessary for all but one of the four young ladies present to huddle shawls round their shoulders. But Elizabeth, the youngest of the Reverend Henry Tallant's handsome daughters, was suffering from the ear-ache, and, besides stuffing a roasted onion into the afflicted orifice, had swathed her head and neck in an old Cashmere shawl. She lay curled up on an aged sofa, with her head on a worn red cushion, and from time to time uttered a long-suffering sigh, to which none of her sisters paid any heed. Betsy was known to be sickly. It was thought that the climate of Yorkshire did not agree with her constitution, and since she spent the greater part of the winter suffering from a variety of minor ills her delicacy was regarded by all but her Mama as a commonplace.

There were abundant signs, littered over the table in the centre of the room, that the young ladies had retired to this cosy, shabby apartment to hem shirts, but only one of them, the eldest, was thus engaged. In a chair on one side of the fireplace, Miss Margaret Tallent, a buxom fifteen-year-old, was devouring the serial story in a bound volume of The Ladies' Monthly Museum, with her fingers stuffed in her ears, and seated opposite to Miss Arabella, her stitchery lying neglected on the table before her, sat Miss Sophia, reading aloud from another volume of this instructive periodical.