Friday, July 31, 2009

Clean Reading Recommendations

I obviously can't read every book ever published, so I've started asking other people if they've read any "clean" books recently. ("Clean" meaning no to minimal cussing and no explicit sex scenes.)

This week, I'm featuring romantic comedy books written by Trisha Ashley. When I asked on Twitter for clean reading recommendations, she said, "There is no graphic sex in any of my novels - I close the door and tiptoe away..."

(I included her descriptions of the books.)

Wedding Tiers. Josie's leading an idyllic life in the Lancashire countryside, being self-sufficient in the garden and making weird and wonderful wedding cakes, until her Eden turns into a case of Paradise Lost.

A Winter's Tale. When Sophy inherits a dilapidated old house complete with ghostly ancestor, a surly head gardener hell-bent on completing the sixteenth-century knot garden, restoration seems to be the least of her worries...

Happy Endings. Giddy exploits of sex'n'gardening novelist Tina Devino. (Tina is a bit naughty.)

Sowing Secrets (in hardback as Generous Gardener). A War of the Roses ensues when a TV gardener arrives in a Welsh village.

Sweet Nothings. A cheating husband gets his just desserts.

Singled Out. Horror writer Cass Leigh faces up to her demons.

Every Woman for Herself. Their father set out to recreate the Bronte family in the wilds of West Yorkshire but even the best laid plans can go awry.

The Urge to Jump. Sappho's never thought of having a baby until her friends suggest she might have left it a little late, but while she bossily sets about sorting out everyone else's problems, fate might just be sneaking up on her.

Good Husband Material. Her first love was all wrong, so why doesn't marriage to Mr Right make her happy?

Thank you, Trisha Ashley, for taking the time to send me this information.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

And the Winner is...

It's time to pick a winner for the ARC of "Menu for Romance" by Kaye Dacus. Using a random number generator and numbering the entrants in the order I received them, the winner is:


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.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Author Quirks: Preetham Grandhi

Next up is Preetham Grandhi, author of A Circle of Souls. I asked him:

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.)

Preetham Grandhi's answer:

Writing A Circle of Souls was one of the most challenging things I have ever done, and I thought going to medical school was hard. It took me four and a half years to write. I actually wrote the first draft in 1 and half years; it took me the rest of the time to revise over 15 times. Writing the book was hard, but promoting the book is much harder.

This kind of book is what you call fictional realism. Of course, only I know what is fact and what is fiction. Here are some facts which you will be able to identify with after reading the book. I grew in Bangalore on a street that was called "Elephant rock road" that had, at one end, a large rock with an elephant painted on it. That's where the idea for elephant rock in the book came from. My sister in India became one of the characters in the book: her name is Sheetal. Many of the ER experiences in dealing with the health care system described in the book are mine that occurred during my fellowship.

I think, in the end, we are all accountable for our actions, and that was the message I wanted to pass to the reader. Our paths cross for a reason. The only thing is we don't know, where, when and how.

Thank you, Mr. Grandhi, for telling us about writing your book.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Circle of Souls by Preetham Grandhi

A Circle of Souls

A Circle of Souls
by Preetham Grandhi

Trade Paperback: 341 pages
Publisher: Sweetwater Books
First Released: 2009

Author Website

Source: ARC from the author

Back Cover Description:
The sleepy town of Newbury, Connecticut, is shocked when a little girl is found brutally murdered. The town's top detective, perplexed by a complete lack of leads, calls in FBI agent Leia Bines, an expert in cases involving children.

Meanwhile, Dr. Peter Gram, a psychiatrist at Newbury's hospital, searches desperately for the cause of seven-year-old Naya Hastings devastating nightmares. Afraid that she might hurt herself in the midst of a torturous episode, Naya's parents have turned to the bright young doctor for help.

The situations confronting Leia and Peter converge when Naya begins drawing chilling images of murder after being bombarded by the disturbing images in her dreams. Lacking any other clues, Leia explores the information found in Naya's crude drawings which lead her closer to the killer...and panic him into further action.

A Circle of Souls is a suspenseful mystery with a dose of paranormal and a pinch of romance. The main paranormal element is Naya's being able to speak with the murdered girl while she's sleeping.

The book was fast-paced and had realistic characters. The world-building was very good. The details relating to the psychiatrist were very good and immersed the reader into his world. However, I questioned a few of the police procedural parts (like how quickly the missing person status was put into affect, the use of an amber alert, and how many people tramped through the crime scene before forensics was brought in).

This was a very multi-cultural book: Peter is white, Naya is Indian, Leia is half-Mexican half-white, another character is British, and yet another is a black Jamaican.

There were also a variety of belief systems. The most talked about were the Hindu religion (specifically regarding reincarnation and destiny) and Jamaican folklore. The belief systems were more lived than talked about, and the only parts that were explained were those related to the case. By the end, a non-Hindu main character does come to believe he might have a reincarnated soul.

I almost would have liked more of an explanation of the Hindu elements of the book because I was confused by how Naya could talk to the soul of a dead girl if, as it's later implied, a soul is immediately reborn. But the answer didn't really matter since I was already suspending disbelief about the paranormal elements, anyway.

The writing was very good, though it could have been tightened in a few places. For example, several times the author repeated a detailed physical description of a character after having given that full description just a page or two before.

There was a very minimal amount of profanity of the "he swore" variety and a brief, non-graphic sex scene remembered from the childhood of one of the main characters. (The scene explains the motives behind most of his subsequent actions.) The gore was not graphic while still making the murder chilling. Overall, I enjoyed this book very much and would recommend it as "good, clean reading."

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

Excerpt: Prologue
The slaaf stumbled along the shore of Willow Lake. The ground was soft from the previous night’s rain, and wet leaves made a slippery carpet under his feet. His arms ached from struggling to contain the animal he carried in a coarse gunnysack across his shoulder. The sedative had worn off, and the animal thrashed more and more violently as the slaaf approached the faded red boathouse. Finally, in front of the peeling door, he dropped the squirming sack. The creature inside yelped as the bag hit the ground. The slaaf found the key on his large metal ring, unlocked the padlock, and slipped inside.

He lifted the sack onto a long, wooden workbench near the back of the boathouse, where its contents lay still for a moment. He wiped his sweaty forehead with his arm, while with his other hand, he fingered the small bag of white powder inside the front pocket of his jeans. He sat carefully in a creaky wooden chair against the wall. He wanted to wait, knowing it would be over so quickly...but his hand moved against his will, pulled out the bag, reached in, and took a pinch. He placed the white powder in the palm of his other hand. He snorted it, and his head came alive.

Yes, yes, he thought. He cast his euphoric mind into the ether, searching for his master. Would he come?

But the euphoria didn’t last long, and the slaaf, having felt no trace of his master’s presence, found himself slammed back into his body. His hands were gripping the arms of the wooden chair. The muscles in his legs had tensed so rigidly that he wondered if he would be able to stand.

“I hate you! I hate you!” he screamed at the top of his lungs. The sound of his panting was interrupted by a low whine from the sack on the workbench. The slaaf snorted more of the cocaine and tried again to reach his master, whom he was certain was toying with him. Again, he failed. It took more and more of the cocaine to reach the ecstatic state he needed to summon his master. And now, the little bag was empty.

Read the rest of the prologue and chapter one.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Clean Reading Recommendations

I obviously can't read every book ever published, so I've started asking other people if they've read any "clean" books recently. ("Clean" in this case means no explicit (or illicit) sex, no blasphemy, and no graphic violence.)

This week, I'm featuring Middle Grade and Young Adult fantasy books recommended by author R.J. Anderson.

(Click on the titles to read reviews, either here or on other book blogs. I included her comments about the books she recommended.)

The Goose Girl, Enna Burning, River Secrets, and Princess Academy by Shannon Hale. (There's a sweetness and innocence about them that is refreshing. ENNA BURNING deals frankly with the effects of war and violence and the deadly effects of anger in a way that is sometimes haunting, but I feel it's not gratuitous.)

The Magic Thief and The Magic Thief: Lost by Sarah Prineas. (Very clean indeed, with an interesting and fresh approach to the idea of magic and some lovely character interactions as the young gutter thief Conn learns to trust and form a friendship with a grumpy old wizard named Nevery. The magic involves runes and words but there's nothing occult-ish about it, IMO.)

Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons, and Talking to Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede. (Anything by Patricia C. Wrede is clean.)

The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. (I adore these books, which are just plain amazing. They take place in an alternate world based loosely on Renaissance-era Greece and the Mediterranean in which the gods are real. A very complex series with some very rich character development and interaction, and some fairly traumatic events (not graphically described, but implied) that have long-lasting consequences for the hero. I think they're some of the best books I've ever read, period.)

Dragon Slippers and Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George. (Nice clean reads. I suspect all her other books are as well, but I haven't read them yet.)

Alex and the Ironic Gentleman and Timothy and the Dragon's Gate by Adrienne Kress. (Delightful adventure stories with a hearty dash of magical realism.)

Airman by Eoin Colfer. (An adventure in the spirit of Dumas -- some harrowing incidents and violence would make it appropriate for teens rather than children, but it's not excessive.)

Dull Boy by Sarah Cross. (The story of a young man with superpowers who had to figure out how he got those powers and how to live a normal life with them. It's basically a teen superhero comic in book form, with a witty and engaging cast and a blockbuster climax, and I got a huge kick out of it.)

Foundling and Lamplighter by D.M. Cornish. (He writes a fantastic, incredibly well-developed secondary world fantasy involving a world populated by monsters that the humans must fight against. He challenges the reader's preconceptions about which characters are good and which evil, but he does so in a very conscious way not encouraging confusion of good and evil *itself* at all. The hero has a lovely character that's quite different from your standard fantasy hero -- somewhat Sam Gamgee-ish in his humility, loyalty, and self-sacrifice. Some of the monster-fighting stuff gets a bit gruesome, but I didn't feel it was too much for the context. The books are appropriate for ages 10 and up.)

Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter by R.J. Anderson.

Thank you, R.J. Anderson, for taking the time to send me these recommendations.

I've read Patricia C. Wrede's books before and enjoyed them. And, of course, I've reviewed Shannon Hale's books on this blog. Several of the others sound quite interesting, and I think I might pick up a few to review on my blog in the future.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Giveaway: Menu for Romance

Menu for Romance

Menu for Romance
by Kaye Dacus

Trade Paperback: 317 pages
Publisher: Barbour Publishing
First Released: 2009

Author Website

I like this author's books, so I'm holding a giveaway contest for my ARC of Menu for Romance by Kaye Dacus. You can learn more about the book by reading my review.

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

To enter the giveaway:

1) you can twitter me saying "@genrereviewer Enter me to win MENU FOR ROMANCE. The title of a previous book by Kaye Dacus is ________." (Of course, you need to fill in the title of a book previously written by Kaye Dacus.)


2) You can leave a comment to this post asking to be entered and giving the title of a previous book written by Kaye Dacus.

The winner will be randomly selected. I'll announce the winner at noon (Central Time, Daylight Savings Time) on July 30th 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.

I hope everyone has fun with this!

Author Quirks: Jeanette Windle

I don't have an interview for today, but here's something interesting about Jeanette Windle which is included on her bio section of my ARC for Veiled Freedom.

As the child of missionary parents, award-winning author and journalist Jeanette Windle grew up in the rural villages, jungles, and mountains of Colombia, now guerrilla hot zones. Her detailed research and writing is so realistic that it was prompted government agencies to question her to determine if she has received classified information. Currently based in Lancaster, PA, Jeanette has lived in six countries and traveled in nearly thirty, including Afghanistan.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Menu for Romance by Kaye Dacus

Menu for Romance

Menu for Romance
by Kaye Dacus

Trade Paperback: 317 pages
Publisher: Barbour Publishing
First Released: 2009

Author Website

Source: ARC sent from Publisher

Back Cover Description:
Cater to your craving for fabulous fictional fare with Menu for Romance, where a party planner finds herself torn between the contractor and the cook. After eight years of unrequited love, Meredith Guidry makes a New Year's resolution to find someone new and end her single status before the year's over. And when she meets a handsome contractor on New Year's Day, it seems like her prayers have been answered. Executive Chef Major O'Hara has forsworn relationships, knowing he could never saddle the woman he loves with a schizophrenic mother like his. But when it seems he's about to lose Meredith Guidry to another man, he realizes he must concoct a menu for romance to win her back.

Menu for Romance is a contemporary Christian romance novel. The book is the second in a series, but you don't have to read the first book to understand and enjoy this one.

The characters were charming, interesting, and varied. Meredith went through realistic struggles, like wondering if something was wrong with her because guys didn't ask her out on dates and trying to find privacy in a large family that always seemed to know what she was doing.

The details about the town and job were nice and made the setting seem realistic. The pacing was excellent until the very end. In fact, I loved this book all the way up until the last thirty pages. However, the ending felt rushed to me as I didn't feel like previous problem issues had been fully resolved between the two main characters.

The characters were Christian, but the book wasn't preachy. It was just typical Christians living out their lives. Meredith's main struggle was with why God hadn't sent her the desire of her heart--a husband--while family members around her were getting married.

There was no cussing and no sex. Overall, the book was well-written and very enjoyable. I'd rate this as "good, clean fun."

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

Excerpt: Chapter One
“Happy New Year!”

Her thirty-fourth New Year and still no kiss at the stroke of midnight… or any other day or time. Meredith Guidry stood in the doorway leading into Vue de Ciel—the cavernous sky-view event venue at the top of the tallest building in downtown Bonneterre, Louisiana—and swallowed back her longing as she watched hundreds of couples kiss.

A short burst of static over the earpiece startled her out of her regrets.

“Mere, we’re going to set up the coffee stations and dessert tables,” the executive chef’s rich, mellow voice filled her ear.

She clicked the button on the side of the wireless headset. “Thanks, Major.” Turning her gaze back to the main room, she tapped the button again. “Let’s slowly start bringing the houselights back up. I want us at full illumination around twelve thirty.” She strolled into the ballroom, the floor now covered with shiny metallic confetti, the hundreds of guests milling about wishing each other a happy New Year. Out on the dance floor, a large group of men stood swaying, arms about shoulders, singing “Auld Lang Syne” at the tops of their lungs along with the jazz band.

“Let’s make sure tables are bussed.” Pressing her finger to the earpiece to speak over the network made her feel like those secret service agents in the movies who were always talking into their shirt cuffs. “I’m seeing several tables with empty plates and glasses.”

She kept to the perimeter of the room, doing her best to blend in with the starlit sky beyond the glass walls, barely repressing the feeling of being the loner, the kid no one else paid any attention to . . . the woman no man ever gave a second glance.

“You look like a kid staring through a candy store window, wishing you could go inside.”

Meredith’s heart thumped at the sudden voice behind her. She turned. Major O’Hara grinned his lopsided grin, his chef’s coat nearly fluorescent with its pristine whiteness.

“How’re you holding up?” He squeezed her shoulder in a brotherly way, his azure eyes gentle.

Read the rest of Chapter One.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Clean Reading Recommendations

I obviously can't read every book ever published, so I've started asking other people if they've read any "clean" books recently. ("Clean" meaning no to minimal cussing and no explicit sex scenes.)

This week, I'm featuring fantasy books reviewed by Kristen at Fantasy Cafe. She said the following fantasy books are clean reading.

(Click on the titles to go to her reviews. I included snippets from her reviews.)

Dreamdark: Blackbringer by Laini Taylor (YA traditional fantasy; enchanting, the writing is lovely)

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. (YA dark fantasy; fantastic storytelling containing both humor and seriousness, fantasy and reality)

Mercedes Thompson series (Moon Called; Blood Bound; Iron Kissed) by Patricia Briggs. (Dark fantasy; Swear words mentioned, but not actually said. [i.e. the 'he swore' style]. There was a rape scene in one book but it was not at all graphic. [Kristen] actually had to read it twice because it was not described in any real detail and at first [she] thought it was only an attempted rape.)

The King Raven trilogy by Stephen Lawhead. (historical fiction/fantasy; entertaining)

Thank you, Kristen, for taking the time to send me this information.

Patricia Briggs' earlier books aren't dark like her current ones. In fact, they contain well-honed, but playful, humor. They are also clean. Some of my favorite books are When Demons Walk and Steal the Dragon and Masques by Patricia Briggs. Someday, I might post a review of these three books on Genre Reviews.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Author Quirks: Diane Noble

Next up is Diane Noble, author of The Veil. 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.)

Diane Noble's answer:

A little known fact is that my characters become so real to me when I'm writing that I often cry (for their joys and/or sorrows) when I'm working on an emotional scene.

While writing The Veil, the closer I got to the climatic scene at Mountain Meadows the more difficult I knew it would be to write. So I kept adding more scenes to avoid what I knew, historically, had to happen. I had "lived" with the characters so long, they were as familiar as members of my own family. Each day, my historian hubby (who'd been with me while doing research Utah and at the Mountain Meadows site), would come to the door of my office, and ask, "Are you there yet?" I would shake my head and keep typing. One day he came to the door and found me sobbing as I typed. He said softly, "You're there," walked across the room, and put his arm around my shoulders as I continued to write the scene. I glanced up after a moment and saw that he was crying too.

Thank you, Ms. Noble, for telling us how writing touches your life.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Clean Reading Recommendations

I obviously can't read every book ever published, so I've started asking other people if they've read any "clean" books recently. This week, I'm featuring fantasy books reviewed by Tia Nevitt at Fantasy Debut. She said the following fantasy books are clean reading.

(Click on the titles to go to her reviews. I included snippets from her reviews.)

Lamentation by Ken Scholes (excellent steampunk fantasy)

Clockwork Heart by by Dru Pagliassotti (steampunk set not-on-earth, a treat to read)

Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V. S. Redick (traditional fantasy, filled with wonder)

The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. Sullivan (traditional fantasy, highly entertaining)

Thank you, Tia Nevitt, for taking the time to send me this information.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Veil by Diane Noble

The Veil

The Veil
by Diane Noble

Trade Paperback: 380 pages
Publisher: Waterbrook Press
First Released: 1998

Author Website

Source: Review copy from publisher

Back Cover Description:
A shroud of secrecy cloaks a new nineteenth-century sect known simply as the Saints. But that veil is about to be drawn away. Amidst the majestic beauty of 1857 Utah, the members of one secluded religious group claim to want nothing more than to practice their beliefs without persecution. Yet among them are many who engage in secret vows and brutal acts of atonement...all in the name of God.

But one young woman, Hannah McClary, dares to question the truth behind the shroud. Soon Hannah and the young man she loves–Lucas Knight, who has been trained from childhood to kill on behalf of the Church–find themselves fighting for their very lives.

As a group of unwary pioneer families marches into Utah toward a tragic confrontation with the Saints at a place called Mountain Meadows, Hannah and Lucas are thrust into the most difficult conflict of all–a battle for truth and justice–even as they are learning for the first time about unconditional love, acceptance, and forgiveness.

The Veil is a very well-written Christian historical novel with some romantic elements. The main characters are caught up in historic events during their childhood and into their young adult years which climax at the Mountain Meadow massacre in Utah in 1857.

The description was vivid, bringing the world alive in my imagination without slowing the pacing. The historical detail was nice and added to the feel of the book. The tension was built nicely throughout the story.

There was a strong religious element to this book (of both traditional Christianity and Mormonism). Since there were several short sermons and a number of discussions about what was taught, I suppose you could call sections of the story "preachy" though I never felt it was heavy-handed.

The characters were all complex and interesting. Some Mormon characters behaved compassionately and others brutally just as some non-Mormon characters behaved compassionately and others brutally. This is not a "all Mormons are bad" book.

However, I strongly suspect most Mormons wouldn't enjoy reading this book since several of the Mormon characters questioned Brigham Young's teachings on multiple marriages, blood atonement, and a few other things. It's clear, though, that the author carefully researched the events and stuck to historical information closely. For example, many quotes that were attributed to Brigham Young and other Mormon leaders in The Veil were taken from actual sermons and writings.

A sex scene was implied (within a marriage). There was no bad language. I'd rate this novel as very good, clean reading. I would recommend it to anyone who's interested in this period of Mormon history or who likes wagon train stories.

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

Excerpt: Chapter One
Wolf Pen Creek, Kentucky
September 1846

Ten-year-old Hannah McClary crept along the trace leading from the creek to the crest of Pine Mountain. Farther on, the trail wound into the lavender hills, through the pass, and far beyond where the eye could see, to Kentucky's tall silver grass country.

With every step Hannah looked for evidence that her brother Mattie had taken this path when he disappeared. She stopped, brushed her hair back from her face, and inspected the broken twig of a mountain laurel, turning it in her fingers. He'd gone looking for some old Daniel Boone trail, she was sure. Hannah figured her brother left Indian signs for her to follow, just as he had done in play when she was but a wee tike.

Hannah examined the bent twig for shreds of buckskin, perhaps caught as Mattie hurried by. But there were none. She frowned, turning the tender shoot in her hand. It was a recent break, maybe caused by a lone Cherokee hunter, or maybe Mattie. She moved farther up the trace, deeper into the dark forest of birches, oaks, hickories, and maples.

Her brother had always said he would take her with him when he left--that was the part about his leaving that saddened her the most. Her other six siblings were mostly sullen, like their pa, or unnaturally quiet. Since their ma died, only Mattie seemed to have the same curiosity for life that Hannah had. He was her protector, her champion, just like knights of old they read about in the primers and fairy-tale books some distant cousin had sent from Virginia. And he told her stories he'd heard from their Irish grandma'am. Stories about God and his care for them all. Mattie said he knew for certain that Hannah was someone special in the eyes of her Creator.

Mattie had taught himself to read and write, then he'd taught Hannah as well, opening a world of notions and longings to them both. The rest of the family, with the exception of their ma, couldn't be bothered with book-learning. The others mocked them, calling Mattie and Hannah dreamers, scoffing at the very word.

But now Mattie had left without Hannah, without a hint telling her where he was going. And every day when her chores were done, Hannah searched for his trail, thinking surely he meant for her to follow.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Author Quirks: Jeanette Windle

Next up is Jeanette Windle, author of Veiled Freedom. 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.)

Jeanette Windle's answer:

The advance copies of CrossFire, my first adult political/suspense novel set in the U.S./Bolivia counternarcotics war, had just arrived in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, where my husband and I served as missionaries and he pastored the International Church. I was enjoying a celebratory lunch at one of the city’s finer restaurants with the American consul, regional heads of World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, and other non-profit personnel when we were joined by an eager and somewhat distraught young woman. She was American, early twenties, a veterinarian grad student working as a volunteer with Bolivia’s endangered species program. Animals seized from poachers or brought in with injuries were treated, then released back into the wild. If rehabilitation was not possible, such animals would end up in the Santa Cruz zoo for an exhibit or breeding program.

Our young volunteer wanted advice from the more experienced expatriates sitting around the table. Something strange was happening in her program. Valuable animals were disappearing, all high-demand specimens for the rare animal black market and too many to dismiss as coincidence. Now she’d come into the city to bring a female jaguarundi into the zoo, its leg injury proscribing rehabilitation, but perfect for the breeding program. But when she’d returned that morning to check on it, the rare jungle cat was gone. No one would admit to who had given orders for its removal.

She shook her head in bewilderment. Local colleagues on her non-profit organization’s payroll had access. But surely their passion for the environment would never permit such criminal behavior. Glancing around the crowded, upper-class eatery, she lowered her voice to barely above a whisper. She wasn’t so sure about the zoo’s director or the local Minister of Environment, both powerful political figures whose mansions in the city’s most elite neighborhood certainly didn’t come from their government salary.

Duh! was our mental response. Anyone who’d been any time at all in Bolivia knew how corrupt its government systems were at all levels, the flood of expatriate non-profits simply offering new pockets from which to build one’s own personal fortune. The guilty could be zoo director, minister, colleagues or most likely all of the above. Definitely not coincidence.

And now she presented her dilemma. Should she go to the police and demand an investigation? Or perhaps, with kind understanding and lack of a judgmental attitude, she should go to these men herself. Explain to them just how important these animals were to Bolivia’s eco-system. Plead with them to abstain from any further depredation of their country’s wildlife. Which option did we at the table feel she should pursue?

None of the above, we unanimously assured her. But when an acquaintance called her away, we exchanged our mutual dismay. Were non-profits really letting volunteers that green and naive out on their own without a babysitter? As to what she should do, we were also in unanimous agreement. Keep her mouth shut and accept the loss of an occasional endangered animal as the cost of doing business in Bolivia. Or go back to the United States before an embassy alert informed us she’d been found floating in some local river with her throat cut. Corrupt and wealthy Bolivian politicians didn’t take kindly to being lectured on changing their ways by young and female expatriate volunteers.

My husband and I with our four children left Bolivia that same week to Miami, where we worked throughout Latin America for the next five years before, so I never saw the young woman again nor was able to follow up on her. But I wondered often over the years if she’d survived her own naiveté to make it back home alive. And since I never found out the end of her story, I chose to write it myself. Fast-forward several political/suspense novels to my first Tyndale House Publishers title, Betrayed, released March, 2008. Anthropologist Vicki Andrews is researching Guatemala’s “garbage people” when she stumbles across a human body. Curiosity turns to horror as she uncovers no stranger, but an American environmentalist—Vicki’s only sister, Holly.

Read Betrayed, and you will meet that earnest young veterinarian volunteer, right down to the sunburned, round features and actual conversation around that table as well as my own dismayed reactions played out in the mind of protagonist Vicki Andrews. Holly is just one of the many characters who have wandered out of real-life encounters into the pages of my books. A jungle village chief facing off with a condescending female environmentalist (The DMZ). A good-looking and arrogant drug lord heir racing around town in his red Ferrari (CrossFire). A nasty coca-growers union leader I killed off in print to cheers from DEA friends who’d longed to arrest him without ever dreaming the man would weasel his way into his nation’s presidency (FireStorm). A supercilious six-foot-four Special Agent in Charge determined to intimidate a five-one female civilian-me! (The DMZ).

My motto as a writer when eccentric, annoying or even nasty people cross one’s path is simple and effective. Don’t get irritated or even. Just write them into your next book!

Thank you, Ms. Windle, for telling us a bit about where you get your story ideas and characters.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Silver Sword by Angela Elwell Hunt

The Silver Sword

The Silver Sword
by Angela Elwell Hunt

Trade Paperback: 403 pages
Publisher: Waterbrook Press
First Released: 1997

Author Website

Source: Review copy from publisher

Back Cover Description:
The auburn-haired O'Connor women share a bond far deeper than their striking physical appearance. These courageous, high-spirited women all push against societal limits.

Anika of Prague is one of these women. After the death of her parents at the hands of church men and corrupt nobles, Anika vows vengeance. Seeking safety from her enemies, Anika dons the most unlikely disguise imaginable for a young woman of the fifteenth century: a coat of armor. At the castle of Lord John of Chlum, she joins the knights who are protecting John Hus and advancing religious reformation among the churches of Bohemia. But though she now has the skill to kill, will she have her chance for vengeance? And will she take it, despite the cost?

This Christian historical romance novel is a good, light read. At times, I felt that the story was more about John Hus than Anika since Anika played a very minor role during those sections. Since Hus was a preacher and Anika avidly listens to his sermons and acts as a scribe to help spread his teachings, the story is almost by definition "preachy." Hus' views on the problems with the Catholic church and on the corruption present in the church at that time might turn off Catholic readers.

While, to my knowledge, the information about Hus was accurate, there were a myriad of little details wrong with the "knightly" aspects of the story. I had trouble getting into the story because of these problems. I also couldn't understand why Anika has a burning desire to kill one man responsible for her father's death and yet she's horrified by the idea of killing the other man responsible (who also wants to rape her). Also, Anika is described as so beautiful and girlish (based on comments by friends to her father and by the lustful noble's son) and yet the moment she needs to fit in as a squire, she's described as boyish in figure and no male questions her disguise. But I'm guessing these things won't bother most readers.

The characters were likable, the heroine spirited, and the plot enjoyable, especially if you're interested in the reformation. There was no sex or cussing. Overall, it was "good, clean fun."

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

Excerpt: Chapter One
"Mama?" Anika was six again, small and helpless, alone in the upstairs room of an inn outside Prague. Father had gone out to the stable to meet with a man who had promised to find them a horse. Anika moved through the musty chamber. It felt like pushing aside curtains of black velvet, perfumed with the odors of unwashed bodies and the scent of sour hay. In the silence of the darkened chamber she felt her mouth go dry as fear rushed in. "Mama?"

"Hush, love, I'm here." The straw mattress rustled in the dark, then Mother's warm hand found its way to Anika's elbow and pulled her down onto the mattress beside her. Anika curled against her mother and hugged her knees, blinking as her night eyes adjusted to the dim light. Two other women slept on the far side of the room, the heavy sounds of their breathing blending with the snores of the innkeeper's dogs. The two huge mastiffs slept near the door, alert to any newcomer.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

And the winner is...

Wow, we had more people than ever enter the contest for a copy of "The Vanishing Sculptor" by Donita K. Paul. Using a random number generator and numbering the entrants in the order I received them, the winner is:


who entered via Twitter. 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.