Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Match for Mary Bennet by Eucharista Ward

A Match for Mary Bennet

A Match for Mary Bennet
by Eucharista Ward, O.S.F.

Trade Paperback: 351 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
First Released: 2009

Source: ARC from publisher

Back Cover Description:
A unique and inspirational Pride and Prejudice sequel that will resonate with all readers who can relate to Mary Bennet's determination to live according to God's wishes

Written by a Franciscan nun, this is a sympathetic tale of the middle Bennet sister from Pride and Prejudice. Pious Mary Bennet tries to do her duty in the world as she thinks God envisions it.

Initially believing (mistakenly) that her sister Elizabeth married well only in order to provide for her sisters, Mary is happy to be relieved of the obligation to marry at all so that she can continue her faithful works.

But she begins to have second thoughts after further studying marriage through her sisters' experiences as well as spending time with two young men. One is a splendid young buck whose determined courtship must have ulterior motives; the other is a kindly, serious young clergyman whose friendship Mary values more and more. One day she realizes that God very much made man and woman to be together...but which is the man for her?

This novel is a historical romance set in the world of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It's a "sequel" focusing on Mary Bennet and, to a lesser extent, her sisters. It's a thoroughly enjoyable book.

The story was written in much the same tone and style as Pride and Prejudice, and the author stays true to the characters and events of that book. The pacing was a bit slower than most modern novels, but it's consistent with the pacing of Jane Austen novels. The world-building was excellent with many historical details woven in (especially about child-birth and herbal wound remedies). Even the Christian elements were set in their historical context--life as it was lived back then.

I liked that Mary was represented as an earnest young woman who grows through her experiences and ends up with her perfect match.

My only nit-picks are that the author occasionally had Darcy act a little more casually than I think he would. She also had the Bennet sisters occasionally act with more modern sensibilities than I think they would have (like having both Lizzy and a wet nurse nursing her baby--to which my mother commented, "I don't think she knows much about breast-feeding a baby."). However, even in these cases, the author gave plausible, good reasons for the characters to act that way.

There was only implied sex and no cussing. Overall, it's "good, clean fun," and I'd unhesitatingly recommend this novel to any fan of Jane Austen.

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
One might say that using the divine gift of human memory for the recitation of three-month-old annoyances represents talent misspent. Mary Bennet thought, as she sat with her hand poised over the silver tea urn, that not even all four evangelists together had documented Jesus's public life as thoroughly as her mother insisted on recounting Mary's social life. Mrs. Bennet sat in an upright chair opposite the tea caddy, continuing her catalogue of Mary's behaviours at Meryton's midsummer Assembly. Mary placed the heated china pot, with its fair quantity of precious Twinings tea, below the spout of the new urn, a gift to the Bennets from Mary's sister Elizabeth Darcy. When she sensed that the recitation was nearing its end--she had heard it twice previously--Mary released the boiling water. She then concentrated on timing the brew and, finally, pouring it carefully into Mrs. Bennet's cup. She knew well that if she sloshed any onto the saucer, her mother's long-suffering sigh and roll of the eyes would be followed by, "How I miss dear Jane!" This time, Mrs. Bennet paused in her admonitions long enough to peer at the saucer, taste her tea, and smile. Mary relaxed and poured her own cup.

Mrs. Bennet then set her tea down and ignored it, fixing her eyes on her daughter's calm expression. "You sat so creep mouse in a corner with, of all things, a book! What a way to comport yourself at a dance! Why, you might as well scream to all the world that no man is good enough for you. Oh yes, I saw you stand up with Russell Mortenson, but you did not smile at him once! Dancing is not torture, you know, and your face should not declare it so. What am I to do with you? Will any gentleman ever take an interest if you continue in such a fashion?"

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini

The Boy Next Door

The Boy Next Door
by Irene Sabatini

Hardback: 416 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown, and Co.
First Released: 2009

Author Website

Source: Review copy from publisher

Back Cover Description:
In Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, the son of Lindiwe Bishop's white neighbour, seventeen-year-old Ian McKenzie, is arrested for a terrible crime. A year later Ian returns home, the charges against him dropped. He is brash and boisterous, full of charm and swagger, and fascinating to fifteen-year-old Lindiwe. She accepts a ride from him one day, despite her mother's warnings, and something grows between them -- becoming stronger and stronger in a world that wants nothing more than to divide them.

A secret that Lindiwe keeps hidden, and which Ian discovers years later, ensures that their lives will be irrevocably entwined as their country crumbles around them.

Vividly evoking the traumatic history of a nation once brimming with promise, The Boy Next Door tells an engrossing, unpredictable story of love against the odds, and of the shadows cast by the past.

The Boy Next Door is an astonishing, brilliant debut novel about what it means to witness, to change, to love, and to remain whole when the world outside is falling apart.

The Boy Next Door is an engrossing novel that starts out as a mystery of sorts (did Ian really do it?) in which curiosity about her neighbor leads to friendship and then love. But it's not an easy love.

The writing style was a bit rambling at times, especially at the beginning when the story often sidetracked in time or focus. However, I didn't find this distracting and was able to follow what was going on. The author also primarily wrote in the present tense ("he says" instead of "he said"), but for once this didn't bother me at all.

The characters were complex and often hurting as they dealt with realistic problems. I came to care about them a great deal. The novel wasn't dark, but it was gritty and painfully honest. Bits about the violence of the war were briefly told in the story (but not in "blood-and-gut" detail).

There was some mention of church, church activities, etc., but this isn't a "Christian" book. Both Christians and non-Christians will enjoy it.

There was some slang and local terms that were not completely obvious from context nor explained (though most were explained much later), but understanding these words was not critical to understanding what was going on.

Ian (and occasionally others) used some cussing and swearing in his dialogue, so there was a minimal amount of bad language. There was unmarried, very non-graphic sex (in fact, sometimes I wasn't sure if that's what happened). I liked that there were realistic consequences to all of the characters' actions including sex. Overall, I'd highly recommend this book as well-written, 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
Part One: 1980s

Two days after I turned fourteen the son of our neighbor set his stepmother alight.

A week later the police came. I was reading Sue Barton, Senior Nurse on the veranda, and I was at the part when Dr. Bill Barry proposes to Sue Barton. Daddy was busy tinkering with the Cortina under the jacaranda tree. Mummy was in the bedroom trying on her Manyano outfit for the graduation ceremony that was going to take place at church, which would turn fifteen young women into fully fledged members of the congregation. Rosanna was helping her.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Bishop," I heard. "Sorry to disturb. We have come about next door."

The chief constable wiped his forehead with a tissue. "This heat is destroying us," he said, and from the veranda, I could see a wet dark patch on his shirt, which made it cling to his back.

It was midday and there wasn't a single cloud in the sky. Even though it was the end of January not one drop of rain had fallen in Bulawayo.

"This problem of no transport. Only walking these days for us. Ten kilometers and I am not so young anymore, not like these calves." He pointed at the other two policemen who were standing near the Cortina at attention.

Daddy said something about bulls, which made the chief constable laugh while the calves remained very rigid and serious.

Most of the brand-new police cars donated by Britain were in scrap yards; the police force had been statistically shown to have the most dangerous drivers in Zimbabwe. In fact, the chief constable, who had only recently been promoted after his white superior had tendered his resignation, had been responsible for a recent smashup against an electricity pole; Daddy hinted that he was most likely driving without a valid licence.

"Are you finding petrol?" the chief constable asked, eyeing the two policemen who sprung forwards. It looked like he had jerked them into motion with string.

"A little only," Daddy replied as he gently put down the bonnet. "Enough to go to the office and back."

I knew that he was exaggerating; he didn't want the chief constable to feel free to ask him for transport.

Read more of chapter one.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

And the winner is...

It's time to pick a winner for my ARC of "Darcy and Anne" by Judith Brocklehurst. This was a very popular giveaway, with 53 entries between this blog and Twitter! 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 from your favorite bookstore.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Author Quirks: Steven James

Next up is Steven James, author of The Pawn. 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.)

Steven James' answer:

For ten years, I never set my alarm clock to anything other than a prime number. I have no idea why I did this, but it was pretty traumatic a few years ago when I finally set alarm clock one day for 6:00. Whew. Thankfully, I survived.

Thank you, Mr. James, for sharing this funny story about your life.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Raising Rain by Debbie Fuller Thomas

Raising Rain

Raising Rain
by Debbie Fuller Thomas

Trade Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Moody Publisher
First Released: 2009

Author Website

Source: Review copy from publisher

Back Cover Description:
Jude, Toni, Bebe, and Mare make an interesting quad. First joined together as college roommates in the 70s, their memories consist of antiwar protests and tumultuous times--and Rain, the baby Jude bore but whom Bebe loved. Now as Jude, their ever-feminist friend, fades in her fight against cancer, they reunite for a Celebration of Life weekend in Monterey.

But what's to celebrate? Rain, the "new woman" they all helped raise, is now in her thirties and back on her own after her longing for a baby sent her boyfriend packing. And the rest have left their protest-loving days behind--all except Jude.

Award-winning Debbie Fuller Thomas weaves together the feelings of the times and the realities of life in this tale of five women brought together not by fate, but by God. As they grapple with the choices they've made and the consequences that ensued, each woman is forced to examine where her faith lies--and if all they've done can ever be forgiven.

Raising Rain is an excellent contemporary Christian fiction novel.

The characters were interesting, realistic, and varied. The problems they struggled with were complex and realistic. Four of the women were in their late fifties and Rain was in her late thirties. There were some flash backs to their college days in the 1970s. I suspect that women who are dealing with a newly empty nest or fertility issues will enjoy this book the most, though the characters were written well enough that I (who couldn't relate to the specific problems they faced) came to care deeply about them.

I liked the atmosphere of the novel and the nuances of how the characters related to each other. The pacing was a bit slower than is typical of modern novels, but I didn't feel like any particular part dragged or was boring--it was just part of what created the atmosphere.

The author often put off revealing the full reasons behind why certain characters acted the way they did, but either the necessary information was explained soon afterward or enough information was given that I could figure out the general gist reason so that this didn't bother me.

Christianity was an underlying current in this novel. The character's beliefs (whether feminism, their religion or lack or it, etc.) were the motivating forces behind their actions. The novel didn't have a lot of God-talk and I didn't find it preachy, but I suspect many non-Christians wouldn't enjoy this novel due to some of the issues that were raised.

There was no bad language. Sex (including unmarried encounters) was hinted at or referred to, but it wasn't graphic. Overall, I'd highly 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
When Bebe heard that Jude Rasmussen didn't have long to live, she felt a curious mixture of sadness, guilt, and relief. Not exactly normal feelings for a friend of over thirty-five years, though you couldn't exactly describe their relationship as "normal"--more like a thinly veiled hostage situation.

"Her cancer is back," Rain said, gently swirling her coffee. "She didn't want sympathy, so she kept it to herself. I haven't connected with Mom in a while, so it wasn't hard to keep it a secret. William finally made her tell me."

Bebe put her hand on Rain's arm. "I'm sorry, honey. I guess the hysterectomy didn't help much. What can we do?"

Rain glanced up at the line of people snaking around their small table and leaned in toward Bebe. "Well, actually, she had her reasons for giving in to William and agreeing to tell me. I'm here on a mission." She winced.

Bebe leaned in as well. "Go ahead. What is it?"

"She wants to have a Celebration of Life before she dies. Not a memorial--a send-off, she calls it. One last chance to do something significant and she wants us all to help plan it. You, me, the old college roommates. You know Mom. It's got to be something big. I'm not exactly sure what she has in mind, but it sounds...complicated."

Bebe blew out a breath and sat back in her chair. "That's putting it mildly." Then she added, "Oh, I'm sorry, Rain."

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Familiar Stranger by Christina Berry

The Familiar Stranger

The Familiar Stranger
by Christina Berry

Trade Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Moody Publishers
First Released: 2009

Author Website

Source: Review copy from publisher

Book Description from Publisher Website:
Craig Littleton's decision to end his marriage would shock his wife, Denise...if she knew what he was up to. When an accident lands Craig in the ICU, badly burned, with fuzzy memories of his own life and plans, Denise rushes to his side, ready to care for him.

They embark on a quest to help Craig remember who he is and, in the process, they discover dark secrets. An affair? An emptied bank account? A hidden identity? An illegitimate child?

But what will she do when she realizes he's not the man she thought he was? Is this trauma a blessing in disguise, a chance for a fresh start? Or will his secrets destroy the life they built together?

The Familiar Stranger is a contemporary Christian fiction novel. I suspect most people will thoroughly enjoy the novel.

The characters were sympathetic enough characters, but the only ones I really bonded with were the kids. This may partly be because I've never seriously dated or been married or had a loved one in a bad accident so I couldn't personally relate to the stress the adults were going through.

The world-building was okay, and the pacing was very good. In the first half of the novel, a noticeable amount of dialogue (including inner dialogue) felt unnatural to me--and I'm not talking about when awkward dialogue might be expected. In the second half, though, this problem disappeared and the writing was excellent.

The reason I couldn't fully enjoy this novel is that there were two serious logic problems, one behind the events that led to the accident and one behind the subsequent confusion. Without these events, the story falls apart and would never happen. The author didn't convince me that a man as savvy at deception as Craig would bother with the given course of action when a very obvious (though perhaps not to the author since no one in the book pointed it out) and simple action would have achieved the same objective. And, major spoiler, The police say they will use fingerprints to ID the dead man. The author never explains why these fingerprints didn't correctly ID the dead man.)

[Added Sept. 24, 2009: After carefully re-reading the "major spoiler" section in question, I realized I was supposed to make an assumption which I hadn't. Ignore the above "logic" paragraph and go with: I didn't fully enjoy this novel, though, because there were two or three "mighty convenient" things that happened at critical points in the story to make it end up where it did. I would have liked for these points to have been fleshed out to make them more realistic and probable.]

The characters were Christians living out their faith. The novel wasn't preachy, but there was a large amount of God-talk and praying. Non-Christians probably wouldn't enjoy this book. There was no sex and no bad language. If you overlook the logic problems, it's a good, enjoyable book. Overall, I'd rate 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 from Chapter One
His [point of view]

I wrapped a towel around my waist as Denise stalked into the bathroom. Avoiding her eyes, I wiped a clear spot on the steamy mirror and studied my reflection. A caged man, a Houdini, stared back at me. Bound inside a straitjacket, locked in chains, submerged in a tank, I could taste the metallic tang of the key hidden in my mouth. If I held my breath longer and waited for the right time to rip my shoulder from its socket, I would escape my stifling life.

"Did you wipe down the shower, Craig?"

What harm would happen if once, just once, I left droplets on the glass doors? I bit back my retort. "Of course, honey."

"Good." She peered into the brushed-silver mirror hanging above the white marble countertop--a bathroom that had cost me a month's wages--and added another layer to her lipstick. "Need to hurry if we're going to be on time."

"I'm not going." I said it as if I didn't care one way or the other what she thought of my bombshell.

"What are you talking about?" Her shoulders tightened into unnatural stillness.

I rubbed the scruff of my neck and scrutinized my image. A few wrinkles around the eyes. Two slight recessions on either side of the hairline. Not bad for a guy of forty-six.

"Craig, the deacons' meeting is right after the service and you've missed the last two. Are you trying to sabotage your position?" Her reflected hazel eyes drilled into me.

For a second I thought of giving it all up, going to church with her and the kids, acting as though that was all I has planned for the day. Then the image faded and a pair of deep brown eyes replaced hers. No, I wouldn't be setting foot in a house of worship this Sunday, or ever again.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

BBAW Reading Meme

BBAW 2009

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?


Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?


How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears?


Laying the book flat open?

*shudder* No.

Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?


Hard copy or audiobooks?

Mainly paperbacks, a few hardbacks, a very few ebooks (since I have no eReader), and extremely few audiobooks, though I do like them.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?

End of chapters. Though I do sometimes stop at any point.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?

Of course.

What are you currently reading?

"Raising Rain" by Debbie Fuller Thomas

What is the last book you bought?

I always buy several books at a time, but "Matthew" by Michael J. Wilkins was the last listed on my last book order.

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?

Prefer one at a time, though I sometimes do read one fiction and one nonfiction at the same time.

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?

Curled up on my cozy bed right before going to sleep.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?

No preference.

How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)

Fiction: How much I like them determines which bookshelf they go on. Then they're sub-organized by author (not alphabetical, just all of one author together).

Non-fiction: How often I'll use them for reference determines which bookshelf they go on. Then like subjects are put together.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Interview with Booking Mama

BBAW 2009

As a part of Book Bloggers Appreciation Week, a number of book bloggers are interviewing each other and posting the interviews on their blogs. My interview partner is Julie of Booking Mama. (You can also read Booking Mama's interview with me.)

I've really enjoyed getting to know her better, and I hope you do, too.

Debbie: Tell us a little about your book blog, like when you started it, what types of books you review, and what other types of posts you have on Booking Mama?

Julie: I began Booking Mama in January 2008. I initially thought I would talk about book "things;" but within a week, I knew I wanted to do more so I started writing reviews! In the past 20 months, I have read hundreds of books and written hundreds of reviews. I consider myself to be a pretty eclectic reader, but I do tend to enjoy women's fiction and literary fiction the most. While the majority of books that I read are "book club" type books, in the past year and a half, I have also read and reviewed Christian books, cookbooks, memoirs, chick lit, self-help, Young Adult, Middle Grade, picture books, and more.

Besides my own reviews, I also occasionally have guest reviews on my blog. Booking Daughter, Booking Son, Booking Aunt, and Booking Pap Pap have all contributed their thoughts on a variety of books as have a few of my friends. I like that I can give others' viewpoints on books that I might not have read or just haven't had the chance to read yet. In addition, I also host guest bloggers (mainly authors) who have written features about themselves and their books especially for my blog. And every once in awhile, I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask an author a few questions!

I have also been fortunate enough to giveaway hundreds of books! I love that my blog has been a vehicle for me to share books and my love of reading with others!

Debbie: How is Booking Mama different from other blogs (i.e. unique features, etc.)?

Julie: I don't know if I'm all that different than a lot of blogs out there, but I hope I bring my own thoughts and feelings about the books I read. As a mother of a 10 year old girl and a 5 year old boy, I love to read to (and with) my children so I do feature/review a lot of middle grade and picture books. I also try to include my kids' thoughts about the books in addition to my own.

Another thing I hope that my blog does is appeal to members of book clubs. I do my best to let my readers know if the books I've read lend themselves to good discussions. I also try to include some of the topics and themes that occur in the book as well link to readers' guides. Since I am a member of three book clubs, I know how difficult it can be to pick out a book that will be a good fit for your group, so I hope I help a little!

Debbie: Let's get to know you a little better. Why did you start book blogging?

Julie: I'm not even sure where to start...I have always been an avid reader; but when I discovered that "Book Blogs" existed, I realized that there were a whole bunch of people who were an awful lot like me -- a community of people who shared a love of books! Within a week or so, I realized that I could maintain a book blog too -- it probably wouldn't be as good as most out there, but I loved the idea of having some place to write down my thoughts about books. So one night I just decided to give it a go. I wasn't completely sure what my vision for Booking Mama was, but I did know that I wanted to talk about books with other book lovers. I had no idea how much it would grow in just a relatively short period of time!

Debbie: What do you like most about book blogging? The least?

Julie: I think I most enjoy the camaraderie within the book blogging community! I can't even begin to express how lucky I am to have met so many incredible people through blogging! I attended BEA this year and actually got to meet so many of my "virtual" friends. I had such an amazing time, and everyone was even nicer in person. I also love getting feedback on my posts. There are few things as fun as hearing what other people think about the books I've read or the reviews I've written.

As far as the least thing I like about book blogging....I'd have to say the pressure! I know it's my own doing, but I tend to over commit to reviews and posts, and then I drive myself (and my family) crazy trying to meet all of my obligations. I sometimes forget that blogging is my hobby and that it's supposed to be fun! Like most book lovers, I have the constant frustration that there are so many good/great books out there and so little time!

Debbie: What's an interesting/unique fact about yourself that most of your blog follower might not know?

Julie: I really don't like writing and I don't think I'm very good at it! I have always thought that I was stronger in math than language arts; and despite my love of books, I am much more comfortable with numbers! I majored in Finance with a minor in Economics from Penn State; and I went to graduate school for an MBA at George Mason. I worked for the Federal Government for almost 15 years before deciding to be a full-time stay-at-home mom. While I have always read a great deal, I never in a million years thought I would spend so much time writing for fun!

Debbie: It has been wonderful getting to know you, Julie. Thanks!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Pawn by Steven James

The Pawn

The Pawn
by Steven James

Mass Market Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Oynx
First Released: 2007

Author Website

Source: Review copy from publisher

Back Cover Description:
Patrick Bowers specializes in tracking down the killers who elude the FBI’s best forensic investigators. As an environmental criminologist, Bowers employs twenty-first-century geospatial technology to analyze the time and space in which a crime takes place. Using an array of factors, Bowers can pinpoint, with surprising accuracy, the important clues that lead to solving the toughest of cases.

Bower’s impressive skills have made him one of the Bureau’s top agents. Until now. Called to the mountains of North Carolina to consult on a gruesome murder, Bowers finds himself caught in a deadly duel with a serial killer who seems to transcend Pat’s analytical powers. Forced to track the killer’s horrific string of murders one by one, Bowers finds his techniques and instincts put to the ultimate—and perhaps final—test.

The Pawn is a well-written, heart-pounding, fast-paced forensic/detective thriller. The novel had a somewhat bleak tone. The crimes and crime scenes were very chilling, though not particularly graphic (i.e. he gives you just enough to let your imagination fill in all the gory, horrifying details). Combined with the high tension level, I'd strongly suggest you think twice about reading this novel right before going to bed.

The characters were interesting and complex, and I especially loved Bower's step-daughter. She's a very smart and brave, though emotionally hurting, young woman. (The author portrayed the main women in this novel as smart, competent, respected, and not trying to be men. As a woman, I liked that.)

The world-building was excellent, with the details about forensics, the case, and the town bringing the novel alive in my imagination. I felt like this was really happening in North Carolina, which gave me shivers that most mystery/suspense/thrillers don't achieve with me.

The main characters weren't Christian (at least, not that we're told). However, Patrick Bower was struggling with why God allows Christians (like his wife) to suffer. This was not the focus of the book, but Patrick does finally find some peace about it. (This doesn't mean he converts to Christianity.) I felt this aspect was handled realistically. Unless strongly against Christianity, I think most non-Christians would be comfortable with the amount of Christianity and how was handled.

There was no sex, a little bit of romance, and the bad language was of the "he cussed" style. Overall, I'd highly recommend this book to anyone interested in forensics fiction and/or who likes to read chilling thrillers.

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
October 23, 2008
Somewhere above the mountains of western North Carolina
5:31 p.m.

I peered out the window of the Bell 206L-4 LongRanger IV, helicopter of choice for both the Georgia State Patrol and the Department of the Interior, as we roared over the mountainous border of Georgia and North Carolina. Clouds rose dark on the horizon.

The colors of autumn were still lingering on the rolling slopes of the southern Appalachians, although winter had started to creep into the higher elevations. Far below us, the hills rose and fell, rose and fell, zipping past. For a few minutes I watched the shadow of the helicopter gliding over the mountains and dipping down into the shadowy valleys like a giant insect skimming across the landscape, searching for a place to land.

Even though it was late fall, ribbons of churning water pounded down the mountains in the aftermath of a series of fierce storms. In the springtime these hills produce some of the most fantastic whitewater rafting in all of North America. I know. I used to paddle them years ago when I spent a year working near here as a wilderness guide for the North Carolina Outward Bound School. Now, it seemed like those days were in another life.

Before I became what I am. Before any of this.

But as I looked out the window, the waters weren't blue like I remembered them. Instead, they were brown and swollen from a recent rain. Wriggling back and forth through the hills like thick, restless snakes.

I glanced at my watch: 5:34 p.m. We should be landing within the next ten minutes. Which was good, because with the clouds rolling in, it didn't look like we had a whole lot of sunlight ahead of us. Maybe an hour. Maybe less.

My good friend Special Agent Ralph Hawkins had called me in. Just a few hours ago I was in Atlanta presenting a seminar on strategic crime analysis for the National Law Enforcement Methodology Conference. Another conference. Another lecture series. It seemed like that was all I'd been doing for the last six months. Sure, I'd consulted on a couple dozen cases, but they weren't a big deal. Mostly I'd been teaching and researching criminology. Trying to forget.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Lily and the Creep by Nancy Rue

Lily and the Creep

Lily and the Creep
by Nancy Rue

Trade Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: ZonderKids
First Released: 2001

Author Website
Buy from Amazon

Source: Bought from

Back Cover Description:
Lily and Shad are into it again. But this time, Lily and her friends are fed up with his teasing and decide to give Shad a taste of his own medicine. When Lily and her friends play the ultimate prank on Shad, guess who’s left to take the fall? Lily.

Lily and Shad get assigned a project that they must complete TOGETHER after school. Will this finally bring an end to the infamous feud between Lily and Shad? Or is it the beginning of something much worse? See what happens when Lily makes an unpleasant discovery and has to decide what’s important—becoming someone she can like or someone God can like.

Lily and the Creep is a humorous fiction book for ages 8-12. This definitely is a book with a message to it, and Lily's bound and determined to learn it the most difficult way possible. It's a Christian message, but the story isn't condescending or preachy.

I got this book for my just-turned-12-years-old goddaughter. (Technically, I'm her mentor, but "goddaughter" better describes our relationship.) She feels like she's picked on a lot at school, though I've seen that she's sometimes the one who starts the trouble. She loves to read, and she sometimes listens to suggestions better if she sees a fictional character going through the same problems, trying several realistic solutions, and finally finding one that works. So I tried this book.

I liked the characters, and it kept me (an adult) reading straight through to the end because I wanted to find out how she got out of all her scraps. My young friend also enjoyed it. By the end, Lily's learned about God-esteem (rather than self-esteem) and has started to relate better to Shad even if they aren't exactly friends.

Overall, I'd recommend this well-written book to Christian kids, especially those who feel like they're teased a lot at school.

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
Hey, Robbins,” Leo Cooks hissed in Lily’s ear.

Don’t answer, Lily Robbins told herself sternly. It’s a trick.

She concentrated on not touching his sweaty hand — even though Ms. Gooch had said “join hands with your partner.”

“Ms. Gooch is lookin’ at ya,” Leo whispered.

His breath was hot, and it made Lily want to slap her hand over her ear, but she ignored him.

“She’s givin’ you the eyebrow,” Leo persisted.

That was not a good thing. The teacher’s eyebrow was usually the last warning sign before a name went on the board or something. Don’t fall into this absurd little creep’s trap, Lily thought.

Leo wasn’t actually little. He was even bigger than his buddy Shad Shifferdecker, who was at this very moment managing to step all over the feet of his partner — Lily’s best friend, Reni Johnson. Even as Lily watched, he caught Reni on the side of her Nike with his left shoe. She jabbed him in the ribs with her elbow.

Don’t let him know he’s getting to you, Reni, Lily thought.

Right. Just then Leo jabbed her in the side and hissed, “You better take my hand. Ms. Gooch’s got both eyebrows goin’!”

Both eyebrows and the don’t-start-with-me tone. “Join hands, people,” she called out over the blaring of Italian music. Taking a breath full of dread, Lily slid her hand into Leo’s. He squeezed it like he was wringing out a dishrag, and suddenly, Lily felt a jolt go up her arm. Before she could stop herself, she’d let out a yell.

The music came to an abrupt halt, and Ms. Gooch planted her hands on her hips. Both black eyebrows were in full gear.

“All right, who’s yelling?” she said.

“It was Lily,” Marcie McCleary said.

Lily tucked a curl of red hair behind her ear and otherwise tried to look innocent.

Read the rest of Chapter One.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Giveaway: Darcy and Anne

Darcy and Anne

Darcy and Anne
by Judith Brocklehurst

Trade Paperback: 190 pages
Publisher: SourceBooks Landmark
Released: September 2009

The Book Bloggers Appreciation Week begins on Monday, and I'll be giving books away on all three of my blogs that week. We were just told we could start the giveaways, so I'll go ahead and start this one today!

I'm holding a giveaway for my ARC of Darcy and Anne by Judith Brocklehurst. You can learn more about the book by reading my review.

Just to be really nice, this contest is open internationally.

To enter the giveaway:

1) you can twitter me saying "@genrereviewer Enter me to win DARCY & ANNE. The title of another Jane Austen spin-off from @SourceBooks is ________." (Of course, you need to fill in the title of a Jane Austen spin-off published by SourceBooks. Hint: look here.)


2) You can leave a comment to this post asking to be entered and giving the title of a Jane Austen spin-off published by SourceBooks.

The winner will be randomly selected. I'll announce the winner at noon (Central Time, Daylight Savings Time) on September 23, 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.

I hope everyone has fun with this!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Author Quirks: Elizabeth Chadwick

Next up is Elizabeth Chadwick, author of The Greatest Knight. 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.)

Elizabeth Chadwick's answer:

Quirky fact about myself: I play darts with my husband for a mixed team of men and ladies. We compete once a week for a traditional English pub not far from Nottingham city centre. It's great fun and a different world to that of being a novelist!

When writing The Greatest Knight, I drew inspiration for the everyday things from being active in a living history society, Regia For instance there’s a scene in the book where an armorer is adjusting a mail shirt for my hero, who is his customer. I wrote the piece after observing a friend demonstrating to the public how to make a section of mail shirt at a re-enactment event we did at a place called Castle Rising. At that same event, I got the opportunity to wander the castle in my medieval costume and get a feel for going up and down spiral stairs in heel-less medieval shoes! It’s research that you certainly can’t get out of text books!

Thank you, Ms. Chadwick, for sharing this interesting information about your life and your writing.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick

The Greatest Knight

The Greatest Knight
by Elizabeth Chadwick

Trade Paperback: 560 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
First Released: 2009

Author Website
Author on Twitter

Source: ARC from publisher

Back Cover Description:
Royal protector. Loyal servant. Forgotten hero.

A penniless young knight with few prospects, William Marshal is plucked from obscurity when he saves the life of Henry II's formidable queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. In gratitude, she appoints him tutor to the heir to the throne, the volatile and fickle Prince Henry. But being a royal favorite brings its share of danger and jealousy as well as fame and reward.

A writer of uncommon historical integrity and accuracy, Elizabeth Chadwick resurrects the true story of one of England's greatest forgotten heroes in a captivating blend of fact and fiction. The Greatest Knight restores William Marshal to his rightful place at the pinnacle of the Middle Ages, reflecting through him the triumphs, scandals, and power struggles that haven't changed in eight hundred years.

Here's a book trailer for The Greatest Knight.

The Greatest Knight is an enjoyable historical fiction that covers the first part of William Marshal's life (1167-1194 AD). The sequel, describing the rest of his life, is titled The Scarlet Lion.

The author clearly knows her subject matter and stayed true to it. Her skilled use of historical detail helped bring the world alive in my imagination without slowing the pace.

However, the author had so many years to cover that she often skipped over months, even years, of William Marshal's life between each chapter (though what happened during that time was always briefly told). Whole wars were skipped over or were covered with only one or two scenes.

The characters were interesting and had some depth to them. Due to the fast pace of the first two-thirds of the novel, though, any troubles William Marshal faced were overcome before I really had a chance to worry about what would happen. However, the last third of the book settles down to cover a relatively short period of time in detail, and I loved this section. Even knowing some of what was going to happen, the tension built nicely, and I couldn't put the novel down.

There was a minor amount of swearing. There were several sex scenes (both between married and unmarried couples). It's clear what's going on in these scenes, but only one scene was explicit--though I'd call it discreetly explicit with some heat. Overall, I'd recommend this novel to historical fiction readers.

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
In the dark hour before dawn, all the shutters in the great hall were closed against the evil vapours of the night. Under the heavy iron curfew, the fire was a quenched dragon’s eye. The forms of slumbering knights and retainers lined the walls and the air sighed with the sound of their breathing and resonated with the occasional glottal snore.

At the far end of the hall, occupying one of the less favoured places near the draughts and away from the residual gleam of the fire, a young man twitched in his sleep, his brow pleating as the vivid images of his dream took him from the restless darkness of a vast Norman castle to a smaller, intimate chamber in his family’s Berkshire keep at Hamstead.

He was five years old, wearing his best blue tunic, and his mother was clutching him to her bosom as she exhorted him in a cracking voice to be a good boy. ‘Remember that I love you, William.’ She squeezed him so tightly that he could hardly breathe. When she released him they both gasped, he for air, she fighting tears. ‘Kiss me and go with your father,’ she said.

Setting his lips to her soft cheek, he inhaled her scent, sweet like new mown hay. Suddenly he didn’t want to go and his chin began to wobble.

‘Stop weeping, woman, you’re unsettling him.’

William felt his father’s hand come down on his shoulder, hard, firm, turning him away from the sun-flooded chamber and the gathered domestic household, which included his three older brothers, Walter, Gilbert and John, all watching him with solemn eyes. John’s lip was quivering too.

‘Are you ready son?’

He looked up. Lead from a burning church roof had destroyed his father’s right eye and melted a raw trail from temple to jaw, leaving him with an angel’s visage one side, and the gargoyle mask of a devil on the other. Never having known him without the scars, William accepted them without demur.

‘Yes, sir,’ he said and was rewarded by a kindling gleam of approval from John Marshal’s one eye.

‘Brave lad.’

In the courtyard the grooms were waiting with the horses. Setting his foot in the stirrup, John Marshal swung astride and leaned down to scoop William into the saddle before him. ‘Remember that you are the son of the King’s Marshal and the nephew of the Earl of Salisbury,’ his father said as he nudged his stallion’s flanks and he and his troop clattered out of the keep. William was intensely aware of his father’s broad, battle-scarred hands on the reins and the bright embroidery decorating the wrists of the tunic.

‘Will I be gone a long time?’ his dream self asked in a high treble.

‘That depends on how long King Stephen wants to keep you.’

‘Why does he want to keep me?’

‘Because I made him a promise to do something and he wants you beside him until I have kept that promise.’ His father’s voice was as harsh as a sword blade across a whetstone. ‘You are a hostage for my word of honour.’

‘What sort of promise?’

William felt his father’s chest spasm and heard a grunt that was almost laughter. ‘The sort of promise that only a fool would ask of a madman.’

Read the rest of chapter one.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Forest Born by Shannon Hale

Forest Born

Forest Born
by Shannon Hale

Hardcover: 392 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
First Released: 2009

Author Website

Source: ARC from publisher

Back Cover Description:
The fourth tale in Hale's beloved Books of Bayern series.

Rin is sure that something is wrong with her...something really bad. Something that is keeping her from feeling at home in the Forest homestead where she's lived all her life. Something that is keeping her from trusting herself with anyone at all. When her brother Razo returns from the city for a visit, she accompanies him to the palace, hoping that she can find peace away from home. But bloodshed has come to Bayern again, and Rin is compelled to join the queen and her closest allies--magical girls Rin thinks of as the Fire Sisters--as they venture into the Forest toward Kel, the land where someone seems to want them all dead. Many beloved Bayern characters reappear in this story, but it is Rin's own journey of discovering how to balance the good and the bad in herself that will pull readers into this fantastical adventure.

(I would have described this book as: When Rin discovers her ability to influence those around her, she scares herself with her selfish, heady actions. Her normal source of comfort--the Forest--no longer welcomes her. She decides never to use her ability again and escapes to the palace with Razo in hopes of finding peace. But when someone tries to harm her brother and new friends, she must use her power even though it seems certain to corrupt and destroy her.)

Forest Born is an enjoyable YA fantasy novel. It is the fourth book in the series. I'd suggest reading the first books in the series first (because I think they're better and so they aren't spoiled for you after reading this book), but you can understand this one without having read the others.

I enjoyed the underlying humor in the book, but I was confused by why Rin was acting oddly (her reaction seemed blown out of proportion to the events because the author kept some early, critical events deliberately vague). I didn't bond with Rin in the first half because I couldn't understand her. When the author finally revealed what had happened, Rin suddenly became a sympathetic character to me because I knew what a burden she'd been struggling with. But by the time we learned this, Rin was already starting to get things under control and her transition from "struggling" to "figured it out" felt too fast even though I reminded myself it wasn't.

I understand that Rin didn't know what as happening, but I felt frustrated that the author prevented me from knowing at least as much as Rin did. I wished that the full details of the critical events had been revealed back when they occurred so that we could go through her struggle with her, cheering her the whole way.

If you, like me, don't like it when an author hides the critical reason why a character acts the way she does, I'd suggest that, when you reach the end of chapter one (which is 15 page in the ARC...the page numbers might be slightly different in the final version), turn to the full account of what happened with Wilem which starts on page 192 and read the italicized section which lasts until page 201. Then turn to read the italicized section on pages 208 to 210 (the last pages of chapter 17).

The pacing was excellent, but the world-building was only okay. This story didn't seem as deeply thought out as her previous stories. I noticed a number of details that didn't make sense to me, like Rin putting mud in her ears to protect herself from hearing someone speak in a future confrontation but needing to avoid (and somehow still hearing them in time to hide from) enemies that were searching for her at that moment.

The story was still enjoyable, and the ending was satisfying. There was no romance for Rin, but the other characters got in plenty of kissing. There was no sex and the bad language was of the "he cursed" variety. Overall, I'd recommend this book 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 from Chapter One
Ma had six sons. The eldest was big like his father, the middle boys were middling. By the time Razo was born, all the family's largeness must have been used up. The brothers called him runt and made him feel that word. He spent winter nights longing for a younger sibling, someone he could call runt, someone he could push and pinch.

Ma was longing too, but for a girl to share thoughts with, a daughter cut and sewn from her own soul.

When Razo was almost five, he and Ma both got their wish. The baby girl was born on a night so hot the wind panted and the summer moon blazed like the sun.

"Rinna," Ma named her.

"A girl," said the father.

"Rinna-girl," said Razo, peering over the side of the cot.

The baby blinked huge dark eyes and opened her mouth into a tiny circle. All desire to push and pinch hushed right out of Razo.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

And the winner is...

It's time to pick a winner for my copy of "Rose House" by Tina Ann Forkner. 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 from Amazon or your favorite bookstore.