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.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Leaving Carolina by Tamara Leigh

Leaving Carolina cover

Leaving Carolina
by Tamara Leigh

Trade Paperback: 374 pages
Publisher: Multnomah
First Released: 2009

Author Website

Source: Review copy from publisher.

Back Cover Description:
They say you can take the girl out of the South, but you can't take the South out of the girl.

This girl begs to differ.

Piper Wick left her hometown of Pickwick, North Carolina, twelve years ago, shook the dust off her feet, ditched her drawl and her family name, and made a new life for herself as a high-powered public relations consultant in LA. She’s even “engaged to be engaged” to the picture-perfect U.S. Congressman Grant Spangler.

Now all of Piper’s hard-won happiness is threatened by a reclusive uncle’s bout of conscience. In the wake of a health scare, Uncle Obadiah Pickwick has decided to change his will, leaving money to make amends for four generations’ worth of family misdeeds. But that will reveal all the Pickwicks’ secrets, including Piper’s.

Though Piper arrives in Pickwick primed for battle, she is unprepared for Uncle Obe’s rugged, blue-eyed gardener. So just who is Axel Smith? Why does he think making amends is more than just making restitution? And why, oh why, can’t she stay on task? With the Lord’s help, Piper is about to discover that although good PR might smooth things over, only the truth will set her free.

Leaving Carolina is a humorous (almost "chick-lit") Christian romance novel. The pacing was excellent, and I enjoyed the story so much that I didn't want to put the book down. The world-building was also excellent with details about the place and people's jobs bringing the world alive in my imagination.

The characters' relationships with each other were realistic and something I think many readers could relate to as was the core situation/problems of the book (is looking good to others worth living with secret guilt? is making peace with those that hurt you worth the potential pain?).

I enjoyed that the romance went a bit more like they do in real life with several reasonable misunderstandings followed by straightening things out as the two got to know each other. I also liked that they didn't kiss at their first impulse but that tensions were left to simmer for a bit.

The novel was written in first person present tense ("I run" versus "I ran"), but I didn't even realize this until the last few pages of the novel. So either I'm getting used to present tense or present tense done well doesn't bother me or first person combined with present tense can work well. ;)

The characters weren't super-spiritual or morally squeaky-clean, but God does have an impact on their lives. The novel wasn't preachy. I don't recall any cussing or swearing, and there was no sex. Overall, I'd highly 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
Family is rarely convenient. Case in point: Uncle Obadiah Horace Pickwick. Despite his summons to discuss his will, likely brought on by hospitalization for chest pains, I won’t be flying to Pickwick, North Carolina. As I explained to his ancient attorney before he put me on hold, as much as I like my uncle, I can’t get out from under my work load on such short notice.

Of course, neither am I ready to return to the town I escaped twelve years ago.

Staring at the phone on my desk, I will Artemis Bleeker to return to the line, but the music continues to drone from the speakerphone. Whine, whine. “Oh ma darlin’…” Groan, groan. “You left me standin’ here…” Wah, wah. “Left me starin’ after you.”

“Yeah, yeah.” I flop back in my chair. “Cry me a river.”

“Well, ma dear”—the nasal voice drops several octaves—“I’m back.”

I roll my eyes. “Nice lyrics.”

“What’d ya say, Piper?”

It’s him! I grab the receiver. “Mr. Bleeker—”

“You’re no longer a little girl, Piper Pickwick. Do address me by ma first name.”

As he had asked me to do when I took his call, after which I politely informed him I had dropped the “Pick” part of my name. Though he spluttered over my “butcherin’ ” of the family name, I didn’t defend myself. But had I, my defense would have been based more on the Pickwicks’ scandalous reputation than on the nursery rhyme alliteration that plagued me through my school years.

Piper Wick clears her throat. “Thank you, Artemis. I’ll try to remember that. So you said the doctors are running more tests to determine the cause of Uncle Obe’s chest pains.”

“They are, but your uncle is certain it’s heart failure. And a man knows his own body. Um-hmm.”

“But so far the tests have come back negative.”

“These things can be elusive.”

Read the rest of chapter one.