Thursday, December 31, 2009

Do book bloggers buy books? Yes!

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Streiker's Bride by Robin Hardy

book cover

Streiker's Bride
by Robin Hardy

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

Author Website

Source: From my personal library.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was no bad language. There was no explicit sex. Overall, I'd highly recommend this well-written, clean novel.

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

Excerpt from Chapter One
Adair had to get into that building without being noticed. So she rose from the car seat, brushed dog hairs from her suit, and nonchalantly strode into the bank lobby at forty minutes past eight o'clock.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of chapter one.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Unafraid by Francine Rivers

Unafraid cover

by Francine Rivers

Hardback: 213 pages
Publisher: Tyndale
First Released: 2001

Source: My personal library.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was no bad language and no explicit sex. Overall, I'd recommend this novella as well-written, clean reading.

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

Excerpt from Chapter One
Mary sat alone beneath a mustard tree, her hands covering her face. Did all brides feel this way when the contracts were signed, gifts given, and futures sealed by the will of others? She trembled at the prospect of life with a man she hardly knew, other than as a man admired and befriended by her father upon his arrival in Nazareth three years ago.

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of chapter one.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Louisa May Alcott by Harriet Reisen

Louisa May Alcott cover

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

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

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

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Book of Jane by Anne Dayton, May Vanderbilt

The Book of Jane cover

The Book of Jane
by Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt

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

Author Website

Source: Bought from

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

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

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

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

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

There was no sex. There was a minor amount of fake bad language. The novel was written in present tense ("I say" instead of "I said"), but I usually didn't notice and it didn't bother me. Overall, it was an enjoyable, clean novel.

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

Excerpt from Chapter One
Most people don’t know that her real name is Liberty Enlightening the World. It’s a mouthful, so people usually just call her Lady Liberty or the Statue of Liberty, but I think you kind of lose something in the translation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure,” I say to Sophie. “Shoot.”

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

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

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

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

“Had what?”

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

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

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

I stifle a laugh and shake my head.

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

Read the rest of chapter one.

Friday, December 18, 2009

What I Wore to Save the World by Maryrose Wood

What I Wore to Save the World cover

What I Wore to Save the World
by Maryrose Wood

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

Source: Unrequested review copy from publisher.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

And the winner is...

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


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

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

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Rook by Steven James

The Rook cover

The Rook
by Steven James

Paperback: 464 pages
Publisher: Onyx
First Released: 2009

Author Website
Buy from Publisher

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You sure?"

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 11, 2009

Fairest by Gail Carson Levine

Fairest cover

by Gail Carson Levine

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

Author Website

Source: Checked out of library.

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

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

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

I liked the moral that changing yourself to fit in with what others think is desirable has its price. There was no sex or bad language. Overall, I'd rate it as enjoyable, clean fun.

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

Excerpt from Chapter One
I was born singing. Most babies cry. I sang an aria.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’d laugh at that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Areida would giggle.

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

Read more of Chapter One.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Christmas Giveaway: The Heavens Before

The Heavens Before cover

The Heavens Before
by Kacy Barnett-Gramckow

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

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

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

To enter the giveaway:

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


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

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

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

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

The Heavens Before by Kacy Barnett-Gramckow

The Heavens Before cover

The Heavens Before
by Kacy Barnett-Gramckow

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

Source: My personal library.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was no explicit sex. There was no bad language. Overall, I'd highly recommend this well-written, clean novel.

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

Excerpt from Chapter One
Annah sighed and settled herself into a crook of the feathery branches of the ancient Tree of Havah. A morning mist shrouded the fields about her, and the cool rose-pink air made her shiver, but these minor discomforts were worth the temporary sensations of freedom and peace. Her family and the other inhabitants of the settlement still slept, exhausted after their usual night of feasting, visiting, dancing, and quarreling. Annah did not join in these festivities; she had nothing to celebrate.

I do not belong with the others, she thought.

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 4, 2009

Yankee Invasion by Ignacio Solares

Yankee Invasion cover

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

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

Source: Review copy from publisher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Death to the Yankees!"

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

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

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