Sunday, January 31, 2010

No Man's Land by Eric L. Haney

book cover

No Man's Land
by Eric L. Haney

Mass Market Paperback: 298 pages
Publisher: Berkley
First Released: 2010

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Back Cover Description (slightly modified):
Kennesaw Tanner spent years defending his country from enemies around the globe, fighting a shadow war with no battlefields, no treaties, and no surrender...

Now, as a soldier of fortune, he spends his time in Savannah, Georgia, waiting for the next mission to come his way. He never has to wait long.

A military officer appears with an offer: Tanner is needed to locate and rescue the kidnapped heir of a powerful leader in Lebanon, whose alliance with the United States has made him a target for terrorists. A simple extraction job.

What Tanner doesn't know is that there are elements within the U.S. government who want him to fail, that the sands of political expediency are shifting against him, and that the job he's being paid to do may cost him more than he bargained for...

Eric L. Haney uses his 20-year Army career, including service as a combat Infantryman, a Ranger, and a Delta Force Operative, to create a suspenseful, realistic tale.

No Man's Land was a fast-paced and exciting military suspense novel. The world-building was excellent, and the details of the setting, various cultures, and actions (sailing, military, etc.) were realistic and brought the world alive in my imagination. I felt like the narrator was a real person telling me about events that had really happened. The characters were realistic and interesting. I wanted to know what happened next and had a hard time putting the book down.

It was clear from the character Kennesaw's actions that he didn't hold to any one religion but that he did believe in a god. So I was surprised when the book suddenly stopped the action to spend a page and a half stating Kennesaw's spiritual beliefs. They had no direct bearing on the story and could have been deleted without anyone noticing. I can only conclude that the author wanted to make a point by having his character do this, so I decided to mention the religious content as I do on more obviously religious novels.

Kennesaw states on page 97, "I believe that anyone who threatens his fellow man with the holy wrath of God, because other people fail to express the proselytizer's particular brand of religious propaganda, is nothing more than a moral terrorist." As for the other characters, the novel also had Muslims doing their ritual prayers and an American woman praying to an undefined "God."

[Note: I have a problem with Kennesaw's statement, by the way. Unless you have an unchanging God who has revealed absolute rules about right and wrong that flow from his very nature (as in, do not lie because he cannot lie), then you have no basis for right and wrong, good and evil beyond everyone's personal opinion. So, according to Kennesaw's belief system, why is it wrong to be a "moral terrorist" except for the fact that he doesn't like it?]

There was no sex. There was a minimal amount of cussing and swearing. Overall, I'd highly recommend this book as very 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
I sailed into Savannah on what turned out to be a high tide of rare good fortune. I hadn't planned to put in here, but then again, few of my schemes ever work out according to the original plot. It's much like the old saying in the army: "No plan survives contact with the enemy."

I had been slipping down the Atlantic coast with the vague idea of making my way to Belize and doing a little charter work. Cruising, fishing, diving, it didn't make much difference to me. Anything to put a few doubloons in the old treasure chest and keep body and soul joined as one. And Belize seemed a good backwater spot where a man could lay low for a while.

But a fast-moving storm had slammed out of the North Atlantic and into the Georgia Bight. My old boat, the Miss Rosalie, a fifty-six-foot former Dutch fishing vessel, had taken a pretty severe beating from the particularly nasty nor'easter, and we needed to make a run for the proverbial port in a storm.

The tides on the Georgia coast are the highest to be found between the Bay of Fundy and Argentina, and the currents of the Savannah River are notoriously swift and treacherous, but this time the forces of nature conspired in our favor, and we scudded upriver on the crest of a surging spring tide. And then, after making repairs, I'd found an old shrimp dock where the space was neither too expensive nor the neighbors too discerning, and tied Miss Rosalie down for a period of well-needed rest and recuperation.

All in all, it was a pretty good spot. The way the yachting crowd avoided the place you'd think it was a quarantine dock for transient syphilis cases, which suited me right to the ground. And before long I came to know and become accepted by the fishermen, shrimpers, tidewater bums, and other human and animal denizens that called this little portion of out-of-the way waterfront their home.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

And the winner is...

It's time to pick a winner for the copy of Beautiful by Cindy Martinusen-Coloma. Using a random number generator and numbering the entrants in the order I received them, the winner is:


who entered through 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 this book at your favorite bookstore!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Thicker Than Blood by C.J. Darlington

book cover

Thicker Than Blood
by C.J. Darlington

Trade Paperback: 376 pages
Publisher: Tyndale
First Released: 2009

Author Website
Author on Twitter

Source: Review copy from the publisher

Back Cover Description:
Christy Williams never imagined that a stolen Hemingway first edition would lead her back to the sister she left fifteen years ago. But when things begin to unravel, she finds herself on May's ranch doorstep, fearing for her life.

After a bittersweet reunion, will the two discover that some hurts can't be healed, or is there a tie that's thicker than blood?

Thicker Than Blood was an enjoyable, fast-paced Christian fiction about reconciliation. The world-building was excellent, and the details about the antiquarian book selling trade and ranching (and everything else) brought the world alive in my imagination.

I liked that it wasn't typical Christian fiction in that Christy was introduced getting pulled over for drunk driving. At the beginning, among other things, she was often drunk, smoked, had slept with her past boyfriends, and had just broken up with an abusive boyfriend not interested in letting her go. And her life was about to hit rock bottom as her past caught up to her.

I was a disappointed, though, that the characters didn't feel entirely realistic. For example, we're told that Christy is 33 and has seen the worst of life. Yet during the confrontation that eventually led to her having to go to May's, she acted like an extremely naive 18-year-old. Once at May's, she was back to being cynical and worldly. Not to mention that both Hunter and Christy had every reason to hate the bad guy and both knew he wasn't trustworthy, yet Christy was shocked and surprised and Hunter initially completely taken in by what he did.

I also felt like we were only getting the surface thoughts of the characters; thoughts would pop up that the character apparently had been thinking all along, but the reader didn't know it.

Part of the reason I was disappointed, though, was that the rest of the book was so well written. The novel was actually very good for a debut.

The first two-thirds of the book didn't have much God-talk, but the end had more, including a preacher preaching in a church. Though none of the God-talk was condemning or "get your act together, horrible sinner!", I suspect the book may still exasperate non-Christians.

There was no explicit sex or bad language. Overall, I'd recommend the 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
Christy Williams didn’t see the cop until his red lights flashed in her rearview mirror. By then it was too late. He was tailing her, and she had no choice but to ease her Honda Accord onto the snowy shoulder of the freeway and let the cruiser slide in behind.

Jerking up the emergency brake, she threw herself back into her seat with a curse. She hadn’t been speeding. She was sure of it. Christy forced herself to focus on the cruiser, squinting to see past its blinding headlights. She could barely make out the cop’s silhouette behind the wheel. What was he doing?

At last the burly officer emerged from the patrol car, approaching slowly, his hand resting on his holster. Christy put down her window, and a blast of frigid night air hit her face and rolled across her lap.

“Turn the car off, ma’am.”

She did.

“I need your license, registration, and proof of insurance.”

“What’d I do?” She fumbled for the items, then handed them to the cop. The name tag opposite his badge read T. Jones.

Jones glanced at them with a smirk. He gave one back. “License. Not grocery card.”

Christy flushed as she flipped through her wallet again. Real smooth. She finally found her license and passed it to the cop. He took it with the other cards to his patrol car. What was this all about? Had she been swerving? She quickly crunched down on two fresh squares of peppermint Dentyne Ice. Deep breath now. Chew. It’s just a routine stop. My taillight’s probably out. No need to panic. He doesn’t know.

Without the engine on, the car turned cold fast. Christy zipped up her fleece jacket and checked the cop again. After a minute his door opened, and her pulse kicked up a notch. Please. Let this be nothing. She couldn’t face any more disappointment tonight.

Read the rest of chapter one.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Author Quirks: Cindy Martinusen-Coloma

Next up is Cindy Martinusen-Coloma, author of Beautiful. 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.)

Cindy Martinusen-Coloma's answer:

Some of my best ideas come while driving or in the shower. I often forget to put conditioner in my hair in the shower because my mind is usually coming up with some new plot twist or character development. I really need a waterproof laptop.

Thank you, Cindy Martinusen-Coloma, for sharing your quirks.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale

book cover

The Book of Fires
by Jane Borodale

Hardback: 368 pages
Publisher: Viking
First Released: 2010

Source: Review copy from publisher.

Back Cover Description:
It is 1752. Winter is approaching, and two secrets--an unwanted pregnancy and a theft--drive seventeen-year-old Agnes Trussel to run away from her home in rural Sussex. Lost and frightened as night descends on the menacing streets of London, she is drawn to a curious sign depicting a man holding a star. It is the home of Mr. J. Blacklock, a brooding fireworks maker who is grieving for his recently deceased wife. He hires Agnes as his apprentice, and as she learns to make rockets, portfires, and fiery rain, she slowly gains the laconic Blacklock's trust. He initiates her into his peculiar art and sparks in her a shared obsession for creating the most spectacular fireworks the world has ever seen.

But her condition is becoming harder to conceal, and through it all, the clock is ticking--for Agnes's secret will not stay hidden forever. Soon she meets Cornelius Soul, seller of gunpowder, and she conceives of a plan that could save her. But why does Blacklock so vehemently disapprove of Mr. Soul? And what is Blacklock hiding from her? Could he be on the brink of a discovery that will change pyrotechny forever? A summer storm is brewing--but Agnes has no idea that her mysterious mentor has been watching her and hatching plans of his own.

The Book of Fires vividly evokes a dark bygone world and paints a portrait of 1750s London that is unforgettable, from the grimy streets to the inner workings of a household where little is as it seems. Beautifully written, complex, and layered, The Book of Fires is a captivating debut of fireworks, redemption, and the strange alchemy that will forever change the fortunes of a young woman once bound for ruin.

The Book of Fires is a richly detail historical set in England in 1752-53. It's clear that the author did her research, and the details of 18th century life and firework making brought the world alive in my imagination. However, at times this turned into a very pleasant "how they did it" historical lesson that didn't move the plot forward and so slowed the pace. History-lovers won't care, but others might find these spots boring.

I didn't particularly like the characters, but they were complex. I felt sympathy for Agnes. I did want to know what happened to the characters, and what happened was well-written, interesting, and not always expected.

The novel was written in present tense ("I see" vs "I saw"). Actually, the first chapter jumped around between tenses ("I see" to "I saw" to "I am seeing"), and there were so many "is" and "am" used (partly due to a number of passive sentences) that I found it distracting. However, in chapter two, these problems quickly disappeared and the story settled down into a very readable present tense.

One nit-pick: The author used a lot of "I see that" and even a number of "I smell" and "I hear" that could have been cut without harming the sentence. At the beginning, there were sometimes so many of these "I see that" used that I felt like Agnes thought I was a blind traveling companion rather than feeling immersed in her viewpoint. Again, this problem (mostly) disappeared as the book went on.

There was a rape scene--only a paragraph long and not graphic. There was a minor amount of cursing and swearing. Overall, I'd recommend this book to those interested in learning more about fireworks and 18th century London life in the form of an interesting 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
There is a regular rasp of a blade on a stone as he sharpens the knives. The blade makes a shuddery, tight noise that I feel in my teeth. It's November, and today is the day that we kill the pig.

I am inside the house, bending over the hearth. I lay pieces of dry elm and bark over the embers and they begin to kindle as the fire takes. A warm fungus smell rises up and the logs bubble juices and resin. The fed flames spit and crackle, colored jets hissing out wet. A column of thick smoke pours rapidly up the chimney and out into the sky like a gray liquid into milk. I hang the bellows from the strap and straighten up. Fire makes me feel good. Burning things into ash and nothingness makes my purpose seem clearer.

When I stand back, I see that the kitchen is full of smoke. My mother is busy and short of breath, flustering between the trestles and the fireside, two blotches of color rising on her cheekbones. This fire must be a roasting blaze, one of the hottest of the year. It has to heat the biggest pots brimful with boiling water to scald the pigskin, and later will simmer the barley and puddings, fatty blood and grain packed into the washed guts, moving cleanly around in the cauldron of water. I go to the door and step out into the yard to fetch more wood.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Giveaway: Beautiful

book cover

by Cindy Martinusen-Coloma

Trade Paperback: 270 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
First Released: 2009

I really enjoyed Beautiful by Cindy Martinusen-Coloma, so I decided to give away my review copy. 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 "Hi @genrereviewer. Enter me to win BEAUTIFUL. Another novel by Cindy Martinusen-Coloma 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 January 30, 2010 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!

Beautiful by Cindy Martinusen-Coloma

book cover

by Cindy Martinusen-Coloma

Trade Paperback: 270 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
First Released: 2009

Author's Website
Author on Twitter

Source: Review copy from publisher through the author's blog tour invitation.

Back Cover Description:
Her friends once thought she was perfect. Now she must face the mirror--and herself--to discover what true beauty is.

Ellie Summerfield has everything a girl could want--she's beautiful, she's Senior Class President, has a calendar full of social engagements, volunteer commitments, and church activities. In short, she's perfect, according to most of the students at West Redding High School. But something is bothering Ellie, like a loose string on a dress she can feel but can't see. Does she really love her boyfriend, Ryan? Who are her true friends? And is she really happy in her picture-perfect life?

Then in the course of a few minutes, the loose string in Ellie's life completely unravels. Forever changed, she must face herself as she discovers what it really means to be beautiful.

Beautiful is a young adult novel that has some romance. Adults will also enjoy this story. The novel asks the question, "Where does a person's worth come from? What happens when you peel back the trappings of a person's life and expose what's left?"

While mainly about Ellie, the story also revolved around her sister, Megan. Ellie and Megan appear to be exact opposites. Both are forced to face the core of who they are in a way neither expected. (I normally don't like back cover descriptions that refuse to say what the pivotal, life-changing moment is in the story, but the author handled this surprise so well that I'm not even going to hint.)

I cared about the characters. They were complex and faced realistic, tough struggles. I was left feeling like these characters really existed somewhere and had lived through this. The pacing was very good, and I had a hard time putting the book down because I wanted to know what happened next. The wording used in the story seemed a bit formal compared to what I'm used to in YA novels, but it fit Ellie.

I wouldn't really call this a Christian novel as there was very little "God talk," but God was mentioned here and there. In fact, I felt it could have used a bit more explanation. It was clear why Ellie began to doubt that God cared about or even paid attention to the details in each person's life, but I didn't quite follow why she changed her stance to what it was on page 258. Anyway, I think most Christians and non-Christians would enjoy the book.

There was no sex. There was minimal bad language of the "she cursed" style. While many of the teen characters drank alcohol, smoked cigarettes, and smoked pot, Ellie didn't drink or do drugs. 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
The Anonymous Blog about Life at West Redding High
Oct 17

Why would you ever want to be like Ellie Summerfield? Because she's popular, pretty, and--what are other P words?--how about punctual, prudish, pre-law (perhaps), perky, practical...All I have to say is: predictable! How does Ryan Blasin stand someone so--this is the exact word for Ellie Summerfield--perfect. Wanna bet she'll be back to school after her grandfather's funeral today? Just watch and see.


People were staring at Ellie as she turned the combination on her locker. She looked down and cringed. She'd meant to change from the black skirt and blouse into jeans, but the compulsion to get away had made her forget. Was that why they were staring?

"Who comes back to school after a funeral?" Vanessa opened her locker beside Ellie's.

"A person who has a calculus test sixth period and a student council meeting after school."

And a person who needs to escape her family for the rest of the day.

Ellie stared into the abyss of her locker. She really needed to reorganize. Papers stuck out from the tops of books. Her planner was missing from where it usually resided for quick reference.

"You are mistaken, Miss Summerfield. No one comes back to school after a funeral. A funeral is a free pass out of everything."

"Not everything," Ellie said and recognized how lame her defense sounded. She moved her chem book in front of her history book. She liked to keep them in the order of her classes.

"Did your sister come back to school? Of course not, and you know I never side with the sister from the dark side. Either you're more obsessive-compulsive than usual or... Oh, please do not tell me that you are organizing your locker--again. Take a peek into the world of the normal teenage life."

Vanessa flung one arm toward her open locker, which overflowed with everything from papers and books to nail polish and some sort of leftover food item that Ellie didn't care to see more of.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Want to find more Christian Fiction?

The readers of my blog might be interested to know that the American Christian Fiction Writers association has put up a site called Fiction Finders. To quote from their welcome page:

We've designed this website as an easy-access resource where you can find the latest in Christian fiction or that book you read 15 years ago and would like to find again.

Explore the database and you just might find a new favorite author or a current favorite's book you didn't know she'd written.

Through our advanced search you can search for books based on issue, setting, and levels of suspense, romance and so much more. Use this site to home in on novels that appeal to you.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Seahorse in the Thames by Susan Meissner

book cover

A Seahorse in the Thames
by Susan Meissner

Trade Paperback: 286 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers
First Released: 2006

Author Website

Source: Bought from

Back Cover Description:
Alexa Poole was to to spend her week off from work quietly recuperating from minor surgery. But when carpenter Stephen Moran falls into her life--or rather off of her roof--the unexpected happens. His sweet, gentle disposition proves more than she can resist and now she’s falling for him.

And then the news comes that Alexa's older sister, Rebecca, has vanished from the Falkman Residential Center where she has lived for the past 17 years, since an auto accident left her mentally compromised. Alexa, fearing the worst, calls her twin sister in England, and Priscilla agrees to come home despite a strained separation from her family--not to find Rebecca but to deliver some startling news.

As Alexa begins the search for Rebecca, disturbing questions surface. Why did the car that Rebecca was riding in swerve off the road killing her college friend, Leanne McNeil? And what about the mysterious check for $50,000 found in Rebecca’s room signed by her friend’s father, Gavin McNeil?

And can Alexa, in love for the first time, embrace the news about Stephen's future with courage?

When I finished A Seahorse in the Thames, I felt like I'd just awoken from a nice dream that I will remember fondly. It's a novel about finding beauty in an unexpected place. It has a romance and a mystery, but mostly it's a thoughtful book about finding healing after tragedy.

Alexa spent a lot of time in her thoughts, thinking things over. There were a lot of flashbacks at the beginning (including both a summary and a detailed version of what had just happened--I wish Susan Meissner had simply begun with the accident). However, the flashbacks decreased and the pacing picked up after the first few chapters.

The characters were complex, realistic, and people I could care about. The romance was sweet and dealt with the question "is loving someone worth it if they might die within a year?" It also explored the family dynamics created when a child died shortly after birth and another had brain damage after a car accident. There was a lot of pain to heal.

God was mentioned, but the Christian elements were subtle. The novel wasn't at all preachy. I think both Christians and non-Christians would enjoy the book.

The novel was written in present tense ("I see" vs "I saw") and occasionally the wording "sounded" a bit awkward to me. There was no sex. There was a minor amount of "he cussed" style of bad language. Overall, I really enjoyed this novel and would highly recommend it as good, clean reading.

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

Excerpt from Chapter One
Stephen's wounded body lies just inches from me. His eyes are closed, but I cannot tell if he is awake or sleeping. Luminescent red numbers on a tiny black screen blink at me, silently registering every beat of his heart; the Demerol the emergency room nurse gave him has slowed it some, but the drug seems to have taken the edge off his pain. A broken arm and ankle are thankfully the worst of the injuries Stephen sustained when he fell off my roof. Bandages here and there cover the places where his skin tore away from his body, but he will need surgery to repair the broken bones. I look at him lying there, an injured man I barely know, and all I can think is, So this is what it's like to fall in love.

I must be crazy.

I have known Stephen for only four days.

And knowing someone for four days doesn't mean you really know that person.

I don't know what it means. I just know I cannot pull myself away from his hospital bed, even though he is surely no longer in any danger. The fall did not kill him. I am grateful for the Indian hawthorn bushes outside my kitchen window that broke his fall. The branches poked him, puncturing skin all over his arms, face, and legs, but they held him up from the unforgiving ground. I cannot bear to think what would have happened if he had fallen off the east side of my roof to the concrete driveway below it.

My next-door neighbor, Serafina, saw Stephen fall. It was just after eleven this morning, a little more than an hour ago. She came running to my front door, pounding on the screen and yelling in her melodic Spanish accent, "Alexa! That repairman has fallen from your roof!"

Friday, January 15, 2010

Perfecting Kate by Tamara Leigh

book cover

Perfecting Kate
by Tamara Leigh

Trade Paperback: 405 pages
Publisher: Multnomah Publishers
First Released: 2007

Source: Bought through

Back Cover Description:
Kate’s Creed: Thou shalt embrace singledom and be unbelievably, inconceivably happy.


Kate Meadows is a successful San Francisco artist looking for a nice, solid Christian man. So when not one, but two handsome bachelors enter her orbit in rapid succession, her head is spinning just a bit. Michael Palmier is a hunky and famous makeup artist who actually seems to be flirting with her–rather than her physically flawless housemate, Maia. Trouble is, he keeps handing her business cards from various beauty professionals and plastic surgeons. Is he trying to stamp out every last bit of self-esteem she has?

Then there’s Dr. Clive Alexander, good-looking enough to be mistaken for Brad Pitt, who sends Kate’s pulse skittering every time he comes near. Too bad he’s only interested in her work–and doesn’t think she’s much to look at. It’s enough to send a girl running for her paint-splattered, relaxed-fit jeans and swearing off men altogether! But after undergoing a makeover from Michael’s staff, Kate can’t be oblivious to the admiring glances men throw her way. Maybe she should try contacts…consider some fancy dental work…and you know, that mole really could stand to go. The question now is, what kind of work will Kate do on herself…and who exactly is she trying to please?

If you think a person who's 5'3" tall and weighs 134 pounds is fat and that anything less than fitted or form-hugging clothing is frumpy, then this is the book for you. Everyone else is likely to want to shake some sense into Kate (or feel bad about themselves) since she's (medically) the ideal weight and apparently wore non-baggy but comfortable, modest clothing before she started thinking it made her look ugly. One of the unique bits about this novel, though, is that rather than handling her dissatisfaction by unhealthy eating habits, Kate got into a spin of temptation to have operations to fix the perceived problems.

Kate was an unreliable narrator in that she often lied, even to herself. Her actions spoke truer than her words and thoughts. I did like her and the other characters, and they mostly came across as realistic. However, I felt it unrealistic that all but one male in this novel criticized her as being fat, for wearing glasses, etc., while only her female landlord commented negatively about her appearance. In my experience, men are generally happy with women who are comfortable with how they look whereas women are the ones constantly talking about their weight, what they wear, how they look, etc. I also couldn't understand why she called these men friends when all they did was tear her down.

Anyway. The novel was well-written: it had good pacing, good world-building, and was interesting. I'm just not the target audience. I did like that Kate was also struggling with being barren and knowing she couldn't have biological children. This made it believable that she would be willing to consider changing her appearance to keep a guy who said he didn't care about having biological children.

This was a Christian book for Christian readers, and I liked the overall issues being dealt with. However, for much of the book, Kate did have a tendency to think badly of others for not sticking to the Christian moral standard (whether they were Christian or not) when she hardly was a picture of perfection in similar areas. Like she spoke judgmentally toward one fellow for not trusting God yet she often realized she wasn't acting like she trusted God, either. This was one of the issues subtly dealt with in the novel, but if you can't stand Christian hypocrites, then this might not be the book for you.

The novel was written in present tense ("I see" vs "I saw"), but I rarely noticed. There was no sex or bad language. Overall, I'd recommend this well-written, clean novel to Christians who aren't happy with their appearance. This book wasn't so much about "feeling happy with how you look" as "just who are you trying to please?"

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
Oh, my. Is it my imagination, or did a tuxedoed Brad Pitt just walk through the doors of one of San Francisco’s most exclusive children’s clothing stores?

I blink behind my rectangular specs to bring his profile into sharper focus. But as it’s been ages since I’ve seen a pic of Brad sporting anything other than bed-tousled hair, I can’t be certain if this clean-cut male specimen is him. Definitely calls for a closer look.

As I step forward, a voice at my back murmurs, “GQ. Very GQ.”

I look around and up into the boyishly handsome face of Beau, co-owner of Belle and Beau’s Boutique. From his hiked eyebrow, the peak of which disappears into the dark brown hair playing across his brow, it’s obvious he’s also taking in the Bradish guy.

Giving my best don’t-even-think-about-it glower, I cuff his shoulder. “I’ll tell Belle.”

He grins. “You know I’m kidding.”

Of course I do, as he’s never given me cause to think he might revert to the days before he wandered into our church. However, just as he never misses an opportunity to rib me, I never miss the opportunity to return the favor–even though we sometimes push it too far.

He lifts the hand that bears a gold band and wiggles his fingers. “I’m a reformed man. Belle’s the only one for me.”

Ah… Momentarily forgetting my on-again, off-again “thou shalt embrace singledom and be unbelievably, inconceivably happy” creed, I wish someone felt about Katherine Mae Meadows the way Beau feels about Belle.

“I know,” I say on a breathy note, which snaps me out of “here comes the bride/happily ever after” mode. Thankfully. Despite marriage’s supporters, it’s not for everyone. Not that I rule it out completely. Rather, singledom is simply the conclusion I reach each time something promising dissolves into something…not so promising. As an added benefit, the dry spells inherent in selective dating are a little easier to bear.

Selective? As in must have credentials, and topping that list is that “The One” be a Christian. Not that I haven’t fudged a time or two…make that three (“I know I can change him”), but without fail I’ve regretted lifting the ban on what others call a “discriminatory” practice. Of course, some of my Christian dates haven’t gone much better, but at least those losses don’t seem to cut as deep.

Read more of chapter one.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Author Quirks: Jennifer Erin Valent

Next up is Jennifer Erin Valent, author of Cottonwood Whispers. 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.)

Jennifer Erin Valent's answer:

I guess I'd say one of my quirks is that I love thunderstorms. I have since I was a child. When I was little, I would climb up on the windowsill of our picture window to sit and watch the storm until my mother would tell me to come away from the lightning, and I'm still fascinated by them to this day. In fact, I've often thought I could see myself being one of those crazy storm chasers!

I instilled my love for thunderstorms in Jessilyn, the main character in Fireflies in December, Cottonwood Whispers and the upcoming Catching Moondrops. She loves them, but her best friend Gemma hates them because a lightning fire killed her parents. In Fireflies in December, we see Jessilyn going out onto the porch to watch the thunderstorm, and that's exactly where you'd find me, too!

Thank you, Ms. Valent, for sharing how one of your quirks made it into your novels.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Love's First Light by Jamie Carie

book cover

Love's First Light
by Jamie Carie

Trade Paperback: 327 pages
Publisher: B&H Publishing Group
First Released: 2009

Author Website

Source: From publisher through Netgalley.

Book Description from Publisher Website:
Christophé, the Count of St. Laurent, has lost his entire family to the blood-soaked French Revolution and must flee to an ancient castle along the southern border of France to survive. But the medieval city of Carcassonne proves more than a hiding place.

Here Christophé meets the beautiful widow Scarlett, a complex and lionhearted woman suddenly taken by the undercover aristocrat’s passion for astronomy and its influence upon his faith. Although their acquaintance begins brightly enough, when the Count learns that Scarlett is related to the man who murdered his family, he turns from love and chooses revenge. Heaven only knows what it might take for Christophé to love again, to love his enemy, and to love unconditionally.

Love's First Light is a historical with romance set in France in 1789 & 1794, during the French Revolution. The very beginning was a bit painful to get through (due to the content, see the excerpt), but the rest was very enjoyable.

The world-building was excellent, with historical details that brought the world alive in my imagination. (There was a Statue of Liberty mistake, but it was a very minor detail that wasn't important to the story.) The pacing was excellent and, except for a brief interlude in the middle, the tension remained high.

While I felt that some plot lines climaxed a bit early, the pacing remained fast and the story interesting to to end. The epilogue left a few question in my mind since it didn't fully explain why things ended up the way they did (we're simply told this was how they ended up). I'm not sure most people would even notice, though, since the obvious problems were tied up neatly.

The characters were interesting, and I grew to care about what happened to them. Sometimes I had trouble following the author's portrayal of how Christophé saw the world in a mathematical way, but these descriptions were brief and I still got the point, so it wasn't a problem.

The novel did have Christian elements, but it wasn't preachy. The characters lived out their faith the best they knew how with their lives thrown into confusion. They were searching for answers about God's character and his plan/will when life no longer made sense. As long as the reader isn't anti-Christianity, I don't think the Christian elements would bother them.

There was no sex or bad language. The gore was not graphic as the details were left to the reader's imagination. Overall, I'd recommend this 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 Chapter One
1789--Paris, France

They were coming.

They were coming! Christophé shoved his little sister, twelve-year-old Emilie, through a hidden door in the wall, quickly following after her. He held the door open, waiting for the rest of his family, but they didn't appear. The sounds of the soldiers were close. He had no choice. He let the panel fall shut with sudden finality, leaving them in utter darkness.

His sister whimpered and clung to his broad shoulders behind the pearl-paneled, gilt-molded wall. He held her tight against his quivering body, his palm over her ear, pressing her other ear into his chest so that she wouldn't hear their mother's screams. Too late...His heart felt sick, leaden. They'd captured the rest of the St. Laurent family. He clasped Emilie's filmy sleeved dress in his fist and willed the evil away.

Together they stilled their bodies into stark fear as they heard the rolling wheels of the guillotine. Christophé heard a voice command his mother, the Countess Maria Louisa St. Laurent, to come forward. At twenty-three, Christophé recognized that they'd chosen her first to heighten the horror. He clenched his eyes as the rattle of wooden wheels over the hard floor softened when they met carpet, then stilled. It had reached its place of death and damnation. A heavy thud sounded on the other side of the wall as his mother, shrieking, was locked into place. Wails filled the room. His throat ached with silent screams. A second of shocked silence.

And then the thick thud of the blade.

The second eldest son was next. Christophé heard his younger brother Louis's heavy grunts as they forced him to the guillotine. He remembered when Louis had sounded like a boy, then his voice changed. Still, there was the occasional squeak that they weren't to notice. Finally, when his voice no longer squeaked, his brother shot up four inches in a single summer. How proud Christophé had been of that cool, confident young man.

A guttural yell against cloth broke into his thoughts. He closed his eyes and willed it away.

But this nightmare was far from over. Jean Paul would be next--and so he was. The brother who laughed with him and wrestled with him, who ran across fields with him long after Christophé should have outgrown such things. Jean Paul--brother of my heart!

Christophe's whole being became stilled screams.

His body jerked as the sound of the blade sliced through the darkness. He nearly lost consciousness. His body grew weak, his breath vanished in terror. He lost the strength to hold Emilie. He could only blink in the dark and feel his eyes flow with tears that seemed never ending. His shirt and Emilie's hair became soaked with his silent grieving.

Read the rest of chapter one.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Chic Shall Inherit the Earth by Shelley Adina

book cover

The Chic Shall Inherit the Earth
by Shelley Adina

Trade Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Faith Words
First Released: 2010

Source: ARC from publisher

Back Cover Description:
Lissa Mansfield has come a long way since transferring to Spencer Academy two years ago. She's made a great group of friends in Gillian, Carly, Mac, and Shani. She's strengthened and grown her relationship with God. She's even gotten over the Callum McCloud "incident" from her first semester. Now, she's ready to graduate and take on college life!

But with the girls about to separate and head in different directions, Lissa is faced with some of her biggest challenges yet in her last term at Spencer. Her archenemy, Vanessa, has a shocking secret--one that could destroy her reputation forever. Can Lissa reach out to her foe when Vanessa needs a friend the most? And with college on the horizon, will Lissa and Kaz finally come to terms with their feelings for each other? School may be ending, but the excitement s just beginning!

The Chic Shall Inherit the Earth was a well-written Christian romance novel for young adults. This fast-paced novel had realistic characters facing realistic problems: what college they should choose, what role their significant others will play in this decision and their future, and so on. I especially liked how the author handled Lissa's reaching out to Vanessa and how Vanessa, Lissa's friends, and the other kids at the high school reacted.

At the beginning, I didn't really like Lissa. She was generally good-hearted, but rather oblivious to what was really going on with people and preoccupied with clothing and listening to the latest gossip about her nemesis. However, her focus slowly changed, and I ended up really caring about what happened to her.

This novel was definitely written for Christians. The characters attended a weekly prayer gathering and discussed things like how to tell God's will for their lives. However, it wasn't preachy--there was no all-wise character handing out advice, and no one was entirely sure what the answers were. They did find some answers, but the author didn't make a big point of it.

While, overall, I liked the Christian message woven into the story, I did have one concern. I understand that many people believe this, but Lissa and her friends felt that God was too busy to pay much attention to them and that they shouldn't "bother" God with anything but the most critical, life-changing problems. But the Bible teaches that God hears our prayers, cares deeply about us, knows what we're going through, and wants us to come to Him (and trust Him with) the smallest details of our lives.

There was no bad language. There was no sex. The story was written in past tense except when Lissa spoke directly to the reader, but this style read naturally. Overall, I'd recommend this book to teens as long as they understood the truth about the concern I brought up.

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
Let me put it right out there: I'm no sports fan--unless you count surfing, which is more of an attitude to life than a sport. I used to think that there were some things you just knew. But if God were a major league pitcher, He'd be the kind of guy who threw curveballs just to keep you on your toes. To catch you off guard. To prove you wrong about everything you thought.

Which is essentially what happened to us all during the last term of out senior year at Spencer Academy.

My name is Lissa Evelyn Mansfield--yes, I'm back again. Did you miss me? Because, seriously, this last term of high school before my friends and I graduated was so crazed, so unpredictable, that I had to write it all down to try and make sense of it.

But, hey, let's take a moment here. The words last term of senior year need some respect, not to mention celebration. They need to be paused over and savored. Excuse me.

Okay, I'm back.

The term began in April, and by the time our first set of midterms (or thirdterms, as my roommate Gillian Chang calls them, since we get three sets of exams every term) rolled around at the beginning of May, it was just beginning to sink in that there were only seven weeks of high school left. Seven weeks until freedom. Adulthood. Summer vacation. Adulthood. Home.



"Sarah Lawrence is stalking me," Gillian moaned from where she sat on her bed in our dorm room. "Here's another letter." She fished an envelope out of the pile of mail in her lap and waved it.

I looked up from my MacBook Air, where I was checking e-mail. "Don't let Emily Overton hear you. She got turned down and her roommate has had to keep her away from open windows for the last month."

"But I already told them no twice. What's it going to take?"

"You could fail some exams."

Read more from chapter one.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Last Man in the World by Abigail Reynolds

Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World cover

Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World
by Abigail Reynolds

Trade Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
First Released: 2010

Source: Advanced reader copy from publisher

Back Cover Description (modified by me):
In Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet tells the proud Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy that she wouldn't marry him if he were the last man in the world. But what if she never said the words? What if circumstances conspired to make her accept Darcy the first time he proposed? In this installment of Abigail Reynold's acclaimed Pride and Prejudice variants, Elizabeth agrees to marry Darcy in order to escape the ruin of her reputation brought on by an impulsive, public kiss by Darcy.

She initially hides her hatred, but when the truth comes out, it sets off a chain of events that nearly brings disaster to both of them. Ultimately, Darcy and Elizabeth, two people with different temperaments, backgrounds, and expectations, will have to undergo a tumultuous and passionate journey to make a success of their ill-fated marriage.

The Last Man in the World is a Pride and Prejudice variation. Purely judged as a "takeoff" of Jane Austen, the novel didn't work for me. The main characters were nothing like the Pride and Prejudice characters. Elizabeth was terribly insecure, compliant, and melodramatic. Her sole objective was to please Darcy, both when she hated him and when she loved him. Darcy was impulsive, conceited, and physically passionate even in public.

I also never expected explicit sex in a Jane Austen "takeoff" novel. This one caught me by surprise with 5+ pages of explicit sex in one (married) sex scene, a 3 page explicit sex scene near the end, and explicit sexual thoughts sprinkled throughout.

Judging this novel as if it had nothing to do with Pride and Prejudice, it still didn't work for me--though I did find it a fast read and a terribly funny situational comedy (though I think it was meant to be a drama).

Elizabeth came to love Darcy within the first 50 pages. Everything after that was a series of misunderstandings where each misread the intent of the other's every word and action and then refused to believe what the other said when they explained what they really meant. These misunderstandings got to the point of being unbelievable, especially when the characters had to act inconsistently to create the misunderstanding.

It didn't work for me as a historical, either, since the author had several modern sensibilities and behaviors in the story.

This novel was a group "out loud" read. One listener was a male, and he commented that the novel didn't accurately portray how a male thinks. We (two) females had to assure him that women don't think like this Elizabeth, either.

I don't recall any bad language. There was explicit sex. Overall, I suspect the target audience for this novel is fans of romances with explicit sex who also have a crush on Darcy.

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 a moment, when we leave the trees, you will be able to see the house," said Mr. Darcy. "There it is, across the valley--Pemberley House."

Elizabeth smiled at him dutifully, then looked out the window of the carriage to where he was pointing. The house was large and handsome, even at this distance, and its situation on a rising hill above the water was lovely. Of course, she had expected as much, having heard its praises sung by Miss Bingley as well as Darcy himself. In other circumstances, she might have been delighted by it.

She became aware that his eyes were upon her awaiting her response. Obediently, she turned to him and said, "It is lovely, sir. I do not believe I have ever seen a house more fortunately situated."

His face warmed with pleasure, and Elizabeth hurriedly looked out the window again, pretending to examine the nearer aspects of the house as they drove along a stream which wound its way downhill.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Cottonwood Whispers by Jennifer Erin Valent

book cover

Cottonwood Whispers
by Jennifer Erin Valent

Trade Paperback: 340 pages
Publisher: Tyndale
First Released: 2009

Author Website

Source: ARC from publisher

Back Cover Description:
"I've heard the dead whisper."

So begins this sequel to Jennifer’s award-winning debut novel, Fireflies in December. It's 1936, and though Jessilyn Lassiter and her best friend Gemma Teague have survived prejudice and heartache in their lifelong friendship, this summer threatens to tear them apart yet again. Gemma’s job with the wealthy Hadley family leads to a crush on their youngest son. But Jessilyn’s insistence that he’s no good and that no rich white man would ever truly fall for a poor black girl like Gemma puts them at odds.

Tragedy strikes when Jessilyn’s cherished neighbor girl is hit by a car and killed. Things get worse when an elderly friend is falsely accused of the crime, and the only way to clear his name is to put her family’s livelihood in jeopardy. For Jessilyn, this is a choice too hard to bear and she wonders where to turn for answers, especially when an angry mob threatens vigilante justice.

Cottonwood Whispers is a historical fiction with some romance set in 1936 in a small town in the South. The author does an excellent job of conveying the idea of Southern accents without being obvious or making the text hard to read.

This novel is the second in a series, but you don't need to read the first one to understand this one. However, a mystery element in the first novel is revealed in this one, so I'd recommend reading Fireflies in December first--I suspect it's as good as this one.

The novel had excellent pacing and world-building. I was completely pulled into the story. The characters were complex and everyone had their flaws as well as their good points. I cared about the characters, even the not-so-nice characters and the main characters when they weren't acting very nice.

A lot of sad things happen in this novel. It's mostly about dealing with the really hard things in life, like a neighbor's child dying in an accident, injustice, feeling helpless to make things right, and dealing with prejudice against those who are different.

This definitely was a Christian novel, as the issue of why God let things happen differently than Jessilyn thought He should handle them was talked about throughout the book. Jessilyn wasn't a Christian (and didn't become one in this book), but many of those around her were, and she questioned them with her "why?"'s.

There was no bad language or 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
I’ve heard the dead whisper.

Every time I tell my best friend Gemma that, she frowns at me, says, “There ain’t no such thing as ghosts,” and then tells me I’m crazy. But I’m not crazy. The dead really can whisper, only it isn’t their ghosts that do it. It’s the memory of them.

There’s a place around the bend from my momma and daddy’s house where a stone cross rests beneath a cottonwood tree. That cross is where I first heard the whisper. It’s not really a grave so much, but a marker to remind people of what we lost that day. I was only seventeen when we placed that marker there, but it still looks pristine, like it was made just yesterday. Only yesterday was a long time ago, and time has brought a whole lot of changes since—some good and some bad.

And that’s just what I was looking for in that summer of 1936 . . . changes.

The last day of the school year saw me and Gemma meeting up at the pharmacy for a soda to celebrate another year of my surviving school. When I got there, she was standing outside the building, swinging her purse by one hand.

“Where you been?” Gemma asked when she caught sight of me. “I’ve been waitin’ ten minutes.”

“Teacher took a long time givin’ her end-of-year speech. She sure does like to talk.”

“Sounds a lot like you.”

I wrinkled my nose and gave her a shove, but she was the only person who could talk sharp to me and not get an earful back. We were like sisters, Gemma and me, and the way I figured it, sisters should be able to say near about anything to each other.

We sat down at the pharmacy counter with confidence because Mr. Poppleberry, who ran the place, didn’t have a thing against colored people, and he welcomed Gemma in all the time.

“I’m gettin’ a job this year,” I said determinedly once we were settled with our chocolate sodas. “I’m tired of not havin’ money to do things with.”

Read more from chapter one.