Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Woman of Influence by Rebecca Ann Collins

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A Woman of Influence
by Rebecca Ann Collins

Trade Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
First Released: 2010

Source: Advanced Readers Copy from the publisher.

Back Cover Description:
After supporting her husband's many causes but failing in his eyes when their daughter died, Becky Tate's husband moved to America and left her behind in England. Now that he's dead, Becky must find her own identity and, perhaps, the married love she's never had.

When an old love interest sends Becky his condolences, she invites him to renew their acquaintance, but she's not sure she actually loves him. Then she discovers a woman on the run who is living in one of her unused barns. The woman claims that her husband was falsely accused and that the police would hand her over to the man who did this to them. Becky decides to discover the truth and, along the way, she meets man who can help the woman and whom Becky admires. Can she help the woman find justice and be reunited with her husband? And will she ever trust her judgment of men when her first marriage turned out to be so unsatisfying?

A Woman of Influence is a historical mystery that turns into a romance. The mystery wasn't a who-done-it, but it did have a nice level of suspense to it since Becky had to discover the truth without alerting the "in charge" people (who knew the truth) to the whereabouts of the woman she's helping. The romance was a sweet romance, with only the couple's own doubts holding them apart.

The novel was set in England in 1868, and it's the ninth book in this Pride and Prejudice sequel series. You can easily follow what's going on and who was related to whom without having read the previous books. (There's also a character list in the back listing who the characters are.)

The original Pride and Prejudice characters played very, very little part in this novel; it was primarily about their adult children. Because of this, I'd call this a historical novel rather than a Pride and Prejudice "sequel." The author even had her characters refer to Austen and her novels.

The novel was in a writing style very similar to Austen's in word choice and phrasing. It also had the slightly slower pacing of those novels. The characters were interesting, and I cared about what happened to them. The world-building was excellent, with a focus on describing the locations and social conventions of the day. This brought the world alive in my imagination.

There was a very minor amount of swearing. There was no sex. Overall, I'd recommend this novel as enjoyable, 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 the Prologue
Becky Collins was back at Hunsford, not at the parsonage, where she had spent much of her childhood, endeavouring to fulfill the expectations of her zealous father, Reverend Collins, and avoid the censure of his indomitable patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, but at Edgewater—the property in the county of Kent, where she now lived.

She was, of course, no longer Miss Collins; having been married before she was twenty years of age to Mr Anthony Tate, a publisher of some power and influence in the community, she had been considered to be a woman of some rank and substance.

Thanks to the generosity of her husband, who, having separated from his wife, had elected to live out the rest of his days in America, where he had recently died, she was now a reasonably wealthy woman. Having sold their house in London, Becky had acquired Edgewater, an investment that had the universal approval of most if not all of her friends and relations.

Standing at the window of what was to be her private study and work room, Becky looked out across the grounds of her new home and smiled as her eyes took in the lovely aspect across the lake from which the property took its name. There was a singular sense of satisfaction in knowing that everything in this place would be as she had planned it; she no longer took directions from nor waited upon the approval of anyone. Neither was she obliged to submit her accounts to her husband’s clerk for payment.

Becky Tate was at last her own woman and she enjoyed that above anything. For the very first time in her life, Becky had chosen where she was going to spend her time, just as she was now free to decide how that time was to be spent. It was for her an especially thrilling sensation, the likes of which she had not known in many years. Looking at the work she had begun at Edgewater, she could not resist a frisson of excitement as she contemplated the future that lay before her, a future to be determined entirely by her own wishes and limited only by her resources.

Becky was glad to have left Derbyshire. Her son Walter and his family now occupied the Tate residence at Matlock. She had been at Edgewater throughout the Winter, save for a visit to Pemberley at Christmas.

It was February and Winter had not as yet released its hold upon the countryside, though here in Kent it was decidedly warmer than it had been in Derbyshire. While many trees were still bare, but for the merest hint of tender green buds upon their boughs, the ground beneath them was broken by impatient clumps of bulbs pushing up out of the soil—snowdrops and crocuses, amidst drifts of scilla and bright wood anemones that covered the ground under the poplars in the spinney.

Becky loved the haphazard nature of the gardens at Edgewater, where large trees and evergreen shrubs, untamed by the fashionable art of topiary, held sway, while under them and along the edge of the lake, myriad wildflowers bloomed freely, unrestrained by the discipline of a formal garden.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Junkyard Dogs by Craig Johnson

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Junkyard Dogs
by Craig Johnson

Hardback: 320 pages
Publisher: Viking
First Released: 2010

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, my take:
Things are changing in Durant, Wyoming. The owner of a multi-million dollar development of ranchettes wants to get rid of the adjacent junkyard and landfill, but the owner of the junkyard would rather die than move. But not all the members of their families are on hostile terms.

When the modern-day range war turns deadly, Sheriff Walt Longmire discovers that the case and the connections between the families are much more complex than it first appears. He has to solve the case while working through the pain of recent injuries and trying to fix an officer who's now bullet-shy and threatening to quit. And it doesn't help that the wolf-dogs at the junkyard don't seem to like him very much...

Junkyard Dogs is a humorous mystery novel. The first third of the novel was set-up and had more of a general fiction flavor. After the first murder, though, it turned into a fast-paced mystery. The characters were interesting and quirky. The world-building was good. The author avoided my even considering to question "would police really do that?" by having his Sheriff play fast and loose with the rules (much to the dismay of the other characters).

While this was a who-done-it type mystery, the crime and criminal initially seemed obvious, so the Sheriff's method of solving the crime was to follow the most obvious lead as fast as possible and see what happened. As in, there wasn't a lot of stopping to think out who had an opportunity, to study the evidence, etc...though things happened so fast there wasn't much time for that. His method of handling things had some funny results.

My only problem with the novel was that the transitions between some scenes weren't very smooth. We'd have two people at a certain place, then in the next scene one of those people was walking in on the other at another place. The explanation of what happened in the time lapse would come, but this sequence (with no transition between the scenes) threw me out of the story.

There was no sex. There was a minor amount of swearing and a fair amount of cussing. (It averaged about 1 bad word every 2.5 pages, though usually the bad language was all together with long stretches in between.) Overall, I'd recommend the novel as enjoyable, somewhat 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 tried to get a straight answer from his grandson and granddaughter-in-law as to why their grandfather had been tied with a hundred feet of nylon rope to the rear bumper of the 1968 Oldsmoile Toronado.

I stared at the horn pad and rested my forehead on the rim of my steering wheel.

The old man was all right and being tended to in the EMT van behind us, but that hadn't prevented me from lowering my face in a dramatic display of bewilderment and despair. I was tired, and I wasn't sure if it was because of the young couple or the season.

"So, when you hit the brakes at the stop sign he slammed into the back of the car?"

It had been the kind of winter that tested the souls of even the hardiest; since October, we'd had nothing but blizzards, sifting snowstorms, freezing fogs, and cold snaps that had held the temperature a prisoner at ten below. We'd had relief in only one Chinook that had lasted just long enough to turn everything into a sloppy mess that then encased the county in about six inches of ice with the next freeze.

It was the kind of winter where if the cattle lay down, they weren't likely to get back up: frozen in and starved out.

I lifted my head and stared at Duane and Gina.

"Yeah, when I hit the brakes I heard this loud thump." She shrank into her stained parka with the matted, acrylic fur of the hood surrounding her face and tried not to light what I assumed was her last Kool Menthol.

We all sat in the cab of my truck with the light bar revolving to warn passing motorists of the icy roads. The roads, or more specifically the thick coating of ice on the roads, was what probably had saved Geo Stewart and, if it hadn't been for the numerous 911 calls that my dispatcher, Ruby, had fielded from passing motorists and the stop sign on state route 16, the seventy-two-year-old man would have made the most impromptu arrival into the town of Durant, Wyoming, in its history.

"I guess he slid into the back." Gina Stewart nodded the same way she had when she'd told me she'd been after cigarettes, Diet Coke, and a box of tampons from the Kum & Go, where she worked part-time.

I looked at the bubblegum-pink lipstick that stained her lone smoke. I'd warned her three times not to light up in my truck and tried to ignore the vague scent of marijuana that wafted off the pair. If she was down to her last cigarette, it smelled like they still had plenty of something else.

"He's a tough ol' fucker. That isn't the first time he's come off the roof."

Thursday, May 27, 2010

And the winner is...

It's time to pick the two winners for a copy of My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira. Using a random number generator and numbering the entrants in the order I received them, the winners are:



Cindy W.

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, May 23, 2010

Code Blue by Richard L. Mabry, M.D.

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Code Blue
by Richard L. Mabry, M.D.

Trade Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Abingdon Press
First Released: 2010

Author Website

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, My Take:
Dr. Cathy Sewell has had a series of untrustworthy boyfriends. In order to avoid her ex-fiancee, she moves back to her home town, gets a loan, and sets up her family practice. But someone's determined she won't succeed there as a doctor. Rumors circulate that Cathy is a failure as a doctor, someone is holding up her privileges at the hospital, and now someone in a black SUV is trying to kill her.

When one of her prescriptions is altered, one of her patients--the bank owner who approved her loan--nearly dies. Her high school boyfriend--now a lawyer--offers to defend her in the resulting malpractice suit. He also wants to get back together with Cathy, but does she dare trust again? And can she survive long enough to discover why someone hates her so much?

Code Blue is a fast-paced romantic suspense novel. It was, at it's core, about wrong perceptions of past events effecting how people viewed themselves and others in the present. The suspense was created by someone repeatedly trying to kill Cathy, various medical emergencies, and the tension in the various relationships.

The mystery was a who-done-it, but I was pretty certain who did it from the moment we met the character. However, I found it believable that Cathy didn't quickly figure it out and that she acted the way she did. She wasn't dumb. She was just more inclined to trust her perceptions than to carefully think things through.

The characters were interesting, likable, and dealt with realistic problems. The world-building was excellent, especially the details about the medical and legal aspects.

Cathy was angry at God because of her parents marital problems (due to a mental illness) and the crash that took their lives. As she realized her perceptions of these events were wrong, she also changed her perception of God. The novel dealt with these issues in a way that was for Christians and those with a Christian background. Non-Christians will probably find it preachy due to the prominent Christian content, but I didn't find it so. I really liked it.

There was no bad language. There was no sex. Overall, I'd recommend this book as exciting, 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 black SUV barrelled out of nowhere, its oversized tires straddling the centerline. Cathy jerked the steering wheel to the right and jammed the brake pedal to the floor. Her little Toyota rocked as though flicked by a giant hand before it spun off the narrow country road and hurtled toward the ditch and the peach orchard beyond it.

For a moment Cathy felt the fearful thrill of weightlessness. Then the world turned upside down, and everything went into freeze-frame slow motion.

The floating sensation ended with a jolt. The screech of ripping metal swallowed Cathy’s scream. The deploying airbag struck her face like a fist. The pressure of the shoulder harness took her breath away. The lap belt pressed into her abdomen, and she tasted bile and acid. As her head cleared, she found herself hanging head-down, swaying slightly as the car rocked to a standstill. In the silence that followed, her pulse hammered in her ears like distant, rhythmic thunder.

Cathy realized she was holding her breath. She let out a shuddering sigh, inhaled, and immediately choked on the dust that hung thick in the air. She released her death grip on the steering wheel and tried to lift her arms. It hurt—it hurt a lot—but they seemed to work. She tilted her head and felt something warm trickle down her face. She tried to wipe it away, but not before a red haze clouded her vision.

She felt a burning sensation, first in her nostrils, then in the back of her throat. Gasoline! Cathy recalled all the crash victims she’d seen in the emergency room—victims who’d survived a car accident only to be engulfed in flames afterward.

She had to get out of the car. Now. Her fingers probed for the seatbelt buckle. She found it and pressed the release button. Slowly. Be careful. Don’t fall out of the seat and make matters worse. Th e belt gave way, and she eased her weight onto her shoulders. She bit her lip from the pain, rolled onto her side, and looked around.

Read the rest of chapter one.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Broken by Travis Thrasher

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by Travis Thrasher

Trade Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: FaithWords
First Released: 2010

Source: ARC provided by the publisher.

My Description of the Book:
Laila came from a wealthy family, but after several traumas in her childhood and teen years, she just wanted to leave it all behind. Modeling was her ticket out of Texas, but later she earned money as a high-priced escort/prostitute in Chicago. When a "date" goes badly wrong, she shoots the man in self-defense. Leaving everything behind, she flees to a new city.

She's now a respectable bank teller who keeps all guys at a distance. But the man she killed still haunts her dreams...and, suddenly, her waking hours. Then the man's brother appears asking for money or he'll turn her into the police for murder. And now spirits are terrorizing her each night in her apartment. When the man gets rough, she flees to a city that she has happy memories of, but the past isn't about to let her go.

Broken was...surreal. Weird. Creepy. Depressing. Not to mention disjointed and confusing. It's a fast-paced suspense novel, but it was hard to be worried when I sometimes had no idea what was going on. I'd actually call Broken a horror novel. The author mixed nightmares, reality, and supernatural until I wasn't sure what was happening. Granted, the author was probably trying to make the reader feel what it was like inside Laila's head, but for much of the novel we're not really in her head but at a distance watching things unfold.

The author also introduced new characters without telling us how they related to other characters, where they were, or why they were acting in the mysterious way they were. Sometimes he gave full names but no connections, but other times he hid the character's identity, too. An author can get away with a little of this, but this happened so much that I felt confused most of the time. Ironically, though, I still did guess the "surprise twist" before it was revealed.

All that said, the characters dealt with realistic problems and were realistic enough. I only really liked one of the characters, though, and I'm angry at the author for what he did to this character.

Most of the novel had a "supernatural" theme rather than a Christian one since spooky supernatural events were the focus. Laila rejected God because she believed that He didn't care about her--if He even existed. And, if He did, then He wouldn't want anything to do with her anyway because of all the bad choices and sins in her past. A Christian message was worked into the last few chapters, though, as Laila thought over things she experienced and things she believed now but still struggled to accept.

The novel was written in third person, present tense ("Laila goes to the door") which read awkwardly. There was some swearing and cussing. There was no explicit sex or gore. Overall, this novel just didn't work for me.

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
If I believed, then I would have to come to this conclusion. God doesn't want me. How could He? People like me don't belong with people like you. If eternity does exist, I've sealed my fate and done it with my hands bathed in your blood.

She hears the fingernails on the door. Scratching to get out. Clawing and scraping at the wood. Then she hears the pounding of fists against the solid oak. Beating in vain.

The handle rattles and jerks, yet the door remains closed.

Behind it she can hear him.

Screaming her name.

"Don't. Don't come in here. Get out. Get out of here, Laila."

It's a desperate and scared voice. And everything she tries to do to open the door doesn't work.

She falls to the ground, her hands wrapped around the knob, the sound of her screaming finally waking her up.

Yet Laila doesn't find herself in her bed having another nightmare.

This time she finds herself standing at the door to her apartment, clasping the handle, trying to get out. The light she eventually turns on wakes her up, revealing a clock on the wall that tells her it's three in the morning.

Six months since New Year's Eve, and the nightmares still come. Almost a thousand miles away from Chicago, yet Laila still has horrific visions.

Read the prologue and more of chapter one.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Author Quirks: Candace Calvert

Next up is Candace Calvert, author of Disaster Status (and Critical Care). I asked her:

What's a quirky or little-known fact about yourself, your writing, and/or one of your novels?

Her answer:

Quirk is my middle name. Not literally of course (in which case it would be spelled with a C, as in Candace Cwirk Calvert), but quirkiness seems to remain a constant in my life.

One of those life “quirks” was a near-tragedy . . . turned incredible blessing. Strangely, it’s one that I share with my fabulous literary agent Natasha Kern:

We both suffered broken necks. And recovered without permanent disability.

My injury occurred in 1997 as the result of an equestrian accident that also left me with seven rib fractures, a bleeding lung, back fractures and spinal cord trauma. The inspirational story of my accident and recovery, “By Accident,” appeared in Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul—and was the official start of my writing career.

This “broken-neck bond” has only further cemented the much-valued relationship I have with my agent. Though we share other interests (and laughter whenever we can!), we truly understand the miracle of our recoveries and empathize with nearly 200,000 Americans struggling to cope with the devastating effects of spinal cord injury.

At Christmas time each year I make a donation in Natasha Kern’s honor to one of our favorite charities: The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, an organization dedicated to “Today’s Care. Tomorrow’s Cure” for victims of spinal cord injury.

It’s my way of showing appreciation to her; a reminder that we’ve both been blessed enormously and that the definition of “superman” has little to do with a red cape—it’s all about caring and sharing. We can all do that.

Thank you, Candace Calvert, for sharing this awesome story.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Giveaway: My Name Is Mary Sutter

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I enjoyed My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira and agreed to host a giveaway for 2 copies of this novel. The giveaway prizes will be provided by the publisher.

You can learn more about the novel by reading my review.

This contest is for USA residents only.

To enter the giveaway:

1) you can twitter me saying "Hi @genrereviewer. Enter me in the giveaway for the civil war historical novel by Robin Oliveira."


2) You can leave a comment to this post asking to be entered. Please also leave some way for me to contact you--or follow this blog so you can see the winner announcement. I'd be fun if you also included why you're interested in reading this novel.

The winners will be randomly selected. I'll announce the winner at noon (Central Time) on May 27, 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 mailing 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!

My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira

book cover

My Name Is Mary Sutter
by Robin Oliveira

Hardback: 384 pages
Publisher: Viking
First Released: 2010

Source: ARC from the publisher.

Back Cover Description (slightly modified):
An enthralling historical novel about a young woman's struggle to become a doctor during the Civil War.

In this stunning first novel, Mary Sutter is a brilliant, head­strong midwife from Albany, New York, who dreams of becoming a surgeon. Determined to overcome the prejudices against women in medicine--and eager to run away from her recent heartbreak of seeing the man she loves marry her twin sister--Mary leaves home and travels to Washington, D.C. to help tend the legions of Civil War wounded. Under the guidance of William Stipp and James Blevens--two surgeons who fall unwittingly in love with Mary's courage, will, and stubbornness in the face of suffering--and resisting her mother's pleas to return home to help with the birth of her twin sister's baby, Mary pursues her medical career in the desperately overwhelmed hospitals of the capital.

Powerfully evoking the atmosphere of the period and rich with historical detail (including depictions of Lincoln, Dorothea Dix, General McClellan, and John Hay), and full of the tragedies and challenges of wartime, My Name Is Mary Sutter is an exceptional novel. Mary is a truly unforgettable heroine whose unwavering determination and vulnerability will resonate with readers everywhere.

My Name Is Mary Sutter is historical fiction set during the American Civil War (from just after the initiating shots had been fired on Fort Sumter in 1861 to shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862). There was some romance, but it's not a romance novel. Both men and women will enjoy this story.

This novel contained a wealth of historical detail--medical, social, political, etc.--expertly woven into the action without slowing the pace. The details brought the story alive in my imagination, and I felt like this story really had happened, partly because so much of it was based on real places, people, and events. The author didn't shy away from portraying the war like it really was. Clearly, she carefully researched the novel using documents from the time period that described the events and medical procedures, but she never let the novel turn into a lecture about all she'd learned.

The characters were realistic and likable and they struggled with realistic problems and fears. The pacing was very good. I kept turning the pages, wanting to know what happened next.

There was no explicit sex. Usually sex was simply implied (like a wedding night), but, one place, it was quite clear what was going on even if it wasn't body-part explicit. There was a minor amount of cussing and swearing. The medical details did get a bit gory in places. Overall, I'd highly recommend this novel as well-written, enjoyable, and 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
"Are you Mary Sutter?" Hours had passed since James Blevens had called for the midwife. All manner of shouts and tumult drifted in from the street, and so he had answered the door to his surgery rooms with some caution, but the young woman before him made an arresting sight: taller and wider than was generally considered handsome, with an unflattering hat pinned to an unruly length of curls, though an enticing brightness about the eyes compensated. "Mary Sutter, the midwife?" he asked.

"Yes, I am Mary Sutter." The young woman looked from the address she had inscribed that afternoon in her small, leather-bound notebook to the harried man in front of her, wondering how he could possibly know who she was. He was all angles, and his sharp chin gave the impression of discipline, though his uncombed hair and unbuttoned vest were damp with sweat.

"Oh, thank God," he said, and, catching her by the elbow, pulled her inside and slammed the door shut on the cold April rain and the stray warble of a bugle in the distance. James Blevens knew Mary Sutter only by reputation. She is good, even better than her mother, people said. Now he formed an indelible impression of attractiveness, though there was nothing attractive about her. Her features were far too coarse, her hair far too wild and already beginning to silver. She was an odd one, this Mary Sutter.

A kerosene lantern flickered in the late afternoon dimness, revealing shelves of medical instruments: scales, tensile prongs, hinged forceps, monaural and chest stethoscopes, jars of picked fetal pigs, ether stoppered in azure glass, a femur bone stripped in acid, a human skull, a stomach floating in brine, jars of medicines, an apothecary's mortar and pestle. Mary could barely tear her eyes from the bounty.

"She is here, at last," the man said over his shoulder.

Mary Sutter peered into the darkness and saw a young woman lying on an exam table, a blanket thrown across her swollen belly, betraying the unmistakable exhaustion of late labor.

"Excuse me, but were you expecting me?" Mary asked.

"Yes, yes," he said, waving her question away with irritation. "Didn't my boy send you here?"

"No. I came to see you on my own. Are you Dr. Blevens?"

"Of course I am."

Friday, May 14, 2010

Private Justice by Terri Blackstock

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Private Justice
by Terri Blackstock

Trade Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Zondervan
First Released: 1998

Source: From the library.

Back Cover Description:
Staying together had seemed impossible. Now it’s their only hope.

A dark shadow of fear has fallen over Newpointe, Louisiana. First one, then another of the town firemen’s wives has been murdered, and a third has barely escaped an attempt on her life. Incredible as it seems, a serial killer is stalking this sleepy little southern community. And Mark Branning’s wife may be next on the list.

Mark is determined to protect her. But keeping Allie alive won’t be easy—not with their marriage already dying a bitter death.

Unless they renew their commitment to each other and to God, someone else may settle their problems...permanently. And time to decide is running out.

Private Justice is a fast-paced, suspenseful mystery. The mystery was a who-done-it that kept me uncertain until the end. The suspense was created by the tension between Mark and Allie due to their marriage troubles and the fact that Allie and the other firemen's wives were being stalked by a killer.

The characters made mistakes that increased the suspense, but they were very believable, human mistakes. They were smart people. The mistakes were due to ignorance or the character thought he was making the right choice (and it was a reasonable one) or the mistake was followed by the thought, "I probably shouldn't have done that...but it shouldn't matter" and they had no real reason to think the mistake was a critical one. So it worked for me.

The characters were complex and very realistic. Allie was exasperating at times, but since her parents were exasperating in the same way, I can see where she picked up the habit. I initially had a hard time caring about Allie, though, since I didn't find her very likable. I liked Mark and many of the secondary characters, though.

The author writes "about flawed Christians in crisis and God's provisions for their mistakes and wrong choices" (from her bio). So the novel had a strong Christian element with the characters discussing (and struggling with) God's character and why He let bad things happen. It was realistically handled, and I wouldn't call it preachy. Christians and non-Christians were portrayed realistically, with both flaws and strong points.

There was a very minor amount of "he cussed" style bad language. There was no explicit sex. There was no graphic gore. 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 competing sounds of brass bands, jazz ensembles, and zydeco musicians gave Newpointe, Louisiana, an irresistibly festive atmosphere, but Mark Branning tried not to feel festive. It was a struggle, since he stood in a clown suit with an orange wig on his head, preparing to make the long walk down the Mardi Gras parade route. Already, Jacquard Street was packed with tourists and townspeople here to chase beads and candy being thrown by drunken heroes. In moments, he and his fellow firefighters, also dressed as clowns, would fall into their sloppy formation on the town’s main drag, followed by the fire truck that carried even more painted firemen.

It was what promoters advertised as a “family friendly” parade—unlike the decadent bacchanalian celebrations in New Orleans, only forty minutes away. But Fat Tuesday was still Fat Tuesday, no matter where it was celebrated, and it always got out of hand. It was the time of year when the protective services in Newpointe had to be on the alert. Last year, during the same “family friendly” parade, a man had been stabbed, two women had been raped, and they’d been called to the scene of four drunk-driving accidents. It seemed to get worse every year.

Just days ago, Jim Shoemaker, police chief of the small town, and Craig Barnes, fire chief, had appealed to the mayor that the town was better served if their forces remained on duty on Fat Tuesday. Mayor Patricia Castor insisted that the community needed to see their emergency personnel having fun with everyone else. It fostered trust, she said, and made the men and women who protected the town look more human. At her insistence, and to Shoemaker’s and Barnes’s dismay, only skeleton crews were to remain on duty, while the rest of the firemen, police officers, and paramedics were to dress like clowns and act like idiots. “It’s a religious holiday,” she drawled, as if that sealed her decision.

Mark slung the shoulder strap of his bag of beads and candies over his head, and snickered at the idea that they would call Fat Tuesday a religious anything. The fact that it preceded Lent—a time for fasting and reflection as Easter approached—seemed to him a lame excuse for drunken revelry.

A police squad car pulled up beside the group of wayward firefighters, and Stan Shepherd, the town’s only detective—still unadorned and unpainted—grinned out at him. “Lookin’ good, Mark,” he said with a chuckle.

“So how’d you get out of this?” Mark asked him, ambling toward the car. “I thought Newpointe’s finest were supposed to dress like demonic bikers.”

“Makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?” Stan asked with a grin. “Pat Castor wants us to show the town how human and accessible we are, so she makes us wear makeup that could give nightmares to a Marine.”

“Hey, what can you say? It’s Mardi Gras. You still haven’t told me why you’re not made up.”

“Because I refused,” Stan stated flatly. “How’s that for a reason?”

Mark leaned on the car door and stared down at his friend. “You mean that’s all it took?”

“That’s all. Plus I read some statute to her about how it was illegal for someone out of uniform to drive a squad car.”

“You’re not in uniform, Stan.”

“Yes, I am. I’m a plainclothes cop. This is my uniform.”

Read the rest of chapter one.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Indivisible by Kristen Heitzmann

book cover

by Kristen Heitzmann

Trade Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Waterbrook Press
First Released: 2010

Audio Interview with Author

Author's Website

Source: This book was provided as a review copy by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

Back Cover Description (slightly modified):
Battling his own personal demons, Police Chief Jonah Westfall knows the dark side of life and has committed himself to eradicating it. Jonah fights for answers--and his fragile sobriety--amid a rising drug threat in his town and a never-ending conflict with Tia Manning, a formidable childhood friend whom he loves.

When a pair of mutilated raccoons are found on a walking trail, Jonah investigates the gruesome act, seeking to unmask the perpetrator before the crime escalates and destroys the tranquility of his small mountain town. But he can’t penetrate every wound or secret—especially one fueled by a love and guilt teetering on madness.

Indivisible is a general fiction about abusive childhoods, forgiving oneself for past mistakes, and finding hope for the future. It also has two romances going on where the past is interfering with the couples' possible future. And it also has two mysteries going on--one of them a "who-done-it" that readers can try to solve.

It may sound complex, but this fast-paced story was woven together well. The main focus of the story--and the main source of the suspense--was the tension in the various relationships. As the conflict in the relationships worked out, then the crime-related tension increased.

The characters were complex and realistic and faced realistic choices. I liked and cared about them, especially Piper, Miles, and Jay. The world-building was very good and brought the story alive in my imagination.

Many of the characters were Christians, and they had realistically different levels of living out their faith. While Christian themes were briefly brought out in various conversations (especially since one character ran a "HopeLine" phone-call service for people who wanted prayer and Christian advice), the story didn't come across as preachy.

There was some gore, but it was mostly left up to the reader's imagination. There was a very minor amount of bad language. There was no sex (at least, no explicit sex). Overall, I'd recommend the novel as suspenseful, well-written, and 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
What therefore God hath joined together,
let not man put asunder.

Wrapped in a woolen throw, Jonah stared out through moon-silvered evergreen spires. He drew in the clean, sharp air of the rugged mountains, the piercing stars visible to an amazing depth, the sickle moon casting the clearing in stark relief. He had not expected to sleep—didn’t dare with memories tugging so hard.

He shut his eyes and let the night enclose him. The chilled tip of his nose stung as he breathed the piquant scents of wild grasses, earth, and pine, a heady overlay with a hint of moisture condensing in the cold and dark.

The beam above moaned with the motion of the porch swing, a rhythmic counterpart to the rushing creek out of sight in the dark except for flashes of white where water struck rock. He felt something brush against his hand and looked down. A white, powdery moth fluttered at the lighted face of his watch. The fluffy whoosh of an owl passed, a silent shadow in search of a small, beating heart.

His pulse made a low throb in his ears. He moved the breath in and out through his lungs, filling his senses easier than stilling the thoughts.

Somewhere in the rocky crags a coyote yipped, one of the few predators that had enlarged its range in spite of human encroachment, a bold and canny cohabiter, bearing ever bolder offspring. A long howl sailed into the night, a territorial declaration, signaling roving males to stay away, any females to come hither. He pressed up from the swing and leaned on the rail, trying to get a bead on the coyote’s location. After a time, he turned and went inside.


Piper loved morning, the brightness, the cleanness of a new day. But morning started with the sunrise, not when the sky was still black and the room shivery. She burrowed her feet deeper beneath the down comforter, avoiding the inevitable for one more moment. It was too brief a moment.

She crabbed her hand across the lace-covered bed stand and stopped the alarm on the cell phone before it could nag her. She would do her own nagging, as she had ever since she’d realized no one else intended to. Not that they didn’t care, just that she was on her own when it came to responsibility, reliability, accountability.

She groomed, and dressed without shedding the film of sleep. Just a few years ago she could have slept all day—if she’d let herself. She slipped on her jacket and turned up the collar, switched on the iPod in her pocket and inserted the ear buds. Enya’s “OnlyTime” accompanied her out the door.

The first gasp of cold air pierced her fog. She drew a flashlight from the other pocket and trudged behind the beam down the steep path, weaving through the pines. Even August nights lost the days’ warmth to the thin mountain atmosphere, which the sun would heat once again.

Streaks of deep magenta broke through the black tree silhouettes, announcing dawn, but around her, darkness clung. Over the music, she detected the rushing of Kicking Horse Creek, which paralleled the main street through Old Town. Neither dark and muddy nor sluggish and green, the creek ran frothy white and clear down to the rocky bed.

She couldn’t see it from the path even if the sun were up, but its voice carried up the stony crags as she picked her way down the steepest stretch of the path. Her nostrils constricted. She slapped a hand to her mouth and nose to block a putrid scent carried on the sharp air. She swung her light, and the beam caught a furry mound of carnage. She hurried past, gagging.

The path ended behind the Half Moon, but she continued on to the next door, unlocked the bakery, and let herself into Sarge’s kitchen. Soon, warm, yeasty aromas tinged with almond, vanilla, and cinnamon banished the dead animal stench in her nostrils. She had memorized the recipes the first week, easy enough as Sarge had served the same eight things since opening the bakery thirty years ago. After twenty years in army kitchens, he saw no need for variety in the mess. She hadn’t baked before, but she’d taken to it, and with a little freedom, the slightest leeway, she might shine. But three weeks into the job, she had yet to sneak a variation by Sarge or convince him to feature anything not indelibly written on the dusty menu board.

Read more of chapter one or chapter one & two.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott

book cover

A Wish After Midnight
by Zetta Elliott

Trade Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: AmazonEncore
First Released: 2008

Author's Website

Source: Review copy. A publicist from Goldberg McDuffie Communications contacted me about reviewing the book.

Book Description (from author's website):
Fifteen-year old Genna Colon believes wishes can come true. Frustrated by the drug dealers in her building, her family’s cramped apartment, and her inability to compete with the cute girls at school, Genna finds comfort in her dreams of a better future. Almost every day she visits the garden and tosses coins into the fountain, wishing for a different life, a different home, and a different body. Little does s he know that her wish will soon be granted: when Genna flees into the garden late one night, she makes a fateful wish and finds herself instantly transported back in time to Civil War-era Brooklyn.

A Wish After Midnight is a slice-of-life story exploring what life is like for poor blacks in Brooklyn now and what it was like in Brooklyn in 1863 from the Emancipation Proclamation to the New York Draft Riots. I'm calling it a slice-of-life book because it doesn't really have an ending or even a resolution of some difficulty. I prefer a more typical problem-resolution story format.

The novel was written in first person, present tense. In part one, Genna told the reader about her life. In part two, she's been sent back in time, and several times the reader was told what was going on when Genna wasn't around and what those characters were thinking. That jolted me from the story. But the story soon slipped back into only first person present tense, though this time telling the story as she lived it instead of her telling the reader about her life.

Genna had a rather mature outlook about some things and tried to be fair about the things she observed, which helped temper the mainly negative focus of the book. The characters were realistic, but the story seemed to be focused more on social commentary than the characters. Still, the story was interesting.

The historical details were more social and political than details about everyday life. Overall, this was worked into the story smoothly. I noticed a few minor, non-critical details that weren't quite right (mainly about the medical practices of 1863).

There was no sex. There was some cussing and swearing, but not a lot. Overall, I'd recommend this novel to those who like "slice of life" or historical time travel stories.

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

Excerpt from Chapter One
I turn my back, close my eyes, and toss the penny over my shoulder. I hear it slap against the water, but I turn around just the same and watch it sink to the bottom of the fountain. It lies there with all the other glittering coins. Money unspent. Wishes waiting to come true.

Slowly, I walk away from the fountain and wonder if any of my wishes will ever come true. I wish for lots of different things. Sometimes I make wishes for other people, like my mother. I wish she didn't have to work so hard, and I wish she didn't always have that knot between her eyes from worrying about how she's going to pay the rent and buy food and clothes for all of us. I wish my abuela still lived with us, but she went home five years ago. Abuela said living in America was hard enough; she wanted to go home to die. Sometimes I wish my sister Toshi didn't act so evil all the time. And I wish my brother Rico would stop trying to mess with me. But mostly I make wishes for myself. I wish my hair was long and wavy like those caramel-colored girls in music videos. I wish I had nice clothes to wear instead of knock-offs or bargains from the ten-dollar store. I wish I wasn't so tall. Being tall's okay if you look like a model. But I don't. I'm just plain, and dark, and too tall, and too smart, and too shy to talk to anybody. Except I'm not shy, really. I just don't fit in.

I always have pennies in my pocket whenever I come to the garden, and I come here a lot. It's real quiet, and pretty. No one notices me, not even the security guards. Because I'm so tall, they think I'm old enough to be in here alone. They don't know that I'm only fifteen. They don't know anything about me--where I live, or what my family's like. I feel free when I walk through the garden gates, like I'm somebody new. I wish I could always feel that way. I wish I could go somewhere different, another country, someplace far away. A place where I don't have to feel ashamed of my home, and my clothes, and my short nappy hair that just won't grow. I toss a penny into the fountain and wish I could live inside someone else's body, even for just one day. But that wish--like all the others--hasn't come true yet.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Author Quirks: C.J. Darlington

Next up is C.J. Darlington, author of Thicker Than Blood. I asked her:

What's a quirky or little-known fact about yourself, your writing, and/or one of your novels?

Her answer:

I'm an identical twin! My sister Tracy and I are actually mirror image twins, which is somewhat rare. Tracy is left-handed, I'm right-handed. We even had a strange dental problem with our teeth (one tooth came up in the slot of another tooth), but we had it on opposite sides of our mouths!

Also, I don't know if this is quirky or not, but in writing the rough draft of my next book, Bound by Guilt (coming from Tyndale in early 2011), I didn't allow myself to re-read any of what I'd written the day before. The final product was very rough, of course, but it was less disjointed than I thought it would be. I think I had more of the story in my head than I realized at first. I'm contemplating writing a fast first draft for the book I'm working on now.

Thank you, C.J. Darlington, for sharing this interesting information about yourself.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Caleb + Kate by Cindy Martinusen-Coloma

book cover

Caleb + Kate
by Cindy Martinusen-Coloma

Trade Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
First Released: 2010

Author's Website
Author on Twitter

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Back Cover Description:
As the popular darling of the junior class and heiress to the five-star Monrovi Inn empire, Kate has both everything and nothing. She's bored with school and life...until she locks eyes with Caleb at a school dance.

Caleb is new to Kate's exclusive prep school, and it's clear he doesn't fit in. In fact, he and his dad work in maintenance for Kate's father. And while Caleb knows better than to spend time with the boss's daughter, it seems that every time he tries to back away, something pulls him right back in.

When their parents demand that they are to stay away from each other, they learn of a fight between their families that occurred more than fifty years ago. It's a mystery Kate doesn't understand...but a legacy Caleb has endured his entire life.

With the world stacked against them, Caleb and Kate will have to walk by faith to find the path that God has planned for them.

Caleb + Kate is a young adult romance novel. Though Caleb had a point-of-view role and was portrayed well, this novel will appeal most to female teens. The story switched between Kate and Caleb's point-of-view with both sections clearly marked and written in first person present tense ("I stand" instead of "she stood"). Though I noticed it, the present tense read smoothly and didn't bother me.

On the actual printed cover, Caleb's skin is darker than it looks in the above cover picture. This is good since Caleb is full-blooded Hawaiian and is described as having deeply tanned or brown skin.

The pacing and world-building were very good. The characters were realistic and usually very likable. Caleb was a great character. I was irritated by Kate's selfishness in deliberately doing things that tempted Caleb physically when she knew that they tempted him and that HE wanted to wait until marriage...but it did fit her "if you want it, you can have it" upbringing.

Kate, after seeing affairs and divorces in other families, doubted that there was such a thing as lasting love. I liked that the author brought up this issue. But I was a bit disappointed that Kate's "this is what true love is like" answer started with lust at first sight (on her part) and an "electric" feeling at every touch. The lasting loves I've seen (like my parents and grandparents) started with no excessive attraction or 'spark' at first sight but grew due to similar interests and time spent together. However, it was a nice love story about building trust and overcoming prejudice, and it finished with the idea that staying 'in love' was a decision rather than based solely on feelings.

The teen characters did muse some about their faith--about God and how what's in the Bible and in sermons (like forgiveness) worked out in real life. There was no sex (though there was temptation). There was a minor amount of "he cussed" style bad language. 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

"Love is like death's cold grip crushing the beats from an innocent heart."

A ripple of muted laughter rolls through the girls around me, and I bite my lip to keep from joining them. Elaine dramatically recites her poem from where she stands at the front of the class, chewing at a hangnail, her knees angled as if she needs to use the bathroom.

"Love is like a decaying tree on a warm spring day. It was born from pain and was fathered by suffering. Once upon a time, there was love and people believed in it, and then loved died or perhaps it relocated to another planet, no one knows, though people still seek it, long for it, act like it's still around..."

I wonder when and how Elaine became so utterly strange. It's painful to watch and to hear the snickers among the other girls sitting in the theater-style seats, their feet tucked carefully beneath matching plaid skirts. "Women & Literature" is a semester class required of all females in our junior year. We meet in the drama classroom--with the stage and the seats--perhaps to subconsciously empower us young women to take the leading role on the stage of our lives. Or at least that's what Ms. Landreth said at the start of this semester.

Part of me wants to take Elaine by the shoulders and shake some sense into her; another part of me wants to stand up and tell the other girls to be quiet and just listen. Elaine adjusts her black glasses, looking out at us as if she still cannot quite focus, despite the thick lenses. Her choppy raven-dyed hair looks like she cut it herself.

"Love had died, like God and Romeo, and not even the birds can find a song to sing."

A text from Katherine pops onto my phone: Need advice about prom.

"Why believe in love, O Women? Oh, why do we want to believe in what cannot be believed in? Love divorced itself from mankind. Move on, hearts."

Elaine finishes her poem and makes a bow, remaining at the front of the class as we offer awkward, halting applause.

Monica leans toward me. "Wow, cheerful. That sounds like something you would say."

"Thanks a lot," I whisper.