Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

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The Maze Runner
by James Dashner

ISBN-13: 978-0-385-73794-4
Hardback: 384 pages
Publisher: Random House (Delacorte Press)
Released: October 2009

Source: Borrowed from the library.

Book Description from Book Flap:
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every 30 days a new boy has been delivered in the lift.

Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up—the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers.

Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind.

My Review:
The Maze Runner is a young adult adventure story set sometime in the future. It also has an element of mystery. Since the characters were all boys (except for one girl who didn't play an active role until near the end), the target audience appears to be teen boys. The suspense mainly came from the physical danger to the characters, but it also came from the lack of memories and the mystery of the maze. This book is the first in a trilogy, and it's a fast read.

The characters were varied, and they had their strengths and weaknesses and their emotional ups and downs. Even the "bad" kids had good reasons for their actions. I mainly kept reading because I wanted to know what was going on, but I also liked how Thomas, Minho, and Newt played off each other. Thomas had a needed fresh perspective and heroic selflessness, but he wouldn't have succeeded without Newt's insistence on order and Minho's discipline.

However, the maze exit was so obvious that I was frustrated no one even considered it until essentially told that it was the exit. I also didn't like the ending. At all. The story started out as brave, determined kids working together to outwit the evil adults who put them in the maze. But near the end, we're told the very sick reason that they were put there (though the reasoning seemed illogical). The adults were deliberately trying to break the kids by taking away their hope. They wanted the kids to give up and die, and they were deliberately killing off all but a "top" few. The ending was very violent and bloody. Two main characters were killed, one of them likely to be a favorite of the reader (though I liked them both). Also, Thomas started off caring and noble and ended up broken and hate-filled. Things don't get better, they get worse. Not my kind of book.

I also didn't find the climatic maze battle exciting. Thomas was supposed to be focused on doing his part and doing it as quickly as possible since it would end the killing that was going on. Instead he took in every little bloody detail of the killing going on. There was no need to spend so much time on it. I felt frustrated and angry at Thomas and Teresa instead of worried about them. By the end, I felt like throwing the book at a wall.

There was a very minor amount of explicit bad language and a lot of totally made-up bad language. There was no sex. Overall, I wouldn't recommend this 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
He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air.

Metal ground against metal; a lurching shudder shook the floor beneath him. He fell down at the sudden movement and shuffled backward on his hands and feet, drops of sweat beading on his forehead despite the cool air. His back struck a hard metal wall; he slid along it until he hit the corner of the room. Sinking to the floor, he pulled his legs up tight against his body, hoping his eyes would soon adjust to the darkness.

With another jolt, the room jerked upward like an old lift in a mine shaft.

Harsh sounds of chains and pulleys, like the workings of an ancient steel factory, echoed through the room, bouncing off the walls with a hollow, tinny whine. The lightless elevator swayed back and forth as it ascended, turning the boy's stomach sour with nausea; a smell like burnt oil invaded his senses, making him feel worse. He wanted to cry, but no tears came; he could only sit there, alone, waiting.

My name is Thomas, he thought.

That... that was the only thing he could remember about his life.

He didn't understand how this could be possible. His mind functioned without flaw, trying to calculate his surroundings and predicament. Knowledge flooded his thoughts, facts and images, memories and details of the world and how it works. He pictured snow on trees, running down a leaf-strewn road, eating a hamburger, the moon casting a pale glow on a grassy meadow, swimming in a lake, a busy city square with hundreds of people bustling about their business.

And yet he didn't know where he came from, or how he'd gotten inside the dark lift, or who his parents were. He didn't even know his last name. Images of people flashed across his mind, but there was no recognition, their faces replaced with haunted smears of color. He couldn't think of one person he knew, or recall a single conversation.

The room continued its ascent, swaying; Thomas grew immune to the ceaseless rattling of the chains that pulled him upward. A long time passed. Minutes stretched into hours, although it was impossible to know for sure because every second seemed an eternity. No. He was smarter than that. Trusting his instincts, he knew he'd been moving for roughly half an hour.

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Friday, October 29, 2010

Buried Diamonds by April Henry

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Buried Diamonds
by April Henry

ISBN-13: 978-0373265329
Mass Market Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Worldwide Mystery Library
Released: June 2005

Source: Bought at a library book sale.

Book Description from Back Cover:
When former vanity license plate inspector Claire Montrose finds a valuable diamond ring embedded in an old stone wall, she's uncovered more than lost jewelry - she's just unwittingly exposed a fifty-year-old murder.

Claire's octogenarian housemate, Charlie, recognizes the ring with shock. It belonged to Elizabeth Ellsworth, a woman who broke off her engagement fifty years earlier, then killed herself. All the "old gang" believed Elizabeth had returned the ring, so how did it get buried inside a stone wall?

As half-century-old questions resurface about the incident, Claire discovers more about the terrible secrets Elizabeth kept--and why someone wanted her dead. But the closer she gets to the truth, the more Claire realizes that someone believes old crimes must stay all cost.

My Review:
Buried Diamonds is a mystery with a historical element since there were flashbacks to events that occurred in 1952 and 1944. While the mystery was interesting and the solution not obvious, the clues weren't as subtle as they could have been. However, it felt realistic that Claire and the others didn't figure it out sooner. Like real people, the guilty person let slip things they shouldn't have yet Claire and the other characters "heard" what they assumed was meant rather than what was actually said.

The characters were varied and sometimes quirky. The suspense was created by tension in personal relationships and from physical danger. The setting details did a good job of bringing the story alive in my imagination.

There was a very minor amount of bad language. It was implied that most of the characters were having unmarried sex, but there were no sex scenes. Overall, it was an interesting mystery.

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 Two
Detouring around the flattened carcass of a dead crow, reduced to not much more than feathers, Claire Montrose ran past Portland's Gabriel Park. At every fourth step, she exhaled just as her right heel hit the ground, the rhythm automatic. It was interrupted by a high-pitched squeal that penetrated past the buds of her headphones, startling Claire and temporarily blotting out Tori Amos singing about a man and a gun. Looking over her shoulder, Claire saw a toddler coasting to the bottom of a short orange plastic slide, her chubby arms raised in triumph.

Claire returned her attention to the road, just in time to narrowly miss stepping on the body of a plump squirrel. She leapt over it and then stopped for a moment, jogging in place. The squirrel looked whole and unharmed, if you didn't consider the fact that it wasn't moving and that its black bead eye never blinked. There wasn't any blood that she could see. Overhead, telephone and power lines laced the sky. Poor thing must have lost its footing. Maybe it was only stunned. For a moment Claire imagined the squirrel getting to its feet, shaking itself, and then scampering off.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Revenge of the Geek by Piper Banks

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Revenge of the Geek
by Piper Banks

ISBN-13: 9780451231345
Trade Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: New American Library
Released: Nov. 2, 2010

Source: Unrequested review copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Back Cover (slightly modified):
Whoever said imitation is the best form of flattery obviously never went to high school.

Miranda Bloom, girl genius, is totally psyched to start her junior year at Geek High. Too bad her boyfriend, lacrosse player Dex McConnell, is heading off to boarding school in Maine, leaving her to settle for a long-distance relationship. Miranda thought she could count on her best friends, Finn and Charlie, to cheer her up, but they're caught up in their own issues.

Miranda decides to make friends with the shy new student, Nora Lee. At first, things with Nora are great. But the more Miranda and she hang out, the more it seems like Nora is trying to take over Miranda's life. Nora's dressing like her, sucking up to Miranda's friends, and even trying to take her spot as a writer for the school magazine. When Miranda tells her friends, they think she's just jealous and they side with Nora!

Surviving at Geek High is hard enough without a copycat on your tail, and Miranda's not about to let some imitation artist take her place.

My Review:
Revenge of the Geek is young adult fiction with a humorous undertone. If, from the book's title, you expect the book to be dominated by a "battle of the brains" feud, that's not this story. It's about lonely teens who lack self-confidence and so feel jealous of what they think other teens have.

Miranda's a realistic but overall nice teenage girl, and her one act of "revenge" turned out to be the right thing to do even if it was initially motivated by the wrong reasons. Miranda's two best friends were quirky, but, overall, the other characters also seemed realistic even though we don't get to know them very well.

The suspense was created mainly by various relationship tensions and wondering how those would turn out. There was a very minor amount of bad language. There was no sex. This novel was the fourth in the series, but you don't need to have read the others to understand this story. Overall, I'd recommend this novel to teen girls as a fun read.

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
"Just try them on, Miranda," Hannah, my stepsister, ordered me. She sounded like an army general sending troops into battle. Except that we weren't on a battlefield. It was even worse than war--we were at the mall.

Hannah had dragged me from one end of the Orange Cove Mall to the other, stopping in nearly every store we passed. We were now in J.Crew, and I was drooping with exhaustion.

"Why bother trying them on? They're my size," I said, double-checking the tag on a pair of skinny jeans. Then I saw the price. "These jeans cost eighty dollars!"


"Why would anyone spend eighty dollars on a pair of jeans? That's insane. I could get these a Target for twenty bucks."

Hannah looked at me with a pitying expression. "No, you couldn't. Now go try them on."

I sighed. There was no point in arguing with her. I turned toward the dressing room.

"Wait," Hannah said. She handed over a huge pile of clothes--skirts, pants, tops. It looked like she'd gotten one of everything in the store. "Try these on, too."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Spooktacular Giveaway: Hangman's Curse

Spooktacular Giveaway Hop

book coverAs a part of the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop, I'm holding a giveaway for my (older, in "very good condition") copy of Hangman's Curse by Frank Peretti.

You can learn more about this YA mystery/suspense/horror novel by reading my review.

This contest is for USA & Canada residents only.

To enter the giveaway:

1) you can twitter me saying "Hi @genrereviewer. Enter me in the giveaway for YA suspense/mystery novel HANGMAN'S CURSE by Frank Peretti."


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.

This giveaway ends on October 31, 2010 at midnight. The winner will be randomly selected. I'll announce the winner on Nov. 1, 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!

The blogs participating in the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop:

Nightmare Academy by Frank Peretti

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Nightmare Academy
by Frank Peretti

ISBN-13: 9780849976179
Hardback: 314 pages
Publisher: Tommy Nelson
Released: 2002

Source: Library book sale.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
Elijah and Elisha are teenage twins who, along with their parents, have been secretly commissioned by the President to investigate strange mysteries, crimes, and unusual occurrences. Their job is to find out not only what happened, but why.

The team has a new assignment: To find out what happened to a runaway teen who turned up totally out of his mind. Elijah and Elisha go undercover, posing as runaways, but the tables are turned when the twins are kidnapped out of a shelter for runaways. They wake up at an isolated academy where the teachers stress that there is no right or wrong. Over two weeks, the teens take such teachings to their logical outcome, and the twins try to stay sane and alive in an environment that becomes increasing violent.

My Review:
Nightmare Academy is a young adult suspense/horror novel. It reminded me of Lord of the Flies, but Peretti is more heavy-handed in making his point. This novel is the second in the series, but you don't have to read the first one (Hangman's Curse) to understand this one. However, I liked Hangman's Curse better.

The novel was fast-paced and a fast read. The twins were clever and engaging characters who were willing to stand up for what's right and to protect others. The suspense was created by the increasing physical danger to everybody and from trying to discover why this academy was created and by whom.

While the story was exciting, I was disappointed by the ending. The bad guys revealed their motive, but it didn't make sense to me. As I understand it, they didn't even believe in what they were teaching. And, thinking through their evil scheme, I don't see how they could manipulate things to get their desired results in a large, general population scenario. So they came across as rather cliche, unrealistic villains.

The twins and their parents were Christians, and the twins speak out at the academy for absolute truth and protecting the weak. There was a very minor amount of "he cussed" style bad language. There was no sex. Overall, I'd recommend this exciting novel to Christian teens.

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

Excerpt from Chapter One
His mind told him, insisted, that he was running, putting one tattered, bleeding foot in front of the other--even though the ground did not move under his feet, turned when he did not, or inclined steeply upward though he saw no slope before him. He closed his eyes, but he could still see. He screamed, but he heard nothing. The pathway became a precipice and he tumbled headlong, falling through space. He was under water. He tried to swim; suddenly his groping arms were pulling him forward through hot, dry sand. The sky above was red like a sunset, the earth below as eye-buzzing purple--then green, then grey, then red as the sky turned green.

Where he was, or why, or when, or who, or how, he could not know, could never know.

There were no days, no hours, no moments, no way of knowing, no chance for knowing how long he'd been here.

Been where?

No place, at no particular time.

He was once a fifteen-year-old boy, cocky and wayward. He once had a brother, a sister, a father and mother. He had a name, a house, a school, and a life--and he thought he knew something. Maybe he thought he knew it all.

But that boy, and that time, and that life had become..nothing.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Hangman's Curse by Frank Peretti

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Hangman's Curse
by Frank Peretti

ISBN-13: 9780849976162
Hardback: 304 pages
Publisher: Tommy Nelson
Released: 2001

Source: Library book sale.

Book Description from Back Cover:
Elijah and Elisha are teenage twins who, along with their parents, have been secretly commissioned by the President to investigate strange mysteries, crimes, and unusual occurrences. Their job is to find out not only what happened, but why.

In Baker, Washington, three popular student athletes lie in incoherent comas, with loss of muscle coordination, severe paranoia, and hallucinations. It's whispered that they're victims of Abel Frye, a ghost that's haunted the school since a student hanged himself there in the 1930s. Now the hangman's curse is spreading, and students are running scared. A student the jocks bullied is rumored to be a witch controlling the ghost and determining the next victim.

The twins and their parents are headed to Washington to look for answers. Is Abel Frye's ghost responsible or something else? And who is responsible for the bizarre hangman symbol that suddenly appears scrawled on the victim's lockers?

Hangman's Curse is a fast-paced and exciting young adult mystery. It's also a fast read. The twins were clever and engaging characters who were willing to stand up for what's right, even if it hurt. The suspense was created by the physical danger to the students from bullying and from the mysterious "hangman's curse." The sleuthing and ending was more TV-style than realistic, but it was good fun.

The twins were home-schooled in a Christian home and they spoke up when students and teachers said things counter to their faith (or were illogical), like that it's alright for people to bully each other because it makes them get stronger...or weeds them out. This speaking up was a critical part of the story as they made friends with the outcast students by being willing to speak up against the accepted line.

I enjoyed this little excerpt from pages 61-62:
"I think Tituba's the heroine of the play," Karine was saying. "I mean, Arthur Miller was trying to point out the evils of religion and, I mean, isn't there a Tituba in all of us? We all want to be free to believe whatever we want without being judged for it."

"Well, of course. The Crucible is a cry for tolerance," Sondra agreed. "It's wrong for anyone to impose their morals on others. Very simple." Then she noticed Elisha smiling as if something was funny. "What?"

"You just said that something is wrong," Elisha replied, still smiling.

Sondra didn't get it. "So?"

Elisha explained, "You can't say it's wrong to impose your morals on others because, when you tell us something is wrong, you're imposing your morals on us, and you can't do that because you just said it's wrong to do that."

There was a very minor amount of "he cussed" style bad language. There was no sex. Overall, I'd recommend this exciting, fun 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
Baker High School quarterback Jim Boltz wiped his hands on his jersey, angrily this time. He'd almost fumbled the snap again, the third time in the first quarter. His hands were slick with sweat. They were shaking. He clenched them into fists.

"Y'okay, Jim?" asked the center.

"M'okay!" he snapped back.

He was looking bad; he knew it and his team knew it. He had to get it together, had to quit missing, dropping, forgetting. This was an important game, Baker against Whittman. The Baker High School stadium was filled to capacity. He took his place in the huddle, his stomach in knots.

"Okay, uh, double-wide right, tight end left, 755 fly, on one. Ready..."

"We just did that play," said Dave, one of the wide receivers.

Jim stared at the turf. He was thinking about breathing.

Howie suggested, "How about power-I, right, play action 242..."

Jim's brain finally snapped into gear. "Uh, yeah, yeah, uh, tight end down and out, on two. Ready..."

"Break!" they all yelled.

The huddle broke and they headed for the line of scrimmage.

Jim forgot the play. He tagged his fullback and got a reminder.

"Ready, set, red twenty-one, red twenty-one, red twenty-two, hut, HUT!"

He got the snap, faded back, looked for his receiver, saw a face in the stands...The face was pale. The eyes were cold and cruel, and they gazed at him unblinkingly.

Jim's hand trembled. He almost dropped the ball.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My guest post at the Moody Fiction blog

For my readers who'd like to know a little more about me and how I use books in prison ministry, you can read my guest post, A Ministry of Words, over at the Moody Fiction blog.

To those visiting from the Moody Fiction blog, thanks for dropping by! Take a look around. If you're interested, here's my review of Pearl in the Sand by Tessa Afshar.

Cart of Death by Mari Ulmer

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Cart of Death
by Mari Ulmer

ISBN-13: 0-373-26577-0
Mass Market Paperback: 250 pages
Publisher: Worldwide Library
Released: Sept. 2006

Source: Bought at library book sale.

Book Description from Back Cover:
The sacred and the secular merge in Taos during Las Fiestas, and the charming bed-and-breakfast run by Christina Garcia y Grant is filled with celebration. While the festival's grim visage of La Dona Sebastiana--death--can be sobering to the uninitiated, true revelers understand that life is only worth living when death is watching.

Then a young gallery assistant goes missing, while the body of an associate is found murdered among some rare artifacts. The curator, a newcomer who specializes in recovering local religious art, enlists Christina's help--but his motives become suspicious when she makes a connection to a string of antiquity thefts from museums along the Santa Fe Trail. Another body surfaces on the banks of the Rio Grande, proving once more that a land steeped in mystery and tradition can be quite deadly as well.

Cart of Death is a culture-filled mystery novel. The main characters were smart, engaging, and fairly complex (though they didn't grow as people throughout the book). The low level of suspense throughout the story was created by the worry that the missing woman might end up dead if they didn't find her soon and from Christina being somewhat attracted to the new guy in town whom Mac (who's jealous) thinks may be a criminal. While I thought of the murderer as a suspect, I'd say this novel keeps you guessing about "who-done-it" until the end.

The characters were mostly Hispanic, so some Spanish was used. The meaning of the Spanish words were usually obvious from the context, but there was also a glossary in the back. The Hispanic culture & Catholic faith and the upcoming festival provided a rich cultural backdrop to the story. While there were a few references to "he prayed" or "they attended mass," there was no obvious Christian message.

There was no sex. There was a minor amount of cussing and swearing (and that was mainly from one character). Overall, I'd recommend this enjoyable mystery.

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 call came just as Christy reworked a sentence in her novel. With a sigh, she set it aside and pulled out the will she had prepared. The Barelas had wanted to wait. Now they needed her.

Christina Garcia y Grant drove away from the high adobe walls of what had been her grandmother's hacienda, presently her own Casa Vieja, a busy bed and breakfast. Those walls provided a refuge from the world, and from the practice of law she had mostly left, while giving her a living so that she could write. But now she had a duty to the dying.

The car wrapped her in heat collected from the sun beating down on this breathless summer day. Dark with rain, thunder heads built higher and higher, towering in the west, threatening a monsoon downpour. The waiting stillness felt oppressive, heavy.

A cloud of dust hung in the air behind Christy's car on the narrow dirt road. Here in Talpa, just south of Taos, New Mexico, hidden little by-ways led to houses and mobile homes outsiders never saw. Many of the older people spoke no English and dated their forebears back to the Spanish colonists who followed the conquistadors. Christy wondered how her green eyes came from that gene pool. Maybe a blond northern Spaniard?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pearl in the Sand by Tessa Afshar

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Pearl in the Sand
by Tessa Afshar

ISBN-13: 978-0-8024-5881-0
Trade Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Moody Publishers
Released: Sept. 2010

Author Website

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Back Cover:
Striking beauty comes at a price. Rahab paid it when, at the age of fifteen, she was sold into prostitution by the one man she loved and trusted--her father. With her keen mind and careful planning, she turned heartache into success, achieving independence while still young. And she vowed never again to trust a man. Any man.

God had other plans.

Into the emotional turmoil of her world walked Salmone, a prominent leader of Judah, held in high esteem by all Israel. A man of faith, honor, and pride. An enemy.

What is a woman with a wrecked past to do when she wants to be loved, yet no longer believes it possible?

The walls of Jericho are only the beginning. For Rahab, the real battle will be one of the heart.

Pearl in the Sand is a Biblical/historical romance novel about Rahab's life before and after Jericho's walls fell. I think both women and men would enjoy the story since the romance was realistic, with the shadows of a painful past and different upbringings shading their attraction and then creating troubles in making their marriage work.

The characters were engaging and very human. They struggled with things common throughout the ages: shame, guilt, pride, forgiveness, change, etc. The author stayed true to what was given in Scripture about Rahab and then filled out the details with reasonable events. I've read four fictional versions of Rahab's story, and this one is easily my favorite.

It was clear that the author spent time researching the culture to fill out the details of daily life. She also wove great Scriptural insights into the story as Rahab learned more about the God she chose to serve. I suspect that reading this story will be transformative for many readers.

I did notice that some more modern Jewish traditions (which wouldn't have existed at that time) were worked into the story as a part of Israelite culture, but that's understandable. All authors have to stop researching at some point, and these things weren't critical to the story. A couple scenes also had somewhat modern sensibilities (like the reason Salmone hesitated to kill an enemy soldier). But I was disappointed that the author knew of Deut. 22:11 and worked in into the story yet overlooked Deut. 24:5, which would have made a major impact on the story.

There was no explicit sex. There was no bad language. Overall, I highly recommend this enjoyable and insightful novel. I look forward to Tessa Afshar's future novels.

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
Dawn had yet to appear when Rahab tumbled into consciousness, courtesy of an impatient nudge. “Stop your laziness, girl. Your brothers and father are almost ready to leave.” Her mother gave Rahab one more unnecessary shove.

Rahab groaned and gave up on rest. Bleary-eyed and sore, she forced herself to rise from her bedroll. For two months she had been doing the work of men, waking before daybreak and wrestling the land all day with little food, water, or rest to renew her strength. It was useless—even at fifteen and only a girl she could see that. Their land had produced nothing but dust. Like the rest of Canaan, Jericho was in the grip of a brutal drought.

Though she knew their efforts to be wasted, every day she pushed herself almost past endurance because as long as they stayed busy, her Abba had hope. She couldn’t bear the thought of his despair.

“Child, hurry,” her mother snapped.

Rahab, who had already folded her bedroll and was almost finished dressing, continued her silent preparations at the same pace. She could move no faster if the King’s armies were at the door.

Her father entered the room, chewing half-heartedly on a piece of stale bread. His face, pale and drawn, glistened with sweat. Rahab finished tying her sash with a quick motion and snatched a piece of hard barley cake that would serve as breakfast and noonday meal. Giving her father a tight hug she said, “Good morning, Abba.”

He stepped out of her embrace. “Letme breathe, Rahab.” Turning to his wife he said, “I’ve made a decision. If I find no sign of a crop today, I’m giving up.”

Rahab sucked in her breath just as her mother let out an agitated wail. “Imri, no! What will become of us?”

Her father shrugged and walked outside. Apparently his season of denial was at an end. He was admitting defeat. In a haze, Rahab followed him. She knew this day would be no different from the others. The thought of her father’s wretchedness made her cringe.

Read the rest of chapter one and two.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Witness at Large by Mignon G. Eberhart

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Witness at Large
by Mignon G. Eberhart

ISBN: 0446312053
Mass Market Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Warner Books
Released: 1966, 1983

Source: Bought at a library book sale.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
Death walks a fog-shrouded island. The pretty young girl called Sister sees Tom, the man she secretly loves, pulling a woman's body from the water--or is he dumping it?--while holding a hammer in his hand. No, she's certain that Tom would never kill. But if they report the death as a murder, Sister's testimony will surely make Tom the top suspect.

At the urging of their adoptive father and his lawyer, Tom agrees to present the death as a tragic accident and marry Sister so she can't be forced to witness against him. But the unknown killer is still out there, and Sister saw something that she doesn't realize is significant. As she tries to figure out who the murderer is, the murderer moves to strike again...

Witness at Large is a suspenseful mystery with a historical flavor since it was written in 1966. The details about the characters and setting were good. The suspense was created from the relationship tensions (including Tom's fiancée trying to win Tom back when Tom and Sister suddenly marry) and the subtle threats the murderer is leaving for Sister. The characters were interesting but didn't have much depth. While I did suspect who the murderer was, I wasn't sure until very near the end and shortly before Sister figured it out. So it was an enjoyable "puzzle" mystery.

There was no sex. There was a minor amount of bad language. Overall, I'd recommend this novel as an enjoyable mystery that's similar in style to Agatha Christie's.

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
We spent the winters in the house on Seventy-second Street; we spent the summers on the island. When you are very young you feel that your life is safe, that nothing can change it and it will go on forever just as it is. You also feel that you yourself will never change.

At eleven o-clock on a Friday night in June, I would have said that I was a perfectly conventional young woman. I believed that I told the truth; I also believed that I tried to do what was right and to think what was right, which is different and harder. This changed when, later, I went back down the forty steps.

There was a heavy fog that night. I went down the steps cautiously; there were occasional lights about waist-high, but there were treacherous spaces of darkness between the low lights. I had nearly reached the beach when I heard some sort of sound like a hollow thump upon wood. I looked up then and saw Tom. The light which always shone at night from the sea side of the boathouse was dimmed by the fog, but I saw Tom. He was leaning over, crouched down above the water. The fog was thick but I saw a bare white leg flop over the pier and then flop down into the black water again. I knew it was Mildred. I ran down the few steps and across the little beach.

When I reached Tom he was still kneeling, staring down into the black water. Then I saw a hammer in his hand.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

On Target by Mark Greaney

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On Target
by Mark Greaney

ISBN-13: 9780515148459
Mass Market Paperback: 544 pages
Publisher: Jove
Released: Sept. 2010

Source: Unrequested review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, modified from back cover:
Four years ago, Court Gentry was betrayed by his handlers in the CIA. To survive, he had to eliminate his own brothers in arms. Now, as a master assassin known as the Gray Man, he makes his living killing other people. But his own life is put in the crosshairs when his old CIA team leader, whom he thought dead, finds him.

The man will kill Court unless he agrees to a difficult assassination mission (offered by a Russian criminal boss), but with one crucial change: Instead of assassinating Sudan's president, he'll kidnap him instead and return his quarry to the very CIA team that turned on him. In return, the CIA will remove it's shoot-on-sight order on him.

With his ruthless Russian employer on one side, his former CIA team on the other, and an impossible mission ahead, Court Gentry would kill to get out of this one alive...

On Target is a military-type thriller that reads like an action movie in novel form. The target audience appears to be men. The sole female character was a damsel-in-distress who was fatally (if not for Court) naive and determined to ignore all sensible advice. I suspect, though, that male readers will sympathize with Court being the hero while dealing with an incomprehensible woman.

While I liked that Court had a moral standard and a human side, he came across as way too soft to be an assassin-for-hire. He refused to kill anyone unless he absolutely couldn't survive their attempts to kill him. This included his targets. The plot also had logic holes, like a superior said that it was worth the deaths of everyone on the team to get the kidnapped president out of the country, yet he's the last one in line to be extracted (thus causing more danger and complications).

However, the novel was packed with non-stop action and close escapes from mortal danger. If you want a fast-paced, action-packed, suspense-filled read, this novel will give it to you. Also, the author clearly researched the details about the job, locations, and culture, and that helped bring the story alive in my imagination. Yet some aspects still didn't come across as realistic because they're exaggerated. (For example, I've read the author's source for how to tell if a person is lying, which that book says isn't a sure thing, but the author makes Court a no-fail expert at it.)

There was no explicit sex. There was a lot of cussing, especially once you get into the story. There was a lot of violence, though it wasn't very gory. Overall, it was an exciting action thriller, and I'm guessing that men who enjoy action movies will probably enjoy this 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
At a pharmacy he bought a pack of acetaminophen tablets and a bottled water. He'd been injured a few months back, a bullet through the thigh and a knife blade into his gut. The pain had lessened by the week. The body had incredible power to heal, so much greater than that of the mind. Court had grown dependent on the pills and injections: Vicodin and OxyContin, Demerol and Dilaudid. A surgeon in Nice had kept him supplied since the operation to clean and close his abdominal wound, and Gentry had popped pills each day since. But he'd purposely left them behind when he boarded the freighter; he'd gone over a week now without his meds, and this self-imposed detox was making him miserable.

The acetaminophen was no substitute for a heavy narcotic, but his mind found comfort in the ritual of swallowing the tablets nonetheless.

Three hours after leaving the boat, he checked in to a Chinese-run budget hotel in a narrow alley off Parnell Street, a half mile north of the river. His room was dark and dank and smelled of mold and frying grease; the restaurant two floors below him blew the stench through the vents. A near-horizontal rain beat steadily on the dirty window but failed to clean it; the oily grime covered the inside of the glass.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

English Ivy by Catherine Palmer

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English Ivy
by Catherine Palmer

ISBN-13: 9780842319270
Trade Paperback: 325 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Released: Feb. 2002

Source: Bought at a library book sale.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
On the eve of her 21st birthday, Ivy Bowden has much to anticipate. Engaged to be married to the man her father has chosen for her, Ivy hopes for a secure, contented future. But when she's injured by robbers and rescued by her roguish neighbor, her world is thrown into complete disarray. He's brought news that she's a rich heiress, but she won't inherit the money unless she marries a charming but dissolute man she's never heard of before. Then her adoptive father reveals that his family is dependent on her riches. She must marry to gain the money or the whole family will fall into poverty.

Ivy must marry the man chosen by her true father, the one chosen by her adoptive father, or abandon her riches to follow the leading of her willful heart. If she only knew what her heavenly Father's will was...

English Ivy is a historical romance set in 1815 England. The romance was a "sweet" romance, and the story mainly focused on the romance. Historical details were woven into the story, but there weren't a great deal of them--mostly setting, but some speech, manners, and clothing. The characters were engaging, and the main characters were earnest and wanted to do what was right.

It was obvious how the story would end, but Ivy was so innocent and willing to sacrifice for the good of others that I wasn't sure how we'd get to that ending. The suspense was created by seeing how the legalities of the marriage tangle would turn out.

The main characters were Christians who wanted to do God's will and so struggled with figuring out what God's will was. I agreed with the conclusion they came to. The characters searched the Bible for answers, and some Bible verses were quoted during their study. I liked how this was handled.

There was a very minor amount of British mild bad language. There was no sex (though past unmarried sex was implied for several of the men). Overall, I would 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 Chapter One
Brooking House, near the village of Otley
Yorkshire, England, 1815

"At last," Ivy Bowden said to her three younger sisters as she placed the carefully penned instructions in her small beaded handbag. The printer in Otley would have plenty of time to prepare the invitations. In a few short months, she would celebrate her twenty-first birthday with a ball. By Christmas she would be wedded. Wishing for greater peace than she felt, she let out a deep breath. "And so--all is settled, and all is well."

"I should not say such a thing if I were to marry Nigel Creeve." Madeline gave a shudder. "And to have to live in Leeds in the same house with old Mr. Creeves and his wife. The pair of them give me nightmares."

"Maddie, you must not look on the dim side of things." Ivy tied her bonnet ribbons and wrapped a green wool shawl around her shoulders. "Nigel Creeve is a gentleman of the first order, and I am determined to be content with the arrangement."

Read more of chapter one.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Murder Can Rain On Your Shower by Selma Eichler

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Murder Can Rain On Your Shower
by Selma Eichler

ISBN: 0-451-20823-4
Mass Market Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Signet
Released: March 2003

Source: Bought at a fund raiser garage sale.

Book Description from Back Cover:
Desiree Shapiro's niece, Ellen, will soon be saying, "I do." So Manhattan's pudgiest P.I. teams up with Ellen's future mother-in-law to give the bride-to-be a truly memorable shower. And memorable, it is. After all, when a guest takes a few bites of her salad, then promptly keels over, no one present is likely to forget the occasion.

Naturally, being a dedicated foodie, Desiree knows plenty of "to die for" dishes, but a green salad isn't one of them. Once she begins to look into the victim's death--and life--Desiree is convinced that she's dealing with a homicide...and that a number of backbiting society ladies had every reason to want scheming, man-hungry Bobbie Jean dead. Meanwhile, Desiree has a new love interest. But romance will have to wait because the police are perilously close to arresting an innocent woman for the crime.

Murder Can Rain On Your Shower is a humorous mystery novel. But Desiree is not a very clever or dedicated private investigator. She was very easily distracted from the case and would stop work the moment someone suggested going out to dinner or she felt upset or she felt like having a bubble bath. She even did hated housework instead of work on the case! It's amazing she got anything done on the case except that most of the interviews were done over breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Desiree also overlooked obvious clues and possibilities in preference of the easiest route--focusing on "the obvious suspects." When she finally noticed a few, slight clues, she made up a whole story of how the murder could have been done, promptly decided that's how it must have been done, and then she's shocked the police don't call her a hero and immediately go out to arrest the person. Not to mention that she lied to the police and regularly lied to and manipulated people but didn't see anything wrong with it. The only reason she solved the murder was because, in my opinion, the person wanted to get caught.

That said, the characters were charming in a lying, manipulative sort of way. The details about the food, decor, and appearances were vivid if those sorts of things interest you. The mystery wasn't difficult to solve--I saw the possibility of who and how back when the murder was committed, but I figured it was too obvious. I'm still convinced it was someone else. While quite possible, I wasn't satisfied by the solution.

There was a minor amount of bad language. While the murdered woman was a seductress, there was no explicit sex described. Overall, I'd recommend this novel to people who enjoy humorous investigators but don't care so much about clever mysteries.

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'd been practically wired on my way over to Ellen's that Sunday morning. I mean, I wanted so much for her to be surprised by the bridal shower that Allison Lynton--mother of the bridegroom--and I were throwing for her. And of course, there was a better than even chance that some blabbermouth had already managed to give the whole thing away.

As soon as Ellen got in the car, though, I could tell from her expression, which was more or less placid--for Ellen, anyway--that she had no idea what had been planned.

Weeks ago, Allison's future sister-in-law, Bobbie Jean--a member of Silver Oaks--had telephoned her, ostensibly to extend an invitation to lunch at her club. "We have to start getting to know each other," the woman had declared--they'd met only once before at a gathering of some kind. "After all, in a few months we'll be family. And speaking of family, your future mother-in-law--she'll be there, too, of course--tells me you have an aunt in Manhattan you're very close to--a private investigator, she said. I'd like to have her join us if she can make it."

And now, here we were, driving out to Forsythe, Long Island--and Ellen's surprise.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

And the winner is...

It's time to pick the winner of Code Triage by Candace Calvert. Using a random number generator and numbering the entrants who correctly followed the directions in the order I received their entries, the winner is:

Laura Fabiani

Congratulations! I'll be contacting you for your address.

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

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Self-Portraits: Fictions by Frederic Tuten

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Self-Portraits: Fictions
by Frederic Tuten

ISBN-13: 978-0-393-07905-0
Hardback: 232 pages
Publisher: W.W. Norton
Released: Sept. 2010

Source: Unrequested review copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Book Cover:
In these glittering, interrelated stories, a young boy barters with pirates for his grandmother’s soul; Death appears as a genial waiter in a bar across from the Metropolitan Museum; an ominous man interferes with honeymooners at a bullfight; an estranged couple glimpse God on a cliff on Old Mountain in Tangiers; a lonely man lectures circus bears on the history of art; miniature glaciers tumble from a refrigerator in an East Village apartment, heralding a voyage to Antarctica on a frozen schooner anchored in Tompkins Square Park; and two lovers meet, part, and reunite time and again in different guises, ages, and landscapes both familiar and exotic.

Love, and its mystery, is at the core of these tales, but love also for art, for adventure, and for the passion of being alive. Throughout Self Portraits the author appears as hero, bystander, artist, and ghost, revealing an enchanting autobiography of the imagination.

Self-Portraits: Fictions is a book of 12 short literary stories by Frederic Tuten. Each story shifted around in time and place and between reality and fantasy with no warning, so it was hard to tell what was going on (especially for a linear thinker like me). The characters tended to say philosophical-sounding things, so I had the feeling that there was supposed to be some deeper meaning to it all. However, I couldn't make sense of it so I decided to simply read it as a series of quirky tales. While I liked the author's writing, I'm not a good match for his style.

There was a very minor amount of bad language. Sex was implied. Overall, I think that if the story descriptions sound appealing to you, you'll probably enjoy the book.

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 Voyagers
Enriching, travel was. Deepening my conviction that there was little to live for, little reason to live, less to be born. I thought I would tell her that before we finished our dinner and left separately for the night.

A black gondola, minus the oarsman, was skimming toward her; some inches away, separated by blue molding, Vesuvius showered smoke and flaming embers over her head. She seemed in a low mood, but I had thought that of her many times before and was often shown wrong. She was sometimes just in no mood for me, for my accustomed face. I did not blame her. So large a world, so many fresh faces to consider.

"Listen," she said.

I had traversed many deserts and arid places: the Empty Quadrant, the Sahara, the Gobi, the Mojave, the Sands of Dreams, the Wastes of Longing.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Author Quirks: Candace Calvert

Next up is Candace Calvert, author of Code Triage. I asked her:

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

Her answer:

An author’s world straddles fiction and reality—and lends itself to “quirky” moments like this:

In the parking lot of a Staples store, I saw a BMW Z-4. Black. Older model. Convertible. Exactly like the one I'd written into my newest release, Code Triage, for the hero, San Francisco police officer Nick Stathos.

The car appears throughout the story, like in this scene on a famous San Francisco street:

But tonight he wanted to take the long way, because it might be the last time he drove through his favorite city with his wife. She was on to his plan way too soon.

“You’re kidding, right? Lombard Street—what do you think I am, a tourist?”

“I think . . . you’d better hang on tight.”

He steered the Z-4 downward into the first of eight hair-pin turns on the one-way section on Russian Hill, between Hyde and Leavenworth, known as “the crookedest street in the world.” A steep red-brick paved road on a 27% grade with a posted speed limit of 5 miles per hour. “No sweat,” he said. “We took these turns during training. I could do this at a raging six miles an hour . . . chewing gum.” Her grin made his chest warm.

“And wipe out an entire bank of hydrangeas,” she said, pointing across the lush hedges and leaning back—way back—in her seat. “Don’t be a maniac, Nick.”

Yes, the Z-4 was Nick Stathos' car. He got to drive it only because I, as the author of Code Triage, gave it to him. Made it black, convertible . . . and older, because he wasn't the kind of guy to drop a lot of money on a new car. I know this because he's fictional and I wrote him that way. Gave him (in addition to a cool car) a tough-guy cop exterior, an incredibly sensitive heart, a painful past, a deep faith . . . and determination to save his failing marriage.

His car. His past. His future. In my hands.

Nice, tidy, and well-controlled...until that morning, when I drove to Staples in San Antonio to get a black ink cartridge and saw a black BMW Z-4 exactly like the car I'd imagined for my hero, Nick Stathos.

And, as I took it in, my jaw dropped. Then the hair prickled on the back of my neck.

Why? After all, how many black BMW Z-4's are there? Lots, of course.

But it was the license plate letters that caught my eye:



Thank you for your empathetic goosebumps.

And thank you, Candace, for sharing this story about how life and fiction can intersect in surprising ways!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The King of Trees by William D. Burt

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The King of Trees
by William D. Burt

Trade Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Winepress Publishing
First Released: 1998

Source: Bought through

Book Description from Goodreads:
What do an old wooden box, a jeweled pendant and some mysterious, green-garbed strangers share in common? When Rolin son of Gannon sets out to solve this riddle, his adventures take him worlds beyond the walls of his little log cabin. With the help of some grumpy griffins and a long-lost prophecy, Rolin and his newfound friends battle a sorcerer and his underworld army; deadly snake-trees; batwolves, dragons and other mythical creatures. On their perilous quest for the blessed Isle of Luralin, they must trust the King with their very lives. In the end, they learn that “The greatest help oft comes in harm’s disguise to those with trusting hearts and open eyes."

The King of Trees is a fast-paced fantasy adventure that's marketed to males and females ages 8 and up. The main characters were all males, so I think it would appeal most to boys. Since the author used a fair number of infrequently-used big words, I'd suggest it for teens and up. The author also used made-up names, some of them very similar sounding. I had some trouble keeping track of who was who and what was what. Sometimes there were even two names for the same thing: like griffins were called griffins, but usually they were called sorc. There's a glossary with pronunciation guide in the back to help with this.

While I could see the influence of novels like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, the story was original. It was also action-packed and exciting, and the characters were fun and likable.

There were several times that I didn't understand why Rolin acted the way he did during a critical parts of the novel. For example, Rolin was curious and wanted to explore a new world but knew it could be very dangerous. He decided to just take a peek and immediately come back. He goes to the new world, then, without any explanation as to why he changed his mind, he roamed through a creepy forest, knocked on the door to an evil-feeling building, and shouted to see if anyone was around.

Also, on a few occasions near the end, I had a "where did that come from" moment. As in, we weren't told that Rolin still had an object with him. Logically, he shouldn't still have it and, if he did, he would've been using it earlier. But then he suddenly does have it.

This story is a Christian allegory. It's somewhat subtle at first, but in the second half, the allegory was very obvious and rather heavy-handed. At the end, the plot was being driven more by the needs of the allegory than by naturally arising from the characters or their circumstances. Also, the Tree of Life (the Christ-like character) frequently spoke verses found in the Bible, especially those said by Jesus. To have a tree--which was a being created by the Father God figure (p.35)--go from playing a Christ-like allegorical role to essentially being Christ bothered me. Anyone without Biblical knowledge will probably be confused by it since some of the quotes seem to come out of nowhere. Also, Jesus isn't a created being so portraying Christ as a created tree-being who then created humans was a rather critical bit of theology to portray incorrectly.

There were a few sketchy drawings throughout the book. There was no bad language or sex. Overall, I'd recommend it as exciting, clean reading as long as none of the above are problems for you.

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
"Snitch boy, snitch boy, hair-as-red-as-pitch boy! Bee in his bonnet, bee in his bonnet, bees in the hive and Rolin's sat on it!"

Rolin jerked awake, tore off his quilts and rushed to the window. He saw no one outside except a few blue jays warming up for the day's chatter. An early morning mist still swirled among the firs and pines in the foothills of the rugged Tartellan Mountains, where Rolin's father, Gannon, had built their cozy cabin.

Rolin groaned and flopped back on the bed. He always had bad dreams just before market days, when he and his father went down to bustling Beechtown to sell their wares. Was it his fault he had red hair (though it was really chestnut) or that his father kept bees? And who could blame him for reporting the cobbler's sons to the constable for stealing chickens? As if that were not enough, "the Crazy Toadstool Woman" had been his grandmother.

Had been. Rolin screwed his eyes shut, squeezing out the tears. Several years earlier, first his grandmother, Adelka, then his mother, Janna, had died under mysterious circumstance, leaving Rolin and his father to mourn their losses in lonely bewilderment.

"Ho, Rolin! Sun's up and it's market day," boomed a voice into the log-walled bedroom. Rolin yawned, stretched and hopped out of bed. Market day! Already he could see the crowds of traders and travelers, vendors hawking wooden trinkets, and the food stalls set up in the square, with their mounds of candied fruits, toasted beechnuts, smoked fish, and box upon box of luscious winter pears. And he could hear the children's cruel taunts.