Just the Facts: by Colleen Coble. 320 p. Published in 2008 by Thomas Nelson. Listened to audiobook narrated by Aimee Lilly, borrowed from my local library.
Who Cares? Adult Inspirational Fiction
In the quiet safety of the Bluebird Ranch, old promises resurface and unexpected love brings new hope. Though tragedy has wrecked her life, Allie Siders holds on to the hope that her five-year-old daughter, Betsy, will speak again. But with a stalker out for revenge, all Allie can think about now is their safety. She must sever all ties and abandon life as she knows it. She heads to the peaceful Bluebird Ranch, nestled deep in Texas hill country, and to the only person who can help them. The ranch is a sanctuary for abused horses, and also for troubled youths: the perfect place for Betsy to grow and recover. Ranch owner Elijah DeAngelo eagerly welcomes the duo. But Rick Bailey—the ranch foreman and DeAngelo’s right hand man—hasn’t decided to let his guard down… yet. Promises made long ago soon force Rick and Allie to work together to escape danger. Will they discover love along the way?
I’ve been grabbing audiobooks from our library to listen to on my phone while commuting to work, and this was the second one I picked up. Texas ranch, single mom stalked by a murderer . . . sadly, it wasn’t quite as gripping as I thought it would be. If it hadn’t been something I was listening to while doing other things, I probably would have had trouble finishing it. It was a little too predictable to be really engaging – the characters were okay, but not terribly distinct from most Christian Fic heroes and heroines. It would make good summer beach reading for those who like Christian romantic fiction, seems like there are a lot of other readers out there who appreciated it more than I did.
Other Books Read by This Author: None
★★☆☆☆ Plot Development
★★★☆☆ Writing Style
★★★☆☆ Original Idea
★★★☆☆ Page Turner
Verdict: ★★★☆☆ (Really, I’d give it 3 1/2)
Who Cares? Adult Christian Historical Fiction
Short Bio: Chaikin’s newest saga, “The Dawn of Hawaii Series”, debuted The Spoils of Eden in 2010, and was just recently followed by the second, Hawaiian Crosswinds, in June 2011. The series follows the third generation decendants of the first Hawaiian missionaries, families who by now have vast land holdings as well as great political influence. Although the plot centers around Eden Derrington’s struggle to fulfil a long-held dream to work with her much-absent father on the leper colony Molokai, finally meet her leprous mother, and hang on to her hunky and hardworking fiancée (Rafe Easton), the saga involves all of the Derrington clan and most especially Eden’s cousins – Candace, Zachary, and Silas.
Eden’s personal quest to build relationships with her absent parents, as well as with Rafe, is set in the middle of high political tension in Hawaii. Her grandfather and fiancée both support the annexation of Hawaii by the United States in order to have the protection of both U.S. Navy and U.S. laws at a time when Queen Liliuokalani is pushing for restoration of an absolute monarchy. The increasing need for manual labor on large fruit and coffee plantations has brought an influx of Chinese and Japanese families who not only threaten the demographic balance of Hawaii, but also bring the corrupting influence of drug and gambling cartels from the Orient. Eden and her cousins set about the difficult task of following God’s path for their future amidst these warring influences, family pressure to make strategic marriages, and internal doubts and fleshly weaknesses.
Eyewitness Account: First, I must say that Moody Publishers has a great Public Relations department – I had originally requested the Hawaiian Crosswinds galley on NetGalley, and when I received it, the formatting was illegible. Moody promptly responded to my email by sending me hard copies of BOTH books in the mail (which was great, I hadn’t realized it was the second book in a series!).
I’ve long been a fan of Chaikin’s because of her Heart of India trilogy, which I read several times as a kid (it was published about 20 years ago), so I was super excited to read this series. Chaikin did not disappoint – this new Hawaiian series has all the same strengths that her Indian series has: interesting and well researched historical period, full cast of diverse characters, interesting and complex plot, and strong undercurrent of spiritual truths.
I was a little taken aback throughout the first book because it felt like Chaikin was info-dumping a whole lot of backstory about the characters – and then I remembered that she had published a Hawaiian book a few years back, and sure enough For Whom The Stars Shine was supposed to be the first book in this series (perhaps you could consider it a prequel)? I’d read it long enough ago that I didn’t remember any of it, so the backstory helped and I was less annoyed knowing that she was actually referring to a previous novel. Unfortunately, Shine was published by Bethany House and the Dawn of Hawaii series is under Moody Publishers, so they don’t connect the two at all (leaving me rather confused and put out for most of the first book about the backstory dump). You might want to pick up Shine first if you’re interested, but it isn’t necessary.
The first two books in the Dawn of Hawaii series are full of complex characters and plot development that take patience to get through, but are worth the effort – most of the advancement takes place through dialogue, which can drive action-lovers bonkers. It’s a technique, though, that allows Chaikin to focus on the characters and their relationships to one another and provides the medium through which she develops many of her themes, such as Eden and Rafe learning to trust each other enough to confront each other about secrets and concerns. Chaikin also explores the idea that faith is not something you can inherit like you can a sugarcane plantation, but that you must claim as your own. Her characters struggle with personal sin and weakness in very human ways, like jealousy of step-siblings or anger towards abusive parents. They also battle to determine what God’s path for their future is – Candace trying to decide whether she is free to marry for love or obliged to accept her grandfather’s choice of husband, and Eden’s dilemma of putting off her fiancée in order to work with her father and meet her mother.
Another major theme of the book is the plight of the lepers, personified in Eden’s mother and in Kip. Kip is a young, orphaned boy who is rescued from Molokai by Rafe. He himself does not have leprosy, but would be banished to a life on the leper colony under the current Hawaiian rules. Eden and Rafe clash over the question of obeying the local law that Kip must be isolated and perhaps returned to the leper colony, even though he shows no signs of the disease. Rafe reluctantly allows his own appointment to the legislature on behalf of an absent assemblymen with the sole intent to change such laws that persecute those who are merely associated with, but do not have, leprosy. Eden’s father, Dr. Jerome, had dedicated his whole life to finding a “cure” for leprosy after his wife contracted the disease and was exiled to Molokai. Chaikin shows that at this time in Hawaii’s past, leprosy was greatly feared and its victims severely stigmatized. Several of the characters (including Eden, Dr. Jerome, and the local lay pastor, Ambrose), display compassion for those with the outcast disease and work to give the victims hope and give the fearful peace.
My only real quibble was that this series was eerily similar to The Heart of India trilogy – large dynastic non-native family, central conflict over an orphaned boy of questionable origin, tyrannical and manipulative uncle, mysterious fires, etc. There are no characters that are “exactly” the same, but there are enough plot devices in common to make the work feel not entirely original.
If you like well-researched historical fiction in the tradition of Alex Haley, James Michener, and Herman Wouk, then you’d probably enjoy this series. I’m eager for the third one, hopefully coming out soon!
Two men, two legacies, Rafe mused. “My father knew how to multiply the land’s produce. My grandfather knew how to look up at the stars and see the Lord’s footsteps moving silently through eternity. I am the restless heir of both men, and God will hold me responsible for the pathway I’ve taken. I can’t live any way I choose, then expect special treatment to be handed to me from God just because [my grandfather] lived a godly life.”
What are other people saying?
★★★★☆ Plot Development
★★★☆☆ Writing Style
★★★☆☆ Original Idea
★★★★☆ Page Turner
Disclosure of Material Connection:
I received this book free from Moody Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
Who Cares? Adult Historical Fiction
Short Bio (from Publisher’s Weekly): Russell (Dreamers of the Day) brings lethal Dodge City to life in a colorful group-portrait of famous frontiersmen years before many of them would pass into legend at the O.K. Corral. After a tense childhood in Civil War–torn Georgia and the loss of his beloved mother, young John Henry “Doc” Holliday moves west in hopes of ameliorating the tuberculosis that would eventually kill him, relocating in the late 1870s to Kansas, where he divides his time among his poorly paying vocation of dentistry, lucrative gambling, and his fractious relationship with Kate Harony, a cultured, Hungarian-born prostitute. In a tale notable more for a remarkable cast than orderliness of plot, the rising tension between the corrupt, carousing, and well-armed inhabitants of Dodge and the forces of law represented by the moralistic Wyatt Earp and his brother, Morgan, makes a spectacular background to a memorable year-in-the-life tale of a fiery young Southern gentleman whose loyalty to his friends and love of music outshine even his fragile health and the whiskey-soaked violence of the western
Eyewitness Account: The only criticism of this book I can truthfully give is that it ended too soon! Russell managed to do what she did so expertly in The Sparrow - she introduced me to a cast of characters that I did not want to say goodbye to. Forget your brawny Fabio romance heroes; I’ll take Doc over them any day! Doc Holliday was the epitome of a southern gentlemen driven to survive his debilitating tuberculosis – and he has the wittiest and most charming lines in the whole book. Wyatt Earp steals your heart with his illiterate sincerity and desire to serve unilateral justice. Kate Harony, Bessie Earp, and Belle Wright are, each one, very different and yet very independent women trying to tame a wild country full of unreliable men. I even fell in love with a young black boy who would have been cast as an extra if the story were a movie set, he had so few of his own lines. And the writing – oh, the writing! There are some authors who make music with their words, and Russell leads the pack. Doc is one of the wittiest, engaging, and heart-breaking novels I have read all year. It’s a book that I’d recommend to my dad as easily as to my grandmother, the themes are so universal. This is one of the few books that I’ve actually bought this year and it was COMPLETELY worth it! I’m just sad I didn’t get a physical copy so I could start handing it out to my fellow book-junkies.
“Yes, sir! Yes, they do,” Doc said, suddenly hot. “Every one of them has a story, and every story begins with a man who failed her. A husband who came home from the war, good for nothin’ but drink. A father who didn’t come home at all, or a stepfather who did. A brother who should have protected her. A beau who promised marriage and left when he got what he wanted, because he wouldn’t marry a slut. If a girl like that has lost her way, it’s—because some worthless no-account—sonofabitch left her in—the wilderness alone!”
Doc sat back in his chair and stared out of the window for a long time. “Bein’ born is craps,” he decided. He glanced at Morg and let loose that sly, lopsided smile of his. “How we live is poker.” Doc looked away and got thoughtful again. “Mamma played a bad hand well.”
Sit in a physician’s office. Listen to a diagnosis as bad as Doc’s. Beyond the first few words, you won’t hear a thing. The voice of Hope is soft but impossible to ignore. This isn’t happening, she assures you. There’s been a mix-up with the tests. Hope swears, You’re different. You matter. She whispers, Miracles happen. She says, often quite reasonably, New treatments are being developed all the time! She promises, You’ll beat the odds. A hundred to one? A thousand to one? A million to one? Eight to five, Hope lies. Odds are, when your time comes, you won’t even ask, “For or against?” You’ll swing up on that horse, and ride.
Other Books Read by This Author:
★★★★☆ Plot Development
★★★★★ Writing Style
★★★★★ Original Idea
★★★★★ Page Turner
Just the Facts: by George Mann. 336 p. Published July 2009 by Tor Books. Purchased eBook through Amazon.com because my book club picked it for June’s selection.
Who Cares? Adult – Zombie Steampunk
Short Bio: The first “Newbury and Hobbes Investigation” book finds agents for Queen Victoria, Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes, in Industrial Age England trying to discover the mysterious circumstances behind the crash of the airship Lady Armitage. As Newbury and Hobbes investigate the crash scene and airship company, they are drawn into the interesting world of clockwork men, the seemingly unrelated serial killings of “The Glowing Policeman”, and (of course) the underlying spread of the zombie-creating plague.
Eyewitness Account: Seriously, a ZOMBIE STEAMPUNK novel? What a way to mash genres! I have to give kudos to Mann for pulling it off way more convincingly than I expected an author could. Unfortunately, that was what he did best in this novel - mesh together the automaton and zombie plots in a rather clever way. The actual writing style and character development suffered so much that I struggled to get to the rewarding climax of the book. Newbury was a poor carbon copy of Sherlock Holmes (replacing an opium addiction with laudanum), and Hobbes was a confusing feminist character who held oddly modern suffrage ideas while concurrently distrusting progress and technology. I would have liked to see them developed more dynamically than serve to mirror past literary characters - and perhaps Mann will have the opportunity to do that in future installments of the series.
I must also admit skimming through the drawn out fight/chase scenes that really befit a movie more than a book and wondering what purpose the Jack Coulthard plot served at all – any enlightment on that front would be more than appreciated!
If you’re really into Steampunk, Sherlock Holmes mysteries, or anything with zombies in it, then you’ll probably enjoy this book; it has a twist that’s well worth wading through the rest of the book for.
“He wanted to stay in that moment, for time to stand still so that he could lie there, basking in the firelight and watching the pretty girl who had come to his rescue – without having to face her when she woke and explain his failings. He imagined watching the light dying in her eyes as he revealed the truth: that aside from his more salubrious pursuits he was a habitual opium-eater and a dabbler in the occult.”
“And with genius comes a certain amorality that is sometimes difficult to judge. Genius is, in many ways, akin to madness. Both states of mind demand a disconnection from reality, from the real, physical world, an ability to lose oneself in thought.”
Other Books Read by This Author: None.
★★★★☆ Plot Development
★★★☆☆ Writing Style
★★★★☆ Original Idea
★★☆☆☆ Page Turner