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 Steampunk (Victorian Era Alternate History)
Not-So-Short Bio: There is no good short bio of this book out in the interwebs . . . probably because the plot is so quirky that it doesn’t distill well into a blurb! So, I’ll give it a shot myself: Milady de Winter (of Dumas fame) serves the “Quiet Council” of the French underworld as a secret agent in an alternate Victorian era full of familiar literary figures (Viktor Frankenstein and Quasimodo to name a few) as well as characters who are rather unfamiliar (unless you’ve read Tidhar’s previous novel, The Bookman). Milady’s directive is to track down a murderer and locate an object stolen from the scene of the crime. She quickly realizes that the Council must not be telling her the entire story as other factions begin to gather in Paris who hold the same objective. Milady must ultimately decide whether to fulfill her own personal quest for vengeance or complete the task set before her by the Council.
Eyewitness Account: So, personal caveat: this is my first “steampunk” novel – if you’re new to the genre, it describes a mesh of fantasy and historical fiction (usually set in Victorian-era industrial age) with the key element of including machines/automatons/robots that rival humans. Camera Obscura is actually the sequel to The Bookman, but it can be read as a stand-alone (it took me about half the book to realize that Vespuccia was the alternate name for America, which was probably introduced in the The Bookman.)
Added to the coolness factor: strong and mysterious female protagonist, literary characters galore, alternate history revisions, eastern oriental secret societies, and nuns with guns.
Didn’t quite float my boat: female protagonist didn’t sound or act female (most male writers seem to struggle with this, especially in action/adventure stories), most characters felt shallow/underdeveloped, and plot was too slow at the beginning and too fast at the end (now don’t I sound picky?).
This was a pickle of a review for me to write. For all the clever and creative pieces of the story I liked, there were an almost equal number of things that either annoyed me or just fell flat. Ironically, the closest books I can compare them to are not steampunk at all – Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series. Fforde also writes a female protagonist in an alternate history with a plot full of literary characters. However, where Fforde’s books are chock full of wit and whimsy in addition to evil villains and mass mayhem, Tidhar’s writing relies heavily on plot while skimping on dialogue and characterization.
So, if what you love is a good action film where lots of things get blown up and the superhero defeats all odds to save the day – definitely grab this book! You’ll be astounded by the unusual mix of plot elements that Tidhar throws at you, and he should really try to market it as a film script. If characters and writing style are really your thing, you should probably pick up The Eyre Affair instead.
“The corridor was dark. As she ran ghostly figures materialised at the end.
Nuns with guns.”
Other Books Read by This Author: None.
★★★☆☆ Plot Development
★★★☆☆ Writing Style
★★★★☆ Original Idea
★★★☆☆ Page Turner
Just the Facts: by Aimee Carter. 298 p. To be published April 26, 2011 by Harlequin Teen. Advanced copy provided in electronic format, courtesy of the publisher through NetGalley.
Who Cares? YA Fantasy
Short Bio: Kate’s only desire is to spend as much time as possible with mom, who is dying of cancer. Her mom takes them to a small, rural town where Kate meets James and Ava . . . and begins a series of events that lead her to make a bargain with Henry/Hades, the god of the Underworld that will give her more time with her mother. If she can pass the 7 tests that the unseen “council” of gods puts before her, she will become an immortal (and Henry’s wife, to boot).
Eyewitness Account: I thought this book was going to be a lot more interesting – it follows the popular trend of books about the “contemporary” Greek gods. However, what made for great adventure-packed stories for kids came across rather bland for a YA romance. While a number of plot devices showed good promise (great foreshadowing at the beginning, interesting development of “the Underworld”, and clever theme behind the 7 tests), this modern-day twist on the tale of Persephone didn’t quite work. The plot felt contorted and contrived, and the characters never fully enough developed to be real. Rather than acting “ageless,” Henry acts like an old protective father, which makes it difficult to picture him as someone a teenager would fall in love with.
The fun part of the Greek gods are how they interact with each other, play around with mortals, and create great quests for heroes like Jason and Hercules. As the plot focuses only on one god (Henry), who generally mopes around or acts overly parental, the best part of setting is rather lost. The only thing that kept me turning the pages was the desire to know what the tests were (of which I only guessed a couple, so kudos to the author for not giving everything away).
Other Books Read by This Author: None.
★★★☆☆ Plot Development
★★★☆☆ Writing Style
★★★☆☆ Original Idea
★★★☆☆ Page Turner
Just the Facts: by S. J. Watson. 356 p. To be published June 1, 2011 by HarperCollins. Advanced copy provided electronically, courtesy of the publisher through NetGalley.
Who Cares? Adult Suspense/Thriller
Not-so-Short Bio: (from Marketing copy) Every morning, Christine awakens beside a stranger in an unfamiliar bed. She sees a middle-aged face in the bathroom mirror that she does not recognize. And every morning, the man patiently explains that he is Ben, her husband, that she is forty-seven-years-old, and that an accident long ago damaged her ability to remember.
In place of memories Christine has a handful of pictures, a whiteboard in the kitchen, and a journal, hidden in a closet. She knows about the journal because Dr. Ed Nash, a neurologist who claims to be treating her without Ben’s knowledge, reminds her about it each day. Inside its pages, the damaged woman has begun meticulously recording her daily events—sessions with Dr. Nash, snippets of information that Ben shares, flashes of her former self that briefly, miraculously appear.
But as the pages accumulate, inconsistencies begin to emerge, raising disturbing questions that Christine is determined to find answers to. And the more she pieces together the shards of her broken life, the closer she gets to the truth . . . and the more terrifying and deadly it is.
Eyewitness Account: Reading this book was a little like watching Memento – I felt like I was literally on the edge of my seat the entire time! From page one, I couldn’t put Before I Go to Sleep down. Not only does the book have a complex, fascinating plot, but the author succeeded in making me completely identify with the main character. I distrusted characters, nearly clawed my eyes in fear and panic when things didn’t seem to add up, and felt deep despair when Christine realized that she’d lost precious pieces of her life.
Although this book is clearly a Suspense/Thrill ride (and well done, for that!), I liked how it allowed Christine to explore ideas of identity, self, and fulfilment – would anyone want to live a life in which your memories reset every morning? Is such a life worth living? What kind of price does your family pay for that? What memories are worth re-learning and which are better left forgotten?
Dang good job, Watson! Thou must publish more books! (And congratulations to him on already landing a movie deal for this one).
Notable Quotes: I simply loved this exchange between Christine and her doctor -
“Keep your journal, Christine,” he said. “You still have it?”
I shook my head. “He burned it. That’s what caused the fire.”
Dr. Nash looked disappointed. “That’s a shame,” he said. “But it doesn’t really matter. Christine, you’ll be fine. You can begin another. The people who love you have come back to you.”
“But I want to have come back to them, too,” I said. “I want to have come back to them.”
Other Books Read by This Author: None – I believe this is a debut from S. J. Watson
★★★★★ Plot Development
★★★★☆ Writing Style
★★★★★ Original Idea
★★★★★ Page Turner