the low down on new books

Archive for July, 2011

The Spoils of Eden / Hawaiian Crosswinds

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Linda Lee Chaikin. 341/350 p.  Published 2010/2011 by Moody Publishers.  Advanced review copy provided to me courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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!

Try it for free – grab the first chapter of The Spoils of Eden here and Hawaiian Crosswinds here, or just head over to Amazon.com to pick it up!

Notable Quotes:

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.” 

Other Books Read by This Author: The Heart of India Trilogy, The Everlasting Flame, A Day to Remember Series, Endangered, For Whom the Stars Shine, Desert Rose

What are other people saying?

 Spoils of Eden: Just One More Paragraph, Christian Daily Blog, Once Upon A Romance

Hawaiian Winds: Read Great FictionR Bartel,

Rating:

★★★★ Plot Development

★★★☆☆ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★☆☆ Original Idea

★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆

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.


Roots

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Alex Haley. 729 p. Published 1976 by Dell Publishing.  Bought used at a library sale.

Verdict: ★★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Historical Fiction/Autobiography

Short Bio: Kunta Kinte grows up from a young tyke into a strapping young “man” of 16 when he is suddenly captured and taken via slave ship to Maryland.  After three escape attempts, he finally resigns himself to his new status as property but determines to pass on the pride and dignity of his African heritage to his daughter, Kizzy.  The author traces the oral history of Kunta’s descendants six generations until he reaches his own birth.  The history of Haley’s family includes such extraordinary characters as Gran’mammy Kizzy, preacher-girl Mathilda, Chicken George, blacksmith Tom Lea, and lumber mill owner Walter Palmer.

Eyewitness Account: At the beginning of the year, I made a list of about 20 classics that I hadn’t yet read that I’m trying to get through in 2011.  This is one I was really excited about – and it didn’t disappoint.  Haley’s perfect combination of rich detail with gripping plot and fantastic characterization make for an excellent (though sometimes heartbreaking) read.  He spends a good majority of the book on Kunta Kinte – about half of that in Africa (I nearly died of anticipation, I kept expecting him to get snatched and he didn’t leave Africa for at least 160 pages!).  At the end of the book, Haley explains how he backtracked to find where his ancestors came from and located the very village – how incredible!

Don’t be intimidated by the length – Roots is jam-packed with interesting historical/cultural detail among a suspenseful plot and colorful people.  I practically felt myself the incredible pain and humility that Kunte experiences as he crosses the Atlantic in a crowded ship, the desperation that drives him to attempt escaping multiple times (despite severe beatings as punishment), and the utter bewilderment he feels toward his fellow slaves who accept their shameful lot so willingly.  By the time I read through most of Haley’s family history and got to the end of the Civil War, I was ready to whoop with glee when Tom and all his brothers finally got to live as free men. But my favorite part of all is the end, where Haley describes his own journey of discovering just where his great ancestor Kunte Kinte was from and how he got to America.  Well done, Haley! This is probably one of the only books I’ve given all 5-stars to.  

Notable Quotes:

“In his hut after the moro had gone that night, Kunta lay awake thinking how so many things–indeed, nearly everything they had learned– all tied together.  The past seemed with the present, the present with the future, the dead with the living, and those yet to be born; he himself with his family, his mates, his village, his tribe, his Africa; the world of man with the world of animals and growing things– they all lived with Allah.  Kunta felt very small, yet very large.  Perhaps, he thought, this is what it means to become a man.”

“I sat as if I were carved of stone.  My blood seemed to have congealed.  This man whose lifetime had been in this back-country African village had no way in the world to know that he had just echoed what I had heard all through my boyhood years on my grandma’s front porch in Henning, Tennesse . . . of an African who always had insisted that his name was “Kin-tay”, who had called a guitar a “ko” and a river within the state of Virginia, “Kamby Bolongo”; and who had been kidnapped into slavery while not far from his village, chopping wood, to make himself a drum.”

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying?  The Book Haven, Serendipity

Rating:

★★★★★ Plot Development

★★★★★ Characterization

★★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★★


Doc: A Novel

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Mary Doria Russell. 416 p. Published May 2011 by Random House.  Bought from Amazon.com for my Kindle because I LOVED The Sparrow.

Verdict: ★★★★★

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.

Notable Quotes:

“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:

What are other people saying? Cleaveland.com, Washington Post, The Magic Lasso

Rating:

★★★★ Plot Development

★★★★★ Characterization

★★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★★


The Ninth Wife

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Amy Stolls. 488 p. Published May 2011 by HarperCollins. Advanced review copy provided courtesy of the publisher, through NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Contemporary Romance

Short Bio: Bess relies on the vigor of her karate class and the antics of her gay neighbor, Cricket, to keep her 35-years-old-and-single life interesting until she’s talked in to throwing a big singles bash for her birthday.   There, she meets Rory – a hunky Irishman with a secretive past.  As their relationship gets serious, Rory confesses to Bess that he’s had eight previous wives.  As Bess attempts to navigate her emotional turmoil from hearing this news, she determines to contact Rory’s ex-wives to see if she can’t find some reason to either accept or reject Rory’s marriage proposal.

Eyewitness Account: I was surprised at how much I loved this book – it’s not very impressive at the beginning (the writing is a little awkward, as it’s written mostly in present tense. “Bess goes to the fridge and takes out a glass of milk.”), but once I got about a third of the way through, the characters hooked me.  Every single one of them, from Cricket to Bess’s bickering grandparents to Rory’s past wives, somehow managed to rise above the general stereotypes that you tend to see in supporting characters and made for very believable people.  Although a little slow at first, the plot really picks up momentum about halfway through and I couldn’t put it down! 

My favorite part about the book is the personal journey that Bess goes through. At the beginning of the story, she is a somewhat content, independent women who generally plays it safe – even the 10-year-old kids at her karate studio aren’t afraid of her because she lacks the bold confidence of someone who takes risks.  She yearns for the satisfaction and security that marriage is supposed to provide, but is then challenged by the notion that marriage can really give that – by her bickering, unhappy grandparents and by the revelation that her boyfriend had been eight previous marriages.  It is this challenge that finally provokes her to take some risks – to seek out Rory’s past wives and try to figure out what her own decision should be.  I really liked the conclusion of Bess’s search and thought it exceptionally fitting for her story.  The author explores the intricacies of relationships, the expectations of marriage, and a the sometimes plaguing question, “How much of my past defines me?”

My advice – push through the first half, it’s worth it!

Notable Quotes:

Gaia is that perfect skimming stone one searches for at the edge of a lake, smooth and shapely, unadorned and peaceful among the other stones but capable of soaring out across the surface as if defying the laws of nature. She is beautiful, but then maybe all new mothers are beautiful, or all onlookers in the immediate aftermath of birth see a kind of beauty they didn’t see before.

How does one wrap one’s mind around eight wives? It could have been worse, he could have murdered someone, her interior voice whispered. If he were a murderer, she answered, she certainly wouldn’t be sticking around. But isn’t that the response she should have to a serial spouse? To run fast in the other direction?

“Whatever I could say, I’d say, Bess. Whatever I could do, I’d do. I love you. Maybe I’m a hopeless romantic, but I do. I want to be with you.” “You’ve said that now eight, no—nine times.” “Not exactly, but yes, that’s too many times, I agree, and I’ll be paying for it for the rest of my life, but can you honestly tell me that’s worse than not saying it enough? I never lied, Bess. My crime is that I love with too much hope.”

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying? My Books My Life, Reading Through LifeBook Club Classics

Rating:

★★★★★ Plot Development

★★★★ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★


The Art of Romance

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Kaye Dacus. 320 p. Published May 2011 by Barbour.  Advanced copy provided in electronic format courtesy of the publisher, through NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Inspirational Romance

Short Bio: The matchmaking grandmothers are at it again – and this time they have their eyes on english lit professor Caylor and artist/professor Dylan.  Caylor and Dylan must survive the loving meddling of their grandmothers, Sassy and Perky, as well as regret from past mistakes that could cloud both of their futures. 

Eyewitness Account: Since the last several books I’ve read have been either deep theology or bizarre speculative fiction, I decided it was time for something light-hearted and fun – and this book did not disappoint!  I haven’t read the first Matchmakers novel, Love Remains, but it didn’t take long to catch up with the characters and get pulled into a good story of two people learning to move forward after making poor choices in the past.  Dacus developed a fairly complicated plot that, while comfortably predictable, did not depend on conflict caused by uncommunicative characters making rash assumptions (as so many romance stories do).  The love story conflict was developed realistically, which helped me overlook some rather hefty plot contrivances (I thought the past connection between the two main characters a bit of a stretch).  One of the best parts about the novel is that Caylor is an author who uses her daily interactions as inspiration – reading about her idea gathering and writing habits was like getting a sneak peek into an author’s brain and made me wonder if most authors have a similar creative process.  

This lovely novel would make a great summer read for anyone who enjoys inspirational romance!

Notable Quotes:

Caylor perched on the edge of the credenza. “Look, I know you mean well, but I really don’t need my grandmother acting as a matchmaker for me.  I don’t have time in my life right now for a man.”

“You would if you met one you wanted to spend time with.  Love is something you wait for.” Sassy stood. “Now, I know you’re supposed to be getting ready to go out with the girls, so I won’t keep you any longer.  But just think about what I said, and try to enter this house remodel with an open mind.”

“Open mind about the house or about the people coming in to rip it apart and rebuild it?”

“Both.” Sassy waggled her finger at Caylor, raising it above her head so it was the last thing Caylor saw as she disappeared down the stairs.

Other Books Read by This Author:

What are other people saying? No Ordinary Moments, Heidi Main, Writer, From Dawn ’til Dusk

Rating:

★★★★ Plot Development

★★★★ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★☆☆ Original Idea

★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★