the low down on new books

3-Star Books

Snippets from 2011

In order to deal with a backlog of finished but unreviewed books, as well as some I didn’t finish (DNF), I’m going to do a first ever “snippet review” on Hardkover. Get ready, here they come!


The Betrayal: A Novel on John Calvin

by Douglas Bond. 383 p. Published by P&R Publishing in June 2009.  Received through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Verdict: ★★☆☆☆

This is one of my DNFs – I got half way through and was uninterested and unimpressed.  This historical fiction about John Calvin is told through the eyes of his frenemy, Jean-Louis Mourin.  I don’t know if it was the forced feeling of the “old English” style of speaking (which doesn’t make much sense, given that the story is set in France), the slow plot, or the heavy-handed characterization of the narrator (I felt constantly bludgeoned with foreshadowing) – this book was not for me.  I liked the concept, as my favorite way to read about historical people is through historical fiction (I find them much more engaging than biographies).  I saw many good reviews for it on Amazon, so give it a try if you find it interesting.  Just wasn’t my cup of tea.


Debt: The First 5,000 Years

by David Graeber. 544 p. Published by Melville House Publishing in July 2011.  Received through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Verdict: ★★★★

This is my other DNF.  I got about one-third through this monster – it was actually a very interesting and fascinating read.  It’s only downfall was that it felt like one of those books where you get the gist after the first couple chapters and the rest are just repeats with different examples (I could be wrong . . . but I guess I’ll never know!).  Graeber’s discussion on our concept of debt is definitely worth reading – and if you’re really into anthropology, sociology, or economics, you might make it to the end! (And if you want someone to blame for the “Occupy Wall Street” Movement, Graeber just might be your man.)

Long Trail Home (#3 in the Texas Trail Series)

by Vickie McDonough. 304 p. Published by Moody Publishers November 2011.  Received through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Verdict: ★★★★

Picked this one off NetGalley because I liked the first two in the series, Lone Star Trail and Captive Trail.  It was as good as the first two and I’m looking forward to the remaining three.  This book featured the story of a young man who went off to fight in the Civil War and came home to find his parents dead and his fiancée married to someone else; the female protagonist is an abandoned child who managed to survive by pretending to be blind (so she could stay at an orphanage for the blind).  As was true with the first two books, the interesting historical setting was my favorite part about the story.  The romance was a little predictable, but its hard to escape that in this genre.

The Winters in Bloom

by Lisa Tucker. 288 p. Published by Atria Books September 2011.  Received through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Half mystery, half drama – this reminded me in ways of Diane Chamberlain’s The Midwife’s Confession in genre and style.  A couple’s only child goes missing and each one thinks that it is someone in his/her past that is to blame.  The story flashbacks to previous relationships and how the couple met to explain their fears and eventually introduce the kidnapper.  This book has decent character development (although I didn’t think the characters were quite as realistic as in The Midwife’s Confession) and a good plot – I found myself fairly hooked all the way through.  However, I thought it petered out at the end; the denouement was very anti-climatic and you don’t get the satisfaction of participating in the inevitable reunion.


The Promised One: Seeing Jesus in Genesis

by Nancy Guthrie. 288 p. Published by Crossway Books July 2011.  Received through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Verdict: ★★★★★

This was a FANTASTIC bible study!  I love the format – each chapter begins with a list of questions and scriptures to read and contemplate before Guthrie “lectures” in the teaching section.  The chapter concludes with a pointed description of how that chapter’s topic points to Jesus and discussion questions for facilitating a group study.  The chapters highlighted primarily Creation, Fall of Man, Noah, Babel, Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph.  I used this book for my own personal devotion time and found it very enriching.  I liked it so much that I’ve talked my small group into using it for our next study!  Highly recommended.


Rules of Civility

by Amor Towles. 352 p. Published by Viking Adult Books July 2011.  Checked out from my local library using my Kindle!

Verdict: ★★★★

I vacillated on whether to give this book 3 or 4 stars – when I think about the writing, I want to give it 4 and when I think about the plot I give it 3.  Overall, the characters are pretty decent, so I think it deserves the higher rating.  I wasn’t blown away by the plot of this book; however, when Amor Towles puts together words, he doesn’t just make a sentence — he makes magic!  I found myself stopping to re-read parts aloud, just to see if they sounded as beautiful out loud as they did in my head.  He manages to find that perfect balance of writing vivid prose without it being flowery or ridiculously over-the-top.  The book itself is very Great Gatsby-ish – not only because it is set in Manhattan in the 1930s as people are struggling to recover from the Great Depression, but the writing has that older Fitzgerald style.  I liked the female protagonist and thought she had an interesting narrative voice for this time period.  If the plot had been more poignant, it would have ranked 5 stars.  Definitely recommended.


The Princess Curse

by Merrie Haskell. 336 p. Published by HarperCollins September 2011.  Checked out from my local library in old-fashioned hardback binding. Recommended by the BookSmugglers.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

I loved the idea of this book – the tale of the Twelve Dancing Princess, with the heroine being an apothecary‘s apprentice who tries to lift the curse.  The book just never quite lived up to its potential, however.  The imaginary world Haskell created didn’t seem to materialize and charm me the way other fairy tale worlds have (I’m thinking of Ella Enchanted and The Princess Academy in particular).  Perhaps that is why the plot felt a little choppy and the characters just a little too far from reach to join my cast of literary friends – it was hard to truly fall under the magic of living in another world and allowing them to be real.  Although I don’t think this one will join Ella and The Princess Academy on my classics shelf, I would still give it to middle graders or young adults who like a good fairy tale.


Mine is the Night (sequel to Here Burns My Candle)

by Liz Curtis Higgs. 464 p. Published by WaterBrook Press March 2011.  Checked out from my local library on my Kindle!

Verdict: ★★★★

This was the first book I’ve picked up in months that I simply could NOT put down!  I’ve long owned and loved Higgs first Scottish trilogy beginning with A Thorn in My Heart, which is based on the biblical story of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah.  Mine is the Night is the sequel to her second Scottish series, this time adapting the story of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz in the setting of the Scottish Jacobite rebellion.  Each one is well written, engrossing, and always pointing to underlying story of faith and redemption from the original biblical version.  Not only is this a great time period to read about (Scotland! Rebels! Bonnie Prince Charlie!), but Higgs’ amazing depth and breadth of research combines with her clever writing to bring the heather hills and thick Scottish brogue alive.  Highly recommended!

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River’s Song

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Melody Carlson. 288 p. Published August 2011 by Abingdon Press.  Advanced review copy provided courtesy of the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? Inspirational Fiction

Short Bio: Anna Larson journeys through a mid-life crisis of sorts when she returns to her hometown for her mother’s funeral and takes care of her late parents’ estate.  She finds that living by the river helps her to deal with the disappointment of wanting a deeper relationship with an uninterested teenager daughter and the trauma of living under a manipulative mother-in-law.  In her old hometown, she rediscovers her Native American heritage through the research of a doctoral student, Hazel, and gains the help of Hazel’s contractor son to transform her parents’ local mom-and-pop store into a riverside inn.

Eyewitness Account: Although I have been a Melody Carlson fan in the past, this book was a bit of a disappointment.  It just might not have been my particular brand of tea, but I thought that the plot moved very slowly, the main character seemed oblivious and wimpy, and the relationships rather stereotyped (teenage daughter who is bratty and disinterested, overbearing and manipulative mother-in-law, etc.).  Anna’s relationship with her mother-in-law is complicated by her dependence on the woman, and that situation is resolved much too quickly and easily.  Similarly, for such a shy mouse of a person, her new romance blooms into marriage far too quickly.  However, I did like a few things – at the top of the list, I really enjoyed the emphasis on Anna’s Native American heritage and exploring the idea that we often come to value later in life what we despised when we are younger.  Anna’s mom and grandmother were the most interesting characters in my opinion, but got much less development than the other living characters.  If the book had been centered around them, I probably would have liked it more.  Anna was just a hard person for me to like since she just came across as a naive doormat to me.  I thought this series would have the same warmth and charm that Carlson’s older Whispering Pines series, but it didn’t have the same feel to me.

Other Books Read by This Author:  These Boots Weren’t Made for Walking, Whispering Pines Series

What are other people saying? A Mom with a BlogEmmegail’s Bookshelf, Book Nook Club,

Rating:

★★☆☆ Plot Development

★★☆☆☆ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★ Original Idea

★★☆☆ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆


Lonestar Sanctuary

Reviewed by Brittney

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.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? Adult Inspirational Fiction

Short Bio:

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?

Eyewitness Account:

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

What are other people saying? Cindy’s Book Club, Kel Mel Blog, Romance Readers Connection 

Rating:

★★☆☆☆ Plot Development

★★★☆☆ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★☆☆ Original Idea

★★★☆☆ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆


The Piano Teacher

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts:  by Janice Y. K. Lee. 328 p. Published 2009 by Penguin Publishers.  Listened to the audiobook published by Penguin Audio and narrated by Orlagh Cassidy.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? Adult Historical Fiction

Short Bio (from the publisher):

In the sweeping tradition of The English Patient, a gripping tale of love and betrayal set in war-torn Hong Kong

In 1942, Will Truesdale, an Englishman newly arrived in Hong Kong, falls headlong into a passionate relationship with Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasian socialite. But their love affair is soon threatened by the invasion of the Japanese as World War II overwhelms their part of the world. Will is sent to an internment camp, where he and other foreigners struggle daily for survival. Meanwhile, Trudy remains outside, forced to form dangerous alliances with the Japanese—in particular, the malevolent head of the gendarmerie, whose desperate attempts to locate a priceless collection of Chinese art lead to a chain of terrible betrayals.

Ten years later, Claire Pendleton comes to Hong Kong and is hired by the wealthy Chen family as their daughter’s piano teacher. A provincial English newlywed, Claire is seduced by the heady social life of the expatriate community. At one of its elegant cocktail parties, she meets Will, to whom she is instantly attracted—but as their affair intensifies, Claire discovers that Will’s enigmatic persona hides a devastating past. As she begins to understand the true nature of the world she has entered, and long-buried secrets start to emerge, Claire learns that sometimes the price of survival is love.

Eyewitness Account:

While the story gets kudos for having a complex, engaging plot and diverse characters, it was overall a “meh” for me.  I’m finding that I like stories with firm endings, and this one just kind of petered out for me.  I liked how the story was actually two stories, 10 years apart, told parallel with the narration switching from one time period to the other (although its odd how the older story is told in present tense and the more recent story told in the usual past tense.)  My favorite part of the book was the time period and setting of Hong Kong during the Japanese invasion of WWII – all the war literature I’ve read, and not one has been there!  It’s always nice to find something totally new to learn about.

In some ways, this novel felt a lot like The Great Gatsby to me, with all the high society parties and Claire being a newcomer who doesn’t feel like she belongs.  However, even though the characters were unique and different, I had a hard time really empathizing with them.  I couldn’t relate to their thoughts or actions or feelings, they always seemed to think or act or feel differently than I would have.  I probably would have liked this book more if I had connected with the characters more deeply.  The writing style and plot were really above par, so I would definitely try other books by this author.

Other Books Read by This Author: none.

What are other people saying? New York Times,  A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore, S. Krishna

Rating:

★★★★ Plot Development

★★☆☆☆ Characterization

★★★★ Writing Style

★★★☆☆ Original Idea

★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆


Hyperion

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Dan Simmons.  481 p.  Published 1990 by Spectra.  Listened to audiobook, narrated by  Marc Vietor , Allyson Johnson , Kevin Pariseau , Jay Snyder , Victor Bevine.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? Adult Science Fiction

Short Bio (from publisher): On the world called Hyperion, beyond the law of the Hegemony of Man, there waits the creature called the Shrike. There are those who worship it. There are those who fear it. And there are those who have vowed to destroy it.

In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all. On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives. Each carries a desperate hope – and a terrible secret. And one may hold the fate of humanity in his hands.

Eyewitness Account: I tend to the enjoy the Fantasy end of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy spectrum, so my review of this book is a bit colored by the fact that I don’t find as much enjoyment out of the advanced technology-cool gadgets side of Sci-Fi.  I liked this book, but not enough to rave about it (perhaps I’d like it better if I finished the sequel, Fall of Hyperion, as these are really one long book published into two novels). 

Thumbs up:  the frame story format in which each person tells their own story (very Canterbury Tales-like), the gradual unravelling of mystery surrounding the Shrike and the motivation behind each character’s trek toward doom, the beautiful writing style, and the haunting nature of each individual story.  The strength of this book is that it’s composed as six short stories that fit together like a puzzle. The stories in and of themselves are each beautiful in a bleak, melancholic way.  This is no happy tale; each story is one of tragedy and sorrow.  However, they all explore (in the great Sci-Fi tradition) the ideas of what it means to be human – to love, to suffer, and to have hope.

Thumbs down: the book opens with a BARRAGE OF TECHNO GOBBLEDY-GOOK that left me wondering when the narrator would get around to speaking in English (this feeling drops off fairly quickly though, but not the best first impression), the first pilgrim’s story was agonizingly slow to get into (I finally looked up a synopsis on Wikipedia and read just the summary of the first pilgrim’s story before deciding it was worth ploughing through), and all the stories have a rather lengthier-than-they-need-to-be feel to them.  Not sure if the characterization really depended on the amount of detail that Simmons goes into.

If you like imaginings of our universe in the 30th century and all the cool techno-gadgets we’ll be using as well as the great lengths we will have exerted ourselves to destroy our limited resources, then you’ll love this book.  If you like Sci-Fi that explores the deeper underpinnings of our humanity through melancholic tales, then you’ll appreciate this book.  If you can’t stand Star Trek, then try Connie Willis instead.

Warning:  this book includes offensive language and some adult content (both violence and mild sex scenes).

Notable Quotes:

For those who do not write and who never have been stirred by the creative urge, talk of muses seems a figure of speech, a quaint concept, but for those of us who live by the Word, our muses are as real and necessary as the soft clay of language which they help to sculpt.”

“I now understand the need for faith–pure, blind, fly-in-the-face-of-reason faith–as a small life preserver in the world and endless sea of a universe ruled by unfeeling laws and totally indifferent to the small, reasoning beings that inhabit it.”

Other Books Read by This Author: none.

What are other people saying? Keeping the Door, Sandstorm Reviews, Inverarity is not a Scottish Village

Rating:

★★★☆☆ Plot Development

★★★☆☆ Characterization

★★★★★ Writing Style

★★★☆☆ Original Idea

★★☆☆☆ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆


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.


Napier’s Bones

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Derryl Murphy. 320 p. Published March 2011 by ChiZine Publishers.  Advanced review copy provided in electronic format courtesy of the publisher, through NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? Adult Science Fiction / Suspense

Short Bio: (from ChiZine Publishers) Dom is a numerate, someone able to see and control numbers and use them as a form of magic. While seeking a mathematical item of immense power that has only been whispered about, it all goes south for Dom, and he finds himself on the run across three countries on two continents, with two unlikely companions in tow and a numerate of unfathomable strength hot on his tail. Along the way are giant creatures of stone and earth, statues come alive, numerical wonders cast over hundreds of years, and the very real possibility that he won’t make it out of this alive. And both of his companions have secrets so deep that even they aren’t aware of them, and one of those secrets could make for a seismic shift in how Dom and all other numerates see and interact with the world.

Eyewitness Account: This is the second ChiZine galley I’ve read (I read both this last weekend) and, like Eutopia, it has a very unique and intriguing plot.  Murphy posits a Matrix-like world in which a few select people can not only see the “numbers” that make up our world, but they can also manipulate them to defy normal physical laws (a la Obi Wan and The Force).  Dom, the main character, is thrown in with the ghost-like shadow of a former numerate and a newbie who is just discovering her mathematical gift.  As they are hotly pursued by the most powerful numerate in history, Dom gets a whole new education in the nature of  numbers and how numerates can use and abuse them.

Although the books are nothing alike, I found myself comparing Napier’s Bones to Eutopia – perhaps because they both bore the distinctive ChiZine mark of somewhat bizarre plots.  However, where Eutopia was strong on characterization but slightly weak on plot and setting, Napier’s Bones  is much the opposite.  The “numerate” world was very believable and engaging – something I could see Hollywood picking up and exploiting for its awesome special effects and endless possibility of plot lines.  The fast-paced storyline kept me turning pages from the beginning, and the author deftly walked the thin line of describing the “rules” of the numerate world without info dumping.  The only major weakness, in my opinion, was the character development – they all fell a little flat and never managed to take on any real personality (I couldn’t picture which actor would play them in a movie adaptation – which is how I know they could have been fleshed out a bit better). 

The long dead mathematicians and poets that Murphy pulls into the present numerate world are kind of fun and I learned a few things I didn’t know.  If you want a great explanation for how John Napier’s “Bones” actually work, check out this website

This would be a great summer reading pick, especially for readers who like action, math, or science fiction.

Notable Quotes:

“You came to the city where I was sent, to the artefact that I was sent to watch, and at this moment I choose to believe that maybe Fate does exist, the hand of God rather than the serendipity of numbers.”

“The further she travelled the easier it was to focus on learning from the numbers and to use less of her attention on the actual travel.  Less focus on the travel and therefore her surroundings meant less focus on time, which paradoxically meant that less time actually changed for her.”

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying? Fantasy Book Critic, Missy’s Reads & Reviews, The Crow’s Caw

Rating:

★★★★ Plot Development

★★☆☆☆ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆


Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by David Nickle. 259 p. Published April 2011 by ChiZine Publishers.  Advanced review copy provided in electronic format courtesy of the publisher, through NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? Adult Historical Science Fiction (What the heck? Yeah, I’ll explain below)

Short Bio: (from ChiZine Publishers) The year is 1911.

In Cold Spring Harbour, New York, the newly formed Eugenics Records Office is sending its agents to catalogue the infirm, the insane, and the criminal—with an eye to a cull, for the betterment of all.

Near Cracked Wheel, Montana, a terrible illness leaves Jason Thistledown an orphan, stranded in his dead mother’s cabin until the spring thaw shows him the true meaning of devastation—and the barest thread of hope.

At the edge of the utopian mill town of Eliada, Idaho, Doctor Andrew Waggoner faces a Klansman’s noose and glimpses wonder in the twisting face of the patient known only as Mister Juke.

And deep in a mountain lake overlooking that town, something stirs, and thinks, in its way:

Things are looking up.

Eutopia follows Jason and Andrew as together and alone, they delve into the secrets of Eliada—industrialist Garrison Harper’s attempt to incubate a perfect community on the edge of the dark woods and mountains of northern Idaho. What they find reveals the true, terrible cost of perfection—the cruelty of the surgeon’s knife—the folly of the cull—and a monstrous pact with beings that use perfection as a weapon, and faith as a trap.

Eyewitness Account: So, ChiZine is a new publisher for me and I’ve just read two of their galleys this weekend (look for a Napier’s Bones review soon).  They are admittedly a publisher of “weird, subtle, surreal, disturbing dark fiction and fantasy” and Eutopia certainly fits that bill.  I don’t know if it was the cover, the title, or the blurb, but I had expected this book to be a futuristic dystopian novel – and was instead plopped down in a historical novel with some bizarre sci-fi/fantasy twists. 

The plot jumps between two main protagonists – Jason Thistledown, the sole survivor of a plague in his small Montana town, and Andrew Waggoner, a black doctor invited to work in a logging town in Idaho.  Both are confronted with the plans of others to make a “perfect” society – through Eugenics (“culling” out the weak in society, which means killing or sterilizing them) and through the creation of a “Garden of Eden” in the isolation of Idaho.  The two men soon find that they are entangled in more than just the cruel working of man when encounter Mister Juke, who doesn’t seem to be quite human and proves that he can manipulate the minds and wills of the local hillbillies.

Perhaps it was the dichotomy between my preconceptions and the reality of the novel that made me confused for the first half of the book, but it took me a while to really get into the plot.  However, the wait was worth it – the second half of the book really picks up some plot momentum and has a fairly smashing conclusion.  The novel deals with a wide range of topics, from racism and the Eugenics movements to faith and the quest for perfection.  Nickle’s main characters – Jason Thistledown, Aunt Germaine, Andrew Waggoner, and Mister Juke – were the best part of the novel, as each one is very distinctly and uniquely drawn (no mixing up characters in this novel!).  Nickle gets two thumbs up for originality, as I’m fairly certain there isn’t another story like this – you might find yourself turning the pages of Eutopia just so you can see how he pulls all these diverse plot threads together.

I would like to caveat this book by saying its gets an N-17 rating from me; there are some graphic scenes that, while not necessarily containing violence, are slightly disturbing. This is certainly a book to try if you like the Twilight Zone or somewhat twisted/strange stories.

Notable Quotes:

“Did any of them ever mark the day, he wondered, when they fell from reason into madness?

And then he wondered: Did I?”

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying? I ❤ Reading, Feeding My Book Addiction, Curiosity Killed the Bookworm

Rating:

★★★☆☆ Plot Development

★★★★ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★☆☆ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆


The Affinity Bridge

Reviewed by Brittney

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.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

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.

Notable Quotes:

“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.

What are other people saying? The Book Smugglers, Strange Horizons, Flames Rising

Rating:

★★★★ Plot Development

★★☆☆☆ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★★ Original Idea

★★☆☆☆ Page Turner

Overall ★★★


How to really love your adult children

Reviewed by Cathy Peterson

Just the Facts: by Gary Chapman 3-2011 Moody Publishing

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? parents of dysfunctional children

Short Bio: More than 10 years after Parenting Your Adult Child was published, much has changed – including young adults themselves, as well as their parents. Economic upheavals, challenges to traditional values and beliefs, the phenomenon of over-involved “helicopter parenting” – all make relating to grown children more difficult than ever. Yet at the same time, being a parent of an adult child can bring great rewards. This revised and updated version of Dr. Gary Chapman’s and Dr. Ross Campbell’s message will help today’s parents explore how to really love their adult child in today’s changing world. The book includes brief sidebars from parents of adult children and adult children themselves with their own stories. An online study guide will also be available.

Eyewitness Account: I really respect the knowledge that these authors brought to the table for the average parent trying to figure out the relationship with their now adult children.  And I’m sure that this book is a great resource for parents of drug addicts and and those with failure to thrive as adult issues.  However, my children just got married and one moved overseas.  They aren’t crowding my home.  I don’t want them to change or be more of anything.  I just wanted to know how I could have a more enriched relationship.  I felt like if my children weren’t dysfunctional in some way, that nothing could be lacking and the relationships were fine.   I would never deny someone with severe issues a chance at help.  But I felt really strange that not one of my questions about relationships the first year of marriage and if your child settles far away were even addressed.

Notable Quotes:

Other Books Read by This Author:

What are other people saying?

Rating:

★★★☆☆ Plot Development

★★☆☆☆ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★☆☆ Original Idea

★★★☆☆ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆