the low down on new books

Historical

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!


Has God Spoken?

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Hank Hanegraaff. 380 p. (Actually, 290 without the appendix, endnotes, and index). Published 2011 by Thomas Nelson.  Advanced review copy provided by Thomas Nelson’s “Booksneeze” program in return for my honest opinion.

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Christian Non-Fiction / Religious Apologetics

Short Bio: Once of the most frequently voiced criticisms of Christians is that they believe a book written some 3500-2000 years ago is not only divine revelation given to man at that time, but that it has remained virtually unchanged since then.

The “Bible Answer Man” responds to these criticisms with four main categories of evidence:  the reliability of the manuscripts we have, archeological finds that corroborate biblical accounts, the fulfillment of prophecy, and finally the “art and science of scriptural interpretation”.  He presents his evidence in the form of pneumonic devices that help the reader remember the main points of each (i.e., for “Manuscript C-O-P-I-E-S”, one has a device to remember that Copyist practices, Oral tradition, Papyrus & parchment, Internal evidence, External evidence, and the Science of textual criticism are the supporting facts for how we know we can rely on the biblical manuscripts we have today).

Eyewitness Account:

Overall, I thought this was an extremely interesting book and a good read.  This is the second book I’ve read this year that appears to be written mainly as a response to some vociferous opponents of the authors and both are about the Bible (See “The Book That Made Your World”, responding to criticism that Christianity was an imperialistic and oppressive force in India, for the other).  Hanegraaff’s book contains numerous rejoinders to several Biblical critics (most often to Bart Ehrman, who is a religious studies professor at UNC Chapel Hill).  It contains a wealth of information about the science of manuscripts, archeology, history, and whether the skeptical arguments against the veracity and authenticity of the Bible hold any weight.  It’s organized fairly well, and the pneumonic devices he gives are actually very useful (I found myself trying to recall them at the end of each section to cement the points in my memory).

A few weaknesses are that the book could have used some better editing (I repeatedly had a feeling of “deja vu” as I read sentences that had been used almost word for word in an earlier section – you really can’t use phrases like “the story is interesting as well as instructive” or “the land vomited out the children of the promise just as it had the Canaanites before them” more than once without someone catching it) and that Hanegraaff gave too much text to his opponents.  Its one thing to briefly mention an opposing viewpoint that you want to counter, but to give whole paragraphs or pages to their writing makes it seem like the author is obsessively aggravated.  Overall, you get the feeling that Hanegraaff was writing more of a reference resource than a book designed to be read straight through, as there were not only exact phrasings that were repeated, but also examples and evidence used in multiple sections that are introduced as if for the first time. 

However, I found that I could dismiss my irritation at those points for the meat of the book.  The manuscripts and archeology sections were really fascinating (and gave me a HUGE appreciation for how God has preserved the Bible over time).  The prophecy section dragged a bit for me, but did have some gems; my favorite part of the book was Hanegraaff’s discussion of types in the bible, particularly “typological prophecy” in which the event that you are connecting to the prophecy is not the “predictive fulfillment” but the successive and more complete antitype to the first fulfillment (as in the case of Isaiah’s virgin birth prediction). Having heard of types and antitypes before, it was new information to me that this idea applied to prophecy as well as people and events.

Well worth reading.

Notable Quotes: 

Amazing but true, today in the city of David you can step into the very Pool of Siloam in which the blind man “washed, and came back seeing.” (John 9:7 NKJV). You can traverse the Siloam tunnel that almost three thousand years ago provided the precious commodity of water to the inhabitants of Jerusalem during the siege of Sennacherib.  You can see the Siloam inscription in the Istanbul Archaelogical Museum commemorating one of the greatest engineering feats of ancient history.  You can rest your arms on the guard rail overlooking the excavated ruins of the Pool of Bethesda, where Jesus cared for the physical and spiritual needs of a man who had suffered the ravages of sin for thirty-eight years.  And you can be amazed at the grace that what was once secreted in soil accurately reflects what which is sealed in Scripture.

Other Books Read by This Author: none

What are other people saying? Shades of Intrigue, Finding Jesus, God-lovin’ Mama

Rating:

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★★★ Organization

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★


Captive Trail

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Susan Page Davis. 272 p. Published Sept 2011 by Moody Publishers.  Advanced copy provided for review in electronic format, courtesy of the publishers (through NetGalley) in return for my honest opinion.

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Inspirational Historical Fic

Short Bio (from Amazon):  

The Captive Trail is second in a six-book series about four generations of the Morgan family living, fighting, and thriving amidst a turbulent Texas history spanning from 1845 to 1896.  Although a series, each book can be read on its own.

Taabe Waipu has run away from her Comanche village and is fleeing south in Texas on a horse she stole from a dowry left outside her family’s teepee.  The horse has an accident and she is left on foot, injured and exhausted.  She staggers onto a road near Fort Chadbourne and collapses.

On one of the first runs through Texas, Butterfield Overland Mail Company driver Ned Bright carries two Ursuline nuns returning to their mission station.  They come across a woman who is nearly dead from exposure and dehydration and take her to the mission.

With some detective work, Ned discovers Taabe Waipu identity. He plans to unite her with her family, but the Comanche have other ideas, and the two end up defending the mission station. Through Taabe and Ned we learn the true meaning of healing and restoration amid seemingly powerless situations.

Eyewitness Account:

I picked this up because I liked Lone Star Trail.  The sequel is written by a different author, but had all the same elements I appreciated about the first – interesting historical setting (this time dealing with the Comanche, Texas settlers, and French nuns who had set up a “mission” and school for girls), decent plot, and empathetic characters.  Many children were captured and raised among Native Americans during Westward Expansion, and this story is a compelling snapshot of what such a situation must have felt like to a captive.

Still loving this series, and would recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction and interested in this era!

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying? Reviews from the Heart, This That and the Other Thing, Sandra Ardoin

Rating:

★★★☆☆ Plot Development

★★★★ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★Page Turner

Overall ★★★★


The Book That Made Your World

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Vishal Mangalwadi. 464 p. Published May 2011 by Thomas Nelson.  Advanced copy provided for review in electronic format by the publisher (through NetGalley) in exchange for my honest opinion.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? Adult Non-Fiction (History, Christianity)

Short Bio: 

Discover how the Bible became the West’s source of human rights, justice, heroism, optimism, compassion, capitalism, family, and morality.

In the 1960s many from the West went to the East in search of spiritual wisdom. The Book That Made Your World reverses the journey. Vishal Mangalwadi, an Indian philosopher, takes readers on a historical journey through the last millennium, exploring why and how the Bible reformed Europe and made the West a uniquely thinking civilization: technical and tolerant, scientific and free, just and prosperous. Readers will learn:

  • Why an American president puts his hand on the Bible to take the oath of a secular office
  • What forced British monarchs from Henry VIII to James I to submit to the Bible’s authority
  • Why Bible translators Wycliffe, Luther, and Tyndale became history’s greatest revolutionaries
  • How the Bible globalized western education

Eyewitness Account: 

This book was a fairly interesting treatise on how the Bible has influenced all aspects of our civilization (for the better).  You’d expect something like this to be written by a someone of Western Judeo-Christian background, but the author is actually a native Indian who writes the book as a response to a national Indian movement claiming that the Western Christian influence impacted India negatively rather than positively. Mangalwadi juxtaposes the kinds of behavior, motives, and priorities that result from the Christian faith with the mindset of those from Buddhist/Hindu faiths.  He covers a rather diverse set of subjects to explore his theory that the best parts of all civilization are the result of Christian influence – the development of science and education, the protection of life and the rights of women, and the liberty and prosperity that characterize the West.

This is one of those books that you kind of get the gist of within the first couple chapters – I found it hard to keep my interest past the second half of the book.  However, it is very well written and very thought-provoking.  Mangalwadi includes some personal anecdotes to make his point about the effect that other worldviews have on a society that are very provocative; the most poignant is one in which a neighbor girl is not only neglected to the point of death, but her parents refuse to let Mangalwadi and his wife offer their free help and resources to nurse her back to health (as a result of a worldview that says life is suffering and everyone has the life they deserve).

If you like history and broad discussion of civilizations, you’ll probably love this book.

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

Notable Quotes:

“When a husband is forbidden extramarital affairs, taking a second wife, or divorcing a difficult wife; when he is not allowed to hate or be harsh with her; when he is required to love and honor his wife; then his wife is empowered.  She has the security to seek her dignity and rights.”

“When we believe truth is unknowable, we rob it of any authority.  What is left is brute power wielding arbitrary force.  Whether a person or an ethnic minority is guilty or innocent becomes irrelevant.  Their right to life depends exclusively on the whims of whoever has power.  Any nation that refuses to live under truth condemns itself to live under sinful man.”

What are other people saying?  Christianity Today, The Biblical BookshelfBreakPoint

Rating:

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★☆☆ Organization

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★☆☆ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆


Lone Star Trail

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Darlene Franklin. 272 p. Published August 2011 by Moody Publishers.  Advanced review copy provided in electronic format by the publisher in exchange for my honest review, courtesy of NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Historical/Inspirational Fiction

Short Bio:

The six-book series about four generations of the Morgan family living, fighting, and thriving amidst a turbulent Texas history spanning from 1845 to 1896 begins with Lone Star Trail.  Judson (Jud) Morgan’s father died for Texas’ freedom during the war for independence.  So when the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas (the Verein) attempts to colonize a New Germany in his country, he takes a stand against them.  After Wande Fleischers’ fiancée marries someone else, the young fraulein determines to make new life for herself in Texas.  With the help of Jud’s sister Marion, Wande learns English and becomes a trusted friend to the entire Morgan family.  As much as Jud dislikes the German invasion, he can’t help admiring Wande.  She is sweet and cheerful as she serves the Lord and all those around her.  Can the rancher put aside his prejudice to forge a new future?  Through Jud and Wande, we learn the powerful lessons of forgiveness and reconciliation among a diverse community of believers.

Eyewitness Account:

The last four fiction novels I’ve read have not been page turners, so it was nice to finally pick something up that I didn’t want to put down!  Not only did I love the setting (Texas settlers, both “American” and German, just after the state joined the U.S.), but I loved the characters and their own personal journeys.  I felt like the relationship conflict was more realistic, with just the right amount of communication struggle vs attitude hang-ups (pride, anger, jealousy, insecurity, bitterness, etc.).  Some books make relationship conflict all about a lack of communication, but the characters in Lone Star Trail acted much more like my own friends and family do.  I admired the way Franklin perfectly wove in the themes of prejudice and forgiveness.  I finished it the day I picked it up – very well done!

Other Books Read by This Author: None

What are other people saying? Reader’s Roundtable, Along the Way, Ausjenny

Rating:

★★★★ Plot Development

★★★★ Characterization

★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★


The Postmistress

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Sarah Blake.  336 p.  Published 2010 by Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam.  Listened to audiobook published by Penguin Audiobooks and narrated by Orlagh Cassidy.

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Historical Fiction

Short Bio (from publisher):

Those who carry the truth sometimes bear a terrible weight…

It is 1940. France has fallen. Bombs are dropping on London. And President Roosevelt is promising he won’t send our boys to fight in “foreign wars.”

But American radio gal Frankie Bard, the first woman to report from the Blitz in London, wants nothing more than to bring the war home. Frankie’s radio dispatches crackle across the Atlantic ocean, imploring listeners to pay attention–as the Nazis bomb London nightly, and Jewish refugees stream across Europe. Frankie is convinced that if she can just get the right story, it will wake Americans to action and they will join the fight.

Meanwhile, in Franklin, Massachusetts, a small town on Cape Cod, Iris James hears Frankie’s broadcasts and knows that it is only a matter of time before the war arrives on Franklin’s shores. In charge of the town’s mail, Iris believes that her job is to deliver and keep people’s secrets, passing along the news that letters carry. And one secret she keeps are her feelings for Harry Vale, the town mechanic, who inspects the ocean daily, searching in vain for German U-boats he is certain will come. Two single people in midlife, Iris and Harry long ago gave up hope of ever being in love, yet they find themselves unexpectedly drawn toward each other.

Listening to Frankie as well are Will and Emma Fitch, the town’s doctor and his new wife, both trying to escape a fragile childhood and forge a brighter future. When Will follow’s Frankie’s siren call into the war, Emma’s worst fears are realized. Promising to return in six months, Will goes to London to offer his help, and the lives of the three women entwine.

Eyewitness Account:

Although this was simply the next book that appeared on my audiobooks hold list from the library, it is strikingly similar to the last book I read – the main characters are women, set during World War II, full of rich historical detail, narrated by Orlagh Cassidy . . . the titles are even similar, each the occupation of one of the main female characters.  However, I was struck by the fact that where The Piano Teacher had a very strong plot with weak characterization, I felt like The Postmistress was the opposite with incredibly sympathetic characters and a slightly weaker plot (though still not bad!).  The pages didn’t turn quite as easily for me this time as the story seemed to drag a bit.  Overall, though, Blake’s writing style was more than eloquent and a pleasure to read (or listen to, as the case may be!).

I loved the three women who formed the core of the story, each one so vividly constructed with personality and strengths and struggles;  they held the story together for me, because even when the plot seemed to drag and I wondered when Emma would ever get her deserved news, I held on because I cared about them.  Perhaps I cared less about the plot because the overarching setting of Americans in pre-World War II is something I’ve read a lot about and didn’t give me something new like The Piano Teacher did.  Those who don’t mind a slower moving plot if they get great characters in return, or who haven’t read a lot of WW II fiction, will probably enjoy this book.

Other Books Read by This Author:  none

What are other people saying?  New York Times, She is Too Fond of Books, Literary Corner Cafe

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 ★★★☆☆


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 ★★★★★