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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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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 ★★★☆☆


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 ★★★☆☆


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 ★★★☆☆


Sweet Sanctuary

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Sheila Walsh and Cindy Martinusen-Coloma. 352 p. Published August 2011 by Thomas Nelson.  Advanced review copy provided by the publisher in electronic format through their BookSneeze program in return for my honest review.

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Contemporary Fiction

Short Bio (from the publisher):

“Without the storm, how would we know the sweetness of shelter?” -Ruth

Out of the clear blue, Wren’s Grandma Ruth arrives on her doorstep, dreaming of a grand party to celebrate her 95th birthday. Wren and her young son Charlie love the idea, but it quickly gets complicated: Ruth wants Wren’s estranged siblings to attend and she wants Wren to sing her all-time favorite song: “His Eye Is On The Sparrow.” It’s the very song Wren sang one fateful day during her childhood . . . and Wren hasn’t sung a note since.

Though she’s glad to have Grandma back in her life, Wren’s sleeping on the couch in her own house now . . . and worried about the expenses piling up. After all, her job at the community library is in jeopardy after budget cuts, and the fancy music program she wants for her son is getting farther and farther out of reach. What’s more, Paul—the guy she’s drawn to yet avoids—ends up being a major part of an important library project.

With family arriving and old wounds resurfacing, Wren’s about to fly when she discovers something special—a gift of grace beyond her wildest dreams.

Eyewitness Account:

Sweet Sanctuary is the story of a single-mom who fights all the usual battles – bringing home the bacon for her little family of two, delving into the ultra-emotional question of what role her ex-husband should have in their lives, moving beyond the relational failures of the past for new dating opportunities, and carrying the great burdens of parenthood alone.   Because no (wo)man is an island, Wren faces all of this on top of the emotional scars of her childhood.  The family tragedy of long ago not only created deep psychological wounds, but has left Wren without the support and presence of her mother and siblings.

Wren’s story is engaging and real, relatable even to those who aren’t in her particular situation.  She’s easy to empathize with, partly because she makes the same mistakes that we probably would.  I liked that her struggles were the usual daily life ones of figuring out how to help her son when he has trouble with his friends, how to handle the difficult family relationships in her life, and how to make life-changing decisions like where to live and what job to take.  I also liked that her journey of faith was authentic – there were times when she remembered to turn to God in faith and times when she didn’t.  Wren’s story emphasized the importance of having faithful friends to remind us to look toward God in all things instead of worrying.

I really loved the writing style throughout (see the excerpt below!) but the plot development at the end felt a little heavy-handed and was followed by a tidy wrap-up.  However, the characters and topics covered made it a worthwhile book to read.  This book had the definite plus of not being a solely “romance” novel – although Wren has a love interest, her potential relationship with a guy is not the crux of the story and blends in much more realistically than many contemporary fiction novels.  I’d recommend this anyone who likes contemporary Christian fiction.   

Sweet Sanctuary was not an incredibly original, fantastic, or mind-bending book – but it was definitely an enjoyable escape and a good reminder that God is into the fixing-up-our-messed-up-lives business. 

Notable Quotes:

(Excerpt)

Working in a library was similar to bartending or sitting in the confessional box. She’d see library patrons at the Friday film nights or around town and many treated her as if she knew all their secrets, based on the books they read, the ones they hated and the ones they loved.

Wren especially enjoyed when a child carried off a new library card, holding his or her head high as if some rite of passage had just occurred, which was exactly how she saw it. The books the patrons borrowed told their stories for them. Wren wondered how the changing of the library would change the people who came searching for books.

In one year at the Cottage Cove Public Library, she had fallen in love with the community like they were the family she longed for.

There were layers here, stories alive in the patrons who visited the library and stories through the characters of the books. The books breathed love, places, stories, cultures, mysteries, evils, beauty, the divine, the humble . . . everything of life was found here.

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying? Small Kucing, Christian Fiction Addiction, Maria’s Handmade Love,

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.


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 ★★★★