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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 ★★★☆☆

Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Tony Reinke.  208 p.  To be published Sept 30, 2011 by Crossway Books.  Advanced review copy provided in electronic format by the publisher in return for my honest opinion, courtesy of NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Nonfiction – Christian Growth

Short Bio:

A call for Christians to reclaim the priority, privilege, and practice of reading.

Christians are identified as people of the Word—submitted to the authority of God’s written Word, called to center our lives on it and not on the image-driven world that vies for our gaze. But how do we build such lives, and what do they look like?

Tony Reinke’s answer is that we are to be readers of the Word of God and of the many other books that reflect God’s truth, goodness, and beauty in the world. In Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books, Reinke lays out a theology of reading built around the gospel, developed from Scripture, and corroborated by church history. He offers guidance for exercising discernment in what we read, and practical advice on how to read regularly and well. Reinke also explains how to foster a culture of reading in our churches and homes. The book stresses that we may find truth, help, insight, or beauty in many different forms of literature, from theology to fiction to fantasy to business. Reinke reminds us that God is the author of all knowledge, and we read every book under his illumination.

Eyewitness Account:

The book blurb on NetGalley immediately intrigued me – someone wrote a whole book on why Christians should read (and written by an admitted “non-reader”)?  I snatched it up quick and wasn’t disappointed.  Reinke has a great writing style that is engaging, yet succinct (I didn’t do a whole lot of skimming because he moved from point to point fairly quickly himself).  The content was great; the first half of the book is Reinke’s “theology of reading”, his own thesis on why any Christian (or any person, really) who wants to grow and mature should read. I was most struck in this section by Reinke’s discussion of how when we rely more and more on visual media to communicate, we lose out on the precision of meaning found in words.

The second half is pure nuts and bolts – how to find time to read, how to highlight and annotate so that you get a lot out of your reading, how to make personal priorities for choosing what to read, and how to pass on a love and discipline of reading to your kids (to name just a few).  His chapter on priorities was so timely for me – I have been feeling overwhelmed these last few months with the sheer volume of what I want to read and how little time I have to read it in (as my backlog of NetGalley manuscripts can attest to!).  I took his advice and made a list of the goals I have for reading and it was so helpful to approach my TBR list with actual priorities and criteria for picking the next book!

The only thing that seemed odd about this book is the fact that he is really writing to people who don’t read – and it made me wonder how on earth he would get his message out to such people using a book? (Christmas present from those who do read?  My spouse just might get this one in his stocking . . .!)  However, they aren’t the only people who can find some juicy nuggets in this book – I loved it, and would highly recommend it to anyone.

Notable Quotes:

My priorities help me determine the value of a book. My priorities set the highest value on the rarest books (like theologically sound books on the person and work of Christ) and place the lowest priority on the most abundant literature (like best-selling secular fiction). This prevents me from allowing the abundance of literature in a category to dictate my reading diet. The categories prove valuable when I walk into a bookstore.

Literature is life. If you want to know what, deep down, people feel and experience, you can do no better than read the stories and poems of the human race. Writers of literature have the gift of observing and then expressing in words the essential experiences of people . . . The rewards of reading literature are significant. Literature helps to humanize us. It expands our range of experiences. It fosters awareness of ourselves and the world. It enlarges our compassion for people. It awakens our imaginations. It expresses our feelings and insights about God, nature, and life. It enlivens our sense of beauty.

This is a matter of conscience for each believer. And while there are no rigid rules for what Christians should or should not read, we must each be sensitive to our own conscience and the consciences of those around us. As we establish our own understanding of what books we will and will not read ourselves, we must respect the parameters that other Christians have chosen to set for themselves and for their children.

“Literature and art are God’s gifts to the human race,” writes literature scholar Leland Ryken. “One of the liberating effects of letting ourselves ‘go’ as we enjoy literature is to realize that we can partly affirm the value of literature whose content or worldview we dislike. If God is the ultimate source of all beauty and artistry, then the artistic dimension of literature is the point at which Christians can be unreserved in their enthusiasm for the works of non-Christian writers.”14 This point is critical for book readers. Our freedom to enjoy the aesthetic beauty of non-Christian literature does not require us to first endorse the author’s worldview or personal ethical choices.

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying? The Biblical Bookshelf, Tom Farr’s Blog, Thoughts on Theology

Rating:

★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★ Organization

★★★★★ 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 ★★★★

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.

Roots

Reviewed by Brittney

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

Verdict: ★★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Historical Fiction/Autobiography

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

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

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

Notable Quotes:

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

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

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying?  The Book Haven, Serendipity

Rating:

★★★★★ Plot Development

★★★★★ Characterization

★★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★★

Doc: A Novel

Reviewed by Brittney

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

Verdict: ★★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Historical Fiction

Short Bio (from Publisher’s Weekly): Russell (Dreamers of the Day) brings lethal Dodge City to life in a colorful group-portrait of famous frontiersmen years before many of them would pass into legend at the O.K. Corral. After a tense childhood in Civil War–torn Georgia and the loss of his beloved mother, young John Henry “Doc” Holliday moves west in hopes of ameliorating the tuberculosis that would eventually kill him, relocating in the late 1870s to Kansas, where he divides his time among his poorly paying vocation of dentistry, lucrative gambling, and his fractious relationship with Kate Harony, a cultured, Hungarian-born prostitute. In a tale notable more for a remarkable cast than orderliness of plot, the rising tension between the corrupt, carousing, and well-armed inhabitants of Dodge and the forces of law represented by the moralistic Wyatt Earp and his brother, Morgan, makes a spectacular background to a memorable year-in-the-life tale of a fiery young Southern gentleman whose loyalty to his friends and love of music outshine even his fragile health and the whiskey-soaked violence of the western

Eyewitness Account: The only criticism of this book I can truthfully give is that it ended too soon!  Russell managed to do what she did so expertly in The Sparrow – she introduced me to a cast of characters that I did not want to say goodbye to.  Forget your brawny Fabio romance heroes; I’ll take Doc over them any day!  Doc Holliday was the epitome of a southern gentlemen driven to survive his debilitating tuberculosis – and he has the wittiest and most charming lines in the whole book.  Wyatt Earp steals your heart with his illiterate sincerity and desire to serve unilateral justice.  Kate Harony, Bessie Earp, and Belle Wright are, each one, very different and yet very independent women trying to tame a wild country full of unreliable men.  I even fell in love with a young black boy who would have been cast as an extra if the story were a movie set, he had so few of his own lines.  And the writing – oh, the writing!  There are some authors who make music with their words, and Russell leads the pack.  Doc is one of the wittiest, engaging, and heart-breaking novels I have read all year.  It’s a book that I’d recommend to my dad as easily as to my grandmother, the themes are so universal.  This is one of the few books that I’ve actually bought this year and it was COMPLETELY worth it!  I’m just sad I didn’t get a physical copy so I could start handing it out to my fellow book-junkies.

Notable Quotes:

“Yes, sir! Yes, they do,” Doc said, suddenly hot. “Every one of them has a story, and every story begins with a man who failed her. A husband who came home from the war, good for nothin’ but drink. A father who didn’t come home at all, or a stepfather who did. A brother who should have protected her. A beau who promised marriage and left when he got what he wanted, because he wouldn’t marry a slut. If a girl like that has lost her way, it’s—because some worthless no-account—sonofabitch left her in—the wilderness alone!”

Doc sat back in his chair and stared out of the window for a long time. “Bein’ born is craps,” he decided. He glanced at Morg and let loose that sly, lopsided smile of his. “How we live is poker.” Doc looked away and got thoughtful again. “Mamma played a bad hand well.”

Sit in a physician’s office. Listen to a diagnosis as bad as Doc’s. Beyond the first few words, you won’t hear a thing. The voice of Hope is soft but impossible to ignore. This isn’t happening, she assures you. There’s been a mix-up with the tests. Hope swears, You’re different. You matter. She whispers, Miracles happen. She says, often quite reasonably, New treatments are being developed all the time! She promises, You’ll beat the odds. A hundred to one? A thousand to one? A million to one? Eight to five, Hope lies. Odds are, when your time comes, you won’t even ask, “For or against?” You’ll swing up on that horse, and ride.

Other Books Read by This Author:

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

Rating:

★★★★ Plot Development

★★★★★ Characterization

★★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★★

The Ninth Wife

Reviewed by Brittney

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

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Contemporary Romance

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

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

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

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

Notable Quotes:

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

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

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

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

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

Rating:

★★★★★ Plot Development

★★★★ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★