Monday, February 28, 2011

Book Review: "The Brotherhood" by Jerry B. Jenkins

Summary from Boone Drake has it made. He’s a young cop rising rapidly through the ranks of the Chicago Police Department. He has a beautiful wife and a young son, a nice starter house, a great partner, and a career plan that should land him in the Organized Crime Division within five years. Everything is going right. Until everything goes horribly, terribly wrong. His personal life destroyed and his career and future in jeopardy, Boone buries himself in guilt and bitterness as his life spirals out of control. But when he comes face-to-face with the most vicious gang leader Chicago has seen in decades, he begins to realize that God is a God of second chances and can change the hardest heart . . . and forgive the worst of crimes.

The book is pretty much split in two sections. The first half deals with Boone dealing with the tragic accident that took his young family. This half most resonated with me because of the raw emotions that are presented here. I wanted to weep with Boone with the agony that he had to deal with the minute he hears what happened to his wife and son. I hope that I never have to go through what he went through. It was painful to read about the hurt that was there and then the agonizing questions of asking God why he let it happen. I really appreciated that Jenkins realistically portrayed Boone's anger and emotions. I also really liked Pastor Sosa's character. While I'm not calling him the perfect character, he was what Boone needed during this time. I appreciated seeing a pastoral character not being pushy about their beliefs nor trying to convert everyone around them. He is open to questions even those that might not lead towards a Christian faith.

The second half of the book deals with Boone returning to the force. There he becomes involved in several cases, including one that potentially puts his career in danger. I was really fascinated with the idea of police brutality that really isn't, and because of what people think they see could possibly change the whole outlook on a situation. Another case that Boone works on deals with gangs and that entire subculture. Things get a bit preachy here but it's still a fascinating look into an area that most Christian fiction books only show stereotypes on.

I only had two minor qualms about the book. One was the fact that Boone seemed to get immediately drunk after only drinking a little bit of wine. I understand the situation because he was quite depressed at the time already. I didn't feel as if there was an underlying message saying that all drinking is wrong but it just seemed a little unrealistic to have him get drunk that fast with such a little amount. Also, the end of the book dragged a little for me. There was a lot of action and suspense. However, I didn't feel like it touched me as much as the first half of the story had.

Overall, this was a good police thriller as it's packed with both action, adventure, emotion and heart. Surprisingly, this is the first Jenkins book that I have read that he has not co-written with Tim LaHaye. I was very pleased with his style of writing. I feel like this is the type of book that can be passed along to a guy who is into this genre. I look forward to reading more books in the Precinct 11 series.

The Brotherhood by Jerry B. Jenkins is published by Tyndale (2011)

This ARC was provided by the author

Sunday, February 27, 2011

My Library Reads No. 9

My Library Reads is a spotlight on the library books that I have read during the previous week. This is not a post on what books I borrowed but books that I read. Since I don't review library books, this is a way to still be able to showcase them on my blog.

BTW, if anyone knows of another meme that is like this on another blog, could you please let me know? I don't know of any myself, but if there is one already in place, I'd like to give credit where credit is due!

Library Books read from 2/20/11 - 2/26/11

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 10/12/10)

YA - This is another of those books that I picked up simply because of other book bloggers and all the talk on twitter. It's a split contemporary and historical fiction book, taking place in modern day New York and France and then during the French Revolution. The book starts off with Andi who I found to be incredibly annoying. Seriously, she was such a brat. I understand that her brother had died and that now her whole family has gone dysfunctional but my gosh was she rude. The book gets better when she goes to Paris and discovers Alex's letters and then the whole history of the Lost King. History buffs especially those of the French Revolution will really enjoy this. At times Donnelly's writing is bit dragging but overall it's an engrossing read. The last quarter of the book really flew by for me.


Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (Listening Library, 6/21/03)

I honestly think that listening to these books gets better every time I listen to them. This is the 5th time I think I've listened to this book and Jim Dale's voice are so wonderful. His Umbridge makes me want to punch my windshield while I'm driving. The only question I had after listening was this. Ron's uncles were Gideon and Fabian Prewett, who were Molly's twin brothers. They were killed by Dolohov. When the mass breakout from Azkaban occurs, Dolohov is one of those that gets out. It's said that those at Hogwarts who had family members killed or tortured by these Death Eaters were suddenly viewed in the same light as Harry. For example, Susan Bones had an uncle that was killed. Interestingly, it's never mentioned that Ron (or any of the Weasleys) are given this treatment. One would have thought he would have said at least something and I believe it is mentioned in later books that he acknowledges this. So it's really weird to bring up Susan Bones' uncle but not Ron's uncles, who I believe were bigger news when they were killed. Of course the other explanation is that JK Rowling simply forgot about this when she was writing or she hadn't connected the Prewetts to the Weasleys at this point in the series.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Book Review: "A Billion Reasons Why" by Kristin Billerbeck

Summary from Katie McKenna has never loved any man but one: billionaire Luc DeForges. He was her first love. But there are a billion reasons why she's engaged instead to Dexter Hastings, a solid and stable man who wants the same things she does: marriage and a family but all of the things that she wants without the deep-seeded pain and fear of being abandoned that Luc brings.

Dexter and she have worked an arrangement that's akin to faith without action, love without deeds -- a dead faith. Going home to New Orleans to sing for her childhood friend's wedding, Katie must search her heart to find out if any of her reasons for being with Dexter are stronger than love. Only when Katie steps fully into faith and jumps off the cliff of life into the arms of Luc does she understand the fullness of God's grace.

I haven't been able to find a lot of good romances lately. I'm not into the whole bodice ripper type deal nor am I a fan of guy meets girl, they fall in love blah blah blah. I like romances that are realistic where the characters act normal and fall in love like how we do in real life. Unfortunately I haven't had good luck finding those types of books. Most of them seem to be very good at romanticizing romance. While I did overall enjoy this story, this book seemed to be another one of those that do just that.

Luc's character took me a while to grown on. When we first meet him in the story, he seems VERY cocky. I really hated how he kept telling Katie what she had to do and wouldn't give her any other options. I was absolutely floored about how he threw her over her shoulder and then when she protested about the pictures being taken he acted like he was nothing. I do not know why women seem to think that being thrown over a guy's shoulder like a sack of potatoes is romantic. Even if Katie was the ONE for him, how he tries to get her back did not win any points with me. If someone is engaged (or nearly engaged) you don't go around trying to win them back with gifts, stolen kisses and insults about their fiance. Also not a fan of his mother because she blamed Katie solely for ruining her son's reputation. Hello! There were TWO people who were involved in that situation yet she doesn't blame her son at all. However as the story progressed, I did learn to like his character. I know he really did care a lot for Katie.

Eileen did not really seem like a good friend to me. In the beginning she keeps badmouthing Luc while rooting for Dexter. Then about halfway through the book, she changes her mind and does the opposite, but with no real reasons why. Dexter's character seemed very cardboard. I never got the feeling that he really loved Katie. I can understand why she wanted to be with him because of stability. I just wish that his character had been more developed. He kept saying how he kept talking to the pastor but there's not really much indication of his actual faith. I just felt like his one dimensional character forces us to want to like Luc instead. Dexter wasn't the bad guy but he just wasn't the right guy for Katie.

I'm not a fan of the cover. One, I don't like floating heads. Two, I wish that whoever had chosen the final cover had read the actual book. It's mentioned several times throughout the story that Katie has reddish-blond hair and green eyes. If it was just a one or two time thing then I could dismiss it. But because it's talked about A LOT, it's so disheartening to see a girl on the cover who has blackish/brown hair. This is one of those reasons why I don't like seeing faces on the cover. One other thing that really bothered me in the book was a scene where Luc's brother wraps his hands around Katie's waist and his fingers touch. While I know that there are women who do have incredibly small waists, the rest of us don't. Since this is never brought up again in the rest of the book, I'm not quite sure why it was included in the first place. If anything, it made me feel like a heifer after reading that scene.

Maybe I'm just a bit jaded about romances in general. I mean, I do love Billerbeck's books and I did enjoy the overall story. It's engaging and I really love using New Orleans as the setting. I guess for me it just seems too fairy tale-ish. I'm already married, got my guy, and just want to enjoy what we have. If I wasn't married or even dating, this book might make me yearn for a guy like Luc who is a bit unrealistic. If I was already married and not happy in the relationship, this book might make me want a guy like Luc and therefore make me not want my husband. I guess I'm not a romance fan like I thought I was. While this may not have been my favorite novel from Billerbeck, I do think romance fans will enjoy the book. You need love to make a relationship work and this book shows how important having that love is.

A Billion Reasons Why by Kristin Billerbeck is published by Thomas Nelson (2011)

This review copy was provided for a tour with FIRST Wild Card Blog Tours

Read the first chapter here:

A Fine Romance

Katie McKenna had dreamed of this moment at least a thousand times. Luc would walk back into her life filled with remorse. He’d be wearing jeans, a worn T-shirt, and humility. He’d be dripping with humility.

That should have been her first clue that such a scenario had no bearing on reality.

“Katie,” a voice said.

The sound sent a surge of adrenaline through her frame. She’d forgotten the power and the warmth of his baritone. A quick glance around her classroom assured her that she must be imagining things. Everything was in order: the posters of colorful curriculum, the daily schedule of activities printed on the whiteboard, and, of course, the children. All six of them were mentally disabled, most of them on the severe side of the autism spectrum, but three had added handicaps that required sturdy, head-stabilizing wheelchairs. The bulk of the chairs overwhelmed the room and blocked much of the happy yellow walls and part of the large rainbow mural the kids had helped to paint. The room, with its cluttered order, comforted her and reminded her of all she’d accomplished. There was no need to think about the past. That was a waste of time and energy.

Her eyes stopped on her aides, Carrie and Selena. The two women, so boisterous in personality, were usually animated. But at the moment they stood huddled in the corner behind Austin’s wheelchair.

Carrie, the heavyset one in the Ed Hardy T-shirt, motioned at her.

“What?” Katie pulled at her white shirt with the delicate pink flowers embroidered along the hem and surveyed the stains. “I know, I’m a mess. But did you see how wonderfully the kids did on their art projects? It was worth it. Never thought of the oil on the dough staining. Next time I’ll wear an apron.”

Selena and Carrie looked as though there was something more they wanted.

“Maddie, you’re a born artist.” Katie smiled at the little girl sitting behind a mound of colorful clay. Then to the aides: “What is the matter with you two?”

Selena, a slight Latina woman, shook her head and pointed toward the door.

Katie rotated toward the front of the classroom and caught her breath. Luc, so tall and gorgeous, completely out of place in his fine European suit and a wristwatch probably worth more than her annual salary, stood in the doorway. He wore a fedora, his trademark since college, but hardly one he needed to stand out in a crowd.

As she stared across the space between them, suddenly the classroom she took such pride in appeared shabby and soiled. When she inhaled, it reeked of sour milk and baby food. Her muddled brain searched for words.

“Luc?” She blinked several times, as if his film-star good looks might evaporate into the annals of her mind. “What are you doing here?”

“Didn’t you get my brother’s wedding invitation?” he asked coolly, as if they’d only seen each other yesterday.

“I did. I sent my regrets.”

“That’s what I’m doing here. You can’t miss Ryan’s wedding. I thought the problem might be money.”

She watched as his blue eyes came to rest on her stained shirt. Instinctively she crossed her arms in front of her.

“I came to invite you to go back with me next week, on my plane.”

“Ah.” She nodded and waited for something intelligible to come out of her mouth. “It’s not money.”

“Come home with me, Katie.” He reached out his arms, and she moved to the countertop and shuffled some papers together.

If he touches me, I don’t stand a chance. She knew Luc well enough to know if he’d made the trip to her classroom, he didn’t intend to leave without what he came for. “I’m afraid that’s not possible.” She stacked the same papers again.

“Give me one reason.”

She faced him. “I could give you a billion reasons.”

Luc’s chiseled features didn’t wear humility well. The cross-shaped scar beneath his cheekbone added to his severity. If he weren’t so dreaded handsome, he’d make a good spy in a Bond movie. His looks belied his soft Uptown New Orleans upbringing, the kind filled with celebrations and warm family events with backyard tennis and long days in the swimming pool.

He pushed through the swiveled half door that separated them and strode toward her.

“That gate is there for a reason. The classroom is for teachers and students only.”

Luc opened his hand and beckoned to her, and despite herself, she took it. Her heart pounded in her throat, and its roar was so thunderous it blocked her thoughts. He pulled her into a clutch, then pushed her away with all the grace of Astaire. “Will you dance with me?” he asked.

He began to hum a Cole Porter tune clumsily in her ear, and instinctively she followed his lead until everything around them disappeared and they were alone in their personal ballroom. For a moment she dropped her head back and giggled from her stomach; a laugh so genuine and pure, it seemed completely foreign—as if it came from a place within that was no longer a part of her. Then the dance halted suddenly, and his cheek was against hers. She took in the roughness of his face, and the thought flitted through her mind that she could die a happy woman in those arms.

The sound of applause woke her from her reverie.

“You two are amazing!” Carrie said.

The children all murmured their approval, some with screams of delight and others with loud banging.

Luc’s hand clutched her own in the small space between them, and she laughed again.

“Not me,” Luc said. “I have the grace of a bull. It’s Katie. She’s like Ginger Rogers. She makes anybody she dances with look good.” He appealed to the two aides. “Which is why I’m here. She must go to my brother’s wedding with me.”

“I didn’t even know you danced, Katie,” Selena said. “Why don’t you ever come dancing with us on Friday nights?”

“What? Katie dances like a dream. She and my brother were partners onstage in college. They were like a mist, the way they moved together. It’s like her feet don’t touch the ground.”

“That was a long time ago.” She pulled away from him and showed him her shirt. “I’m a mess. I hope I didn’t ruin your suit.”

“It would be worth it,” Luc growled.

“Katie, where’d you learn to dance like that?” Carrie asked.

“Too many old movies, I suppose.” She shrugged.

“You could be on Dancing with the Stars with moves like that.”

“Except I’m not a star or a dancer, but other than that, I guess—” She giggled again. It kept bubbling out of her, and for one blissful moment she remembered what it felt like to be the old Katie McKenna. Not the current version, staid schoolmarm and church soloist in Northern California, but the Katie people in New Orleans knew, the one who danced and sang.

Luc interrupted her thoughts. “She’s being modest. She learned those moves from Ginger and Fred themselves, just by watching them over and over again. This was before YouTube, so she was dedicated.”

Katie shrugged. “I was a weird kid. Only child, you know?” But inside she swelled with pride that Luc remembered her devotion to a craft so woefully out-of-date and useless. “Anyway, I don’t have much use for swing dancing or forties torch songs now. Luc, meet Carrie and Selena. Carrie and Selena, Luc.”

“I don’t have any ‘use’ for salsa dancing,” Selena said. “I do it because it’s part of who I am.”

“Tell her she has to come with me, ladies. My brother is having a 1940s-themed wedding in New Orleans. He’d be crushed if Katie didn’t come, and I’ll look like a hopeless clod without her to dance with.”

Katie watched the two aides. She saw the way Luc’s powerful presence intoxicated them. Were they really naive enough to believe that Luc DeForges could ever appear like a clod, in any circumstance or setting? Luc, with his skilled charm and roguish good looks, made one believe whatever he wanted one to believe. The two women were putty in his hands.

“Katie, you have to go to this wedding!” Selena stepped toward her. “I can’t believe you can dance like that and never told us. You’d let this opportunity slip by? For what?” She looked around the room and frowned. “This place?”

The cacophony of pounding and low groans rose audibly, as if in agreement.

“This may be just a classroom to you, but to me, it’s the hope and future of these kids. I used to dance. I used to sing. It paid my way through college. Now I’m a teacher.”

“You can’t be a teacher and a dancer?” Selena pressed. “It’s like walking and chewing gum. You can do both. The question is, why don’t you?”

“Maybe I should bring more music and dancing into the classroom. Look how the kids are joining in the noise of our voices, not bothered by it. I have to think about ways we could make the most of this.”

But she hadn’t succeeded in changing the subject; everyone’s attention stayed focused on her.

“You should dance for the kids, Katie. You possess all the grace of an artist’s muse. Who knows how you might encourage them?”

Katie laughed. “That’s laying it on a bit thick, Luc, even for you. I do believe if there was a snake in that basket over there, it would be rising to the charmer’s voice at this very minute.”

Luc’s very presence brought her into another time. Maybe it was the fedora or the classic cut of his suit, but it ran deeper than how he looked. He possessed a sense of virility and take-no-prisoners attitude that couldn’t be further from his blue-blood upbringing. He made her, in a word, feel safe . . . but there was nothing safe about Luc and there never had been. She straightened and walked over to her open folder to check her schedule for the day.

Tapping a pencil on the binder, she focused on getting the day back on track. The students were involved in free playtime at the moment. While they were all situated in a circle, they played individually, their own favorite tasks in front of them.

“Carrie, would you get Austin and Maddie ready for lunch?”

“I’ll do it,” Selena said. “And, Katie . . . you really should go to the wedding.”

“I can’t go to the wedding because it’s right in the middle of summer school.”

“You could get a substitute,” Carrie said. “What would you be gone for, a week at most? Jenna could probably fill in. She took the summer off this year.”

“Thanks for the suggestions, ladies,” Katie said through clenched teeth. “But I’ve already told the groom I can’t attend the wedding for professional reasons.”

The women laughed. “I’m sorry, what reasons?” Carrie asked, raising a bedpan to imply that anyone could do Katie’s job.

It was no use. The two women were thoroughly under Luc’s spell, and who could blame them?

“Maybe we should talk privately,” Luc said. He clasped her wrist and led her to the glass doors at the front of the classroom. “It’s beautiful out here. The way you’re nestled in the hills, you’d never know there’s a city nearby.”

She nodded. “That’s Crystal Springs Reservoir on the other side of the freeway. It’s protected property, the drinking water for this entire area, so it’s stayed pristine.”

“I’m not going back to New Orleans without you,” he said.

Apparently the small talk had ended.

“My mother would have a fit if I brought one of the women I’d take to a Hollywood event to a family wedding.”

Katie felt a twinge of jealousy, then a stab of anger for her own weakness. Of course he dated beautiful women. He was a billionaire. A billionaire who looked like Luc DeForges! Granted, he was actually a multimillionaire, but it had been a long-standing joke between the two of them. Did it matter, once you made your first ten million, how much came after that? He may as well be called a gazillionaire. His finances were too foreign for her to contemplate.

“And who you date is my problem, how?”

“If my date tries to swing dance and kicks one of my mother’s friends in the teeth, I’ll be disinherited.”

“So what, would that make you the fifth richest man in the United States, instead of the fourth?”

“Katie, how many times do I have to explain to you I’m nowhere near those kinds of numbers?” He grinned. “Yet.” He touched his finger to her nose lightly. “My fate is much worse than losing status if you don’t come. My mother might set me up to ensure I have a proper date. A chorus line of Southern belles. And I guarantee you at least one will have the proverbial glass slipper and think her idea is so utterly unique, I’ll succumb to the fantasy.”

“Wow! What a terrible life you must lead.” She pulled a Keds slide from her foot and emptied sand out of her shoe. A few grains landed on Luc’s shiny black loafer. “To think, with courtship skills like that, that any woman wouldn’t be swept off her feet—it’s unfathomable.” She patted his arm. “I wish you luck, Luc. I’m sure your mother will have some very nice choices for you, so go enjoy yourself. Perk up, there’re billions

more to be made when you get back.”

“Sarcasm doesn’t suit you, Katie.”

e was right, but she didn’t trust herself around him. She’d taken leave of her senses too many times in that weakened state. Since moving to California, she’d made it her goal to live life logically and for the Lord. She hadn’t fallen victim to her emotions since leaving New Orleans, and she’d invested too much to give into them now.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I only meant that I’m sure there are other nice girls willing to go home and pretend for your mother. I’ve already done that, only you forgot to tell me we were pretending. Remember?”

He flinched. “Below the belt.”

A pencil fell from behind her ear, and she stooped to pick it up, careful not to meet his glance as she rose. “I’m sorry, but I’m busy here. Maybe we could catch up another time? I’d like that and won’t be so sidetracked.” She looked across the room toward Austin, an angelic but severely autistic child in a wheelchair. He pounded against his tray. “The kids are getting hungry. It’s lunchtime.” She pointed to the schedule.

Luc scooped a hand under her chin and forced her to look at him. “Where else am I going to find a gorgeous redhead who knows who Glenn Miller is?”

“Don’t, Luc. Don’t charm me. It’s beneath you. Buy one of your bubble-headed blondes a box of dye and send her to iTunes to do research. Problem solved.”

He didn’t let go. “Ryan wants you to sing at the wedding, Katie. He sent me personally to make sure you’d be there and sing ‘Someone to Watch Over Me.’ I’m not a man who quits because something’s difficult.”

“Anyone worth her salt on Bourbon Street can sing that. Excuse me—”


“Luc, I asked you kindly. Don’t. I’m not one of your sophisticated girls who knows how to play games. I’m not going to the wedding. That part of my life is over.”

“That part of your life? What about that part of you? Where is she?”

She ignored his question. “I cannot be the only woman you know capable of being your date. You’re not familiar with anyone else who isn’t an actress-slash-waitress?” She cupped his hand in her own and allowed herself to experience the surge of energy. “I have to go.” She dropped his hands and pushed back through the half door. “I’m sure you have a meeting to get to. Am I right?”

“It’s true,” he admitted. “I had business in San Francisco today, a merger. We bought a small chain of health food stores to expand the brand. But I was planning the trip to see you anyway and ask you personally.”


“We’ll be doing specialty outlets in smaller locations where real estate prices are too high for a full grocery outlet. Having the natural concept already in these locations makes my job that much easier.”

“To take over the free world with organics, you mean?”

That made him smile, and she warmed at the sparkle in his eye. When Luc was in his element, there was nothing like it. His excitement was contagious and spread like a classroom virus, infecting those around him with a false sense of security. She inhaled deeply and reminded herself that the man sold inspiration by the pound. His power over her was universal. It did not make her special.

“Name your price,” he said. “I’m here to end this rift between us, whatever it is, and I’ll do the time. Tell me what it is you want.”

“There is no price, Luc. I don’t want anything from you. I’m not going to Ryan’s wedding. My life is here.”

“Day and night . . . night and day,” he crooned and then his voice was beside her ear. “One last swing dance at my brother’s wedding. One last song and I’ll leave you alone. I promise.”

She crossed the room to the sink against the far wall, but she felt him follow. She hated how he could make every nerve in her body come to life, while he seemingly felt nothing in return. She closed her eyes and searched for inner strength. He didn’t want me. Not in a way that mattered. He wanted her when it suited him to have her at his side.

“Even if I were able to get the time off work, Luc, it wouldn’t be right to go to your brother’s wedding as your date. I’m about to get engaged.”

“Engaged?” He stepped away.

She squeezed hand sanitizer onto her hands and rubbed thoroughly.

“I’ll give a call to your fiancé and let him know the benefits.” He pulled a small leather pad of paper from his coat pocket. “I’ll arrange everything. You get a free trip home, I get a Christian date my mother is proud to know, and then your life goes back to normal. Everyone’s happy.” He took off his fedora as though to plead his case in true gentlemanly fashion. “My mother is still very proud to have led you from

your . . .” He choked back a word. “From your previous life and to Jesus.”

The announcement of her engagement seemed to have had little effect on Luc, and Katie felt as if her heart shattered all over again. “My previous life was you. She was proud to lead me away from her son’s life.” She leaned on the countertop, trying to remember why she’d come to the kitchen area.

“You know what I meant.”

“I wasn’t exactly a streetwalker, Luc. I was a late-night bar singer in the Central District, and the only one who ever led my reputation into question was you. So I’m failing to see the mutual benefit here. Your mother. Your date. And I get a free trip to a place I worked my tail off to get out of.”

She struggled with a giant jar of applesauce, which Luc took from her and opened easily. He passed the jar back to her and let his fingers brush hers.

“My mother would be out of her head to see you. And the entire town could see what they lost when they let their prettiest belle go. Come help me remind them. Don’t you want to show them that you’re thriving? That you didn’t curl up and die after that awful night?”

“I really don’t need to prove anything, Luc.” She pulled her apron, with its child-size handprints in primary colors, over her head. “I’m not your fallback, and I really don’t care if people continue to see me that way. They don’t know me.”

“Which you? The one who lives a colorless existence and calls it holy? Or the one who danced on air and inspired an entire theater troupe to rediscover swing and raise money for a new stage?” Luc bent down, took her out at the knees, and hoisted her up over his shoulder.

“What are you doing? Do you think you’re Tarzan? Put me down.” She pounded on his back, and she could hear the chaos he’d created in the classroom. “These kids need structure. What do you think you’re doing? I demand you put me down!”

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Book Winner

Congrats to the winner of Book of Days by James Rubart!

Book Review: "Save the Date" by Jenny B. Jones

Summary from Former NFL star Alex Sinclair is a man who has it all--except the votes he needs to win his bid for Congress. Despite their mutual dislike, Alex makes Lucy a proposition: pose as his fiancee in return for the money she desperately needs. Bound to a man who isn't quite what he seems, Lucy will find her heart on the line--and maybe even her life. When God asks Alex and Lucy to scrap their playbook and follow his rules, will they finally say, "I do"?

This book is a new twist on popular boy and nerd girl story. Alex is a former NFL player who is planning on running for office. Lucy is in charge of a Saving Grace, an organization that helps out young women. He needs her because he needs to shed his former playboy image in order to be considered seriously for Congress. She needs him because he will offer her the money to keep Saving Grace running. Therefore the two come up with the idea to be "engaged" to each other and form a relationship that will benefit the two of them. Of course since no plan ever comes off without a hitch there are tons of mishaps that happen along the away.

Amidst the love story is the story of Lucy's own personal background. She finds out that the life she thought she always knew isn't true. The revelations that she discovers bring out a lot of anger, hurt and bitterness as she tries to understand why the people in her life made decisions and chose not to tell her the truth. Lucy's relationship with her new family is bittersweet. There's a lot of hurt that she has to get through before being able to fully accept who she really is.

While I really enjoyed the story, I just was not a fan of Alex and Lucy's entire relationship. I really don't like the way that they got together. Even though Alex has gotten rid of his playboy ways, he's still kind of a jerk. I really hate how he pretty much forces Lucy to be with him with the lure of saving the thing she really wants. I just constantly felt that Lucy never really got to have what she wanted because she felt obligated to be with Alex to save Saving Grace. Also even though maybe it's for the best she didn't end up with Matt, it still irked me that she was not allowed to tell him the truth, at least from the beginning so not to get his hopes up and deceive him. I hate to say this because I love Jenny's other books but it was a rather predictable story line. Luckily Jones has a wonderful way with words and puts a nice twist on the entire story. Still, I knew what was going to happen. I know that's how romantic comedies are going to be and it's understandable. I guess it's probably because I never really grew to like Alex that made it hard for me to buy the story. It does make one think about how much they will do to help others who are in need if they are given the opportunity to save them.

Still even with my qualms, there's lots to love about this book. When the Hobbits first make their appearance, I knew that I had found my people. I was so glad that Lucy is a geek because that really made me love her. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings...oh so much geekness in this book that I wanted to do lots of fist pumps. The pinnacle was having Star Wars music played during a wedding in the book. As someone who did play Star Wars music during her own wedding, I hope that this sets a new standard in wedding music choices.

As usual Jones infuses lots of humor into the book and many zany characters that will keep you giggling all night. The lovely pair of Claire and Julian is a hoot. If you're in the mood for romantic comedy, this it the book for you. I'm thrilled to hear that Jones' next book will be a YA story feature Alex's younger sister! If you know me, you know I cannot wait for it.

Save the Date by Jenny B. Jones is published by Thomas Nelson (2011)

This ARC was provided by a publicist

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Book Review: "Angel Sister" by Ann H. Gabhart

Summary from It is 1936 and Kate Merritt, the middle child of Victor and Nadine, works hard to keep her family together. Her father slowly slips into alcoholism and his business suffers during the Great Depression. As her mother tries to come to grips with their situation and her sisters seem to remain blissfully oblivious to it, it is Kate who must shoulder the emotional load. Who could imagine that a dirty, abandoned little girl named Lorena Birdsong would be just what the Merritts need?

When I first picked up this book, I thought the plot was just going to be about a teen girl and the new sister she found along the way. I did not expect such a rich, deep and beautiful story about forgiveness and how bitterness can take a hold of oneself for years. The words in this story are so moving and powerful. I got swept into the lives of these characters and I did not want to leave. This book was absolutely a joy to read.

The frame of the story deals with Kate, a young teen during the mid 1930s. Her father is an alcoholic and her mother has to deal with his addiction while trying to keep the family together. One day, Kate finds a young girl who has been tossed out of her family's car because they couldn't afford to keep her. This girl, Lorena Birdsong, brings new life into the family. She's not the ultimate solution to everyone's problems but the family makes turns into a different direction because of her presence.

Within this frame, the story goes into the past of Kate's parents, Victor and Nadine, as we learn about how they met, fell in love, got married, and persevered during WWI.
There's a lot of pain and suffering that happens in this book. The majority of it stems from the fathers of Victor and Nadine. They have never seen eye to eye for years and their animosity towards each other trickles to the way they see their own children. When Victor and Nadine decide they want to marry, it just fuels the fire even more. Victor's father is bitter and sees his son as weak compared to the older son that he had lost. Because he had built up Preston Jr. to become the person he himself wanted to be only to lose him, he has never forgiven Victor and treats him as an afterthought. Meanwhile Nadine's father is the preacher of the town and has never been happy with her or the choices she has made. He sees her as weak too and never one to succeed. When he remarries, he allows his new wife to walk over Nadine and treat her in the same way too. It isn't until his stroke happens that things start to change. Even then, it's not fully the relationship that Nadine would have wanted to have.

There are so many wonderful things about this book but what stood out most to me was the ending. It's not a perfect, tidy ending. There are some things that just never get fully resolved. And that's wonderful because that's how real life is. There are situations that we face that will never have the outcome we truly hope for and when I see books constantly having happy endings, it makes me want to gag. However even though it's not tidy, the book does have a sense of hope and faith that things will get better even if not perfect. This is how I wish more Christian fiction would be like. Don't tell me that just because I'm a Christian my life will always work out. I wish more authors would show that the way out isn't always going to be magical and neat. I hope this is another one of those books that will set the new standard for Christian fiction.

There is one minor storyline in this book that made me cry. It deals with Preston Jr and the girl he loved and then what happened to her. To me it was so sad and heartbreaking, all the circumstances that happened and then the aftermath. It's beautifully done, but oh so emotional to read.

I absolutely loved this book. The characters are real, their situations are realistic, and I felt that faith issues are true and valid. The writing is also beautiful and I really felt as if Gabhart took the reader into the story and guided them to let them know the fullness of the entire situation. If Christian fiction had more literary works, I would classify this book into that category. It's so wonderful to read a book that does not include a romance plot that overtakes the story. It's an outstanding read and honestly one of the best books I've read so far in 2011. This is one that I will be telling others about to put on their reading list. HIGHLY recommended.

Angel Sister by Ann H. Gabhart is published by Revell (2011)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Book Review: "Separate From the World" by P.L. Gaus

As another college year draws to an end, Professor Michael Branden is weary after nearly thirty years of teaching. Sitting in his office on a warm spring day, he receives an unexpected visit from an Amish man who claims his brother, a dwarf like himself, has been murdered. Their discussion of the odd details of the case is interrupted by a commotion on campus, which turns out to be the apparent suicide of a young college woman, who it seems has leapt to her death from the college bell tower.

The investigations of these two deaths become intertwined as Professor Branden again teams up with Pastor Cal Troyer and Sheriff Bruce Robertson to seek explanations for these bizarre events.

Out of all the books so far in the Amish-Country series, this one was my favorite. First off, I believe it's the longest (though not by much) but enough to give the story a bit more depth. Second, this is a really good story dealing with everything from college life to dwarfism to genetics to child kidnapping. It sounds like it goes all over the place but everything somehow ties together in a excellent suspense novel.

What starts off a tragic accident on a college campus leads to a suspicious death in a nearby Amish community that's somehow tied to the kidnapping of an Amish child. The trio of Branden, Troyer and Robertson are dealing with situations close at hand as the incidents are at a personal level. Interestingly this is my second book dealing with the Amish and dwarfism. The book tackles an issue I've only rarely read in other Amish books: the fact that they stay in such close knit communities and rarely let in outsiders means that genetic disorders are continually passed on through the generations. Since they are normally a closed community, researchers aren't usually allowed to test on them and the story shows the resentment that some members have on this situation.

This book also tackles the notion that some might have about the Amish community being akin to a cult. While the main view of the story doesn't lean that way completely, there are a lot of things to think about after reading this book. I really enjoy books that make the characters question their faith, not to discourage them from it, but to make them wonder why they really believe what they believe. It's a really fascinating thought process and a good reminder to anyone who's reading to think about their own beliefs as well.

The suspense in past books have been excellent but this one kicks it up more than a notch. There's basically three mysteries that seem unrelated but then it appears that they all tie together. There's more killings in this book than in previous ones and some of them gets a little disturbing. But Gaus' writing is totally engaging and I really found myself glued to my seat with this book. There are several scenes where I felt chilled by what was going on as well as felt high emotions involving several of the characters.

I've said this several times in the past, but if you really want to get away from the romanticized view of the Amish, you really should try these books. There are not a perfect community and have many faults just as anyone else in this world does. However they are interesting to learn about and these books give that different spin on them with a good dose of suspense and mystery.

Separate From the World by P.L. Gaus is published by Plume (2011)

This ARC was provided by the publisher

Monday, February 21, 2011

Book Winners

Congrats to the winners of Radio Shangri-La by Lisa Napoli:

Ingrid S
Rebecca Rasmussen

Book Review: "A Prayer for the Night" by P.L. Gaus

Summary from author's website: Amid a whirlwind of drugs, sex, and other temptations of the "English" world, a group of Amish teenagers on the Rumschpringe test the limits of their parent’s religion to the breaking point. The murder of one teenager and the abduction of another challenge Professor Michael Branden as he confronts the communal fear that the young people can never be brought home safely.

Along with Holmes County Sheriff Bruce Robertson and Pastor Cal Troyer, Professor Branden works against the clock to find a murderer and a kidnapper, and to break a drug ring operating in the county, determined, wherever the trail may lead him, to restore the shattered community.

Unlike my last review of Clouds Without Rain which left me feeling kinda ho-hum, this new volume in the Amish-Country Mystery series brought back much revival into the series. For one, this story stood out in my mind because it shows the faults and difficulties that do happen with the Amish. The plot is more realistic because it could also happen to anyone in the outside world and it also shows that teens and young adults, no matter what their background is, can be very susceptible to influences, both good and bad.

This book deals with subjects that aren't normally found in Amish stories but are prevalent in stories that deal with the characters of the same age. The lively team of Branden, Troyer, and Robertson find out that the Amish teens are dealing with drugs and a potential trafficking situation. The problem is that because they've mainly been sheltered throughout most of their entire lives, all this is new to them. They don't necessarily know how to get out once they've been pulled in really deep. While some of the situations are going to the extreme of what the outside world looks like, when I read the story, it seemed a bit scary that the Amish teens pretty much have no idea how to protect themselves. It's mainly because if they are going to stay Amish they most likely would never have to face situations like this but at the same time it's a bit disheartening to know that they were never taught how to keep guard.

Overall, this is another good suspense novel with lots of twists and turns throughout the story to keep the reader turning pages. Again, Gaus gives a good look into the Amish lifestyle without glorifying or romanticizing the culture. I really enjoy reading this different spin on the Amish and I'm looking forward for more good mysteries from him.

A Prayer for the Night by P.L. Gaus is published by Plume (2011)

This ARC was provided by the publisher

Friday, February 18, 2011

Book Review: "Lady in the Mist" by Laurie Alice Eakes

Summary from By virtue of her profession as a midwife, Tabitha Eckles is the keeper of many secrets: the names of fathers of illegitimate children, the level of love and harmony within many a marriage, and now the identity of a man who may have caused his wife's death. Dominick Cherrett is a man with his own secret to keep: namely, what he, a British nobleman, is doing on American soil working as a bondsman in the home of Mayor Kendall, a Southern gentleman with his eye on a higher office.

By chance one morning before the dawn has broken, Tabitha and Dominick cross paths on a misty beachhead, leading them on a twisted path through kidnappings, death threats, public disgrace, and . . . love? Can Tabitha trust Dominick? What might he be hiding? And can either of them find true love in a world that seems set against them?

As someone who grew up in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, it was awesome to see my hometown during early 1800s. I don't normally see this area used as a setting in many stories so to see it set in a historical era was really fun and enlightening. I also liked how Eakes uses the Eastern Shore as the central setting because I feel that it is a part of the state that is sorely neglected. Hopefully this book will entice others to want to learn more about the area.

The parts of the book that intrigued me the most were the sections on midwifery and the pressing of men into the British navy. I find midwives fascinating because as stated in the story, many come to this occupation through family connections and they were usually the town's only medical help. In most books that I've read, the midwives portrayed have been quite elderly so to see someone that is fairly young to be in this position is quite unusual. Tabitha's job wasn't easy and there's a good bit (though not as intensive as I would have liked) description of what her job entailed. A lot of secrecy and trust went into helping to birth a baby and it was quite interesting to see that most women had no idea what was happening during their time of birth.

Equally as fascinating is learning more about the tensions between Britain and the young American country at this time. The British navy is constantly on the lookout as they continue to "steal" men from the shore and take them into their Navy. The process of how it happened and then the aftermath for those taken and their loved ones left behind is quite heartbreaking.

While all the historical aspects of the book were very interesting, I found the romance to be slightly lacking. I didn't feel that Tabitha and Dominick's relationship was very believable. It seemed like they were both swept up in the drama of everything and it just all seemed too romance like to me. I was rather disappointed at the ending of the book. The conversion scene is just too convenient and I despise how a person becomes a Christian and then the relationship can immediately commence after that. I also didn't think Raleigh was treated very fair in the story. It wasn't his fault that he got pressed into the navy and then he couldn't get back home until now. Tabitha's anger at him felt slightly misplaced and I felt bad for him and what ended up happening to him.

Overall, it's an interesting read. There's romance and history so fans of historical romances will enjoy this read. This is the first book in the Midwives series so I am looking forward to continue the adventure of learning more about them.

Lady in the Mist by Laurie Alice Eakes is published by Revell (2011)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Book Review: "Book of Days" by James L. Rubart

Summary from What if you were losing your most treasured memories? Of your wife who passed away, of your dad who died far too young? What if you heard of a book where all of those memories are recorded and you could get them back? And what if this book also told your future? Would you believe it? Would you go on a desperate search for it, holding onto a strand of hope it would bring healing and answer all your questions?

Young Cameron Vaux's mind is slipping. Memories of his wife, killed two years earlier in a car accident, are vanishing just as his late father predicted they would. Memories he knows are critical to remember. But his only hope for answers, and a cure, seems to lie in search for a book--and a God--he doesn't believe in.

I was intrigued by this story. Cameron's quest was to find a mysterious book that his dementia suffering father talked about on his deathbed. This leads him to a place in Oregon, where Cameron finds that he is losing his memory as well. Memories of his wife, who died tragically years before, keep surfacing to help him try to find his goal of searching for the Book of Days. These memories contain clues to know what exactly is inside the book, a book that many have been searching for many years.

The story is a bit supernatural at times though it feels more like magic realism than straight out paranormal or supernatural elements. I really found the bits about the cult-like atmosphere intriguing as well as Ann's, a journalist and friend to Cameron's wife, journey to finding out about her mother's background. There is some romance in the story but it's not really central to the plot and doesn't distract the reader from Cameron's main goal.

However when I got near the end of the story, it kinda fell flat to me. I understand the concept and I understand the symbolism but it wasn't what I wanted for the story. I guess I had been expecting a huge revelation or something that involved the story to go out with a bang. I just felt a bit let down. This is not to say that other readers won't appreciate what is written, but for me I just felt that the story had been built up a lot on this one plot and then just went nowhere.

Still Rubart's writing is engaging and well written. The first 3/4 of the book has a lot of twists and turns and there's a lot to think about in the story. I really liked Cameron and Ann's characters as we got to know more about their back story as they went on a discovery to find out more about their own selves. The story is fast paced and is a page turner. I haven't read Rubart's previous book Rooms yet, but I have a feeling that it will be sneaking its way up higher on my TBR pile soon.

Book of Days by James L. Rubart is published by B and H Publishing (2011)

This ARC was provided by the publisher

I'm able to give away one copy of this book provided by the publicist. To enter, you must fill out the form below. This contest is open to entrants from the US only. Winner will be picked Thursday, February 24.

PLEASE use the form only to enter the contest. For any comments about the book, review, etc. please use the comments link at the bottom of the post. All information must be filled out correctly or else your entry will not count. (ie. you must use FULL name and list your mailing address). Your info will only be used for this contest and will be deleted after the contest is over.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Book Review: "Clouds Without Rain" by P.L. Gaus

Summary from In the wooded Amish hill country, a professor at a small college, a local pastor, and the county sheriff are the only ones among the mainstream, or "English," who possess the instincts and skills to work the cases that impact all county residents, no matter their code of conduct or religious creed.

A fatal accident involving and Amish buggy and an eighteen-wheeler sets Professor Michael Branden on a quest to uncover the links between the crash and a spate of disturbing events.

I have to say, unfortunately, out of all the books in the series that this was the most forgettable. Unlike the past books, I didn't find anything that really stood out to me in the story. It's written well and I like Professor Branden and Pastor Troyer's characters very much and I really enjoy their knowledge of the Amish community. The plot about the two sects of Amish are interesting as modernization vs Old Order gets a lot of discussion in the book. The mystery evolves from just being a horrific crash of a buggy and 18 wheeler to something more devastating to the Amish community. However, I just didn't feel as drawn into the story as I have with past books. When the killer is finally revealed at the end, I was kinda ho-hum about it.

What I like best about these books is that while they deal with the Amish community, they are not entirely set in Amish country. The Amish are shown as real people who are dealing with their own issues. It's not romanticized at all, in fact there are many negative sides of being Amish shown in these books. This makes me feel better because it counteracts with all the other Amish stories that make it sound like the ideal lifestyle to live. While this one edition might not have gelled with me as I would have liked, I do like the other books in the series and am definitely giving the rest of the volumes a chance to be read.

Clouds Without Rain by P.L. Gaus is published by Plume (2010)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Book Review: "The Ex-Boyfriend's Handbook" by Matt Dunn

Summary from publisher: "It's not me—it's you."

After ten years, Jane's had enough of Edward Middleton. "You've let yourself go," she tells him. "So I'm letting you go too."

Determined to get her back, Edward realizes he must learn how to make women want him again. But right now, he's the kind of man who puts the "ex" in "sexy." One thing is certain: if he's going to be Jane's Mr. Right, he needs to turn himself around. From Atkins to Waxing, Edward begins working his way through the makeover alphabet.

But is a change in appearance what Jane really wants? Can cuddly Teddy really become sexy Eddie? Or is there more to the dating game than meets the eye?

Are you in the need for a funny book? Do you want something that will make you forget about your own problems? Looking for a light read after all that heavy reading? Have you ever wondered what goes on in guy's mind? Do you like hot British guys? If you said yes to any of these questions, then this is the perfect book that will fulfill all your needs and more.

Oh Edward. What can I say about you? Nice guys always wonder why they never get the girl? Well, if you're like Edward, it's understandable why. His long time girlfriend has left him with only a note saying that, yes it is him, as to why she left. But he can't figure out why she has. Therefore the whole book is his quest to become the guy Jane wants and be the guy that is her Mr. Right. This includes everything from changing his car, his apartment, his eating habits and hiring a personal trainer.

Ok, there were times when reading that I wanted to throttle Edward for being so dumb. Oh my gosh, he was so clueless at times! I kept putting my head in my hands and groaning and his lack of knowledge or for just being so dense at a lot of things. There's a scene that Edward recalls about why he never got Jane flowers while they were dating because of an incident involving stopping at a gas station, getting expired roses, and her telling him never to do that again and him literally taking her word for it to mean to never get her flowers again. I was like "ohhhh, no you didn't Edward" over and over again during the first half of the book. The poor guy is literally absolutely dumbfounded as to why Jane left him but as he reveals more and more stuff about their relationship, it's easy to understand why she did. He's not a bad guy at all. In fact, he IS a good guy, in fact he's a really nice guy. But just being nice isn't going to cut it if you're not a good boyfriend.

Granted, Dan wasn't the best person to teach Edward things. He's a total playboy (if this was ever made into a movie, this role would be perfectly portrayed by Jude Law) who pretty much forgets about the girl he was with the next morning. There's quite a bit that he has to learn as well and it's fun watching him grow throughout the book and seeing his character change. Still, most of the advice he gives Edward is food for thought and there is some good changes he instills on him.

This book pretty much had me a fan from the first page. It's really nice to see a chick lit novel written from the guy's perspective. Women always complain about how we never know what a guy is thinking and that he's absolutely clueless when it comes to treating us right. Well, if men are anything like Edward, well then they ARE absolutely clueless! But what makes Edward stand out is that he was willing to change. He wanted to become what he thought Jane wanted and while doing so became the guy that truly was meant to be. This sounds a bit cliched but it's true. I really loved reading this book (hot British guys with accents!) and it's made me fall in love with Matt Dunn's style of writing. I see that he has several books in his backlist so I will definitely be checking those out in the near future. Single, dating, married, doesn't matter what stage of life you are in, this book is TONS of fun. HIGHLY recommended.

The Ex-Boyfriend's Handbook by Matt Dunn is published by Sourcebooks Landmark (2010)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Monday, February 14, 2011

Book Review: "Radio Shangri-La" by Lisa Napoli

Summary from Lisa Napoli was in the grip of a crisis, dissatisfied with her life and her work as a radio journalist. When a chance encounter with a handsome stranger presented her with an opportunity to move halfway around the world, Lisa left behind cosmopolitan Los Angeles for a new adventure in the ancient Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan—said to be one of the happiest places on earth.

Long isolated from industrialization and just beginning to open its doors to the modern world, Bhutan is a deeply spiritual place, devoted to environmental conservation and committed to the happiness of its people—in fact, Bhutan measures its success in Gross National Happiness rather than in GNP. In a country without a single traffic light, its citizens are believed to be among the most content in the world. To Lisa, it seemed to be a place that offered the opposite of her fast-paced life in the United States, where the noisy din of sound-bite news and cell phones dominate our days, and meaningful conversation is a rare commodity; where everyone is plugged in digitally, yet rarely connects with the people around them.

Thousands of miles away from everything and everyone she knows, Lisa creates a new community for herself. As she helps to start Bhutan’s first youth-oriented radio station, Kuzoo FM, she must come to terms with her conflicting feelings about the impact of the medium on a country that had been shielded from its effects. Immersing herself in Bhutan’s rapidly changing culture, Lisa realizes that her own perspective on life is changing as well—and that she is discovering the sense of purpose and joy that she has been yearning for.

In this smart, heartfelt, and beautifully written book, sure to please fans of transporting travel narratives and personal memoirs alike, Lisa Napoli discovers that the world is a beautiful and complicated place—and comes to appreciate her life for the adventure it is.

I discovered the country of Bhutan when I was in elementary school due to a book series about children around the world. There was a volume about children living in Bhutan and it was my first and actually only experience really learning about the country itself. Since then, there's not really much knowledge in Western culture about the country itself. Just in case you didn't know, the Kingdom of Bhutan is a small landlocked (between China and India) country that is located in South Asia. I had heard about the use of "Gross National Happiness" but it was used more as a unique fact rather than a in-depth study. Therefore this country was unknown to me and as I like travel memoirs, when I saw this book I knew that I wanted to explore more about this country.

I really enjoyed this book. Through Napoli's words I felt that I had traveled to Bhutan myself. Her descriptions of The culture came alive right from the beginning. The dress, the food, the customs all were vividly described so that the reader feels as if they are traveling the country for themselves. Napoli becomes interested in the religious and political aspects of the country as well, therefore the reader learns a lot about how the country is maintained and governed. It's a really good primer as well about the workings of a country that has been kept untainted from outside influences for such a long time.

I appreciated very much that Napoli didn't come across as a unprepared, bumbling Westerner who keeps thinking that only their way is best and that the people of Bhutan were primitive. I've read other travel memoirs where the author had this perspective and frankly it ruined the narrative because they weren't willing to learn or fully delve into the culture of the country.

In addition to the culture of Bhutan, learning about the radio station was another experience in itself. The radio was a gateway to the outside world for those in Bhutan and Kuzoo FM sounded like an ideal job to have for the younger generation. Even though Napoli had more knowledge and was adapt in the latest equipment and techniques, she did not take over when she came over to assist at the station. Instead she allowed herself to become the student, having the staff teach her what should and should be done in both the station and in terms of culture and country. Any time she did feel that she needed to voice an opinion, it seemed to be a struggle due to not wanting to offend those already in place. The Valentine's Day contest was a prime example of this situation. What interested me most about the disc jockeys is that, unlike those in American radio stations, they truly seemed like they really enjoyed their job and wanted to learn as much as they could.

The only parts of the book that didn't resonate with me was Napoli's romantic relationships. While I understand that it was part of her journey of trying to find her own self and her path to happiness, it just wasn't as interesting to me as her journey in Bhutan and discovering the culture had been. There's nothing wrong with them at all but I found myself wanting to fast forward a bit to get back to the radio station or more adventures with the townsfolk.

Overall, this was a wonderful read. Since, as Napoli points out, there are so many restrictions going into Bhutan, there aren't many first hand accounts about going to the country. I personally don't know a single person who has gone there or plans on going there. There also aren't too many books that are like this either. Hence, why this book is a jewel. It's a wonderful look into a culture that is foreign or even unknown to most people. Napoli gives an excellent insight to a land full of mysticism and takes a concept familiar to most of us and gives it a whole different spin. Her narrative is riveting and hard to put down. This was a wonderful trip for me and also makes me want to learn more about the country. If you're short on funds but still want to travel, pick up this book.

Radio Shangri-La by Lisa Napoli is published by Crown (2011)

This ARC was provided for a blog tour with TLC Book Tours

I'm able to give away two copies of this book provided by the publisher. To enter, you must fill out the form below. This contest is open to entrants from the US and Canada only. Winner will be picked Monday, February 21.

PLEASE use the form only to enter the contest. For any comments about the book, review, etc. please use the comments link at the bottom of the post. All information must be filled out correctly or else your entry will not count. (ie. you must use FULL name and list your mailing address). Your info will only be used for this contest and will be deleted after the contest is over.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

My Library Reads No. 8

My Library Reads is a spotlight on the library books that I have read during the previous week. This is not a post on what books I borrowed but books that I read. Since I don't review library books, this is a way to still be able to showcase them on my blog.

BTW, if anyone knows of another meme that is like this on another blog, could you please let me know? I don't know of any myself, but if there is one already in place, I'd like to give credit where credit is due!

Library Books read from 2/6/11 - 2/12/11

Stitch Me Deadly by Amanda Lee (Berkley Prime Crime, 2/1/11)

Cozy Mystery: 2nd book in the Embroidery Mystery series. Cute mystery series involving an owner of an embroidery specialty shop who keeps having dead people turn up in her store. I really like the pace of this mystery series. It's slow but comforting. The mystery is very good and I didn't know who the killer was until the very end. I liked Marcy's relationship with her mother. They actually have a good realistic relationship that's healthy. There's no tips on embroidery in the book but it's still a fun read and I look forward to the rest of the series.


Adventures in Odyssey: The Best Small Town (Tyndale, 8/4/2008)

Best part of this album was hearing all the voices of all the old kids from Odyssey's early days come back and be all grown up. So great to hear Jimmy, Lucy, Jack, Curt, Lawrence and Robyn again. Sadly, the actor who portrayed Tom Riley and Bart Rathbone died during this time period so this is the last album we hear both of them in.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Book Review: "Chosen" by Ted Dekker

It has been 13 years since Black, and the Forest Guard is slowly being defeated by the Horde. Thomas Hunter is forced to lower the recruiting age from 18 to 16 in order to find enough troops to train for his armies. Of those new recruits, four are chosen to become squad leaders--two boys and two girls--but first they must pass one of Thomas's tests and bring four cacti back to the group.

Nothing goes as expected on their quest, though. They are pursued by the Horde and Johnis, the youngest of the four, sees both Roush and Shatiki--both of which vanished 13 years ago. The Roush give Johnis a new mission: he, along with the other three recruits, must recover the six missing Books of History. Silvie is the only one willing to follow John's lead, though, and rescuing the other two from the trouble they bring upon themselves only delays the quest for the books. The books have the power to bring about unspeakable evil if they fall into the wrong hands.

I always get a bit wary when an author has a very popular adult series and then writes a Young Adult series that is related to that adult series. I say this because what usually ends up happening is that the author tends to dumb down his story in order to appeal to a younger audience. They then will rewrite the entire series in the perspective of younger characters to see the whole story from a different point of view. I don't really like this because they seem to think that the two audiences won't cross over and read all the books. Luckily for this case, Ted Dekker did not do this and gave his fans a whole other set of stories to enjoy.

There's a lot of action in this book that makes the story feel fast paced. The characters are intriguing and well developed. Even though they are teens, they aren't juvenile in their thinking, probably due the circumstances they are in.
I think that teens who like fantasy will enjoy this series because the story is written well and features characters that are of that targeted age group. I don't read a lot of YA fantasy so I don't have any books to compare it to but as a Dekker fan I think it will appeal to YA audiences. I've always felt that any of Dekker's books are good recommendations for YA readers but this one is specifically for them. For those that don't normally read this genre, I will admit that this book (and the rest of the series) is best for those who have already read the rest of the books in the Books of History Chronicles, particularly the Circle series. I have to say that if I hadn't read those books, I probably would not have picked up this series at all. For me as a non fantasy fan, it's very hard for me to get into books about other worlds so familiarity is always a good thing. Overall, I did enjoy the story and I'm looking forward to continuing my adventures of learning more about the Lost Books and furthering my knowledge about the Books of History.

Chosen by Ted Dekker is published by Thomas Nelson (2008)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Book Review: "A Man of His Word" by Kathleen Fuller

In just a few short months, Moriah Miller's perfect life unravels. Newly wed and newly pregnant, Moriah is abandoned by her husband, Levi. He's left her, his family, and their faith without a backward glance. The community, stunned, rushes to the young woman's aid.

But there is someone who feels more than just sympathy for Moriah. Gabriel Miller Levi's twin longs for an intimate commitment that might someday bind them to one another. Convinced of the impossibility of his dream, Gabriel settles for a mere friendship with the woman he loves.

Moriah bravely goes on with her life, adjusting to her new role in their tight knit Amish community and preparing for the birth of her child. She is unaware that her brief marriage once idealized as the happiest time in her life may have been merely a shadow of the king of love God has created for her. A love that can mend the soul, renew her heart, and give her a future filled with hope...if only she'll let it.

To be honest, I wasn't really a big fan of this story. Even though the story wasn't very preachy about the Amish way of life, I felt that the characters were a bit bland. I'm never a fan of stories where siblings are in love with the same person. I know it happens in real life, but I just always wish people talked about it instead of keeping it inside. Also in this case, the siblings happened to be twins who looked alike, therefore making it seem like one was just being replaced by the other. I also felt that the whole situation involving Levi's departure seemed very unrealistic, very dramatic and very stereotyped. I just didn't buy his story at all. Moriah is not a strong female lead at all. I can understand a person that is on the quiet or meek side, but she just came across as a pushover. Her future of a relationship with Gabe is obvious from the beginning. I just felt that I knew that everything was going to happen eventually and I was just waiting for the magic incident to make it all come true to happen.

The other part that kinda bugged me a bit was there is a whole other side story in this book that gets absolutely no mention in the description of the book. Therefore when I started reading the second story, which doesn't have much connection to the main story, I was a bit confused as to who these people were and why they were getting any mention at all.

I like Amish stories that showcase the culture as opposed to preaching about the way of life. However, I didn't feel as if this story gave either. The characters just seemed very cardboard and not developed at all. The story as a whole isn't very strong either. I can see potential in the author's writing and I hope that by the next book it will be better. I just didn't see this book as a strong book in terms of story or faith.

A Man of His Word by Kathleen Fuller is published by Thomas Nelson (2009)

This ARC was provided by the publisher

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Book Review: "Another Dawn" by Kathryn Cushman

Summary from Grace Graham is back in Tennessee with her four-year-old son on a short unpaid leave from work, helping her father recover from surgery and spending time with her sister. Shoal Creek seems more backward than ever after her years in California, and it's hard to find organic food anywhere.

When the unthinkable happens and her son is diagnosed with measles, Grace's fears over modern medicine take a dangerous turn. Worse, the town has fallen into quarantine and its residents focus their anger and blame on Grace. She is alone and scared, until one brave woman chooses to reach out a hand of forgiveness and mercy. But when the outbreak takes a life-threatening turn, will Grace be able to forgive herself?

This book is extremely relevant and realistic. You can turn on a news program, open a magazine or go on an online message board to read about the debate between vaccinations and the role they play in autism. There are many different views on this and some people, including several celebrities, have taken vocal stance on how they feel about the debate. The story in this book deals with a mother's decision on this very subject and how that decision ends up not only affecting her own son but other children and their families who had nothing to do with her decision.

This book is an extremely eye opening read. It takes a subject that I have never seen in Christian fiction before and ask a lot of hard questions to not only the characters of the book but to the readers of the story. I didn't always like Grace's character but I could totally understand why she acted the way she did due to learning about her childhood. Her love for her son is very obvious though some of her actions could have been handled better. Her immediate reaction of running away when things get hard is something a lot of people deal with and can relate to her feelings. Grace is called out several times about this but I will say that she was in two very bad predicaments and sometimes I felt that she was being treated unfairly. By the way, I found it rather interesting how many times she bought plane tickets and then literally at the last minute decided not to go on the plane. It must be nice to have an expandable budge.

I think the main thing to come away from the book is that you should realize that whatever decisions you make, even if there are meant only for yourself or those you love, can greatly affect others in ways you can't anticipate.
What I think is the book's greatest strength is that Cushman doesn't take sides on the subject of vaccinations. I felt that she showed both sides equally and I didn't feel any of her own personal feelings to be injected (slight pun) into the story. This is shown at the end of the story when Grace still holds most of her beliefs even after all that has happened. I've read other books about similar topics where it feels like the author is preaching at you, but not so in this case. The same can't be said about some of the characters in the story. It's really sad at how even Christians become bitter, ugly and downright mean when they are in a crisis and the hatred in the words that spew out of their mouth are just means of hiding their hurt.

Overall, this is a really good read. It's suspenseful and keeps your attention throughout the entire story. No matter what your own personal beliefs on the topic, there's a lot to think about after you're done reading. I know that this issue will come up for me in the future when I do decide to have kids and I hope to do a lot of research when I need to make decisions for my children. Cushman's writing is very well done and it's a step in the direction that I hope more Christian fiction authors and publishers will follow. Putting Christians in realistic situations without sugar coating things and forcing them to actually act on their faith.

Another Dawn by Kathryn Cushman is published by Bethany House (2011)

This review copy was provided for a blog tour with the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance