Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Review: The Captain's Lady by Louise M. Gouge

The Captain's Lady
by Louise M. Gouge (website)
Inspirational Historical Romance (Love Inspired, March '10)

Book Blurb: "He devoted his life to his country... and his love to a British lady." From the book cover.

Heat Level:
On a scale of Vanilla to Dark Chocolate, this book is very Vanilla. Exactly what audiences of Steeple Hill Love Inspired expect from their books.

Eye-Roll Factor: 7/10
Some of the God-interactions were frustratingly unemotive and unnecessary. At times, it felt like faith was an unnecessary addition to the narrative, instead of the foundation undergirding it all. However, there were glimmers where the characters' interactions with God were believable and engaging, and drew me farther into the story instead of pushing me away. In general, much better than I expected.

The Cosmo Factor: 19/25
Marianne, as a heroine, shows signs (at times) of Anne Elliot's brilliance (from Austen's Persuasion), and in general, this book felt very Persuasion-esque. With the characters obviously in love from the beginning, but kept apart by outside circumstances and inner perceptions. Where Marianne failed as a heroine, she also succeeded. Her persistence was both endearing and slightly annoying. So while I appreciated her in the areas where she mirrored Anne Elliot (truly my favorite sea-faring heroine of all time), I don't think I could stand to sit down at a table with her for very long. In the Persuasion language, she was more of a Mary than an Anne. Not quite an Elizabeth. But definitely not Anne. All in all, she was engaging and readable, but did not make me want to know her on a personal level, nor read the book again.

The Dining Room to Bedroom Factor: 22/25
Jamie Templeton might be my new favorite sea-faring hero (although, if I"m honest, my heart will always belong to Frederick Wentworth). I so appreciated his character, his integrity, and his struggle. He was engaging as a hero, and on a level that I appreciate. There's nothing that frustrates me more than when romance novel heroes lack substance (i.e. they are nice to look at, but not much fun to be with). This was definitely not the issue with Jamie Templeton. He is a man of substance, and a man that I would as easily want to have staring into my eyes as I would want to listen to him talk (or talk while he listens to me). This is the kind of hero that really makes women want to read romance novels, in my opinion. The one that you want at your side as much as in your bed.

The Braveheart Factor: 9/10
Definitely consistent with what I know of this historical time period. I appreciated that it wasn't the same-old-same-old Regency story. I loved that it was set in England during the American Revolutionary War. A new twist for me, as a reader. One thing that really (and I mean, really) bothered me was that in a book with a main character named Marianne, there was also a character named Emma. I realize that not everyone is a Jane Austen freak the way I am, but as I saw those names, I immediately went to Austen. It's not like Persuasion, which is relatively unknown. I could read a story about an Anne and a Mary without immediately thinking Persuasion. But Marianne and Emma are just such unique names and are so attached to specific Austen characters... it was a distraction for me. Perhaps not for everyone, though.

The Nostalgia Re-Read Factor: 7/10
I may end up reading this again to get to spend some more time with Jamie Templeton in all his interpersonal hotness. But in general, this is not a book I plan to read again. I will, however, pass it along to my local library so others can have the pleasure of reading it. It was a good book, after all, so I give it points for that.

The Skim Factor: 9/10
Not much skimming going on. I will admit to skimming toward the end, out of impatience to find out what happened, but what I really appreciated about this book is that there was always something at stake. I never got lulled into a sense of boredom that necessitated skimming. That's a hallmark of good writing. Nice work to Ms. Gouge. It's difficult to hold someone's attention for 279 pages entirely, especially when you know from the beginning that they're both in love. Or mostly from the beginning. But it was great.

The Little People Factor: 8/10
Unlike the shorter Steeple Hill books, the Love Inspired Historical line has about 25,000 more words to it, so that tends to provide for more development of the minor characters (which is usually my biggest complaint about the shorter LI lines). I appreciated the extra length in this book. I still felt like it could have benefited from another 25,000 words to be really well-developed, especially when it came to some of the minor characters who played major roles in the plot. But all in all, I felt like this category was well-done. None of them stick out in my mind, though... which is not a good thing. Still... Jamie... aaaahhh... :-)

Overall Evaluation: 81/100
What really made me stop and look at it in the supermarket was the cover. Isn't that beautiful? Sometimes when you pick up books with beautiful covers, it's like buying a new computer because it looks pretty... you end up with a really beautiful-looking lemon. But that was definitely not the case with this book. This was a good Christian Historical Romance novel. For those of you who don't subscribe to Love Inspired Historicals, and instead pick them up randomly at Wal Mart, KMart, Target, or the supermarket or bookstore, I would suggest going out and getting this one. It's a very cool spin on a time period that I don't see much in historical fiction. If you enjoy this type of book, I think you'll spend a few good hours with Louise M. Gouge in The Captain's Lady.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

New Blog Dedicated to Science Fiction Romance


What Women Want

Since I'm doing more reading than writing these days, I popped over to the Smart Bitches blog and found this wonderful post-
Lindsay had my favorite comment.
For the record, I personally don't like the 'B' word in the blog title.  But, it's not my blog so...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Saturday Speed Reads

Good morning, Blog Buds!  When I first started reviewing books three and a half years ago on my personal blog, I did what I called the Tuesday Speed Reads.  Now, I have to limit my writing time due to Tendonitis, so I thought I'd revive that idea.  On Saturdays, I'll give you a quick run-down of what I read over the week.
HIGH COUNTRY HERO by Lynna Banning
Historical Romance.  I've reviewed her before.



And the Middle Grade novels I've read to learn how to write Middle Grade novels-
Google them, Blog Buds!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Kimber An's Favorite Movies

Good morning, Blog Buds!  Still trying to take it easy on my hands.  It's not easy finding creative outlets which do not involve the hands, so I'm trying to watch old movies.  I have four children though, so getting to watch what I want is not easy.  Usually, this list would include one or more STAR WARS movies.  However, my son is now obsessed with 'Lightsaberin' and so I am currently sick of those movies.  In no particular order...  (Oh!  Check out that ellipses there!  Isn't it pretty?  Sorry, I just finished revising a novel and waay over-do ellipses.  They're soooo pretty!  Okay, now, I'm ready with the movies.)
STAR TREK FIRST CONTACT.  Well, duh.  I love how Captain Picard turned his victum status (he'd once been assimulated) on it's head and used what he'd learned to defeat the Borg.  I also loved how the Picard/Data relationship matured into Father/Son..
INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE.  I love adventure, Harrison Ford (Han Solo!), Sean Connery, and dirty archaeology.  These two actors were hilarious together.
STAR TREK.  The new movie based on the original series.  Well, of course, it's another STAR TREK movie!  I am an unrepentant Trekkie, you know.  I don't live in my parents' basement and can't count over four with my mittens on either.  This movie just totally rocked.  Kirk and Spock had such good mommies, Sulu had a really cool retractable sword, and Chekov was so cute I still want to bake him some cookies.
TREMORS.  And then there's running and screaming!  I don't read or view the Horror genre, but I love a good 'Monster in the House' movie like this.  I'm a big fan of JAWS too.
As close to perfect as an action movie can get, I think.  I love that the Heroine, Evie, is powerful in her own (intelligence) way rather than in the trendy 'kick-butt heroine' way.  And let's face it, Brandon Frasure is hot, well, for a brown-haired guy.
You may have noticed a theme here, movies set in hot deserts.  Well, it is the tail end of winter here in Alaska, you know, and we're really looking forward to some heat up here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Review: Guest House by Barbara K. Richardson

Guest House: A Novel  
by Barbara K. Richardson (website)

Genre: Women's Fiction
Released: March 16, 2010

What you liked:
Guest House is Barbara K. Richardson's debut novel. An MFA graduate from a program I know and love (at Eastern Washington University), Richardson sets her novel in the places I know and love with characters that I could have met on the streets of Portland (or, as it would seem, the transit). She has a very unique voice, which I thoroughly appreciated through the whole book. The storyline is one I did not expect, and the whole experience of reading the book was refreshing. It's the first true women's fiction (that wasn't sort of a disguised category romance) that I've read in quite awhile, and it was an enjoyable read. The book is worth picking up just to get a chance to experience the unique narrative that Richardson creates. Her writing reminds me of my own days in the classrooms of my MFA program, and there's just enough cryptic beauty to keep you turning the pages based on the strength and interest of her prose alone. Apart from the writing style, she creates a highly engaging character in Melba (and in JoLee, the other main character), whom I found myself becoming closer and closer to throughout the novel. 

I also highly appreciated the message of the book, which is one of the things I always expect from literary fiction. When I finish reading the book, I want to feel like there was a reason for telling the story, and I felt like Guest House had a message. Apart from the fact that life is difficult, but ultimately redemptive, Richardson's obvious love for all things that live comes across in the dedication of her characters to the preservation of their natural environment. People call it gardening, or landscaping, but it's really all about preservation. Making things grow, cultivating living plants... it keeps us all alive. And the theme of life in all its faces was a major part of the flow of this narrative.

This is not one of those books you pick up and thumb through. It's a book you take your time with. This is a book written for cups of tea on front porches in the cool spring morning air, or snuggling up in front of a fireplace, savoring every literary mouthful. If you liked Elin Hildebrand, Gail Godwin, and Elizabeth Gilbert, you should definitely pick up Barbara K. Richardson's debut novel. I have a feeling she's going to be part of our literary landscape for quite awhile.

Book Blurb:
One summer afternoon, Melba Burns witnesses a nightmare collision. The unknown bicyclist dies in her arms, ending Melba's desire for success at any cost. She settles into her boxy old farmhouse trying to find a simpler peace. But Melba's stunning new roommate JoLee Garry only magnetizes messes and trouble-she brings a series of unexpected guests who transform Melba's fruitful solo life into something different, darker, and better.

Reviewed by Rebecca Lynn

Saturday, March 20, 2010

What Kimber An Is Up To

Well, since you asked, I just launched my own novel, SUGAR RUSH, into Queryland.  Yeah, yeah, I know it doesn't have a snowball's chance on Vulcan.  Nevertheless, it was fun, I learned a lot, and now I have a wicked case of Tendonitis you just wouldn't believe.  The painting is 'The Naiad' by J.W. Waterhouse and is what I imagine the heroine looks like.
Between raising four children, one of whom is a baby, and polishing a novel for submission, I've been a very busy girl.  Plus, there's that wicked case of Tendonitis.  I need to recover.  So, *I am still not accepting ARCs.*
Instead, I'm wanting to write a Middle Grade novel next.  I have no idea how to write a Middle Grade novel.  Having no idea how to do something never stops me though.  And so I'm reading all my daughter's favorite books as part of that learning curve, books like THE GUARDIANS OF GA'HOOLE by Kathryn Lasky. 

I love owls.  I love birds in general.  Owls are so wonderful because they're beautiful and powerful, but, oh, so secretive.  Loved OWL MOON by Jane Yolen.  I want to be Jane Yolen when I grow up, in case you're wondering.
So, I'll be telling you about those Middle Grade novels on the weekends most likely.
Other than that, I'll be reading books which I already own or will buy at my own expense.  That way I won't feel obligated to get them read and review at a certain time.  Gotta let my hands rest, you know, Tendonitis.  In the coming months, not more than once a month, I'll be reviewing LEVIATHAN by Scott Westerfeld, DREAM OF PERPETUAL MOTION by Whathisname Palmer, BONESHAKER by Cherie Priest, and INCARCERON by Catherine Fisher.  No, it's not your imagination.  I'm moving into a Steampunk phase.  I'd like to write Steampunk one day.  Got no clue how.
Also, I'm very much looking forward to SUREBLOOD by Susan Grant.  Yeah, I know the cover screams Contemporary Erotica, but it's Science Fiction Romance, I swear, all about a space pirate mama.  Yeah, we Skiffy Rommers already puked Tribbles over that.  http://www.thegalaxyexpress.net/2009/12/science-fiction-romance-that-harlequin.html 
That's about it.  Gotta go love my baby and load the dishwasher and rest my hands.

eBooks Lost in Computer Crash

My deepest apologies, but I think there were three electronic ARCs on my mini-laptop when it crashed a couple of months ago.  If you were one of the authors, so sorry.  If I accept eARCs in the future, I will back them up.  Meanwhile, I'm not accepting any ARCs at this time.


Due to Time, Tendonitis, and Dwindling Reviewers with Insanely Busy Real Lives, I won't be able to review DIAL EMMY FOR MURDER by Eileen      and SET THE DARK ON FIRE by Jill Sorenson.  However, I didn't want to leave them out in the cold.  So, here are their blurbs and links to excellent reviews of them elsewhere.
Tabloids and fans are stunned when daytime soap opera star Alexis Peterson leaves her show. She's too busy with her new job as presenter at the Daytime Emmy Awards to even notice. But when a co-presenter goes missing on award night, Alexis is determined to find who is killing Hollywood's biggest and brightest before another burns out...
a Review-
SET THE DARK ON FIRE by Jill Sorenson
Shay Phillips knows her way around Dark Canyon. She’s handy with a gun and can track a wild animal with the best of them. It’s humans who give her the most trouble. And with a hormonally charged teenage brother to raise—and an admitted weakness for the wrong kind of man—they’re giving her plenty of trouble these days. Then there’s the matter of murder. As an expert on mountain lions, Shay knows to be skeptical when a local prostitute turns up mauled without a drop of blood near the body.
Now, together with the town’s newly arrived sheriff, Luke Meza—a Las Vegas city boy with his own dark secrets—Shay must navigate a dangerous valley filled with angry ex-lovers, unfaithful spouses, and poisonous snakes in a desperate search for the killer. But when suspicion falls on her own brother, and her attraction to Luke rages into a full-on erotic affair, can Shay quell the fires inside her long enough to uncover the truth?
a Review-

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Review: Beautiful by Cindy Martinusen-Coloma

by Cindy Martinusen-Coloma (website)
Inspirational YA (November 2009)

Because this is not my typical book, I will not do my typical review style.

Ellie is perfect, or so it would seem. But she feels there is something missing. Her perfect school record, perfect boyfriend, perfect looks... it doesn't feel as fulfilling as it once did. When a tragic event changes the lives of everyone around her, Ellie is forced to redefine what she thought about life, about God, about love... about beauty. 

Heat Level:
On a scale of Vanilla to Dark Chocolate, this was very vanilla. Beautiful love story, but no sexuality, which is appropriate for the young audience.

Teen Speak: 10/10
I used to run a youth center. That means that I spent every day for several years with over 200 teens. Reading YA novels can sometimes be difficult for me because I feel like the authors don't understand teen culture. This was so not the case with Martinusen-Coloma. She is either the mother of teenagers or is incredibly intuitive (or has done a lot of research. This book was right on the pulse of teen culture. I would be willing to bet that you could hand this book to anyone in this country under 18, and they could find someone to resonate with. But it's not inaccessible to adults. That takes a lot of talent. Adults who read this book will get insight into the minds of teenagers, and teens who read this book will find their thoughts on the page, and their culture represented by the characters. Right down to the things that many teens struggle with: drugs, sex, and rock'n'roll. While there is no explicit discussion of any of these, she is able to simultaneously skirt the culture and give an accurate picture at the same time. Really, probably the best teen-culture-type book that I've ever read before. I highly recommend that you pick it up just to get a sense for how teens are thinking in the world today.

The Mocha Factor: 25/25 (Minor Spoilers in this Section)
This category is typically reserved for whether or not I could raise a drink with the heroine (whether she was a caricature, or a real person). But the heroine in this book is so different from what I normally read. I still judge characters by whether or not I'd want to hang out with them if they were real people, so I called it the Mocha Factor. But I wanted to address something about this very real heroine that made me engage so deeply with her. This girl has it all, and she either loses or gives up everything of value, only to receive back what she never could have known she could get. So her life is very real. I think we all go through a time like that, where we feel like we have all our poop in a group, and then everything just gets royally turned on its ear. And in that moment, we all hope that everything will be right again, but it's so hard to believe that. Ellie deals with what life gives her in very real ways. Sometimes that means she questions God. Sometimes that means she does damaging behaviors. Sometimes that means she doesn't seek out comfort from others. I was so impressed with the way Cindy Martinusen-Coloma handled this character. Masterful.

The Everyman Factor: 23/25 (Minor Spoilers in this Section)
This category is normally reserved for the hero and his sexy-but-deep-ness. This book had sort of an unconventional romance, although there was still a romance. But from the beginning of the book, Ellie is with someone. And there are two sort of heroes in the storyline. Part of me wanted her to be with the one she didn't end up with. But the one she did end up with was just such a beautiful person... so deep, so compassionate, so unexpected. He was a great hero. The thing I really appreciated about Ellie's relationship with Ryan (her boyfriend at the beginning of the book) was that it was true-to-life. Sometimes you don't know a good thing when you have it. And sometimes you feel like you should feel more than you do. That's very real. That's something that you don't typically see in romance novels. So I appreciated that. And the relationship she has at the end of the book is a truly beautiful product of grace. Both people are able to be invested in each other, and to provide hope for the future. There was an amazing tension for me between wanting her to be with Ryan and wanting her to be with Will, and I think that's such a teen angst. She did a great job of making me feel teen angst again! :-)

The God Factor: 10/10
Those of you who know me know that when I read Inspirational books, I often have a hard time with the saccharine sweet religious stuff. Now, I went to Seminary, so I am not bothered by it because I don't believe. What bothers me, instead, is that most of the faith that's written in Christian novels is faith that I can't relate to. It's the sort of blind determinism that frustrates me. This book was a breath of refreshingly sweet reality when it comes to how she treated the faith of the characters. There were some whose faith was solid through the book, but Ellie (understandably) goes through a crisis of faith, and it was just so profoundly realistic, especially to the age of the audience. I was so impressed with the way Martinusen-Coloma wrote this particular element.

The Nostalgia Re-Read Factor: 10/10
This is one of those books that I'm not only going to read again, but I'm already compiling a list of teens I know that I want to buy this book for and send to them immediately with a little note about how important they are to me and how much I value their perspective on the world. This book made me miss working with teens in a major, major way. 

The Skim Factor: 7/10

So, I did skim a little bit. I found myself, especially toward the end, needing to know what happened and not being held in the story that was going on. I wanted to know what happened with Ellie and her boys, mostly. And I was less invested in Ellie's relationship with her sister once it seemed like they were going to reconcile. I will say, it was mostly the fact that I was emotional and impatient. But also because I wasn't being held by the story at the end, and that's frustrating as a reader, to feel like the author is standing in the way of the ending. Still, in general, I would be willing to bet that not everyone would skim as much near the end as I did.

The Little People Factor: 9/10
The interesting thing about this book was that there were several minor characters who played a very important role in the story. In general, she treated them well. I felt like Ellie's parents (and maybe this was intentional) were less present than I would have expected, given what their role in her life seemed to be. The book definitely focused on other relationships in her life. And I really felt like the relationship with her grandfather was a little less interesting than I expected. But, as I said, in general, they were well-done. All of the teen secondaries were just spot-on. I kept thinking... I swear, I know that kid! :-)

Overall Evaluation: 94/100
Fantastic. That was the word that lingered in my head after I finished the book. I was crying, I was emotionally touched, and I was so overwhelmed by how profound this book was. (Oh, and I did not get this book from the author for promotion, if you're thinking that's why I'm endorsing it so much... I won it in a blog contest, and almost didn't read it because there are so many other books in my TBR pile right now.) But I am so grateful that I picked this book up yesterday to check it out. I opened it to read the first page or two before I went back to work. Two hours later, sniffling, I closed it and thought... Wow. That was Fantastic. Beautiful was beautiful. I was so impressed with the way she treated the subject of beauty, and the idea of teens and their struggles in life. I could imagine reading this book as a high schooler and being profoundly touched by it. I'm so excited that this generation of teens has a book like this to speak to them about beauty and expectations and faith and tragedy. Truly, this is a book I would recommend to anyone, no matter what age, but I am immediately going to buy copies of this for all the teens in my life. This is a must-read book for them. Must. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Review: Heart of Stone by Jill Marie Landis

Heart of Stone
by Jill Marie Landis (website)
Christian Romance (Zondervan, 2010)
(My post about how to read my book reviews can be found here.)

Finally free to pursue her dreams, Laura Foster is trying hard not to fall in love. She knows that the Reverend Brand McCormick's reputation would be shattered if her former life is discovered. But it's not only Laura's history that threatens to bring Brand down---it's his own. (Heart of Stone is Book One in the Irish Angels Series.)

Heat Level:
On a scale of Vanilla to Dark Chocolate, this was pretty Vanilla. For Christian fiction, there was a nice amount of sexual tension, although it's strange to call it that, because it wasn't about sex at all. In fact, because of the nature of the heroine, it was more like love-tension. It was really beautiful and well-done.

Eye-Roll Factor: 10/10
No eye-rolling at all. No stupid heroine moments. No frustrating moments where she should know exactly what to do and does the opposite for dramatic or emotional effect. And the love story was just fantastic. No need for eye-rolling whatsoever. Unlike most romance heroines, there was a lot at stake for Laura Foster, and it made her actions believable and engaging.

The Cosmo Factor: 25/25
The only fictional heroine in my memory that I've ever given a 25/25 was Angel/Mira from Francine Rivers' Redeeming Love. As much as I have enjoyed previous heroines, there is always something missing for me. The real-life roundness of a character is very hard to achieve and still make the heroine likable. But Landis succeeds with Laura/Lovie Foster. Of course, when I first started reading the book, and realized how similar the beginning was to Redeeming Love, I wanted to be annoyed with the book, because I've seen so many people try to tackle the "reformed prostitute" angle with alarming heavy-handedness since Redeeming Love was such a success. But no one, since Francine Rivers, has succeeded in making a broken, flawed, complex woman with a past seem so real that she could as easily be me as anyone else in the world. In my opinion, no one since Rivers has managed to make the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold angle work as a real character that I care about... until Jill Marie Landis. Laura Foster consistently delivers herself to the reader with the kind of understated honesty that can only come from a solid writer who understands how to make even stereotypes come alive and live next door. And this is where she succeeds perhaps the most grandly. So I would raise a glass any day with Laura Foster. I would buy her drinks, and mine. Whatever she wanted. She is the kind of person I want to be lifelong friends with.

The Dining Room to Bedroom Factor: 25/25
I have to admit... when I read that the hero was going to be a reverend, I almost passed on the book. This is my own personal baggage, and I'll admit that. Now, understand, I went to Seminary, so I don't have anything against pastors. But I generally *detest* the way they are portrayed in fiction and specifically in romance novels. But Reverend Brand McCormick is the kind of man that I would not only want in my pulpit, but in my circle of friends. And as a hero, I want to fall in love with him. He is intelligent, his theology is impeccable (and consistent in a very practical way), he is genuine, but tragic in a way. But the most admirable quality about him is his complete and utter ability to capitulate. Now, when I used this to describe a romance hero once, I got a very nasty email about how women don't want their men to be "wishy-washy", so I should explain what I mean. When I say he capitulates, I don't mean he "gives in" or "isn't firm". I mean exactly the opposite. When he commits, he commits completely. He falls in love completely, he is devoted completely, he desires completely. There is no part of himself that he holds back at any time. He is a beautiful (as well as attractive) man to watch. He is the kind of man that you read about and think, "that man is out there somewhere, I just know it", and not because of how "attractive" or "alpha" he is. But because of how good he is, and how completely he loves. That is the kind of man we all need to meet someday.

The Braveheart Factor: 9/10
In general, this is a time period and a place (Reconstruction-Era America) that I know a lot about. I've taken several history classes on the Civil War and on 19th century America and Europe. So I was keeping my eye out for inconsistencies in the world-building. The only things that I found troubling were a few places in the dialogue where the characters seemed to slip out of their time period and/or culture. But in general, the history and the context of the story were excellent. And the detail of the writing was really excellent in its historicity.

The Nostalgia Re-Read Factor: 10/10
Oh, I'm definitely gonna read Heart of Stone again. No question about it. In fact, there's a good possibility I'll turn around and re-read it tomorrow! Seriously, this is gonna be a keeper. I was so impressed with the way this book was written and the level of depth of the characters... this is going to be on my bookshelf for a long time. And I will eagerly await the release of the next book: Heart of Lies.

The Skim Factor: 7/10

Okay, true confessions time. Generally, I was so caught up in the characters and the narrative that I skimmed quite a bit when Brand & Jesse left the town of Glory. I knew what was going to happen, and I just wasn't interested in seeing how we got there. So I skimmed a good several pages, trying to get to the place where they returned to Glory. I won't give away any of the plot. If you've read the book, you may find it odd that I skimmed here, but there was just too much detail, too many new characters, too much sideline story. I read and skimmed, read and skimmed, until they came back. So I marked it down for that, just because I was skimming because I wasn't engaged. Most people wouldn't be bothered by this. I just felt like it was a little bit of a copout, plot-wise. And I wanted to like that part more than I did. But in general, I couldn't put the book down. And even when I started skimming, I didn't put the book down. I needed to find out what happened.

The Little People Factor: 9/10
The minor characters were very well done in Heart of Stone. Because I knew there would be sequels, I probably paid attention to the minor characters more. I always like getting into a sequel and being able to go back in my mind and remember what that person was like when the narrative wasn't about them. Of course, I don't know what exactly she plans to do with the next book, but I can't imagine she's going to leave Charity behind completely. Or, at least, I hope she doesn't. I know the next two books will be about Laura's other two sisters, but I really hope she picks up somewhere with Charity. I want to read her love story.

Overall Evaluation: 95/100
Heart of Stone was a great read. And this is the highest score I've ever given a Christian fiction book, except Redeeming Love. For all those readers out there who fell in love with Redeeming Love all those years ago and have been waiting for a book to come along that could compare to it, look no further. This is it. This book will have you laughing and crying. It will draw you into its story and suspend your disbelief completely. It will make you want to turn the page, every page, and it will touch your heart. While the story of Heart of Stone is somewhat different, the message is the same: God loves, and forgives. It is a very beautiful and wonderfully written Christian romance novel. I give Jill Marie Landis' Heart of Stone my highest recommendation as a reviewer of inspirational romance.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

PEEPS by Scott Westerfeld

*cover art varies*
Okay, I'm supposed to be on a writing break here, because I have Tendonitis and I'm in the final stages of revising my own novel for launching into the eeevil purgatory known as Queryland.  However, I had to tell you about PEEPS.  Briefly, 'cause my hands hurt.
You all know how I love scientific explanations for old monsters.  There was XOMBIES by Walter Greatshell (the second in the series is out now) with that nassssty virus which changed menstruating women into raving lunatics, you know, kinda like real life, only they turn blue and bite you a lot more.  And then there was THOSE OF MY BLOOD by Jacqueline Lichtenburg in which the vampire myth was founded by aliens.  Those blood-suckin' aliens!  I knew it!  I knew they were aliens.
Anyway, in PEEPS, its a reeeelly icky parasite.
I'd just started LEVIATHAN by Scott Westerfeld when I happened upon PEEPS and quickly dropped the New Release, which is awesome in its own right, because it's the closest published novel I've found to my own unpublished novel.  There's even a character with a fascination for action figures, Elvis Presley action figures, this PEEPS case.
Cal was a good ol' boy from Texas who got lucky right off the bus in New York City when he started college.  Unfortunately, the chick gave him a sexually transmitted disease.  Unfortunately, the disease wasn't as benign as, say, AIDS.  Well, okay, it's about the same.  With this disease, I mean, parasite, it takes a couple of centuries or so to die.
But, Cal got a little bit luckier because he didn't turn into a full-blown PEEP, a blood suckin' mostly dead guy.  He's just a carrier of the parasite.  It gives him super-human strength and senses, but he keeps his own brain and most of his sanity.
PEEP is short for 'parasite-positive' and the 'v' words is generally not used, but PEEPS are orginators of the vampire myth in this universe.
About six months after getting chomped, Cal learns all the girls he's kissed since have gone nuts.  He's recruited by the Night Watch to hunt down and capture full-blown PEEPS, starting with his ex-girlfriends.  The story opens with him capturing his first real girlfriend, Sarah, whom he's still a little in love with.  It's a great first chapter, because it offers a visual and emotional "Show, Don't Tell" of the beartrap Cal has gotten his hiney stuck in.  Metaphorically speaking, of course.
After that, he reports back to base because Sarah was the last of his ex-girlfriends he needed to capture.  Next, he's supposed to go after the chick who infected him in the first place.
The Night Watch is really cool with all sorts of gadgets and Dr. Rat who has a funny fascination for the rats which follow PEEPS around and the five hundred year old Shrink who tries to figure new recruits and such.
So, Cal goes searching for the chick who infected him and gets real close and meets Lace, a really pretty, really smart girl he really wants to mate with a lot.  Unfortunately, if he even just kisses her, she'll turn into a PEEP.  Okay, so he makes up his mind to stay away from her for her own protection.  Unfortunately, she's a journalism major and just can't keep her nose out of why there's remnants of blood on her apartment wall and a rat population explosion under her building.
Poor Cal.
Would tell you more, but my hands are killing me.
Pop over to the author's website to learn more-
If you like PEEPS, be sure to check out XOMBIES and THOSE OF MY BLOOD too.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Review: Around the World in 80 Dates by Christa Ann Banister

Around the World in 80 Dates
by Christa Ann Banister (website)
Christian Contemporary Fiction (Navpress, 2007)

Synopsis: Sydney Alexander is a travel writer. She's a very well-dressed travel writer--hasn't yet met a shoe or clearance sale she could pass up. She's funny. She's got a great relationship with her sis. She's got a hilarious best friend, Rain, who happens to be a hippie. And she's got a wonderful relationship with God. So what's missing? A decent date. A date where she doesn't have to pay because he's "between jobs." A date where she's not fabulously fashionably ready to go only to learn "the band just got a last-minute gig" and he has to cancel. A date she wants to kiss good night--not run screaming from. Bridget Jones may have had a few more public disasters (Sydney works in print, not on the telly) and considerably more cigarettes (Sydney doesn't smoke), but really, besides that, their lives aren't so different. She's just a girl looking for love, drowning in a sea of cute couples--and determined to keep swimming! (from the back of the book)

Heat Level:
On a scale of Vanilla to Dark Chocolate, this is vanilla. There are many relationships with romantic potential, but the attractions are not sexualized.

Eye-Roll Factor: 9/10
Those of you who know me know that I have eye-rolling issues. Christan books over-dramatize relationships and/or make the conversations with God unrealistic, and I just get bored. It's automatic. But this book had relatively no annoyance moments that I can remember. The heroine, especially, seems to have one of the most realistic "normal" relationships with God that I've ever seen in Christian writing. I felt like I could relate to her, which I liked. There were a couple of cliche moments with one of the minor characters, but overall, this book was one of the best God-integrations I've ever read in Christian fiction. Definitely worth a look.

The Cosmo Factor: 24/25
I heart this heroine. Seriously, I think if I ever met her, we would be fast friends. She's sassy, witty, fun, and outgoing, but also somewhat insecure and flawed (which makes her accessible). She is a cross between Bridget Jones and Carrie Bradshaw, with a little Jesus thrown in. Love it. Not only would I raise a Cosmo with her, I'd probably even spring for one. She has her moments, like all of us, when she's not as much fun to be around, but that's part of what makes her a well-rounded character. But she strikes me as the type who will settle down a little once she finds her true love. (Although, based on what I've read of the sequel, true love makes her go a little crazy...) :-)

The Dining Room to Bedroom Factor: 22/25
I don't want to ruin anything for you, because I sincerely hope you run out and buy, beg, or borrow this book for yourself. And part of the "80 Dates"-y-ness of this book is not knowing who she ends up with at the end. Let's just say, I won't kiss and tell, but she does find her true love. And he is quite a guy. The only unfortunate part about the book is that you don't quite get to know him the way you get to know her. But I suppose that's part of what's so great about chick lit. The heroine (and in some books, heroines) is (are) really the main focus of the narrative. That's definitely the case with 80 Dates. But all-told, she meets and dates some of the most interesting men. And the guy she ends up with, while he's somewhat mysterious gets lots of kudos for recognizing Sydney's worth, and for loving her as much as we do. So in the end, while I don't know the hero very well, I recognize his intelligence enough to think that I'd like him if I met him.

The Braveheart Factor: 10/10
Worldbuilding is just as important in contemporary novels as it is in historicals. I think a lot of readers don't realize how much research goes into writing something with a distinct culture, like freelance writing. Granted, it appears from the information on her website, that Banister does quite a bit of freelancing herself, but still. She's an insider. That's even better. The consistency of the world was great. And the fact that it took place in Minneapolis (largely... some in Nashville and LA) was a HUGE bonus for me. That's my favorite city in the US. I've been there more than you want to know. It was fantastic to get all the references to Caribou and the streets I've walked so many times on my own. If the writing mantra is "write what you know and know what you write", then Banister did herself a favor by doing just that, because the setting and the world she travels in is excellently consistent.

The Nostalgia Re-Read Factor: 9/10
This one is going on my shelf. I'm going to buy several copies of it... guess what all my friends are getting for Christmas next year? Eh? It is definitely a keeper. I probably won't re-read it again right away, because it's sort of light, and I prefer in general to be deep into a historical setting or a philosophical novel or a theology book or something like that. I like deep. But when I want light and fun, I know exactly what to pick up.

The Skim Factor: 9/10
Okay, so I admit to a little skimming in this book. Not a lot. Generally, it was very engaging. But I hit a section when I figured out that the guy she was currently with wasn't going to be The Guy, and I didn't like him very much, so I found myself skimming to get away from him. But in general, it moves so quickly and is so fun, there's not really a need to skim. This isn't one of those deep, historical settings with tons of descriptions and massive backstory. It's a quick-moving read. So it doesn't create as much need for skimming.

The Little People Factor: 8/10
Of course, the nature of the book (80 Dates sort of gives it away... although I don't think there were actually eighty dates) is that there isn't "one primary relationship" that sustains the whole book. And I do think that's more realistic to today's readers. But it did get a bit frustrating when I would get interested in one of the dates, and it turns out he's not The Guy. There were also *several* major-minor characters whose story is partially told in the book. Some of them were done really well (Sydney's sister, for instance, and the two boys in her life), but some of them were just too fleeting for me to really be engaged. Again, that's the nature of a book like this. Still, I would have preferred not to have so many storylines going on at once. Most of the time, I was thinking, get back to Sydney, please, which is both a good thing (connected to the main character) and a bad thing (not connected to some of the minors). But in general, they were pretty well-done.

Overall Evaluation: 92/100
Christa Ann Banister is the Christian version of Sophie Kinsella. She grabs me from the first page and I don't want to quit reading. For a flirty, fun generation of young Christian women, Christa Ann Banister could be the next big thing. I highly suggest you pick up this (her first book), and remember this date. It could be the first day you fall in love with a new author. I highly recommend this book to fans of Sophie Kinsella and Lauren Weisberger who have been looking for a solid Christian chick lit novelist to read for so many years, as I have. I think we've found our girl. Can't wait to finish the sequel, "Blessed are the Meddlers", and see if Sydney's younger sister's story is as good as the original.