April 30, 2013

Book Review - The Heiress of Winterwood

Author: Sarah Ladd
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: Whispers on the Moors
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Pages: 310

I have to admit, I was a little surprised by how much I actually enjoyed this book. I was expecting just another run-of-the-mill historical fiction read, (i.e. lots of mush) but this was a great story!
Amelia, the main character and heiress of a vast estate, promised her dying best friend that she would always look after her friend's then-newborn daughter. Nearly a year later, Amelia is engaged to marry Edward, a man who doesn't want the baby to stay with them after they're married. And the baby's sea captain father is coming home for his first leave since the birth of his daughter and the death of his wife. Desperate not to lose the baby, who has become like her own daughter, and increasingly suspicious that Edward might just be after her money, Amelia concocts an outrageous plan: propose a marriage of convenience to the baby's father.
What follows is a very exciting and intriguing adventure that I really enjoyed reading. The characters and their relationships to each other were very well done, I thought. While some of the dialogue felt a little bit awkward (not consistently, just in a few places), the interactions resulting from differing personalities, histories, and personal struggles were very deep and believable. And while a love story does develop over the course of the book, it was a far cry from the typical sappiness fest that books like this all too often turn into. The love story was very low-key, and felt very natural, while the action of the story was kept at the forefront.
And the plot itself was quite unique from anything I have read before. Uniqueness and originality always get bonus points from me!
There were a few editing issues scattered throughout the book... enough to irritate me. For instance, a dress worn by one of the characters was described as two different colors in the same scene, there were a few typos, and a few word choices that are inaccurate to the time period.
I certainly would have enjoyed the book more had those issues not been present, but it was still a good read.

I received this book free of charge in exchange for my honest review.

April 22, 2013

Book Review - Stress Test

Author: Richard L. Mabry, M.D.
Genre: Action/Mystery/Medical
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Pages: 302

I'd never read anything of this genre before, but I'd heard good things about Richard L. Mabry as a writer, so I thought I'd give it a try. I wasn't disappointed. I loved this book!

Excerpt from the back cover:
Dr. Matt Newman thought he was leaving his life as a surgeon in private practice for a better one in academic medicine. But the kidnappers who attacked him as he left the hospital at 2 a.m. have no such plans--they just want him dead. Bound and in the trunk of his car, Matt's only thought is fleeing with his life. He does escape, but at a price: a head injury that lands him in the ICU... where he awakens to discover he's being charged with murder.

While full of surprises and twists, this story showed a very refreshing lack of the exhausting convolution so prevalent in a lot of fiction I've read. It had a good, exciting adventure and mystery to it... honestly, it was a lot of fun.
There was some cheesiness to parts of the story - sadistic but none-too-bright evil henchmen Lou and Edgar, and Virgil Grimes the bad-tempered homicide detective, for example. They gave a rather Walker: Texas Ranger-esque feel to the book (which is even set in Texas). But it wasn't a bad kind of cheesiness at all--I know that sounds nonsensical, but it's true. And honestly, having grown up watching Walker, it didn't bother me that Stress Test had the same kind of feel to it. I actually found it quite delightful.
The characters were nicely developed. From time to time I came across bits of dialogue that felt stiff, but aside from that the character interaction was very natural, I thought. The characters spent very little time sitting around analyzing their own feelings, which I also found quite refreshing.
It's not often that the main character is my favorite one in the story, but this was one of those rare times. Matt Newman is a truly likeable character, and I love the way he develops over the course of the story. It felt extremely natural - no unexplained explosion of heroism, no fireworks, no melodrama.
The medical aspects of the story were, in my opinion, brilliantly done. The emergency room or other hospital scenes were paced and placed just perfectly so that the story didn't get bogged down with them, and they were very well written. Of course, in some instances that wasn't all that pleasant - sitting on the sofa reading about emergency room cases, and thinking I feel warm... I wonder if I have a fever. Is that an earache coming on? I think I'm having chest pain! - but I took it nevertheless as a sign of good writing. Though I'm still trying to recover from the scare I got while reading a scene about an aortic aneurism that was about to rupture, when the speaker on the family computer made a popping sound for no apparent reason. I thought I was going to bleed out for sure.
As I said earlier, I'd never read anything of this genre before, but I very much enjoyed my first sampling of it, and it has definitely made me interested in reading more of Dr. Mabry's work.

I received this book free of charge in exchange for my honest review.

April 19, 2013

Characters in Costume Challenge - April Antagonists!

Time for the April edition of the Characters in Costume Challenge, started by Gillian Adams. This month's theme: April Antagonists!
I'll be honest - while I have been known to open my closet and ask things like "How can I go for a WWII-French-Resistance look today?" or "What outfit could I build around my Swedish motorcycle goggles?" or "Would it look too weird to put a bell-sleeved blouse with a leather trench coat?", it's not every day that I stare at my wardrobe and wonder "How can I look like an evil villain today?"
So this months' challenge was particularly fun and... well, challenging. I actually went for a villainess look, as you're about to see. ; )

This is Meliqa Vaesh, (pronounced MEL-ih-kuh vay-ESH), the villainess of books 2 and 3 of the Adelfian Prophecies Series (the sequels to Son of the Shield).

Despite her young age (19), Meliqa is the most powerful sorceress the country of Moritar has seen in almost two centuries - since before the Adelfian purge that nearly wiped out the entire order of sorcerers. She is now considered the last and greatest hope of the Moritarc people and nation, to regain their independence and reassert themselves as a force to be reckoned with.

Being as volatile as she is powerful makes her dangerous enough. But her abilities to lure, charm, deceive, and manipulate make her even more deadly.
Her powers of sorcery leave her with little use for physical weapons in most cases. (Why bother with carrying a sword when you can kill someone just by holding out your hand?) When she comes up against the Adelfian believers, though, who are protected from sorcery by the power of the Shield who indwells them, she resorts to a pair of butterfly swords. Unfortunately, I don't have a pair I could use for pictures.

Whatever you do, don't let her lure you in.
Do. Not. Believe. Her.

April 15, 2013

Book Review - When Jesus Wept

Author(s): Bodie and Brock Thoene
Genre: Biblical/Historical Fiction
Series: Jerusalem Chronicles
Publisher: Zondervan
Pages: 321

I've somehow managed to get on some kind of Biblical fiction kick lately - every book that comes across my path seems to be in the genre. Obviously, this one was no exception.
When Jesus Wept is a story covering much of the ministry of Jesus through the eyes of Lazarus - the man Jesus raised from the dead. Miracles, parables, and the tension of Roman-held Israel are all brought to life in a first-hand perspective that I've learned to appreciate for the way it helps me think through minor details that are easy to overlook in the Bible.
As I've said in previous reviews and posts, fiction set in a biblical setting, especially starring biblical characters, makes me nervous. I'm a perfectionist, and the thought that someone from the Bible - Jesus most of all - might not be portrayed completely accurately is a lot for me to get past.
Personal hangups aside, though, I had mixed feelings about this book. Like I said earlier, I've learned to really appreciate 'seeing' events of the Bible from deep within the perspective of a story character. It challenges me to really focus on details provided in the Bible and ponder things like how I would have felt, what I might have thought, had I been placed in the same situation. And I think there's a good deal of value in that.
When Jesus Wept does a beautiful job of that, or reminding readers that Bible characters weren't some kind of super-humans who didn't experience the same emotions and fears and struggles we humans of today do. That's definitely something I enjoyed.
What I wasn't so wild about was the way events from Jesus' ministry seemed to be... well, for lack of a better term, "mashed together". It sort of had an E.D.E.N. Southworth feel to it in places - everybody related or otherwise closely connected to everybody else. The main character Lazarus was present or involved in several events and situations in which the Bible makes mo mention at all of his presence. Things like that happened in many places throughout the book. I understand the necessity, since the book was limited to the viewpoint of a single character, but it still gets under my skin. This isn't fan fiction, in which the exact details of events in Middle Earth or Narnia can be fudged on. This is the Bible, and 'tweaks' to the details just set me on edge.
And there was one particular scene that really made me nervous - the scene in which Lazarus was in Heaven, before Jesus raised him. We have so little biblical information on that subject that I really don't see how a scene with as much descriptive detail as that one had can be justified. Not to mention Lazarus kissing his deceased wife when she welcomes him, which seems to me a direct contradiction of what Jesus said about marriage in Heaven.
So on the whole, not a book I regret reading, but definitely not one I'll feel inclined to read again.

I received a copy of this book free of charge in exchange for my honest review.

April 8, 2013

A Very... VERY... Exciting Announcement

I'm tempted to go into a long, drawn-out and dramatic introduction to delay delivering the punchline for as long as possible... but, I'm too excited so I'm just going to say it:

Son of the Shield, my first novel, the one you've all been hearing since I first started this blog, has been accepted for publication by Splashdown Books!

You can visit their website by clicking Here. Last October I had the privilege of meeting Grace Bridges, the head of Splashdown Books. Most of you probably remember seeing my pictures and reading my post about that - if not, you can do so Here. Well, the heap-big secret I didn't mention at the time was that by then, Grace already had a copy of Son of the Shield, which I had finished up in July, and I was waiting for her answer. *sneaky laugh* Believe me, it was extremely hard not to say anything!
A week or so ago I spoke with Grace, and she told me I could expect an answer, one way or the other, after the weekend. This morning I woke up to find an invitation to join the Splashdown team waiting for me in my inbox. What a way to start off my day and my week! Oh - and in case you're wondering, I said yes!  ; )

There is still some work to be done before SotS is completely ready to publish, but we're already getting started on that. I'll be sure to keep y'all updated on the progress as we get closer to actual publication. Oddly enough, instead of dreading another round of editing, I'm actually excited about it. I didn't realize until now how much I've missed working on Son of the Shield. I guess after all this time (SotS turned six in February) it's just become a part of me.
So all of you, eat some ice cream or drink some ginger ale for me in celebration. This is probably the coolest day of my entire life so far, so I hope you all have a great day too!


April 2, 2013

Book Review: So Shines the Night - Plus an Interview with the Author!

Last fall I had the privilege of becoming part of author T.L. Higley's publicity team, The Caravan. (You can even see my name in the back of So Shines the Night, in the list of Tracy's Caravan members!) Tracy is an amazing author and I have been enjoying her work for years. I think what I love most about her novels is the way they make you feel like you've actually stepped back through time to whatever exotic location she has chosen - be it Egypt, Babylon, or in this case, Ephesus. When you finish reading one of her books, you feel like you've actually been there, breathed the dust of the streets, felt the sun on your face, and taken part in the story.
What reader doesn't want an experience like that? What writer doesn't want their work to have exactly the same effect on their readers?
So, in addition to today's book review, there's an extra special treat: an interview with Tracy herself! Hope you enjoy!

Author: Tracy L. Higley
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: The Seven Wonders
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Pages: 395

Shortly after losing her job as a private tutor for a nobleman's daughter, the multilingual Daria finds work at a school in Rhodes. The arrangement doesn't last long, however. When Daria stumbles into the rites of a group of sorcerers, she's forced to flee for her life. A spur-of-the-moment offer from businessman Lucas Christopoulos to come with him to Ephesus seems the only escape.
Once in Ephesus, though, Daria realizes that maybe this wasn't a good idea... at all. The sorcery that drove her from Rhodes is even more rampant in Ephesus. The city is riddled with tension between the sects of Artemis-worshipers and a new, trouble-making religious sect known as Christians. Lucas is haunted by demons and darkness of his own. For Daria, who balances her instinctive desire to help with the rationale of looking out for her own security, the chance to keep her distance from evil and danger might be lost.

Though I will admit it was not as spectacular as Shadow of Colossus/Isle of Shadows or Guardian of the Flame (in all fairness, those are both extremely tough acts to follow), So Shines the Night was an awesome read. The story and characters had so many layers, all of which contributed to the realness of the book.
I've read about the Ephesian sorcerers and their conflicts with the early Christians plenty of times, but reading this book helped bring that to life in ways I hadn't thought about before - the anger of those who profit from the sale of spells and charms, the defensiveness of those whose dark powers give them political sway. This book really pulled me into that conflict and helped me think about it in real-life ways, ways I hadn't looked at it before. How would I feel, were I there in the midst of it? How would I feel if someone I loved was on the opposite side of the conflict from me? What would it have been like, how hard must it have been, to see a man like Paul, with the power to cast out demons, compared to the powers of the sorcerers? Had I been an Ephesian in those days, which side might I have chosen? How would I decide which power to believe in?
You've just gotta love a book that provokes that kind of thought, those kinds of questions.
Real biblical characters featured prominently in fictional stories tend to make me nervous - mostly because I'm a perfectionist and the thought that they might not be represented accurately is just about more than I can handle - so the biblical characters in So Shines the Night, Paul and Timothy especially, put me a little bit on edge. But, that's just a personal issue that most other people probably don't struggle with as much as I do.
And the plot twist at the end... oh my. Never saw it coming. Almost didn't recover.
There was a scene or two in the book that almost ventured within the borders of sappy-ness (and if you've been following this blog for any length of time, you'll know how I feel about that), but it wasn't bad. And Tracy also stated in the Author's Note that for a change of pace she had woven some elements of old Gothic-era romance literature into the story, so it was at least somewhat deliberate. And on the whole, the effect that those elements created in within the dark setting of sorcery-ridden Ephesus was very tantalizing. As a writer, I absolutely love that kind of creative ingenuity and experimentation, so I guess I can swallow a semi-sappy scene or two... if I have to. ; )
Seriously, if you're looking for a unique and exciting read, pick up So Shines the Night.

And now, that extra-special treat I promised! As part of promoting the launch of So Shines the Night, Tracy gave members of her Caravan the opportunity to ask a few interview questions to share with our blog readers. So here they are!

Mary: What can you tell us about the challenges of interweaving actual historical events with fictional ones?


It’s actually quite fun!  The historical events give me sort of “anchor points” for the story and help me structure the plot. Then I fill in around them with all the fun fictional stuff. I really enjoy it when the place and time give me lots of history to work with.

 Mary: As a fellow writer I know that every story seems to have one character who just captures your heart. Was there a character like that in So Shines the Night, and if so, who was it?


I think I might have had a little crush on Timothy, if you must know.  And Lucas, well, sigh.  I just had to rescue him.

Mary: What advice would you give other writers who want to bring their story settings to life and leave their readers feeling like they've been there?


Research is key, of course. Don’t skimp. You will end up with more than you can use, but you never know when a particular detail you’ve found will breathe life into a scene, or inspire a major plot point. Second, take time for the sensory. When you think about and make sure the page shows all the colors and sounds, tastes and smells, textures and feeling of a place, it will start to come alive.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions, Tracy! And of course, thanks for writing yet another wonderful story for all of us!

April 1, 2013

The Moment You've Been Waiting for...

... is here!

Burns the Fire, the sequel to the groundbreaking Christian steampunk novel Falls the Shadow, is here.
No more waiting. The day has dawned. Click Here to read the just-released prologue (if it were in print the ink would still be wet, that's how new it is) and return to the shattered world of Shandor Rei, the White Tiger, and the battle to restore and secure the freedom of mankind's mind.
Rejoin Libby, Skylar, Maricossa, and the rest of the cast, as old struggles continue and new adventures begin. Meet brand new characters as the story expands in new directions. Explore and experience the post-Bug War world as never before... and be sure to pay attention, because it's about to change. Forever.

Welcome to the new war.