Monday, October 30, 2006
The Begotten: A Novel of the Gifted
By Lisa Tawn Bergren
Publisher: Berkley Hardcover
I don’t know about you, but I’ve really had enough of Templar knights, Papal conspiracies, and secret documents that threaten the foundations of the church. So although I’ve been a fan of Lisa Tawn Bergren’s work in the past, when I first read a summary of The Begotten, I wasn’t the least bit interested in reading any further.
Then I received a sample chapter of the book through the Chapter-A-Week Yahoo group. And I was shocked. Captivated. Rendered speechless by the power of Bergren’s prose.
I went out and got the book immediately. Not because the plot interested me even then, but because the writing in that sample chapter was so breathtaking I couldn’t resist. I read the entire story cover to cover in one night—staying up until 5:30 in the morning to do so—because the tale would not let me rest.
This is a story of valiant people, with abilities they don’t ask for or know how to manage, trying to be faithful to their beliefs and make a difference, during a perilous time in a dangerous world.
If you think that sounds a lot like you and me, you’re right. And this is one key to this book’s appeal. Another is its honest examination of God and His will. Healing, miracles, Divine interventions, are they real? Why do they occur for some and not for others? Bergren offers no platitudes or canned answers to these questions, but her exploration of them is fantastic.
In addition, and I cannot say this enough, Begren’s skill as a writer has skyrocketed since she took a break from writing in 2002. Her past books were interesting and flowed well, but this? This borders on brilliant.
In movie form, The Begotten is a cross between The DaVinci Code, Luther, The Fantastic Four, and Lord of the Rings. In book form, it combines the historical detail and noble characters of a Linda Chaikin novel, the darkness and suspense of Comes a Horseman by Robert Liparulo, the spiritual warfare of Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness, and the miracles of the book of Acts.
I should clarify that The Begotten is not a Dan Brown re-play, a knock-off version of The Last Templar, or a mimic of anything else you’ve ever read, including the books I just listed. This is a novel that defies all classification and genre boundaries, and does so with such flair I can only hope Bergren will repeat the process in her upcoming sequel.
Well done, Ms. Bergren, and welcome back.
Reviewed by Kelli Standish
Thursday, October 26, 2006
By Nancy Moser
Published by Bethany House
Young Nannerl Mozart's life seems to be the stuff of fairy tales--traveling far and wide, performing with little brother Wolfgang before kings and queens. But behind the glamour lurk hardships, illness, and constant financial worries. Their father, Leopold, is driven to bring his son's genius to the attention of the world. But what of Nannerl's talent and aspirations? And what of the man she loves? Readers will be captivated by the sometimes heartrending--and ultimately inspiring--story of a woman who struggles with her dreams and her faith in a world where a woman's place was at home.
The opening scene pulled me into the story, whetting my appetite for more. I thought the author's use of different words from music composition to describe each stage of Nannerl's life incredibly genius.
The author's attention to culture and detail created a fascination in me for that era. I was there. I also found the Mozart family's eccentricities interesting. As the story continued I found myself empathizing with Nannerl.
A few times I wish she'd made better choices for herself, but since this was based on her actual life, the author didn't have much liberty there. I thoroughly enjoyed being drawn into that portion of European history with all of its sad realities. More people died than lived, especially children and infants. And the horrid practices of medical science at the time made me cringe as I read about them.
I appreciated the author's obvious research into the way things were for women in the late 18th century. My heart ached for Nannerl as she continued to be the obedient child despite the consequences. I loved her epiphany when she realized that Wolfie did what he wanted and still managed to do well with his life, and she denied herself her own desires and wishes only to be disappointed in the end. I ached for her loss of love, her desire to please her family at her own expense, yet I found it very realistic. The author made me care about this woman born so long ago.
At first I wasn't sure I'd like the ending because of circumstances I shall not mention or it would be a spoiler, but let me just say that I ended up feeling good about the way the author concluded the story of Nannerl Mozart's life. That made me feel much better when I closed the book. I could not have made some of the sacrifices Nannerl made and applaud the author for bringing insight into the times Nannerl was forced to live in. Wonderful story, heartwrenching on several occasions, but thoroughly enjoyable. I adored every page and am thoroughly impressed with the author's use of the first person point of view. I often failed to notice and felt as if I were the heroine in the story. For that I give the author a hearty, bravo!
Reviewed by Michelle Sutton (pen name)
"Writing truth into fiction"
Great Beginnings finalist 2005
Monday, October 23, 2006
A Carol for Christmas
By Robin Lee Hatcher
Published by Zondervan
Never underestimate the true spirit of Christmas …
Carol Burke was born to sing. It was their life she had always dreamed of. There was only one thing she loved more, one person for whom she would willingly sacrifice her dreams: Jonathan Burke. Married against their parents' wishes, both are determined to make a life together despite the hardships. Jonathan works hard at his father's department store, leaving Carol alone in their tiny apartment. But long hours turn into late nights, thanks to Jonathan's insatiable desire to prove himself to his father … even at the expense of the one he loves best.
Into the midst of an increasingly empty marriage comes an unexpected chance for Carol to sing again. Is this the opportunity of a lifetime, or a time for her to let go and trust her future to God? Carol knows one thing she longs for most of all to share her first Christmas with Jonathan, creating their own memories and traditions and breathing new life into their marriage.
Then a broken promise leaves her wondering. Can anything, anyone—even God—heal her crumbling hopes? The answer comes when Carol finds herself face-to-face with the true spirit of Christmas …
Trust Robin Lee Hatcher to bring us an early Christmas present! At first, I thought perhaps this was a retelling of the old story of the wife who cuts her hair off to make a watch fob for her husband's pocket watch, and the husband sells his watch to buy his wife combs for her hair. Wrong. This is a new story of sacrificed dreams, of love, and one of faith and restoration.
I'm in awe at how Hatcher can build such deep characterization into a short novella. In tune with Carol from the beginning, I hurt for her less-than-fulfilling marriage. Yet, who among us hasn't like Jonathan, desired the approval of their father? And when offered a chance to use the gift God bestowed upon her, shouldn't Carol leap at it? Methinks I would.
A perfect ending, albeit not what I expected, rounds off this memorable tale. Available now, run—don't walk—to your nearest bookstore to buy A Carol for Christmas. And don't forget to purchase a couple of extras. They’ll make wonderful Christmas gifts.
Reviewed by Ane Mulligan
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press
"After her father's death, jazz virtuoso Georgia Bishop throws away her marriage and a promising musical career for the bottle. Her cousin Fairly Godfrey, also grieving, fills the emptiness by living the high life in New York. Can a Congo refugee, soul food chef, and persistent husband bring the two women to the brink of healing?"
Reviewed by: Gina Holmes:
Since I've discovered Christian fiction, I've been hearing that I need to read Lisa Samson. That she's about the best CBA has to offer. So, when the opportunity came to review her latest release, I practically snatched it from Ane Mulligan's hand, spittle flying from my lips as I laughed greedily. Ane just wrinkled her nose in disgust and went to find a napkin.
What stood out at first was the beauty of Ms. Samson's prose. Absolutely amazing wordsmithing. Her metaphors are fresh and evocative. Once I got over the lovely writing, I began to appreciate the realness of the characters. Lisa didn't sugar-coat their failings and insecurities. These are people I can relate to. I think we all can.
I stayed up into the wee hours to finish this novel because I had to know what choices these folks would make. While I wondered about them, somehow Ms. Samson had me questioning what choices I would make in my own life and how the consequences would affect my future and those who love me. Straight Up has me clinging to grace in a way I've always longed to.
The cheapest therapy I've ever had.
Straight Up had me laughing and crying within the same paragraph. This is truly a work of art, both because of it's literary merit and because it does what a great novel should ... cause the reader self-examination.
Do I recommend this book? Straight up!
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
By Tamara Leigh
Published by Multnomah
Kate’s Creed: Thou shalt embrace singledom and be unbelievably, inconceivably happy.
Kate Meadows is a successful San Francisco artist looking for a nice, solid Christian man. So when not one, but two handsome bachelors enter her orbit in rapid succession, her head is spinning just a bit. Michael Palmier is a hunky and famous makeup artist who actually seems to be flirting with her—rather than her physically flawless housemate, Maia. Trouble is, he keeps handing her business cards from various beauty professionals and plastic surgeons. Is he trying to stamp out every last bit of self-esteem she has?
Then there’s Dr. Clive Alexander, good-looking enough to be mistaken for Brad Pitt, who sends Kate’s pulse skittering every time he comes near. Too bad he’s only interested in her work…and doesn’t think she’s much to look at. It’s enough to send a girl running for her paint-splattered, relaxed-fit jeans and swearing off men altogether! But after undergoing a makeover from Michael’s staff, Kate can’t be oblivious to the admiring glances men throw her way. Maybe she should try contacts…consider some fancy dental work…and you know, that mole really could stand to go. The question now is, what kind of work will Kate do on herself…and who exactly is she trying to please?
I easily slid into Kate's corner from the first sentence of the prologue. Her needy, yet quirky personality is fresh and delightful; she's a real diamond in a world of cubic zirconium. And just when I thought I had things figured out Leigh penned another twist in the plot, and I was back to guessing.
This is chick lit at its finest—a story for both young and old. On the back side of never-you-mind, I could still relate to Kate's struggles with self esteem, and I felt her pain over her physical afflictions. And while the novel deals with some deep issues, they're delivered with humor.
Devoid of predictable romantic plotting, I alternately cheered for Michael and Clive—although I did want to slap Michael a couple of times. And then there's Maia. She was enough to test anyone's Christianity.
Kate's faith journey parallels our own: two steps forward, one step back. Leigh presents an honest portrayal of a new Christian growing in her walk with the Lord. Kate fails daily, as do we all. Yet she perseveres, often leaving me smiling at her predicaments.
A thoroughly rewarding and marvelous read—the kind of book you sigh over when you turn the last page, Perfecting Kate receives this reviewer's high recommendation.
Reviewed by Ane Mulligan
Monday, October 16, 2006
The Brushstroke Legacy
By Lauraine Snelling
Published by Water Brook
Forbidden. Hidden. Denied.
Can art be powerful enough to endure?
Ragni Clauson's work, relationships, and body all seem to be falling apart. And she isn't convinced that spending her vacation fixing up her grandmother's cabin and supervising her rebellious teenage niece, Erika, will offer any much-needed rejuvenation,
As Ragni and Erika clean, they begin to uncover the secret paintings and lie of Nilda, Ragni's ancestor who lived in the cabin in the early 1900s. Ragni doesn't know how much she has in common with her great-grandmother, but it becomes clear that Nilda faced her own struggles. Taking care of home and menfolk, fighting off locusts, raising her daughter, and finding time to paint in the midst of it all were not easy tasks. Will Nilda's passion for enduring art re-ignite Ragni's artistic soul a century later?
Weaving together the stories of three generations of women, The Brushstroke Legacy stirs us to believe that no matter the circumstances, we are called to sue our gifts—never knowing when they might bring a stranger to a new place of hope.
Snelling presents an almost epic story of the women in one family and their relationships with one another. Ragni never knew her great-grandmother, Nilda, and yet the woman's spirit lives on in Ragni through her art. And art is the one thing that could possibly resurrect the close relationship Ragni once had with her niece, who has morphed into a Goth teen.
It was interesting to see Nilda in her world, and how her art helped her cope. I'd never thought about hard-working farm people as artists. I feel the only thing left unresolved was the farmer Mr. Peterson's strong aversion to Nilda's painting. I wanted to know why and kept looking for the answer. I never found it.
However, if you enjoy deep characterization and a great character arc, especially in Erika, I recommend The Brushstroke Legacy—a wonderful read, with characters that will live on in your imagination.
Reviewed by Ane Mulligan
Saturday, October 14, 2006
The Measure of a Lady
By DeeAnne Gist
Published by Bethany House
Rachel van Buren arrives in Gold Rush San Francisco with two wishes: to protect her younger siblings and to return east as soon as possible. Both goals prove more difficult than she could imagine as her brother and sister are lured by the city's dangerous freedom and a missionary-turned-gambler stakes a claim on her heart. Rachel won't give up without a fight though, and soon all will learn an eloquent but humorous lesson about what truly makes a lady.
Speak Politely. Even when you’re the only respectable woman around, protesting the decadence of a city lost to gold fever.
Dress Modestly. Wear your sunbonnet at all times. Ensure nobody sees your work boots muddied by the San Francisco streets.
Remain Devoted to Family. Protect your siblings from the lures of the city, even against their wishes.
Stand Above Reproach. Most difficult when a wonderful man turns out to be a saloon owner.
Rise Above Temptation. No, not even just a little kiss….
When these rules become increasingly difficult to uphold,can Rachel Van Buren remain a beacon of virtue in a city of vice?
Those who love A Bride Most Begrudging will be delighted to discover that Deeanne Gist has done it again with The Measure of a Lady. San Francisco in 1848 is no place for a decent woman. Even if one manages to contend with the ankle-deep mud, the daily ruckus of gunfights, and noisy saloons, there's no place to sleep unless you quarter with the men lured west by the stories of gold.
Should a lady find herself in this indecent shantytown, her best option for survival is to either marry one of the miners or become a woman of ill repute. Going home isn't an option. As soon as the ships pull into port, the sailors abandon their duty and join the city's riotous ways.
It is into just such a city that twenty-five-year-old Rachel Van Buren disembarks with her two younger siblings in tow. She has no intentions of remaining one second longer than necessary, but while they wait for a ship, she isn't going to allow her charges to become corrupted. Neither is she going to wed, and if she has any say about it, she single-handedly is going to oversee that all of San Francisco improves their morality.
But San Francisco isn't without its own allure. Her younger sister is tempted by the flirtations of the men, her brother is attracted making money, and the virtuous Rachel Van Buren is having a hard time remaining upright when around saloon owner Johnnie Parker—a man not about to let morality get in his way of becoming a millionaire and wooing the woman he loves. As Rachel clings to the high standards of a lady, everything spins out of control, forcing her to decide what is really of value and what isn't.
DeeAnne Gist's novels are the perfect medium for crossing over from the Christian market into the general market. Readers who appreciate romance will find themselves delighted with writing that is filled with delightful characters and vivid imagery. –Recommended.
Reviewed by Jessica Dotta
Friday, October 13, 2006
Grace in Thine Eyes
By Liz Curtis Higgs
Published by Waterbrook Press
Glen of Loch Trool. Spring 1808. Davina McKie is a bonny lass of seventeen, as clever as they come and a gifted musician. Unable to speak since childhood, she is doted on by her belligerent younger brothers, Will and Sandy, who vow to protect their silent sister.When the lads are forced to depart the glen, Jamie McKie intends to brighten his daughter’s summer by escorting Davina to the Isle of Arran. Her cousins make her welcome at the manse, and the parish delights in hearing their talented fiddler.But when she catches the eye of a handsome young Highlander on Midsummer Eve, sheltered Davina is unprepared for the shocking events that follow.A timeless story of passion and revenge, of lost innocence and shattered dreams, Grace in Thine Eyes explores the sorrow of unspeakable shame and the gift of immeasurable grace.
Liz Curtis Higgs stands out as one of the most gifted writers that I have had the pleasure of reading. The Scottish historical series that opened with her acclaimed novel Thorn in My Heart ends just as brilliantly with Grace in Thine Eyes.
Davina McKie is but a slip of a lass, whose childhood accident left her mute and her family divided by her father's resentment. When Davina is seventeen, her twin brothers are sent to Edinburgh to begin their schooling and she sets out to visit her cousins on the Island of Arran. There, the rumor of her uncanny talent on the fiddle spreads, and she invited to play before a Duke. Thrust unsuspecting into higher society, her innocence is quickly robbed but not her spirit. As she is forced to choose between resentment and forgiveness, her decisions propel an epic story of betrayal, love, and intrigue.
Liz Curtis Higgs explores one of the most puzzling passages of scripture, fictionalizing the biblical story, and providing a woman's perspective—so well that she brought tears to my eyes. Backdrops that with an amazing talent at holding readers captive, descriptions that are poetry, and it becomes a classic. I anxiously await her new Scottish historical releasing in 2008—Highly Recommended
Reviewed by: Jessica Dotta
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
By Gilbert Morris
Published by Zondervan
Lanie Freeman had to grow up fast. Her mother died when she was just fourteen and now her father is in prison. The oldest of five children, seventeen-year-old Lanie has transformed into a surrogate mother … and a beautiful young woman. Not only must she keep her family together, but lately she has drawn the attention of Roger Langley, son of the richest man in town.
Tensions run deep between the Freemans and the Langleys. And on top of it all, Louise Langley accuses Lanie of trying to snatch away her handsome fiancé, Dr. Owen Merrit. Dr. Merrit has long helped out the Freeman children, but Lanie isn't sure he even notices that she's no longer a child.
Then Fairhope is thrown into chaos when the new preacher arrives—wearing blue jeans and riding a motorcycle. In only a month, dashing Brother Colin Ryan shakes the entire town to the core of their beliefs.
With the town embattled over the preacher, her family struggling to survive, and her own heart in turmoil, Lanie seeks solace in her writing. She pours out her heart to God, trusting his promises. But when things fall apart at every turn, will Lanie continue to trust?
Morris is a gifted story-teller and offers up a memorable novel of the coming-of-age of Lanie Freeman. I enjoyed it thoroughly. With rich characterizations, the Freeman's come alive: the quirky Aunt Kezia, zealous Cody, strong-willed Maeva, dependable Davis, sweet Corliss and Lanie, whose attempts to mother them sometimes get rebuffed. It's more than the story of a family, it's the story of a town, of faith and of believing in one another. I recommend The Dream to anyone who loves good literary fiction.
Reviewed by Robin Grant
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Hardcover: 496 pages
"The list of 10,000 names was created for maximum devastation. Each person named will be part of the most frightening brand of warfare the world has ever known. The germ-an advanced form of the Ebola virus-has been genetically engineered to infect only those people whose DNA matches the codes embedded within it. Within days, their internal organs liquify. The release of the virus will usher in a new era of power where countries are left without defense. Where a single person or millions could be killed with perfect accuracy and zero collateral damage. Where our own DNA works against us.
The time isn't coming. It is now. "
Reviewed by Gina Holmes
Plenty of books are claimed to be "thrillers". Once you read Liparulo's work, the difference between a suspense and a true thriller becomes clear.
Germ starts at warp speed and doesn't slow down longer than it takes the reader to refuel for the next lap.
Robert's prose in the first chapters are what I love about his writing. He has a literary bent that few thriller writers do. After the first chapters, the action continues to pick up and his writing moves into less literary and more unobtrusive, which serves the story well.
This book had unique, believable characters who were layered and likeable. The writing was top notch and the action moved along so quickly I had to take breaks, just to catch my breath and process it all.
In short, this novel read like an action movie, which is apparently a good thing, since I believe it's being made into one. Though not as gruesome as Liparulo's first novel, Comes A Horseman, it does contain a good amount of violence in the form of shootouts and fist-fights.
Germ is a great choice for thriller lovers and most especially for men as it isn't weighed down with a lot of romance or mushy gushy feelings and deep self-exploration. This stays true to its genre.
If you're not afraid to be scared sick, pick up this Germ, er, gem.
Saturday, October 07, 2006
by Kristen Heitzmann
Published by Bethany House Publishers
A victim of amnesia--and maybe worse--"Jade" can't remember how she came to Kauai, Hawaii, or even what her real name is. She has only a vague sensation of danger. Enlisting the help of a cynical-but-talented investigator, Cameron Pierce, she seeks answers. But will recovered memories bring healing---or more trouble?
Wow! Freefall left me speechless by the time I finished the story. At first I thought, "I love Kristen Heitzmann. I've read all of her historicals and they were awesome. This'll probably be good, but not as good as her past novels." WRONG! The suspense was incredible. The plot intricate. The setting exotic (nothing like spending time on the beach and not getting a sunburn. I think I even learned how to surf without hitting a single wave.) The romance also sizzled.
Of course, those who know me know I love the edgier stuff (in other words, the passion and realism of romantic tension) and this baby is packed with it! The perpetrators and thugs were believable and unlikable--as they should be. I felt the heroine's fear, her confusion, her passion. Boy, that was a wild ride! I liked how the author occasionally inserted another person's POV to give you that person's perspective. Sweet.
In regards to the spiritual element, it was so smoothly done that for me, that was one of the best parts of the story. The faith piece fit so naturally into the characters' lives I almost forgot to mention it! Overall, I'd have to say that this is the best romantic suspense novel I've EVER read. I mean EVER!
Michelle Sutton (pen name)
"Writing truth into fiction"
Great Beginnings finalist 2005
Thursday, October 05, 2006
The Jade Bracelet
By Wilma Wall
Published by Kregel
A riveting story of three women who are bound by family ties yet torn apart by conflict. Elsa Meier and her mother, Rachel, are as different as east is from the west. Elsa—lively, willful, and resentful of her mother's domination—struggles for acceptance on her own terms. Born in China but not Chinese; American, yet foreign to America, she is torn between cultures.
Rachel, a reluctant missionary, is eager to return to America and the life she remembers. But the death of her beloved husband causes an even deeper rift between her and Elsa. After Elsa marries, against her mother's advice, Rachel turns to Elsa's daughter, Crystal, for solace.
Crystal, outwardly obedient, is trapped in a tug-of-war between her mother and grandmother. Will a return trip to China and a long-lost jade bracelet bring these three women to reconciliation?
Wall pens a gripping tale of competitive relationships between mothers and daughters. The child Elsa is culturally Chinese and at hem among the people. They are her people; her friends. When tragedy strikes the family and the Communists invade, they return to America. Elsa is burdened with guilt and at the same time resentful of her mother.
Unlike any book I've read, I found The Jade Bracelet to be as riveting as promised. Elsa wormed her way into my heart; I understood her mother's angst, and I cheered for Crystal. The culture of China in the 1930s came alive through Elsa's eyes, drawing the reader deeper into the story. The superstitious tales told by her Amah and frowned on by Rachel, deliciously entranced little Elsa and her younger brother, Jasper. I was fascinated by the custom called Kerchieh … one mustn't accept an invitation the first time or one would seem too eager. Wall credibly portrays the difficulty Elsa has in assimilating in to the American culture. When Elsa becomes a mother, she finds herself in competition with her mother for her daughter's affection—and her mother's approval.
Haunting and deeply moving novel, The Jade Bracelet is highly recommended.
Reviewed by Ane Mulligan
Monday, October 02, 2006
The Only Best Place
By Carolyne Aarsen
Published by Warner Faith
ISBN 10: 0-446-69681-1
Leslie VandeKeere had a good life: a happy family, a great career (even if it did pull her away from home), and all the energy of urban living. But she finds herself miles away from the city she knows and loves when her husband moves her and the kids back to his boyhood home in Montana to help his mother work the struggling family farm.
Being a farmer's wife was not in Leslie's plan, and now she finds herself dealing with dirty cows, long days filled with monotonous chores, and an extended family she doesn't quite fit into. When her husband hints that the move might be permanent, Leslie must decide how much she can handle.
She has never felt as alone as she does surrounded by so much family. And as she faces questions about her marriage, her future, and her faith in God, Leslie struggles to find the only best place for her heart.
Aarsen has delivered an engaging story of one woman's lonely struggle to discover who she is and where she belongs. A trained nurse, Leslie is competent in the emergency room, but her husband's family thinks she's greedy and a bad mother. I fell in love with this confused character from the first page. I chuckled at Leslie's loving-but-misguided sister, who through emails encourages Leslie to take control and not "give in to the cult."
A domineering mother-in-law and a plethora of VandeKeeres to keep straight don’t make Leslie feel welcome. Only her new job at the local hospital gives her a sense of self-worth and a dangerous alliance. How Leslie reconciles all this is a wonderful journey of discovery and faith.
Reviewed by Ane Mulligan