Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Karen Schwabach - The Storm Before Atlanta - Giveaway & Review

Why would a 10-year-old boy wish to die in battle? Could a life that has not yet truly begun be so easily forsaken? Jeremy DeGroot's circumstances are not ideal. His father is in jail. He is an indentured servant on the run. He is trying to support himself by selling newspapers barefoot through the cold streets of Syracuse, New York. The Civil War headlines he delivers speak of the glory and honor of death on the battlefield. He wishes to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to join their ranks. By becoming a casualty of war, he believes he will finally obtain the respect and dignity lacking in his life. Karen Schwabach demonstrates the persuasive power of propaganda on the youngest members of society in The Storm Before Atlanta.

Upon joining the Federalist forces as a drummer boy, Jeremy befriends Charlie, a young Secesh (Confederate) soldier and Dulcie, a
contraband (escaped) slave. The three resemble the dynamic of Mark Twain's memorable trio - Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and Jim. Schwabach divides the book's focus in order to give the reader a taste of the time period from different viewpoints. Jeremy, an innocent, now has seen the elephant (witnessed the death of others during battle). Charlie, a poor Southerner, is questioning the basis of fighting so that rich plantation owners can retain their labor force. Dulcie, a newly-freed slave, is discovering the world of possibilities open to her as a paid medic for the Union forces. The shifting worldviews of such a pivotal time in American history are shown in the thoughts and actions of Federalist, Confederate and former slave. The educational value for young readers is immeasurable.

They are all heading toward the burning of Atlanta so memorably portrayed in Gone With the Wind. The South is falling, but not without a fight. As Jeremy sets the pace for the marching soldiers, the last remnants of a collapsing society are on display. The uniforms of the Confederacy are taken from the bodies of the Union's dead. Their hospital tents lack the crucial supplies of morphine and anesthesia. Their cooking fires are without the basics of coffee and hardtack. Charlie realizes the devastating odds stacked against his comrades. His decision to protect Jeremy and Dulcie from his fellow rebel soldiers shows just how much he doubts the rationalizations behind the South's cause.

Schwabach peppers the narrative with twists and turns. It is discovered that one of the soldiers in Jeremy's regiment is a woman. Another character admits that there is black blood running through his veins. A nod is even given to the historic election of Barack Obama when Jeremy's fellow soldiers ponder the possibility of there one day being an African American president. But above all, the true picture of war shatters "The Drummer Boy of Shiloh" image that lured Jeremy into the fight. Death is not the pretty picture immortalized in the song. It is full of blood and infection, agonized screams and sawed-off limbs. Muddy fields, torrential rain, scorching sun and worm-infested food make up the interim. Jeremy comes to this hard won understanding by the novel's end. The renown of his legacy will not be passed down through generations, and he doesn't mind. His only wish is to survive and experience a long life in a world that is changing before his very eyes.

Overall, this young Civil War soldier beats a different tune to "The Drummer Boy of Shiloh."

The Storm Before Atlanta by Karen Schwabach is available for $16.99 at
Amazon.com and at RandomHouse.com.

eview copy was provided by
New York Journal of Books.

Congratulations to our winner: Lauri Meinhardt!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Karina Fabian - Neeta Lyffe: Zombie Exterminator - PDF Giveaway & Review

Not since the glory days of Buffy the Vampire Slayer has a female killer of the undead burst onto the scene. Karina Fabian's Neeta Lyffe: Zombie Exterminator is a chainsaw-wielding heroine who's not afraid to kick some major paranormal ass. Whether she is dousing putrefied reanimated corpses with industrial-strength cleaning supplies or lighting them on fire, she's not one to run the other way when confronted with the walking dead. Instead much like her day job of eliminating rats and fleas, she exterminates zombies who threaten to spread their disease by sinking their teeth into living human flesh. The only way to stop them is by severing the spinal cord, namely decapitation.

This gruesome work is so in demand by the year 2040 that Neeta is the star of her own reality show.
Her mission is to train seven recruits through the staged trials of exterminator certification. Right out of the gate, the book opens with the death of one of her plebes, surfer-dude Bergie. This life-imitating-art form of entertainment is so full of sensationalism that his death is seen in living rooms across the country. Neeta knows she has made a deal with the devil - namely the show's producer, Gary - in attaching herself to such a project. However, faced with a lawsuit for burning down a property in order to save a group of people from a zombie attack, her monetary needs outweigh her moral objections.

Fabian shines in her ability to create believable supporting characters. Each participant on the show has a distinctive personality full of their own idiosyncrasies and quirks. It is a difficult enough for an author to mold a strong, multi-faceted protagonist, but Fabian succeeds in bringing an extensive cast to life as authentic individuals, not cliched stereotypes. Fashioning scenes of dialogue with eight people requires a skilled writer, and Fabian delivers with clear, precise conversations. The reasons behind the recruits' personal motivations are given just enough background information to make their actions understandable for the reader. Standouts include shy - to the point of stammering - Spud and attention-seeking, publicity hound Roscoe.

With zombie fever raging across America with the phenomenon of AMC's Walking Dead, lovers of the genre will certainly enjoy Fabian's spin on things. While staying true to the story's horror/sci-fi theme, she also introduces a great deal of humor into the narrative. For example, the zombism outbreak originated with the unpredictable nature of the 2009 swine flu vaccine. Since then bodies have been digging themselves out of the grave traumatizing the living, mostly by barging into their homes and monopolizing their TV sets. Fabian also introduces a love triangle for Neeta involving Ted, the cameraman and Brian, the big name Hollywood radio personality. Its resolution definitely leaves the door open to the possibility of a sequel.

Overall, Neeta is to zombies what Buffy is to vampires.

Neeta Lyffe: Zombie Exterminator by Karina Fabian is available for $19.00 at
Amazon.com and at ZombieDeathExtreme.com.

eview PDF eBook was provided by

Complete blog tour schedule at: FabianSpace.

Also by Karina Fabian: Infinite Space, Infinite God II.

Karina Fabian
is the co-author of the Tribute Books release, Why God Matters: How to Recognize Him in Daily Life.

Congratulations to our winner: Aleetha!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Kathi Macias - Red Ink - Giveaway & Review

One of the great mysteries of faith is how God does not play favorites with his love. It is not parceled out based on the severity of one's personal struggles. Instead, it flows throughout the world touching everyone equally. This phenomenon is explored in Kathi Macias' Red Ink. From a nursing home to a drug house to a Chinese prison, God is there for all wherever they may be.

Another fascinating aspect of the book is its depiction of the power of prayer. It crosses all boundaries and conquers all obstacles. It does not require a person's name for an intention to be granted. It does not need a defined reason for its influence to be felt. It does not demand reciprocation in order to be acknowledged. All that is necessary is raising one's heart and mind to God. He takes care of the rest.

Zhen-Li is one of Red Ink's triumvirate of main characters.
She is imprisoned for actively proselytizing her Christian faith against the restrictions set in place by the People's Republic of China. She is forced to leave behind her husband and young son in order to be "re-educated." Tai Tong, one of the guards, makes it his personal mission to break her. He will either get her to sign a legal document denying her God or he will force her to become his personal sex slave for the remainder of her 10-year sentence.

Maggie is a disaffected American teenager. Bored with her life and dismissive of her parents, she falls for the false charm and insincere attention of a drug-dealing Lothario. He lowers her inhibitions with his chemical substances and shakes off her hesitation with his physical intimacy. It's not long before he has complete control over her mind, heart and body. She is so head-over-heels in love with him that she is unaware how she is playing right into his carefully laid trap.

Julia is a resident of a nursing home. In her younger days with her husband, she served as a Christian missionary to China. She has carried her faith with her into the twilight of her days. Through divine premonition, she feels compelled to pray for an unknown Chinese woman who she believes is in some kind of trouble. She also prays for Maggie, the wild child granddaughter of one of the residents, who Julia also believes is in terrible danger. It is through the power of Julia's devotion that the fates of Zhen-Li and Maggie are decided.

Red Ink is an impressive narrative construction. Macias masterfully weaves the three stories throughout the entire book. She never falters with pacing, point-of-view or plot. The details are expertly drawn together for a satisfying conclusion. At times, the dialogue gets a bit didactic in tone and slightly repetitive in nature. The characters' words are more palatable when they do not strain to carry the storyline, but instead come from the heart. A portion of the ending also shifts in style to the melodramatic and the unbelievable. Yet Macias, without a doubt, successfully illustrates her main themes - of the equality of God's love and the power of prayer - to her target Christian audience.

Overall, Macias employs a masterful writing style delivering a powerful Christian message.

Red Ink by Kathi Macias is available for $14.99 at
Amazon.com and at KathiMacias.com.

eview copy was provided by Pump Up Your Book.

Also by Kathi Macias: No Greater Love & More Than Conquerors

Congratulations to our winner: Jen!

Monday, December 13, 2010

CHRISTMAS BOOKS GIVEAWAY - "Little Shepherd" by Cheryl Malandrinos & "Promise Me" by Richard Paul Evans

How would a 5-year-old boy experience the birth of Jesus? Debut children's author Cheryl Malandrinos ponders the scenario in Little Shepherd. She allows her readers to witness firsthand the coming of the Messiah. She transports them to the stable in Bethlehem placing her readers in the very presence of the Holy Family on that silent night over 2,000 years ago. Such a story is sure to make an impact on the mind of a young reader in a way that few books can. The shepherds found under a child's Christmas tree are brought to life. Their story and symbolism become significant and not an afterthought. They are not merely figurines representing some ancient tale, but flesh and blood individuals who were alive to experience a truly miraculous event.

Malandrinos' touch is similar to the style of the classic Rankin/Bass animated TV specials from the 1960s and 1970s such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Little Drummer Boy and The Year Without a Santa Claus. It is in league with the timeless, quality children's entertainment that endures through generations. It is one of those books that has the ability to become deeply ingrained in a child's memory as one of the traditions that they associate with the holiday itself. What is admirable about Malandrinos' approach is that she doesn't shy away from the holiday's true religious foundation in order to appeal to children through talking snowmen and fun-loving elves. Instead, she brings the heart of the Nativity front and center capturing children's attention by telling the story from the point-of-view of someone their age.

While the title character may have more responsibilities than a child of today, tending to an entire flock of sheep, Malandrinos balances the difference in time period by showing the child-like joy experienced by the adult shepherds at seeing the Messiah.
They willingly leave their sheep - even with wolves nearby - in order to heed the angelic announcement of Jesus' birth. He wonders what could be so important that they would do such a thing. Their reaction to the newborn intrigues him, and he yearns to discover what it all means. It is a beautiful lesson for young readers to experience. The most important thing in life is not one's job, status or material wealth. It is God.

Overall, the Little Shepherd will guide his flock of young readers to the true meaning of Christmas.

Little Shepherd by Cheryl Malandrinos is available for $9.95 at
Amazon.com and at the Little Shepherd web site.

eview copy was provided by Cheryl Malandrinos.


Promise Me by Christmas mega-author, Richard Paul Evans (The Chirstmas Box, The Christmas List) is one of those sentimental stories that
a reader either devours or detests. It is touching, yet schmaltzy; miraculous, yet impossible; feel-good, yet cliche-ridden. The plot revolves around Beth Cardall, who is faced with an array of truly overwhelming problems. Infidelity. Unemployment. Foreclosure. Cancer. Who comes to save the day? A mysterious man, of course. For believers of love having the power to solve all of life's difficulties, this book is a validation. For skeptics who would roll their eyes at such a premise, this is not a work to venture into. Promise Me does not apologize for being a complete escape from reality because that's what it's meant to accomplish.

For those who love to curl up on a snow-filled Saturday and get lost in a Lifetime television movie, this is the book for you. It is melodramatic, full of impossible twists and turns that culminate in a saccharine-sweet, happy ending. A jaw-droppingly handsome man saves a helpless woman from all of her problems - financial, medical, etc. He saves the day leaving her breathless with gratitude and contentment. Without his aid, she would have succumbed to disastrous, life-altering consequences. But he is the one to take charge of the situation leaving her completely and irrevocably in love with him.

The true gem of the book is the unsung support team of Beth's female friends. They are constantly babysitting her daughter, covering her shifts at work or bringing over homemade casseroles for her oven. They are the ones in the trenches with her helping her battle through the problems that life keeps throwing at her door. While not as glamorous or romantic as being championed by a beyond-perfect suitor - the power of women helping women is undoubtedly the true source of strength for many who find themselves in tough situations without a man by their side.

Overall, indulge if you crave holiday fluff.

Promise Me by Richard Paul Evans is available for $19.99 at
Amazon.com and at RichardPaulEvans.com.

eview copy was provided by Simon and Schuster.

Congratulations to our winner: Donna Worthington!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Susan Fraser King - Queen Hereafter - Giveaway & Review

Royalty is common fare for historical fiction, but the lives of the saints are usually not. In Susan Fraser King's Queen Hereafter, the two themes are melded in the personage of Queen Margaret of Scotland. The novel has a twist of the familiar by incorporating many of the characters from Shakespeare's Macbeth. The religion and politics of medieval 11th century Scotland are shown through a woman's point of view—either that of Margaret, herself, or the fictional bard/harpist, Eva, who Fraser King assigns the role of Lady Macbeth's granddaughter. The pair represents the conflicting roles of Scotland - the arrival of a polished, sophisticated court versus the tradition of the warrior kings of old. Their relationship is rooted in opposition, yet forged in mutual respect.

Margaret is the beautiful blond in exile; a Saxon married to a Scottish king. She is disposed English royalty thanks to the Norman invasion of William the Conqueror. Her aim is to replace Scotland's Celtic church with that of the official Roman rite. She seeks to bring luxury, education and esteem to a court often looked down upon by the rest of Europe. Having always desired to be a nun, she instead puts her all into making her husband, Malcolm Canmore, a literate, sophisticated monarch instead of being best known as the killer of Macbeth.

Yet Margaret's religiosity borders on the extreme. While pregnant, she continues to observe a schedule of strict fasting and prayer. Fraser King likens her avoidance of food to anorexia. She depicts Margaret as feeling it holy to deny the babe in her womb the nourishment it needs to enter the world.
Yet the queen opens the castle gates to all children needing a decent meal, while refusing to partake herself. Her fanatical addiction to observe the hours of devotion leaves her tired and worn down. She frequents the chapel at all hours of the night and is found on her knees before the altar at dawn. She even frees prisoners from her husband's dungeon and attempts to take gold from the royal treasury in order to feed and clothe the poor. This leads Malcolm to call her, "his little thief."

While Margaret is devoted solely to the Lord, it is Eva who is caught between two masters. As a hostage, she is taken from her home in the northern district of Moray to Malcolm's court. While there, her grandmother induces her to spy on a book that Malcolm is having commissioned that seeks to paint Macbeth in an unflattering light. However despite her clandestine mission, Eva quickly comes to admire Margaret filling the role of the queen's most trusted and beloved confidant. Throughout the novel, Eva struggles with protecting the reputation of her blood kin while battling her deepening affection for the Saxon queen. Yet Eva's actions are not determined by the queen's behavior of the queen. It is Malcolm's treatment of her that influences her judgment. His arrogance regarding the demise of her relatives and the condescension he bestows on her as a female bard become primary factors in her decision making.

Fraser King takes Queen Margaret's story as far the birth of her third child. Famous events are recounted such as the miracle of the queen's Bible remaining completely intact after falling into a river. Another inclusion is the historical watermark at Abernathy where Malcolm kneels before William the Conqueror in order to stop a Norman invasion.

Fraser King does a great job in bringing the landscape of Scotland to life. From roaring woodland waterfalls to the churning of the North Sea, the rugged, harsh environment surrounding the palaces of Dunfermline and Dun Edin is vividly expressed. She also gives a nod to the Scottish people from the pilgrims Queen Margaret encounters on the road to St. Andrews or the mob of frightened Saxon slaves at the gates of her castle. The reader feels the pride the people have for their homeland.

The one drawback is the repetition of detail. Fraser King fleshes out Margaret's character, having her enjoy romantic interludes with her husband and feeling an innate connection to the Benedictine priest, Brother Tur. Yet her daily life leaves much to be desired. She is continually shown praying, sewing or attending functions in the great hall. Her inner life is full of worrying about whether she is praying enough. While a canonized saint is most assuredly fixated on God, it would have been refreshing to see Fraser King more fully explore what filled her days. Instead, her created character of Eva demonstrates more vivacity and moral turmoil. The fictional Eva adds more interest to the story than the historical Margaret.

Overall, a worthy historical fiction covers two familiar themes, Scotland and royalty, with an added twist of sainthood.

Queen Hereafter by Susan Fraser King is available for $25.99 at
Amazon.com and at SusanFraserKing.com.

eview copy was provided by The New York Journal of Books.

Congratulations to our winner: Debi Hubbard!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Holiday Gift Giveaway Hop - The Heir, The Winter Sea and Pemberley Ranch

In Regency England, would an earl really marry his housekeeper? That is the question posed by Grace Burrowes in her debut historical romance, The Heir. It is certainly a Cinderella-like tale when Gayle Windham, Earl of Westhaven, refuses to marry anyone save his servant, Anna Seaton. Why the rush to the altar? Westhaven's father, the Duke of Moreland, desperately desires an heir regardless of the mother's pedigree. He is so blatant about his need for a grandchild that he even gets Westhaven's mistress pregnant by another man in order to pass the child off as his son's.

Westhaven was not meant to be the focus of his father's fanaticism. It was not until the death of his elder brother that the spare became the heir. He loathes his new position in the family hierarchy and will do anything to escape the yoke of matrimony. He's a free-swinging bachelor who means to keep it that way.

Enter Anna Seaton and her secrets. Is she really a war widow? Is the deaf chambermaid, Morgan, her relation? Is she in some kind of trouble? Westhaven is enraptured with the mystery that surrounds her, and he leads her, however reluctantly, down the path of seduction. As the two become more and more intimate, Westhaven's innate caution starts to unravel. In giving himself body and soul to Anna, he might just bestow upon her his father's greatest wish.

As a first time author, Burrowes does a great job in connecting the reader with her characters. Her portrayal of Westhaven and his brothers Val and Dev is spot on. The fraternal teasing as Westhaven falls for Anna is poignant. His brothers inwardly rejoice at his finding happiness. A book is only as good as the depth of its secondary characters and Burrowes fully rounds them out. Whether it's the touching friendship that develops between the piano virtuoso Val and the timid Morgan or the way Dev as an illegitimate son of the Duke is restrained by his secondary status.

A variety of detail is the only weak point. By the conclusion, the reader will never forget that Westhaven enjoys an ample amount of sugar in his lemonade and that Anna is forever arranging flowers throughout his London abode be it in the empty fireplaces or on a dining serving tray. At times, the romantic interludes read like a how-to lesson from the Kama Sutra. Depending on the reader, sometimes less is more in these instances.

Overall, The Heir is a great page-turning take on forbidden love.


The Winter Sea is one of those novels that a reader doesn't come across too often. It is a creative tour de force. Sometimes a writer catches lightning in a bottle, and Susanna Kearsley has done just that. The idea behind the plot is ingenious. It centers on author Carrie McClelland as she journeys to Scotland to write a historical fiction novel concerning the 1708 Jacobite Rebellion. In many ways, life imitates art as the reader gets a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Kearsley's writing process as shown through Carrie's work habits. It's a fascinating look behind the veil of a writer at her craft depicted through a character of her own creation. Brilliant!

The novel is broken down into two settings - modern day Scotland with Carrie and 1708 Scotland with Sophia, a dependent of the countess of Slains Castle. The chapters are intermingled throughout the book with numerical designations such as chapter 1, 2, 3, etc. for the present and Roman numerals for the historical segments such as I, II, III, etc. What provides the bridge between the two worlds is Carrie's ancestry. She discovers that Sophia actually resided at Slains Castle, and not just in her mind. To top it off, she is related to a woman she initially believed to be a figment of her imagination. As Carrie delves deeper into the story, she begins to unearth facts about Sophia previously unknown to her through dreams, deja vu and genetic memory. The story already happened. In fact, it seems to be writing itself with Carrie serving as merely its vessel.

The inherent love story also spans the centuries. Carrie's attraction to history professor, Graham is immediate when she happens upon him and his dog at the ruins of Slains Castle. However, Graham's playboy brother, Stuart, tries to claim her attention for his own. While back in the early 1700s, Sophia is enchanted by John Moray. However, as a loyal servant to the exiled King James, he is a man with a price on his head in his native land. In planning the 1708 rebellion and bringing the Stuart king back to the throne, his life is in constant danger. A life he does not want Sophia to have to endure. Before Moray is recalled from Slains Castle to return to the Scottish court in France, he weds her in a secret ceremony in the hope that one day they will be reunited.

Kearsley has a knack for embodying her characters with a down home sense of charm. None more so than Jimmy Keith, father of Graham and Stuart. With his Scottish lilt of "quine" and "roast a bit of beef," the elderly gentleman and landlord of Carrie's rented cottage, is a welcome addition to the novel's pages. Another excellent example is Moray's Uncle Graeme who comes to comfort Sophia at Slains Castle when his nephew is in the heat of battle in France.

An interesting note throughout is Sophia's fate. Carrie uncovers through historical documents that she married a man named David McClelland, her ancestor. What then happened to Moray? The answer to that question builds to a heart-wrenching conclusion.

The title - The Winter Sea - is also quite moving. When Sophia is alone and worried that she will never see Moray again, his Uncle Graeme reminds her that without the desolation of winter there can be no ever-renewing hope of spring. It is a hard lesson about accepting the bad in order to appreciate the good, but it is a lesson worth learning and relearning throughout life.

Overall, all writers wish for the psychic inspiration Kearsley gives to Carrie.

Mr. Darcy as a Wild West cowboy? A dungaree-clad Elizabeth Bennett flying over the range on her painted pony? Pride and Prejudice is done Texas-style in Jack Caldwell's debut novel, Pemberley Ranch. Whether or not a devotee of the esteemed classic novel will want to mosey on over to the antebellum cattle town of Rosings, depends upon one's taste for shifting the time and place of Austen's beloved characters. If one's taste is for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and the numerous sequels, prequels and spin-offs in existence, then Caldwell's take will be heartily enjoyed. For the Jane Austen purist, it might be a bit harder to swallow.

Where Caldwell excels is in fleshing out the masculinity of the buttoned-up Regency era Darcy. Here the sense of his authority and command over outlaws and swindlers is impressive to behold. He's as fast with his gun as he is in spying on a skinny-dipping "Beth." He is a man that other men can't help admiring, and one that causes many a woman to swoon.

However, it is Darcy's inner turmoil that is most captivating. As a Confederate soldier, he was flogged within an inch of his life. If not for the attentions of his comrade "Dr." Bingley, he would not have survived. The wounds run deep. He collapses during a night of heavy drinking after "Beth" refuses his marriage proposal. Yes, the self-contained Darcy gets intoxicated.

At times, the Annie Oakley approach to Elizabeth is a bit much. Being a crack shot with a rifle during a Custer's Last Stand/Alamo type scene borders on the unbelievable. While the original Elizabeth was more than a tea-sipping lady in a parlor, she also wasn't above and beyond her time period in terms of her station and decorum. Caldwell's Beth is a little more tomboy and a little less intellectual.

The more inspired anecdotes involve the supporting cast. Fitzwilliam and Charlotte Lucas have a secret, passionate affair. Caroline Bingley suffers post-traumatic stress disorder from Sherman's March to the Sea and the burning of her Georgia home. Lily (Lydia) is a saloon girl thrown away by town bad boy George Whitehead (Wickham). Mrs. Bennett possesses common sense and the esteem of her husband.

Another tidbit that Caldwell gives to fans is introducing characters from other Jane Austen novels into the story. Henry Tilney of Northanger Abbey is the town clergyman and devoted suitor of pious Mary. Emma's Mr. Knightley and his brother are the entrepreneurs that Darcy invests in to bring the railroad to Rosings. While bit players like Anne de Bourgh and Georgiana Darcy are given more of a voice.

Overall, if you're willing to hop in the saddle, you'll enjoy the ride.

The Heir by Grace Burrowes is available for $6.99 at
Amazon.com and at GraceBurrowes.com.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley is available for $16.99 at Amazon.com and at SusannaKearsley.com.

Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell is available for $14.99 at Amazon.com and at Ramblings of a Cajun in Exile.

Advance review copies were provided by The New York Journal of Books.

Congratulations to our winner: MissKallie2000!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Karina & Robert Fabian - Infinite Space, Infinite God II - PDF Giveaway & Review

Nuns in outer space? Churches in virtual reality? Priests as robots? Sometimes the most unlikely pairings lead to the most interesting literary achievements. In Infinite Space, Infinite God II, the creativity of science fiction is merged with the morality of Catholicism. The result is a collection of 12 short stories edited by the husband and wife team of Rob and Karina Fabian. While fun and imaginative, the anthology forces the reader to confront some serious issues. Would a human clone have a soul? Would aliens be considered a part of God's creation? Would religious vocations continue to exist beyond Earth's gravitational pull? These thought-provoking issues are explored in a way that satisfies both the techno-geek and the religious philosopher.

The stand-out piece, The Ghosts of Kourion by Andrew Seddon is placed in the lead-off spot for good reason. It is a fascinating look at the open-ended possibilities of time travel. After tragically losing his wife and daughter, Professor Robert Cragg leaves the confines of the year 2655 to journey to the ancient Greek city of Kourion circa 365 A.D. His goal is to witness firsthand the destruction of the fabled city on the day it was ransacked by a legendary earthquake. Christianity is in its infancy and the pagan gods of Zeus and Apollo are succumbing to the writings of Paul and the rulings of Constantine. Knowing he cannot change the past, Robert nevertheless fosters an urge to save a young girl and her family from the impending disaster. However, the Self-Consistency Principle holds sway. Robert expounds on it by saying, "I can't travel to the past unless I've already been there, and when I get there I'll do what I've already done."

The moral implications of time travel are staggering. Why doesn't Robert revisit a time when his wife and daughter are alive? Because he'd merely be observing what had already happened. He'd be watching a rerun of his past life, not living his current one. Why doesn't he warn the citizens of Kourion before the earthquake? No one would believe him. The alarm had never been raised, so he could not raise it. His powerlessness is acute.

Seddon explores Robert's emotional conundrum in a telling passage. Knowing that I could not avert the disaster should have helped me observe with clearer objectivity and act more naturally. It should have helped prevent mental and emotional damage. It should have helped avert self-condemnation. My job was to observe history, to do what I had done, and not to despair over how events had turned out. How could I have foreseen that this poor, simple girl with the mule would affect me so?

The collection is filled with mind-bending imagery. A nun battles poisonous snakes during a spaceship rescue mission in Karina Fabian's Antivenin.
Her screams stuck in her throat. Not twelve, but twenty snakes, at least, writhed on the floor and shelves and over the dead man - from his puffed and discolored face, she knew there was no way he could be alive.

Aliens hunt their prey inside a church during Mass in Alex Lobdell's The Battle of Narthex. Suddenly a massive black figure emerged from behind a forward column, glided into the sanctuary, and leapt up onto the white marble altar. It stood staring coldly out at the people. It was an unnerving sight to see the ghostly figure standing upon their altar, peering out coldly for its victim while the smiling young priest continued talking just a few feet away. The pygmies had a word for such a wrongness: abomination.

With human cloning moving ever closer to reality, it's moral implications are becoming a pertinent issue. In Derwin Mak's Cloned to Kill, the question is raised - is a human clone a piece of property or a human being worthy of an immortal soul? The flip-flopping of rhetoric is addressed by clone creator Dennis Rowicki. "The baptism of clones shows the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church. For years, the Church opposed the cloning of humans. For years, you said only God has the right to create human beings through natural procreation. Yet you eagerly baptize the clones created by the process you condemn." Mak depicts the Church as standing firm on human rights regardless if the person is naturally or synthetically born. As expressed by the clone, Lorraine, "Only inside this church [I am human]. I am non-human outside it."

The book hits a slight snag right at the end with the final installment Dyads by Ken Pick and Alan Loewen. Nearly three times the length of the other stories, the selection slows the pacing of the anthology having it drag to the finish line. The plot revolves around a race of fox-like creatures who practice what the Vatican believes to be an authentic derivation of Christianity. Trouble ensues when a Bible-thumping Earthling desecrates their place of worship in what amounts to act of religious terrorism. Yet there is something off-putting about the native inhabitants that makes it difficult to sympathize with them.
They exude a aura of otherness such as in the passage: Her ears flattened down, came up; white showed around her cat's eyes; her mouth worked as her delicate fox face passed from anger to shock to puzzlement. Finally she looked up at him, head cocked and faint squeal in her throat. "Yerf?" Whether it be their beady eyes, pointed ears or sharp teeth, it is a bit repulsive to view their animal-like qualities in relation to one of humanity's oldest religions.

Overall, the collection expands the role of faith through the endless possibilities of the sci-fi genre.

Infinite Space, Infinite God II edited by Karina & Robert Fabian is available for $18.95 at Amazon.com and at ISIGSF.com.

A PDF review copy was provided by KarinaFabian.com.

For a complete list of blog tour dates, visit FabianSpace.

Karina Fabian
is the co-author of the Tribute Books release, Why God Matters: How to Recognize Him in Daily Life.

Sorry, there is no winner to announce - we did not receive any entries for this giveaway. :(

Monday, November 15, 2010

Murray Tillman - Meet Me on the Paisley Roof - Giveaway & Review

First impressions can be deceiving. The first chapter of Murray Tillman's Meet Me on the Paisley Roof is the ultimate turn-off. Six solid pages of a manure fight between three teenage boys isn't exactly an appealing introduction to 1956 Georgia. However, Tillman's nostalgic look at small town life is redeemed through the likable trio of Trussell Jones and brothers Cassidy and Ronnie Childs. Thankfully, Tillman doesn't dabble in sentimentality. Instead, he paints a realistic picture of adolescence where, more often than not, adults fail to live up to their assigned roles.

When Trussell's father dies, he is left in the care of his stepmother, Loretta. Saying the two don't see eye-to-eye is putting it mildly. Loretta feels Trussell is an ungrateful lout whose sole purpose in life is to cause her grief. While Trussell feels adrift with no one to turn to, when Loretta, for all intents and purposes, gives up on him. All she provides are the bare essentials of food, clothing and shelter, and an occasional note on the kitchen table. Things get so bad that Loretta even brings a gun into the house to "protect" herself from a boy who means her no bodily harm.

The Childs brothers on the other hand are witnessing firsthand the deterioration of their parents' marriage. With their alcoholic father spending the greater part of the week on the road, they come to realize that the stability in their lives no longer exists. As the eldest, Cassidy is contemplating moving with their father to another town, while Ronnie seeks a way to cope with his feeling of abandonment.

While dealing with serious subject matter in an era that bespeaks Ozzie and Harriet perfection, Tillman infuses the book with an abundance of humor to keep the tone from becoming dark and introspective. They are, still after all, boys and a series of hijinks and pranks ensue from hot-wiring Loretta's car to "borrowing" a gang member's motorcycle. They even manage to unknowingly kidnap an intoxicated solider, trample to death a panic-stricken monkey and dress in drag to sneak into the hospital.

But being hot-blooded American males, the opposite sex is a frequent topic of discussion. Trussell, after harboring a lifelong crush on Ellen Harmond, finally acts on his feelings when teased into submission by Cassidy and Ronnie. Hilarity ensues. While late for church, Trussell ends up getting dressed in the backseat of an older girl's convertible while flying through the streets of downtown Columbus. A sight Ellen just happens to take in from the backseat of her parents' car. Another wardrobe malfunction occurs when Trussell is forced to wear a spangled cowboy shirt for his piano playing debut on a local television station. An ensemble that, through a twist of fate, Ellen gets to witness in person. Another time while on a picnic lunch in a secluded spot, Trussell is just about to make a move when Cassidy appears out of nowhere spoiling the moment. When the two finally start to make an emotional connection, Ellen comes across a nude picture of herself
in Trussell's garage that Ronnie drew for his friend's birthday. Nothing in Trussell's courtship of Ellen comes without mishap, but to Ellen's credit she refuses to give up on him.

The heart and soul of Tillman's writing comes through, when he shows his young characters actively making decisions that will affect the outcome of their lives. They are not passive players in a world controlled by adults. Instead, they are forced to deal with mature issues at a tender age. With Loretta's beauty parlor in dire financial straits, Trussell must choose whether or not to leave his embattled stepmother and live with his Aunt Cora in Birmingham. With her mother battling cancer, Ellen must decide whether or not she wants to find strength and support in her relationship with Trussell, whose own mother succumbed to the disease. While Ronnie feeling unwanted in his own home, acts out in a dramatic way in an attempt to bring his family back together.

Through their trials and tribulations, what they come to understand is that regardless of the adults in their lives, they at least have one another. A touching moment occurs between Ronnie and Trussell.

"Do you love me?"
"Do you love me?"
"Sure I do, Ronnie. You're just like a brother. You know that."
"Yeah, well, same here, buddy. Why didn't you ever tell me?"
"That you love me."
"Oh shoot, that's just something you ought to know."
"Well, I didn't."
"Well you should."

Another scene between Trussell and Ellen confirms the sense of family the boys have created for themselves.

"Trussell, you did witness a miracle."
"Yes, sure [Cassidy and Ronnie] went to lots of trouble, but where's the miracle?"
"Their gift to you, Trussell, was love. You laughed with them. Your gift to them was love. There's the miracle. I don't have any friends who could or would do anything like that for me."

Overall, it's well worth the climb to meet the boys up on the Paisley roof.

Meet Me on the Paisley Roof by Murray Tillman is available for $14.95 at Amazon.com and at MeetMeOnThePaisleyRoof.com.

An advance review copy was provided by Bascom Hill Publishing.

Congratulations to our winner: Amy Steiner!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Kathleen Kent - The Wolves of Andover - Giveaway & Review

"The life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan, English political philosopher (1588-1679)

Life in 1673 Massachusetts lived up to Hobbes' expectations. In The Wolves of Andover, Kathleen Kent offers a realistic depiction of survival through the eyes of colonial woman, Martha Allen. With a sharp eye for detail, Kent does not shy away from historical accuracy in order to create a romance full of beauty and lightness. Instead, she depicts rustic settlers living in primitive conditions in close proximity to livestock. Many are hanging on by a thread against Indian attack, disease and poverty.

Martha's strength is that she rises to meet these challenges. Having reached the age of 20 without a husband, her father can no longer afford to care for her. Martha is sent to live with her cousin, Patience and her family as a servant. Patience is suffering through a difficult pregnancy and requires help around the house. Martha takes on the role of housekeeper caring for Patience's children, Will and Joanna; her husband, Daniel and their indentured servants, John and Thomas.

When a pack of wolves starts terrorizing the countryside, Martha forges a bond with Thomas despite his being 30 years her senior. While attempting to ensnare the lupines, his quiet, steady demeanor captures the interest of the sharp-tongued girl. While strong and physically fit, Thomas' fate lies in the hands of Patience and Daniel. His hope rests on their granting him a parcel of land upon completion of his servitude. Martha's future too is uncertain once Patience is delivered of child.

Yet affairs of the heart come second to survival in this inhospitable environment. The yard is full of mud from freezing rain. Food is improperly stored on the damp cellar floor. A chilled bed struggles for warmth from the hearth. A garden is fertilizes with dried fish and manure while a battery of flies hover overhead. A lover's hands are full of rasping and unyielding calluses. A woman's threadbare bodice is stained with sweat. Not exactly the stuff of romance novels.

Even scenes of love are tempered by the harsh setting. Martha comes across Thomas bare-chested in the barn. However, he is at work slaughtering a crippled calf. Thomas steals admiring glances at Martha, while she is submerged in a boggy marsh gathering wild leeks. When the village Casanova makes a play for Martha, Thomas pushes his body to the breaking point in order to beat his much-younger competitor in a harvest mowing contest. When wooing her, Thomas backhandedly compares Martha to a doe in a fable saying, "You are the deer shot through with arrows whose heart grows cold for want of being taken."

Yet the focus of the book revolves around Thomas' past. Was he the man who swung the blade that beheaded King Charles I? The regent's son, King Charles II is unwavering in his determination to find his father's killer supposedly well-hidden in the New World. A group of hired torturers is bidden to bring back the man who took his father's life.

The novel is succinctly split between the story of Martha and Thomas and that of Thomas' pursuers. It jumps between alternating chapters delineating the approaching meeting point of the two plot lines. This weakens the work as a whole. Instead of staying in the Massachusetts Bay Colony throughout the narrative, a plethora of characters and settings is introduced as the hit men make their way from England to Boston Harbor. The progression of the book loses its steam when divided between what amounts to two stories that are better off standing on their own. While attempting to bring more history into the novel such as the royal court, the back alleys of London and life aboard a merchant ship, Kent falters by veering off course instead of concentrating on the plight of her two main characters.

Overall, Kent's Wolves bites off a bit more than it can chew.

The Wolves of Andover by Kathleen Kent is available for $24.99 at Amazon.com and at HachetteBookGroup.com.

An advance review copy was provided by New York Journal of Books.

Congratulations to our winner: Doreen Riopel!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Kathryn Borel - Corked - Giveaway & Review

How do some books get published? In the case of Corked, it is apparent that if Kathryn Borel wasn't a radio producer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, her memoir would not have seen the light of day. It seems the Hachette Book Group took a chance on Kathryn more for who she is than what she wrote.

The angle focuses on the struggle of a father and daughter to connect. Kathryn records her mixed emotions regarding her father, Philippe. During a trip to France, they visit world-renown vineyards. Philippe is a
wine connoisseur, while Kathryn is uncomfortable expressing herself in the language of the palette.

Her emotions are corked. They are not gaining release. Months prior to the trip, she accidentally killed a jaywalking pedestrian. Due to the coincidence of her boyfriend's father having previously died in a car crash, their relationship becomes strained and eventually ends. She cannot return the intensity of his love, yet she continues to reach out to him in moments of weakness. Kathryn is fully aware that she is selfishly using him, but can't seem to help herself.

Philippe's feelings, on the other hand, are always on the surface ready to explode or shrouded beneath a sulky silence. He's either making a scene in a restaurant over a perceived lack of service or refusing to utter a word during a winery tour due to the supposed impoliteness of their host. He also frequently acts inappropriately around his daughter appearing in nothing but a towel or discussing his sexual prowess.

An aspect that is especially grating is the display of insensitivity. In grade school, Kathryn joked about having Down Syndrome and reflects on the moment in a comical light. When arguing with her father while driving, she threatens to crash into a tree causing a murder/suicide. She continues to hound her ex-boyfriend with emails and text messages while having casual sex with three different men.

The pair's manners regarding hygiene are quite atrocious. Philippe reuses soiled Q-tips. Kathryn picks lint out of her belly button in public. They find camaraderie in the sentiment, "Do you ever get the feeling that you just want to take a baby and kick it across the room and watch it smash against the wall?"

Philippe is not the best of fathers. He has a hard time remembering Kathryn's date of birth. He lets strange men ogle his daughter's breasts without saying a word. But the main point of contention is that he didn't offer Kathryn the emotional support she needed after the accident. As their trip comes to a close, Philippe reveals a long-held secret about his past. Does this excuse his cowardly, selfish behavior? Does this revelation mark a turning point in their relationship? It's hard to say.

Overall, wine aficionados will delight in Corked's vintages, but readers thirsting for a heartwarming memoir need to open another bottle.

Corked by Kathryn Borel is available for $23.99 at Amazon.com and at KathrynBorel.com.

A complimentary review copy was provided by BookNAround.

Congratulations to our winner: Zohar Laor!