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.

R
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.

R
eview PDF eBook was provided by
KarinaFabian.com.

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.

R
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.

R
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.

R
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.

R
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!