Book Review : Seal Under Siege ***WINNER CHOSEN

Book Title: Seal Under Siege
Author: Liz Johnson
Publisher’s Synopsis: SHE’S NOT SAFE YET
When Staci Hayes is rescued from a Mideast prison by navy SEAL Tristan Sawyer, she thinks the ordeal is over. But back in San Diego, a new threat arises. Staci has information that could prevent a hit on U.S. soil, and the terrorist will stop at nothing to silence her. Tristan insists on being her bodyguard, but his constant presence makes her long for things beyond her reach. Protecting Staci is the second chance Tristan needs to put the past behind him. Yet with a spy on the naval base, anyone could be a threat. Can he offer her safety…and love? 

Men of Valor: These navy SEALS were born to excel….

I want to start off with saying something I’ve never said about Liz Johnson’s book.  She writes for “Love Inspired.”  I would normally never have picked up a book with this title on it.  However, I received one of her books to review years ago and loved it.  So, even had she not sent me this one for review, I would have purchased it.

And… I would not have regretted it.  In similar style to her previous books A Promise to Protect and the FBI Special Agent Series, Seal Under Siege is packed with suspense and not overdone romance.  Somehow, Liz Johnson manages to pack all the plot, characterization, and action of a full length novel into a 226 page mass market paperback.  That takes some serious skills.

What I liked:  This book is character driven, fast paced, action packed, and has a strong plot.  I love Tristan and Staci both as individuals and then as they become a couple.  I love that their relationship is believable and while you could argue that it was initially prompted by the stress and tension of their experiences, she gave it a concrete foundation too.

The plot is intriguing and involves elements we all hear of, but I’ve never actually read in a book.  Staci, a prisoner in a Middle Eastern prison, is rescued by a team of Navy Seals led by Tristan.  Having overheard much and with a scrap of paper indicating a looming plot to attack America, she fights to get people to listen to her–and no one will.  Even Tristan, when she brings the information to him, finds it difficult to believe but his innate desire to protect the woman he’s already saved, listens, investigates, and then things really get going.

And, from what I can tell, the book FEELS very well-researched.  I can’t verify her accuracy, but it seems to hold little nuances that show research time and attention to detail.

Because this is the “Inspired” genre, I have to address the faith issue.  It wasn’t peachy, it wasn’t “deep” but an underlying theme of “God’s got this” is there and it encourages.

What I didn’t like:  Honestly, there wasn’t much.  Would I have preferred it even more developed?  Definitely.  Did it fail not being?  Not on your life.  All of my “complaints” are like that.  She took the limitations of her project and made them work for her.

Do I recommend this book?  Definitely.  Just get it.  I can’t imagine how you’ll regret it.  And I want to thank her for giving me the opportunity to review again.  I really appreciate it.  She’s a lovely woman.  🙂

To win a copy, just leave a comment and tell me if you’ve ever read of one of Liz’ books and if so, which one is your favorite?  I’ll draw a name and you can choose between a Kindle, Nook, or paperback version!  Congratulations Mary!

Advertisements

Repetitive Destiny

Edmund Burke once said, “Those who do not know history are destined to repeat it.”  Well, I don’t know if he said do not or don’t.  Sue me.

So, what does this have to do with my review of the popular novel, “The Hunger Games?” Oh, wait.  You didn’t know this was?  Well it is.  Take warning.  I usually try to avoid giving plot points away in a book review, but to say what I want to say about this series requires it.  If you’re sure you aren’t going to read them, read on; if you are curious.  If you have read them, then you know the ending etc anyway.  If you can handle spoilers–big ones–then you should be fine.  Otherwise, read the books first.  There’s nothing worse than reading a book, waiting for events to occur; you know they are coming but not why or in what context.

The Hunger Games is a trilogy written by Suzanne Collins.  I have never read anything by her before, and I am not going to be snatching up all of her books out of a desperate need to read everything by her.  Why?  Did I not like the books? No, I liked the books immensely.  However, there are a few things about them that don’t appeal to me.

1.  Writing style.  Ms. Collins writes in a first person/present tense style.  The only thing I dislike more than first person fiction is present tense.  I did not take a college class I desperately wanted to take because I just deplore it.  The world raved about Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts.  I gagged.

However, to be fair, the style does work for a book as fast-pasted and full of action as this book is.  I understand why she chose it.  I might even agree it was a good choice.  I simply did not enjoy reading it for that reason.

2.  Dystopian literature is not my favorite genre.  Who am I kidding?  I have never finished any dystopian book that I can recall.  I hate it.  It’s not my “thing.”

3.  The subject matter– war, children as pawns in the hands of the government, the after effects on everyone– not my favorite subjects.

So, with three things that I truly do not like in fiction, why would I read these books and deem them “good?”  Why would I even finish the first, much less the other two?  I’m going to be honest.  I almost didn’t read the second and third books, but not because I was not interested in finishing, but because I had been told spoilers–big ones.  I knew they must be incomplete, but as I already said, it is difficult to keep reading when you know that things you wish didn’t have to happen are coming.

So, here we go…

The Hunger Games

The premise of this book is that many years prior to the opening pages, North America was unified into one “country,”  Panem after some sort of worldwide destruction of civilization.  This country has been divided into twelve (once thirteen) districts.  To keep tight control over the districts after a failed revolt all those years ago, “The Capitol” requires that each district select two children (ages 12-18 if I remember right) to represent it as “tributes” in the “Hunger Games.”

The Hunger Games are horrifying.  They should be.  The objective is to set twenty-four children into an arena to battle for their lives.  The sole survivor wins and their family receives prizes that transform their lives.  The arena isn’t what you’d expect.  It’s not a big football field or a Roman Colosseum (despite the chariots in the “opening ceremonies”).  Imagine a “Survivor” island type thing designed to be as brutal as possible to survive in all while literally picking off your opponents.  Brutal.  And that’s the point.

The Capitol wants the districts to live in holy terror of what would happen if they dared to attempt another revolt.  People are scared to resist.  They are desperate.

The main character is Katniss.  When her father died, she had to take over the provision for the family.  This taught her excellent hunting and survival skills.  It also taught her how to break rules.  Poaching, forbidden and carrying the punishment of death, has been their means of existence.

The selection of “tributes” was called the “reaping.”  In the first book, Katniss’ little sister was called out–highly statistically improbable.  She volunteered to take her sister’s place.

What I like about the book is that it does not gloss over the indignities that the tributes are put through in preparation for the games.  Most of the tributes don’t like that they’re put into the games.  Only a couple of districts have lost the horror for them that they should have.

As I read the book, I have to confess, I couldn’t ignore the parallels between this arena and those of Ancient Rome when gladiators were pitted against one another, prisoners against, wild animals, and Christians thrown to lions for the sheer bloodthirstiness of it.  I wondered if it was deliberate.

Once the games begin, I expected gratuitous violence.  Honestly, I expected to read of the slaughter, one after another, of the tributes.  I waited for it to come.  It didn’t.  Don’t get me wrong, people die and in horrific ways.  Injuries are frequent and gruesome–however she didn’t describe them in the detail I expected.  Thankfully.  Knowing it happened was enough.

Good news comes mid-games.  Two tributes from one district, if both are alive at the end, can win.  Immediately, she joins forces with the boy from her district (the one who she is supposed to be in love with), and they work together to survive.  Oh, and she just happens to save his life.  No biggie.

I read arguments about sensuality in the book.  I found none.  There is even some kissing in this book and even that isn’t sensual.  Katniss is not comfortable with nudity or even the kissing.  However, in order to get sponsors (who provide emergency medical care, tools, food, and things like that), she has been told to play up an imaginary (on her part anyway) romance for the cameras.  Yes, this whole thing is televised.  The entire country watches.

The death of one of the other tributes is heart wrenching.  It should be!  An innocent child was thrown into a pit and told to either kill or die.  She dies.  Katniss as her ally (for as long as possible), is grieved at the loss.  There is a minor relief in that she knows she won’t be forced to kill the girl, but really?  What kind of relief is that when this girl saved your life only days earlier?

The most savage part was when mutant animals tear one of the tributes to pieces.  Again, I really think she worked hard to keep as much of the gruesomeness out while still trying to make the reader really see what horrors the Capitol is putting these kids through.  At last she and the boy, Peeta, are the last two standing and then they’re told that there can only be one winner.  One has to kill the other.  They won’t.  Instead of killing the other, they each decide to take poisonous berries to kill themselves.  They know the Capitol wants a victor.  It’ll force the Capitol to capitulate and it works.

Catching Fire

After the games, Katniss’ family’s situation is greatly improved, but there’s a storm brewing.  People are beginning to revolt all over the country.  Districts don’t have the resources to do it, and yet there are whispers of it.  As a way to punish Katniss for her rebellion with the berries, the next games are called and they’ve decided to cull tributes from previous victors.  So once again, Katniss and Peeta are headed into the arena.

Now, in the past year, something happened.  I don’t remember where, but there was a huge party with hundreds of different dishes to try.  When Katniss became too full, she was offered a pill to “purge” so that she could continue to enjoy the delicacies.  Sound familiar?  Doesn’t all of this sound horribly familiar?  My initial reaction seemed even more accurate then.

During the next games, things are very different.  There’s the understanding that she’s there to protect Peeta and he intends to protect her.  They band together with other tributes and you know something is going on, even though you don’t know what it is.  Just as things get hot and heated, they lift Katniss from the arena.  Who “they” are, however, is initially uncertain.

Her home is gone.  The Capitol has destroyed it.  District 13, always thought to have been destroyed in a nuclear attack back before the Hunger Games began, still exists and is base for the resistance.  War is coming.  The people are done yielding to the tyranny of the Capitol– finished with the horrifying games.  They are done.

Mockingjay

In the final book of this series, it does seem quite hopeless at times.  They’re fighting what seems to be a losing battle.  Every time she thinks she has a way to beat down the president, he taunts her with his ability to evade her and the rest of the resistance.

In this book, the author confirmed my suspicions.  She is writing the fall of the Roman Empire in a way that makes it glaringly clear to today’s reader.  She has set it somewhat in our time and somewhat in a future time we never want to have to live.  It’s chilling.  It should be.

It’s all out war with all the horrors within.  There is heroism, tragedy, and deep terrible pain.  People die.  They’re tortured and killed (thankfully, we almost only hear of it rather than “witness” it through Katniss’ eyes).  Peeta has been held by the Capitol and brainwashed in the most horrible way. He seems almost insane.  Her best childhood friend is driven to bring down the Capitol.  She is traumatized by the effects of the battles she has fought.  There is real loss.

So why do I like these books?  Don’t they sound horrible and depressing?  Honestly, if I heard about them without reading them, I might have thought they would be.  I wasn’t sure about the premise before I read it.  However, they aren’t.  There is a lot of hope in these books.  I appreciate that an author took such horrible themes to their logical conclusion.  Think about it.  This book addresses the lack of value of human life.  It addresses excess in entertainment.  It address oppressive and tyrannical government and what should happen.  Do we remember our history lessons?  That wonderful and terrifying line of America’s Declaration of Independence?

“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

These books tell the story of what has already happened in our country in times past.  We shook off government, far less horrifying than that of Panem, and from the rubble and ashes, created a new government “conceived in liberty” no less.  America’s children are weaned on violence on screen and off.  Their games are bloodshed driven and the desensitization process is nearly complete in some areas.

These books appeal because those same children have a legacy handed down by our forefathers and by the other civilizations that emerged after the crumbling of other places like Rome.  We know what happens.  We can see the finger of history writing on our walls (forgive the Biblical allusion of God’s hand writing please) and the books seem to ask the question, “what are you going to do about it?”  It’s a call that says, “Are we going to let the continual devaluation of lives and encroachment of government into our lives?

The funny thing is, I have no idea if that’s what the author meant.  I have no concept of her worldview and frankly, I don’t want to know.  This is what I got from the books.  This is what I respect about them.  She didn’t leave the situation hopeless.  It starts hopeless.  It starts with a terrible situation that seems impossible to overcome.  It takes you through scenarios that make you feel as if there is no chance of a resolution.  You see that people want change but are afraid of it.  In the end, there’s an epilogue.  It’s beautiful.  The people, scarred by what they’ve lived through, have hope and purpose again.  Their fears still haunt them at times, sure.  But they continue, even rising above those fears, because hope isn’t gone.  I guess the old saying, “hope springs eternal” really is true.

And yes, I do note the irony of how often I slipped into first person/present tense in this review.  It’s hilarious.  The books seem to demand it.  They’re welcome to, but I still don’t have to like it.

To rate it simply:

Profanity- none
Sex- none
Sensuality- none to almost none (if hearing that someone is naked is sensual in your book–not a description of that nakedness just the fact of it– then there’s a little).
Violence-  moderate to high (there are a lot of occurrences of it but they are not detailed.  So, it depends upon whether the existence of it makes it high in your book or not).
Religion-  none.  It is not disparaged, encouraged, nothing.  It is non-existent.  Would I have preferred it written from a distinctly Christian worldview?  Of course!  However, with the value shown for human life by the main characters and the distaste for the superficiality and excess in the Capitol, there are definitely Christian themes whether or not they were intentional.

Bringing Her Home– WINNER

Well, thanks to my lovely “Random.org” the winning number is 4.

CONGRATULATIONS, LANA!  Email me your address and I’ll get ‘er to Dell!  (Unless you’d prefer to download.  Let me know that too and I’ll take care of that)

Everyone else– if you can afford it at all, you really should hop on over to Harps & Hammers and get your copy.  You won’t be sorry at all.  Remember– it’s not an expensive album!

Book Review: Beneath the Cloak ** Win a Free Copy**

Book:  Beneath the Cloak
Author:  Chautona Havig (why, that’s me!)
Publisher’s Synopsis:  After two years of friendship, adventures, dangers, and triumphs, Dove still wrestles with the ultimate question.  Is I AM the God of her heart?  While Philip struggles with the direction of his own life, his friend’s secret threatens to divide more than friends.  Who is Dove?  What is Dove?  And can Philip truly accept her when he discovers who is beneath the cloak?  The adventure continues beyond anything they could have imagined.

Ok, why on earth am I writing a book review of my own book?  Actually, SURPRISE!  I’m not.  Well, not really anyway.  I’m more… writing about this series and giving it a shameless plug as well as giving away a free copy (it’s tradition…  I’m into traditions).

This series started with an idea… how would people in more superstitious times handle people who were just people but looked very different.  I thought of white people showing up in places where dark skinned people had never seen white and visa versa.  Would it be seen as a thing of beauty or would they recoil from the unknown?  I knew that in medieval times, people feared others who had what was called a “hare-lip.”  What about port-wine stains, eczema, or even more rare and obvious things like “elephantiasis” etc.?

In a world with such overt superstitions, I wondered what would happen if Christianity was still new and fresh.  Wynnewood was born.  I enjoyed melding the older English language and medieval English lives into one new world.  It is fantasy– I can do that.  I did try to keep MOST of it accurate to the time, but well, I doubt there were dragons, unicorns, or dwarves inhabiting northern England at that time.  I thought I was making Lord Morgan a bit progressive for his time with things like the freshwater moat etc. , but I learned that a lot of the things we “know” about that time are very inaccurate.  For example:  we hear about how they bathed as little as possible– once or twice a year.  Not true.  Even “peasants” bathed as often as they could.  I think it was the Roman influence.

I had fun with Dove and Philip.  I enjoyed the unlikely friendship, the misunderstandings, and their adventures.  I procrastinated on finishing the series because I didn’t want the fun to end.  So, I gave myself permission to write more– whenever I need to escape back into Wynnewood.

As much as I’d love this to be a review that raves about the fascinating trilogy that every family must read, I can’t do it.  However, maybe you should just read it yourself and see if you rave about it!  I can dream, right?

The book is here.  It’s ready.  It’s waiting.  Will it come to your home?

Lessons du Jour

Today, I bought a new Kindle book at the recommendation of a friend and started reading.  To be honest, I wasn’t excited about it, but I thought maybe it’d be a good lesson for me– that I’d learn things.  The book?  Outlining Your Novel:  Map Your Way to Success by K.M. Weiland.  I don’t write with an outline– rather, before I read this book, I didn’t think I did.  guess what?  I do.  As I read through this, I tried to figure out how I’d do all the things that she suggested.  So, I started thinking it through with one of my books.  I had it all.  I even had the tossed ideas.  I couldn’t believe it, but the truth I realized is that I do this.  I do it all.  It is absolutely frightening to realize how intricate the lives of my characters are and just how much about them I know.

The author writes this book as if without this information, you’d have holes in your characters’ psyche.  I didn’t get it.  I mean, my characters seem to act according to who they are.  Once in a while I’m surprised by their behavior, but when I think about it, it all makes sense after all.  The reason being, people are not 100% consistent.  We all have quirky flaws.  Well, so do my characters and I always thought I was surprised by them, but I’m not.  I’m stunned.  Absolutely stunned.  I thought I was a a “go with the flow” writer.  I really thought I sat down and “transcribed” my characters’ stories.  I mean, that’s what it seemed like.  Alas, all that information really is in an outline– it’s just all in my head.

I’m writing my next series following this gal’s plan of action.  After all, I know it works.  However, this time, I’m putting it on paper.  I want to see what happens with it.  I’m curious.

Have I always been an inner outliner?  I don’t know.  I have always thought that my one “deliberate” outlined story, Thirty Days Hath…, would have had a completely different ending if I had not set who he ended up with in “stone” before I started the story.  You know what?  It’s not true.  I believed it because I know where I wanted to take the story when I got to month two.  I wanted him to end up with Christine.  I loved her.  I loved them.  It was all so very perfect with her.  But you know what?  Being very realistic about it– no.  It was never possible.  The book would have ended at forty-thousand words, there would have been quite a few women who were promised a month who never got it, and what would have happened if– well, some of those questions give away the ending.  Can’t have that out there.  LOL.

This year’s NaNo is a complicated story.  There are several motivators, interesting places, and it is all steering to one general location.  I really have a lot to accomplish with it.  Additionally, I really do not want to publish book one until book three is half done.  This is because I do not want to publish book two until book four is half done and so forth.  Having finished my first series and about to finish my second, I’ve learned that I really want the next book done before I publish the last.  I do not like it when time makes people wait.

Additionally, I want to end this book knowing that I have eked out every single bit from this story that I can.  I want the readers to be swept along with ship, cresting waves and then crashing down when the characters do.  The intricate intertwinings of plots will necessitate lots of foreshadowing and appropriate use of back story at perfect places.  I really think that if I am not very careful, this will turn out to be a very mediocre story.  I don’t want that.  I want a very strong solid story.

I learned a lot from this book.  That is what I want.  So often, I read books about writing and walk away from them with the feeling that I just wasted my time when I could have been writing.  Don’t get me wrong, I do not think I know all there is to know.  I know I have much to learn.  However, too many books rehash what other books have said and often without giving it a fresh outlook to make what we should have “gotten” in previous reads alive in this one.  I think I just “click” with this writer.  So, I second the recommendation.  Get the book and, while you’re at it, start following her checklists.  I bet you’ll learn things about yourself and your characters that you didn’t know you knew!

Bringing Her Home: Music Review

Title:  Bringing Her Home
Artists:  Kaira & Kendra T—  (With their father, Ken in one song)
Producer’s Synopsis: Bringing Her Home is a debut album, recorded to raise funds to help the orphanage in Lubumbashi and for our own child’s adoption.  It’s a mixture of hymns and traditional, Celtic, instrumental pieces.

When I heard about this project, I heard strong disclaimers like, “The girls are not professionals or proteges, they are just girls who love music and want to try to help in some way.”  Dell stressed repeatedly that it was an unprofessional and simple production.

I confess, that made no sense to me when I heard about recording equipment, sound this and mP3 uploads and such.  However, what do I know, right?  I know what it would sound like if MY kids did a recording to fund something and I expected it to be significantly better but still a “child’s production.”  I was wrong.

This isn’t a professional recording of the caliber you’d get from Julliard students or a philharmonic company, but compared to the CDs I’ve bought from stores, I liked it far better.  The quality is much higher than I expected.  Yes, the musicians make mistakes, but honestly, MOST of those you do not hear unless you’re listening for them.  You will be pleasantly surprised at the quality of this recording after reading the producer’s many caveats and warnings.  When I thought about it, my first question was to wonder why I preferred it to more polished playing.  I mean, yes, I have an emotional investment in these girls, but I am unlikely to sing something’s praises simply because I like the person who did it.  I’m just not that nice.

After much reflection, I realized that part of it is the selection.  They really did choose a nice variety of songs– most of which I know and love– and arrangements of the songs that were clear and distinct.  Too often Celtic music is obscured by “flowery” arrangements of notes that seem effusive and clutter the melody.

The offerings on the disk include:

  • Amazing Grace
  • A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
  • Danny Boy
  • French Cathedrals
  • Fairy Dance
  • Spanish Lady
  • Scotland the Brave
  • My Wild Irish Rose
  • The Garten Mother’s Lullaby
  • Irish Washer Woman
  • Robin’s Waltz
  • Spring Blessings
  • Jesus Loves Me
  • Planxty Irwin
  • Raining
  • Garden of Promise
  • Be Thou My Vision
  • This Is My Father’s World
  • Red Wing
  • The Star of the Country Down
  • Scarborough Faire

I couldn’t help singing

Drums in my heart are drummin,
I hear the bagpipes hummin,
My Bonnie Lassie’s comin over the sea.
My heart with her she’s bringin,
I hear the blue bells ringin,
Soon we’ll be highland flingin,
My love and me.

Chorus:
I’ll meet her at the shore,
Playin the pipes for her,
Dressed in a kilt and a tam o’shanter too.
Drums in my heart are drummin,
I hear the bagpipes hummin,
My Bonnie Lassie’s comin, comin to me,

Somewhere a ship and crew,
Sails o’er the ocean blue,
Bringing, oh, bringing,
My bonnie back to me.
That’s why the drums are drummin,
That’s why the pipes are hummin,
My Bonnie Lassie’s comin, comin to me.

Chorus

Sad are the lads she’s leavin,
Many a sigh they’re heavin,
Even the heather’s grievin, cryin with dew.
She’s left her native highland,
To come and live in my land,
She’ll love the folks who smile,
And say, “how-de-do”.

Chorus

This just fits, doesn’t it?  “She’s left her native highland to come and live in my land…” 

Another thing I liked was that they played each piece once– sometimes twice– and ended it.  The songs didn’t continue forever in a seeming attempt to fill a long CD like so many I’ve seen.  They weren’t abruptly short– just a pleasant piece to enjoy without becoming burdened by it.

The child this family had planned to adopt has been sent from the country to Ethiopia.  Their hearts are broken for the child they had already grown to love.  After much prayer and discussion, the second child they had considered will now be coming to their home.  Their adoption paperwork had always included the possibility of this second child, but the local officials considered adopting two to be suspect– possible child trafficking, so they chose little “Kivren” and closed the door on little Zephanie.  It now seems that the door is open for Zephanie to become Kiffanie and to join the T- family.  🙂

The proceeds of the donations help fund their adoption AND support the orphanage in Lubumbashi.  You may donate to receive a “hard copy” CD or mp3 files.  Of everything you could do, however, prayer is what the family is most eager to receive.

I will be giving away a copy of this lovely CD right here.  Just leave a comment and let me know which song you hope to hear most.

For those wishing to donate, you can go to the website to find their “button” or you may DONATE by clicking this link.  🙂

Book Review: George Knightley Esquire: Lend Me Leave *Winner Announced*

Title:  George Knightley, Esquire:  Lend Me Leave (Book Two)
Author:  Barbara Cornthwaite
Publisher’s Synopsis:  A rival for the hand of Emma Woodhouse has brought about George Knightley’s realization of the true nature of his attachment to her. He is determined to win her in spite of Frank Churchill’s charming ways, and he has only to figure out how to make her realize that they were meant for each other. As he joins the ranks of the heart-sore men of Donwell, hope grows ever more faint, but good news sometimes comes at the most unexpected moments.

Barbara Cornthwaite has written a retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma from the hero’s point of view. Carefully researched and skillfully written, this final book in the George Knightley, Esquire series tells the other side of Emma’s story.

I’ve been waiting, drumming my fingers, impatient beyond any measure of impatience you’ve ever imagined for this book.  Mrs. Cornthwaite did not disappoint.  I feel guilty for admitting that I like this book even better than the first, but who wouldn’t as long as it was done well?  Done well… kind of like Donwell, isn’t it?  Anyway, my point is, the second half is when the greatest conflict of the book occurs.  Of course it’s better!  Again, better if she did it well.  Did she?

DEFINITELY!  The characters stay within character.  The plots, old and new, are engaging and faithfully rendered (where appropriate).  She manages to tie up loose ends without wrapping them so neatly that you are left with the feeling that it is all a little too convenient.  Isn’t that just the worst part of a story?  When every character reforms so perfectly that you cannot imagine them as real.  Barbara doesn’t make that mistake.  She does a flawless job of leaving her characters human enough to relate to, her plots clean enough not to depress, but enough realism to leave you inspired and satisfied.

Within these pages, three men all suffer from the same malady– unrequited (for now anyway) love.  Knightley swings from a “checklist” of things that he can do to secure Emma’s love to the realization that those things are doomed to failure and finds his own heart plummeting at that thought.  From the Regency version of a cold shower (I laughed aloud for several minutes, trying to explain it to my husband.  I got a half-smile out of him… and that’s pretty cool), to late night confessions of love– to a cat– the story advances with as many giggles as sighs.  Isn’t that the very essence of what is Austen?

I sympathized with Spencer, groaned at Edmund Gilbert’s foolishness, meddled alongside Knightley in Martin’s business, and was keen to read of Knightley’s ultimate success.  It was fabulous!  Seeing Emma’s flaws and virtues through Knightley’s eyes was a treat that Austen didn’t give us.  BRAVO! Mrs. Cornthwaite!  In this book you also gain a deeper appreciation of both John Knighltey and Isabella Knightley.

All in all, our hero lives up to his name in every way.

You know, I keep trying to state just how fabulous this book is, but I can’t do it.  Until you read each sentence yourself, see the masterful way Mrs. Cornthwaite has crafted her story and wove them so skillfully into those of Miss Austen, you cannot possibly understand the brilliance that is this book.  The books are so well written, so faithful to the original while digging deeper into the characters, that I think if I was forced to choose between owning Austen’s Emma or Cornthwaite’s Knightley, I’d pick Knightley without hesitation.

The book is available from the author’s website, on Amazon (Kindle too!), and at Barnes & Noble.

So, if you’d like to win a free copy of this book, just post a comment and let me know if you read the first or not and how you liked it! 

The Winner is:

I read the first book some months ago and I love it. My review is at my blog in case you want to read it. Honestly, I need to reread it to refresh my memory. Finally Book 2 is available so I plan to get it if I don’t win. Thank you.

Book Review: Judgment Day *Win FREE Copy*

Title:  Judgment Day: A Novel
Author:  Wanda L. Dyson
Publisher’s Synopsis:  Sensational journalism has never been so deadly.

The weekly cable news show Judgment Day with Suzanne Kidwell promises to expose businessmen, religious leaders, and politicians for the lies they tell. Suzanne positions herself as a champion of ethics and morality with a backbone of steel—until a revelation of her shoddy investigation tactics and creative fact embellishing put her in hot water with her employers, putting her credibility in question and threatening her professional ambitions..

Bitter and angry, Suzanne returns home one day to find an entrepreneur she is investigating, John Edward Sterling, unconscious on her living room floor. Before the night is over, Sterling is dead, she has his blood on her hands, and the police are arresting her for murder. She needs help to prove her innocence, but her only hope, private investigator Marcus Crisp, is also her ex-fiancé–the man she betrayed in college.

Marcus and his partner Alexandria Fisher-Hawthorne reluctantly agree to take the case, but they won’t cut Suzanne any slack. Exposing her lack of ethics and the lives she’s destroyed in her fight for ratings does little to make them think Suzanne is innocent. But as Marcus digs into the mire of secrets surrounding her enemies, he unveils an alliance well-worth killing for. Now all he has to do is keep Suzanne and Alex alive long enough to prove it.

I’d never heard of Wanda Dyson before I read Judgment Day, but I will be reading her next book, Shepherd’s Fall.  This book is exactly the kind of book I enjoy reading.  As I started reading, Suzanne (a reporter for a sensational “expose” type show) does an extremely sloppy job of “reporting” that made my skin crawl.  At first, I was ticked at the author.  After all, I wasn’t invested in the story enough to be lost in it, but it didn’t take me long.  My anger transferred to the selfish, narcissistic reporter and then I followed the story, disgusted at the lies, corruption, and so-called justice that the book showed.  And that is exactly how it should be.

Judgment Day is a fast-paced, story with numerous subplots that don’t leave you lost and confused.  That alone is very difficult to accomplish.  I thought I had one of them figured out (hard not to say which, but I don’t want to give away the story), but I was wrong.  To be honest, I’m glad.  The red herring was a bit cliche for today’s books, so the real “Story” in the book packed a much more powerful punch– an apt metaphor considering the number of physical attacks in the book.

This book reads like a suspense/thriller movie.  You watch the scenes unfold, almost begging the characters not to enter the dark alley, the house, the woods.  You want to become a champion against black market everything and political corruption.

In my opinion, the weakest part of the book is in the relationships– they seem a bit token.  However, I don’t know if that’s a bad thing for this particular story.  The plot drives this story and the vehicle is the characters.  Characterization is brilliant.  The fact that the relationships seem inserted because that is what you’re supposed to do didn’t really bother me.  In fact, I didn’t even notice until I started thinking about it.  I particularly loved that one in particular wasn’t explored until the last page.

Now, at the risk of being considered morbid etc., one main character really did bother me, though.  I think it was a little too “neat and clean” that this one lived.  I tend not to be of the “kill ’em off” camp, but I think the book would have had stronger impact had the one character died where appropriate.  Then again, that character’s influence on that last page wouldn’t have happened and it was quite hilarious.

Wanda Dyson is a wonderful writer.  If you like Mark Mynheir or Dee Henderson, you’ll love this gal.  Get the book.  Just do it.

This book was provided by Water Brook for review.  The opinions are mine and unbiased by the free book.  Furthermore, I like to share the wealth, so I will be giving this copy away.  Just leave a comment and tell me if you’ve ever read anything by Wanda Dyson.

If you’d consider ranking my review at Water Brook, I’d appreciate it.  Just click HERE.  It seems as if the number of rankings tend to improve the selection of books I am allowed to review and that means it improves the selection I get to give away!

Book Review: The Corruptible

Title: The Corruptible (A Ray Quinn Mystery)
Author: Mark Mynheir
Publisher’s Syopsis:  How much money would it take for you to betray the truth?

Ex-homicide detective Ray Quinn never had glamorous thoughts of the life of a private investigator—but being cornered in a bathroom stall by the enraged philandering husband of a client? That’s something he could live without. Retired from homicide and living with a painful disability, Ray’s options are limited. Stick to the job, keep impetuous sidekick Crevis alive, and spend quiet evenings with trusted pal Jim Beam, that’s about the best he can hope for.

As a new client emerges, Ray finds himself in an impossibly large boardroom holding a check with enough zeros to finally lift him from his financial pit. The job seems easy enough: find Logan Ramsey, an ex-cop turned security officer who’s taken off with sensitive corporate information. But few things are easy in Ray’s world, regardless of the amount of zeros in the check.

In what should be an open-and-shut case, Ray stumbles across Logan Ramsey in a seedy motel room. Only Ray wasn’t the first to find him. Now Logan’s dead, the client’s information is nowhere to be found, and Ray’s employer is less than forthcoming with the details. Suddenly the line between the good guys and bad guys isn’t so clear. With a foot in both worlds and an illuminating look at an unhappy ending that could well be his own, which will Ray choose?

I was introduced to Mark Mynheir via the Blogging for Books program when they sent me The Night Watchman.  I loved it.  So, when I got an advanced reading copy of The Corruptible, I was ecstatic.  I expect it to be amazing.  What?  Expect?  Chautona, what’s the deal here?  You mean, you’re posting a book review for a book you haven’t read?  Are you nuts?

Why yes, yes I am.

I’m heading to my husband’s post-implant exam today and am reading the book on the 180 mile round trip.  I’ll update this post when I get home with how much I loved it.  Hey, I’m an optimist.

And, to prove my Pollyanna-like attitude, remember, the book isn’t released until next Tuesday, so you can’t dash over to your local bookstore and buy it today anyway!  See… I’m really being quite thoughtful.  Just sayin’.

I’ll be back with my thoughts sometime tonight.

*** BACK***

A part of me wants to say, “Just go order it right now” and leave that as my review, but I suppose that’s not fair.  This book wasn’t a disappointment.  So many second books are a little disappointing, but this one, if anything, is better than the first.  I was drawn in immediately and had a hard time not being rude and ignoring my husband as I read it.  Mark Mynheir has an incredible talent for writing.  His books are perfectly edited, but not so narrowly that they are dry and read like a laundry list.  However, unlike most books written in the first person, his books are so tight that I actually missed the fact that it was first person until several chapters in– again.

The character, Ray Quinn, can drop a line so perfectly that you can hear it.  These books read like a good movie.  You can feel the tension, see the colors, smell everything from the humidity to the stale pizza; you can live the story with the characters.  His characterization is perfect, the plot is solid, and thankfully, the twist isn’t uber predictable.  He got me on one part.  That’s hard to do.  I think I might have figured it out faster if I had read it in one sitting, but maybe not.  It’s just that good.

Buy it.  Just buy it.  I love the book so much that I’m not giving it away.  It’s going up on the shelf right next to The Night Watchman and waiting for another one to join it.  Five stars.  Period.

This book was provided to me by Multnomah for review– my opinions are biased only by the quality of the story.

If you wouldn’t mind, I’d really appreciate it if you dashed on over to Multnomah and ranked my review. I’m still angling for Josh Harris’ new book…

WINNER for Runner from Ravenshead

Ok, I did my thing. Got the number of entries (15) went to Random.org (as usual) and plugged in 1 winner out of 15 entries and got…

Congratulations, Cathy!  Please email me your address.  The movie will be sent to you directly from the family that produced the movie, so don’t look for it from me!  YAY!

 

Everyone else… buy it.  Seriously.  Buy it.  I still love it.

Book Review: Code of Justice

Title: Code of Justice
Author: Liz Johnson
Publisher’s Synopsis:   “Follow the drugs.”

Her sister’s last words shake FBI agent Heather Sloan to the core. They also convince her that the helicopter crash only Heather survived wasn’t an accident. Sheriff’s deputy Jeremy Latham is assigned the case—he’s the one who can help Heather find the person responsible…once she convinces him they should work together. As they dig for the truth, they learn to trust and care for each other. Will they lose it all when the killer targets Heather? She’s willing to risk her life to find her sister’s killer—but her code of justice could cost her the chance to win Jeremy’s love.

One of the best things about Liz Johnson is how approachable she is.  I “met” Liz when she was one of the publicists for Water Brook with the Blogging for Books program.  When her book, The Kidnapping of Kenzie Thorn, came out she offered me a signed copy to review.  I snapped up the chance.  After a panicked beginning (it seemed freakishly similar to a book I was writing), I got lost in the story (which really is nothing like mine) and enjoyed it immensely.  Since then, I’ve enjoyed reviewing two others including her newest book, Code of Justice.

Action.  Characterization.  Plot.  Twist.  Every good suspense novel needs these elements or it falls flat.  Liz nails them all in Code of Justice.  The story starts with a bang and, in a sense, ends with one too.  You’ll get a giggle with what I mean after you read the ending.  Ok, now I’m laughing at myself.  I’m such a dork.  Liz Johnson creates characters that feel real– as if you’ve met them in the course of your life.  They have strengths, weaknesses, and usually a faith that reminds you of something you tend to forget.  In Code of Justice, I was reminded that past mistakes can cripple you if you allow it and that single-minded justice is often an excuse for vigilante vengeance.

The plot wasn’t utterly predictable, which was nice.  I did guess “whodunnit” fairly early into the story, but I seem to have a sixth sense about these things.  It’s rare for me to get caught by surprise.  How Ms. Johnson wrote it, however, was brilliantly done.  I’m dying to say why I think so, but then it’d give away the “perp” prematurely.  Suffice it to say, I think she wrote the story brilliantly in that regard.

Alas, as with most books (including my own), there was one thing that bothered me.  It seems that Ms. Johnson’s characters are quickly attracted to one another.  I know that it happens that way sometimes, so I don’t mind it in all books, but it seems to be her “thing” if you will.  I’m sure her fans love it; I just find it a little… convenient.  That seems harsh.  It’s just that every story seems to have two people thrown together who have an almost instant attraction that somehow resolves problems from their past… and often in a matter of days.  It isn’t a huge deal, not really.  I love how her characters don’t slobber all over each other.  Their affection is appropriate and even when intense, doesn’t drag you into a private realm that is awkward.  Like I said, it’s just a little quick and a little convenient that both happen to find their hearts drawn together at about the same time.  Then again, in a book with probably 70,000 words, she doesn’t have a lot of space to draw things out with more variety unless she wants one of them to realize undying love at the last second.  Now that’d be improbable!

So, it’s a minor complaint, I grant you, but you know how I am.  If I don’t like something, I say so.  Do I recommend the book?  Absolutely.  It is a great read, quick in that it is short and holds your attention so you don’t put it down, and it has a solid plot.  And… I’m not giving it away.  That has to say something about it right?  Ok, so it’s signed to me personally and I have quite a collection of her personally signed books growing on my shelves, but that shouldn’t look suspicious.  After all, I’ve had other personally signed books that went in the donate pile nearly as quickly as I read them.  If you like books with suspense but no gore, action, strong characters with human flaws, and a nice little romantic subplot, Liz Johnson’s Code of Justice is an excellent choice.

For more information about Liz Johnson and her growing shelf of great books, visit her WEBSITE!

Movie Review: The Runner from Ravenshead ** Winner Chosen!**

Title:  The Runner from Ravenshead
Format: DVD
Studio: Little Crew Studios
Synopsis: “Pilgrim’s Progress meets Little Rascals” in this fun action/adventure movie featuring an all-children cast. Shot in Oregon’s picturesque Willamette River Valley and accompanied by an original score recorded live by the FILMharmonic Orchestra of Prague©, The Runner from Ravenshead is an allegory about finding refuge and rest from the metaphorical wardens we face in life.

After a daring escape from Ravenshead Prison, Sam finds herself in worse trouble trying to outrun the relentless wardens. But help is on the way – kind of. Henry, janitor for the City of Refuge Guide Service, is unexpectedly thrust into the line of duty when all the trained guides are called out on other missions. As he sets out on his long-awaited first assignment, he gets more adventure than he bargained for. Will the enthusiastic but awkward amateur guide persuade Sam to trust him before it’s too late.

A friend dinged me on the messenger a couple of weeks ago with a link to this movie preview.

This movie was the winner of the Audience Choice award and runner up for Best of Festival and Best Feature Film at the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival.  That’s impressive, but not nearly as impressive as the fact that the actors in the movie are five siblings– all ten or younger.  The parents wrote the script, directed it, produced it, and even did most of the costuming/sets.  Hey, even the family dog was involved.  The website bills the story as, “Pilgrim’s Progress meets Little Rascals.”  That’s just about right.

I ordered it two weeks ago, and last Wednesday, I got the notice that the movie shipped.  Yeah… I was panicking.  See, last week I promised this review.  I was pretty sure I’d have to push it back a ways.  After all, that was really only three days to be delivered.  They came through!  I went to get the mail on Saturday and there was the package.  I couldn’t believe it.  I also got a kick out of the invoice that came with it.  Very sweet.

But, this isn’t telling you about the movie.  I expected cheesy cinematography.  I almost wrote that I was “disappointed.”  It’s one of those rare times when not getting what you expect is good!  The cinematography is better than many TV shows and as good as most movies.  If you’re used to independent films looking “homemade” you will be stunned at the professionalism of this one.

With all of the actors being ten and under (I think this is accurate), I expected it to be difficult to understand them, the acting to be stiff, and to see a lot of bloopers.  Not hardly.  In the preview, when I saw the fake beards and mustaches, I just rolled my eyes and figured I’d have to overlook that– tune it out.  Actually, for some crazy reason, they lend the movie a certain bit of charm.  I can’t explain why I like it.  Normally, I’d hate it.

The plot is not predictable.  There was one twist in particular that I absolutely did not see coming.  I thought I had it all figured out– to be truthful, I thought it was going to be all about how people will give all the appearance of wanting Jesus but though they’re “almost persuaded,” they just won’t yield.  I was wrong.  It’s allegorical and yet it isn’t oppressively so.  You don’t really notice it until you look back and see all of the little nuances that are woven into the story.  I have a feeling I’m going keep finding little things as I rewatch it.  Oh, and it will be watched– often.

I think the thing that surprised me the most was when I found myself holding my breath during one tense scene.  That is when I knew that this wasn’t just a “nice” movie– this is a good movie if you can have the entire thing acted by children, playing adults, playing many different roles, and still get so lost in the story that you hold your breath.

The storyline is simple but profound.  People are imprisoned.  They escape.  The escapees are called “runners.”  The wardens pursue the runners and bring them back.  The “City of Refuge” will give the runners sanctuary if they get there.  Most people don’t know the city is there.  So, there are guides sent out every time a runner escapes.  If the runner is wise and listens to the guide, he’ll make it to the city.  If not, the warden WILL capture them.  This movie is about one runner– Sam and her journey from Ravenshead to the City of Refuge.

I give it five stars.  I love it.  Actually, I love it so much that I’m giving away a copy.  To win, simply leave a comment and tell me what you thought of the trailer.

Congratulations, Cathy!

** WINNER** Shape of Mercy

Ok, so since I did one, why not two, right?  Of course right!  (Name that movie.)

After a quick stint over at random.org, I got a nice little 8… you know, infinity… yeah, it didn’t work for me either.  Oh well, 8 is the number.  And, the winner is…

CHRISTY!

Pop me an email and I’ll get this in the mail… assuming Challice is done reading it.