Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Godmother - The Secret Cinderella Story

Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story by Carolyn Turgeon is not your typical happily ever after fairy tale. This is not Cinderella's story. This is a dark retelling with themes of aging and redemption from past mistakes.

Lil is a lonely old woman struggling to make ends meet. She works for George, a divorced man, who owns a bookstore in Manhattan. Lil's only pleasure is reading the rare books she sells. Her nights are spent alone in her apartment. But Lil has a secret. Bound beneath her clothes are beautiful white feathery wings, all that's left of her previous life. Once she was a fairy, and not just any old fairy, but the very one responsible for dressing Cinderella and getting her to the ball for the fated meeting with Prince Charming. But Lil took one look at the Prince and fell in love. She took Cinderella's place and went to the ball in her human guise. It was an unforgivable sin in her world. Fairies were not meant to feel the emotions of humans. For her mistake, she was banished to live among the humans, never to see her magical world or her fairy sisters again. One day a woman comes into the shop, a hairdresser who loves old things and falls for the wrong men. Lil connects with Victoria and when her boss needs a date for a charity ball she believes this is a chance to make things right. If she can bring George and Victoria together she can redeem herself and she'll be allowed to return to the fairy realm.

This engaging and highly original story switches between present day New York and Lil's former life as a fairy. Although the pace is sometimes slow, it's beautifully written and the descriptions of the city will make you feel like you're there. Lil is a complex character and the first person narrative allows readers to get into her head and experience her psychological state, which is often sad and depressing. There are twists and turns and a surprising ending that is open to interpretation. If you are looking for a sweet romantic tale, this is not it. This is a bittersweet tale with a haunting and thought provoking ending.

Publisher: Three Rivers Press; 1 edition (March 3, 2009)

ISBN: 978-0307407993

Paperback: 288 Pages

Price: $13.95

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Fragment by Warren Fahy

Fragment is a remarkable scientific thriller and an action packed adventure story that asks the question: What path would evolution take if a small island were isolated from other landmasses for millions of years? Warren Fahy makes the fantastic so believable you'll think you're reading non-fiction.

Sealife is a reality TV show filmed aboard the Trident, a research vessel. The participants are a group of young scientists who were promised a year long voyage guaranteed to bring them into contact with the most remote and exotic places on Earth. But the trip is not living up to its promise and the crew is getting bored. Botanist, Nell Duckworth, is anxious to explore the remote Henders island. The producer refuses until they intercept an emergency beacon coming from the island. It promises a little drama, just what the show needs to raise the ratings. A landing party is dispatched and suddenly the odyssey turns into a fight for survival of the fittest.

Fahy's story is plot driven; the characters are not so well developed. But the plot is awesome. concepts of evolution and the mechanics of natural biology It gives new life to the themes of a lost world and surviving prehistoric animals. Here the premise is the mechanics of evolution, not man's interference and Fahy has created a complex ecosystem that is extremely detailed. His creations are exotic and memorable, especially the eight-legged spigers who are twice the size of tigers and much more dangerous. There is a fair amount of violence and gore. The story moves along relentlessly in spite of a number of scientific lectures. Some of the scientific lingo and rock climbing terms may be unfamiliar, everything is explained in painstaking detail, but the suspense and powerful plot will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Publisher: Delacorte Press; First Edition edition (June 16, 2009)

ISBN: 978-0-553-80753-0

Hardcover: 384 Pages

Price: $25.00

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

My TBR List

Here's a peek at what's on my TBR list. Keep an eye out for upcoming reviews.

MICROBE by Bill Clem

In 1947, the U.S. Army left behind a secret when they closed Ft. Miles, Delaware. A threat so deadly, they buried it 1000 feet down in the Atlantic Ocean. Now, sixty years later, an oil rig drilling off the coast of Delaware has hit something. Within hours, crew members are dying from a mysterious illness that kills unmercifully.
On the opposite coast, Justin Flannigan, an estranged epidemiologist is visited by the director of the CDC who convinces him to come to Delaware to investigate the bizarre illness. But shortly after he begins his investigation, he gets another visit. This time from an eccentric old man who claims to know the origin of the deadly contagion, and soon, Justin begins to suspect that there is more to this sickness than what first appeared. It is evolving swiftly, becoming more deadly with each passing hour.
As the illness spreads to the general population, Justin realizes that this one old man may hold the key not only to his survival, but to the survival of the entire planet.

PLAGUE YEAR By Jeff Carlson
This is the first of a trilogy.
The nanotechnology was designed to fight cancer. Instead, it evolved into the Machine Plague, killing nearly five billion people and changing life on Earth forever.
The nanotech has one weakness: it self-destructs at altitudes above ten thousand feet. Those few who've managed to escape the plague struggle to stay alive on the highest mountains, but time is running out-there is famine and war, and the environment is crashing worldwide. Humanity's last hope lies with a top nanotech researcher aboard the International Space Station-and with a small group of survivors in California who risk a daring journey below the death line...

Chaos is coming, old son.
With those words the peace of Three Pines is shattered. As families prepare to head back to the city and children say goodbye to summer, a stranger is found murdered in the village bistro and antiques store. Once again, Chief Inspector Gamache and his team are called in to strip back layers of lies, exposing both treasures and rancid secrets buried in the wilderness.

No one admits to knowing the murdered man, but as secrets are revealed, chaos begins to close in on the beloved bistro owner, Olivier. How did he make such a spectacular success of his business? What past did he leave behind and why has he buried himself in this tiny village? And why does every lead in the investigation find its way back to him?
As Olivier grows more frantic, a trail of clues and treasures— from first editions of Charlotte’s Web and Jane Eyre to a spider web with the word “WOE” woven in it—lead the Chief Inspector deep into the woods and across the continent in search of the truth, and finally back to Three Pines as the little village braces for the truth and the final, brutal telling.

FIND YOUR STRONGEST LIFE: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently

By Marcus Buckingham
In today's world, can a woman truly "have it all"? A fulfilling career full of passion and performance? A belief that she is truly becoming the best, authentic version of herself? A happy, healthy life outside of work?
Countless women would roll their eyes at the possibility. Work is overwhelming. And for many of them, add the necessities of family and home. It all feels disconnected, out of control, and relentless.
In Find Your Strongest Life, Marcus Buckingham reveals the powerful key to help women draw enough strength from life to feel fulfilled, loved, successful, and in control. Even more, he helps women reconnect with their purpose and gives a starting point for change. A research-based message that applies to work and life, Find Your Strongest Life shows women how they really can have it all . . . the right kind of all.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

On The Bluffs by Steven Schindler

Have you ever wondered what happened to a past love, maybe you have even gone so far as to search for them on the internet? We have all wondered what might have been, and how different our lives might be if our paths had not gone in different directions. On The Bluffs by Steven Schindler is the story of a man who finds a lost love and risks everything to keep it. The novel explores this question in an entertaining story of relationships, romance and mystery, with a dash of humor thrown in for good measure.

Brian DeLouise is a radio producer in Washington, DC. He works double shifts while his cheating spouse, Frances, looks for his replacement. An image on the internet reminds him of a lost love and brings on regrets. Twenty years ago, he and Portia met when he worked summer theatre at her mother's house in North Hampton. He fell in love but at the end of the summer Portia took a trip abroad and he never heard from her again. A few clicks on Google and he discovers her mother's house on the bluffs is still there. He's stuck in a loveless marriage and laid off from his job - what does he have to lose? Brian finds more than he bargained for when he takes a trip to the coast. The mansion is falling apart, the family is dysfunctional and their geriatric boarders have their own set of problems but Brian finds the love of his life and is determined not to lose her again. He gives in to Frances' demands so he can get a quick divorce but Portia is keeping secrets that threaten to separate them forever.

Shindler sets his scene well. He makes you feel like you are right there whether it's in DC or North Hampton. The character of Brian is fully fleshed out and I got a real sense of who he is. I loved Portia but I had trouble understanding why she disappeared as a young woman and I would have liked to know more about the villain and what made him such a creep. Despite those minor flaws, I loved the story. The plot was original, full of clever twists and turns and very engrossing. It's a story that will make you believe in second chances.

Publisher: The Elevated Press; 1st edition (August 1, 2009)
ISBN: 978-0966240818
Paperback: 300 Pages
Price: $14.95

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Frozen Tears by Mary Ann MacAfee

In Frozen Tears, a tale of love and adventure in contemporary Alaska, Mary Ann MacAfee parallels real life issues and spiritual elements to create a story that is haunting, heartbreaking and hopeful.

Kale Leland is a hydrologist in the remote wilds of Midland, Alaska. She has a job, friends and an overbearing boyfriend that her family approves of. Her life is pretty well set until she meets Elliot Weaver, an Alaskan Native at The Crusty Miner, a local bar. There's a strong attraction between the Ennuit bush pilot and the California-bred white girl. Over the objections of friends and family Kale marries Elliot and despite their cultural differences the young couple is happy and looking forward to a long life together. He takes her to visit the Native village where his family lives and she forms a bond with his grandfather, Ittuq who is a wolf shaman. But when they get a call that Ittuq is sick they attempt an emergency flight to the village and it ends in a tragic accident. Elliot dies leaving Kale pregnant and lost in the snowy wilderness. Caught in a whirl of pain, loss and confusion she is led to a cave and then later to the village by a gray wolf. She believes Ittuq became a wolf one last time before he died so he could save her and his grandchild. Kale comes to love the wolves and she will rely on their spiritual guidance in the future when tragedy strikes again.

I love to open a book and find myself immersed in another world. Frozen Tears did that for me. MacAfee paints vivid pictures of the Alaskan landscape and weather that left me breathless. Her descriptions of the Ennuit village with its native traditions, extreme poverty and alcoholism give the story a real depth. Her characters live and breathe. I found myself empathizing with Kale and her struggle to overcome each challenge and loss. This bittersweet tale will entice readers to suspend belief in ordinary reality and enter a world of mysticism and reincarnation. Themes of environmentalism are woven in a compelling exploration of life, love and loss. A wonderful story filled with redemptive hope and the promise of enduring love. I highly recommend it.

Publisher: BookSurge Publishing (May 8, 2009)

ISBN- 978-1439218198

Paperback: 368 Pages

Price: $15.99

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Telefax Box by Toni Seger

As technology develops humanity's fears of being replaced by machines increases. Science fiction novels and films have explored this theme many times over. From Isaac Asimov's "I Robot" to the Cylons in "Battlestar Galactica" we have been entertained by all manner of artificial intelligence. The Telefax Box by Toni Seger takes things a step further. Book One of The Telefax Trilogy is a political and social satire that incorporates themes of man versus machine with a large cast of diverse aliens.

Atla II, the sixth planet in the Drexia System, known as Central Command Laboratory, is home to the Machine, a God like computer that controls and documents everything that goes on. Druscan, a Tertian from Central Command, is vacationing on a gambling asteroid. He meets Llona, a Samerac, who convinces him to be her gaming partner. They are playing against Mishta, a Zanton and Toja, a Scroge, who sports scaly, flakey skin. When Toja's dead body is discovered, Druscan is questioned. Meanwhile a second death occurs at a well-secured lab at Central Command. Sudbury, a Borck scientist, who is developing functional machinery, is murdered but the Machine has no record of it. Some believe the Machine made a mistake but that amounts to blasphemy. The mystery deepens and the various species must overcome their culturally biased attitudes to solve it.

Those looking for action scenes will be disappointed. This story is all about the mystery and intrigue. The plot is propelled by Seger's well-written dialogue. Her strengths lie in world building and character creation. Her galaxy is populated with many different races that adhere to a strict social hierarchy that is rife with prejudice. Their deeply ingrained and established attitudes influence their behavior. There are Zantons, creatures with elongated limbs who hold powerful positions, aquatic Taborites who live in tanks and Sameracs, blue and beautiful, but at the bottom of society because they are anti-machine. Not to mention the Quamats, Tostians, Gulms, Storts and Borcks. With so many bizarre species to track, it's tough to find a protagonist to empathize with, although chief investigator, Eola, is probably the most sympathetic. The Telefax Trilogy is an ambitious undertaking, a provocative story that sometimes plods along, but is ultimately an entertaining and worthwhile read. There's a satisfying conclusion that sets things up nicely for future books. It's a promising beginning and I look forward to reading more.

Publisher: Custom Books Publishing (March 31, 2008)
ISBN: 978-1434841841
Paperback: 230 Pages
Price: $15.00

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Monday, September 14, 2009

A Man of his Word by Kathleen Fuller

Kathleen Fuller's A Man of His Word is a light read about love, relationships and betrayal in an Amish community. The author skillfully depicts life in the village of Middlefield, Ohio, the fourth largest Amish settlement.

Moriah Byler is looking forward to marrying her childhood sweetheart, Levi Miller, but after the wedding, he becomes distant and spends more and more time away from home. Moriah discovers she is pregnant and hopes the baby will bring them closer. She plans a four-month anniversary dinner where she will tell him the good news. But that night Levi never comes home. Instead, he sends her a note telling her he's leaving her and the Amish life forever. Marriage is forever in their community and even though Levi is gone, she is still married to him. She will never have a husband or another child. Gabriel, Levi's twin, has loved Moriah for years but he knows he can never have her.

I enjoyed most the descriptions of Amish life and beliefs. Fuller did a wonderful job portraying a world that was unfamiliar to me. However, the story itself didn't live up to my expectations. The plot and the subplot had predictable outcomes. There were no surprises and I didn't feel the tension and conflict that should have present. I think the story would have had more depth if we had more of Levi's story and what went through his mind in their first four months of marriage. I didn't really feel like I knew him or understood his reasons for leaving his new bride and the community. There was a lot of repetition in the progress of the relationships. And a storyline about a secondary character who played a large part, including a scene where he was presumably caught stealing, was left unresolved. The book was not a page-turner for me but those who enjoy Amish stories may be entertained.

Publisher: Thomas Nelson (September 1, 2009)
ISBN: 978-1595548122
Paperback: 320 Pages
Price: $14.99


Friday, September 11, 2009

The Little Insanity by Janus Kane

Ever hear of the Six Degrees of Separation theory, sometimes referred to as the Human Web? It refers to the idea that we are all connected to each other by a chain of six intermediaries, we all have the potential to know each other through mutual acquaintances. The Little Insanity by Janus Kane proves that it is a small world after all with his tale of six people whose lives intersect in unpredictable ways.

Jenn has sex with Jason and gives him the brush off despite the fact he wants to see her again.

Jason complains to his buddy Kyle.

Kyle has his own problems; his marriage to Kyra is going south.

Kyra tells her coworker Beth, a bulimic, that she's thinking about divorcing Kyle.

Beth commiserates, leaves work and sideswipes Brad's new Beemer with her '93 Ford.

Brad visits the police station and hands the accident info over to a cop, who happens to be Jason. Brad is new in town and Jason extends an invitation to hang out with the guys. He then meets Beth to take a look at her car. Beth goes off to therapy with Jenn, who has a Master's Degree in Social Work. Later Jenn visits her wealthy parents and finds mom drinking and taking pills because dad is having another affair. She leaves and runs into Kyle who is there to do some painting. Kyle discovers Jenn's mom unconscious, gives her CPR and calls 911. Jenn and Kyle meet again in the hospital and Jenn takes him to dinner as a thank you for saving her mother's life. She likes him, a first because her relationships rarely extend past the bedroom. Kyle calls it an early night because Kyra is waiting at home. Of course he hasn't told Jenn he's married. She stops at a bar and runs into Brad, gives him a fake name and ends up having a night of mind-blowing sex...

And that's just the beginning.

This is a story about relationships, addictions and deeply flawed characters. The chapters are short and they move along relentlessly. Each one focuses on a character but the lives of the cast become hopelessly intertwined in alarming ways. The twists and turns kept me reading and before I knew it, I had finished the book. Some situations may seem implausible but Kane makes it all work by giving his characters real life issues to deal with. I loved it!

Publisher: March Books (May 6, 2009)
ISBN-13: 978-1935367291
Paperback: 296 pages


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Fearless: Imagine Your Life Without Fear by Max Lucado

Fear begins in infancy with separation anxiety. A few years later and we are afraid of the dark and the monster under the bed. When we become teenagers, our biggest fears are rejection, being different and doing poorly in school. As adults, we fear responsibility, unsatisfied ambitions and death. Unfettered these fears can paralyze us.
Fearless: Imagine Your Life Without Fear is a Christian self-help manual by Max Lucado, best-selling Christian author and minister of writing and preaching at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas. He helps you come to terms with the fact that fear is an inescapable part of life but it does not have to limit you.

I've been tossed about by life a few times, enough to leave me with a healthy dose of fear. I was ready to embrace a fearless life or at least one that is less fearsome. I am a skeptic but I opened my mind before I opened this book and I was pleasantly surprised. I read it straight through and then went back and reread the chapters that spoke to me.

Max has a wonderful voice. He writes in a conversational style that makes you feel like you know him. It's an easy read. He peppers his prose with humorous anecdotes, uplifting stories, parables and scripture but underneath it all is an uplifting message. I think Max has put his finger on the crux of the problem - we need to trust more and we will fear less. We can conquer our fear through the power of faith and it will help us live our lives to the fullest.

Max talks about his own fears. He begins the book with a story about his brother, a troubled man who faced his fears and was able to live an alcohol free life for two years before God took him. The book is divided into chapters that focus on different types of fear. It is simple, it is straightforward and it is inspirational. I highly recommend it.

Table of Contents:
Why are we afraid?
Fear of not mattering
Fear of disappointing God
Fear of running out
Fear of not protecting my kids
Fear of overwhelming challenges
Fear of worst-case scenarios
Fear of violence
Fear of the coming winter
Fear of life's final moments
Fear of what's next
Fear that God is not real
Fear of global calamity
Fear of God getting out of my box
Conclusion: William's Psalm
Discussion Guide

Publisher: Thomas Nelson (September 8, 2009)
ISBN: 978-0849921391
Hardcover: 224 Pages
Price: $24.99


Friday, September 4, 2009

The Warded Man by Peter V Brett

Peter V. Brett makes a strong debut with The Warded Man. The dark fantasy, which was titled The Painted Man in England, is the first book of The Demon Trilogy. The highly inventive plot of this character based story captures the imagination immediately. Readers get to experience every emotion and motivation as the protagonists grow and develop.

When darkness comes the corelings emerge from below ground. These demons of sand, wood, wind, flame and rock, attack and kill until morning light. Magical wards offer some protection but are often overcome. Eleven year-old Arlen flees his village after his mother is killed and becomes obsessed with the idea of leading an attack on the demons. Meanwhile thirteen year-old Leesha becomes a healer and Rojer, crippled in the same attack that killed his parents, turns to music for solace. The fates of these two will become entwined with Arlen's as he grows into a mythical figure painted with wards, a man who stands against the demons.

Brett's high fantasy is based on a fascinating premise and he blends themes of heroism and passiveness throughout. He sets the scene well in this first book by establishing the back history of his three main characters - Arlen, Leesha, and Rojer. Readers get to follow them as they age and experience the events that influence them. The author also does a great job making his world believable and depicting the characteristic mental attitudes in small towns. All this and he manages to include some romance, action and adventure scenes as well. This is a page-turner, an awesome book with a satisfying climax, but luckily for us there's much more to come in future books.

Publisher: Del Rey; First Printing edition (March 10, 2009)

ISBN: 978-0-345-50380-0

Hardcover: 432 Pages

Price: $25.00

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Under This Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell

Under This Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell is a beautifully written book about family, betrayal and greed - but it took me an incredibly long time to finish it. The gut-wrenching suffering portrayed in this unforgettable story made it a tough read for me. The book is broken up into seasons rather than chapters and it begins in the spring of 1938. It is the story of two Ukrainian families who escape Stalin's regime to build a home on the Canadian prairie, but the dream of a new life is plagued by obstacles from the beginning.

Ukrainian immigrant Teodor Mykolayenko, his wife Maria and their five children are forced to leave their first home in Canada. Teodor keeps some of his grain to make a new start and is arrested for stealing. He is released from prison after serving two years and he returns to his family who are living in a shack on his sister Anna's land. Before he went to prison he made an arrangement with Anna to buy land in her name because a convict is not allowed to own property in Canada. Now that he is back, he intends to fulfill his part of the bargain. Maria becomes pregnant and Teodor works hard to take care of his family. He farms the land, grows wheat and builds a new house for them. Anna's drunk and abusive husband Stefan rapes and impregnates her and then deserts his family. Teodor pays Anna back and provides for her and her two children as well. Anna is deeply depressed and her attempts to miscarry are unsuccessful. When Stefan returns and sees what Teodor's hard work has produced he's determined to have the land and the house for himself. He sets the two families on a course that can only lead to a tragic outcome.

Mitchell's debut novel is written in present tense, a style that usually puts me off but in this case, it works. The writing is so evocative and the prose so descriptive, the tense lends immediacy to the narrative. The author is adept at illustrating a point, even including a recipe for borsch at a place in the story when the family has grown a good crop and has enough to eat. There is little dialogue and yet the story flows. It's told through the viewpoints of vivid personalities that you will either love or hate. The characters live and breathe and that is what makes it such a difficult read. I experienced each hardship and oppression along with them. The violent scenes of animals being killed were painful and not for the squeamish. Anticipation of the next unavoidable tragedy would make me set the book down. I finished it because I make it a rule to do so but it's a story I could only read in small doses. The conflicts keep coming with only fleeting glimpses of happiness to relieve the misery. I don't mind dark and disturbing but this was relentless. It is a dramatic and well-written book. Shandi Mitchell is a wonderful writer but the subject matter was a real downer for me.

Publisher: HarperCollins

ISBN-13: 9780061774027

Hardcover: 352 Pages

Price: $25.99

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