Friday, October 29, 2010

Within My Heart


Within My Heart is Tamera Alexander's final book in her Timber Ridge Reflections series.

In 1877 Timber Ridge, Colorado, Rachel Boyd is trying her very hardest to keep her late husband's dream of a ranch alive to honor him, and give her two little boys a better life. But running a ranch is difficult for anyone, especially a widow with two small children, piling bills, and a bitter cold that is thinning the herd. Yet Rachel isn't one to give up.

Dr. Rand Brookston only arrived to Timber Ridge a couple of years ago and never met Rachel's husband, Thomas. He admires her from a distance and wishes she didn't seem to dislike him so much. What he doesn't know is that he reminds her of her father, and her opinion of doctors is pretty much set in stone. But there is more to him, and a past that causes him secret shame to this day.

When tragedy strikes and a dear friend of Rachel's needs medical help, Rachel and Rand find themselves together more often - a tentative friendship begins to blossom. But Rachel is reluctant to go farther, and Rand keeps making waves with the town, making unexpected decisions. Will Rachel ever see past her stubbornness? And will Rand ever reveal what makes him unable to turn out the light at night?

Okay - I don't feel like this premise is really oozing the pure historical fiction dream Within My Heart is. But that is the thing, the synopsis itself sounds simple. There isn't a big hook or huge, "What?!" on the back cover description. Instead it hints of the ordinariness of life - life in a small Colorado town in 1877. And that is essentially what Within My Heart is - to the best degree.

Tamera Alexander's prose is immediately lyrical and poetically entrancing. The way she weaves her words creates a vivid Rocky Mountain environment and time period. You can feel the dirt under your feet and smell the fresh air. And when a medical emergency occurs early on, without warning or predictability, it cuts through to your heart with a realness that is extraordinary. She perfectly portrays a human pain that almost everyone can relate to - fear of the loss of a loved one. It is riveting without being in your face PLOT.

Despite my summary making Rachel sound, perhaps, like a headstrong cliche - she is anything but. Rachel is likable and has the a quiet strength that you believe most women had to possess in such rural times - and still do possess. There is a believability to her, and a relatability.

Rand is also immediately compelling and intriguing. The character shine and sparkle under Tamera Alexander's spotlight. Her talent truly sweeps me away (and this is the second time she has done this to me, I had the same experience with her debut novel a few years back, Rekindled).

By 75 pages I was so enamored I was already desperate for the other books in this series (From a Distance and Beyond This Moment) and the two after Rekindled (Revealed and Remembered) and her stand-alone (The Inheritance). They are definitely on my must-list - as Tamera Alexander has now shown me in two complete novels that she is a writer to follow!

There are unexpected twists in Within My Heart and a variety of different directions it can go as it explores the lives of all these townspeople, all of them fascinating in their own right, yet a focus on the simple, yet hard, and sometimes heartbreaking, lives of these two main characters. Within My Heart is rustic, earthy, and grounded with stark, unglamorized details of the period. I was transported to Timber Ridge, almost sure I could meet these people - as they are portrayed so grittily realistic.

And let's be honest - Rand's masculine attractiveness doesn't hurt the novel's progress one little bit. He is very, um, appealing. But what is great about it, to me anyway, is how he is not a romance novel cliche-ridden bad boy (not that I always object to those, lol). Yet it is more his kindness, compassion, and maturity that make him hot - nothing beats a gentleman.

In the same vein of rejecting overplayed cliches, Rachel manages to be strong, opinionated, and capable while still being feminine and believable. Plus, the storyline doesn't revolve, necessarily, around romance but life - truly gripping, absorbing drama involving families, livelihoods, loss, forgiveness, and faith in God.

Within My Heart is filled with lovely, extravagant wordplay and a beautiful use of descriptions. And when it does get around to more straightforward romance it is done very, very well. Mmm-hmm.

In my opinion, Within My Heart is a must-read for anyone that enjoys historical fiction or literary fiction - it has breathtaking visuals, stunning character development, and enveloped me in the time, place, and people. Without sounding too corny, it did actually inspire me - and it just may have elicited a happy-sigh from me as I closed the final pages. I'm sure all you bibliophiles know what I mean when I talk about the happy-sigh.

At the end Tamera Alexander has a sweet and touching personal note - in which she also mentions a new, upcoming three book series. Oh dear. When's it coming out? Whenever it is, I'll be there. How about you?

*I received a copy of Within My Heart from the Bethany House Book Reviewers program, which you can check out here. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Call Me Kate + Author Interview!!!


Welcome to the Bibliophile Support Group, Molly! Molly is the author of the YA historical fiction novel Call Me Kate (which I thought was a great read, for more details on what I thought read my review below).

Call Me Kate seemed very authentic and full of period details - how much research did you have to do?


I researched for several years, but it was not all for the book. I’ve been doing family history research since 1998. That was the year I realized how wonderful the internet could be for genealogists. The census and other records fascinated me, especially things like the employment and the death indices. Those records included occupations I’d never encountered and diseases/causes of death that were strange and terrifying. I also began to read old newspapers to get the flavor of the time period.

How much of Call Me Kate (percentage wise) was true to life?

I would say 80% of the book is true to life. The dates of events were factual, and the mining information was as close to 100% as I could get it, but Kate’s movements and dialog were totally fictional. The only information the family actually has about my great-grandmother is that she came to the US to earn money working as a domestic in a “big house.”

Did Kate's narrative voice come easily to you? It was so convincing that she was from the 1860s that I couldn't help but wonder how someone from the 21st Century could inhabit that so well.

Thank you! I picked up on phrases that the older folks used when they’d share stories on summer evenings on the porch. In fact, I was surprised to learn that some of the words came directly from Irish Gaelic - that even after so many generations, those expressions had survived. Kate’s “voice” also reflected the way newspapers and ads read in those days. I purchased microfilm of local papers from the nineteenth century. The language was pretty formal back then. Finally, when in doubt, I went back to books written in that era, like Little Women and mimicked period authors at times.

Have you ever spouted off your historical knowledge to people in order to impress? Be honest, now! ;)

Actually, I try to be low key unless people show an interest in history. I know my family has gotten weary of my stories and facts, so I hesitate spouting off to keep from boring others. But beware, if you show an interest ...!

In your digging, did you find out any fact or tidbit about life in the 1860s that you never thought you'd know?

I was surprised about a lot of things - how often people moved back then, how far they walked on a daily basis, and how difficult things were for my ancestors. One family is recorded as landing in Canada in one of the coffin ships and walking the 300 miles to Pennsylvania!

Ever been challenged about the accuracy of a detail? If so, who was right?

I’ve been challenged about the involvement of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) in the Molly Maguires. It’s a very controversial topic in some quarters. In my novel, I tried to convey that even the people involved did not know exactly what was real and what was propaganda. Some readers/reviewers have taken offense, believing that I stereotyped the Irish and the AOH. That was definitely not my intent; I meant to give as accurate a perspective as I could. After all, my own relatives were in the Ancient Order of Hibernians and labeled as Molly Maguires, including my Gerrity great-grandfather who was a bodymaster of the organization. The heroine of my novel, Great-grandmother Catharine McCafferty, lost a nephew by marriage to the gallows and suffered along with her sister and niece. So who is “right” is a matter of perspective, I guess.

What audience did you write Call Me Kate for? All ages? A specific age group? I found that was easily riveting and enjoyable for me, a bibliophile of the age of 23.

I write for the age I teach -12 to 15 year olds. The fact that MUCH older people have loved the book was a big bonus for me. Many eighty-year-olds have contacted me to reminisce about the time when “coal was king.” I’m so pleased that you as a “twenty-something” enjoyed it.

On the back cover of Call Me Kate it mentions that you have a planned trilogy of historical YA novels - Can you give us any details? What are you working on now? When will it come out?

Each of the McCafferty sisters will eventually have a voice. The second book is Sarah’s story. She’s the middle sister who graduates and goes to work for a well-know mine superintendent in the town of Centralia. Murder and a curse placed on the Molly Maguires fuels the plot of this work in progress. I am currently revising the manuscript. The youngest sister, Maymie, will be the main character in the third book , which will be set in Philadelphia. Maymie’s story will follow the trials of the Mollies, many of whom were innocent.

Is there any chance of a sequel for Call Me Kate?

I’ll definitely have to do a sequel, or my friends and colleagues will badger me unmercifully. I hoped to combine the sequel with Sarah’s story but it was too much information for one novel.

Do you read a lot of historical fiction?

I read a variety of genres including historical fiction. I also like mysteries, especially those set in the past.

Do you have any recommendations for us book hungry youngin's?

I recommend the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. The final book, Mockingjay, came out in August. I think it will eventually join the ranks of Harry Potter and Twilight for the YA crowd.

As an aspiring author (and knowing that most book lovers are), do you have any advice for those who'd like to write historical fictions but find the research needed daunting?

Historicals are the most time intensive of the fiction genre, but if you love the era you choose, the research won’t be a labor. I now have an excuse to read (in the name of research) instead of doing housework!

Is there anything else you'd like to say, Molly, before you leave us here at the Bibliophile Support Group gazing at our bookshelves with an unhealthy amount of adoration?

Keep reading, respect your ancestors, and never stop learning!

Thank you so much for coming by the Bibliophile Support Group and answering these questions! I think everybody should check out Call Me Kate: Meeting the Molly Maguires - and I heartily look forward to whatever you might have coming next! Now for my review:

Call Me Kate: Meeting the Molly Maguires is a YA historical fiction, written by Molly Roe (pen name of Mary Garrity Slaby).

As the beginning rumbles of the Civil War are mere rumors to those McCafferty family, Katie spends every day wondering if another coal mining accident will occur. In her hometown, almost every able-bodied male works in the coal mine, which is dirty, hard work. The mines are dangerous and often tragic, but since the boss' provide the housing, the families don't complain about the shoddy safety concerns.

But when Kate's father becomes victim of one of these accidents, even though he is one of the lucky ones in still being alive, he no longer has use of his legs. Which means the McCafferty family's primary breadwinner is no longer able to provide for them, throwing the family of five into poverty.

In the meantime, drafts are being called by President Lincoln for all the mining men, stirring up a risky rebellion as many are Irish miners that are the only ones keeping their families alive. Nobody has the $300 requested to stay out of the war - and nobody is happy about being forced into the war. But some are starting to get a bit more violent about their dissent, and one of the groups leading the way is secret Irish organization the Molly Maguires.

Right away, Kate's first person voice feels genuine to me, easily believable that she is from this different time period and cultures - alive with personality. The mine collapse in the very first chapter is an immediate disturbance, showing history along with plot development.

At the beginning, the story is more domestic than I expected. More emphasis is placed on Kate's family issues, daily life, and light plot advancement. But there is charm in this. And the pages do fly by, especially when Kate has to begin working full-time as a servant in a mansion as war times begin, to help to provide for her ailing family. The resonance of a 14-year-old girl having to work so hard is powerful, and causes Katie to shine as courageous heroine who sacrifices for her family - a great example for all of us in this generation.

Call Me Kate starts to take compelling shape, becoming increasingly tense as the disorder and revolts gain steam and she watches it happen, away from home. I came to care deeply for Katie, and I really felt like I was in the early 1860's. The accidents and illnesses have the echo of the true pain experienced in life, not watered down for younger readers. It is touching and inspiring, and the political intrigue causes true suspense.

Irish culture manages to be centerstage, yet never overplayed. The fiery issues of the draft are presented but are written with less of a point of view, more of an objective observer more concerned for the safety of her family, friends, and home. When Kate does finally go undercover (no details for you - read it!), it is nailbiting and I had absolutely no understanding of how it could end well.

But what was to say it would?

At the end of Call Me Kate: Meeting the Molly Maguires there are some special features, like Literature Circle Questions, Extension Activities, and a Glossary of Terms (in which I learned that I might just be a blatherskite - don't know what that is? Neither did I.). This sounds cheesy, but these features and the novel itself honestly manages to make learning fun!

I was really impressed with Call Me Kate, and am eagerly anticipating the other two novels in the supposed trilogy of historical fiction Molly Roe is apparently going to be writing.

For more information check out: Molly Roe's blog, Molly Roe's Facebook page, an excerpt of the book, the publisher Tribute Book's website, Facebook, and Twitter page, and the Amazon page for Call Me Kate here.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Masquerade


Masquerade is the new historical fiction release from Christy Award winning author Nancy Moser.

It is 1886 and Charlotte Gleason has it all, has had it all for the first 19 years of her life in Wiltshire, England. But when her birthday party comes and she stands waiting and waiting in her finest for her friends and acquaintances, as well her potential fiance Ralph, and no one arrives except one rather haughty "friend" that leaves promptly - her life changes. She realizes that her aloofness has caught up with her, and the reality is that her family's standing in the community is in jeopardy. The laying off of half the Dornby Manor's staff had barely reached her notice, but now she sees it as stark evidence that the Gleason finances are in disarray.

Her parents send her off to America with a mission: marry the besotted, extremely wealthy heir that she only ever, with disdain, corresponded with through letters and has never met. But this does not meet Charlotte's standards of fairy-tale, novel romance that she has always embraced and longed for... she wants adventure, not a stuffy fiance. So, she begins to formulate a plan.

Dora has been a maid at Dornby Manor since she was thirteen years old and has, over the years, become as close of a friend to Charlotte as a servant can be. When circumstances arise that call for Dora to be Charlotte's companion on the trip to America, she leaves behind the life she thought she would have... though she's not so sure she minds. When Charlotte proposes that Dora take her place as Miss Gleason when they arrive in New York, Dora doesn't know what to think. How can she keep up a charade like that? Will she not be found out and humiliated? But the thought of being a lady, attending balls, and wearing beautiful gowns is too tempting to turn down.

But neither of them is fully aware where this masquerade will take them - because every masquerade must come to an end, and eventually everyone must remove their masks...

The premise really grabbed my attention - an interesting mix of The Prince and the Pauper, Titanic, and other fun influences (the author admitted as much). And almost immediately I was transported to 1886 England and felt a true sense of who Lottie (Charlotte) and Dora were. The ability to introduce me to these characters so quickly was incredible.

Masquerade lays out a plot rife with troubles, deceit, and rich, luxurious historical atmosphere that left me completely enamored by the end of the first chapter. The period feel is extremely lush and fun - I soaked it up happily.

Nancy Moser doesn't shy away from Lottie's lesser characteristics, such as childishness and jealousy. This only helps to make the characters more real and relatable. I tended to like Dora a tad more than Lottie most of the time, but both of them were written very well.

There's is something undeniably page-turning about switching identities, balls, gowns, fancy dining rooms, polite conversations, and taking a walk about the deck of a ship. Yet what is most surprising is that Nancy Moser manages to make this all feel realistic - as if it all could truly happen. And, hey, why couldn't it? It's 1886!

Masquerade takes a twist from the buttery glimpse of privilege to that of the degradation of poverty, and allows the plot to turn into turmoil and nail-biting suspense. The contrast of situations is fascinating and makes for great reading. Plus, I honestly felt like I, too, was keeping their secret, which was nerve-wracking.

Neither class represented is glorified, nor demonized - but examined through the eyes of these two characters that see it through the eyes of the other half's lifestyle. Moser's excellent skill is displayed as the pages keep flying and I found myself drenched in sumptuous, gorgeous detail without using paragraphs of adjectives. She aptly portrays the suffocation of an unhappy life - though later on I felt there was a bit more social commentary than necessary.

To sum it up, Masquerade is a wholly entertaining, if sometimes a bit dour in my opinion, satisfying read that is a must for any Christian reader, easily accessible to any YA reader that enjoys historical fiction, and pretty much any bibliophile that loves to read great books and give different genres a shot!

*I received a copy of Masquerade from the Bethany House Book Reviewers program, which you can check out here. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

Monday, October 18, 2010

In Every Heartbeat


In Every Heartbeat is the newest Christian historical fiction release of Kim Vogel Sawyer.

The early tensions and rumbles of World War I is the talk of all the newspapers and the backdrop as Libby, Pete, and Bennett enter their first year of college in 1914. As scholarship students leaving their orphanage home (where none of them were ever adopted) for the first time, the three close friends are both excited and apprehensive about their future. Libby dreams of being a famous journalist, Pete wishes to fulfill his calling of becoming a minister, and Bennett isn't quite sure what he wants to do except have a blast and maybe pledge a fraternity.

Problem is, as close as the three were in their many years at the orphanage, their different goals and hopes begin to slowly pull them apart. Before they know it, their lives seem to rarely overlap. But when Libby stumbles across a piece of information that has to do with Pete's past and the family that abandoned him it could either be what brings the three friends back together, or finally tears them apart for good.

First off, the environment of college in 1914 is immediately interesting and the fact that the story revolves around three friends gives In Every Heartbeat loads of directions to go, which I really liked right away. Plus, it doesn't take long to see that Libby, Pete, and Bennett's personalities were going to easily jump off the page and become real - colorful individuals with a wealth of vivaciousness, secret hopes, and a lingering of hurt from their early lives.

With each character being only 18 years old, In Every Heartbeat is again a novel I can see the YA crowd enjoying, if you YA lovers (of which I am one) were wondering. ;)

To be honest, Libby came across to me as a bit annoying at first. I wasn't sure if I was going to like this headstrong, impulsive, lone female character. But as time went on Kim Vogel Sawyer's immense writing skills persuaded me to come around and begin to really like her - not to mention all of the other characters, which are portrayed in a grounded, mature, believable way - making it easy for a bibliophile like me to want to follow their stories with eagerness.

In Every Heartbeat is, at its core, a coming-of-age tale - stock full of raw, painful love triangles that are both unrequited and unrealized. The essence of confusion, the anguish of misunderstanding, the ache of wishing you could take back words said aloud, and the yingyang of choosing to fear or embrace life changes is truthful and relatable to everyone, as these experiences are a part of life - the only difference is that Libby, Pete, and Bennett are going through it in 1914.

I came to deeply care about these three people as they became more and more real to me as the novel went on. I cared about their domestic life, one dealing with living with a disability, all three dealing with childhoods rife with the memories of being unwanted, uncared for, and barely surviving before the orphanage found them and gave them a home.

It is also rapturously romantic, yet full of the twist and pull of differing paths, goals, and life choices that can destroy the beginning admission of love. In Every Heartbeat especially kicks in with its romantic punch around 150 pages, giving enough time to know the characters and have invested interest in the shape the plot is taking.

The divisions in friendship feel raw and real, a tribute to Kim Vogel Sawyer's writing ability. I almost felt like I was watching an epic period piece play out - very engrossing, heartbreaking, moving, inspiring, and understatedly beautiful.

Faith, belief, and trust in God play large roles later on in the novel, though not so heavyhandedly as to turn away the reader that doesn't necessarily read Christian fiction but enjoys historical fiction/romance. But this is definitely an excellently written treat for Christian readers.

Every once in a while In Every Heartbeat got a tad preachy and bit touchy-feely - but that line was only crossed a few times, in my opinion, and never watered down the pure magic of being swept away to this time period and becoming wrapped up in these three intertwining lives. If you give it a chance and pick it up, I'd be surprised if you don't feel the same.

*I received a copy of In Every Heartbeat from the Bethany House Book Reviewers program, which you can check out here. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Roswell or Bust


Roswell or Bust is a (slightly) older title from the YA sci-fi extraordinare Henry Melton. Shall he dazzle me again? We shall see!

Joe Ferris wishes he could join a basketball team, like other teenage guys. He wishes he could hang out and do nothing after finishing his homework. But he has been raised to help guests and do what needs to be done as the third generation in his family's motel business. Barely anyone knows about little Las Vegas, New Mexico, but the Railroad Motel manages to get some regular guests - including one nice, keep-to-himself-type John Smith.

However, when John Smith leaves his room in a hurry and forgets a strange item behind in his room, Joe is about to have much more adventurous time than he's ever had tidying up rooms and checking in guests. Especially when he meets mute Judith who is desperately searching for John Smith, whom she believes is in danger.

How does this all end up involving the 1947 Roswell incident? Believe me, it does. :)

Roswell or Bust has an electric, grounded, yet mysterious start. There's a strong sense of fun, science fiction kind of fun, which I love. Both the main characters, Joe and Judith, immediately come across as relatable and real. The tone is suspenseful, entertaining, and enigmatic - a winning combination, in my book!

One thing that is always cool about Henry Melton's stories are that he is constantly original. One example of this is Judith's disability. When have you ever read a book with a main character that is mute? Well, maybe you have. But I haven't! It's underrepresented and a truly different problem - and it's not presented in a cartoonish or unbelievable manner, but with sensitivity and down-to-earth practicality. It's invigorating and energizing. Especially since he actually shows teens, instead of the horribly self-centered, typical dumb teens, as having the possibility of having a decent head on their shoulders. What a spectacular idea!

Though I know that the cover of Roswell or Bust may look a bit childish or cartoonish, it does have bearing on the story and relevance later on, since Judith ends up drawing a picture like the one on the cover. It disheartens me to think someone might not read Roswell or Bust of what may be considered a "younger" looking - a direct opposite of the mature, fun, sci-fi spin inside. Henry Melton always manages to put a fresh twist on an old story, and this time it is the excellent conspiracy of Roswell aliens... or is it? ;)

Mixed in with believable family issues, that are restrained from becoming angsty or whiny, and a wonderful array of odd moments that increase the weirdness of what is happening to Joe's life - there is a deepening of the plot and a gleefully clipping pace.

I was, indeed, sufficently dazzled. Somehow Roswell or Bust can be both amusing and serious, without creating that strange tone that can sometimes occur. Instead, the strong character development makes the storylines even more exciting, the aliens delightful, and the overall result so great, fun, and awesome that I really wouldn't mind a sequel.

Ya listenin', Henry? :)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Interview with Vordak the Incomprehensible!


Let's give a big welcome to the Bibliophile Support Group to Vordak! To all who don't know (yet), Vordak is the author of Vordak the Incomprehensible: How to Grow Up and Rule the World. You can read my review here. Can you tell us a little about it, Vordak?

Absolutely. A spectacular and handsome Supervillain (ME!) gives awe-inspiring advice to undeserving little whelps (you) on how to take over the planet.

Can you explain to us all what exactly makes you incomprehensible?

Merriam-Webster defines INCOMPREHENSIBLE as: having or subject to no limits, impossible to comprehend. I think that pretty much covers it.

What do you say to all of those kids who aspire to be the superhero, not the villain?

I’ll be seeing somewhere down the line – preferably dangling over my tank of angry, underfed piranha.

How do you convince people to read your book instead of, say, Harry Potter?

I suppose Harry Potter can be an enjoyable read, but what are you left with when you finish? The story of a lightning-scarred young wizard with poor eyesight rattling around inside your brain. What are you left with after reading my Magnificent Manual? Only EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW TO ONE DAY RULE THE WORLD! MUAHAHAHAHA!!

What is the most evil thing you have ever done?

I helped my little brother get dressed for preschool once.


Have you ever slipped up and wanted to be heroic? Perhaps, done something nice?

Never, ever, ever, EVER, EVER! Not even ONCE! Well, maybe the time I saw that ice cream store owner giving Commander Virtue a free strawberry sundae… But that’s IT!

Do you ever worry that these tips will create a villain that could potentially threaten ever your stupendous level of evil? After all, is there not only one ruler of the world?

Well, I don’t reveal ALL of my secrets in the book. I have to keep a few evil tidbits to myself, after all. And, yes, there can be only one Ruler of the World. But the agreement I require all my readers to sign grants me the position of SECOND IN COMMAND should he or she eventually conquer the planet. Oh, and I would, of course, take over should that individual happen to meet their “unexpected” demise. Not that that would ever transpire.

Are you a book reader at all, or does your busy dastardly schedule leave no time for such pleasures?

Of course I read! I am EVIL, not IGNORANT! But, as you point out, my dastardly schedule keeps me quite busy so I limit myself to only works of absolute brilliance.

What are the reading habits of an evil mastermind? Any recommendations?

I read my book and only my book. As many as three or four times a day. My absolute brilliance inspires me.

When Vordak was only a small tot, did he (that is, you) look up to or model yourself after any certain famous supervillain? Such as from a comic book or movie?

Indeed. Although my level of evil eventually surpassed them both, I grew up admiring Darth Vader and Doctor Doom. In fact, it was Lord Vader who first peaked my interest in black as a costume color. Of course, his hold on me plummeted dramatically when he decided to turn “good” in the end. I mean, that’s just plain unacceptable.

Finally, the question all of us at Bibliophile Support Group are wondering about with bated breath - can a bibliophile rule the world?!?

I don’t know. Can a bibliophile read? Can a bibliophile follow easy-to-understand instructions? Can a bibliophile create a diabolical device capable of transforming all the water in the Northern Hemisphere into vinegar?

Well, if you are capable of doing the first two, my Glorious Guide will do the rest. Of course, the water-vinegar thingy certainly wouldn’t hurt. Just don’t forget to sign that agreement making me Second in Command.

Thank you so much for your kindness and patience in answering these insignificant questions and letting us know about your novel, dear Vordak. Please stop by again!

Kindness? Patience? DEAR?! GREAT GASSY GOBLINS!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Love's First Bloom


Love's First Bloom is the newest Christian historical fiction by Delia Parr.

A taste of what it's about: When scandal and ruin begin to reach Ruth's minister father in 1838 New York City, he tells her she must go far away - and take care of a baby that is not her own, in order to protect them both. She resists, not wanting to leave him when he is about to be charged with a crime he did not commit... a crime she knows he did not commit - but in the end she does what she asks, as the dutiful, loving daughter she is. But hiding from the reporters searching for her doesn't just mean leaving New York, it means pretending to be someone she is not. Not to mention pretending to be the mother of this child - despite knowing nothing about how to care for her. Yet Ruth is ready to wait, and hope, for her father's acquittal and try to make a temporary home in the seaside village she resides. And start to befriend Jake, an injured man that lives on the property she tends her garden... but is he who he says he is? Or is he keeping as many secrets as Ruth is?

I'm desperately trying to not give too much away of the plot - pretty much what is said on the back of the very pretty book. But I will tell you this: I loved it.

The first sentences give Love's First Bloom an edgy start, with a secretive, hushed departure and whispered mentions of prostitution and murder. It's not long before we realize that Ruth's (who is only 22, again very relatable to the YA set of readers) father is being accused of murder, and expects the charges to come soon. This gives the novel an instant tension and intrigue that I wasn't expecting to be so very grounded and believable. Yet it was.

One of my favorite things about Love's First Bloom is how the author, Delia Parr, lets you truly get to know the characters before pushing romance on the plot. Instead, you get quality time finding out how these characters are, caring for them as individuals that are as nuanced as the rest of us.

The plot is unique - different from anything I think I've ever read before. A mixture of secret identities (without all the cliches) and the lyrical prose of character study. Ruth's faults and personal stumbles make her easily relatable, and her kindness, courage, and compassion make her highly likable.

Parr creates an environment that is rich in vivid scenery of the quiet, seaside village. She realistically portrays the sensation of a trial in 1838, and lets the reader be the only one that can share in Ruth's hidden pain that it is her father that everyone gossips about around her, that it is her father that is being written about in the paper - usually full of lies. Yet she must hold her tongue. It is heartbreaking.

Love's First Bloom is first and foremost about Ruth (and also Jake, whom I don't want to give too much about - find out for yourself!) - not about romance. I actually find this refreshing. When romance does become involved, it means so much more because I really love these people. But without it for the majority of the book, the plot is sublime all on it's own and the organic storytelling, restrained from overdoing or pushing anything, lets the reader (or at least me) feel and experience everything in a natural, lovely way.

The connection that grows between Ruth and the baby, Lily, is also a strong part of the story - and also done extremely well. This is exactly the kind of inspirational historical fiction I go for! There is such a perfect, delicate balance of being subdued, yet powerful.

Ruth's desire to rely on God and have faith in Him is encouraging and not heavy-handed. Plus, the shocking twists keep Love's First Bloom from ever becoming predictable.

In the end I found Love's First Bloom to be a beautiful, alluring, captivating story that I look forward to reading again someday.

That is, if I ever have time to reread anything ever again with how busy I am right now! Lol. ;)

*I received a copy of Love's First Bloom from the Bethany House Book Reviewers program, which you can check out here. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

Friday, October 8, 2010

How to Grow Up and Rule the World


How to Grow Up and Rule the World is written by the incomprehensible (obviously) Vordak the Incomprehensible.

In it, the brilliant supervillain (who has come close many times to ruling the world but has always been stopped by the irritating Commander Virtue, because of circumstances completely beyond his control) he provides never-before-seen insight and tips on how to, well, grow up and rule the world.

This includes, but is not limited to, selecting an evil name, building an army of minions, choosing a location for your lair, picking a spine-tingling costume and everything you need to know about being a supervillain.

So, How to Grow Up and Rule the World is targeted at 9-12 year olds, and I'm sure with a special focus on little boys. Thing is, this is an absolutely hilarious and entertaining read for all ages! It would be a great gift for young boys (and girls, of course, if they find humor in superheroes and supervillains) - but I must stress that this is worth reading for every age - because it is full of hearty chuckles I could almost guarantee you'll appreciate!

I say "almost" guarantee, because we are all different. After all, there are some people out there who don't love the Harry Potter series. Do I understand that? Not at all. But I know that we all just have varying personalities and tastes, and that is awesome.

Vordak's voice as a narrator is ridiculously funny and delivered with such deadpan pomposity that it is a fantastic combo. There is a constant stream of witty one-liners, instruction manuals, charts, question and answer portions, great illustrations, and sizzling insults.

The over-the-top arrogance of Vordak is hugely entertaining and keeps the pages flying, pages that are extravagantly detailed with little pictures for each page number and a very lively format.

We are reminded to only read How to Grow Up and Rule the World when wearing special gloves... and nothing else. Lol. You can see how this would be easily delightful for kids, but had me giggling too.

At one point in the novel there is an Evil Aptitude Exam provided by Vordak. You are instructed to complete it in 30 seconds! Even with the extra credit for taking longer than told (I admit it, I took my time to read the laugh-out-loud multiple choice), I still rated very low. Apparently I am not evil material.

Vordak becomes alive and sparkles with a colorful, vibrant personality. His voice reminds me a little of Count Olaf from the A Series of Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snicket, but still remains original.

When the book comes to Vordak the Incomprehensible's Inconceivably Evil Evil Name Generator (hee hee), despite my lack of the evil gene (as I was informed by the earlier exam) I came up with a supervillain name for myself. Introducing myself: Zarnox the Ruthlessly Unaffectionate.

Ain't it awesome?! :)

Vordak manages to answer questions we've all always had (like, why does the villain stop before "disposing" of hero to explain, in detail, what his evil plan is?), and causes a ludicrously luminescent, spectacularly zany read.

I would absolutely adore more books written by Vordak the Incomprehensible. He is a memorable character for sure, and fervently amusing!!!

Have I convinced you yet, bibliophile? Well, if I haven't check the Bibliophile Support Group on Wednesday, October 13th for my interview with author himself: Vordak the Incomprehensible!!! It's awesome, honest! ;)

Remember to keep checking back every Monday and Friday for new reviews throughout all of October because of my super heavy "to review" pile!!!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Kiss Me Deadly: 13 Tales of Paranormal Love


Today is my 23rd birthday! And what better way to celebrate it than to talk about an awesome YA paranormal anthology, Kiss Me Deadly: 13 Tales of Paranormal Love? It is edited by Trisha Telep and has stories from tons of top-selling YA authors, such as Becca Fitzpatrick, Rachel Vincent, Maggie Stiefvater, and more!

The basic idea of Kiss Me Deadly is a compilation of supernatural/paranormal YA short stories - all of which involve some sort of love story. I'm going to give mini reviews to each story - mainly just my impression of it without any plot details, so as to let you experience the sensation of reading Kiss Me Deadly as I did - which you totally should, by the way. :)

The Assassin's Apprentice: This story starts off quick and has a poetic language that weaves a tale of suspense and danger, vengeance and mourning. To be honest, this was probably the weakest link to me in the anthology. Though it was good, it couldn't compare to the rest of the tales - and there was a forced, cliche sensation to it. But it was still compulsively page-turning.

Errant: Wow. One of my favorites. Extremely unique and unpredictable. Disturbing at times, but it only enhances the overall story. It feels fully fleshed out, a complete story, utterly absorbing. It is both terrible and beautiful, raw and heartbreaking - like a legend, painted with the skillful words of a talented writer.

The Spirit Jar: One of the most modern and current of all the stories. Has more humor and a lighter tone. Very interesting, but a bit slow-moving. There is a fun and unique twist to this tale, and easily readable.

Lost: Very atmospheric and eerie. There is a surreal quality that you seem to be sharing with the main character. Haunting and well paced - mysterious up to the surprising, twisty end. I liked it a lot.

The Spy Who Never Grew Up: With its fun, fairy-tale sounding opening I knew right away that this would be a standout in this anthology, and it was. Another one of my favorites. An awesome, original premise that is full of personality, humor, and a truly fun third-person narration.

Dungeons of Langeais: Though I felt the reader was thrown into the action a bit haphazardly, and I had a hard time initially of figuring out what exactly was going on, once I got a hold on it all I found that this tale is one of the more creepy. More horror than paranormal, kind of like the stories that you tell each other in the dark that are actually really scary. Yeah, this one has shades of Poe, and it definitely had an impact. Whoo-boy.

Behind the Red Door: A scary haunted house horror story. Another creepy, don't-go-to-bed-right-after-you-read it tale. Atmospheric and patient, getting you pretty goosebumpy before truly freaking you out. There's a humid, sticky feel to the style and a cool, laid-back manner - yet totally tense and unexpectedly twisted. Awesome. Another favorite.

Hare Moon: Has a fantastic start, excellent writing, and is instantly intriguing. Offbeat in the best way, yet inviting, and a major selling point for me to pick up a copy of The Forest of Hands and Teeth (written by same author). Mesmerizing and ethereal, suspenseful and shocking. One of the very best in the entire anthology. Another one that sticks in your mind for days afterwards.

Familiar: One of the most traditionally romantic, with a hot guy and a more fun, light, and modern feel to it. A great way to get my mind off the last three creepfests (which were awesome but goosebump-inducing).

Fearless: A different approach, unique character with fascinating powers that I've never seen used in a novel before, that has a relatable quality that still makes you wonder if you should be rooting against the main character instead of for her. A fast-paced, cool and original take on an unused, ignored legend.

Vermillion: A riveting premise that I wouldn't give away for anything. An electric, hypnotizing, and pretty darn cool story. I want to read more of this author. In fact, I want to read more of all of these authors.

The Hounds of Ulster: Spellbinding tale that uses Irish mythology to be both suspenseful and mysterious. Though I am left wanting more, the shocker ending pretty much sells me on it.

Many Happy Returns: An arresting, stunning, unique concept propels this story forward, and lets it unfold in a disarming way. I am extremely intrigued in the Generation Dead series now, as this is a short story based off that book, I guess. Wow. Heartbreaking and fascinating, haunting and ghostly.

Kiss Me Deadly is an awesome anthology that is a fantastic opportunity to get a tantalizing taste of thirteen different writing styles, some darker, some lighter. Sometimes the romance is center, sometimes it is a side-story, and sometimes it is hardly noticeable, next to nonexistent. In that way, Kiss Me Deadly is even more exciting to read, because you never know what is next -- the varied tones and lack of cliche storylines make a wealth of truly high-quality entertainment that I look forward to rereading in the future.

An excellent anthology - makes me want to read the other YA anthology edited by Trisha Telep, The Eternal Kiss: 13 Vampire Tales of Blood and Desire right now! I don't know how thirteen stories involving vampires could be as assorted and unpredictable as those in Kiss Me Deadly, but Kiss Me Deadly really opened my mind to anthologies and should convince any doubter of how fantastic paranormal YA is!!!

At only $9.95, the over 400 pages of awesomeness is a great value. Highly, highly, highly recommended!!!

Throughout all of October I will be posting a new review every Monday and Friday. Please come and check it out, and don't forget this change in schedule! So many books, not enough time!!! Ahhh, but is this not a book junkie's greatest desire - and her downfall? Hopefully I will not pass out before October is over! Lol.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Vigilante's Bride


The Vigilante's Bride is Yvonne Harris' debut historical fiction novel.

The year is 1884, and in Chicago Emily McCarthy, 18 years old, finds herself in a difficult position. She has been raised in an orphanage, but now they need room to start teaching and housing some Indian children. Those who run the orphanage encourage Emily to accept a bride advertisement and go to Montana to marry a wealthy widower, Bartholomew Axel. Emily has absolutely no desire to do this, but since she can't find a job anywhere she doesn't see any other choice.

Luke Sullivan has a tragic past that returns to the forefront of his mind when he catches a criminal while working with the vigilante Committee he is a part of, under his ranch employer. The criminal leads him to believe that the gambling loss that his father suffered (and began the troubles that would befall his family for years to come) was not the honest loss they all had believed - but a cheat. So, when Luke gets the chance to try and make things even with Bartholomew Axel, he takes it - only he doesn't find Bart in the stagecoach but his mail-order bride. He decides, in a split second, to "rescue" her from her fate - only to find she might not want to be rescued.

And Bart Axel is a dangerous, powerful man, and he wants his bride...

So, to be honest with y'all the title The Vigilante's Bride and the cover come across to me as a bit cheesy - one of those books that, if you aren't totally confident in your reading selection, could be embarrassed about being caught reading. But I do love the font of the cover, and really a title and cover do not a good book make. ;)

I've been dying to read some historical fiction/romance lately and I got my wish. Only thing is that The Vigilante's Bride, though an enjoyable read, isn't as rich as I'd hoped it would be. Though I was immediately interested in Emily's situation, and was sympathetic for her - and think she is highly accessible to YA readers, as she is only 18 - I found the plot to be uneven.

Luke's introduction as a reluctant vigilante with a tragic past began to speed things up a bit, and he does give the impression of a hot, strong cowboy... but it's not until we learn more about what happened to him and his family as a child that I felt the real punch of emotion I'd been lacking. Yet, that again dwindled.

My main problem, I think, with The Vigilante's Bride was that the characters were stale. We never really get to know them beyond the surface of things, the barest of personality. When every once in a while we delved a little deeper, I liked it immensely better but sadly that happened too few of times for me to be truly satisfied or invested in either Emily or Luke, nor their impending romantic chemistry.

Don't get me wrong though - The Vigilante's Bride was an enjoyable read. I was never bored or tempted to put it aside. Emily's feisty, redheaded personality came across as cliche at points, but her haughty lines were quite often funny. The switching viewpoints kept the storyline moving, and there's always time to read a nice, fun western historical romance, right? Plus, there is an inspiring tone to the novel that encourages redemption and second chances.

It's just with Emily's prissiness (in my opinion), the plot's muddled finale, and lack of depth overall, I just never reached that point of loving the characters, which is the main reason I didn't adore The Vigilante's Bride.

But you may completely disagree with me! So, please don't take my word for it! Jump in the late 1800s Montana ranchland, and read a certainly in no way "bad" novel: The Vigilante's Bride. You may think I'm crazy, and fall absolutely bananas for Emily's stubbornness and Luke's masculine, tough-guy heart. So read it! :)

*I received a copy of The Vigilante's Bride from the Bethany House Book Reviewers program, which you can check out here. Their generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.