'Prize of My Heart'

Author: Lisa Norato
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Romance
Publisher: Bethany House

So, this book randomly showed up in my mailbox last week, and I have no idea why. It was sent directly from the publisher, though, so I suppose I must have requested it at some point. The jury's still out on why I would have done such a thing (I am totally not a romance reader).
With that in mind, I will try to be as fair as possible in my review. I've never read an actual romance novel before, so I don't know what the norms and expectations of the genre are.
What I did observe in reading Prize of My Heart was a strong tendency towards melodrama and gooey-ness carried to the point of excess. And, while I understand that this was not written to be an action novel, it did feel like the few action-type scenes there were were played down far too much in order to give place to the emotions and thoughts the characters were having during that particular moment.
The descriptions of characters' clothing were also a bit excessive. A little word or two of description here and there would have been fine, but I really don't need a stitch-by-stitch diagram. And for some reason I have yet to figure out, the author was particularly preoccupied with the main male character's 'knee-high black Hessians'.
The gooey melodrama was the biggest turn-off for me, though I have to admit that at times it almost became entertaining, it was so over-the-top. I mean, I've met and talked to guys who I thought were extremely handsome, but I've never felt 'overwhelmed by his masculinity'... whatever that means. And, although I have never kissed a guy, I find it difficult to believe that doing so makes a girl feel like 'her bones had turned to dust'.
Which brings me to the next issue I had with Prize of My Heart: the anachronisms (or historical inaccuracies) scattered throughout the book. Under no circumstances would a young lady in the early 19th century be allowed to barge into a man's quarters in her nightgown, no matter how horrific his dreams were and how much he was yelling about them. And I understand that a romance novel probably wouldn't be very romantic without some holding hands, kissing, etc. but I feel obligated to point out that both those activities were greatly frowned upon during that time period if the couple was not married.
The plot line as a whole was interesting, and the book was skillfully written. But as I said before, I'm simply not a romance reader, so I doubt seriously I'll be reading this one again.

I received this book free of charge in exchange for my review... I guess.


'Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010'

Author: Charles Murray
Genre: Non-fiction/Social Science/Sociology
Publisher: Crown Forum

This book was my first reading experience in the field of social sciences. After reading it, I now know why I am not a sociologist.
The facts that Murray presented in Coming Apart concerning the shifts and changes that have taken place in American society over the last fifty years were very interesting, and he put into words and numbers trends and movements that I have vaguely sensed but never fully understood before.
However, the sheer amount of detail he included was overwhelming, to say the least. Three hundred pages of detail, followed by another hundred pages of appendices. Everything was presented in an orderly manner with plenty of explanation and interpretation of the data, but I couldn't help thinking as I read, "You could have made the same point just as powerfully in about 1/3 the words".
As I said, I'm not a sociologist, so there could be elements of the book that I failed to appreciate. However, as a reasonably good reader, I found Coming Apart to be simply too overloaded with dry details. The points the author made were interesting, though, and I for one wouldn't mind reading a condensed version of this book if one were to be published.

I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for my review. A favorable review was not required; my opinions are my own.


'Spirit Fighter'

Author: Jerel Law
Series: Son of Angels - Jonah Stone
Genre: Supernatural
Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Jonah Stone is a somewhat-below-average kid, struggling to keep his grades up and avoid getting picked on at school. His dream is to make the basketball team, but after the first day of tryouts, the coach pulls him aside and tells him rather bluntly that 'basketball's not your sport'. Devastated, Jonah walks out to the soccer field and asks God why he's not good at anything, and can't God please do something to help him? Out of frustration Jonah kicks a nearby soccer ball... and sends it flying hundreds of yards. When he gets home he tells his dad, who hands him a football, which he then throws hundreds of yards. He's able to do the same thing with a baseball.
That's when Jonah's parents decide that it's time to tell him the truth: he's not fully human. His mother is in fact a nephilim, the daughter of a human and a fallen angel, making Jonah one quarter angel. The nephilim in the Bible became famous, mighty warriors; the nephilim today apparently share the same superhuman abilities. Suddenly Jonah is a different person - from standing up to the bullies at school to embarking on a mission a few days later to rescue his mother after she is abducted by fallen angels.

I was extremely disturbed by the content of this book, mainly because it is intended for young children - the main character Jonah is thirteen. This is not something I would want my children reading, for several reasons.
Reason #1 - In Spirit Fighter, Jonah is something of a loser until his 'angel powers' kick in. Then suddenly he's the strongest, fastest kid around. If this is the kind of fiction we're giving our kids to read, how long will it be until a kid who has just flunked a math test or failed to make the football team starts thinking 'Man, if only I was part angel'?
Yes, the nephilim are real beings whose existence is recorded in the Bible, and they did become mighty warriors. Yes, fallen angels really did have offspring by human women. But on no level is this normal or okay, and we should not be 'normalizing' it by writing modern children's fiction about it. Why would we want our children even thinking about things like that, anyway? The Bible makes it clear that the days of the nephilim were dark days, when the thoughts of man's heart were only evil continually.
Reason #2 - I am not convinced that Jerel Law's portrayal of parenthood in this story is biblical. I'm a writer, so I do understand that the parents frequently have to be moved out of the way in order for the children to be able to have their big adventures; that being said, in Spirit Fighter, Jonah's mom is kidnapped and the task is apparently something that a fully human person can't do, so Jonah's dad is forced to sit at home against his wishes, doing nothing while Jonah and his sister are sent to rescue their mom with their angel powers. Seriously? That's pushing it, folks.
Reason #3 - I don't like the attitude the author takes towards spiritual warfare. Yes, I absolutely believe in a spiritual realm and spiritual battles being waged around us. I believe that humans are occasionally called to play active roles in these spiritual battles, and sometimes humans are even given glimpses into the spiritual realm. And I believe that God gives us whatever strength we need to do what He wants us to do. But Jerel Law's portrayal of this - Jonah's sister throwing up a 'force field' around them when they're in danger, an enemy with an opposing force field that saps her strength, a bow and arrows that just materialize when needed - is way too flippant, more like a video game than serious spiritual battle.
Kids do not need to be reading books that are going to make them think spiritual warfare is no big deal ("I'll just say a little prayer, throw up a force field, take down a demonic cougar with a shovel, and it'll all be good, right?"). I understand that this is fiction, but it is fiction written about real spiritual matters - matters that are not something to be toyed with or taken lightly. Yes, even faith as small as a mustard seed is enough to do wondrous things - but the spiritual war going on around us is not something we should be taking as lightly as it is taken in this book.
I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.



Author: Rafael Sabatini
Genre: Historical Fiction
Original Publishing Date: 1921

My first introduction to the work of Rafael Sabatini was through his book Captain Blood, with which I fell completely in love. (I'll post a review of it on here sometime just to have it in the database : )
Scaramouche didn't open with anywhere near the bang and gripping drama of Captain Blood; in fact, it was kind of a chore to get into, though I have to give it credit as having what is probably the best opening line ever:

He was born with the gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad. And that was all his patrimony.

Really now, what's not to love?
In Scaramouche, Sabatini has created a vivid main character, almost raw in his realism. Andre, the hero of the story, is a brilliant young man who seems almost bored with life since it presents no challenge to him. Raised as the godson of a local nobleman, Andre manages somehow to prosper wildly at whatever he puts his hand to - first as a lawyer, then as an orator in the cause of the French Revolution, then as the actor Scaramouche, then as master of a fencing academy, then once again as a politician. But his wild success always manages to end in Andre fleeing for his life from one pursuer or another, and for various reasons.
At times I found myself getting very frustrated with Andre's almost arrogant confidence, and his determination to put a Stoic face on no matter what happens... but I just couldn't help loving him anyway. His dry, almost caustic sense of humor and his conviction that 'the world was mad' are underwritten by his deep commitment to those he loves... no matter how infuriating they all are and how unfair or nail-biting the circumstances.
One thing that particularly jumped out at me that carried over from Captain Blood was the author's love of poetic justice. In both Sabatini books I have read so far, irony and poetic justice both play significant leading roles. And you've gotta love that.
One thing that does bother me is that Scaramouche, like so many other books set in this time period, is that there are quite a few instances of the Lord's name being taken in vain. Unfortunately, there seems to be no getting around it in this type of fiction.
Another issue with this book that's very minor (and really more of an annoyance than a problem) is the fact that it's interspersed with heavy doses of French here and there, most of which have no translation provided. Since my entire French vocabulary consists of bonjour, merci, champagne, and ooh-la-la, the lack of translation got kind of irritating. However, I was still able to understand the story, conversations, etc.
On the whole, another great book to add to my Rafael Sabatini collection, and a great book for anyone wanting an exciting French Revolution adventure!



Author: Erin Hunter
Series: The New Prophesy Warriors
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Harper Collins

I had seen this book on several occasions, so I picked it up at the library over the weekend to preview for my little sister.
Midnight echoes with Redwall-esque themes - clans of animals with their own distinct societies living together in the forest, away from humans, or 'Twolegs' as they call them - only all of the characters are cats.
The many similar names of characters made them somewhat difficult to tell apart (Tawnypelt and Cinderpelt and Dustpelt and Sorrelpaw and Squirrelpaw... you get the idea) but the book still had the potential to be delightful.
Unfortunately, the author took it in the other direction. In this cat society Erin Hunter has constructed, there are separate cat clans - RiverClan, ThunderClan, etc. - and when a cat dies, they become part of 'StarClan'. StarClan in turn is the force that guides the cats in the still-living clans. The books starts off with StarClan sending a prophetic dream to the main character, calling him to some grand but vague destiny he doesn't understand. Throughout the story, the cats use phrases like 'StarClan willing' or 'thank StarClan', which is a deal-breaker for me.
I didn't even bother finishing the book. My little sister won't be reading it, either.


'Garden of Madness'

Author: Tracy L. Higley
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Series: Seven Wonders

Ever wondered what was happening to the kingdom of Babylon during the seven years King Nebuchadnezzar was stricken with madness? Who was in charge? Were outsiders trying to take the throne? How did one of the most powerful kingdoms in the world manage to stay on its feet while its king lived like a wild animal?
In Garden of Madness, T.L. Higley spins a thrilling story as her own speculative answer to that question.
In regards to the book itself, what can I say besides 'T.L. Higley has done it again'? I was certain she couldn't outdo herself after Shadow of Colossus, but now I strongly suspect that she's just getting better with every book she writes.
The setting of ancient Babylon feels lifelike and vivid all throughout the book - another gift T.L. Higley seems to be blessed with. The descriptions are almost tangible, and you may find yourself squeamish, or sweating, or shivering along with the characters as the scene dictates. : )
The story is riveting. I stayed up half the night last night, unable to put it down. And while much of it is based on speculation regarding a story we don't have much biblical detail on, it didn't leave me feeling like the author had taken too many liberties. Some liberties, sure. But it didn't feel stretched like so many works of historical fiction do.
One thing I did kind of question in the book is the accuracy of a couple of scenes where a devout Jewish man kisses a woman he's not married to. I'm no expert in ancient Jewish custom, but I did wonder about the accuracy of that.
The title 'Garden of Madness' doesn't really do the book justice, in my opinion. Maybe it's just me, but it seems a little melodramatic, which is not an accurate reflection of the book itself. So if you share my loathing for melodramatic book titles, don't let it turn you away from this book.
From start to finish, this book had me by the throat, desperate to know what happens next. Yet another fantastic installment in the Seven Wonders series by T.L. Higley... and I'm waiting eagerly for the next one!

I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for my review. A favorable review was not required... I just have to rave about my favorite author! ; )