Friday, April 30, 2010

Damned If We Do: The Conundrum of Women’s Fiction: A Guest Post by Mary Sharratt


This is, quite possibly,my favorite guest post ever. Thanks so much, Mary!

Amy has asked me to write about an issue dear to my heart: women’s literature. Is women’s fiction taken as seriously as fiction by men?
Is the very term “women’s fiction” part of the problem, shoe-horning women writers into a subgenre—something that does not seem to happen to male authors?
“The fact that a lot of fiction written by women is referred to by the semi-derogatory term ‘chick lit,’ whilst there is no similar term for books by men says a lot,” states Elizabeth Ashworth, author of The deLacy Inheritance. On The Militant Writer Blog, Mary W. Walters points out that fiction by male authors is regarded as just that—fiction without a gendered subtext. The issues men write about are deemed serious and universal, while women’s issues are regarded as only of interest to other women. High end literary magazines often publish more work by men than by women. The latest issue of Granta includes considerably more pieces by male writers, despite the stylized pink vagina on the cover.

Joanne Rendell, writing for the Huffington Post, says that women’s issues and interests aren’t deemed as important as men’s. Upbeat, romantic fiction by women is dismissed as lightweight fluff, yet if women authors dare to address weightier themes, they are accused of writing “misery lit.” Even by other women, such as Daisy Goodwin, a judge for this year’s Orange Prize, awarded to the best novel written by a woman in the English language. Bemoaning the proliferation of dark themes, Goodwin says, “There were times when I felt like a social worker.”
In her Daily Telegraph article, Jojo Moyes observes that Goodwin’s comments “suggest women writers can’t really win. We’re damned for writing fluffy upbeat chick-lit about shoes and cake, damned if we write about domestic violence within a geo-political conflict.”

Critics, Moyes believes, still don’t take women’s fiction seriously. It is underrepresented in newspaper review sections and doesn’t get the same radio time as men’s fiction. As far as book critics are concerned, fiction by men automatically seems to carry more clout, even if they step into traditional female territory such as the domestic novel. So much hype was heaped upon Jonathan Franzen’s novel, The Corrections, that he could get away with snubbing Oprah and the legions of female readers in her book club. Even when male and female authors address the same issues, critics appear to pay more attention to the male author’s book. On Sunday April 4, The New York Times reviewed Karl Marlantes’s Matterhorn and Tatjana Soli’s The Lotus Eater on the front page of the Book Review Section. Both novels center on the Vietman War. But whose book is getting more attention? First released on March 23 of this year, Marlantes’s book is already being hailed as a classic and is climbing the bestseller list. Soli’s novel, while widely reviewed and selling well, does not seem to reap the same kind of ecstatic, slavish praise.

This situation is ironic, given the fact that women readers and book buyers outnumber men four to one. The novel form itself was pioneered by women writers such as Jane Austen. Even today women writers such as Stephenie Meyer and Nora Roberts write blockbusters that prop up a beleaguered publishing industry. “Yet in spite of this,” writes Walters, “our books are often ridiculed, denounced, or ignored.” In his recent Huffington Post article, Jason Pinter goes so far as to blame a “female dominated” publishing industry for the fact that far fewer men are reading fiction. According to Pinter, the abundance of women’s writing turns men off fiction altogether, a situation that could be changed if publishers put out more books about manly subjects such as baseball and wrestling. (My husband, a great lover of contemporary fiction, somehow manages to read voraciously anyway!)

Kate Harding, writing for Salon.com, reminds us that women buyers regularly put male authors on the best seller list, including Chris Cleave’s Little Bee and Robert Goolrich’s A Reliable Wife—books that—had they been written by women—would be considered women’s fiction, a label that might frighten away male readers.

Apparently men don’t like to read about women while women are happy enough to read about men. This seems to be imprinted at an early age. “There’s a ‘rule,’” says Kathy Connolly Adams of the Valley Bookseller in Stillwater, Minnesota, “even in elementary and middle school that girls will read books about boys, but boys won’t read books about girls. One of my personal goals as a bookseller is to break down those barriers of ‘girl books and boy books,’ but it’s been this way for generations and it’s a very tough sell.”
Which might be the reason why JK Rowling, one of the most successful authors of our times, chose to conceal her gender behind androgynous initials and to write about a young boy named Harry, not a girl named Harriet.

To help turn the tide, we women can band together and use our book buying clout to support each other.

Mary Sharratt’s most recent novel, Daughters of the Witching Hill, draws on the true story of the Pendle Witches of 1612. Visit her website: www.marysharratt.com

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Congratulations to Christy Award Nominees!

While I may have my fair share of concerns about Christian fiction, when it's good, it's really good. I always look forward to learning about the Christy Award Nominees and am even co-hosting a challenge to read Christy nominated and awarded books. (My goal is to read all of the 2009 nominees. Don't ask me how I'm doing)

You can read the full list of nominees at Title Trakk

Looking over the list, I have to admit some surprise me. One was a DNF (did not finish) for me. Another I thought was good, but the writing wasn't particularly outstanding. I'm glad to say that Daisy Chain is an upcoming Faith and Fiction Saturday round table read. I'm thrilled to see that Andrew Peterson was nominated for North! Or Be Eaten. But mostly I was thrilled to see one of my favorite books from last year and a shining example of what faith driven fiction can be nominated, The Passion of Mary Margaret by Lisa Samson. I hope it wins, but I think the competition is pretty stiff, even though I haven't read the other two books in the categories. (Also, I should probably read some Lynn Austin already, huh?)

Amy

Review: Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt

Daughters of the Witching Hill
In the 1580s, Bess Southerns meets her familiar spirit, Tibb, who trains her in how to become a cunning woman. The skills she learns enable her impoverished family to get by. She hasn't had much of a happy life being married to a man who didn't love her and having a daughter who is not quite beautiful.

She trains others in what she learns but tensions are high. Accusations get made, betrayals sting deep, and what unfolds is a rich story of passion, friendship, love, and sorrow.

I have to confess it took awhile for me to get in the mindset of this older time. So in a way, this book was a slow burn for me. It took some time for me to start feeling affection for the characters but once I did, I really enjoyed reading about how their lives unfolded. I especially enjoyed learning about their time period and the loyalties they built.

The story opens being told from the viewpoint of Bess Southerns but over half of the book is told from the perspective of Alizon, her granddaughter. What was very interesting to me about this story was the folk magic form of Catholicism the accused witches believed in. And as always, I was touched by the continuing practice of a forbidden religion. Faith that is so deeply woven into one's life that they risk their life to continue to believe always inspires me.

The author includes an extensive note in the back of the book to explain the decisions she made in story-telling. I found this very interesting to read, especially to read about Bess Southerns confession. I believe her confession is the reason the author chose to tell the story in this way.

A very interesting and different piece of historical fiction based on true events.

Rating: 4.25/5
Things You Might Want to Know: well, witchcraft.
Source of Book: Received from publisher for review
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt



Amy

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

News! Anticipated Books! And Finally the Answer to a Burning Question...

There is always so much going on and so much to tell you about in the wonderful world of books.

Small Press Spotlight
First, do you know about the Small Press Spotlight Series? We all know about the BIG books and the publishers that can afford to spend boatloads of money to make sure we know about that best-selling authors latest book, but sometimes smaller presses specializing in literature of a certain era, or theme, or just a book that's very good but hasn't been bought by a larger publisher slip under the radar. Our first tour spotlighted my own personal favorite, Unbridled Books, and our next our covers another favorite...New York Review Books Classics. Learn more about the tour and make sure to sign-up!

The Heart is Not a Size Book Club
Enter to win a chance for one of ten copies of the book and join in a skype book chat on June 3rd. Details here!

Vote for your favorite children's books!
Voting for The Children's Choice Book Awards closes on May 3rd. Be sure to go by Book Week Online and cast your vote!

Anticipated Books
My contribution to Waiting on Wednesday....
Evolving in Monkey Town
I've been reading Rachel Held Evans blog for awhile now and I can't wait for her book, Evolving in Monkey Town this July. Rachel is also just lovely herself, and faith memoirs are among my favorites. I love her honesty and compassion and suspect this will be a great read.

About the Book: Eighty years after the Scopes Monkey Trial made a spectacle of Christian fundamentalism and brought national attention to her hometown, Rachel Held Evans faced a trial of her own when she began to have doubts about her faith. Growing up in a culture obsessed with apologetics, Evans asks questions she never thought she would ask. She learns that in order for her faith to survive in a postmodern context, it must adapt to change and evolve.

Using as an illustration her own spiritual journey from certainty, through doubt, to faith, Evans adds a unique perspective to the ongoing dialogue about postmodernism and the church that has so captivated the Christian community in recent years. In a changing cultural environment where new ideas threaten the safety and security of the faith, Evolving in Monkey Town is a fearlessly honest story of survival.

I just got Karen Essex's latest newsletter today and have to admit to just about dying from excitement to read of her forthcoming book. Any guesses as to why? (and is that cover not to die for?????)

Dracula In love

About the Book: From the shadowy banks of the river Thames to the wild and windswept Yorkshire coast, Dracula’s eternal muse, Mina Murray, vividly recounts the intimate details of what really transpired between her and the Count—the joys and terrors of a passionate affair that has linked them through the centuries, and her rebellion against her own frightening preternatural powers.

Mina’s version of this gothic vampire tale is a visceral journey into Victorian England’s dimly lit bedrooms, mist-filled cemeteries, and asylum chambers, revealing the dark secrets and mysteries locked within. Time falls away as she is swept into a mythical journey far beyond mortal comprehension, where she must finally make the decision she has been avoiding for almost a millennium.

Bram Stoker’s classic novel offered one side of the story, in which Mina had no past and bore no responsibility for the unfolding events. Now, for the first time, the truth of Mina’s personal voyage, and of vampirism itself, is revealed. What this flesh and blood woman has to say is more sensual, more devious, and more enthralling than the Victorians could have expressed or perhaps even have imagined.

And finally! I realized I never answered the question to my Two Truths and a Lie Game so here goes:
Here they are again:

1) My favorite Japanese food is sushi.
2) I totaled my car two weeks after I got my driver's license.
3) I have spent Easter in Mongolia before.

And the lie is number 1! My favorite Japanese food is sukiyaki. YUM!!!!!! I do really like sushi, though. And yes, I totaled my car on the way to a birthday party two weeks after I go my license. The car I was in the accident with also was on their way to an 80th birthday party. It was seriously sad stuff. Bye bye car, hello guilt.

And yes, I was lucky enough to spend an Easter in Mongolia. It was really really cool.

Now tell me....have you ever had a really bad car accident? What's your favorite Japanese food? Have you been to Mongolia?

Amy

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Review: Claude & Camille by Stephanie Cowell


When Claude Monet was a young man starting out, he was very much a starving artist. His style was new, and not yet accepted by art circles, but he was fortunate to have a group of friends with a similar style and talent to work with. They all desperately hoped that their paintings would be featured and sold and they all struggled with their parents and families over whether or not they should even be painting. One day, Claude meets Camille a beautiful and well bred young woman he falls in love with. She is also quite passionate and falls in love with him and is willing to leave her family to live with him without getting married. This book is their love story and also the story of a man committed to his art.

I had a little trouble getting into the book at first since it seemed to quickly skip through time, but that settled down a few chapters in I became engrossed in the story. I have to admit that I loved reading about the young artists, and their big huge belief in each other's work, the way they were all starving and scraping to get to by, and so amazingly devoted to their style. While I think that would be hard hard to deal with as a loved one, there's something so appealing to me about that kind of single focused passion. I also really liked the character of Camille at the beginning of the book, but she also had her fits of passion that started to annoy me at times later on in the story. Inevitably, things begin to unravel, friendships get tested, and love is cast aside and when I came across those parts in this book, I couldn't help but feel such loss.

I wonder sometimes when I look at the beautiful paintings of Monet we have and all that he had to go through to bring that kind of beauty to the world. It's so easy to judge what artists do, yet we need them to have that kind of drive in order for us to have such great works. This book really has made me think a lot about creativity and devotion to it and also the role that community plays in creation. I really enjoyed that aspect of it.

Overall, I thought this was an interesting book that exposed me to some new history and has made me want to go back and learn about these painters. So as historical fiction, it truly succeeded.

Rating: 4.25/5
Things You Might want to Know: sex
Source of Book: Received from publisher for review
Publisher: Crown

Amy

Monday, April 26, 2010

Why Do We Never Tire of Reading About Love? A Guest Post by Stephanie Cowell


We climb into bed at night with a new novel. We are twenty pages into it when she sees him standing in a forest clearing. At once the page seems to shimmer a little and we snuggle deeper into our pillow, draw the covers up, hiding from all the obligations of our daily world. Two characters have spoken together, looked at each other. Will they meet again?

Hours pass as we turn pages, the night table lamp shining on the words. Suddenly they are arguing or parted by circumstance. We are worried. There are too many obstacles: her parents, his other commitments. “That he has nothing but himself to recommend him!” ― that wonderful rueful phrase in Jane Austen’s Persuasion which parts the lovers for eight sad years.

How long have people been reading love stories? Well, back as far as written history and undoubtedly in oral story telling before that. In Greek mythology, the stricken Orpheus descends into hell to bring back his young wife Eurydice who has died. Perhaps two thousand years ago the great love story Vis and Rāmin was created, though not written down until the 11th century by the Persian poet Asad Gorgani. I had long loved an ancient Egyptian love poem:

“....the love of the sister is upon yonder side,
A stretch of water is between us
And a crocodile waits on the sandbank...
But when I go into the water
I tread upon the flood…”

Egyptians often married their sisters but never mind that! Note the rising obstacle in the plot development! And a beloved ancient Chinese story of frustrated lovers is Qi Xi (which translates as The Seventh of Night), about lovers allowed to reunite once a year. (Great pathos in that!)
Reading novels easily for pleasure was not possible though until printing was invented and became reasonably cheap. The earliest most popular ones read regularly by most of us are of course the stories of Jane Austen. They have set the mark for reading about love: two people drawn to each other (though they may not know it, in the case of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy) and then having to climb over the endless obstacles.

I am afraid I am a hopeless romantic and even if a novel is about many other interesting things, I must admit a certain increased interest when it seems like something like a love relationship might form. A glance on page 36, a chance meeting on page 74. Set in classical Rome, in Verona, in the court of Louis XIV, or, in my own two latest novels, in 18th century Vienna or the bohemian world of 19th century Paris, love somehow centers the story.

So we are reading in bed by the lamp, turning pages or maybe in these days reading on a Nook or Kindle. Everyone else in our house and our neighborhood has gone to sleep, but we can’t go to sleep until we know that he will come back to her, that they will surmount all difficulties. Even if we have reread the novel many times, we have to continue with it because we just want to make sure. Even though I had reread a certain novel from my adolescence and fell asleep last night towards the end, I managed to wake up enough to read those last pages just because I wanted to make quite sure that once more Jane Eyre really, really married him.

Stephanie Cowell is the author of Claude and Camille, which I will be reviewing tomorrow!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Few Impressions from the LA Times Festival of Books

If you're looking for The Wind Done Gone discussion, it's not here. I haven't even cracked the spine of the book yet.

I spent a glorious bookish weekend at the LA Times Festival of Books. I got to see lots of my book blogging friends, meet a few new ones, and also fawn over authors. I love the weekend because I get the chance to hear from a variety of different writers on a bunch of different subjects. It's a bit like book church, the chance to be with people who love what I love (books), hear new perspectives, contemplate my life, and get new ideas.

I do have a few observations I'd like to share. I don't really have pictures, because I didn't take any. I do apologize.

1) Authors can be a little like rock stars. The John Green and David Levithan panel was a definite highlight even though I felt a bit old. They were so funny and smart and the hour flew by. What really impressed me were the screaming fan girls though. Seriously, whoever says books are dead didn't see the girl in the row in front of me swoon when John Green came on stage. Also, the most heartfelt expressions of gratitude to authors I hear are to authors who write books for teens. (I remember last year being deeply touched by what people said to S.E. Hinton) A girl in this panel told these two authors they make her life better. Writers of young adult fiction may get grief for not writing "true literary masterpieces" but clearly what they do makes a profound impact on lives. It makes sense, the books I read at that age linger in my memory.

2) I find it pretty rude for authors to sign books and not look at you or really acknowledge you. I recognize that they are sitting at a table with their fellow authors, but I don't care for the feeling of being dismissed. For some reason this has always really bugged me.

3) I recommend if you want to talk about book blogs, not mentioning that the majority of them are written by younger women that "really didn't understand my book." (which was about a 17 year old girl)

4) Everyone wants to know how to define YA.

5) I came away from the Festival of Books really invigorated by the fact that people are still interested in spending a day on this subject. I love that it's crowded, I love walking around and discovering new independent presses, having the chance to meet an author I've read and loved since high school, hearing from people on a variety of subjects from faith to otherness to lives in transition. I love books, still believe in their power, and trust that there will always be a group of us who choose to live our lives and make sense of them through reading the narratives of others.

Next up? Book Expo America!

Amy

Friday, April 23, 2010

April Round Table for Faith and Fiction Saturday: Offworld by Robin Parrish

The end of every month is reserved for the Faith and Fiction Round Table. The round table is an opportunity for a diverse group of Christian bloggers to discuss a book. This month we read Offworld by Robin Parrish.

About the Book: The return of NASA's first manned mission to Mars was supposed to be a momentous day. But when the crew loses touch with ground control before entry, things look bleak. Safe after a treacherous landing, the crew emerges to discover the unthinkable--every man, woman, child, and animal has vanished without a trace. Alone now on their home planet, the crew sets out to discover where everyone has gone--and how to get them back--only to discover they may not be as alone as they thought.

This month's participants and discussions:

Reading to Know -- Characters
Ignorant Historian -- Christian Aspects of the Book
Behind the Eyes, Oversimplified -- Science Fiction
Random Ramblings from Sunny Southern CA -- Overall Feelings on the Book
Mrs. Q Book Addict -- Christian products and review

Next month we'll be discussing Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. Be sure to read in advance so you can join in the conversation. And if you'd like to join in a future discussion, please check out the schedule and information.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Review: Radiant Shadows by Melissa Marr

radiant Shadows
Have I ever mentioned that I love these books? I love them. Serious love such as I cannot describe or even really understand myself. Maybe it's the way there's so much hunger and desire and feeling and longing. I respond to those emotions. Or perhaps it's just the delicious well drawn characters so full of turmoil and angst. Maybe it's the celebration of balance, shadow and light, winter and summer. Right and wrong aren't as clear as black and white. And love. There's always love. (Spoilers for the first three books are unavoidable. Please don't read any further)

Radiant Shadows is book four in the Wicked Lovely series, the series I have to thank for bringing me into a full appreciation of the Young Adult books being published today. It's the story of Ani, a halfling, and Devlin, the High Queen's Bloody Hands. If you've been reading the series, and yes they should be read in order, you'll be familiar with these characters already, though not deeply. Ani is growing stronger and her hunger is growing with her. She's different, however, than other half mortals, she's stronger and she needs to feed in different ways. Devlin is fighting to keep his emotions at bay, he shouldn't have any, he's woven from the blood of both the High Queen, Sorcha, and War, Bananach. Things have changed in faerie, though, and Sorcha isn't herself and Devlin must do something to protect her...even if it means confronting the one secret he has kept from her, the fact that was he was meant to have killed Ani when she was a baby.

Did I like Radiant Shadows? Yes, very much. I love slipping into this world Melissa Marr has created for all the reasons I mentioned in the first paragraph. I love the way she paints a scene, the way in which she allows us to experience her characters through their emotions and longing. I love this world so full of darkness and valiant struggle. I love Irial, who shows up in this one, I very much love Irial. Radiant Shadows moves the plot forward in a significant way, and I feel more fully fleshes out the world. I've read reviews where people don't like this book because it doesn't deal significantly with the main characters, similar to the sentiments expressed about Ink Exchange (possibly my favorite of the series). I disagree with this. What I love about these books is that the very crafting of the series speaks to it's themes of balance and perspective. Each book turns around inside the world and gives us a different angle. Each installment shows us how the events unfolding impact the fae involved. No one story is complete without the other. It's brilliant and beautiful.

I think if you loved the first three, you'll love this one, too. I certainly did.

Rating: 4.75/5
Things You Might Want to Know: some profanity
Source of Book: Bought it
Publisher: HarperTeen

Amy

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Review: In the Land of Believers by Gina Welch


Last year I read and really enjoyed The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose, the story of a young college student who went undercover at Liberty University to "learn" evangelical Christian culture. So naturally, I was interested in reading In the Land of Believers: An Outsider's Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church, the story of Gina Welch going undercover at Thomas Road Baptist Church. What amuses me about these two stories is that they were both undercover at the same time in the same area. They may have even been at church services together! So there is some overlap in how they dealt with certain events, such as the shooting at Virginia Tech, the death of Jerry Falwell, and the Blasphemy Project.

Before I go any further, it's important to relate that I come from an evangelical Christian background and still consider myself to be one in many ways. But what these books help illuminate to me and what I hope to share in this review is that the term evangelical is an umbrella term--Gina experienced one segment of this part of the Church and I think it's a good representation of many but absolutely not all evangelicals. So while this book can hopefully help you understand evangelicals better if you have no prior experience, the most important thing I think one can take away from books like this is that we are all human and that shared experience of humanity is the best thing we have going for us. It's not an authoritative guide on the evangelical church. I may sound a bit defensive, but I do think it's worth being said. Also, I will interject lots of my own personal experience into this review.

Gina Welch is a young secular Jew from Berkley who decides to go undercover as a sort of anthropological experiment and to learn about the evangelical church. She thinks she first needs a conversion experience so she goes to a hell house sponsored by the church. I went to a few of these in my day, too, as a sort of alternative to Halloween's haunted houses which for some reason were HUGE in St. Louis. (are they as popular everywhere else?) I also went to one in Georgia. Both I went to seemed a bit more cohesive in purpose than the one Gina attended, though. It sounds like it was a total mess! She doesn't quite get the experience she expected, so she eventually decides to start attending the church. She starts out by going to a new members class where she gets a bit of an overview of being a Christian as well as all of the language and expectations of church life. She eventually joins a singles class, where she begins to make some friends she really cares about. She even goes on a missions trip to Alaska with them.

I have to admit to feeling a little bit conflicted by some of the things Gina was willing to do have the whole experience. Generally, I really believe in the idea that everything is open to exploration. But going so far as to be baptized unsettled me a little bit. In evangelical Christianity, we have few "religious" traditions. I see communion and baptism as both being very special and my gut reaction to this was that it wasn't necessary and kind of disrespectful. But that's my human reaction, and the truth is that these acts aren't sacred in and of themselves but because I believe God is present in them.

Many of her observations are also worth noting. The strong reaction of Thomas Road Baptist Church against the concept of global warming being one of them. This is very frustrating to me as well and goes back to the argument of a literal six day creation. For some reason, everyone gets so hung up on this. For an excellent explanation on how you can believe in an old earth and also believe the Bible is true, I recommend this essay. There's also the issue of women in leadership in the church and of course homosexuality.

Gina writes,

But homophobia was one feature of the evangelical mind I was unable to tolerate. It was sanctioned hate, the thick-skinned blister bubbling up from ignorance and prudishness, a failure to comprehend human sexuality, all slathered with a transparent biblical gloss. Ridicule and animosity were weapons I almost never saw Christians wield. But with homosexuals, it was different. "Love the sinner, hate the sin" only went an inch deep if the sinner was gay.


I cannot tell you how much I agree with this. I am constantly saddened by the attitude I see Christians (not just evangelicals actually) display towards the GLBT community and it was especially apparent last week when popular singer Jennifer Knapp came out. I think in some ways it's sheer laziness not to try to understand that yes, God created people differently. I think they use Scripture as an excuse for homophobia and fail to realize there are other ways to interpret it (like the young earth thing) Gina suggests that it's a lack of exposure and I think in many ways she's right. My heart breaks over this constantly. I am saddened by the way the GLBT community is demonized, by the fact that they know many Christians only for their hatred, that many young GLBT evangelical Christians will live with self-loathing before finding freedom. Change in thinking is possible, though, and I think with each new generation we get closer to those changes being reality. Until then, though, I can tell you that since I've started becoming more vocal about my own desire to see this change, I've lost long time followers, and had numerous email conversations on this subject. (Two good blog posts to represent how differently we think about this can be found here and here)

Also, it's important to note that Republican/Southern culture and evangelical culture are not ALWAYS the same. I think at times, since she's from California, Gina confuses these. For example, when she's in Alaska she says that opening up her herself to an evangelical thought and culture made it possible for her to become fascinated with hunting and things like wall-mounted antlers. This kind of cracked me up because that has absolutely nothing to do with God or my faith and probably a lot more to do with the people she was spending time with. I have yet to be interested in those things!

What I always find fascinating, though, is belief. While Gina experiences some feelings, (she calls it Feeling X) and appreciated aspects of church, such as community and the general positive attitude most of the Christians had, she can't bring herself to believe. Of course, she says it's because she values intellect too much, but I think it's possible to be a person of faith and intelligence. I think the question of where faith comes from and at times where it goes will forever be one of the most interesting life questions to me.

For the most part the book is very respectful of the people Gina knew. I think she genuinely cared for many of the people she met, despite having very different world views. The book is also written in a very engaging way and I flew through it one day while waiting for my car to get repaired. It also made me think a lot and to be honest was kind of depressing. Even though my current church isn't like Thomas Road Baptist Church, it does open my eyes to how others see this community of believers. For someone like myself who is constantly analyzing things, this can make going to church hard for a little while.

I do recommend the book, though, to anyone interested in learning about the common ground we all share in spite of our differences.

Rating: 4.5/5
Source of Book: Received from Publisher for Review
Publisher: Metropolitan Books

Since my review came from the perspective of being an evangelical Christian, you might also enjoy checking out Florinda's review.




Amy

CFBA Books of the Week: The Sword by Bryan M. Litfin and Blood Ransom by Lisa Harris

About the Book: This novel of page-turning action and adventure poses the question, "If a society had no knowledge of Christianity, and then a Bible were discovered, what would happen?"

Four hundred years after a deadly virus and nuclear war destroyed the modern world, a new and noble civilization emerges. In this kingdom, called Chiveis, snowcapped mountains provide protection, and fields and livestock provide food. The people live medieval-style lives, with almost no knowledge of the "ancient" world. Safe in their natural stronghold, the Chiveisi have everything they need, even their own religion. Christianity has been forgotten—until a young army scout comes across a strange book.

With that discovery, this work of speculative fiction takes readers on a journey that encompasses adventure, romance, and the revelation of the one true God. Through compelling narrative and powerful character development, The Sword speaks to God's goodness, his refusal to tolerate sin, man's need to bow before him, and the eternality and power of his Word. Fantasy and adventure readers will be hooked by this first book in a forthcoming trilogy.

About the Book: Natalie Sinclair is working to eradicate the diseases decimating whole villages in the Republic of Dhambizao when she meets Dr. Chad Talcott, a surgeon on sabbatical from a lucrative medical practice now volunteering at a small clinic.

Meanwhile, things are unraveling in Dhambizao. Joseph Komboli returns to his village to discover rebel soldiers abducting his family and friends. Those that were too old or weak to work lay motionless in the African soil. When Chad and Natalie decide to help Joseph expose this modern-day slave trade---and a high-ranking political figure involved in it---disaster nips at their heels.

Where is God in the chaos? Will Chad, Natalie, and Joseph win their race against time?

Romance and adventure drive Blood Ransom, by Lisa Harris, a powerful thriller about the modern-day slave trade and those who dare to challenge it.

*I am a member of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance and received copies of these books.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

LOST Recap and Discussion: 6.13 The Last Recruit


Spoilers follow.

So...it seems the lives of our sideways Losties are beginning to thread together more and more. Locke arrives at the hospital at the same time as Sun, Desmond guides Claire to the lawyer's office where her father and Jack's father will is to be read, Kate is still at the police station with Sawyer, at least until Sawyer and Miles go to pick up Sayid. Still no word on who Jack's son's mother is.

Meanwhile on island Jack talks to Locke who tells him he was the one impersonating his father. (how did Jack remember that happened on their third day on the island so many years later??) Jack and Claire meet up and Claire assures Jack he's with Locke and has been since the moment he let him talk to him. Do you think this is true? After all, Sawyer certainly has seemed to keep his own mind after much discussion with Locke.

Their camp comes under attack as Widmore's people demand Desmond back. Locke sends Sayid to kill Desmond, who rather calmly asks Sayid what he's getting in return and what he'll tell the woman he loves. The show ends up leaving us questioning whether Sayid, the zombie, killed Desmond or not. What do you think?

Sawyer plans an escape on the boat and instructs Jack to get Hurley, Sun, and the pilot to the boat. He tells him to leave Claire and Sayid behind. Jack agrees, but Claire follows them. Kate talks Claire into coming with them. Does this mean Claire still has free will? She's not entirely bound to Locke? Does her love for Aaron carry a strength that means she's not lost? Does this also mean possibly that Sayid didn't kill Desmond? (I keep waiting for people to die by the way. I keep cringing every time something happens)

Once on the boat, however, Jack shares his concern about leaving with Sawyer. He doesn't feel it's right since that's what Locke wants. So...Sawyer tells him to get off the boat and after apologizing for getting Juliet killed, Jack does. Kate throws a little fit, but Jack swims back to land.

He might have been right, because when Sawyer and company arrive on the shores of Camp Widmore, they aren't greeted in a very friendly manner. Widmore's group then attacks Locke's group and it would seem everyone but Jack dies. Locke tells Jack he's with him now. (oh really?)

I have to admit to being left a little cold by the Sun/Jin reunion. Three years of longing for each other and while they seemed happy, I don't know. It wasn't as emotional as I would have expected. Or as I would have been!

Also did anyone notice Jack's reaction off island to learning Claire was his sister was almost identical to when he learned at his father's memorial service. It could be that's the extent of Matthew Fox's acting but I like to think it's that even in alternate possibilities the emotional truth of these characters is the same.

I feel a bit lost, heh, as to the direction the show is actually taking. While it does seem that the off-island timeline characters are beginning to come together, I'm still wondering exactly how that is going to play into what's happening on the island. I'm still curious about Desmond's role in everything. (I do not believe that Sayid killed Desmond) I honestly have no idea where we're going and maybe I'm just not thinking enough about it.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the episode and what you think are last few precious episodes will contain.




Amy

Please help! Lost feeds

BLOGGERS
I'm not actually the most organized person when it comes to my google reader and something happened a couple of weeks that caused me to lose several of your feeds in my google reader. I'm trying to add them in again as I remember them, but it's slow going. So here's how you can help me remember, if you care. If you haven't seen a comment from me in a couple of weeks I may have lost your feed. If you care whether or not I read your blog, please leave me a comment with your blog address so I can go retrieve your feed. Otherwise, hopefully I'll find you again!

Everyone

Have a blog to recommend? One that would totally rock my world? Feel free to leave a link to it in comments so I can check it out.

Thanks for your help everyone!




Amy

Monday, April 19, 2010

Celebrate National Poetry Month with Natalie Merchant


Natalie Merchant is one of my absolute favorite singers. I especially cherish the music of the 10,000 Maniacs, but have also loved her solo projects. I was fairly certain she had fallen off the face of the earth, so long had it been since there was anything new from her. But the other day I was reading a message board (remember those?) and happened to stumble onto the news that she had a new project.

And what a project! As soon as I read the details, I fell in love with the concept. Her new album is called Leave Your Sleep and is poetry to put to music. She has adapted several poems and put them to song. The result is a double disc collection, that is, in my own estimation, stunning. It is at times playful and sweet, at others it hints just a bit of something more.

Upon reading of the new album I had to have it immediately. I was surprised by how hard it was to find, (I wanted a physical copy and not just a download). I eventually was able to find the full collection at Barnes and Noble. (if you don't want to fork over the money, there's a one disc version as well.

I recommend the full collection, though, because it contains 26 poems put to song. Even more than that, there's a lovely gift book inside. It contains her thoughts on the project as well as short biographies of the many poets whose work is featured. I can't help but think that Natalie has given us a huge gift, that this ambitious 5 year project born out of teaching her daughter language and life through poetry has rescued for us, just a little bit, the lives and words and beauty of poetry.

Tears really came to my eyes when I read the following thoughts she has on poetry.

In spite of the fact that I have written song lyrics for thirty years, I'd never considered myself a poet or gave much of my time to reading poetry. I'm a late convert to the art form but now I understand that poets are our soft-spoken clairvoyants. They tell us about the things that have made us and kept us human. Poets are keepers of the sacred language that describes our holy language--unknown and unknowable. The poet holds the mirror that reflects the true shape and touch and taste and sound of all of the things that bind us together and keep us apart. The poet's language is putting silence around everything worth remembering.

I can't think of a more beautiful call to read poetry this month and always, to remember and treasure this art form and celebrate the gift that it is.

A special thanks to Natalie Merchant, for this reminder and for the pure joy of the music.




Amy

Review: Fireworks Over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff

Fireworks Over Toccoa
As you may recall, I was over the moon when I heard there was going to be a book set in Toccoa. It didn't really look like my normal kind of read, but it was set in Toccoa, where I went to college, a place that holds so many life memories for me. It's also a gorgeous town, something I appreciate now more than ever. And why not share the history of a place like Toccoa? I'm fairly familiar with the rocky history of the college I went to, but not necessarily the town itself.

Fireworks Over Toccoa is about Lily, a young wife in Toccoa expecting her husband back after World War II. She was married to Paul for just a short time before he left for the war, and while she's looking forward to his return, she has mixed feelings. Lily has always been a bit on the adventurous side and never quite the proper young Toccoa woman her mother wishes she were. Her parents are extremely wealthy and have high hopes for their daughter.

As Lily prepares for Paul's return, she meets Jake Russo who is in town preparing the fireworks for the big fourth of July homecoming. And as you might expect, some fireworks happen between Lily and Jake who are drawn to each other in a fast and furious way. What will this mean for Lily's future with Paul? Will she leave her hometown for this newfound passion?

What I liked about this book was the setting. The woods actually come into play quite a bit and I could well imagine them having spent four years in Toccoa. It really is beautiful country. The falls, the big huge gorgeous waterfall that was on my college campus, barely got a mention, really only to tell the story of the legend of Toccoa. But it didn't matter, I could imagine Toccoa as it must have been.

What I didn't like was pretty much everything else. I couldn't buy into the love story. I do imagine that after having a husband for a short while and suddenly not having one for four years, Lily would be a bit....restless. But there wasn't enough genuine build-up for me to believe she'd really be tempted to leave everything behind for what was essentially, forgive my crudeness, a good shag. I would have appreciated a lot more character development to believe the incredible chemistry and love of the characters.

This is, however, a short read. If you are looking for just a quick sort-of-love story that includes some interesting history of fireworks and a fabulous little town in Toccoa, you might like this.

Rating: 2.75/5
Things You Might Want to Know: Sex
Source of Book: Review Copy provided by publisher
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin's Press)

Check out beautiful Toccoa Falls!




Amy

The Ocean Between Us by Susan Wiggs Giveaway + $25 Visa Gift Card

The Ocean Between Us

I am excited to be able to offer a very fun giveaway in celebration of the release of The Ocean Between Us by Susan Wiggs today. In addition to a copy of the book you have a chance to win a $25 gift card!

Here's a synopsis of the book:

Steve Bennett is a perfect navy officer with a perfect navy family, and he's confident that his world is just the way it should be. But his son wants to be an artist instead of attending the U.S. Naval Academy, and his stalwart and capable wife of 20 years, Grace, is tired of being the perfect navy wife. She wants her own home, and she wants her own career. She's feeling altogether unsettled, but nothing is more unsettling than the secret her husband has hidden from her their entire marriage. Nothing, that is, until the accident on the carrier.

Here are the rules of the contest:
Prizes:

One (1) Grand Prize winner from your site receives:

  • Get a little renewal in your life with a $25 VISA gift card
  • Copy of The Ocean Between Us

Two (2) additional winners will receive a copy of the book!


Shipping Rules:

This book giveaway is open to participants with a United States mailing address only (international readers can enter if they have a friend in the States who can accept their prizes by mail.)





You can learn more about the book at Susan Wiggs.

Dates:
Contest will be open until May 3rd 11:59 PM PST.

Please note:
I received a copy of this book to review, but I haven't had a chance to read it yet.



Amy

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Wrapping up Gone with the Wind Read-a-long




I can't believe it's over! As long as this book was and even though I had a hard time always meeting the schedule, I absolutely loved reading it this way and sharing my thoughts each week. I cried at the end (even though I knew what was going to happen) and was surprised by just how depressing the ending feels in the book. If ever in the world there is evidence that a good movie comes from an even better book, it's Gone with the Wind.

Let's talk about the ending specifically, since I'll also be writing a review. The ending, I felt was very depressing. This last section picked up on the night after Ashley's party where Melanie had Scarlett receive with her. Rhett is of course overcome with jealousy and rage and humiliation but they have quite the passionate night together.

I have to admit to feeling frustrated by Rhett. For all his knowing Scarlett "down to her bones" talk he still plays the same games with her. But Scarlett actually seems quite insecure when it comes to Rhett...I feel like he could have encouraged her more. Ah well, I guess he was quite insecure with her as well. Scarlett continued to be shocking by openly thinking things like wishing that God had taken Ella instead of Bonnie, but maybe in the end she's just more honest than the rest of us.

I found Bonnie and Melanie's deaths to be so sad, but despite it all, I was so glad that at the end, Scarlett, having lost everything, still wasn't broken.

I was chatting about the end of the book on twitter awhile back and some people said they think everyone ends up alone. Do you? Or do you think Scarlett wins back Rhett? What do you imagine happens to the characters? I don't think I'll be reading any of the imagined sequels anytime soon, though I did watch Scarlett on TV when it was on.

Don't forget next week we'll discuss The Wind Done Gone!



Amy

Twitter Party with Meg Cabot and the Book Smugglers!


Have you been wanting an iPad? If you're anything like me, the idea of an iPad is thrilling the impact on one's budget not so much. But you have a chance to win one at the Twitter party with Meg Cabot and the Book Smugglers this coming week. And lots of other prizes, but even more importantly, the awesome chance to chat with Meg. The details are below:


Join Runaway author Meg Cabot and Thea and Ana of The Book Smugglers for a Twitter party Thursday, April 22, between 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. EST!

  • Join the fun! No one expects you or your tweets to be perfect; we’re just happy you made it to the party!

  • Anyone who tweets during the party using #MegCabot is entered to win alimited edition Runaway t-shirt – featuring the winning design voted for by fans!

  • Watch for questions from @BookSmugglers and win awesome prizes including an iPad, $50 Sephora gift cards or $25 VISA gift cards!

  • Ask Meg questions or chat with other partygoers—just use the tag #MegCabot in all of your party tweets! (This is added automatically in TweetGrid.)

  • Please don’t post any spoilers and don’t forget to pay attention to the time zones, the party starts at 8:30pm EST.

What Books Do You Wish Everyone Would Read?

I have created a survey that I hope you will participate in. Not only do I hope you will participate in this survey, but I hope you will send ALL YOUR FRIENDS to participate! Yes I will share the results and yes it has a purpose, all will be disclosed soon. Why should you take this survey?
1) It's always fun to talk about the books we love best
2) I will create a list from the answers and I think you'll want to be a part of that!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Faith'n'Fiction Saturday

Faith'n'Fiction Saturday is a weekly discussion of faith and fiction. Some weeks are more faith, others more fiction, but the best combine both. If you want to respond, just leave a comment or write a post on your own blog and leave a link in comments.

My understanding of God is something that constantly changes. (just to be clear I don't think God changes, just the way I understand Him and the Bible) Therefore, I am always interested in seeing different theological perspectives represented in Christian fiction. I have noticed, however, that a lot of Christian fiction steers clear from strong theology and tends to focus on a few issues of Christian practice. For example, sexual purity and fidelity, honesty, and trusting that God will provide through difficult circumstances. What sometimes happens as a result is that we take away a message or values (and everything in life conveys values) that focus on these things or suggest they are most important.

I think Christian fiction has a unique opportunity to introduce new ideas or other ways of thinking about God but because it's also a business it often ends up traveling a very safe inoffensive path, i.e. not even mentioning a church denomination the characters are involved with. What this approach communicates to me is that most Christians want to read books with characters that reflect themselves. So I understand that Christian fiction is meant for Christians but as has sort of become my mantra around these parts, there are many different kinds of Christians. Because of this, I think Christian fiction tends to be more about consumerism rather than art that will challenge and transform.

This is becoming a major problem for me, because I find myself wanting to read Christian fiction less and less. I am becoming more and more reluctant to try new authors, as I am so often disappointed and also because I am so hungry in my reading...I want to read literature that challenges me as a person. I want to read fiction that expands my world instead of keeping it small.

Every once in awhile I'll read a book that hints at some potential awesome storyline but doesn't develop it. One recent example is Songbird Under a German Moon in which the hero would feel some stirrings of guilt over the situation the Germans were in but would brush it aside. I'd love to read a Christian fiction that really explores the many complexities of war and doesn't necessarily champion America. Not because I don't love my country, but because we aren't blameless and owning our sins is good and healthy. (funny enough, that's a concept I first learned in Christian fiction. yay Yada Yada!)

Of course, maybe I'm asking too much. Another book I reviewed this week I felt the characters were quite one dimensional and their story arcs very predictable. But several commented and said they thought they were very well fleshed out, flawed, and realistic.

I feel like this attitude is coming across on my blog as well, and I feel like I must stress it's not that I feel there isn't a place for nice safe Christian fiction...I do. It's just that it's rather impossible for me to determine what Christian fiction I might like and I no longer know if I'm willing to spend my precious reading time, which is becoming more scarce, on risks to see if the newest author might break the mold. And this has turned into a huge long confessional. But I feel like I want to be honest with all of you since I've become more and more vocal about my discontent.

But back to theology. I've noticed that Christian readers tend to not want to read books that are labelled Christian fiction that support a theology different from their own. And I'm certainly guilty of this as well. So today's question is really about what your theological deal breakers are. What ideas about God do you see presented in Christian fiction bother you?

The following are things that bug me:
*Christians killing people and being okay with it. I believe all life is sacred and I believe in nonviolence. I think if a Christian has to take the life of another person, it should be a serious event. Of course, this isn't just unique to Christians. In reality, I think taking a life is a pretty big deal for a lot of people.
*The idea that people who aren't evangelical Christians aren't really Christians.
*The idea that being a Christian is about going to Heaven.
*The perpetuation of stereotypes about people marginalized by society: people of color, with disabilities, the GLBT community, or of other faiths.
*Also any strong political bent bugs me. Probably because I'm an independent. :)

What ideas bug you that you see in Christian fiction or what have you seen that conflicts with your own understanding of God?




Amy

Review: All She Was Worth by Miyuki Miyabe (Detectives Around the World)


A name only exists because another person calls you by it. If someone had cared for her, she'd never have tossed her name away like an old tire. There's love in a name.

When Jen of Jen's Book Thoughts first announced that she was doing a Detectives Around the World theme week, I was excited to participate and my first choice was to do a detective in Japan. The only problem, of course, is that I didn't actually know any. Jen was sweet enough to help me find one I could do and I'm really glad that I participated in this week, because it's been ages since I've read crime fiction, and I forgot just how good it can be.

Shunsuke Honma was recently shot on the job and now has an injured leg. He's on a leave of absence to give his leg time to heal when a distant relative, Jun, shows up and asks him for some help. His fiancee, Shoko, has mysteriously disappeared and he has no idea why. The last he saw her, he'd been trying to get her a credit card, but she was denied all credit because she had declared personal bankruptcy some years before. When Jun confronts her with this information, she panics and disappears.

Honma takes on the case and is surprised by how quickly he is drawn into what is a much bigger mystery than it initially appears to be. Is Shoko even really Shoko? His investigations takes him all over Japan.

I completely enjoyed this book. While I was drawn into the mystery, I was also impressed with the sharp social commentary and the almost unbelievable relevance it has to our own current economic conditions. Shoko, after all, was in deep debt. Miyabe explores the world of debt, how things spiral quickly out of control for people, and through the various characters she questions who is really responsible when one individual finds themselves deeply in debt. Consumerism, growing individualism, the desire to own in order to become all play a role in this story.

Readers who aren't Japanese will also probably find the situation of identity theft in Japan to be very interesting as well as the different ways in which Japanese culture plays into the story. What I enjoyed was that Honma was a single dad raising an adopted son. (his wife had passed away)

I was also impressed with the way in which Miyabe paints even the criminals in a sympathetic light....in fact, I would say that coming to a deep understanding of why people do what they do, even when it's horrible and hurtful is an important element in her storytelling.

This is why I love crime fiction and why I'm glad Jen's week pushed me to move it up in priority. The very best of crime fiction examines our humanity, our motivations, our relationships to one another. It looks unflinchingly at our society and takes us into the heated moments that so often define a life. I'm glad to say that All She Was Worth fits right in there with the best.

Rating: 4.5/5
Source of Book: bought a used copy
Publisher: Mariner Books (Houghton Mifflin)




Amy

Francine Rivers' Her Mother's Hope

Her Mother's Hope
One of my favorite authors, Francine Rivers finally released a new book! I'm sharing a little about it with you today.

About the Book: The first part of an unforgettable epic family saga about the sacrifices every mother makes for her daughter and the very nature of unconditional love. On the eve of the First World War, fiery Marta Schneider leaves Switzerland and her difficult childhood behind, determined to find a new life on her own terms. Barely out of her teens, Marta is haunted by a devastating loss that fuels her ambition to one day own a hotel. From the cramped quarters of a French housekeeping school to the portrait-lined halls of a stately English manor, Marta becomes a hard working domestic who has little time to dwell on what might have been. Instead, she draws her strength from what could be. Then, Marta meets Niclas Waltert, a man just as determined as she to forge a better life in a new place. Niclas captures her heart and together they endure the harshness of life as tenant farmers on the vast prairies of Winnipeg, Canada, before following the promise of the American dream and migrating to the agriculturally rich Central Valley of California. Marriage and motherhood bring both joy and heartbreak, as Marta must surrender her long-held ambitions for the sake of her husband and children, including her daughter, Hildemara, upon whose shoulders her own hopes now squarely rest. Only the strong survive and Marta is determined to raise a daughter as strong as she. But as Hildie reaches young womanhood and another war is fast approaching, those hopes become too heavy a burden for Hildie to bear. Born with a heart to serve others, Hildie pursues her calling as a nurse, something Marta can’t understand. Marta’s years of hardnosed parenting have left Hildie still hungry for her mother’s love…and now for her mother’s respect. Amid the drama of WWII, Hildie falls in love and begins a family of her own. She wants her daughter, Carolyn, never to doubt her love—but the challenges of life conspire against her vow and the only person who can come to her aid is the person she remains so desperate to please: Marta, her mother. With hallmark touches of brilliant prose and gripping characterizations, Her Mother’s Hope is a rich, moving epic about faith and dreams, heartache and disappointment, and ultimately the resilience and tenacity of love.

And from Francine's perspective...
Tell us about your current work.

I have just completed the second in a set of two books about mother-daughter relationship over four generations. This was intended to be one long novel dealing with the different ways generations have lived out their faith – but became so long it needed to be divided. Her Mother’s Hope was released on March 16, 2010. Her Daughter’s Dream will follow in September. There are numerous family and personal details woven into both books and I plan to share those things on my blog. You may find out more about my new book and more by visiting my web site at www.FrancineRivers.com.

PLEASE NOTE: A complimentary copy of this book was provided to the me as a blog tour host by Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for posting this interview on my blog. Please visit Christian Speaker Services at www.ChristianSpeakerServices.com for more information about blog tour management services.

I hope to have a review of this for you soon. The fact that I haven't finished it yet just goes to show how ridiculously overcommitted I am.




Amy

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Review: Get Lucky by Katherine Center

When Sarah gets fired from her job, she retreats to her home in Texas for the Thanksgiving weekend. While she's there, her sister Mackie tells her that she's going to stop trying to have a baby since she's had several miscarriages. Sarah's quite bummed about this and that's when she gets the idea...since she's just recently lost her job maybe she should carry the baby for Mackie!

Mackie agrees and the girls quickly make plans which include Sarah moving in with Mackie and her husband. The perfect arrangement right? Well maybe not. There are going to be all kinds of hormones, jealousies, and feelings for both of them.

I really enjoyed Get Lucky. It's such a relief sometimes to read a book that is brimming over with heart and has all these gorgeous little truths woven into regular narrative while also just making me laugh. Does the book use certain conventions familiar to readers of chick lit? Yes. But I find them comforting and I find the book no less emotionally honest for choosing to use humor to explore the complex and beautiful relationship of sisters.

Rating: 4.25/5
Things You Might Want to Know: Some language
Source of Book: Received from publisher for TLC tour
Publisher: Ballantine Books (Random House)




Amy

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Review: A Distant Melody by Sarah Sundin

A Distant Melody
Allie has never been considered beautiful by her family, but it doesn't really matter in the love department because she's also in somewhat of an arranged marriage...her parents want her to marry their handpicked guy to take over their extremely successful business. Allie has been dating him for years and this is very much expected of her. However, Allie doesn't love Baxter and has no real affection for him.

When Allie goes to her friend Betty's wedding, she meets Walter Novak, a young pilot fighting in World War II. Allie and Walt hit it off, but Allie doesn't really tell him about Baxter and just gets caught up in the new friendship. When Walt learns about Baxter, he still asks for Allie's permission to write her letters and their correspondence and relationship grows from there.

I didn't love this book. But first the good....Allie lived in Riverside! I lived in Riverside for a little while before moving to nearby Corona. I have to admit I struggled when Allie called Riverside the most beautiful city in California, but I suspect it used to be much prettier when there were more orange groves and the buildings were newer. It does have the lovely view of the mountains after all. ;)

The history was interesting and I enjoyed that aspect as well. Plus Allie makes some tough independent choices that I enjoyed seeing.

I found the characters to be mostly one dimensional, though, and Allie annoyed me from the get-go. The book felt a bit preachy to me, and the usual vices were presented as clear signs of ungodliness (pornography, drinking, etc.) while the lying the main characters did was seen much more sympathetically. The evangelical tradition of Christianity was shown as being superior to other forms as well. These are huge pet peeves of mine, as you may know.

But the thing that really bugged me in the book was Baxter and his questionable relationship with Allie. It's suggested that Baxter is actually a homosexual and using Allie to both get her inheritance and to cover up his own sexuality. This is very much a subplot and not fully developed but the more I thought about it, the more it bugged me. First of all, it's suggested albeit briefly that perhaps Allie's father and Baxter have a relationship. And this would actually make a HUGE amount of sense in the way Allie's mother treats her and seems starved for her husband's full attention. And even in the way she pushes Allie to marry Baxter. However, the problem is that once again in Christian fiction, a possible GLBT character is portrayed very one dimensionally. (thankfully so are most of the other characters) And while I can certainly imagine this scenario actually happening, a little fleshing out of the characters would have made it far more interesting and forgiveable. Furthermore, it seems that more Christian fiction is finally willing to recognize that being gay is not a choice. So I'd love to see some more books written across the spectrum of beliefs with GLBT characters. Am I dreaming? Probably. I know many of you also don't agree with my stand on homosexuality so you may have no issues with this in the book at all.

I think if you're interested in a sweet very much Christian fiction love story that takes place during World War II, you might enjoy this book. Deborah certainly liked it more than I did.

Rating: 2.5/5
Things You Might Want to Know: This is very much Christian fiction classic
Source of Book: Provided by publicist for review
Publisher: Revell

From the publicist:
A Distant Melody, Book 1 in Sarah Sundin’s exciting Wings of Glory series, is in stores now! To celebrate the release, we’re offering one Grand Prize winner the chance to get NOSTALGIC!

Enter the Netflix and Nostalgia contest from author Sarah Sundin!

THE PRIZE:
The Winner of the ‘NETFLIX® & Nostalgia’ giveaway will receive a vintage prize package, including:

*A 6 month NETFLIX® subscription
*$25 Starbucks® gift card
*A box of See’s Famous Old Time Chocolates®
*A jar of homemade strawberry jam
*A Big Band music CD
*A Mini B-17 Model airplane
*Vintage stationery and pen
*British specialty tea
*WWII style playing cards

To enter just click on the icon above! Contest will be live April 5th and run through April 25th!




Amy

Buddy Review: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Beautiful Creatures

I recently did a buddy review of Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl with Kelly of The Written World. The first part is up over at her blog, and you can read the second part here. I got my ARC of this book at Comic-Con in San Diego last summer. I would give it a 4/5.

Amy: I think it's a little bit of an odd choice. I actually heard the authors say that they wanted to call it sixteen moons but the publisher wouldn't let them because there were already do many books with moon in the title. But just who are the beautiful creatures? What did you think of Marion the librarian and the libraries? I thought that part was kind of cool and made me think of Harry Potter.

Kelly: Sixteen Moons would have been a better title. That actually has a connection to the story and makes sense to me. I really liked Marion. She was a bit different and added an interesting contrast to the story in general. Especially when you learn that there is more to her than you can initially see. I enjoyed the library that was only open on Bank Holidays. The whole idea of it spanning on forever was really cool to me. Plus, it is housed in one of the oldest buildings in the town so that history alone is interesting. Speaking of history, what did you think of the historical connections throughout this novel?

Amy: Um, I liked them? It seems like you can't have a Southern novel without involving the Civil War. Did you enjoy the whole idea of the Caster girls? Did you find them to be an original enough invention? What did you think of the idea of being claimed--the idea that once they came of age there was no going back?

Kelly: Yeah, I see that. The Civil War is an important part of Southern history. I enjoyed a lot of the details that went in to the novel. It was obvious that they thought about a lot of things in great detail before they wrote the book. As to being original, though, it was different than anything I had read recently, but it borrowed enough from other things to overpower the original ideas they were trying for. The idea of being claimed, now, that didn't work for me at all because it reminded me too much of the drama in another series. The difference being that this was something that had to happen and that was something that she just wanted to happen. I think I am finding too much drama in teen literature is starting to get to me. What about you? What do you think about all of this stuff?

Amy: I have to admit that I like some angst and drama it's all in the story and writing and how organic it feels. If the author makes me feel what the characters are feeling I tend to like it more. I think maybe that's why this book worked a little less for me, I didn't feel it as much. I do think everything feels huge and monumental when you're a teenager...kind of like how Buffy used vampires and monsters to illustrate that. ;) Will you read the next book?

Kelly: It is not a priority because I really don't feel there has to be a sequel, but I might get it from the library at some point. I am curious, I admit, on what more needs to be said. Everything seemed to be summed up really well at the end. Almost too perfect, actually. Do you think you will read it?

Amy: I might...but probably not the second it comes out. I think the series is going to be six books long! I do love the covers!

Thanks for reviewing the book with me Kelly! It's good to have a friend to chat about books with!

Kelly: Six books!!! I didn't know that! That's pretty ambitious. I love the covers, too. I was thinking I should have asked about them!

Thanks for doing it with me, too! I look forward to our next one.




Amy