Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Review: Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase

Mr. Impossible (Carsington Brothers #2)
By: Loretta Chase
Publisher: Berkley


Long ago, Daphne Pembroke once let her emotions rule her intellect, and made a grave error in judgement. At nineteen, she became enamored with an older scholar who became a condescending, controlling husband, using his experience and age as leverage with which to stifle Daphne's own considerable intellect and passion for study. Forced to deny the very essence of herself -- her love of learning -- Daphne adapts in order to survive, and upon her husband's death continues her intellectual charade. Her beloved brother Myles becomes a scholar, renowned for his work in studying the enigma of Egyptian hieroglyphs, while Daphne is is loyal assistant, the world never suspecting that it is Daphne's work bringing academic acclaim to the family name. It's a sensible arrangement, one that has worked well for years, hiding the scandalous truth of Daphne's "unwomanly" intellect and allowing her to pursue her studies in peace -- until the unthinkable happens, and Myles is kidnapped by treasure seekers, determined to use the famed scholar's ability to translate hieroglyphs to discover an untouched trove of Egyptian treasure. Desperate to save Myles before the truth behind his alleged intellectual prowess is discovered, thereby nullifying his usefulness to his captors, Dapne turns to the authorities for help. But the only help that is forthcoming is Lord Hargate's scapegrace fourth son, Rupert Carsington, infamous from London to Cairo for his inability to stay out of trouble.

The utter despair of his parents, Rupert was sent to Egypt to make something of himself (or die trying), and has managed to met every challenge -- whether self-made or unceremoniously thrust upon him -- with a degree of equanimity that should make his sire proud. But digging in the sand in search of knick-knacks and ancient "thingums" is dashed boring -- and therefore, when presented with the chance to legitimately bash heads and spend time with the buttoned-up-but-beautiful Daphne Pembroke, Rupert embraces the challenge with his usual measure of enthusiasm. Particularly if, in his efforts to reunite the devoted Daphne with her missing brother, circumstances should allow him to embrace her with enthusiasm, a prospect the likes of which he is determined to avail himself at the first opportunity.

Daphne is determined to rid herself of the nobleman's blockhead of a son at the first opportunity, but as the pair begin to make investigate Myles's disappearance, unexpected danger threatens -- and the man she hired for only his brawn proves himself to be a more necessary -- and worthy -- ally than she'd ever dreamed. As they travel across Egypt in search of Myles, desperately seeking clues locked within the cryptic hieroglyphs that may aid in securing his release, Daphne finds herself irresistibly drawn to her unlikely partner in adventure, while Rupert finds himself dealing with feelings of an unexpected nature -- feelings that have as much to do with his appreciation of Daphne's "magnificent brain" as her fine figure. When an immovable object -- the determinedly bookish Daphne -- meets an irresistible force -- Rupert, the numskull of surprising depth -- the impossible occurs, and sparks fly. With danger stalking their every step, can the reckless Rupert convince his would-be lady that their relationship is a risk worth taking?

Ms. Chase returns to the Carsington family for a second tale of unlikely lovers with Mr. Impossible, even more more outrageously delightful than its predecessor. You GUYS...this book is like The Mummy meets Romancing the Stone. Cravats and breeches and adventure in 1821 Egypt? I am SO THERE. Chase refreshes the historical romance formula with a dash of adventure and a healthy dose of the exotic. In the vein of Alistair and Mirabel's stormy courtship in Miss Wonderful, the pages of Mr. Impossible sizzle with romantic tension. But more than that, what I am growing to love about Chase's fiction is her humor -- and that quality is happily evident in abundance, wherein Chase has taken one of my favorite tropes -- the bookish heroine -- and given her an adventure with a truly cinematic flair.

As a reader who counts Beauty and the Beast among her favorite fairy tales, it should come as no surprise that intelligent, book-loving heroines are near and dear to my heart -- and as such, Daphne is a gem. Though a widow as the time the story opens, the negative impact of her husband's controlling nature and the doubts he planted within regarding her self-worth cut deeply enough to continue to inform her image and outlook years after his death. I absolutely loved watching Daphne blossom over the course of her journey to find Myles, tapping into reservoirs of strength and purpose she never knew she had -- but more than that, of coming to accept herself. While a woman's access and right to education during this time was limited if not outright frowned upon, it's fabulous to see a romance where the hero is not only attracted to the heroine's intellect, but encourages it.

Unlike his brother Alistair, Rupert is a man upon whom life seems to have placed no expectations -- and he's just good-natured enough not to care, or if he does, not to let it darken his otherwise perpetually optimistic disposition. A self-proclaimed blockhead and a widely-renowned scandal-monger, Rupert could easily be the cookie-cutter definition of a rake. But thanks to Chase's deft characterization, he's quite simply too good-natured, and though he might seem to think first all too often with other parts of his anatomy rather than his brain, he is not without street-smarts. This novel is as much about Rupert defying and exceeding expectations as it is about Daphne's self-worth, and as such I loved his optimism and determination. While he is exceedingly comfortable in his own skin, he is quite capable of adapting and changing when required. Simply put, it's refreshing to read a romance where the tall, dark, and handsome hero isn't brooding, angst-ridden, and emotionally scarred -- he's self-deprecating, funny, and just plain nice.

With Mr. Impossible Loretta Chase has cemented her position on my list of must-read authors. All of the elements that I loved in Alistair's story, my introduction to her work -- from the swoon-worthy romance, sharply-drawn characters, and wonderfully sly sense of humor explode with Technicolor brilliance here. Mr. Impossible is the very definition of a rollicking, adventure-packed romance. With Chase's deliciously subversive, sarcastic sense of humor, lightning-fast pacing, exotic setting, and a chemistry so electric the sparks practically fly from the page, Mr. Impossible is the perfect blend of spine-tingling romance and high-spirited adventure. A love letter to bookishly-minded heroines, Daphne and Rupert's romance -- physicality aside, which is present in near over-abundance -- is a joy to read, the definition of opposites attract as a meeting of two more dissimilar, yet perfectly matched minds than I could ever hope to meet on the page.

About the book:

Rupert Carsington, fourth son of the Earl of Hargate, is his aristocratic family's favorite disaster. He is irresistibly handsome, shockingly masculine, and irrevocably reckless, and wherever he goes, trouble follows. Still, Rupert's never met an entanglement -- emotional or other -- he couldn't escape. Until now.

Now he's in Egypt, stranded in the depths of Cairo's most infamous prison, and his only way out is accepting a beautiful widow's dangerous proposal. Scholar Daphne Pembroke wants him to rescue her brother, who's been kidnapped by a rival seeking a fabled treasure. Their partnership is strictly business: She'll provide the brains, he, the brawn. Simple enough in theory.

Blame it on the sun or the blazing desert heat, but as tensions flare and inhibitions melt, the most disciplined of women and the most reckless of men are about to clash in the most impossibly irresistible way.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Review: A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

A Spear of Summer Grass
By: Deanna Raybourn
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
ISBN: 978-0-7783-1439-4


"Don't believe the stories you have heard about me. I have never killed anyone, and I have never stolen another woman's husband....And I never meant to go to Africa." - Delilah Drummond

Delilah Drummond is no stranger to scandal, having learned the essentials of mastering a notorious lifestyle with verve and flair at her mother Mossy's knee. But her latest scandal is even too much for her open-minded mother, as following her last husband's suicide and the subsequent battle over his assets, the newspapers smell blood -- and Delilah's questionable mores and carefree lifestyle are the target, with collateral damage among her family, friends, and ex-husbands not just a fear, but a very real possibility. And so Delilah is sent packing, her infamy and seemingly unstoppable proclivity for fostering scandal sent to Fairlight, her (first) stepfather's Kenyan estate. There she will cool her heels, lost in the wilds of Africa, until the worst of the scandal passes and she is free to return from exile -- free to return to her endless round of parties and pleasure-seeking, a life of carelessly constructed excess designed to fill the hole ripped in her soul by the Great War.

But nothing prepared Delilah for Africa. Even in Nairobi, Delilah finds her reputation has proceeded her, souring the opinion of local authorities against her presence. Fairlight has fallen into disrepair, and she throws herself into the project of its rehabilitation -- and as word of her presence spreads, the natives arrive, seeking work, medicine, and justice, casting the new mistress of Fairlight as benefactress, a role Delilah isn't sure she's willing -- or able -- to play. Drawing on reservoirs of strength and determination she never knew she possessed, Delilah settles into life at Fairlight and slowly but surely finds herself falling under Africa's heady, intoxicating spell.

All temptation, however, was not left behind in Europe and America, as the small community of expatriates Delilah meets remind her of the life to which she fully intends to return, even as she finds herself troubled by their excesses and attitude toward the native Africans. She renews a liason with Kit, a painter, even as she's inexorably drawn to the rugged masculinity and raw power of Ryder White, a legendary hunter. But the more time she spends with Ryder, the more Delilah realizes that Ryder is the one man she can't control, the one man who threatens to demand more of her than she's willing to give -- the fearful leap of whole-hearted commitment. As tensions escalate over Kenya's bid for independence, an unspeakable crime is committed, and Delilah is forced to confront her deepest fears and decide if she has the strength to stop running and claim a life and a love the likes of which she'd never dreamed -- a life as starkly honest and unvarnished as Africa, the land that's staked an irrevocable claim on her soul.

Last year I was captivated by Far in the Wilds, the prequel novella to Delilah's story, in which Raybourn introduced Ryder in all of his smoldering glory and rugged charm. But to my everlasting chagrin, I allowed the follow-up to languish on my to-be-read pile -- however, if a book was ever worth the wait, it's this one. A Spear of Summer Grass is an absolutely intoxicating read. As an ardent fan of British costume dramas, I'm always on the lookout for novels that replicate that viewing experience -- and with the exception of Philip Rock's Greville trilogy, novels that possess that cinematic spark, that seduce the reader with luxurious prose, unforgettable characterizations, and an unparalleled sense of time and place have fallen short -- until now. With Delilah's story, Raybourn has delivered a sterling example of everything I crave in historical fiction. A Spear of Summer Grass is a story to be savored, an evocative glimpse into a world long past, and a heartbreaking examination of the transformative effect of the Great War on social mores and those who survived to stitch together the shattered remains of their pre-war illusions.

Delilah is, perhaps, Raybourn's strongest heroine to date. Powerfully informed by the tremendously flawed, strong women surrounding her Lousiana-Creole upbringing, she's independent, strong-willed, and compassionate, renowned for her fast lifestyle but with her own strong moral code that cannot be denied. By setting this novel in the early post-war years, at the dawn of the heady rush that was the Roaring Twenties, Raybourn is able to explore the well-entrenched impact of the Great War on a bright young thing like Delilah. The loss of her first great love, Johnny, and the wholesale destruction the conflict wreaked upon her generation is, in a word, catastrophic. As her cousin and companion Dora so astutely observes, it isn't endless pleasure that Delilah seeks with her hedonistic lifestyle, it's oblivion -- always fleeting and increasingly temporary, a mind-numbing salve that allows her time and again to deny coming to terms with herself and her life. With Delilah, Raybourn has captured the underlying brokenness of the 1920s, the pain that so often festered just beneath the excess, a never-healed wound carried by many of those touched by the previous decade's conflict.

I knew from reading Raybourn's Lady Julia novels that she could pen a swoon-worthy romance, and maybe it's just been a while since I read those but with Ryder I'm convinced she's crafted her best hero yet. Cut from the classic adventure mold created by the likes of Allen Quartermain, and which informed my favorite, Indiana Jones, Ryder is bold, brash, and larger-than-life, every bit as wounded as Delilah. Yet where her first, carefully-honed instinct is to run, he is one who plays the long game, a stayer who'd like nothing more than the chance to invest in a relationship with Delilah, much as he has in building his life in Africa. As Ryder tells Delilah, Africa is "no country for softness," the land serving as the crucible in which those who are broken are remade -- but one must make the choice to survive, to embrace a life lived on the knife edge of uncertainty and live it to the full. With Ryder and Delilah, Raybourn has penned a romance for the ages, at once cinematic in scope and breathtakingly intimate. For Ryder, broken and remade as he is, is a man who proves over and over that "he's a hell of a stayer."

Raybourn paints the canvas of her story with sweeping, gorgeously-rendered detail, evoking colonial Africa as a land ripe with possibilities, on the cusp of great change, and not for the faint of heart. Peopled with a host of colorful supporting players, from Gideon, the Masai warrior Delilah befriends, the pleasure-seeking expat Helen, and Tusker, Ryder's indomitable aunt. I particularly loved Raybourn's handling of race relations in 1923 -- while Delilah is a very forward-thinking woman, she's still very much a product of her time, and as such is able to confront issues like race relations and colonial justice with sensitivity and thought-provoking honesty.

A Spear of Summer Grass is a stunning, wholly absorbing novel that will sweep you away to a world lost to the inexorable march of time. Replete with lush, evocative descriptions of Africa's wild beauty, with characters dancing across this vast panorama every bit as wild, wonderful, and unique as the land the grow to love. As a product of Raybourn's imagination, Delilah is a masterclass in characterization; as a character she is an irresistible, compelling force to be reckoned with, one that will wile her way into your heart and captivate your imagination. At once a fascinating character piece, a love letter to a beautiful land, and an insightful examination of the shattering effects of the Great War, A Spear of Summer Grass is a novel to be savored. This is Raybourn at her finest -- lush prose, impeccable plotting, sublimely crafted characters, and a heart-tugging, sweeping saga that will leave its indelible imprint on your imagination.

About the book:

Paris, 1923

The daughter of a scandalous mother, Delilah Drummond is already notorious, even among Paris society. But her latest scandal is big enough to make even her oft-married mother blanch. Delilah is exiled to Kenya and her favorite stepfather's savanna manor house until gossip subsides.

Fairlight is the crumbling, sun-bleached skeleton of a faded African dream, a world where dissolute expats are bolstered by gin and jazz records, cigarettes and safaris. As mistress of this wasted estate, Delilah falls into the decadent pleasures of society.

Against the frivolity of her peers, Ryder White stands in sharp contrast. As foreign to Delilah as Africa, Ryder becomes her guide to the complex beauty of this unknown world. Giraffes, buffalo, lions and elephants roam the shores of Lake Wanyama amid swirls of red dust. Here, life is lush and teeming—yet fleeting and often cheap.

Amidst the wonders—and dangers—of Africa, Delilah awakes to a land out of all proportion: extremes of heat, darkness, beauty and joy that cut to her very heart. Only when this sacred place is profaned by bloodshed does Delilah discover what is truly worth fighting for—and what she can no longer live without.


And now, a book-casting BONUS! :) A Spear of Summer Grass practically begs to be made into a film, as Raybourn brings Delilah and Ryder to life with technicolor vibrancy on the page. So of COURSE, I had to "cast" Delilah and Ryder...if you've read the novel, I'd love to know your thoughts!

I cannot think of an actress more perfectly suited to play Delilah than Essie Davis, pictured here in her role as Phryne Fisher from the AMAZING Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries (if you haven't watched this show, WHAT ON EARTH are you waiting for?!). Not only is Phryne, in many respects, Delilah's emotional twin, but Davis has the clothes and mannerisms down perfectly. BBC, someone, make this happen!

Now, it could be that I'm a little obsessed with Outlaw Queen-shipping on Once Upon a Time, and was therefore projecting on my reading -- but setting aside my love for the developing Robin/Regina relationship, I really think Sean Maguire would be an excellent Ryder. He's got the rough edges, the humor, the attitude, and most of all, the looks.

And one more, just in case I haven't convinced you of Sean's ability to cast smoldering looks at his leading lady (incidentally, if Essie Davis isn't available to play Delilah, Lana Parrilla would be my second choice). :)

I can't even deal with this.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Colonel's Lady - on sale!

The Colonel's Lady by Laura Frantz, a.k.a. one of my favorite books EVER with one of the most amazing heroes of ALL TIME (I love Cassius McLinn SO MUCH!) is currently on sale for Kindle for just $1.99! I have no idea how long this sale will last, so don't miss out on this amazing deal! You can read my review of The Colonel's Lady here (in fact, I think I might need to re-read this book ASAP and expand on that post, as I don't think I talked about Cassius quite enough!).

Monday, April 21, 2014

Review: Follow My Lead by Kate Noble

Follow My Lead (The Blue Raven #3)
By: Kate Noble
Publisher: Berkley


Jason Cummings, Duke of Rayne and eligible bachelor, is searching for what comes next. Having accepted his role as duke and mastered its attendant responsibilities, he knows the next step is to acquire a wife and in due course produce an heir...and if in the process, the aforementioned wife manages to assuage the vague loneliness that dances at the periphery of his conscience, growing ever more insistent as he settles into his ducal responsibilities, so much the better. For family is what comes next...and after spending the better part of his youth shirking his responsibilities in favor of his recreational academic pursuits, Jason knows and accepts his new responsibilities with equanimity. And he's become rather good at it...even more so at ignoring the little voice whispering at the back of his consciousness, craving something more -- a spark to captivate his very soul. But duty trumps desire, and so Jason plots the course of his life -- and while most of the debutantes are, frankly, terrifying, he's pleased to find a potential match with the daughter of the Historical Society president, membership in that hallowed institution being one of Jason's most prized indulgences. But it's when visiting that institution that Jason finds his carefully-planned life knocked off-course by a well-placed (albeit accidental) punch at the hands of one Miss Winnifred Crane, a bluestocking with the goal of accomplishing the impossible -- becoming the Society's first female member. Jason cannot help but admire her temerity, and when asked to serve as the Society's witness to the audacious wager Miss Crane proposes in order to gain admittance, Jason agrees, little realizing that she is about to launch him on the scandalous adventure of a lifetime.

Winnifred Crane was her father's best pupil, forsaking society for the rigors of an academic lifestyle, serving first as the renowned Oxford professor's assistant and then nursing him through his final illness. But while Winnifred put her academic passion foremost in service to her father's career, she also launched her own covert career as an academic by publishing several well-received papers under the pseudonym C.W. Marks. Winn finally has the chance -- as a firmly on-the-shelf spinster of thirty -- to pursue a life of her own making, determined to join the Historical Society and at last gain academic acclaim under her own name. But when the only proof she possesses that she and Marks are one and the same is destroyed,  she stands in danger of losing her shot at independence and being forced to marry her overbearing cousin George, she proposes a daring gamble: prove that the Adam and Eve painting donated by her father to the Society is not an Albrecht Durer as long supposed, and should she fail, return to Oxford and marry. Set on achieving her hard-fought dream, Winn never imagined having to cope with a determinedly helpful duke, or even more, welcoming his companionship and coming to rely on his assistance. As the unlikely pair journey across Europe in search of letters that will prove the painting's provenance, confidences are shared and trust is earned, and Jason, determined to follow-through and be the respectable, reliable duke, finds himself losing his heart to the unconventional academic. But the thought of love and losing her shot at independence terrifies Winn -- can she learn that love, the right love, though she may lose her heart might just empower her and give her the wings to fly higher than she'd ever dreamed?

What a difference a few years can make in a hero's development! With Follow My Lead, I'd imagined that Kate Noble had set herself a formidable task -- transformed Jane's petulant, immature brother Jason, first introduced in The Summer of You, into a hero I'd love -- but more than that, a hero worthy of a bookish, academic heroine, a Georgian-era Belle if you will, and as such a heroine near and dear to my sympathies. This being my third Noble novel, I never should have doubted -- for with each successive installment she's proven increasingly incapable of disappointing this reader, never failing to beguile my heart and imagination with her sparkling characters and romances that captivate you, heart and soul.

With Jason and Winn, Noble proves once again that she is an undisputed master at developing a romance that goes far beyond physical attraction. Her romances explore the emotional and intellectual compatibility of her leads, and never more than here as the nineteenth-century world of art academia is central to Jason and Winn's relational development. I love that at thirty, Winn is considered a spinster, but caring about that label doesn't even cross her mind, as the freedom to pursue intellectual and academic pursuits of her own choosing is her foremost goal. While at times I found myself agreeing with Jason, frustrated by her naivete, it's in keeping with her sheltered upbringing, and learning curve aside one cannot help but admire Winn's passion for her quest and endless reservoir of gumption. That passion is what first draws Jason to Winn as a moth to a flame, for while he was a good student he nevertheless pursued academia as first and foremost a hobby, never connecting with his studies with the depth and passion evidenced by Winn. And so a tentative friendship develops as the duo races across Europe, striving to stay one step ahead of Winn's odious cousin, and from that comes the promise of something more, a something more that threatens both of their firmly-laid plans regarding what comes next in each of their lives.

However, as the saying goes, the "best-laid plans of mice and men / Often go awry," and it is in this respect that Noble's characterization and plotting shine most brilliantly, transforming what would be in lesser hands a straightforward romance into a heartfelt examination of the sacrifice and risks of love, and what one does with the fear that acceding to such is the death knell of one's dreams, and the irretrievable loss of an essential aspect of one's self, particularly as it comes to the heroine. Noble's female characters never fail to be gloriously realized examples of independent, individual, and bold women, but I suspect that none will be more relatable to modern audiences than Winn. With Winn, Noble manages to argue (quite successfully, I might add), that a woman's hard-won independence need not be a solitary achievement when the right partner is found. As Totty powerfully reminds Winn, being alone is not a requirement for achieving successful independence, rather it "means you have the right to make your own choices." Watching her awaken to the frightening, exhilarating realization that she wants Jason to be a part of her story results in a romance beautifully told, for he is the rare man capable of supporting her dreams, and not merely celebrating her achievements...but positively exulting in them.

I adored Jason and Winn's travelogue-romance, though the calculated risk Noble took in introducing Sarah, a wholly likable -- and perfectly good -- alternate love interest for Jason could have easily derailed the plot. Sarah's storyline broke my heart, but I must acknowledge that in the telling of it, Noble reveals the proclivity of romance readers to all too often want the happy ending without any heartache. And that quite simply isn't life. The painful realization Jason comes to as regards Sarah is wrenching, but better before the marriage than after -- and this is just one example of the raw emotional honesty that is a hallmark of Noble's writing and makes her romances so breathtakingly unforgettable. Peppered with unforgettable, colorful supporting characters (I adore Totty, and loved the updated peek into Phillippa's and Jane's lives), Follow My Lead is a smartly realized romance, where intellect collides with passion and duty with desire, and along the way both Jason and Winn learn the joy of following each other's lead into a life both greater and more fulfilling than their best-laid plans...all that was required was that first, tentative step into the unknown.

About the book:

Jason Cummings, Duke of Rayne is feeling the weight of his responsibilities - one of which is to get married.  Being the most sought after bachelor in London can be trying,  so who can blame him if he seeks refuge from the voracious hordes of young debutantes at the decidedly female-free Historical Society?  Female-free, that is, until Winnifred Crane marches up to the door, demanding entrance.

Despite her prowess as a historian, Winn is denied membership the Society.  So she daringly offers an unusual bargain: if she can prove the authenticity of a certain painting, she'll be granted recognition, fame, and respect.  But to do that, she must go abroad. And to go abroad, she must have an escort, even a stubbornly unwilling one...

Jason has no desire to accompany Winn on her adventure across Europe, but even he is not immune to Winn's passion for her profession. As the journey proves more difficult than planned, they must work together to stay one step ahead of their rivals.... and the closer they get to the proof Winn seeks, the closer she and Jason become.  But as their adventure turns dangerous, can Jason keep this headstrong bluestocking safe?  And what will become of their growing bond when the adventure ends?

Rebecca Kanner's Sinners and the Sea tour!

*I'm still reading Sinners and the Sea, so unfortunately I'll be late with my review. Till then, read below for a spotlight on the book and contest information!*

HF Virtual Book Tours invites you to follow the virtual tour for Rebecca Kanner's Sinners and the Sea from April 14-May 29.

02_Sinners and the Sea
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
Howard Books
Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audio CD

The young heroine in Sinners and the Sea is destined for greatness. Known only as “wife” in the Bible and cursed with a birthmark that many think is the brand of a demon, this unnamed woman lives anew through Rebecca Kanner. The author gives this virtuous woman the perfect voice to make one of the Old Testament’s stories come alive like never before.

Desperate to keep her safe, the woman’s father gives her to the righteous Noah, who weds her and takes her to the town of Sorum, a haven for outcasts. Alone in her new life, Noah’s wife gives him three sons. But living in this wicked and perverse town with an aloof husband who speaks more to God than to her takes its toll. She tries to make friends with the violent and dissolute people of Sorum while raising a brood that, despite its pious upbringing, develops some sinful tendencies of its own. While Noah carries out the Lord’s commands, she tries to hide her mark and her shame as she weathers the scorn and taunts of the townspeople.

But these trials are nothing compared to what awaits her after God tells her husband that a flood is coming—and that Noah and his family must build an ark so that they alone can repopulate the world. As the floodwaters draw near, she grows in courage and honor, and when the water finally recedes, she emerges whole, displaying once and for all the indomitable strength of women. Drawing on the biblical narrative and Jewish mythology, Sinners and the Sea is a beauti­fully written account of the antediluvian world told in cinematic detail.

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Praise for Sinners and the Sea

"Kanner animates a harsh, almost dystopic world of fallen people struggling to survive. Noah's unnamed wife is a powerful, memorable character." - Publisher's Weekly

"[Noah's wife] proves her strength and character as she tries to protect her family... from the outside forces that threaten. Kanner successfully undertakes a formidable task retelling a familiar religious story through the eyes of Noah's wife. The narrative's well-articulated, evenly balanced and stimulating—but it’s definitely not the familiar tale that’s so frequently illustrated in children’s books" - Kirkus Reviews

"SINNERS AND THE SEA is a rare find--a bold and vivid journey to the antediluvian world of Noah. Kanner's is a fresh, irresistible story about the unnamed woman behind the famous ark-builder. Compelling and masterfully written." - Tosca Lee, NY Times bestelling author of HAVAH: THE STORY OF EVE.

"What a remarkable debut! Rebecca Kanner's SINNERS AND THE SEA is a haunting, beautifully written story of struggle and redemption told through the eyes of the Biblical prophet Noah's wife. Kanner pulls no punches: She gives us humanity in all its wickedness -- bloodthirsty, greedy, cruel -- and the horror and heartbreak the inhabitants of Noah's ark might have felt as, unable to help, they listened to the screams of the dying and witnessed the utter obliteration of life on Earth. By the end of this book, I was in tears, for Kanner does lead us out of the valley of the shadow of death into a new world of promise and hope. SINNERS AND THE SEA is a profoundly moving tale, thrilling and fast-paced, and one of the best books I have read in a very long time."- Sherry Jones, author, THE JEWEL OF MEDINA and FOUR SISTERS, ALL QUEENS

“Rebecca Kanner brings the antediluvian world of giants, prophets, and demons alive, setting her narrative in motion from the first chapter and never letting it rest. She is a writer of great dexterity, performing tricks at a full sprint.” - Marshall Klimasewiski, author of THE COTTAGERS and TYRANTS

“Kanner does a masterful job of penetrating the depths of the Biblical Flood narrative and weaving in the complicated reality of challenging relationships and longings for personal fulfillment. Her desire to go beyond the traditional understanding of the lives she explores introduces us to a courageous and insightful young writer whose first book will take its place alongside other exciting modern re-readings of the ancient Biblical text.” - Rabbi Allen of Beth Jacob congregation in Mendota Heights, Minnesota. Honored by Forward newspaper as one of America’s "50 most significant Jewish leaders"

"We think we know Noah's story but he was not alone on the ark; what was the experience of his wife, his family? Rebecca Kanner's vividly imagined telling recreates the world of the bible, and asks powerful questions about the story and about ourselves." - Rabbi David Wolpe, Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine (2012). Author of WHY FAITH MATTERS

"We sympathize with this unnamed woman because—as remote as her world seems to be from ours—she longs for all that we want for ourselves: to be known, loved, and accepted by her family, her community, and ultimately her God... After reading Sinners and the Sea, you’ll never look at the Biblical story of Noah and the flood in the same way again, and isn’t that Biblical fiction’s greatest purpose? To see the old stories with fresh eyes and perhaps find new meaning..." - Stephanie Landsem, author of THE WELL

"Rebecca Kanner has created an autobiography of Noah’s wife, and an imaginative one it is." - American Jewish World

"[Kanner] gives an intelligent voice to Noah's wife." - Jewish Book Council

"First-time novelist Kanner has written an utterly absorbing novel, one that flows seamlessly." - Historical Novel Society

"A fascinating look into a feral civilization of turmoil and hardship." - Historical Novel Review

"A stirring, fascinating story written beautifully." - Historical Fiction Connection

"Kanner beautifully evokes life on the claustrophobic, smelly vessel. Riveting... It will certainly spark hours of book club discussions." - St. Paul Pioneer Press

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About the Author

03_Rachel Kanner

Sinners and the Sea is Rebecca Kanner’s debut novel. Rebecca is a Twin Cities native and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction Writing from Washington University in St. Louis. Her writing has won an Associated Writing Programs Award, a Loft mentorship Award and a 2012/2013 Minnesota State Arts Board Grant. Her personal essay, “Safety,” is listed as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2011. Her stories have been published in numerous journals including The Kenyon Review and The Cincinnati Review.

Along with other authors including Anita Diamant, Michael Cunningham, Joyce Carol Oates, Russell Banks and Ron Hansen, Rebecca will be featured in the upcoming title Truthful Fictions: Conversations with American Biographical Novelists.

You can learn more about Rebecca, and find links to selected stories and essays, at www.rebeccakanner.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Monday, April 14
Review & Giveaway at West Metro Mommy

Tuesday, April 15
Review at Cheryl's Book Nook

Thursday, April 17
Review at A Bookish Girl

Friday, April 18
Review at Reading the Ages

Monday, April 21
Review at Booktalk & More
Review at Judith Starkston

Wednesday, April 23
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book

Friday, April 25
Spotlight & Giveaway at Caroline Wilson Writes

Monday, April 28
Review at JulzReads

Tuesday, April 29
Review at The Most Happy Reader

Wednesday, April 30
Review & Giveaway at Book Lovers Paradise

Friday, May 2
Review at History from a Woman's Perspective

Monday, May 5
Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair

Tuesday, May 6
Review at Book Nerd

Wednesday, May 7
Review at Ink Sugar Blog

Friday, May 9
Review at Our Wolves Den

Monday, May 12
Review at The Calico Critic

Tuesday, May 13
Review at From L.A. to LA

Wednesday, May 14
Review at Sharon's Garden of Book Reviews

Thursday, May 15
Spotlight at The Tower of Babel

Friday, May 16
Review at Layered Pages

Monday, May 19
Review at A Bibliotaph's Reviews

Wednesday, May 21
Review at My Reader's Block

Friday, May 23
Review at Seaside Book Corner

Tuesday, May 27
Review at Svetlana's Reads and Views

Thursday, May 29
Review at bookworm2bookworm's Blog


To enter to win one of 2 copies of Sinners and the Sea or a $25 Amazon Gift Card, please complete the Rafflecopter giveaway form below. Giveaway is open to US residents only.

Giveaway ends at 11:59pm on May 29th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
Winners will be chosen via Rafflecopter on May 30th and notified via email.
Winners have 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Bletchley Circle Season 2

Image copyright ITV, source: Pinterest

So I am a little behind the times with my Brit TV updates, sorry about that! But better late than never, eh? Season 2 of The Bletchley Circle started on PBS last Sunday and continues this weekend. The first episode was SO GOOD -- it has a very post-war Foyle's vibe to it that I just loved, and the cast and writing are just fantastic. Here's a preview:

You can read more about Season 2 and stream the first episode HERE. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Review: Death by the Book by Julianna Deering

Death by the Book (A Drew Farthering Mystery #2)
By: Julianna Deering
Publisher: Bethany House


Just a few short months have passed since murder and mayhem ripped through Drew Farthering's life, earning him a certain measure of local notoriety and allowing him to put into practice his aptitude for investigation and analysis. But when murder leaps from the pages of one's beloved mystery novels to leave its indelible thumbprint on one's life, the murderous and macabre lose their fictional allure -- and now Drew craves nothing more than a quiet life, and an affirmative answer to his proposal of marriage to Madeline Parker, his stepfather's American niece. Just as he begins to hope that normalcy is returning to the sleepy hamlet of Farthering St. John, Drew discovers the body of his solicitor, a cryptic message pinned to his body with a jeweled hatpin. The death strikes uncomfortably close to home, as Drew's efforts to court Madeline are interrupted by the arrival of her formidable Aunt Ruth, determined to whisk away her niece back to America, away from the wiles of wealthy Englishmen such as himself who can't seem to escape association with murder.

When an unexpected scandal erupts surrounding his solicitor's personal life, Drew is drawn into the investigation at the request of the widow. As Drew struggles to balance his amateur investigative efforts with his ongoing romantic suit, the latter becomes complicated by the arrival of a brash young American that Aunt Ruth seems determined to pair with her niece. When a second murder strikes the country club, the victim marked by a cryptic message pinned through the chest, tensions run high as fear of the "Hatpin Murderer" ripples through Farthering St. John. As the death toll continues to mount, drawing ever closer to Drew's home, he begins to wonder -- is he the intended target, or the recipient of a vicious game played by a ruthless killer? Murder used to be a game ensconced safely within the pages of a riveting novel -- but if Drew's to survive this twist, he must master the rules to a game that's become all too real...and deadly.

Julianna Deering's first Drew Farthering mystery, Rules of Murder, was one of my favorite reads of last year. For any mystery set during the "golden age" of detective fiction -- the era that gave birth to authors such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers -- I want lightening-fast pacing, sparkling dialogue, and pitch-perfect historical detail. Deering's debut proved to be an unexpected delight, delivering the rapid-fire dialogue and smartly-paced plotting that I so adore in everything from Christie's novels to the Thin Man films, the latter becoming a gold standard template for smart and sassy romantic detectives.

What sets Deering's novels apart is the subtle thread of faith she weaves throughout the storyline, culminating in Drew's declaration of faith at the conclusion of Rules of Murder. As Death by the Book picks up shortly after that life-changing experience, Drew is still very new to examining life -- and crime -- through the lens of faith. Given the high bar set by the authors of the classic mysteries to which Deering both aspires and pays homage, in lesser hands the introduction of an explicit faith element could easily disrupt the narrative flow and atmosphere of the story. But Deering exhibits a refreshingly delicate touch, as any mention of Drew's newfound faith is organically incorporated into the storyline, if anything enhancing his charm and good humor rather than becoming the sole focal point. In Drew's world, murder mysteries just happen to be solved by Christians, allowing the exercise of one's faith in arguably the most worldly of contexts.

Deering's characters are an absolute joy -- crisply realized, they leap from the page with pitch-perfect dialogue and mannerisms. Drew in particular is a delight. Rarely have I ever found a characterization that does such justice to the speech patterns and manner of those found in the likes of Christie novels or the detective films of the 1930s. Aunt Ruth is a fabulous addition to the cast of players, a formidable force to be reckoned with, bringing to mind the persona of screen giants such as Edith Barrymore, or for a more recent comparison, the incomparable Maggie Smith. My only disappointment -- and it's a slight one -- is how Madeline's character developed, or to be more precise, didn't, over the course of the novel. Given her introduction I'd hope for more of a Myrna Loy-as-Nora Charles. Instead, she's more angst-ridden than Drew -- she won't say yes to his proposal, but she won't 1) stop kissing him or 2) leave in order to consider it with the benefit of distance and perspective, until the end of the novel forces her hand. I have high hopes that she'll play an even more active role in future investigations as a result.

Drew's second outing as aristocratic amateur sleuth is a rare treat for mystery lovers. Smartly plotted, peopled with engaging characters, and peppered with enough red herrings to make Dame Christie's head spin, Death by the Book secures Deering's place as a shining star in the realm of period mystery fiction. While the "conflict" introduced by Aunt Ruth (exacerbated by Madeline's indecisiveness) in an attempt to keep Drew and Madeline apart feels forced, that issue aside this second installment of Drew's sleuthing adventures is a delightful way in which to while away a few hours. Smartly plotted, with effervescent, rapid-fire dialogue and delicious period detail, Death by the Book was well worth the wait, refreshing the tropes of the classic mystery with a carefully spun cord of faith and humor. I can't wait to see where Deering takes Drew & Co. next!

About the book:

When the village of Farthering St. John is stunned by a series of murders, Drew Farthering is drawn again into the sleuthing game.

Drew Farthering wanted nothing more than to end the summer of 1932 with the announcement of his engagement. Instead, he finds himself caught up in another mysterious case  when the family solicitor is found murdered, an antique hatpin with a cryptic message, Advice to Jack, piercing his chest.

Evidence of secret meetings and a young girl's tearful confession point to the victim's double life, but what does the solicitor's murder have to do with the murder of a physician on the local golf course? Nothing, it would seem -- expect for another puzzling note, affixed with a similar-looking bloodied hatpin.

Soon the police make an arrest in connection with the murders, but Drew isn't at all certain they have the right suspect in custody. And why does his investigation seem to be drawing closer and closer to home?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Outlaw Queen

Guys, I am SO stupid invested in shipping Robin and Regina on Once Upon a Time...so needless to say this kinda made my day. I can't stop laughing. (via Tumblr)

Review: Gilded Ashes by Rosamund Hodge

Gilded Ashes (A Cruel Beauty Novella)
By: Rosamund Hodge
Publisher: Balzer + Bray


Once a beloved only daughter, following her father's remarriage and subsequent death Maia has remained in her stepmother's household, despite being relegated to the status of a servant, subject to the whims of her stepfamily. Though an outsider in her own home, taken advantage of and abused, Maia remained, for she'd learned the price of her tears was too great for anyone else to pay. For Maia has an avenger, a guardian angel, if you will -- the ghostly spirit of her beloved mother, residing in the tree that they once played under when Maia was a child. If Maia's mother thinks she is anything less than perfectly happy, she unleashes the demons under her thrall to drive any who cross her daughter insane. What was once a love that Maia cherished has now become her prison...and so she bites her tongue and buries her true feelings, until she's forgotten the luxury of speaking the truth.

When Lord Anax, son and heir to the Duke of Sardis, announces that he will finally take a bride, Maia sees a golden opportunity to save her family from the threat of her mother's capricious moods. She agrees to act as her stepsister Kore's proxy, delivering her letters to Anax and securing his agreement to their marriage. But Maia never counted on finding a kindred spirit in the Duke's son, one who has been as burned by love as she. As she delivers a new letter each day, she finds herself leaving a little piece of her heart with Anax, until she realizes she's stumbled into the greatest danger of all -- for if she cannot sever her fledgling bond with Lord Anax, she may lose more than her stepfamily to her mother's wrath -- she might lose the hope Anax has given her for a future free from fear.

Since falling in love with Rosamund Hodge's debut novel, Cruel Beauty -- a heady mix of fairy tale and Greek mythology -- I've been eagerly anticipating her take on the Cinderella story. Set within the same world as Cruel Beauty -- Arcadia, ruled by the deal-making Gentle Lord, prince of demons -- Gilded Ashes reinvents the Cinderella story, blending her world of demons and dangerous bargains with the Brothers Grimm story of Aschenputtel.

In a world where Disney's take on classic fairy tales has become accepted as a societal norm, it's easy to forget that that the original stories were bloody and violent, pulling no punches, refusing to deliver a romanticized version of the world in which these timeless characters lived. Reconciling Aschenputtel with Disney is a particularly good illustration of this disparity in Cinderella retellings, for the Brothers Grimm filled their story with a ghostly mother, stepsisters who self-mutilated, and the doves who later punished them for their misdeeds by plucking out their eyes.

Hodge doesn't go quite *that* far, but she restores the tension to the story, raising the stakes for her Cinderella and transforming the tropes of the classic fairy tale into a gorgeous examination of guilt, loss, and love. Here, the mother's ghost is absolutely TERRIFYING (why did I never realize this before?), a powerful catalyst for Maia's transformation from servant shackled by her circumstances to a woman embracing the chance to face world and the uncertainties of the future on her own terms -- but only if she's willing to let go of the past. Within eighty short pages, Hodge crafts a wonderfully believable romance, but even better, redeems Maia's stepfamily from the status of mere villains to fully realized characters, individuals every bit as broken and in need of love as Maia.

Gilded Ashes is a haunting, wonderfully creative Cinderella retelling, cementing Ms. Hodge as a YA author to watch. Rich in mystery, romance, and spine-tingling chills, this is the best kind of novella -- one a fully-realized and satisfying whole on its own, but that leaves you desperately wanting more. A gorgeous tale, beautifully told -- I can't wait for Ms. Hodge's next book!

About the book:

A romantic reimagining of the classic Cinderella fairy tale, Gilded Ashes is a novella by Rosamund Hodge set in the same world as her debut novel, Cruel Beauty.

Maia doesn't see the point of love when it only brings people pain: her dead mother haunts anyone who hurts Maia, and her stepsisters are desperate for their mother's approval, even though she despises them.

Meanwhile, Anax, heir to the Duke of Sardis, doesn't believe in love either—not since he discovered that his childhood sweetheart was only using him for his noble title. But when Maia's and Anax's paths cross before the royal ball, they discover that love might not be the curse they once thought. And it might even be the one thing that can save them both.

Fantasy fans who love Kristin Cashore and Rae Carson will find everything they're looking for in this extraordinary and romantic novella.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Review: Miss Wonderful by Loretta Chase

Miss Wonderful (Carsington Brothers #1)
By: Loretta Chase
Publisher: Berkley
ASIN: B000PC71M8


Alistair Carsington, third son of the Earl of Hargate, may be revered as a hero of the Battle of Waterloo, but currently he's the bane of his father's existence. The earl has tolerated the last of one of Alistair's famed Episodes of Stupidity, and so issues an ultimatum: find an occupation that can support his reputation as one of the most fashionable members of the ton, or failing that, marry an heiress. If Alistair cannot secure an income via work or marriage, the earl will sell holdings that would otherwise provide for Alistair's two younger brothers -- and seeing his siblings penalized for his notorious behavior is the one thing Alistair absolutely will not allow. Partnering with his best friend, Lord Gordmor -- and the man responsible for saving Alistair's life and badly wounded leg on the blood-soaked fields of Waterloo -- Alistair and sinks his remaining funds into Gordy's scheme to build a canal through Derbyshire that would transport coal from his mines, thus making Gordy's estate (finally) profitable. 

Determined to prove his worth to the business venture, Alistair travels to the wilds of Derbyshire to meet with local landowners in order to alleviate any concerns they may have about the proposed development. He resolves to begin with the Mr. Oldridge, the largest landowner in the area and as such, arguably the most influential -- if Alistair can win Oldridge Hall to his cause, surely the rest will meekly follow, and his -- and his brothers' -- future will be secured. But Alistair didn't count on Mr. Oldridge being more interested in botany than building projects, and is left to deal with the man's daughter Mirabel -- a titian-haired beauty whose smile turns his knees to jelly, even while her appalling lack of fashion sense drives him to despair. Alistair came to Derbyshire to escape the threat of romantic entanglements -- but when his biggest opposition turns out to be the one woman he doesn't want to live without, his first foray into the world of business promises to yield a richer dividend then he'd ever dreamed...if only Mirabel wasn't so distracting...

At thirty-one, Mirabel Oldridge has resigned herself to the life of a spinster. Following her mother's death, her father retreated into his love of botany and proclivity for scientific study, allowing her beloved home to fall into disrepair. But Mirabel was determined to save the home she loved, and threw herself into the very unfeminine work of running the estate, cloaking her form in hideously unfashionable clothes so as not to distract the men she must deal with, and so be taken seriously as a competent businesswoman. Her life may be lonely, but she doesn't regret her choice, until the devilishly handsome Alistair Carsington arrives with his plans for a canal -- a canal! -- that would wreck the quiet country life that has so long been her solace. But Alistair, despite his reputation as one of the foremost dandies of the ton, proves surprisingly tenacious -- and irresistible -- reminding Mirabel of a part of her life she'd thought long buried, the part that once hoped for a happily ever after all her own. But with Alistair as determined to see the canal succeed as she is equally determined to stop it, any hope of a future is surely out of the question...right? However, Mirabel never reckoned on the delicious chaos the unstoppable force that is Alistair Carsington would wreak upon her heretofore happily immovable resolve, for when the two collide sparks fly, and the only certainty is that neither will emerge unchanged.

As I've fallen in love with the Bridgerton series by Julia Quinn, I've found myself somewhat concerned as to what might possibly come close to Quinn's humor and sparkling characterization once I've finished her books -- and I'm happy to say if Miss Wonderful is any indication, Ms. Chase's novels will not leave me wanting. She has a wonderfully dry, understated sense of humor, a sarcastic bent that I absolutely adored, and her characters just shine. The chemistry between Alistair and Mirabel practically leaps from the page with a deliciously palpable intensity, as at first blush these characters could not be more dissimilar -- yet Chase takes great delight in proving just how wrong first assumptions can be.

Given Alistair's history of romantic entanglements, it would be easy to classify him as a heartless rake, one more in a long line of stereotyped romance heroes. It's a trope I can enjoy, don't get me wrong -- but the manner in which Chase turns one's expectations on their head is delightfully refreshing. Alistair is a man who, when he loves, loves whole-heartedly, committing his all to his amours even as the entanglement inevitably resolves into one of his famed Episodes of Stupidity. But everything changed after Waterloo, and the lame man who emerged from the battlefield masked his emotions and intellect behind the facade of one of society's foremost dandies -- dressed to perfection, always ready with a cutting quip, all to mask his loss of memory surrounding the battle and a soul-deep conviction that he is wholly undeserving of the accolades bestowed upon him by merely by virtue of not dying. Alistair's desire to prove himself in business serves as an unexpected catalyst in his journey toward emotional wholeness, putting him in a position through which he is finally forced to -- and able to deal with -- confront the physical and emotional impact of his battlefield experiences. Thanks to Chase's superbly-shaded characterization, Alistair is a character who proves to be cleverer than his acquaintance at large thinks he has any right to be, and watching him come into his own, driven to make his way in the world is a joy.

I loved Mirabel. Not only is she a spinster, but she's older than the hero by two years -- which isn't much, granted, but it's a refreshing change from the norm in romances of this ilk, wherein the hero is inevitably older, wiser, and more experienced than his romantic counterpart. While she may be completely, hilariously, clueless about fashion and hairstyles, Mirabel is passionate, smart, and dedicated. I loved her business acumen and hard-won respect as a woman choosing to do a "man's work," a choice born from a heartbreaking combination of desire and necessity. Out of this desperate combination of loneliness, desire, and attraction, Mirabel finds herself very much the initiator in her relationship with Alistair, which I loved for her gumption and vulnerability. And while it kind of broke my heart that she plunged into a physical relationship without any thought (initially) of the eventual emotional consequences, it's a testament to Chase's characterization that I still deeply empathized with her even as I couldn't quite support her willingness to give herself to what she is initially sure will only be a passing fling. 

Miss Wonderful proved to be a fantastic introduction to Ms. Chase's writing, and I cannot wait to explore her backlist further. Her sense of humor is laugh-out-loud funny, and her gift for wry, hilarious understatement makes her prose positively shine. Alistair has to rank as one of my favorite heroes in recent memory -- not only is he wonderfully sarcastic and impeccably turned out at all times, but he's positively addicted to emotional vulnerability. *wink* While Chase's leads are polished perfection, fantastic examples of characters whose experiences run the emotional gamut over the course of the novel, her supporting players leave something to be desired, the notable exception being Mirabel's delightfully quirky father. However, the hint that both sets of parents may have had a subtle hand in introducing their offspring? -- a delightful, well-played surprise. Unlikely lovers Alistair and Mirabel's relationship sizzles with electric chemistry. Couple their engaging relationship with a fast-paced plot and a gentle examination of the effects of PTSD in Alistair's life, balanced with warmth, compassion, and laugh-out-loud humor, and the result is a frothy, funny romance that is a sheer joy to read -- Miss Wonderful proves very wonderful indeed.

About the book:

Alistair Carsington really, really wishes he didn't love women quite so much. To escape his worst impulses, he sets out for a place far from civilization: Derbyshire -- in winter! -- where he hopes to kill two birds with one stone: avoid all temptation, and repay the friend who saved his life on the fields of Waterloo. But this noble aim drops him straight into opposition with Miss Mirabel Oldridge, a woman every bit as intelligent, obstinate, and devious as he -- and maddeningly irresistible. 

Mirabel Oldridge already has her hands full keeping her brilliant and aggravatingly eccentric father out of trouble. The last thing she needs is a stunningly attractive, oversensitive and overbright aristocrat reminding her she has a heart -- not to mention a body he claims is so unstylishly clothed that undressing her is practically a civic duty. 

Could the situation be any worse? And why does something that seems so wrong feel so very wonderful?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Review: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

The Thousand Dollar Tan Line (Veronica Mars #1)
By: Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham
Publisher: Vintage


Never say never, for ten years after she fled Neptune for New York and a law degree, Veronica Mars is back, determined to embrace the essential part of herself she fought so long to deny -- the part that thrives as a private investigator. But while Veronica may be ready to embrace her destiny, convincing her father that she's made the right decision is another matter entirely. While Keith recovers from the attack that nearly claimed his life during the Bonnie DeVille murder investigation, Veronica is attempting to keep Mars Investigations afloat. But a chance to save Mars Investigations comes from an unlikely source -- the Neptune Chamber of Commerce. Spring break is big business in Neptune -- big business that is threatened by the recent disappearance of college student Hayley Dewalt. The money would get Mars Investigations' books in the black once again (irritating Sheriff Lamb is just a bonus), and despite her distaste for Neptune's elite, Veronica agrees. But nothing is as it seems, and the deeper she digs into Hayley's disappearance, the more dangerous the investigation becomes -- and when a second girl vanishes, Veronica finds that her past has come back to haunt her. The price of embracing her calling as a PI may be higher than she's preparing to pay...

Now, I'm far from an expert "marshmallow," but I love Veronica Mars and her snark and her film noir-shaded glory and, who am I kidding, LOGAN. So I was thrilled when the ground-breaking Kickstarter campaign took off and a the long-awaited movie was released last month -- and if ever there was a LoVe (couldn't resist) letter to the fans, it was that pitch-perfect film that hit all the right  notes and left me wanting more. Happily, Rob Thomas foresaw this contingency and provided for it with The Thousand Dollar Tan Line, the first in a proposed series of official Veronica Mars novels. People, this is continuity HEAVEN.

I've read my fair share of tie-in fiction (i.e., Star Wars, Doctor Who), and this is among the best I've ever encountered. Building on the momentum of the movie release, The Thousand Dollar Tan Line immerses you into Veronica's world once more, with all of the twists, turns, and quips that passionate fans love so much they just couldn't let the show die. Similar to the film, this book is a love letter to the fans, chock-full of the characters we know and love and references to past cases, all while moving Veronica forward. This is beautifully showcased in her relationship with Keith, as they work through the stress of his recovery and his disappointment and anger that Veronica has returned to embrace the life he'd thought -- hoped -- she'd escaped forever.

As a fan this book was an absolute joy to read. I loved watching Veronica work through the mystery of Hayley's disappearance as the demons that once plagued her life resurface in a WONDERFULLY surprising manner. The voices are very-nearly pitch-perfect, the pacing is electric, and the atmosphere is sublime. If this is the quality of storytelling one can expect from future volumes in this series, I hope it goes on forever. #marshmallowforlife

About the book:

From Rob Thomas, the creator of the television series and movie phenomenon Veronica Mars, comes the first book in a thrilling mystery series that picks up where the feature film left off.

Ten years after graduating from high school in Neptune, California, Veronica Mars is back in the land of sun, sand, crime, and corruption. She’s traded in her law degree for her old private investigating license, struggling to keep Mars Investigations afloat on the scant cash earned by catching cheating spouses until she can score her first big case.

Now it’s spring break, and college students descend on Neptune, transforming the beaches and boardwalks into a frenzied, week-long rave. When a girl disappears from a party, Veronica is called in to investigate. But this is no simple missing person’s case; the house the girl vanished from belongs to a man with serious criminal ties, and soon Veronica is plunged into a dangerous underworld of drugs and organized crime. And when a major break in the investigation has a shocking connection to Veronica’s past, the case hits closer to home than she ever imagined.

In Veronica Mars, Rob Thomas has created a groundbreaking female detective who’s part Phillip Marlowe, part Nancy Drew, and all snark. With its sharp plot and clever twists, The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line will keep you guessing until the very last page.

Hiddleston as Hook

Okay, seriously. How adorable is this? He is THIS excited to be in a direct-to-DVD Disney Tinkerbell movie. I CAN'T STAND THE CUTE.

Caroline Campbell's Skyfall

I LOVE this. I stumbled across Caroline Campbell's music on iTunes last night. This fantastic cover of "Skyfall" features another favorite of mine -- pianist William Joseph. Enjoy!


Could someone please cast Hiddleston as a Bond villain already? Puh-LEEZE??? :) :) :)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Review: In the Shadow of Jezebel by Mesu Andrews

In the Shadow of Jezebel
By: Mesu Andrews
Publisher: Revell
ISBN: 978-0-8007-2170-1


The kingdoms of Israel and Judah stand on the precipice of destruction. To the north in Israel, the Giverah Jizebaal (Jezebel), the queen mother, rules with an iron hand, determined to see the Baal worship and corrupt government that she instituted with her husband Ahab grow and flourish under her son Joram's reign. And to the south, in Judah, Jehoram sits on the throne in Jerusalem with Athaliah, Jezebel's daughter at his side, a queen every inch her mother's equal in word and deed. Although not Athaliah's daughter by blood, Jehosheba strives to make her adopted mother happy, enduring the rigors of training as a Baal priestess, her future assured. Then a letter is delivered to the court, purporting to be from the prophet Elijah -- a foe Athaliah and Jezebel thought long dead --promising Yahweh's coming judgement on Jehoram and his family for their embrace of idolatry. In defiance Jehoram makes plans to cement their alliance with Israel, sending his youngest song Ahaziah, along with his queen and favorite daughter as political emissaries. But instead of being a fulfillment of the destiny she's dreamed of, instead of strengthening her relationship with her volatile mother, entering Jezebel's orbit rips the veil from Jehosheba's eyes, revealing the extent to which she's become a pawn in the dangerous scheme of two queens determined to claim the Israeli and Judean thrones for Baal. When Jehoram's prophesied day of reckoning arrives, Jehosheba finds herself traded in marriage to Yahweh's high priest and enters the most sacred dwelling of those she's been taught to regard with fear and disdain. Within the halls of Solomon's Temple, at the side of a husband she never wanted, she begins to wonder if the God of her fathers is the answer to her heart's cry for peace -- but is she brave enough to lay claim to a very different destiny than the one Athaliah long planned for her life, where Yahweh's grace covers all her fears?

A new Mesu Andrews novel is always a highly anticipated event in my reading world, and In the Shadow of Jezebel is no exception. Andrews possesses an extraordinary gift for breathing fresh life into Old Testament texts, bringing the history and passion of the lives chronicled within the pages of scripture to life with a fresh intensity and relevancy. I was particularly intrigued by the subject matter she chose to tackle for this fourth novel, as this is the second novel I've read that explores the story of Jehosheba and Athaliah -- the first being Ginger Garrett's gorgeous Dark Hour. Taking as her basic scriptural basis 2 Kings 8-11 and 2 Chronicles 21-22, Andrews crafts a rich exploration of the history, customs, and intrigue surrounding this pivotal period in Jewish history. This is biblical fiction at its finest -- a story that takes a few slim pages of scripture and breathes life into the characters sketched upon its pages, so that once again they are more than characters, they are living and breathing individuals whose passions, mistakes, and triumphs leap from the annals of history with a stunning vibrancy. Fiction of this ilk is a powerful reminder that the Bible is more than a religious text or "life manual;" there is a history to this faith, a history peopled with individuals as gloriously unique and fallible and in need of a savior as those of us seeking to walk in their steps today.

Andrews's flair for characterization positively shines with Jehosheba, who receives scant mention in the scriptures -- in 2 Kings 11, she is hailed for saving her young nephew Joash from his murderous grandmother, while 2 Chronicles 22 adds the detail that she was the wife of Jehoiada, the high priest, and as such able to conceal the child within the environs of the temple grounds. Since there is little known of her life prior to the moment she takes center stage during Athaliah's reign, serving as the vessel through which Yahweh preserves the Davidic line of kings, Andrews crafts a backstory that is wholly plausible, engrossing and heartbreaking by turns. Emotionally abused and manipulated her entire life, until she marries Jehoiada, Jehosheba has no concept of her value as an individual, or of how to build healthy relationships, or of a faith that speaks grace and forgiveness, rather than condemnation and abuse. Her journey toward faith and healing is painfully honest, as Andrews never glosses over the deep-seated effects of emotional and physical abuse. Though the road is rocky, she walks a path strewn with grace and provision, empowering her to become a woman of grace -- a heroine for the ages who overcame her past to play a critical role in seeing God's promises fulfilled.

Similar to Love's Sacred Song, which explored the story of Solomon, In the Shadow of Jezebel is a fascinating study in the political, social, and religious aspects of Judean society. There is the faint air of a historical political thriller here, with Jezebel's pernicious influence crossing borders to wreak havoc, by planting her daughter in the Judean court and seeking to spread Baal worship and consolidate power, wealth, and influence via Baal's "queens of destiny." The sights and sounds of court life are vibrantly recreated on the page as Andrews's research and passion for the period shines, transporting readers to a world long since returned to dust. Even more fascinating is the insight she provides through Jehoiada and Jehosheba's lives and roles as regards the Jewish faith and Temple protocols. And speaking of Jehoiada, I loved how Andrews handled his developing relationship with Jehosheba with such delicacy, especially considering the multiple decades difference in their respective ages (Jehoiada lived to be 130 - 2 Chronicles 24:15).

In the Shadow of Jezebel is a stunning re-creation of a pivotal, dangerous time in Judah's history, where for all the darkness of idolatry and corruption, the redemptive light of God's never-failing promises and provision shines all the brighter. Once again Andrews has delivered a masterful example of why I love biblical fiction -- it's powerful potential to illustrate timeless truths with freshness, vibrancy, and passion. And, to remember that there but for the grace of God go you or I -- as in the case of Jehosheba's beloved brother, Ahaziah, forever immortalized in scripture as one who "did what was evil in the sight of the Lord" (2 Kings 8:27). But was this godless king always so? Or, is it possible, as Andrews posits within the pages of her novel, that Ahaziah is a tragic example of one who chose to reject the faith of his fathers out of expediency, and so embarked on the slippery slope of compromise until, one day, the call he'd run from became the final judgement that could denied (2 Kings 9:27). Villains are not born thus -- choices are made. When the darkness seems overwhelming, may one remember, like Jehosheba, to listen for the still, small voice calling us to be brave, and then may we leap into the unknown, trusting in the provision of a God whose promises never fail.

About the book:

In a kingdom controlled by cruel and manipulative women, one princess will discover the power of truth and love.

Trained as a priestess in the temple of Baal, Princess Jehosheba strives to please the demanding Queen Athaliah, daughter of Jezebel. But when a mysterious letter from the dead prophet Elijah predicts doom for the royal household, Jehosheba realizes that the dark arts she practices reach far beyond the realms of earthly governments.

Forces to marry Yahweh's high priest in order to further Athaliah and Jezebel's power plays, Jehosheba enters the unfamiliar world of Yahweh's Temple. Can her new husband show her the truth and love she craves? And can Jehosheba overcome her fear and save the family -- and the nation -- she loves?

With deft skill, Mesu Andrews brings the Old Testament to life, revealing a fascinating story of the power of unconditional love.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014