Challenge Update

With the year spinning faster and faster to a close, I decided to take a look at my progress on the various reading challenges I signed up for ...

The Fairy Tale Challenge:
I've got 6 of my 12 reviews posted, with a few others needing to be finished. This one is way fun, and I have no worries about completing it.

Historical Fiction Challenge:
How about 16 of 15 reviews completed, with the potential for several more between now and Dec 31st? Yeah, I'm awesome.

The Many Genres of Jane Austen Spin-Off Challenge:
2 genres of 8 completed. I need to put my hate-hate relationship with Mansfield Park into coherent words, and then I'll have a 3 genre complete. I do actually have books in my possession to complete this challenge, I just need to remember to read the ones that fit!

Completely Contemp Challenge:
Okay, for this one I wanted to read a total of 15 books -- 5 each from publication years 2010, 2011 and 2012. I've read 9 that count toward 2012, 1 for 2011 and 2 from 2010. Clearly I got excited about new contemp YA releases. Thankfully, there are still "old" releases that I want to read.

Victorian Challenge:
No reviews. The goal is 2-6, and they can be classics written during the reign of Queen Victoria, or fiction pertaining to ... I want to reread Little Women, Little Men, and Jo's Boys. I also have The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott. I recently won a copy of Silver - so I may go back and reread Treasure Island, as a refresher. I can do this one, I just need to make a conscious effort to do it.

There's my current challenge standing ... How many of you are doing challenges? Do you stop and take stock of your progress during the course, or do you just wait until Decemeber 31st and see what you've done?



Carl Hiaasen
Knopf, 2012

Wahoo Cray (yup, that's his real name) has an interesting life. His father is a wildlife wrangler, specializing in Florida's wildest: reptiles. And most of the animals live in the Crays' backyard. We're talking alligators, snakes, even raccoons and other "iffy" mammals. Critters, y'all. But things have been a little tough since a frozen iguana fell on his dad's head, and with his mom working a job in China for the extra income, Wahoo decides that it's worth the gamble when reality t.v. survivalist Derek Badger needs to use the Crays' animals for an Everglades episode. What he doesn't count on is Badger's crazy idea to go all natural. In the Everglades. With wild animals.

As mishap after mishap occurs during the filming attempts, some of them at the hand of Mr Cray's frustration for the stupidity to the so-called survivalist, Wahoo realizes this is a bigger adventure than he counted on. Plus, he's got a new shadow - and friend - in Tuna, the girl from school who has run away from her drunken, mildly abusive father. Badger is convinced that he really can survive on his own in the Everglades, and keeps pushing the crew to change their normally uber-scripted ways. Things really go off-script when he's bit by a bat, and vanishes into the night. What happens next is a swamp-wide manhunt, complicated by the arrival of Tuna's gun-toting father. It's a time that tests the stamina and merit of all involved, and produces one heck of a send-off for Badger's show Expedition: Survival!

Highly entertaining and more than a little ridiculous, Chomp is a fun, fast read. The characters are colorful, and the antics are ... well, totally worthy of a "behind the scenes" look at reality t.v. The Everglades details ring true, and having spent a lot of time in rural Florida, I enjoyed the atmosphere.

ARC provided by publisher for review.


Blog Tour: Band of Sisters

Today's post is going to be a little different - it's a combined review + Q&A as part of Tyndale House's blog tour for Cathy Gohlke's new novel Band of Sisters. That in itself isn't too far removed from the ordinary, but I'll go on and tell you: there's going to be a healthy dose of reflection as well, because this novel ripped my heart to pieces. In a good way - mostly - I think.

Band of Sisters
Cathy Gohlke
Tyndale House, 2012

Maureen O'Reilly and her little sister Katie Rose arrived on America's shores desperate for the chance - the promise - of a new life. Maureen hoped the dark shadows of her past were safely behind her in Ireland, and Katie Rose had big dreams for a plusher, easier life. Neither expected what was awaiting them. From the beginning, the journey was rocky, and when she learned the man who had promised their father safe passage and a new start had died - and is unceremoniously dumped onto the streets by his son-in-law, Maureen's desperation reaches a new level. Following a lead from the man she met on Ellis Island, Maureen finds herself at a swanky department store - but lists the Wakefields as her reference, rather than the suspect Jaime Flynn. A deception that would end up saving her. You see, there's more to Darcy's Department Store than meets the eye, and as young women start disappearing - including her only real friend - Maureen's apprehension and distrust grows.

Meanwhile, Katie Rose has become a rebellious handful, determined that at almost-14 she's fully capable of making her own decisions and claiming her prosperous American life. She mistakes Maureen's reluctance to discuss her fears as an acceptance of sorts, and wastes no opportunity to grind Maureen's shadowy, painful past into her face. Unable to comprehend the magnitude of Maureen's experiences, when Katie Rose finds herself in a similar situation later, her tune changes (but it's a long time coming). With so many pressing fears and distractions, combined with a growing longing for the God of Mrs. Melkford and Olivia Wakefield to be able to accept her, in all her scarlet glory, Maureen struggles with who to trust. As tensions and mystery intensify at Darcy's, she finally concedes and tells all she knows to Joshua Keeton - the boy from home who'd come over with them, and is persistently appearing where she least expects, or wants. Joshua then accompanies her to his employer (also a would-be suitor of Miss Olivia), and the three begin to play a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse. The goal: catch Drake Meitland (Olivia's brother-in-law, and the man who threw Maureen out) and whoever else is involved in the "white slave" trading take place in New York.

Band of Sisters is one of those heart-wrenching novels, because while Maureen's story is fiction - it's also so very real. This stuff really happened. And it's still happening. And it broke my heart. The whole story did: from her escape from Ireland to the battle to survive in America to her struggle with trust and faith and a perfect God Who somehow seems to care about her. Maureen's struggles as a human, as an immigrant, as a woman - they're real. And she's just a fictional 'figurehead' for countless women who find themselves sucked into the dark vortex of human trafficking. It challenged me. I've known it exists - I have friends who have picked various organizations to volunteer/raise funds for - but Band of Sisters touched me. While Maureen isn't a victim of the trafficking, she is a woman scarred by sexual transgressions - a victim of a man's selfish acts. Her plight, her struggle, is every bit as raw and aching as the women stolen in the night and shipped across state lines. The whole story, every bit of it, tore at my heart. (Which, in retrospect, I should have expected considering the emotional investment Gohlke wrangled from me with Promise Me This). It's a rough read in that respect, but it's also so amazing.

Book provided by publisher for review.

Now for a little Q&A with Cathy - Tyndale House was awesome enough to submit a number of questions for Cathy to answer, letting we bloggers pick the ones we wanted to feature. (So if you're following the tour and see a "repeat," that's why.)

What motivated you to write Band of Sisters?
I’ve always been fascinated by the abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement. But I was horrified to learn that there are more than twice as many men, women and children enslaved today than at the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This book was born of a passion to end modern-day slavery, and most of all, to ask, “What can I do to help in a need so desperate?”

Band of Sisters takes place in NYC. Do you think human trafficking is limited to large cities?
No. That is why raising awareness of the crime and education re. the methods used by traffickers is so important. Small, rural, isolated or poor communities are targets just as vulnerable as big cities. Traffickers often enter such communities with bogus offers of better jobs, modeling opportunities for young people, and offers for education. But those dreams are crushed when willing applicants are unwittingly sold as sex slaves or used for pornography, with no way to get back to their homes and families. In some cultures, once a girl has been so abused, she is no longer welcome to return to her family, thereby compounding the problem and sense of hopelessness. Education and understanding is desperately needed on all parts.

Issues of sex slavery and human trafficking are foreign to most of us and uncomfortable to discuss. How can Christians respond?
By speaking for those who have no voice. These are among the poor and needy of our day, in many cases the orphans that Jesus commanded us to care for.
We must remember that the discomfort is ours, and the desperate need is theirs. Being a Christian, a Christ follower, isn’t easy in a fallen world. Doing what Jesus did wasn’t easy or comfortable. He confronted demons and hypocrites. He stood against people who cared more about the monetary value of their livestock than they did about freeing one human being from demonic possession.
Jesus ate with “publicans and sinners” to the ruin of His reputation. Just as He is our example in loving one another and in protecting innocent young children, so He is our example in setting captives free, in loosening cords that bind, in rescuing women and children from prostitution, men from slavery.
In many countries of the world Christians pay with their lives for standing up for their faith and/or for protecting others. I’ve heard it said that only in America do we expect it to be easy to be a Christian. Talking about things that are uncomfortable to our sensibilities don’t seem so hard in comparison to the challenges our brothers and sisters in Christ face the world over.

If Band of Sisters was turned into a movie, which actors do you think would best portray what you imagined for your main characters? Can you describe a few main physical features that they have?
Maureen is striking—tall, slim, with thick, flaming red hair (tendrils escaping), and green eyes in a thin face. Victoria Smurfit, who played Hannah Randall in “Berkeley Square” could play Maureen’s role perfectly.
Joshua is also tall, broad shouldered, with black, thick curls, dark blue eyes, and the ruddy complexion of a man who’s worked outdoors all his life. Perhaps Hugh Dancy could play his role.
Olivia is lovely with dark upswept hair and brown eyes. She’s intelligent, with a quiet and cultured but determined air about her. I think Jessica Brown Findlay, who played Lady Sybil Crawley in Downton Abby, would be perfect.
Curtis is tall, slim, with dark brown eyes, curling dark hair, and alabaster skin. Perhaps Jamie Bamber could fill his role.

What spurs your writing?  
Writing has become my way of making sense of the world, of putting into perspective the struggles of humanity and of my own—past and present—of trying to see the world as God sees it, as He redeems it by pursuing and claiming one heart at a time. I want to know what gives Him joy, what breaks His heart—those are the stories that matter, the stories that bring me continually closer to Him.Frederick Buechner expressed it best, “The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Finding that place spurs me on.

I hope this book has piqued your interest a little. It's not an easy read, but it's a good one. And I hope it reaches a place in your heart -- I know it did for me. If you want more information about the issue of human trafficking, or would like to know what else Cathy has written, check out her website:


Cover Reveal: Liberty

Since I've started blogging, my reading tastes have expanded a little, and I've discovered gems of books that I would have passed up otherwise. (I'm also learning that I have a major weakness for book covers that have galactic/space-y images -- you know, stars, galaxies, etc? Awesome!) And of course, I have gotten to participate in all kinds of neat promotional things ... Like today: I get to take part in the big cover reveal for Rhemalda Publishing's upcoming novel Liberty!

Isn't that awesome?! As if the cover didn't catch my attention, here's the blurb:
LIBERTY is a young adult science fiction novel about a young space captain, Tabitha Dixon (Dix), who loses her ship and her crew. Dix is forced to accept the help of a young shipbuilder who runs communication for the Resistance. As the pair track down the captain's missing crew, a bond begins to grow between them. However, that bond, along with everything Dix yearns for, is threatened by her belief that she's destined to kill anyone who gets close enough to touch.
Yeah, I'm definitely looking forward to this 2013 release! What do you think?


Love in Disguise

Love in Disguise
Carol Cox
Bethany House, 2012

Maybe mysteries are starting to grow on me, or else I've lucked out and managed to select a couple of really good ones lately. Either way, Love in Disguise is another mystery to be added to the "I liked it"-pile, but it's also so much more. Ellie Moore has spent her whole life dreaming of the day she can be star -- star of the show, obviously (having grown up in the theatre), but also star of her own life. She's the girl who's always overlooked, lost in the shadows cast by the glamorous, beautiful women demanding attention.

When her fortunes turn and she finds herself stranded in Chicago with no employment and few options, Ellie pulls a desperate stunt to persuade the Pinkerton Agency to send her to Arizona on a trial case. The plan is simple: Ellie is to masquerade as the elderly widow "Lavinia Stewart", aunt to the senior detective on the case - "Jessie Monroe" - who will do the heavy-lifting of the investigation. But things go awry, and Ellie soon finds herself playing both roles. After getting off to an encouraging start, Ellie quickly discovers that not only is investigation tougher than she thought, but things are far more complicated than she expected. Especially as she gets to know handsome mine owner Steven Pierce. Maintaining the ruse that Jessie and Ms. Lavinia are separate people, and remembering who knows what, takes finesse and extreme mental alertness. Plus, this time of masquerading as a godly widow is leading Ellie to examine her own personal relationship with God -- and it's a very growing time, in addition to being a potentially dangerous time.

What I really appreciated about Love in Disguise is that the story is more than the mystery (which, by the way, is very neatly handled). It's really about Ellie, and her journey to grow into herself -- learning who she really is, and what she really wants out of life. With the help of Jessie and Ms. Lavinia, and the colorful cast of characters in Pickford, Ellie finds herself. And that's something I can definitely relate to. Add theatrical costumes, historical flavor and a trace of romance? And you've got a winner.

Book provided by publisher for review.


New Books

Hello, hello! The year just keeps ticking along, and today marks the beginning of college football season! Oh, it's also the first of September, but hey - football trumps dates, ha! Here's the summary of what I received book-wise in August ...

For Review:


Swapped/Otherwise Received:

I'm really excited about the August haul! A couple will be part of a blog tour, and you never know when miscellaneous "extra goodies" might appear ... I also received several books from Tor that are a little outside my reading area - and they're going into a special group of books I'm prepping for another giveaway. Not sure when that will be just yet, but my "share the love" pile is definitely growing!

May you all have equally happy bookish mailings, and let's go watch some football, eh?!