Monday, September 29, 2008

Mailbox Monday

Once again I have nothing to report for Mailbox Monday. I'm still okay with it, since I have a ginormous stack of books next to the couch that I need to read. I'm just sad I don't have any pretty new books to show off...

However, if you head over to The Printed Page, Marcia and our other blogging friends have some goodies to talk about. Hopefully next week I will to - I'm honestly starting to feel a little jealous. (Because what I really need is MORE books!)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mailbox Monday on Tuesday

Yep, I'm a day behind, but at least I actually have time to participate this week! Marcia at The Printed Page hosts Mailbox Monday each week, for a recap of the goodies you got from the mailman over the past 7 days. My mailbox love has actually slowed down quite a bit this month - not a bad thing, honestly, as I probably have more books that I can read before I die. But still, somehow, it's addicting to come home from work and have a neat little package waiting for me! I actually didn't receive anything in the mail last week, but I did today, so I'm gonna count it!

And once again, I have to thank Marcia, because it was from her - I received a copy of The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner, a historical fiction about Queen Juana, sister of Catherine of Aragon. I love historical fiction, so can't wait to read this one. Thanks, Marcia! Did you get anything fun this past week? Stop by Mailbox Monday and let us know!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Back to the Bible

About a month ago, I was lucky enough to be contacted by author Eva Etzioni-Halevy about the possibility of reviewing her newest book, The Triumph of Deborah. After a few emails back and forth, she graciously sent me copies of all three of her books. How cool is that? Even cooler is that I enjoyed all three, very much.

Eva is a professor of political sociology at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. She writes historical fiction based on women from the Old Testament, and presents fascinating portraits of the lives of these little known but extremely influential biblical figures. Eva herself has lived a life as interesting as her characters, and I encourage you to visit her website,, to read her biography. Also, if you send her a message, she promises to respond, and after my correspondence with her I believe she really will!

The Triumph of Deborah is her most recent novel, published in 2008. It tells the story of Deborah, an Israelite prophet and judge, who lived in the time of the Old Testament book of Judges, probably somewhere between the 12th and 11th centuries BCE. Deborah is given a vision from the Lord to make war upon the Canaanites, and she chooses Barak, a young commander, to lead the Israelites in this war. When Barak defeats the Canaanite king, he takes captive two Canaanite princesses, who will eventually form part of a complex, emotional tug-of-war between Barak and Deborah.

I found the author's treatment of Deborah to be fascinating. She was a fully powerful leader, demanding the respect of the elders of her tribe, and yet she was also a wife and mother, desiring to be led by the wishes of her husband. Etzioni-Halevy walks the tightrope of power and expectations well, and I found Deborah's struggle to resolve her call to leadership with her desire to be a proper wife and mother to be completely believable. Nogah, one of the princesses taken captive by Barak, was equally intriguing, and almost the co-heroine of the novel. Each of the main characters takes a turn having their stories told, and I found myself sympathizing with and being frustrated with them equally - much like in real life, I would imagine. My main quibble with the book is that I felt we spent too much time in the characters' love lives, when I would have preferred more exploration of the themes of war and peace, and female empowerment versus traditional roles. But in general, I was captivated by the novel, and recommend it to fans of historical/biblical fiction.

A few days ago I posted the above thoughts on another website, and the author gave me the following comment, which I thought was very interesting:

"Based on the book of JUDGES, the novel shows that in her own life Deborah was very much a woman, and that her femininity did not detract from her stature as national leader.

She must have been a very forceful leader, to be able to compel warrior Barak to go to war under such unfavorable, nearly hopeless circumstances. Yet the Bible, indeed she herself, also emphasizes her femininity: she refers to herself as “a mother in Israel”.

The novel further develops the combination between leadership and femininity, and is iteded to show that there was no contradiction between the two.

The same can be said of women attaining high-ranking positions today: There is no evidence to show that they are less feminine (attractive, gentle, showing sympathy to others, motherly) than stay-at-home moms."

I completely agree that her novel does an excellent job of examining the duel roles that Deborah was forced to play. I think the author has a lot of really interesting and important things to say about the roles of women in society, and I hope to read more in her future work.

The Garden of Ruth, published in 2007, takes its inspiration from the biblical book of Ruth. However, Ruth is not the main character - instead, the heroine is Osnath, a young Jewish girl living several generations after Ruth. Osnath travels with her uncle, the prophet Samuel, to Bethlehem. While there, she stays with the family of Jesse, who has several sons. One of his sons, David, is annointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel. While she is there, Osnath discovers an old scrap of a scroll that appears to be written by Ruth, David's great-grandmother. When she tries to investigate Ruth's story, however, Eliab, David's brother, tries to thwart her interest. Realizing there is a secret to be discovered, Osnath continues to seek out more information about Ruth, while becoming entwined in the lives of David and Eliab's family.

I was extremely pleased with this novel. Unlike The Triumph of Deborah, where the main characters are based on actual biblical figures, Eztioni-Halevy creates a completely imagined heroine to be the central figure in this book. I felt like this allowed me to believe more fully in the character and her life. Osnath is very likable, and it is easy to find yourself rooting for her as she tries to solve the mysteries of Ruth's life. Some of her reactions to various events seemed strange, but I think they would have been true to the period in which she was living. The section in which the author finally reveals Ruth's story was fascinating, and paints a new and interesting picture of the biblical legend. Again, there is quite a bit of romance, but it did not seem to be as intrusive in this novel - it felt more appropriate, because Ruth's story is a love story, as well. I would highly recommend this novel to historical/biblical fiction readers - you will enjoy it!

The Song of Hannah, published in 2005, tells the story of the Old Testament prophet Samuel through the eyes of two women - Hannah, his mother, and Pninah, his father’s other wife. Hannah and Pninah are childhood friends who grew up together learning to read the Torah. Hannah, the beautiful one, is pressured by her family to marry, but feels in her heart that there in only one right man for her. Pninah meets Elkanah when his family purchases the property next door, and quickly falls in love and becomes pregnant. At their wedding ceremony, Hannah meets Elkanah for the first time, and immediately knows he is the man she has been waiting for. When Elkanah takes Hannah as his second wife, Pninah is devastated, but still maintains her hold on him by giving him children. Hannah, who is loved but barren, begs the Lord for a child, promising him to the temple after his birth. Hannah’s son, Samuel, becomes the greatest prophet of the Israelites, but has demons of his own that make him all too human.

The Song of Hannah is told in alternating voices, so the reader is able to see the story from the point of view of both Hannah and Pninah. Etzioni-Halevy does an excellent job of giving each woman her own distinct voice, and each woman has an equal share of admirable and shameful moments. I couldn’t help sympathizing more with Pninah, but that could be my natural tendency to root for the underdog. I think the author is at her best when she is examining the complex relationships between men and women, and women and women, and this novel certainly has many such relationships to explore. Her new imagining of the barely mentioned biblical character of Pninah makes the well-known narrative seem fresh. Again, I would highly recommend this novel to biblical/historical fiction readers. It is excellent.

I cannot thank Eva Etzioni-Halevy enough for the opportunity to read her novels. I enjoyed all three very much, and loved the opportunity to immerse myself in a new way in the stories I grew up listening to. I will certainly be on the lookout for more of her work, and can't wait to see what she will find to write about next!

And the winner is......

After taking all the entries, tossing them in a hat, and making my (totally disinterested) husband pick one out, I can announce that the winner is......


I have to say it's hard to only have one winner - I can tell you all really want this book! Daewalker, send me your contact info, and I will pass it on to Joy ASAP. Joy, thanks for the opportunity to host this fun contest, and best of luck with the new book - I think you have a lot of people eagerly anticipating it!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Book Giveaway!! Woo Hoo!

Well, it's Book Blogger Appreciation Week over at My Friend Amy's blog, and I have to admit I haven't been a very entertaining book blogger lately. However, if you notice the new countdown I have on the top right-hand side of my blog, you will see that it's not because I've been out late partying. Good times, folks, good times. But that's okay, because I have a new BOOK GIVEAWAY to announce!! Ladies and gents: Immortals: The Crossing by Joy Nash.

Here's the blurb:

For centuries they have walked among us--vampires, shape-shifters, the Celtic Sidhe, demons, and other magical beings. Their battle to reign supreme is constant, but one force holds them in check, a race of powerful warriors known as the IMMORTALS.

For ManannĂ¡n mac Lir, a musician and Celtic demigod, life had become a blur of post-gig parties, expensive whisky, and cheap sex. And then the baby almost died--a baby he had sworn to protect. On the hunt for the would-be killer, Mac finds Artemis Black, a stunningly dangerous woman who's inexplicably able to intertwine life magic with death magic. For the safety of his people, he should destroy her. But the aching vulnerability in her eyes calls to him. And the raw desire she inspires has nothing to do with a spell. Their love may be forbidden, but Mac and Artemis can't go back once they've made...THE CROSSING

I've read the first few in the series, and they are a lot of fun. I'm needing some escapist reading right now, and this series certainly fits the bill. The fabulous author, Joy Nash, says she will mail the book anywhere in the world, so get yourself entered!

Here's the rules:

Post a comment here and you'll get one entry
Blog about it on your site, with a link to this post, for 2 more entries

The Deadline is Saturday, September 20, at 11:59 p.m CST - That's only 3 days!! I know, I'm a bad contest holder, but it's really been a bad month. So hurry up already - get entering!!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

In Memoriam

We all remember where we were on September 11, 2001, when an airplane flew into the north tower. I was at home, getting ready to go to work, just another ordinary day. Watching the events unfold on television was horrifying, but because I was so far away, it was impossible not to view them with a certain level of detachment. Thomas Flynn, a journalist living in New York, was there, and Bikeman is his account of that morning.

Bikeman is an extended, free-form poem, something not often published in today's literature world. I'm not a poetry critic - I'll freely admit that poetry is difficult for me. I often feel like I don't "get it" - whatever the "it" is that the author is trying to convey. I didn't have that lost feeling when I was reading Bikeman. It is beautifully, personally written, and I no longer feel detached from the events of September 11. I feel like I could have been there. Flynn doesn't dwell on the minute details, but instead explores the immediate, visceral emotions of witnessing this most heartbreaking day. I literally could not put this short book down until I was finished, and I know it is not one I will soon forget.

In Flynn's own words, he watches the first tower fall:

"The monster wall, airier than air itself, dances in broken parts,
waiting a moment. Then, amid the screaming
of those around me who realize
the tower is collapsing, I watch the chunks
gather up and begin to drop toward us."

Walking through the ashes:

"We move from the place of the dead
In a dense cloud of sighs.
The fallen tower carries
flame-consumed human remains.
They are the ashes of ashes to ashes."

Returning home:

"Amid a chorus of wailing eulogy,
the survivors move away.
I move with the living
yet I carry the dead,
carry them on a funeral march
beyond this September morning,
this forever September morning."

I encourage you to find a copy of this small book, and take time to remember.

Finished: 9/11/08
Source: my shelves
Rating: 9/10

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Forbidden Daughter

Review - The Forbidden Daughter by Shobhan Bantwal

“Yours will be a female child who will bring light and abundance to the people around her.” These startling words from a holy man are the start of Isha’s journey from darkness to light. Happily married, Isha and her husband Nikhil are expecting their second child. During a visit with their doctor, he reveals that their baby will be a second girl, and offers to perform an abortion, to rid them of what must be an unwanted daughter. Isha and Nikhil are both shocked, and quickly turn down his offer. Much to their surprise, when they share the news with Nikhil’s parents, the proper Brahmin couple also encourage them to abort the child. When Nikhil is found dead a short time later under mysterious circumstances, Isha is at the mercy of her in-laws, who continue to place enormous pressure on her to have an abortion. When they begin to refer to her children as the reason their son was killed, Isha knows she has to get out.

Taking a tremendous risk, Isha, alone and nearly ready to have her baby, takes her daughter, Priya, and moves out of her in-laws’ home. She finds shelter in a convent, where she is given food and lodging in exchange for teaching in the convent school. In short time, her second daughter, Diya, is born. Harish Salvi, a local doctor who gives care to the orphans at the convent, is visiting his patients there when he is asked to check on the new baby. He recognizes Isha, and is immediately drawn by her plight. Deciding to help her if he can, he offers his services, both as a doctor and a friend. As their friendship grows, so does Isha’s independence. Soon she is living in her own flat, and sewing clothing for the wealthy ladies of her village. When questions arise about Nihkil’s death, however, she realizes she and her children might be in danger. As the dangerous man who killed her husband gets closer and closer, she must do whatever it takes to keep herself, and her daughters, safe from harm.

Shobhan Bantwal has written a fascinating book in The Forbidden Daughter. What could be a fairly predictable story about finding a new life after loss is completely enhanced by close examination of contemporary Indian culture. In the author’s note, Bantwal quotes a British medical journal study that reports that nearly 10 million female fetusus have been aborted in India in the past two decades alone. While many readers are aware of the status of male children in Chinese culture, the same situation in India receives less attention. Bantwal does an excellent job of describing the pressures mothers in this society are placed under to produce males, and the damage done to female children, long into adulthood, by the obvious preference for sons.

Bantwal’s actual writing is somewhat average, but her clear understanding of the culture about which she writes makes the situations come alive on the page. Her characters are likable enough, and she certainly allows the reader to feel sympathy for Isha as she fights for a better life for her children. Some readers may feel like the story would be better for more development, as sometimes the plot can seem a bit forced in order to achieve the desired outcome. In general, however, this book is recommended as an intriguing look into another culture, and an eye-opening report of the societal pressures faced by women today.

Finished: 9/4/08

Source: BCF reviewers

Rating: 7/10

The Forbidden Daughter was published by Kensington on August 26, 2008

Monday, September 1, 2008

Midwife of the Blue Ridge

Review - Midwife of the Blue Ridge by Christine Blevins

Maggie knows her life is not meant to live happily ever after. As a child in Scotland, her father goes off to war, never to return, and her mother is killed when the English massacre her village. Taken in by Hannah, a midwife, she quickly learns the craft, becoming a skilled healer and midwife herself. But the villagers are wary of her, calling her Dark Maggie, and believing she is possessed of the Evil Eye. When Hannah dies of consumption, Maggie has no choice by to leave the village, again on her own.

Persuaded to sail to America as an indentured servant, Maggie faces four years of uncertainty as the slave of whoever buys her contract. After catching the eye of a ruthless English nobleman, she is saved when Seth, a poor farmer, buys her contract to secure help for his sickly wife who is about to give birth. Maggie soon finds a home and friends with Seth and Naomi, and finds her skills as healer and midwife in great demand. However, threats from Native tribes, as well as the return of the evil nobleman, threaten Maggie's newfound happiness. Can she truly have her own happy ending, or is she cursed, as people have believed all along?

First time novelist Christine Blevins has certainly started out with a bang! Midwife catches your attention from the first lines, and keeps you turning pages until the very end. Blevins creates a cast of characters that is lively and believable, and her heroine, Maggie, is unforgettable. Level-headed and wise, but with wit and spunk, and a big heart, you can't help rooting for Maggie through all her highs and lows. Blevins' writing is excellent, with the ability to transport the reader to villages in Scotland and America in such a way that it almost seems you are there.

Blevins also paints an incredibly realistic portrait of life for women in the 1700s. It was hard and full of danger, and Blevins illustrates both. At times the violence might be too much for some readers, but I felt it was justified to truly show the life Maggie was forced to live. The action is quick and consistent, making it extremely difficult to stop once you have started reading this excellent novel. I would recommend this novel to fans of historical fiction, and sincerely hope this is just the beginning of a long career for Christine Blevins!

Finished: 9/1/08
Source: Christine Blevins
Rating: 8/10


Review - Sweetsmoke by David Fuller

Blurb from Barnes&

"The year is 1862, and the Civil War rages through the South. On a Virginia tobacco plantation, another kind of battle soon begins. There, Cassius Howard, a skilled carpenter and slave, risks everything-punishment, sale to a cotton plantation, even his life-to learn the truth concerning the murder of Emoline, a freed black woman, a woman who secretly taught him to read and once saved his life. It is clear that no one cares about her death in the midst of a brutal and hellish war. No one but Cassius, who braves horrific dangers to escape the plantation and avenge her loss.

As Cassius seeks answers about Emoline's murder, he finds an unexpected friend and ally in Quashee, a new woman brought over from another plantation; and a formidable adversary in Hoke Howard, the master he has always obeyed.

With subtlety and beauty, Sweetsmoke captures the daily indignities and harrowing losses suffered by slaves, the turmoil of a country waging countless wars within its own borders, and the lives of those people fighting for identity, for salvation, and for freedom."

I had a mixed reaction to this book. I can't say I enjoyed reading it, but I was able to appreciate that it is well written and researched. It took quite a while for me to be drawn into the story, and I don't know that I ever was able to feel like I was lost in the narrative - weird little things,like the author's choice not to use parenthesis when the slaves spoke, kept jerking me out of the flow of the story. I also have difficulty reading a southern drawl when it is written into a book, so I know that detracted from the story for me. I know this is a good book, but I can't say it will be one of my favorites.

Finished: 9/1/08

Rating: 5/10

Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers program

Mailbox Monday

Once again it is Mailbox Monday, hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page.

It was a bit of a slow week for my mailbox, which is probably okay, considering the stacks and stacks of books I've acquired lately. Only two this week:

The Four Seasons by Laurel Corona came from Marcia - thanks! I am looking forward to this one.

The Forbidden Daughter by Shobhan Bantwal came courtesy of BCF Book Reviews, so that I can review it for their site. Strangely, it's not an actual book - it's a photocopied set of pages stapled together. This is the first time I've received a review copy in this format, so we'll see if it affects my reading at all.

So that's all for this week - did you get anything fun?