Tuesday, July 27, 2004

The Lord Had Something Better in Mind by Barbara Robinson

Publish America, 1413706800, $19.95

Magnolia Roussel is a determined community college student and hard worker, wanting only to be as good as the boy her mother Myrtle always wanted but never had. Each spring sees her on the family strawberry farm trying to produce an acceptable crop, but when the Roussell berries are marked unclassified by Louisiana state inspectors Magnolia is forced to sell them on her own. With the Lord's guidance, however, she is not worried.

The Lord Had Something Better in Mind takes the reader through Magnolia's struggles--surviving financially, dealing with her mother's constant superstitions, and (happily) her feelings for Andy Drag. Their romance blooms over steamy days of fishing and camping in the Manchac Swamps, so much that Magnolia's love for God and the man who becomes her husband seems to be able to overpower her mother's clucking over a black cat that once crossed their path.

As the story fast-forwards, Magnolia is the mother of a teenaged boy and worried sick about her husband's mysterious disappearance during a hunting trip. In this troubled time Magnolia gives her grievances to God, accepting His will for her future over her mother's lucky charms, and accepts what comes of it.

Reading the introduction of the story (which I would advise skipping if you don't want to be spoiled to some parts of the story), the reader can tell immediately Robinson has put her heart into this story, as some parts are semi-autobiographical. Yet, The Lord Had Something Better in Mind falls victim to similar problems seen in books by this publisher, namely punctuation errors and lax editing (the narrative tends to repeat itself at times, slowing the story in parts). The scenes involving Andy's disappearance and its conclusion draw a number of unanswered questions as well. Despite these pitfalls, Robinson presents an ambitious story suitable for fans of faith.

The Trapping by Anthony Vela

Xlibris, 1413123493, $20.99

Gabe Chaplin has one true love, his art, yet as he observes the devotion of couples around him in the sleepy town of Southwick he yearns for something more. Living at home with an invalid, demanding, and verbally abusive mother, he is not afforded many opportunities to find a companion, and when he does it seems his mother is there to ruin everything. This changes during a visit to the town's first true art museum, and Gabe meets Sara Livingston.

Gabe's love for Sara is immediate and strong, and it is not long before he draws enough strength from this influx of positive emotion to take charge of his situation at home - which begins to prompt a change in his mother's attitude toward him for the better. Only the constant presence of a myriad of black birds swarming the grass and streets foreshadows a sense of the tragic, which Gabe sees in the form of a strange man watching his and Sara's every move, a strange man who insists Sara is not what she seems, and not of this earth...

As his relationship with Sara hits rough patches, Gabe soon learns he must fight for more than Sara's love, he must also save his own soul. Both Sara and the stranger claim the other is a dark force leading him to damnation, forcing Gabe to choose sides, a decision which culminates in a gripping conclusion.

Though elements of Christianity are pervasive throughout the story, it can be debated whether or not Vela's THE TRAPPING should be considered a Christian novel. As one discovers Sara's true identity the more studious Christian may question the accuracy of Vela's characterization - is it possible for an angel to do this or that? Nevertheless, such thoughts should not deter the reader from enjoying the story. THE TRAPPING is a brief but entertaining thriller, with vivid tension between characters (Gabe and his mother, Gabe and Sara) and an unexpected yet satisfying ending.

Heaven's Blue by Penelope Marzec

Awe-Struck, 1587494450, $4.75

Samantha Lyons needs an assistant to help her complete her mosquito research in order to maintain her grants, and her home in quiet Clam Creek. David Halpern needs cash and a place to stay, not just for himself but also for his young son, James. A chance meeting in a church parking lot over a case of mistaken automobile identity brings the two together, and David and James readily take residence in Samantha's guest quarters, but neither Samantha nor David realize the coming impact of their working relationship.

While Samantha and James take an immediate shine to one another, David proves a more tenuous venture. The two clash over James socializing with Clam Creek's more colorful citizens (the flighty spinster Marion, cursed with a facial tic brought on by her mother's demands; the aptly named Fish, always coming by with the fresh catch), but mostly their arguments center around faith, of which Samantha has plenty and David none. Considering David's plight -- having to quit a lucrative job to keep his son away from his abusive ex-wife -- it is understandable, but when his situation comes to light followed by a string of unrelated events, Samantha's faith is tested and is barely able to help her as she struggles with her feelings for David.

With her second inspirational romance (third overall), author Marzec continues to introduce readers to well-rounded characters, deftly crafting their emotions and dialogue into a story of faith and forgiveness - not only of others, but of oneself. Readers who have had the opportunity to enjoy Marzec's impressive debut SEA OF HOPE will not be disappointed with this most recent tale set along the Jersey Shore.

Attack of the Queen by Honor Cummings

Wings ePress, 1590886879, $11.95

The world of Arwhyrrl is peaceful, inhabited primarily by the "tree women" -- followers of the god Janico, each living in symbiosis with her tree. When the tree is threatened or destroyed, so is the life associated with it, yet it is not necessary for a woman to be within proximity of her tree at all times. One such tree woman, the healer Adazzra, is unique among her race in that she has had the opportunity to travel to various worlds with Moonrazer, her "sworn sister" and Exalted Warrior of the Sarl.

Their harmony is interrupted, their friendship at times tested, when Adazzra is summoned to her homeworld with the news that the Vlaad, a godless, bloodthirsty all-male race ruled by a lone woman (a queen bee of sorts), has designs on the planet. As the Vlaad have a reputation of taking no prisoners and leaving none alive, Adazzra and Moonrazer are forced to assemble what forces they can to retaliate. Neither one expects an ally in the form of Feodor, a Vlaad sympathetic to the teachings of Janico who is cast from his army and left for dead. Healer Adazzra, having sworn to help anyone regardless of his affiliations, takes care to see Feodor back to health, much to Moonrazer's protest. The situation is further complicated when prophecies espoused by Arwhyrrl elders indicate that not only are Feodor and Adazzra to be lifebonded, but are destined to stop the Vlaad race and bring peace to both worlds.

ATTACK OF THE QUEEN offers for the fan of fantasy an exciting story of self-preservation underscored by a spiritual theme; expository scenes involving Adazzra's and Moonrazer's meeting, presented early in the story, tend to slow the progression of the story but it is well worth staying with the book as secrets of the Vlaad race are eventually revealed. The romance of Feodor and Adazzra, to author Cummings's credit, does not overpower the action yet enhances the story enough to leave fantasy romance fans satisfied. One can detect some Christian inspiration in the story; subtle, and not preachy, a good read for lovers of the genre.

Friday, July 2, 2004

Books Read, July 2004

Mirror Image - Danielle Steel

Attack of the Queen - Honor Cummings

Bittersweet - Danielle Steel

The Trapping - Anthony Vela

The Claddagh Ring - Malachy McCourt

Heaven's Blue - Penelope Marzec

Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides (Pulitzer)

Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World - Carl Hiaasen

Unquiet Spirits - Dee Lloyd

Home to Italy - Peter Pezzelli

Secrets in My House - Beverly J. Walden

The Devil Wears Prada - Lauren Weisberger

The Notebook - Nicholas Sparks

Cancer Schmancer - Fran Drescher

Full Circle - Danielle Steel

Winds of Change - Mercedes Lackey

Winds of Fury - Mercedes Lackey