Author Archives: eschulenburg

The Triumph of Deborah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy

The Triumph of Deborah is Eva Etzioni-Halevy’s 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.

Rating: 7/10

Reviewed by: Elizabeth

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Bikeman by Thomas Flynn

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.

Rating: 9/10

Reviewed by: Elizabeth

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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.

Rating: 7/10

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

Reviewed by: Elizabeth

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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

Reviewed by: Elizabeth

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The Truth: What You Must Know Before December 21, 2021 by Stephen Hawley Martin

Blurb from Barnes&Noble.com:

“Has the Tribulation begun? Will the world as we know it end on or before December 21, 2012? The Mayan calendar says so, as does the ancient I CHING and the Web Bot, a computer program that taps into the collective planetary unconscious. Some think a meteor or other global disaster will strike, others that a dynamic shift in consciousness will occur. Or perhaps, they say, both will happen and only those who have made the shift will survive. No one knows — but one thing is certain. You cannot make the shift to higher awareness if you do not know The Truth. Fortunately, the Internet’s number one talk show host for seekers, award-winning author Stephen Hawley Martin, has written The Truth for you and those you love. He has done so in a way anyone can understand, accept and thoroughly enjoy. If you read only one book between now and 2012, make it this one. End of the world or not, then you will know The Truth. And The Truth will set you free. ”

So here’s my secret confession: I love books like this. Perhaps it’s latent rebelliousness from my conservative Baptist upbringing, but if it’s about alternative, quasi-religious worldviews, I’m all over it. I still remember the book I found at Goodwill when I was in junior high that explained how Adam and Eve were actually aliens from an extraplanetary Garden of Eden sent down to populate the earth with their offspring. Seriously, this is good stuff. About 90% of the time, it’s laughable but entertaining. Occasionally, one of these books comes along that is written well enough to make you stop and think. The Truth is one of the latter.

Hawley explains that most of scientific thought today is based on an erroneous assumption: that intelligence came about due to evolution. The Truth (THE TRUTH) is that the brain does not create mind – humans, and all matter, are the “focal points of awareness within the larger awareness often called the Universal Mind” – basically, all is one. We are all connected to the great, singular intelligence that created everything, and is everything.

Throughout the course of the book, he uses many illustrations to explain his thesis, including how beliefs produce physical changes, the scientific basis of collective memory, and why prayer literally works. What differentiates Hawley’s book from many other new-agey, self-help type volumes is his extensive use of current scientific study to substantiate his ideas. His bibliography at the end of the book includes citations of Stephen Jay Gould, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, and Henry P. Strapp. Hawley has clearly done his research, and it shows in his thoughtful, approachable work. His engaging writing style takes difficult scientific and philosophical ideas and makes them accessible to the everyday reader. Besides his significant scientific analysis, Hawley also utilizes personal anecdotes and stories, giving the reader insight into his own life. He is clearly writing about something that he believes deeply, which makes his book more all the more powerful.

I won’t say that he has converted me to his line of thinking, but he certainly gives one a lot to think about. If you enjoy good, informative writing about a fascinating topic like this, I would encourage you to give Hawley a try. Perhaps we can all use a shift of consciousness before 2012 rolls around.

Finished: 8/31/08
Source: Oaklea Press Inc.
Rating: 7/10

Reviewed by: Elizabeth

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Farworld: Water Keep by J. Scott Savage

13-year-old Marcus is an outsider – orphaned, friendless, with disabilities to his arm and leg that require the use of a wheelchair, the new boy at school facing a group of relentless bullies. His only escape is Farworld, the place he has created in his mind where magic abounds. When a menacing stranger appears threatening to take him away, Marcus finds himself suddenly pulled out of his normal life  – and into Farworld. His rescuer is Kyja, herself an outsider in Farworld – in a land where magic abounds, she possesses none. The pair is guided by Master Therapass, who knows the true link Marcus has with Kyja.  The Dark Circle has discovered the secret that can be the undoing of Farworld, and only Marcus and Kyja can convince the elusive Elementals to work together to make a path between the two worlds.

Savage has a wonderful, visual style of writing that enables the reader to see exactly how this new, magical world appears. Several times I found myself re-reading paragraphs, not because I was confused but because I loved reading Savage’s descriptions of the world he has created.  I believe he does a good job of allowing the reader to sympathise for his two main characters withouth making them seem weak. Both Marcus, with his physical limitations, and Kyka, with her insecurities, are often pitied by the people around them. Savage, however, never feels sorry for either of them, but allows them to discover how strong they can become when they work together and believe in themselves.

As a woman, I am thrilled to see a young girl in a novel who is written as a true equal to the young man. Too often, the girl is the sidekick – plucky and cute, but watching as the boy gets to be the hero. Savage gives Kyja just as much importance as Marcus, and allows her to be heroic in her own right. And the bad guys are truly scary – I found myself anxious several times when the kids were in danger.Trust me, you don’t want to mess with the Thrathkin S’Bae!

I really enjoyed this book. Because this is the first in a series, Savage has to spend a lot of time explaining and introducing , which can at times slow the pace of the novel. However, he has created several characters – Master Therapass and Bonesplitter especially, that I can’t wait to read more about. This series has a lot of potential, and I am very exited to read the continuing adventures of Marcus and Kyja. I can’t wait for the next installment!

Finished: 6/9/08

Rating: 8/10

Source: ARC from author

reviewed by Elizabeth

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Foundation by Isaac Asimov

The Empire is falling. For 12,000 years, it has ruled over countless worlds, but now it is about to collapse. Hari Seldon has found a way to shorten the darkness that will result. He assembles a group of scientists and sequesters them on a lonely planet at the edge of the galaxy, purportedly to create and maintain an encyclopedia of all the knowledge in the universe. He calls this sanctuary The Foundation. However, in the years after he dies, his followers come to realize that there was more to his plan…

It feels odd writing a review of a book that probably everyone in the reading world has already read – how have I lived 32 years without reading it myself? Thank heavens I’ve corrected this gigantic flaw in my reading history….

I was interested to see how a sci-fi novel written over 50 years ago would stand up in the face of modern scientific advances. I mean, we all know how dorky the original Star Wars movies look now that their special effects are years out of date. (Ducking from the inevitable protests of fans – I can’t help it, they look goofy.) To me, Foundation felt like it could be a completely modern novel. Asimov was able to project far enough into the future that we haven’t caught up to him yet. The book seemed almost to be more a collection of short stories about the same idea than an actual novel – each section jumped so far into the future that most of the characters had already died. I am interested to read more books in the series to see Asimov fleshes out the different eras of the Foundation that he introduced in this book. I enjoyed it enough to want to read more, but I wouldn’t call it one of my favorite reads for the year. Perhaps that’s the problem with Great Works of Fiction – they never quite seem to live up to the hype.

Finished: 7/19/08
Source: Franklin Avenue Library
Rating: 6/10

Reviewed by Elizabeth

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Tan Lines by J.J. Salem

Liza Pike is a lipstick feminist with a bestselling novel, a weekly guest spot on a political newsmagazine, a ticking biological clock, and a gorgeous husband who never touches her. Billie Shelton is a one-hit-wonder trying to salvage her dying career by seducing her producer. Kellyanne Downey is an aspiring actress with a past she would like to forget, whose bills are currently being paid by a 60-year-old married man. These three college friends who normally get together for one weekend a year are about to spend an entire summer season living together in a rented house in the Hamptons. The community – and the men – will never be the same.

This novel is trashy beach fluff personified. It has a blurb by Jackie Collins, and a dedication to Jacqueline Susann, so that should be a warning to potential readers who are looking for style and substance. It is, however, a whole lot of fun. It’s a bit like reading a gossip magazine – you know you really shouldn’t be interested, but somehow you can’t stop. There is enough sex to make it a perfect read for lounging by the pool on vacation, and the plot moves quickly enough that it is impossible to get bored.

In novels like this, often the main characters are so one-dimensional that it is difficult to root for them. Liza and Kellyanne, however, are intriguing, with many facets to their personalities. The author gives them each struggles that are easy to identify with, so the reader is able to sympathize with them, even as we watch them make really stupid mistakes. Billie is harder to like – I found myself uncomfortable much of the time when reading the sections about her. Good characters always need some flaws, but she has so many that it almost makes her irredeemable. I actually felt relieved when she rather abruptly dropped out of the novel near the end.

If you are looking for a fun, fast read to take on vacation this year, I think this novel would certainly fit the bill. Don’t expect a literary masterpiece – just get hooked by the first line, and enjoy the ride.

Finished: 7/17/08
Source: review copy from St. Martin’s Press
Rating: 7/10

Here is a video shot by the publisher of some random, unsuspecting strangers reading the first line of the novel – definitely an attention grabber!

(Probably NSFW!!)

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The White Mary by Kira Salak

Marika Vacera is a journalist who has written about some of the most dangerous and horrific conflicts in the world. She has just returned from an terrifying assignment in the Congo when she learns that Robert Lewis, another journalist and her personal hero, has committed suicide. Marika decides to write a biography of Lewis, and in the course of her research she comes across information that seems to indicate that he might not be dead – in fact, he might be alive in Papua New Guinea. Marika decides to leave Seb, the man she loves, and embark on a journey through the jungle to try and discover the truth. With only her native guide, Tobo, Marika struggles to stay alive long enough to find out whether Lewis is alive or dead.

This book is quite amazing. Kira Salak is an award-winning journalist, and many of the experiences that Marika has in the novel are Salak’s own. I truly do not believe that this book could have been written by someone who had not lived this life. Salak literally makes the jungle come alive – each page is brimming with details. The reader can hear the sounds, smell the smells, and see the sights that Marika encounters on her travels. Salak describes mosquite bites and leaches, as well as gun battles and torture, with the voice of one who has been there.

Salak also creates rich, interesting characters whose lives jump off the page. Marika is damaged, and the defense mechanisms she has built for herself are so strong that she is virtually unable to allow herself to be happy. Seb is wise and good, but with enough past baggage to be believable. Robert Lewis is weird, and difficult, but has moments of brilliance that allow the reader to understand why Marika has idolized him for so long. Tobo is perhaps the most interesting character – thrust into a situation he never wanted, he is patient but tough with Marika, and helps her make several very important discoveries about herself and her world. None of the characters are perfect – not even likable at times – but the flaws makes them seem completely real.

Salak has written a novel about journeys, and discovery, and figuring out what truly matters in life. I loved this book from start to finish, and will be recommeding it to everyone who will listen. Go read this book! It is brilliant, and will most certainly be on my list of favorites.

Finished: 7/9/08
Source: ARC from publisher
Rating: 9/10

Reviewed by Elizabeth

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Silent Thunder by Iris Johansen and Roy Johansen

Expert submarine designer Hannah Bryson has been hired by a museum to inspect a Russian sub about to be open to the public for display. Along with her brother, Connor, she is to inspect every nook and cranny of the sub to make sure it is safe. When her brother discovers a plate with mysterious markings, a deadly tragedy occurs that catapults Hannah into a dangerous game of cat and mouse with a former Russian submarine captain.

I don’t know why I don’t read more books like this. Sometimes I get so caught up in reading “serious” novels that I forget how much fun reading can actually be. This book by the mother-and-son Johansen team reminds me. They give the reader a spunky, smart heroine, fast-paced action, just enough love interest to keep things interesting, and some really great bad guys. Hannah is easy to root for – several times other characters refer to her tendency to relate better to machines than people, so when she allows herself to be vulnerable she becomes even more endearing. Her secondary characters are an entertaining mix of good and bad – noone is ever quite what they seem, which keeps the tension building right up to the end.

I’m not really sure how the writers divided up the writing tasks, but the result is seamless. The book has a consistent voice, and if I hadn’t been told I would not have known it was the work of two authors. The Johansens are a great writing team, and I certainly hope there will be more from them in the future!

Finished: 7/5/08
Rating: 8/10
Source: Review copy from publicist

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