Window on the World

I am a wife and mom of two grown children (who can't seem to move out) and two furbabies. I write about my family life, as well as causes that are dear to my heart, with recipes every Wednesday and book reviews every Friday. My favorite genre is historical fiction.

Children of the Knight Book Review

Children of the Knight - Michael J.  Bowler

Children of the KnightChildren of the Knight by Michael J. Bowler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once upon a time in the City of Angels, chaos was king, and carelessness ruled.

So begins Children of the Knight, a heart-tugging new young adult fantasy. The picture the author paints of life on the streets of Los Angeles is brutal, and, I'm afraid, mostly true. I know of children who have been kicked out of their houses in my own small, Northern California town, so I can only imagine how many kids are living on the streets in a big city.

But King Arthur comes back to help the children take back the streets; to kick out the pimps and dealers; to renovate whole neighborhoods. Sound a little cheesy and too good to be true? It probably is, but it is a fantasy novel, after all.

Although this book is labelled as young adult, there are some pretty strong scenes in it. Child abuse and prostitution are both depicted (although not graphically), as are two death scenes.

The strongest theme in Children of the Knight, for me, was the theme of acceptance. Arthur, in the book, in many ways is like Jesus Christ - accepting and encouraging anyone who wants to give up their old way of life to "come, follow me."

I found the book to be a little long, but I could not put it down as I waited to see how Arthur's crew would fare in their mission and watched the poignant relationship between Arthur and his "kids of the Round Table."

View all my reviews

Gave Me a Reason to Read the Next Book!!

Give Me Reason - Zoey Derrick

From the first page of Give Me Reason (The Reason Series) I was intrigued by the character of Mikah. He is handsome, wealthy, tender and mysterious.  All the best qualities in a leading man!!

Vivienne seems so fragile at the beginning of the story, yet she doesn't want to trust Mikah when he first tries to be nice to her.  She has always taken care of herself and Mikah is so nice so fast that I don't blame her for being more than a little suspicious.

The more you learn about Vivienne the more you see how much she needs a knight in shining armor, if she will only accept him.  The more you learn about Mikah the more mysterious he becomes.  What exactly is his job and why is he so interested in Vivienne?

Give Me Reason ends way too soon, in a cliffhanger.  I was cursing the ending when I got there.  I couldn't believe I was going to have to wait who knows how long for Book 2.  Fortunately, I just found out that Book 2, Give Me Hope will be released November 19, 2013, so not that long to wait!!


Two Strong Female Characters

Return of the Heroine - Kaye Michelle

At first I was a little thrown by the back and forth of Return of the Heroine.  The chapters alternate between 15th century France, where the story is narrated by Joan of Arc, and 1990s United States, where the story is told in the third person.  For the first few chapters this alternating structure made it a little difficult to get into the story.

After a few chapters, though, I adjusted and found the story to be captivating.  I knew the basic story of Joan of Arc, but this book made it come to life.  I experienced every victory and every defeat right along with Joan, including the feel of the flames licking her feet at the end.(if you didn't know Joan was burned at the stake I apologize for the spoiler ;-)

The parallel story, of Jane Archer, the West Point cadet, while not quite as compelling, is still a strong dramatic tale.  Jane is dealing with the culture of rape and abuse against women at the illustrious military college.  I was surprised by the anecdotal statistic in the book, so I did a little research.

According to the Huffington Post:

The Pentagon said it received 2,923 reports of sexual assault across the military in the 12 months ending Sept. 30 2008. That's about a 9 percent increase over the totals reported the year before, but only a fraction of the crimes presumably being committed.

Among the cases reported, only a small number went to military courts, officials acknowledged.

The Pentagon office that collects the data estimates that only 10 percent to 20 percent of sexual assaults among members of the active duty military are reported _ a figure similar to estimates of reported cases in the civilian sphere.

So even though Return of the Heroine is set in the 90s, apparently this is a subject we need to continue talking about until it is taken seriously.

Again I seem to have stumbled upon a book with strong female characters, but for this I am grateful.  Jane is an independent woman who has a loving and equal relationship with her boyfriend, Jack.  They respect each other's strengths and weaknesses and learn not to judge each other by a stereotype.

One of the biggest themes in this book was to listen to the "voices" in your head and not to let fear rule you.  As my regular readers know, overcoming my fears has been a recurring theme on this blog (The Year of No Fear, No Punishment; No Fear, My One Word for 2013: Courage).  Here are some quotes from the book that really struck home with me:

If you walk a path you know in your heart to be true and you encounter fear, it is showing you that your mind has not yet grown to accommodate your heart.


"Scar tissue is stronger than skin," the doctor said...

...To her it seemed metaphorically true. When shit happens, we get stronger.


Fear will cause you to make choices that may not be in your best interest. Fear causes you to doubt and lose faith.

Return of the Heroine is a powerful read for fans of historical fiction and/or tales of strong women.

Annie Crow Knoll: Sunrise (Annie Crow Knoll, #1) - Gail Priest I loved the title character of Annie. She is another strong woman, like many of the books I have read lately. It makes me proud to see women “rescue” themselves in novels, yet still want a man to comfort and love them. It is possible to be both strong and vulnerable. Annie “Crow” is one of these strong yet vulnerable women.

Annie Crow Knoll: Sunrise is a cozy, comfortable read, thanks to the beautiful description of the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding area, and also due to the realistic dialogue. I could picture the swells and buffets of the waves on the shore. I stood next to Annie and her best friend Grace as they chatted about their love lives. Gail Priest creates a tangible world that you will want to live in.

This book reveals two important life lessons that Annie learns as she “grows up.” The first lesson is about how people treat each other. The book is mostly set in the pre-civil rights South of the 1950s and ’60s. It is a real reminder of how far we’ve come in relations between people of different colors and how young children are inherently color blind until adults teach them otherwise.

The other lesson is about how far we’ve come in dealing with mental illness over the years. After Annie’s grandmother dies, some truths are revealed to Annie about the history of her family which give her some insight into her own life and feelings. This part of the story reminded me of some stories in my own family that were not revealed until after my great-grandmother died. I am glad that we live in the modern age even though it may feel like a little too much information sometimes.

My only problem with the book was the not-quite omniscient perspective. Especially in the beginning it was a little difficult to tell which character’s perspective I was following. Other than that this is a lovingly written tribute to a time not-so-long-ago and not-so-far-away.
Of Tapestry, Time and Tears - Carol  Morgan Of Tapestry, Time and Tears begins with tragedy (flooding and destruction of towns in southern Texas in the late 19th century) and ends with tragedy (September 11, 2001). But this book is a story of survival and adaptation, not of defeat and loss.

Edwina Kleberg, the main character, reminded me very much of Scarlet O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. She is a strong woman who breaks all the rules. She finds forbidden love and doesn’t let life’s circumstances get her down.

The first half of the book focuses mainly on Edwina’s youth, including her time in college, her first important assignment as a reporter during World War II, and her years spent in India, falling in love with the people and the culture.

The second half of the book follows Edwina from age 30 to her 80s and is mainly set in the US. Along the way, she explores Catholicism, Hinduism, and Buddhism in her search for inner peace.

I found this epic book to be a little too large for the author. The description is brilliant and the storyline intriguing, but much of the dialogue is stilted and lacks realism. Nevertheless, I could not put this book down. I just couldn’t wait to see what situation Edwina would get into next.
Fuzzies and Other People - H. Beam Piper After H. Beam Piper committed suicide in 1964, two more Fuzzy books were produced by other writers. I don’t count those as part of the Fuzzy mythos, especially since they don’t mesh with this most recent book.

Fuzzies and Other People picks up where Fuzzy Sapiens left off. Hugo Ingermann’s crew is on trial for enslaving Fuzzies and forcing then to steal sunstones from the company vaults. But Ingermann has a trick up his sleeve. He intends to claim the Fuzzies were willing accomplices to the crimes they committed. And since Fuzzies do not have a concept for falsehood, they will not be able to testify on their own behalf. Or will they?

This third book in the Fuzzy series was another enjoyable romp through the Fuzzy universe. Fuzzies are much like pre-pubescent children and although the tone towards different cultures is still very early 1960s (read not politically correct) in nature, this book is good clean fun. It is interesting that H. Beam Piper makes an exact case in his books for the reason for the Prime Directive as laid out in the Star Trek franchise. Are humans the best model for humanity?
Aberration - Lisa  Regan Aberration is a rainy day novel. A cross country plane trip type of quick and thrilling read. I really enjoyed the pace of this book. The story alternates between Kassidy, the FBI analyst, and "Wyatt", the serial killer.aberration book review

There are twists upon twists upon twists in the plotline and every single one took me completely by surprise. Are Kassidy and the killer connected? Since the killer struggles with periods of lost time, will we ever know the whole story?

There is quite a bit of gore in this story, but other than that, it is a fairly clean novel. It has extremely adult themes, including recollections of child molestation, so I would not recommend it for teenagers or younger, but for the adult audience for which it was intended, I highly recommend this book!!
Heidi's Children - Charles Tritten One of my favorite books when I was a little girl was Heidi. I even enjoyed the Shirley Temple movie version of the story, even though it was not that close to the original.

For my tenth birthday, I received Heidi Grows Up. It was so much fun to read Tritten's continuation of the beloved story.

I had no idea that there was a second sequel until about four months ago when I read Barbara Fisher's March House blog, highlighting her latest find, Heidi's Children. While I couldn't afford to send to England for Ms. Fisher's pristine copy, I did find an old,beat-up library copy in readable condition, for dirt cheap on Amazon.

This book is just as sweet and wholesome as its predecessors. There is a strong Christian theme running throughout which I found comforting rather than preachy.

Marta, Jamy's sister, is an anxious child, prone to bouts of hysteria. She is unsure of herself and her place in the world since the grandmother who raised her has died and her parents are wealthy party people.

Heidi and her grandfather try to teach Marta the power of prayer as well as two phrases which really rang home with me, "Have courage" and "Be ready to forgive!" If you have been following this blog for awhile, you may remember that I have struggled with both of these issues (The Year of No Fear, My One Word for 2013: Courage). It was nice to see a fresh reminder from so many years ago!!

I think this book (in fact, all 3 of them) would be a fine addition to any pre-teen's library. The beautiful descriptions of the Swiss countryside, combined with the look inside Heidi's family, make for a charming piece of historical children's literature. I give Heidi's Children four milk cans!!!
Fuzzy Sapiens - H. Beam Piper The second book in the Fuzzy trilogy (you can read my review of book one - Little Fuzzy) continues the dilemma of how humans and other sentient beings get along. The question is - now that Fuzzies have been declared to be intelligent beings - how do Fuzzies and humans live in harmony?

I still feel that the viewpoints in this book are a bit outdated and definitely not politically correct. In addition, there is at least one deus ex machina involved in the plot (ugh). Fuzzy Sapiens is also not a book you would want to read without having read the first book in the series. There is not a lot of backstory given to explain how the story got to where it is.

That being said, and taking the book for the time it was written, I very much enjoyed this read. And, intended, or not, it was definitely thought-provoking!! I wonder if the books had been written after Star Trek, if H. Beam Piper would have caved to the Prime Directive?
The Spark Solution: A Complete Two-Week Diet Program to Fast-Track Weight Loss and Total Body Health - Becky Hand,  Nicole Nichols,  Meg Galvin,  Stepfanie Romine Here's what I enjoyed about the book:

Quite a few motivational stories from people who have already used the Spark system to lose weight and keep it off.
A two week program (including recipes) of diet and exercise ideas - this was my favorite part. I got quite a few new recipes for my repertoire, one of which I am including below.
An "after plan" with tips on how to keep the momentum going because I am not on a diet, I am making healthy lifestyle changes.

And here are the changes I made as a result of the program:

Started tracking everything I eat. This made a big difference because I really needed to plan ahead and think about food.
Started working out harder and more efficiently. Although I did not follow the exercise plan in The Spark Solution, I did come to realize how many calories I needed to burn in a week in order to lose weight, as compared to how much food I eat. So I switched from just walking 3-5 days a week, to interval training alternating with Walk Away the Pounds videos, plus one day of yoga and one day of rest. I have been exercising more often, burning more calories and actually having fun doing it!!
I did not give up all the foods I love. I found ways to make them more healthy or cut them down to very small portions for those times when I am really craving them. For those things I do not have willpower with (yet) I try not to keep them in the house.

Overall, I found The Spark Solution to be a great program for beginners, if followed to a tee, and for those who have been at this a bit longer, a good reminder of what to do, mixed with tips and motivation that can be incorporated into your regular routine.
Writers of the Future Volume 29 - L. Ron Hubbard, Dave Wolverton, Alex Wilson, Kodiak Julian, Marilyn Guttridge, Shannon Peavey, Andrea Stewart, Marina J. Lostetter, John Eno, Joshua Meehan, Luis Menacho, Nnedi Okorafor, Oliva Xu, Daniel Reneau, Jackie Albano, Aldo Katayanagi, Side Chen, Karsen Slater, Jam Once I started reading this new volume, I must say that I enjoyed it even more than the last one!! I enjoyed every story, but my two favorite were The Ghost Wife of Arlington, about Death's mistress, and Holy Days, which speculates about some extra special days being added to the calendar. What if there was one day a year when all ailments were healed, just for the day?

I also really appreciated the helpful articles in the book. There is an article for illustrators by Larry Elmore, Journey For a New Artist, but it was the two articles for writers that really struck a chord with me. The first, by L. Ron Hubbard, is titled The Manuscript Factory. In it, Hubbard gives a great perspective on writing for money that should resonate with all of us who do this for living, be we bloggers, journalists or artists:

If you write insincerely, if you think the lowest pulp can be written insincerely, and still sell, then you're in for trouble unless your luck is terribly good. And luck rarely strikes twice.

The second article is by Nnedi Okorafor, one of this year's judges. She writes in The Sport of Writing:

Rage can be a great blade sharpener. It doesn't feel good but it's burning inside you, so you might as well use it. Don't let it stop you from producing; channel it into your work instead. Let it serve a purpose. Produce something positive.

I recommended the previous volume of Writers of the Future for anyone who enjoys science fiction. I believe Volume 29 will be appreciated not just by science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts, but also by those who are looking to learn from the best.
Love on the Back Burner - Barbara Oliverio I was intrigued when I was asked to review Love on the Back Burner because of this line from the author, Barbara Oliverio:

In the book, heroine Alexandria D’Agostino tries new recipes (included in the book) to best match the ethnic backgrounds of potential suitors.

The book is fun and fluffy - much like a Lifetime movie (not the murdering kind). It's romantic and slly and completely clean, which I appreciate very much. I don't mind the occasional modest sex scene, but it's nice to read a book that can leave you weak in the knees from just a few well-timed kisses.

The best part of Love on the Back Burner is the food!! I really enjoyed reading the parts where Alexandria was cooking and I especially enjoyed matching each dish up to a real recipe in the back of the book. The author used the recipes her own mother taught her to share through Alexandria. She also shared recipes she gleaned from other cooks over the years (with permission). This would be a fun weekend read, i.e read a little, cook a little, eat a little.
The Great Secret - L. Ron Hubbard, Bruce Boxleitner The Great Secret, is action-oriented science fiction (ala Flash Gordon), but still a fun read. The book is short and would be a great read for a rainy afternoon.
The Professor Was a Thief (Stories from the Golden Age) - L. Ron Hubbard My favorite book of the two is The Professor Was a Thief. This is a more lighthearted science fiction collection. Each story has a sense of humor and a bit of a twist at the end.
Terminal Rock - Will Dresser When Will Dresser announced the release of the third book in his Wes Franklin series, Terminal Rock, I did something I rarely do anymore. I purchased the book outright!! I have fallen in love with the characters of Wes, A.J. and Rouzbeh, and just had to know what their next adventure would be.

Yet again, Will Dresser did not disappoint!! The intense description that has become his trademark in the Wes Franklin novels continues throughout this compelling story. I had to google some of the items Will describes, such as Clive Christian's Imperial Majesty perfume (the most expensive perfume in the world) and Louis Moinet's Astralis watch (made with real moonstone), just to make sure they were real!

The twists and turns in this story kept me constantly guessing. As the saying goes in this series, "The truth never happens in real time," and so, of course, the resolution to the story took me completely by surprise, which is nice. I hate it when I figure out whodunnit in the first chapter, don't you?

Wes and A.J.'s relationship is continuing to evolve. I loved this line in the book:

He stood watching her for a moment filled with too much emotion to express. He walked slowly over to her, and when she looked up at him and smiled, he bent down and kissed her tenderly on the lips, not with passion but with a deep feeling of love for who she was and what she had brought to his life.

Awwww, sniff sniff.

If I have any complaints about Terminal Rock, it is that in all his descriptions, Will Franklin only mentions wine from the Anderson Valley, instead of the Napa Valley, my hometown. Other than that, this book is flawless.
Little Fuzzy - H. Beam Piper When I was 10 years old, my brothers and I went to spend the weekend with my parent's friends, the Worthingtons. Mr. Worthington, knowing I was a voracious reader, gave me a paper grocery sack full of pulp science fiction from the 1960s. The funny thing is I don't remember much about the books I read that weekend, except that I enjoyed them immensely. What I most remember is the ad for H. Beam Piper's Fuzzy Sapiens which was in the back of one of the books. The Fuzzies looked so cute, that I just had to find the book!!

Unfortunately for me, Fuzzy Sapiens was published in 1964, 3 years before I was born, and although classified at the time in the same genre as The Hobbit, never took on the same cult status as Tolkien's highly successful start of the Middle Earth saga. So for 35 years, my yearning for Fuzzies was limited to my dreams.

Then, last November, I was visiting Art at school in Oregon and we stopped at a used bookstore to peruse the aisles. I am a huge Kindle fan, but there is still much to be said for a good and worn used book. The musty smell, the notes in the margins, the browning or yellowing of the dog-eared pages - all of these indicators give me some idea of how much the previous owner (or owners) enjoyed the book.

Anyway, as I wandered the science fiction section (my favorite), what popped out at me but the entire Fuzzy trilogy!!! I didn't even know there was a trilogy. Little Fuzzy is the first book and the one I read for this review.

Parts of this book were very pulpy and fun, like watching the original Star Trek and wondering how they could have such "advanced" technology but no one had invented seatbelts? In Fuzzy Sapiens all video data is transmitted by super fast reel to reel tape. Seriously? How many of my readers even remember reel to reel tapes? Yeah, that's what I thought.

The best part of this book is Jack Holloway, the crusty old prospector who takes to "his" Fuzzies, the way that Grandfather took to Heidi. The Fuzzies are cute and cuddly and not at all Gremlin-like. The majority of the story revolves around whether or not the Fuzzies can be classified as sapient beings or "people". There is a definite tinge of xenophobia in this book, as even those who believe the Fuzzies can think and reason tend to treat the little people more like pets or small children than peers. Since this book was written in 1962, I give the author some credit for his forward thinking and excuse his lack of prescience in civil rights.