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1 April 2015

Review: The Wedding List

2015 Reading Challenge – A book set in your hometown

You are no doubt thinking that I live in New Zealand, so why am I reading a novella set in London as “a book set in my hometown”. There are two reasons. First, I don’t really have a hometown in the way Americans refer to one, but I lived in London for longer than I have lived anywhere else, so I think it counts. Second, there simply aren’t a lot of books set in my part of the world. I can count on one hand the number of Christian novels I’ve come across set in New Zealand or by Christian authors (something Kiwi author Kara Isaac discussed in a recent blog post).

Anyway, on to my review. Beth Forrest works in the wedding department of staid London department store Pettett and Mayfield’s, where she spends her days serving posh clients and struggling to overcome her working-class background, something which has given her a serious inferiority complex. Beth is about to close up one day work ay when a piece of her past walks in: James Wetherton-Hart, the posh boy she once loved—until his mother found out James was seeing a servant, and had Beth sent packing from the estate.

The Wedding List was an enjoyable short novel that was a pleasant walk down memory lane of winter in London, particularly when it came to some of the locations, like Tower Bridge. It was also an enjoyable romance, even if I wasn’t entirely convinced by the emphasis on class distinctions, or the fact she was ashamed of her working-class heritage (I always saw the real-life English working class, as generally proud of their heritage. It's the middle class who seek upward mobility). I also would have liked to have seen more character development, particularly with James.

Overall, I liked the novel, but probably not enough to read more in the series.

30 March 2015

Review: Together with You by Victoria Bylin


Ophthalmologist Dr Ryan Tremaine has a problem. Not only has he promised his ex-wife that he’ll look after their two sons for the summer while she’s on a short-term missions trip, but he’s also recently taken custody of Penny, his five-year-old daughter from the affair that ended his marriage. And Penny is a problem: she has FASD, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, and her behaviour has already run off three nannies.

Carly Jo Mason is working at the Animal Factory while completing a PhD specialising in the prevention of FASD. A chance meeting with Penny and Ryan leads to a job offer: as Penny’s new nanny. Carly is initially reluctant to get involved because of her own personal history of working with FASD children, but is persuaded to take the job … and ends up more involved than even she had anticipated.

I thoroughly enjoyed Until I Found You, Victoria Bylin’s first contemporary novel for Bethany House, and I enjoyed Together With You even more. The plot, driven largely by Penny’s issues as a special needs child, was a unique combination of entertaining and educational. I also liked the way the Christian elements of the plot were dealt with, particularly the conflict between Carly and Ryan, and the sympathetic and non-judgemental way FASD was dealt with.

The characters were excellent, and it was good to see the stuffy and barely competent Dr Tremaine loosen up a bit as the plot progressed. The minor characters were also excellent, even Penny’s Aunt Denise, who wants to have custody of Penny for herself. It’s clever writing when the viewpoint character dislikes another character, yet the writing manages to get across a degree of sympathy for that ‘unlikable’ character.

One word of warning: if the cover puts you off because it’s a little too cliché romance, think again. While Together With You definitely has a strong romance plot, it’s just as much a story about the consequences of bad choices, the difficulties in raising a child with special needs, and truly understanding God’s forgiveness. Recommended.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Victoria Bylin at her website.

27 March 2015

Review: Saving Justice by Susan Crawford

Not up to my expectations (even for a first novel)

Teacher Kinley Reid works in a rough area of Oklahoma City, doing her best to provide disadvantaged children with a quality education, with God’s help. When Justice, one of her students, gets into trouble for vandalism, she steps in to help him.

Nash McGuire is the real estate professional who grew up in the rough suburb, and who is now renovating his childhood home to sell (personally, if I owned a house in an area run by gangs, I wouldn’t waste money renovating to make it “the nicest house in the neighbourhood”. I’d sell to the first person who made an offer. I certainly wouldn’t park my late-model car outside. After all, real estate is "Location, location, location", and this isn't the location they're meaning).

Nash is concerned by what he sees as Kinley’s naïve approach, while Kinley trusts God to keep her safe and finds Nash’s lack of faith disturbing.

Saving Justice had interesting characters and a noble ideal, but the plot lost me early on, when Nash wants Justice to pay for vandalising his car. Isn’t that what insurance is for, repairing things when the culprit can’t be found or isn’t able to pay? It also seemed completely unreasonable (unjust?) that the child was sentenced to community service within days of the alleged crime, with no apparent input from witnesses or social services, and no defence or advice provided by legal professionals. Really?

Of course, this is the US, a country which only outlawed capital punishment for minors a decade ago. Basically, this felt as though it was nothing more than a contrived plot device to bring Kinley and Nash together, and while I understand plots are (by nature) contrived, I prefer them not to be so obvious.

Between the injustice of Justice’s situation and Nash’s illogical renovations, I was left reading a plot that I felt was too contrived to be believable, particularly in the beginning. It did improve once the relationship between the three main characters was established, but it still felt unrealistic (yes, I know it’s fiction, but the overall tone seemed to be trying for sweet romance in a setting of gritty realism).

Susan May Warren has recommended this novel, and she's one of my favourite authors. I think she's looking at the heart of the novel, which touches issues similar to those raised in some of her own novels (such as Tying the Knot). She certainly can't be recommending the writing, which isn't a patch on her own.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a free ebook for review.

26 March 2015

I'm Reviewing at Australasian Christian Writers

One Last Thing by Rebecca St James and Nancy Rue

Today I'm reviewing One Last Thing over at Australasian Christian Writers. Click here to read my review.

Here's the book description:

Tara had always imagined her happily ever after. But her fiancé’s secrets are changing this story into one she doesn’t even recognize.

Tara Faulkner and Seth Grissom grew up next door to each other in Savannah’s historic district. Their parents are best friends. They finish each other’s sentences all the time. Their fairytale wedding is a foregone conclusion . . . until Tara discovers another side to Seth three weeks before the wedding.

Reality has crashed in on Tara’s fairytale—but hope will lead her to a future she couldn’t have planned for herself.

This isn't an easy read, but I think it's the best book I've read so far this year. One Last Thing does an excellent job in sensitively fictionalising a growing problem in society. It’s not easy reading, and it’s not nice. But it is real. Unfortunately.

25 March 2015

Review, Kindle Giveaway, Blog Tour, and Author Chat Party with Colleen Coble

2015 Reading Challenge: A Popular Author's First Book

A Heart's Disguise was first published by Heartsong Presents in 1997 as Where Leads the Heart. Check out that cover!

The cover might have changed (improved!), but the blurb is still the same:

In the aftermath of the Civil War, a young woman searches for her lost love at the edge of the West.

The Civil War has destroyed Sarah Montgomery’s marriage before it’s even begun.

After Sarah receives word that her fiancé, Rand Campbell, has been killed fighting for the Union, her brothers and ailing father persuade her to pledge herself to Ben Croftner—despite her strong misgivings. But when Sarah finds out that Rand is in fact alive—and that Ben Croftner knew it—she indignantly breaks off the engagement and goes in search of Rand.

But Ben Croftner does not take rejection lightly—and a single woman with a sick father makes an easy target. When Sarah is abducted by her treacherous fiancé, Rand finally comes to her aid . . . only to reveal that he has been posted at Fort Laramie, Wyoming, and intends to take her there as his wife.

But could Sarah leave her dying father’s side for the love of her life? And what plans are forming in the jealous heart of Ben Croftner?

It’s hard to review this novella. I usually read the book descriptions when I request a book for review and have often forgotten it by the time I come to read the book. But this time I hadn’t, because the book description was right there in the front—which was a shame, because it wasn’t a teaser. It was a plot summary.

Publisher fail.

The result was a novella where I kept waiting for something to happen. And waiting. And waiting. The writing was good, and the characters had potential, but the two plot twists in the story (Rand being alive, Ben hiding that from everyone, and Ben trying to kidnap Sarah) were covered in the book description, which took away any suspense the story might have had.

This is the first of six novellas in the series, being released each month for the next six months. After reading the description, there’s no point in reading this novella. I’ve signed up to read and review the whole series, but I won’t read any more of the descriptions. Maybe that way I will be surprised and enjoy them.

Amazon is already offering a 6-in-1 volume which goes on sale in September (at only $14.99 for the paperback, compared to $6.99 for this paperback). If you’re interested in reading A Heart's Disguise, I’d suggest waiting until then and not reading any of the book descriptions or reviews in the meantime.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and Litfuse Publicity for providing a free ebook for review.

In the midst of end-of-war celebrations, Sarah discovers her betrothed was keeping a devastating secret in Colleen Coble's A Heart's Disguise. Will Sarah leave her dying father’s side for the only man she’s ever loved? And what plans are forming in the jealous heart of Ben Croftner?

Celebrate book one in Colleen's A Journey of the Heart series by entering to win a Kindle Fire and RSVPing to her May 5th author chat party!


One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A Kindle Fire
  • A copy of A Heart's Disguise
  • A copy of A Heart's Obsession (blog tour coming in April)
  • A copy of The Inn at Ocean's Edge (blog tour coming in April)
Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on May 7th. Winner will be announced May 8th on Colleen's website. Plus be sure to clear your calendar on the evening of May 5th because Colleen is hosting an author chat party on Facebook to celebrate her A Journey of the Heart series and the release of The Inn at Ocean's Edge! RSVP here!


RSVP today and spread the word—tell your friends about the giveaway via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on May 5th!