29 July 2016

Friday Fifteen: April Geremia

Today I'd like to welcome authors April Geremia to Iola's Christian Reads. Aprilis the author of the Souls of the Sea series, and is here today to share her own favourite authors. Welcome, April!

April's Friday Fifteen

1. Beverly Cleary. 

When I was a child, I ducked into the school library every chance I got to read about the adventures of Ramona and gang. I can still remember sitting between the shelves, praying that I would get through another chapter before the bell rang.

2. Safely Home by Randy Alcorn

I have given this book to more people than I can count. It’s brilliant in that it uses the novel format to expose the persecution that Chinese Christians go through just to worship God. This book caused me to see so many things in a different light.

3. This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness by Frank Peretti

I read these two books shortly after I became a Christian, and they continue to shape my worldview.

4. Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers

This trilogy was literally impossible to put down once I started reading it. I loved the emotions the story triggered and how the main character grew in faith and strength.

5. A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

This is one of the most honest, unflinching books I’ve ever read. Reading about C.S. Lewis’ battle with faith after his wife’s death help get me through some of my own very tough times.

6. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I read this book when I was a new Christian, and although it was unsettling to me at first, I also believe it helped me mature in faith more quickly than I would have otherwise.

7. Four Letters of Love by Niall Williams

Although this isn’t a Christian novel, it’s the book that started me on my journey of writing. I’ve wanted to write since I was ten-years-old and this book finally made me believe I could take all my bottled up feelings, put them on a page, and create a story that would touch other people’s lives. The artful use of language in this book is spellbinding.

8. When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin

Because who doesn’t love a book about a cardiac surgeon and a little girl with heart disease who heal each other? With God’s help, of course. This is one of those books I never wanted to end.

9. In God’s Underground by Richard Wurmbrand

Mr. Wormbrand was imprisoned for his faith for 14 years in Romania, and this the story of how his faith endured in the most challenging of circumstances. I copied the poem he wrote to Jesus in this book in the front of my Bible as a reminder of what it truly means to love Him.

10. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

Yes, it’s another C.S. Lewis book, but so different than the other one! Screwtape and Wormwood are perfect examples of how the enemy attempts to distract us and lead us down the wrong path.

11. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

This book affected me so much I’ve never been able to get it out of my head. I won’t spoil the ending in case some readers haven’t read it, but the message is so stark and on point. I truly believe this book could change the world if more people read it.

12. While We’re Far Apart by Lynn Austin

I loved this book for two reasons. First, it was so emotional—and I definitely love a good cry when reading. But I also loved the message—just because God is silent, that doesn’t mean He doesn’t love us.

13. The Prayer Box by Lisa Wingate

This author truly puts her heart on the page, and this book left me with a longing that is difficult to describe. It’s a beautiful story, and I loved to watch the characters grow as the story progressed.

14. Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

I mean, really, how could I leave this book off the list? A beautiful story of how God can redeem even those who run from Him. I love this book.

15. Jimmy by Robert Whitlow

This book is a little different than the author’s usual stuff—it’s quieter, more thoughtful, and highly emotional. He uses understatement and practicality to draw out your emotions. It’s difficult to explain, but this is another book that’s still on my mind years after reading it.

About April Geremia
April Geremia has made her living as a professional writer for 20 years, and has recently turned her attention toward her true love--fiction. She loves God, her family and friends, the sea, mysteries, and stories of people battling impossible situations. The books in this series, Souls of the Sea, all have those elements in common.

When she's not writing, you'll find her coaxing vegetables out of the ground, playing with her chickens, or whipping up a simple gourmet meal in her tiny house by the sea. Her favorite part of any day is connecting with her readers.

You can connect with April at:

Website: aprilgeremia.com
Twitter: @april_geremia
Facebook: facebook.com/april.geremia

A Fragrance of Surrender

What would cause a woman to stand on the edge of a cliff deciding whether to slip over it or to live another day?

How bad would it have to be?

And what if she couldn't turn to God because she believes He's the root of all her problems?
Set among the fragrant sweet smell of ripening orange tree blossoms, this emotional story is about a woman who battles God for the right to determine how things should be. Gabriella's life has been filled with tragedy, including the mystery of why her own parents disappeared one night, leaving her alone at a tender young age. Soon after her husband dies, she and her son move to her childhood home--a house on a cliff by the sea in a village time has left behind. It's there that she and some local villagers begin the process of bringing her parent's old orange grove back to life.

As Gabriella begins to put together the pieces of why her parents abandoned her, she soon learns they were victims of powerful forces that threatened to tear apart the quiet little village by the sea. And that knowledge, along with all the other losses she's experienced, causes Gabriella to view God with great suspicion and fear. So when her young son experiences a dramatic conversion and begins to serve Him, an all-out battle ensues.

During this time, Gabriella often feels called to the edge of the cliff, torn between letting herself slip over it and ending the pain, or fighting for a happiness she's not even sure exists. Will Gabriella continue to do battle with God? Or will she come to have faith in the God she blames for all the tragedies she's suffered?

And what role will her young son play in her decision?

You can read the introduction to A Fragrance of Surrender here:

28 July 2016

Review: A Changed Agent by Tracey J Lyons

Solid Plot but Writing Needs Work

William Benton is a Pinkerton agent charged with finding missing railroad bonds--but who also has recently taken responsibility for his orphaned niece and nephew, seven-year-old twins Minnie and Harry. He has no idea how he can do both, especially when his job often requires late nights and overnight trips. His boss suggests he hire help in the form of Elsie Mitchell, the violet-eyed schoolteacher in their small update New York town.

Elsie turns out to be perfect for the job except for the fact she keeps wanting him to go to church and objects to him hanging around the saloon. He can't explain it's for work--that would defeat the whole 'undercover' part of his job.

It's an interesting premise, and I would have liked to have seen more of Will's role as a Pinkerton agent. As it was, the focus of A Changed Agent was very much on the developing relationship between Elsie and Will, and Elsie's strange relationship with her ex-fiance. I liked the scenes with the children, and I especially liked the way the mute Minnie was able to learn to trust as the story progressed.

The ongoing issue with A Changed Agent wasn't the story or the characters, but the writing. The author has a habit of starting sentences with -ing words, which gives the writing a lyrical feel. Unfortunately, that isn't a good thing because while I'm flowing with the lyrical writing I'm not actually reading the words. I think that's because a lot of the writing is passive, which again takes me away from the characters and the action.

I try not to put my freelance editor hat on while reading, but ongoing glitches like this make it difficult because my subconscious says, 'hey! That sentence didn't make sense!'. When I read it for the second or third time, I realise why it didn't make sense, and that it's something the editor should have noticed and pointed out. Having said that, every 'self-editing for authors' book I've ever read points out the dangers of starting sentences with -ing words, and it wasn't the editor who wrote the novel.

Overall, A Changed Agent was somewhat predictable as a historical romance. It had good characters and a solid plot, but could have done with improved revision and editing.

Thanks to Waterfall Press (Amazon's Christian fiction imprint) and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Tracey J Lyons at her website.

27 July 2016

Clash of the Titles: Summer's Sizzlin' with Competition

Summer's Sizzlin'

Vote for your Fave!

Scroll through these THREE new reads and vote below 
for which you'd pick up first to read while sippin' iced tea.
It'll be a tough choice! But somebody's gotta do it. May as well be you!


Almost Like Being in Love by Beth K. Vogt

She’s won an all-expenses-paid, luxurious wedding — all she needs now is
the groom! Winning a destination wedding would be a dream come true …
if Caron Hollister and her boyfriend, Alex were already engaged — and if
her ex-boyfriend, Kade, wasn’t back in her life, causing her to wonder
“what if?” when she thought she was ready to say “I do” to someone else.


Rescue Me by Sandy Nadeau

Risking her life to save him is easy. Risking her heart to give him a second chance is impossible.


River Rest by Susan Page Davis

Unable to depend on her father to heal the crumbling family, Judith is
afraid to trust the mysterious neighbor, Ben, who lives with his own
grief. When Ben is injured, she is the only one who can help him.


If you have trouble viewing the entire survey, click here to load a dedicated page to the survey.

26 July 2016

Review: The Things We Knew by Catherine West

Could have been excellent

Amazon Description

When their tragic past begins to resurface, can he help her remember the things she can’t?

After her mother’s death twelve years ago, Lynette Carlisle watched her close-knit family unravel. One by one, her four older siblings left their Nantucket home and never returned. All seem to blame their father for their mother’s death, but nobody will talk about that tragic day. And Lynette’s memory only speaks through nightmares.

Then Nicholas Cooper returns to Nantucket, bringing the past with him. Once Lynette’s adolescent crush, Nick knows more about her mother’s death than he lets on. The truth could tear apart his own family—and destroy his fragile friendship with Lynette, the woman he no longer thinks of as a kid sister.

As their father’s failing health and financial concerns bring the Carlisle siblings home, secrets surface that will either restore their shattered relationships or separate the siblings forever. But pulling up anchor on the past propels them into the perfect storm, powerful enough to make them question their faith, their willingness to forgive, and the very truth of all the things they thought they knew.

My Review

Lynette Carlise is the youngest of five siblings, and the only one still living at home . . . with her ailing father, and a house that is crumbling around her. She needs a loan to bring the house back to its former glory, or they'll have to sell. And for that, she needs her siblings.

Parts of the plot seemed contrived to me. The analytical side of me could see several options other than selling the property, and while it was logical that Lynette was too close to the situation to see other options, Nick the bank manager should have been able to offer some alternatives (like a reverse mortgage), as should her lawyer sister. However, as the story progressed, I could see the author needed a plot device to get all five Carlisle siblings back to Wyldewood, and the need to discuss the white elephant the house had become served as that device.

And it turned into an interesting plot, less about the fate of Wyldewood or Drake Carlisle’s possible Alzheimer’s or even Lynette’s relationship with Nick and more about secrets: secrets the characters knew they were keeping, and secrets they didn’t. The problem was that it took a long time for it to actually become clear that the characters were keeping secrets. At the beginning, it felt more like information was missing. I know that’s a subtle distinction, but it’s there.

How to explain it . . .

It’s one thing for a character to have secrets. Most good characters do. But with most good characters, the reader knows they have a secret, and often also knows what that secret is (for example, in a romance, the ‘secret’ is often that the heroine has feelings for the hero or vice versa). In other novels (say, in general fiction), the reader will know the character has a secret, but doesn’t immediately find out what that secret is. But we trust the author to show us the information at the right time, and we look for clues as to what that secret might be—because a good author will leave a trail of crumbs.

But if the character has a secret and don’t even know they have that secret, it feels like lying by omission, because we expect the characters to be honest with themselves (and, by proxy, honest with the reader) even if they can’t be honest with the other characters. Lynette had layers of secrets. Some, like the fact she paints and sells her work under a pseudonym, is a secret we know about, and that’s great because it provides ongoing tension—when will Nick and her family find out, and what will they say? Other secrets are more subtle but the breadcrumbs are there. This also provides ongoing tension and plot questions as I read and wonder whether the secret is what I think it is, and what’s going to happen.

But the secret which really bugged me was the one which didn’t get disclosed until almost the end, and even then it seemed to appear by accident (because one character made a mistake that sent a chain of events into action, which led to the big reveal of that character’s secret, which led to other characters revealing their secrets). Yes, I know the mistake was planned by the author, but it seemed out of character which made it seem contrived (hmm. Like the whole plot).

The reason this bothered me is it felt like Lynette had been keeping secrets from the reader because there were things she knew, things she’d done, that she (as the main viewpoint character) never let the reader see. To use a writing term, this made her feel like an unreliable narrator. I also think it took away from the tension, because the secret was actually a major plot point. I would have liked to have followed that part of her personal character arc, but was deprived of that.

The upshot of all these secrets was that the plot actually wasn’t about what I thought it was about. I thought it was about Lynette’s relationship with Nick, and about whether she and her siblings could keep the house. It was and it wasn’t. It was about both these things, but there was a bigger question, and one which, if approached differently, could have turned this from a so-so women’s fiction novel with romantic elements into something far better, a character-driven women’s fiction novel with romantic and suspense elements. But to say more would be a spoiler.

Overall, this was a solid novel. I think it could have been excellent, but there were too many undisclosed secrets and that didn’t work for me.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Catherine West at her website.

25 July 2016

Book Launch and Giveaway: A Love to Come Home To by Alicia G Ruggieri

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Alicia G Ruggieri back to Iola's Christian Reads. Alicia joined us last year to share her fifteen favourite authors (click here to read the post), and today I'm welcoming her back to share the news of her latest new release.

Alicia G. Ruggieri writes grace-filled, Christ-centered fiction, including the A Time of Grace Trilogy. She’s a graduate of Rhode Island College, where she studied Communications and History, and her adventures include children’s theatre direction, restaurant management, and small business ownership. Alicia and her husband live in coastal New England, where she may be found drinking far too much coffee and penning stories with her emotionally-disturbed second-hand pug by her side.

About A Love to Come Home To

Book Three in the A Time of Grace series

Hardened Ben Picoletti thought he’d turned his back on Depression-era Rhode Island years ago. Nothing remains there for him, except for haunting memories of an abusive childhood. Yet when a criminal accusation shatters his ambitions, Ben has nowhere to flee but back to his stepfather’s home.
There, he finds that redemption yet waits for him… but the sacrifice required to attain it may exceed the limits of his family’s hearts.

Meanwhile, his musical sister Grace continues her studies in New York. She longs to hear a word of affection from her high-school beau… yet only Paulie’s silence greets her. Grace must decide whether she wants to live in the past or move into an unknown future with unexpected love.
Lyrical and sensitive to the aching heart, A Love to Come Home To affirms that God delights in being a stronghold in times of trouble; that He renews His mercy every morning; and that He will work every bitter thing together for the good of His children.

Click here to buy A Love to Come Home To on Amazon

Click here to download a free Kindle copy of The Fragrance of Geraniums

(the first in the series)

Click here to buy book two, All Our Empty Places, on Amazon

You can find out more about Alicia at:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/author/aliciagruggieri

And you can enter the giveaway below! (US residents only - sorry!)