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29 July 2014

Review: Too Pretty by Andrea Grigg

Too Funny!

Gabrielle Paxton is a missionary kid who grew up in Papua New Guinea before returning to Australia when she was fourteen. That was when she discovered people judged her more for her looks—and while that didn’t always work to her advantage, it didn’t make her immune from judging others based on the way they look.

Nathaniel Watson catches her attention immediately, but he’s got that restrained dentist look going on, and she’s not interested in the medical professions. No matter. He doesn’t seem interested in her either, and she’s just decided she’s not going to date for six months:

I want to allow God to fill up those spaces, not boyfriends or even my family.

It seems easy until a chance meeting with an old school friend brings her face to face with Nathaniel …

I couldn’t completely relate to Gabrielle (not having been a teenage blonde bombshell myself!), but I could understand her problem and admire the way she decided to seek God first. We live in a society where people judge based on outward appearance, and we all need to learn to allow God to fill that void inside us, rather than relying on a boyfriend, career, or family. What was interesting about Too Pretty was that it wasn’t only Gabrielle who needed to learn this lesson.

Too Pretty is Andrea Grigg’s second novel. I thought the first, A Simple Mistake, was excellent, which made me a little nervous when reading Too Pretty . What if I didn’t like it? But I did. It’s fun and funny and romantic and thought-provoking, with a great set of characters and a strong Christian message. And such a cool cover!

Recommended for fans of contemporary romance from authors like Victoria Bylin, Carla Laureano, Mellissa Tagg and Becky Wade.

Thanks to Andrea Grigg and Rhiza Press for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Andrea Grigg at her website, or read our interview.

28 July 2014

Author Inteview: Andrea Grigg

Today I'd like to welcome Andrea Grigg to Iola's Christian Reads. She's the first Kiwi-born author I've had the privilege of interviewing (even though the Aussies have claimed her as their own. Ah, that good-natured trans-Tasman rivalry). Welcome, Andrea!

First, please you tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?

I was born in Auckland, New Zealand, but moved to Australia when I was twenty-five. Ahem - that was a while ago. My husband and I live on Queensland’s Gold Coast. We have 3 children, two girls and a boy, but they’ve all flown the coop now and left us with Micky, our border collie. Apart from writing, I love reading, music, family dinner night, and coffee with friends.

It’s said that authors should write the kind of book they like to read. What is your favourite genre? Who are your favourite authors?

My favourite genre is … romance! I prefer longer novels though, and rarely read category romance (except for ones by Narelle Atkins). I have a lot of favourite authors. At the moment my top five would be Becky Wade, Melissa Tagg, Dee Henderson, Susan May Warren and Denise Hunter.

Also some of my favourite authors. Susan May Warren's latest ... awww. I'll be reviewing it later this week. 

What was the last book you read? Would you recommend it? Why/why not?

The last book(s) I read were the Divergent series. I started reading on a Tuesday and finished all three by midday Friday. I absolutely loved them and would highly recommend them. They’re YA novels, set in the future, and have a beautiful love story threaded through the adventure. What’s not to like? It was a bonus to discover the author, Veronica Roth, is a Christian.

I didn't know that. I haven't read Divergent yet, but it's been recommended by several people. I guess your advice is to have all three on hand before I start reading!

What kind of books do you write? Where and when are they set?

I write contemporary romance. So far I’ve used Sydney, the Gold Coast and Auckland as my settings. In my latest novel, Too Pretty, there is a fictional country town called Silverdene. I’d like to live there even though Ellie was glad to leave …

Tell us about Too Pretty. Who will enjoy it?

Ellie is a stunningly beautiful young woman. However, being beautiful has its drawbacks, like not knowing whether you’re liked for yourself or for your looks. Ellie makes a promise to God to stop dating for six months, to take time to work out who she really is. Of course, as soon as she makes the promise, she meets the tall, dark and handsome Nathaniel. He’s made a decision to opt out of relationships too, but they just keep on bumping into each other and there’s this chemistry thing happening …

Who will enjoy it? Anyone who likes romance, although my target market is women aged 25-35. Mind you, I just had a lovely email from a 77-year-old man who read A Simple Mistake. He’d picked it out for his wife while at the library, ended up reading it himself, and then contacted me to let me know how much he enjoyed it and the effect it had on his life … I’m constantly being surprised by God.

What was your motivation for writing Too Pretty?

The idea of writing about an extremely beautiful girl came out of the blue. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a good idea – I haven’t come across a book that explores the notion of beauty being a problem. I really had to use my imagination when writing from Ellie’s point of view though :)

Who is your favourite character and why? Do you have anything in common with him/her?

I love Ellie – she’s impulsive, brave and funny – but Nathaniel just tugs at my heart. He’s intense, vulnerable (although he puts on a good front) and a little bit tragic. I have nothing in common with him, but I know he needs a hug and I’d like to give him one!

A hug? Towards the end I was wanting to give him a big shake! Poor guy. When it comes to being in touch with his emotions, he's such a man.

What made you choose to write for the Christian market?

I’m a Christian and I write romance so it made sense for me to start there. Going by what I’ve read in the general market (and I’ve read a lot) there’s an expectation for sex to be part of a dating relationship. I’m not comfortable writing those kinds of scenes.

I realise not all books are like that i.e. Twilight, but they’re few and far between. I’m not against writing for the general market – in fact I’d love to do it. I have a couple of storylines rattling around in my head which are clean, but they need a lot more time to ‘cook’.

What is the hardest part of getting a book written, edited and published?

Getting that first draft down. I’m a total plotter and dream and think and ponder for ages before I get started. I have a PhD in procrastination!

I’m a bit odd in that I love the editing process. I’m a harsh self-critic and I also have an excellent critique partner as well as a group of readers who give me feedback. I get a huge buzz out of making my story as good as I possibly can before I submit it.

I’m still shocked that my two manuscripts were accepted by a publisher so quickly. I’m well aware how unusual that is. I put it down to all that editing. (And then of course there’s still more to be done before it’s ready to go to print …)

What advice do you have for someone seeking to write and publish a novel?

1. Read loads of books in the genre you’re interested in to get a good feel for what readers expect.
2. Be prepared to put your book through a truckload of editing (including a professional edit) before you submit it.
3. Attend workshops, research blogs on writing, join a writers’ group. There’s always more to learn.
4. Don’t give up – keep writing.

Thank you, Andrea. I'll be reviewing Too Pretty tomorrow. Meanwhile, Andrea would love to hear from you via her website or Facebook page. Her books can be purchased from Koorong, WordAmazon, or direct from her publisher, Rhiza Press.

25 July 2014

Review: The Duke's Undoing by GG Vandergriff

Enjoyable Regency Romance

Miss Elise Edwards has just lost her third fiancĂ©. Her first died in the Napoleonic wars, her second turned out to be mad and fled to Italy, and she suspects the most recent of being in love with her best friend—who is most certainly in love with him.

Through a strange set of events and coincidences, she becomes engaged a fourth time: to the Duke of Ruisdell, reputed to be a rake and a rogue. For his part, the Duke used to be a rake but three years fighting in the Peninsula has left him a changed man.

What follows is a typical Regency: lots of Ladies and Lords (some of whom are not ladies or gentlemen), beautiful clothes, misunderstandings, balls, a duel and a madman. No, it’s not realistic, but that’s Regency Romance. “Normal” people never lived like this, even during the Regency—Regency Romance is centred around the ton, the Upper 10,000 members of society, who comprised around 1% of the population.

The Duke's Undoing is a classic Regency Romance in the style of Georgette Heyer, which means it’s free of language, sex and violence, and is faithful to the established facts of the time (as established by Georgette Heyer). The heroine is intelligent with some interesting personality quirks, the hero is heroic and titled, and the supporting characters are excellent.

I did get confused on occasion between George and Gregory, particularly when the men were often identified only by their titles, and I can imagine some readers would get annoyed by the way George speaks, but I enjoyed it-it reminded me of one of the characters out of Cotillion, my favourite Georgette Heyer novel. The Duke's Undoing isn’t Christian fiction (actually the author is a Latter Day Saint, and there is no faith element), but it’s an enjoyable read for fans of traditional Regency Romance. Recommended for fans of Regency Romance.

24 July 2014

Review: Done Being Friends by Trisha Grace

It had potential ...

I’m always a fan of friends to lovers plots (this is Christian romance, so I mean ‘lover’ strictly in the Victorian sense), so I was keen to read Done Being Friends. Zac and Faith have been friends since they were children, each with feelings for the other, feelings they have each kept secret for fear of ruining their friendship. In Done Being Friends, a series of events along with the interference of Zac's best friend, Dylan, force them to address their feelings.

I liked both Faith and Zac, which is always a good start in a romance novel. They are both the children of rich and privileged upbringings, but are pretty normal despite that. Zac now runs his family construction business, while Faith spends her time on short-term missionary trips. I also enjoyed the suspense subplot that came into play in the second half of the novel.

However, there were a number of writing issues. There’s a view that few novels benefit from a prologue, and this one proves the rule. I get the impression it was meant to show how protective Zac felt towards Faith, but he came across as possessive and arrogant. And it was unnecessary backstory, as it was covered perfectly well in a single sentence in the first chapter.

The writing was an issue throughout the novel. There were a lot of typos (he had his hand on her "bareback"), creative dialogue tags (her father stated, her mother voiced), and too many adverbs, as well as commas in the wrong places, run-on sentences, and some sentences which were almost unintelligible ("I took a couple of paper from Jessica's house"). The book description says this is the reedited and revamped version, but it's still not ready to be on sale, at least in my opinion.

I was also concerned by a couple of aspects of the plot for a novel I was told was a Christian romance, although this wasn't obvious in the story apart from a few mentions of Faith's missionary trips. First (and don't read this if you don't like spoilers), Faith and Zac share a bed many times during the course of the story. It's implied they are merely sleeping together (rather than, you know, Sleeping Together), but that's not made clear. And while I see Faith has a Christian faith, I never had the same assurance about Zac. Specifically, he says to Faith at one point, "You've always told me how good God is". You mean Zac doesn't know for himself?

Overall, while I liked the characters and enjoyed the story, I can't actually think of anyone I'd recommend Done Being Friends to. People who would enjoy the Christian aspect wouldn't like the "sleeping together" or the lack of clarity around Zac's beliefs, and readers of general market romance wouldn't like the Christian aspect (although some would like the chaste storyline). Overall, it's only okay.

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

23 July 2014

ACRBA Review: Better than a Superhero by Belinda Francis

 21st - 25th  June 2014

is introducing

Better Than A Superhero
(Wombat books 1 May 2014)


Belinda Francis
Illustrated by Kayleen West

About the Book

Who is better than a superhero? Find out about Jesus as you explore what he did and who he was. And most importantly how Jesus really can be your best friend!

About the Authors

Belinda Francis

Award winning journalist turned children's author Belinda Francis worked in newspapers, magazines and electronic media for ten years in South Africa before she and her family immigrated to Queensland.

Shortly after arriving in Australia, her elder son was diagnosed with ASD and she devoted the next few years to his early intervention, which with God's guidance, has paid off miraculously. Her second son, who had been born ten weeks prematurely, is now healthy and strong – evidence of yet another miracle. She and her family recently celebrated the arrival of their third child, a much-prayed for daughter.

While raising her children, Belinda wrote Better than a Superhero, her first published book, and threw herself into the local church and community. She runs the Sunday school program at her church campus.

Belinda is passionate about raising children up in God's kingdom and excited about the ministry opportunities the book will undoubtedly open up.

Kayleen West

An award winning artist, her work hangs in private and corporate collections in France, United States, Italy, and the Australian Embassy in Ireland and in government collections in Australia.
Although an initial childhood dream was to write and illustrate for children, Kayleen was encouraged to venture into a career of an exhibiting fine artist and later a graphic designer.

Returning to her original passion in 2009, Kayleen is now a published children's Author and Illustrator working on her third children's book and writes Christian content for magazines and blogs.

Kayleen is the author and illustrator of Without Me? (Wombat Books, 2013) and the illustrator of Better than a Superhero (Even Before Publishing, 2014).

For more information:  

My Review

I have a son, and as a preschooler, he had definite ambitions to be a superhero (these days, I think he's planning to specialise in demolition, but that's another story). Anyway, I'm sure many parents and children will relate to this sweet story about how Jesus is the best superhero of all—in fact, Jesus is even better than a superhero, and the young narrator tells us how.

While the words are good, what really makes a picture book stand out is the quality of the illustrations, and these are simply beautiful (and I'd say that even if I didn't know the illustrator). I especially like the friendly and welcoming Jesus.

Better than a Superhero is a hardcover book and should stand up to many readings. A lovely book for young children.

Thanks to Even Before Publishing for providing a free book for review. You can find out more about author Belinda Francis at her website, and more about illustrator Kayleen West at her website.