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!)

21 July 2016

Review: No Other Will Do by Karen Witemeyer

Great Premise

I enjoy reading historical fiction, especially historical romance. But (and this is going to sound a little odd) I don’t like it to be too historically accurate. Well, I do and I don’t. I want the facts and figures to be accurate. I don’t want anachronisms, like references to certain inventions in a novel set ten years before the thing was actually invented. I want an accurate picture of life in that time and place.

But I don’t want it too accurate. Let’s face it, the world has come a long way in the last two hundred years, particularly in the area of rights for women, people of colour … anyone who isn’t white and male. The list of things women couldn’t do in nineteenth century America or England is longer than the list of what they could do. Many women were abused, physically, emotionally and spiritually (and the physical abuse was often a side-effect of the spiritual abuse).

I don’t want to read about that. If I wanted to read about abuse, I’d be reading non-fiction or serious women’s fiction, not light-hearted historical romance. I want my historical romance heroes to be men who treat women as equal but different, and I want my historical romance heroines to be intelligent women who aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves. And, yes, I realise that’s probably not historically accurate. And I don’t care.

Anyway, that all serves as background to what I especially enjoyed about No Other Will Do: a community owned by and run by women, a refuge. Yes, that’s historically inaccurate but this is fiction and I don’t care because it’s a great idea and history would have had a lot less conflict if the women had been in charge. But, predictably, the women have to defend their rights of ownership against men who want the town for its assets (men, always spoiling for a fight. See above).

A lot of novels, especially Westerns, feature financial difficulties—families at risk because they are behind on their payments. No Other Will Do takes this scenario from the other side, the point of view of the (female) banker, who has a responsibility to be a good steward of her inheritance:

Banking is stewardship. We can’t give to everyone who asks or we risk losing the ability to give to any. We must seek God’s wisdom and direction, then work hard not only to protect but also to increase what has been entrusted to us.

Hmm. Worth thinking about.

But Emma also has the physical threat of violence, and her desire to keep Harper’s Station as a refuge for those women with nowhere else to go.

No Other Will Do is written in Karen Witemeyer’s trademark witty style, but perhaps goes deeper into issues of equality and Christian sisterhood (and brotherhood) than her earlier novels. It’s good to see.

There were a couple of things I didn’t like: the weird dialogue descriptions, like Tori declared and Emma quipped and Tori chided. It makes me feel like I’m eight years old and reading Enid Blyton. It’s something I’ve seen in several books recently and I don’t know if it’s bad writing/editing or the start of a general trend. If it’s a trend, it’s one that doesn’t work for me. It also didn't feel right for the uneducated (or self-educated) Mal to be familiar with concepts such as feminism before the term was part of everyday English. The idea was understood (and ridiculed), the word is more modern.

The other thing was that this is supposed to be a women's colony: no men. Yet at the first sign of trouble, Emma calls in a man to help. And it ends up being the men who save the day. That irked me. On the plus side, there was no mansplaining--the hero (and other male characters. Well, except for the evildoer) did actually treat the women like the intelligent humans they were.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Karen Witemeyer at her website, and you can read the opening to No Other Will Do below.

19 July 2016

Review: When Mountains Move by Julie Cantrell

Unexpectedly Brilliant

I admit it: I didn’t read Julie Cantrell’s award-winning debut novel, Into the Free, mostly because there were faults in the review copy I downloaded which rendered it unreadable (my copy was missing all the c’s and all the h’s, which meant there would be references to a “fres at of fis” instead of a fresh catch of fish. It’s hard to get into a novel when you find yourself having to sound out words like a six-year-old.

I also didn’t request the sequel to Into the Free when it released the following year, because I tend not to enjoy sequels if I haven’t read the first book in the series. So why did I request When Mountains Move … which is that same sequel, only from a new publisher? Because I somehow missed the fact it was a book I elected not to read two years ago, but requested on the strength of the good things I’d heard about the author’s writing.

And they are all true. Even though When Mountains Move is a sequel, it’s not necessary to have read Into the Free in order to understand or appreciate this.

When Mountains Move is not an easy read: it starts with Millie, our heroine, having a dream/flashback to her rape six weeks earlier. She’s now marrying Bump (Kenneth Anderson, and that’s probably the only thing I never understood: where he got such a ridiculous nickname), and they are leaving Mississippi for Colorado, where Bump has a job managing a run-down ranch.

While the ranch is the main setting, ranch life isn’t the core of the plot or theme. Rather, the story is about Millie coping with the attack and the after affects, and the strain this puts on her marriage. It’s a story of love and trust and mistrust, the story of a marriage, and it’s riveting.

The novel is told entirely in first person present tense from Millie’s point of view, which is an interesting literary choice for a historical novel—most tend to be third person and past tense. First person seems to be reserved for young adult and new adult novels, and in a way that fits: When Mountains Move is an extension of the coming of age novel, and seventeen-year-old Millie is certainly in the right age bracket to attract YA/NA readers.

I like first person because gives us a deep insight into Millie and her problems. It also demonstrates the strength of Cantrell’s writing in that I still understood a lot of Bump’s thoughts and problems, even when Millie seemed not to.

I get that the combination of an edgy topic and first person writing won’t appeal to everyone. But if you can get past that—as I did—I’m sure you’ll find When Mountains Move to be excellent. Even if you haven’t read Into the Free.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Julie Cantrell at her website, and you can read the beginning of When Mountains Move below: