22 June 2017

Book Review: The Evaporation of Sofi Snow by Mary Weber

The Hunger Games meets V Meets …

I don’t read a lot of Christian speculative fiction, because a lot of it is fantasy, a genre I don’t enjoy. I do enjoy science fiction, and I especially enjoy a good dystopian thriller. I picked up The Evaporation of Sofi Snow believing it was Christian dystopian, which was half right. It was dystopian, but it also had an element of science fiction.

What it didn’t have was any Christian content—almost the opposite, in that there was a lot of almost-swearing that I was surprised to see in a book from a major Christian publisher (e.g. gad knows, pissed, heck, WTF, mentions of sex and alcohol). Having said that, it’s obvious from the content, the comparisons, and the notable authors who’ve endorsed Sofi Snow that it’s not aimed at the Christian market. If you’re looking for a Christian dystopian novel, Sofi Snow is not the novel you’re looking for.

But if you’re looking for a fast-paced young adult dystopian thriller, The Evaporation of Sofi Snow may be perfect for you. 

It’s set in near-future Earth, eleven years after the Delonese arrive and sort out the problems of the Fourth World War. They also set up the games, a curious mix of the Hunger Games and the Triwizard Tournament, where teams of real-life gamers work through a maze created by their online gaming teammates.

The trouble begins when there is a terrorist attack at the games, leaving Sofi and her brother both declared dead. But Sofi is very much still alive … and she’s convinced Shilo is as well. So begins the race to save herself, find help, and locate and save Shilo.

The story is told in third person from two points of view—Sofi, and Miguel, the youngest of the thirty human ambassadors to Delon. I don’t know how a teenager got appointed to such an important role, but Miguel is more convincing than, say, Princess Amidala in the first Start Wars movie. Anyway, Miguel is a useful ally because he knows all the right humans and Delonese—even if Sofi is convinced he loathes her.

There were a couple of things which bugged me. 

I’m from New Zealand, so I didn’t understand many of Miguel’s lapses into Spanish (bobo, pierdete, cuate). Yes, I’ve heard of Google Translate. But that takes me out of the story. I didn’t like the cliffhanger ending, but I’d been warned it was coming, so I was annoyed at the suddenness and lack of resolution rather than being vitriolic at the feeling of having been cheated. And there was a “plot twist” towards the end that the characters seemed surprised by, but which had seemed obvious to me from page one. Maybe that’s because I’d read the book description and the characters hadn’t. Or maybe it’s because I watch a lot of TV sci fi.

Forewarned is forearmed. If you speak even a little Spanish and don’t mind cliffhanger endings, this won’t bother you. It’s the start of a series (it better be, with that cliffhanger ending!), and parts of the story are a little rough at the beginning as we are introduced to a future earth with an entirely new system of government.

Overall, The Evaporation of Sofi Snow is a fast-paced story with a lot happening all the time. 

Although I didn’t find it as compelling as The Hunger Games or the first two Divergent novels (let’s not mention the end of that trilogy), I’m sure it will find an audience with YA readers.

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

20 June 2017

Review: Dark Deception by Nancy Mehl

Playing dead was harder than she ever could have imagined.

Well, the first line certainly drew me in. Unfortunately, the rest of the novel didn’t live up to that early promise. After that gripping first scene, the story jumps forward several years. The first few chapters of the novel were mostly backstory and setup, explaining what happened between the prologue and the present. This meant the novel didn’t really start until around the 10% mark—which felt slow and not at all suspenseful.

Long story short, Kate survived the attack from a serial murderer which killed her twin sister. She’s now part of the witness protection programme, living in the middle of nowhere. New evidence says the man her testimony put in jail can’t have been the killer, which means a new trial ...which places her in danger as she’s the sole living witness.

Then things get complicated as too many characters are introduced, too many of which seem to have little or nothing to do with the central plot line. This is romantic suspense, so you know they are related, and that got frustrating as well, when I worked out the linkages long before the police, the FBI, and the Marshals did. I didn’t enjoy their lack of joined-up thinking, which came off looking like incompetence.

Overall, the plot was best described by Kate:

This whole thing is so convoluted it almost hurts my brain.

I enjoyed the part of the novel which was straight chase-suspense, as Deputy Marshal Tony DeLuca tries to protect Kate. (Handsome Tony, who blonde with green eyes, despite the Italian name and heritage.) There were some odd scene breaks with no change in formatting, which made it somewhat confusing to read (hopefully that’s just an issue with my ebook version). The romance was okay, but definitely took second place to the suspense.

I read Fatal Frost, the first book in this series, and thought it was excellent. I’m disappointed Dark Deception didn’t measure up, and hope the next is better.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

16 June 2017

Book Giveaway: Then There Was You by Kara Isaac

Introducing Then There Was You

Kara Isaac is my favourite Kiwi Christian author … although Kiwi Christian authors is a very short list. So perhaps it’s better to say that she’s one of my favourite authors of contemporary Christian romance, and one of the reasons I love her work is because of the Kiwi angle. But I’m also biased because I edited Then There Was You, which means I got to read it before most people. Bonus!

Then There Was You is her third novel, following Close to You, and Can’t Help Falling. It has some minor characters in common with the previous books, but it’s a standalone novel. It starts in the States, moves to Sydney, and also has some scenes set in New Zealand (yay!).

Then There Was You releases next week. The ebook is currently on special for $3.99 (which will increase after release), and there is also a paperback. I’ve already ordered my copy!

And I''m giving away two copies - one paperback and one Kindle copy. Both giveaways close at midnight on 26 June 2017 (New Zealand time).

Click here to win a paperback copy (New Zealand postal addresses only)

Click here to win a Kindle copy (you must be able to receive a gift from Amazon.com).

I’ll announce the winners two weeks from today, at www.iolagoulton.com.

If you can’t wait that long, you can click here to pre-order Then There Was You from Amazon.

To find out more about Kara Isaac, click here to visit her website.

15 June 2017

Book Review: Sweetbriar Cottage by Denise Hunter

Discovering Unconditional Love

Noah Mitchell is less than impressed when he finds his ex-wife is actually still his wife—she forgot to file their divorce papers, so the divorce was never final. Now he has to get those papers filed to get the IRS off his back. But getting them filed means visiting Josephine Dupree Mitchell again—not something he’s looking forward to.

Josie knows how much Nate doesn’t want to spend time with her. And why would he, after what she did? So she decides to be helpful and save Nate a trip into town by driving out to his ranch to deliver the signed papers. She can get his signature, file the papers with the judge, and the divorce will be done. At last.

Only things never work out as planned, because a snowstorm hits as Josie arrives at the ranch, and she’s trapped there with Nate, the ex-husband she still has feelings for. Then things get worse …

Sweetbriar Cottage is a sweet (!) yet powerful exploration of the nature of unconditional love. It starts in the present, but has flashbacks to three and a half years ago, when Nate and Josie first met, and to Josie’s childhood—the childhood she never discussed with Nate. The flashbacks gradually reveal what she did—but they also show why she did it.

It was always obvious Nate was the one who had instigated the divorce, and this got me wondering why. How can you meet, marry, and divorce in just three years? (This seems unbelievably fast, partly because I live in New Zealand where it takes at least two years to get a divorce.) What had she done that he couldn’t forgive? And why did he marry a non-Christian in the first place?

It was also obvious that Josie was one emotionally messed up woman, and that whatever she’d done was the result of her messed up teenage years (triggers!) and her subsequent belief that there is no such thing as unconditional love. Spoiler: there is. But that’s something they both need to learn.

I’d been a little apprehensive about reading Sweetwater Cottage, but it captured me from the beginning and never let up. A great second chance romance with some deep Christian themes.

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

13 June 2017